Great Wonderfest 2019 certainly was a great and wonderful festival. It was hard to believe that this was the first ever Great Wonderfest, as everything had fallen into place beautifully. I took my eleven year old son, and we had so much fun together, playing and enjoying the food and music. We really didn’t want it to end.
Camping at Great Wonderfest
This was our first time going to the Isle of Wight, so we were very keen to take advantage of the festival’s extended camping offer. For a small fee, campers could stay on site from the Monday, thereby extending the weekend to a full holiday. The festival did not start until Thursday evening.
We were able to arrive at Great Wonderfest on the Wednesday afternoon which gave us a day and a half to explore. I loved having the chance to see the beautiful beaches, go on excursions on a steam train and then a speed boat, and enjoy some of the many family activities and eateries that the island had to offer. We were quite content that if we were to exhaust the options for entertainment at the festival, we had plenty of ways to fill our days elsewhere on the Isle of Wight, but that did not happen!
The Wonderfest general camping area was called WE LOVE CAMPING. There was tonnes of space, and plenty of chemical toilets. The showers were lovely and a bargain at £2 a go. We stayed in the accessible area at the top, which had larger toilets, and even a Mobiloo unit. The Mobiloo family were lovely and were always on hand to assist. The unit was kept in immaculate condition.
The campsite included a bar, a food outlet (offering burgers, breakfasts and hot drinks) and a camping store. Isle Access had an area at the top of the campsite, where guests could have a go on their range of accessible bicycles. We had a great time trying out all the bikes. We had fun using the handcycles, which are designed for those with reduced mobility in their legs.
The VIP campsite was within the festival arena and included free showers, flushing toilets, a separate bar and food outlets. There was also an option for a prepitched bell tent. For other lucky families there was a chance to stay in the original Spice Bus from the film Spiceworld! It is now an Air BnB residence, and resided at Great Wonderfest for the weekend.
Activities for Children at Great Wonderfest
There was so much to do that we didn’t manage it all! The festival was divided three main areas: The main stage field, curiosities field and the adventure field. All three had so much for children of all ages.
Main Stage Field Children’s Activities.
Here there was a vintage fayre, with a chair-o-plane, hall of mirrors, bumper cars and more, along with stalls where children (and grown ups) could test their skills to try to win prizes. Elsewhere was the always popular bouncing area, with inflatables and a bungee trampoline. Whilst there was a nice selection of rides that were reasonably priced, I naturally steered my son towards the free options.
There was plenty to choose from at no extra cost. One of my favourites was the Robots Live exhibition. Children were loving the chance to have a go at the mini robot wars. This was free, and the man in charge was very fair at making sure that everyone had a go. The main show with the big robots was also very popular.
Field of Curiosities
This was a great field with all sorts going on, but we had two clear favourite areas.
This was their first ever time at a festival. Sensory Nooks are an astonishing interactive sensory experience. There were five areas each stimulating a combination of the senses. Each had a light tube and a control panel to alter the colours. My son really enjoyed the area that concentrated on audio with a microphone, and a display that was controlled by sound. Other units focussed on smell, sight and touch. The unit with the vibrating seats was particularly popular.
Comicoffee teamed up with the 501st Legion Isle of White Garrison to create what was without a doubt my sons favourite tent. The Star Wars display was extremely impressive and they had a steady flow of guests eager to pose for photos in a pod racer, wearing one of the helmets. We also loved seeing the Storm Troopers, Scout Troopers, Tie Fighter Pilots, and other characters participating in various activities around the arena, and chilling out on the sofas. As well as the delicious waffles and drinks, we also enjoyed playing on the retro computer games.
For a small donation to charity, children and adults could spend some time playing old school games such as Goldeneye, and (my son’s favourite) Pro Evolution Soccer. Whilst I love that festivals are a great way for children to relearn how to have fun without screens, sometimes my son needed some down time, and the games were ideal. After my son had exhausted himself and bumped his head in the adventure field, five minutes playing Pro-Evo was just what he needed to reboot himself!
