Skeptic to convert!
We had a wonderful first visit to Camp Bestival in Dorset which far surpassed my expectations.
I like to research before I go somewhere new and I spent some time in a Facebook group which was friendly and helpful. But there was a lot of anxious chat about toilets, scheduling activities and costs. So I was preparing myself for a tough 4 days of pongs, panic and major pestering from the kids.
I needn’t have worried at all. The toilets were as terrific as a festival toilet can be, we planned only a couple of things each day and we balanced a little purchase here and there with a wealth of fantastic free activities.
Music and activities
I don’t expect to see my musical heroes at festivals because unless it’s a genre specific festival, a mixed bag is always good enough. The range of acts across the two large stages seemed to keep everyone happy.
My favourites were The Proclaimers, Elvarna, Thrill Collins and Shed Seven who all put on well executed shows.
I didn’t manage to get to a single silent disco or DJ session. I heard great things about Charlotte Church and Dick & Dom DJ sets. Getting comfortable with the idea that you can’t see it all, especially with little kids, goes a long way to festival satisfaction.
Camp Bestival has a solid and well deserved reputation as a family festival and that was borne out in the offerings. Whilst Mr Tumble may not change much over the years there is always a new hoard of young children to appreciate his main stage show. There were many well known kids entertainers appearing over the weekend. And talking of heroes, I did get to meet Hey Duggee which made my weekend!
Aside from the two main stages there were many smaller stages offering diverse entertainment from comedy to ukulele karaoke (personal favourite) and DJs to literary talks. We stayed at the Pig’s Big Ballroom for hours. Though the sofas may have had something to do with that.
The kids are well catered for with Dingly Dell, their own performance tent and the science area. All free! I was particularly impressed with the science area as there were rolling workshops and talks which could be accessed at the time. Many other things across the site have to be booked early in the morning and we never quite managed that.
The program was a little disappointing as it just listed times. There was no info about any act or activity. At £10 a pop I would expect more info to help people make the most of all the wonderful things on offer. This lack of info nearly led me to mIss Thrill Collins as I assumed they were a Phill Collins tribute act. Thankfully a friend called me after their first song and I rushed over to see one of the best acts of the whole weekend (skiffle cover band- go see!)
I wasn’t expecting so many neat little touches. Random pianos dotted about, mini pop up theatres in far flung corners and travelling dance off competitions to name a few. The best random find was the acrobatic Disco Inferno show at the giant mirror ball. It was so impressive and a real treat. Again I would have missed this as there’s no information in the programme as to what’s behind the name.
Camp Besitval is known for it’s high levels of dressing up. And not just the people! Many folk use trolleys to lug the kids and their chairs around, but they are often decorated beautifully. The festival itself was lovingly designed, so along with the trolleys, the people, the merchandise and decoration it was a feast for the eyes!
Trolleys, trolleys and more trolleys
Love em or hate em the festival is packed with trolleys. Clearly they serve many people well and are used to make base camps for many families at the main stage. Great for them, not so great for those moving around. That said we did manage to get to the front whenever we wanted so perhaps they are a blessing in disguise.
Food and drink
Pricing is a tricky subject these days. Whether something is expensive or not varies so much from person to person and for us all over time as the cost of living crisis continues to squeeze.
The prices were as I expected. And fair for the current situation.
I took care to seek out better quality stuff and it was all good value and tasty. I was actually really surprised by how affordable the chips were. Given that chips are a festival staple for many kids this was good news!
To save a little I tended to see if my kids ate their food before ordering my own and hoovered up their delicious leftovers. Yum!
Top notch cheese toasties were around £6.50, chips were £4.50, substantial snacks £7ish, main meals £10-15.
The drinks in the main bars were pricey, but they are pricey everywhere these days. The range was a bit limited in the main bars. I wished I’d checked out Caravanserai’s bar earlier. They had a fab range of drinks.
We took in lots of snacks. This worked well as for some reason being at a festival requires small children to be fed snacks every 6 and a half minutes.
It would have been time consuming to return all the way back to camp to cook food.
The festival is mostly card only but some stalls would accept cash. Many families give their older children pre loaded cards to help them have some independence.
We stayed in the regular caravan field. It was fairly spacious and well lit. The general camping fields were not very level, but the site is a beautiful hilly one so just one of those festival niggles that is worth all the other joys.
Camp Bestival offers a huge range of camping options. Quite a bewildering range. Ultimately it’s a great offer for those with the time and money to work out what extras they would like (closer, pre pitched, electricity, loos cleaned after every use etc) but a spreadsheet with all the options and prices would go a long way to helping people understand what’s on offer.
Facilities and sustainability
The toilets were as I would hope for at a festival, actually not bad at all. Only once or twice did I have to wait more than 2 minutes, only once there wasn’t any loo paper and there was only one toilet I decided not to use.
Littering was mostly kept under control and the bars were using reusable cups which is always a relief to see.
Not all of the vendors had compostable packaging, so it would be great to see the festival enforce that in the future.
I didn’t try the showers. I never do at a festival. I kinda don’t see the need, but maybe I’m an old fashioned festival kinda gal. Flannel and hot water does the trick!
Sadly the waste and mixed recyclable bins were the same colour. Whilst of course people should take a second to read which one to use, when you’re chasing after a toddler you don’t always have time.
Without exception every staff member or volunteer I spoke to was approachable, friendly and kind.
This wonderful area deserves it’s own special mention. It was built out of higgledy piggledy old caravans and felt like an old fashioned travelling circus. There were banging DJs and acrobats, the most amazing seating areas and it had such a late night fab party vibe and I think it really was the icing on the cake.
Would we go again?
Yes! We would go again and recommend it to others.
As a family we had a wonderful time. The hot and dry weather helped of course, but there was plenty of variety in the offerings from Camp Bestival and most things were easily accessible, a surprise at a big festival.
My eldest said ‘I just want to rewind and do it all again’
Thanks so much Camp Bestival for having us along for the ride!
See our factsheet on Camp Bestival Dorset for more information