With SIBS round the corner, take a look at our insider's tips on some of the best places to eat, drink and sleep
If there’s one thing MBM knows about more than boats, it’s boat shows. Between us, we’ve been to them all – London, Southampton, Miami, Genoa, Birmingham, Ft Lauderdale, Cannes? the list goes on. But our favourite, without doubt, is Southampton . This is the event where cruising buddies meet, where old friends bump into each other and where you can knock back a few beers while watching one of the world’s best on-water shows (taking place in Europe’s largest purpose-built marina, no less).
Southampton’s got the boats, it’s got the weather (please God) and it’s got the location. But how can you make your stay even more enjoyable? Where can you get the tastiest pre-show breakfast? What’s the best way to get there? And where should you stay if you’ve had one beer too many?
We’ve put our heads together to bring you the answers. However, if after reading this you feel we’ve missed out some crucial bit of information, email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know!
Organisers of the show have scrapped the Park & Ride scheme this year, so those of you coming bycarwill have to find a parking spot in town. One of the best nearby car parks is found at West Quay shopping centre . This enormous complex has 4000 spaces and costs around £10 for a day’s parking. There are other options, and we’ve always found Parking Southampton , a guide from Southampton Council, pretty useful in deciding where to stick the car.
If coming bytrain, you’ll arrive at Southampton Central . From here, it’s a brisk 15-minute walk to the show, or you can hop on a free City Link bus to Town Quay, which runs every 15 minutes. Visit South West Trains for ticketing info and prices.
Food & Drink
Before you even consider starting your boat show experience, you need to fill up on some top quality fodder. We’re not talking a bowl of muesli here; a day like this requires a good old-fashionedBritish brekkie. The best place we’ve found to fill up is The Platform News and Blues Café , which abuts the popular Platform Tavern. Best of all, this café sits right outside one of the main entrances to the show. The café will be open every day of the show from 8am, and offers huge portions, quality sausages (very important), quick service and friendly staff. The basic Full English starts at £4.95.
Inside the show, the usual soggy, expensive fare presides. To our mind, the safest bet is the bacon baguette, the purveyors of which are dotted around the show. One good way toescape the madnessis to collar an exhibitor, or someone with links to the BMF, as the trade body’s lounge above The Mayflower Complex in Mayflower Park offers a quiet getaway.
For those with a taste of thehigh life, the SO40 restaurant takes bookings, but as we’re poor journalists and have never experienced such extravagance, we couldn’t possibly comment on its quality.
Drinks-wise, the ever-presentGuinnessstand is a must, even if the spoilsports have moved it away from the waterside and stuck it in the boat show boondocks. There’s simply no better place for a chinwag after gawping at all that beautiful GRP.The Solent Networks Crew Bar, found in the bottom left-hand corner of Mayflower Park, is also a pretty good bet, but prepare to sharpen your elbows when it’s busy.
National Boats Shows has made a few changes to the show this year to celebrate the event’s 40th birthday. TheMain Stagewill be the centrepiece of the show, and, like London, will offer fashion shows, films and special guest appearances. The H2O Zone is another new feature for 2008, and will be located in Solent Park, next to the Guinness stand.
Andladies, prepare to be pampered , as this year you can experience the best the show has to offer (for a price, of course – because you’re worth it).
If you just want to get away from it all, one of the best options is theRYA Members’ Lounge, which is found in The Arena section of the show. Head to stand B73 on the map and take a load off.
While there are sporadic areas of culinary joy throughout the city, Oxford Street still appears to hold all the aces when it comes toafter-show eats. Just book early to save disappointment.
The bestcurrywe’ve found to date is at Kuti’s . The décor may be almost as garish as the website, but fear not, a quality meal awaits. It can get crowded in here, so if you don’t fancy waiting, nip down Oxford Street to Poppadom Express , which comes a very close second. A word of warning: you may run into one or more members of the MBM team in either of the above, so don’t judge us too harshly when you see all the empty pint glasses on the table – it’s the curries, honest.
For a taste of the East, the King and I is an intimate restaurant that offers fantasticThaicuisine. It’s a walk from Oxford Street , but well worth it. You may even be treated to some traditional Thai dancing – not to be confused with the kind of dancing that goes on a few doors down at one particular venue.
For a morelaid-backexperience, head back to Oxford Street and the excellent White Star bar and restaurant. It’s not cheap, but for good food and drinks after a busy day at the show, few places can match it.
Further down Oxford Street, you’ll find Oxfords Restaurant , which is a favourite of the boat show crowd. Like all the other restaurants on Oxford Street, it can get busy but it always comes up with the goods. (Note: not to be confused with the Oxford Brasserie, which is unhelpfully right next door).
Last but not least, there’s always good old Pizza Express .
The centre of post-shownightlifeseems to be Oxford Street, with its bars and restaurants. There are more raucous alternatives, however. If you want to see the man you’ve just bought a boat off cutting some quite horrendous shapes on the dance floor, head to La Margherita , on Town Quay , just outside the show. You could even use what you witness as a bargaining tool if you’re intending to buy at the show. Try something like: “Give me 20% off or I’ll send the contents of my camera phone to Motor Boats Monthly.”
One tip that we absolutely have to share is this – avoid the High Street if you’re looking for an after-dinner drink, and whatever you do, do not venture into the Walkabout . Especially on a weekend. It’s not nice.
Due to the fact the entire marine industry descends on Southampton throughout the show,hotel roomsare at a premium. Local hoteliers know this only too well, and aren’t afraid to jack up their prices to eye-watering levels. If you are set on staying over, we suggest you focus your search on the following establishments.
The Dolphin sits at the higher end of the spectrum of hotels near the show, but is a clean and surprisingly funky place in the heart of Southampton’s sometimes scary high street. It’s a real oasis and offers a useful late-night bar. Rooms vary, but come with flat screen TVs and modern décor.
A moreaffordablealternative is offered by The Grapes in the middle of Oxford Street. If you hate leaving the pub, you can simply stay in one! The rooms are good value (if such a thing exists during the show) and are big, clean and offer en suite bathrooms. The enormous breakfast in the morning is not the greatest quality, but will fill a hole.
For a decent listing of other hotels on offer, follow this link .
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