Elsewhere in the Field of Curiosities was the healing area as well as a creative and craft tent, Splat messy play and a beautiful feeding lounge. The Garlic Farm also hosted a tent, and I caught a section of one of the talks. I heard the garlic expert insist that accompanying garlic with vodka was the best way to ensure it entered the blood stream nice and quickly! For extreme sports fans, Wight Trash had brought along a skate school.
I treated myself to a deep tissue massage from one of the mobile masseur team, Cloud Massage. She even came to our camping area so that I didn’t have to leave my son, who was also having some chill time.
This hive of activity was split between the two providers. Isle of Wight Adventure Activities offered opportunities to have a go at climbing, axe throwing, arrow tag (each costing £5 for an expertly tutored session), as well as zorb football and trampoline basketball for free. They were a lovely team who did a fantastic job of keeping the children positive if they were struggling at all.
Further into the field, the Isle of Wight Scouts had brought along a huge array of games and activities that were free or only £1 for very long goes! We loved the giant quoits with hula hoops. They also had archery, tomahawk throwing, nerf shooting, knot craft Scout Twister, giant jenga and connect 4, plus massive marshmallow roasting. The young scouts were very patient and explained the safety rules very carefully, showing very mature levels of responsibility. In the evening, they invited campers to attend their campfire games and sing-a-long.
Entertainment at Great Wonderfest
There were three stages at the festival: The main stage; The Lock Inn; and The Curiosity Stage.
The main stage was expertly and tirelessly hosted by the fabulously outrageous, outspoken and never to be outdone Dick and Dom. They were also joined by surprise guest host, Blue Peter’s Barney Harwood. I have no idea how they were even still standing by the end of the weekend. Dick and Dom entertained us with games and hilarious antics between every act, and even put on two shows themselves. Their DJ battle was simply outstanding and an absolute highlight of the weekend. I thought a few of the decisions as to whose song was best were somewhat dubious, but I truly loved that Dick played Voodoo People “for Keith” in their battle of the dance songs.
Local dance school Starlight Boutique entertained us every day with their high energy, immaculately choreographed and performed routines. They were excellent and I’m sure I saw some future West End stars.
There was an eclectic mix of acts on the main stage. Friday was reggae heaven for us as we watched Isle of Wight’s own Derek Sandy and Musical Youth. Derek Sandy played mostly reggae covers, as well as Johnny Nash’s I Can See Clearly Now, before finishing with his own Britain’s Got Talent song, Welcome to the Isle of Wight. That was a great start to the weekend for us as we did indeed feel very welcome. Musical Youth played some brilliant covers, opening with Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder They Come and closing with their own classic, Pass The Dutchie, fusing it with The Temptations My Girl and Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud.
There were so many other brilliant acts on over the weekend, including The Vamps, Jaguar Skills, Mistajam, Flawless, and of course shows from Raver Tots, Peppa and George, and the superb Rastamouse and Da Easy Crew. Singing Hands used Makaton to make their nursery rhymes more visual and accessible.
Busted blew me away! I was expecting boys doing kiddie rock, but of course they’ve been going for nineteen years now, and were awesome. I surprised myself by singing along to Air Hostess, What I Go To School for, and their last song – Year 3000. It was a great set. The band had so much energy, and clearly loved it as much as we did. Even the security staff were singing and bopping along!
The Lock Inn
This was the DJ tent and bar. It featured sets from (among many others) Brandon Block, Ghetto Funk All Stars, Dub Pistols and Don Letts. My son is very sensitive to noise, and this tent was too loud for him so we didn’t spend much time there. Nevertheless I did manage to catch some of Don Letts’ set, mixing a reggae beat into chart hits and classics such as Dusty Springfield’s Son of a Preacher Man, Stevie Wonder’s Uptight and Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Don Letts backstage and chatted with him about how he was enjoying the festival. The main thing that he liked about Great Wonderfest was that it was such a great family festival. He said that he thought that music can still be a school for social change. He feels that music is so important for bringing families together, especially in this digital age. Don Letts has been a big contributor, musically and lyrically, to Dreadzone. I asked if he would like to see Dreadzone at Great Wonderfest in the future… “Absolutely!” was his response. I would also love to see that happen in the near future, as they are a great festival band.
This small stage was perfect for tiny tots. It featured a lot of sing-a-longs and dancing. There was a meet and greet with Peppa and George, and a chance to pat a unicorn. We caught the end of an unscheduled Dick and Dom extra, with more games and giveaways. They had only just come off the main stage from their DJ battle and must have been dead on their feet, but still managed to bring joy to their smallest fans.
Food and Drink
There were easily enough outlets for the size of the festival. Choices included pizza, burgers, barbecue, Mexican and more, plus plenty of treats such as waffles and icecream. The cheese toastie place was perfect! Prices were lower than at a lot of festivals. A margherita pizza was only £7. Chips were £4 and canned drinks were £2. I found kids meals including nuggets and chips at the VIP Nomads food stall for £6. I would have liked to have seen more variety, especially more veggie options. However, as there were never any queues, I’m not sure if having many more outlets would have been feasible.
There were plenty of bars with minimal waiting times. A pint or a can was £5.
There were plenty of chemical toilets around the campsite and arena which were kept clean and well stocked throughout the weekend.
There were water points, but I think there was a need for more. The one that I found in the arena wasn’t signposted. They also could have done with troughs, pallets or grids underneath them to prevent them from getting boggy.
Great Wonderfest thoughtfully provided a free shuttle bus service between the festival car park and the nearest town, Newport.
To reduce waste, there were no printed programmes. I normally like to keep a programme as a souvenir but I do appreciate that the vast majority are binned straight after the weekend, so I’ll admit that this was a good idea. There was an app with all the stage times and the website was kept up to date. Timings for the weekend, along with site maps were also displayed at key locations around the arena, so it was never to hard to find out what was happening where.
Adjacent to every general waste bin was a recyclables bin, so really no excuse not to separate rubbish.
I noted that environmental charities such as Surfers Against Sewage had been nominated to receive a percentage of the profits from certain stalls.
Planet Aware had their own stall and were running a mini beach clean game against the clock. They were busy chatting and giving out information to everyone who took an interest in their projects.
It is refreshing to see such a positive movement in awareness that we all need to take steps to improve the planet’s future prospects.
Great Wonderfest was quite extraordinary in its amazing approach to inclusion. This was largely down to Zoe, who really seemed to think of everything to go above and beyond. Have a look at our article about all that they provided to make the festival accessible. Zoe made herself known to every family that was staying in the accessible campsite, and checked in on everybody periodically over the course of the weekend to make sure that we all had everything that we needed. She was so approachable and this personal touch made us all feel well cared for.
The festival opted to provide an accessible viewing area rather than a raised platform to avoid the need to separate families by operating the standard plus one system. Platforms are never big enough to accommodate whole families when the headline acts are on stage. This should have worked well as there was a reasonably steep decline down to the stage. Unfortunately many families saw the enclosure as a boundary to the stage area and sat against it, blocking the view. If the area is not raised next year, then I think the issue could be rectified by having a double barrier, creating an empty space between the viewing area and the rest of the crowd.
I really liked that there was a track from the entrance gate to the viewing area, as that took away the difficulty of having to negotiate a path through a busy crowd. It would also have been crucial for wheelchair users if the field had become muddy.
There was also an option of an extra area at the front for anyone with a visual impairment, as well as sighted guides. These were not made use of, but an excellent service to offer.
The main bar had a section with a lower bar specifically for those with access needs. This was such a simple but brilliant idea. It was clearly signed, making it even more accessible.
We loved it. Great Wonderfest had the perfect balance of excitement versus chill time and activity versus creativity. The setting was so stunning that I found myself often stopping just to admire the beautiful surroundings, not least the picturesque sunsets.
The festival was equally wonderful for first timers or veterans. Over on the festival’s Facebook group, many families are commenting that this was a perfect first festival for their children. I can totally see how it would be as it was so friendly and felt so safe. I’ve taken my family to well over twenty festivals and still found Great Wonderfest to be the perfect weekend.
A huge cheer erupted from the crowd when hosts Duck and Dom made the announcement that Great Wonderfest would definitely be back in 2020!
Would we like to return next year? Absolutely!
Please see our Great Wonderfest fact sheet here.