Archive for Travel, Holidays and Hotels

5 Things To Do With The Kids In Birmingham

Gas Street Basin, Birmingham

No matter what time of year you visit Birmingham, there’s no shortage of things to see and do.

It’s particularly good for the kids, with a huge variety of attractions that are sure to keep them happy.  Even without leaving the city there’s a whole hub of activity around the canal basins, which is where the city grew up.

  1. The Sea Life Centre is a fantastic day out for children of all ages, with plenty to see, including the scary shark tunnel as well as lots of other ‘hands-on’ stuff.
    National Sea Life Centre

    Sea Life Centre

    It’s right there in the middle of town, right next to the canal, so is dead easy to get to.

  2. No short break to Birmingham would be complete without a visit to Cadbury World.  A short rail journey from Birmingham’s New Street Station gets you to the epicentre of the chocolate industry in Britain for over a century.  The visit takes you through the history of chocolate right through to the present day, with loads of samples dished out at various points along the way.  The cute little bubble buggies driving around add to the fun and there’s lots of outdoor space to sit out on a sunny day to enjoy a picnic on the grass

    Cadbury World

    Cadbury World

  3. Millennium Point houses the ThinkTank Science Museum, with its working models and multitude of hands-on exhibits and the fabulous ‘Giant Screen’ iMax cinema.  There’s also the Digital Planetarium, with its 360 degree dome.  These are great places to consider on a rainy day, with so much under one roof you could make a full day of it.
  4. The Gas Street Basin not only has some lovely walks around the canals and basin, but there are loads of great restaurants, coffee shops and bars to explore.  Or why not take one of the many canal narrow boat trips that are available and see the city from a completely different perspective?

    Millennium Point

    Millennium Point

  5. The newly opened Library of Birmingham isn’t just a place to read books.  With daily activities and exhibitions, there’ll be something of interest for everyone and whatsmore, it’s only a short walk from all of the city centre goings-on.

Don’t think of Britain’s second city as just a big urban sprawl.  Birmingham has some of the most interesting and enjoyable things to do that can be found anywhere in Britain.  Whatever the weather, you’re bound to find something that’s great for parents and kids alike and with a fantastic selection of affordable hotels from Hotel Direct located really close to all the attractions mentioned above it is the perfect place to visit if you want everything centrally located and easy to get to.

Hotel Stays With Holiday Inn

family meal

There’s nothing like a short break for recharging the batteries and when you have a young family, those batteries can need charging a bit more often!

Going away  for a weekend is always good and even if you can only manage a night away it does you the world of good!

Money is tight for almost all of us right now so we have less and less to spend on treating our family to a hotel stay. So if you could get a night or two in a hotel free then I bet you’d jump at the chance.

Holiday Inn Family holiday by the seaIHG, the brand behind most Holiday Inn  hotels, has a brilliant competition running right now. There’s a chance to win great prizes just by posting your own memories and/or photos of your hotel stays.  It can be any sort of hotel stay too – the sort of ‘stop and go’ at an airport hotel before jetting off on holidays, a city break weekend away, a night in a fancy hotel or a budget hotel – it doesn’t matter , they just want to hear about your memories.

A weekend at a Holiday Inn could be yours simply by tweeting a picture of one of your favourite family holiday photos or even a childhood holiday pic. You must use the #himemories tag when you post your pic and you must and mention one of the following hotels:

London Bloomsbury@HIBloomsbury
London Regent’s Park@HIRegentsPark
London Mayfair@HILondonMayfair
London Heathrow M4, Jct. 4 – @HIHeathrowM4J4
London Gatwick Airport@HIGatwickHotel
Edinburgh
@HI_Edinburgh
Glasgow Airport
@HIGlasgowAirprt
York
@HolidayInnYork1
London Kensington Forum@HIKensington
Bristol Filton
@HIBristolFilton

If you happen to be one of the lucky ones, then you could Win 1 of 10 weekends away at the hotel you mention.

And even if you don’t happen to have any old photos to tweet, you could still Win a night away in 1 of 49 hotels by simply tweeting a holiday memory, using the #himemories and mentioning one of the Holiday Inn hotels in the list below.

Try it! See if you can be one of the lucky one!  Here are the participating Holiday Inn hotels:

Holiday Inn Ashford – @HIAshfordKent
Aylesbury – @HIAylesbury
Holiday Inn Basildon – @HIBasildon
Holiday Inn Basingstoke – @HIBasingstoke
Holiday Inn Belfast – @HIBelfast
Holiday Inn Bexley” – @HIBexley
Holiday Inn Birmingham M6 – @HIBhamM6J7
Holiday Inn Brentwood M25 J28 – @HI_Brentwood
Holiday Inn Cambridge – @HICAMBRIDGE
Holiday Inn Chester South – @HIChestersouth
Holiday Inn Colchester – @HIColchester
Holiday Inn Coventry M6 Jct 2 – @HICoventryM6J2
Holiday Inn Derby Nottingham – @HIDerbyNotts
Holiday Inn Eastleigh – @HIEastleigh
Holiday Inn Edinburgh – City West – @HIEdinburghWest
Holiday Inn Fareham – @HIFareham
Holiday Inn Farnborough – @HIFarnborough
Holiday Inn Gloucester – @higloucester
Holiday Inn Guildford – @HolidayInnGuild
Holiday Inn Haydock M6 Jct 23 – @HIHaydock
Holiday Inn Heathrow Ariel – @HolidayInnAriel
Holiday Inn Hemel Hempstead M1J8 – @HIHemelHempM1
Holiday Inn Holiday Inn High Wycombe M40 J4 – @HIhighwycombe
Holiday Inn Hull Marina – @HIHullMarina
Holiday Inn Ipswich – @HIIpswich
Holiday Inn Lancaster – @HILancasterUK
Holiday Inn Leeds Brighouse – @BrighouseHI
Holiday Inn Leeds Wakefield M1 J40 – @HIWakefield
Holiday Inn Leicester – @HILeicesterCity
Holiday Inn London – Brent Cross – @HI_BrentCross
Holiday Inn London – Commercial Road – @HICommercialRd
Holiday Inn London – Sutton – @HISutton
Holiday Inn Maidenhead – @HIMaidenhead
Holiday Inn Maidstone – @HIMaidstone
Holiday Inn Milton Keynes – @HI_MiltonKeynes
Holiday Inn Norwich – @HINorwich
Holiday Inn Oxford – @HIOxford
Holiday Inn Portsmouth – @HIPortsmouth
Holiday Inn Reading South – @HIReadingSouth
Holiday Inn Rochester – @HI_Rochester
Holiday Inn Rugby Northampton – @HolidayInnRugby
Holiday Inn Runcorn – @HIRuncorn
Holiday Inn Southampton – @HISouthampton
Holiday Inn Stoke on Trent M6 J15 – @HIStokeonTrent
Holiday Inn Swindon – @HISwindon
Holiday Inn Taunton M5 Jct 25 – @HITaunton
Holiday Inn Warrington – @HIWarrington
Holiday Inn Washington – @HIWashington

Full terms and conditions can be seen here

Center Parcs Sherwood Forest

There’s always a kind of appeal to being shut off from your normal life.  If that can be done in somewhere as nice as your own home, then so much the better.

Executive lodge master bedroomWe can now be classed as ‘seasoned’ Center Parcs visitors and each new visit seems to bring a new pleasure, although the old ones, the ones we discovered on our very first visits, still remain.  Whatever it is, Center Parcs always manage to succeed on every occasion.  They seem to have their finger on the pulse of what a family needs and wants for a short break away from their day to day life at home.

The accommodation; the chalets/lodges, however you want to describe them are so cosy and comfortable and are well designed to get everyone together, whether it’s over a meal or to play some games, or around the Center Parcs Treehousebarbecue if the weather’s fine.  We seem to have spent more time sitting and talking with all our kids during the Center Parcs breaks than we do at home.

I think it’s all down to relaxation.  It’s a way to completely wind down and just do whatever you fancy, and let’s face it, there’s never a shortage of things to do in any of their Parcs.  The highlight of our trip is always the visit to the Aqua Sana Spa, where there are so many rooms and experiences, as well as treatments that you can’t help but to drift away into your own ‘happy’ world for a few hours.  It really is like an escape from your reality and a way to get rid of all the stresses and strains Games Room Executive Lodgethat life normally throws at you.  Even the kids – we still call them kids even though they’re not really ‘kids’ any more – thoroughly enjoy spending a few hours going from room to room.  It’s so refreshing and rejuvenating and you come away feeling like a new person every time.

Our last visit to Center Parcs Sherwood Forest happened to be the first break we’d ever spent there during the summer months.  When the sun shone it was really lovely.  The animals seemed to come out of their respective hiding places and we had squirrels, ducks and swans and all sorts of songbirds milling around outside our patio doors.  It was so nice walking around the Parc and seeing things we never had the chance to spend much time with on our previous rainy visits.  Mind you it really did pour down one of the days we were there this time, but it didn’t spoil anything.

Now that thCenter Parcs Swimming Poole kids are older we established a ‘cooking night’ routine, where we each took turns in preparing the main meal of the day.  We took a break on one night to have a lovely meal all together at Hucks, which was brilliant.  We were all literally stuffed when we left, having eaten a ludicrous amount of good food.  The walk back to the lodge helped us burn some of it off afterward though.

Many argue that it’s an expensive way of spending a week away, but we disagree.  You get what you pay for, and that is a holiday that allows you to not have to worry about ANYTHING.  It’s somewhere you can go with the flow and not have a care in the world, whilst living in well-appointed and comfortable accommodation with all mod-cons to hand.  There’s free WiFi in every lodge, Flat screen TVs with DVD players, not only in the main living area, but in some of the bedrooms too, games for the little ones, sun Canoeing Center Parcsloungers and outdoor tables and chairs too.

For those busy little ones, there’s an enormous amount of activity that they can get involved in, whether it’s the ‘Subtropical Swimming Paradise’, with its slides, rapids and lazy river or some of the escorted wildlife walks that take them to the more remote parts of the park.  The staff seemed to be so good with the little ones they all seemed to be having a ball and shouting and singing as they went.

We entertained ourselves playing table tennis, snooker, ten-pin bowling and simply walking and cycling around the extensive grounds.  There was never a chance to be bored.  Even rainy days were covered with a comfy settee dining room center parcsand a good book!

It’s strange how it grows on you, Center Parcs.  Despite our numerous previous visits, we still look forward to, and still enjoy our visits immensely and Sherwood Forest, with its central location, is an easy location to get to from almost all parts of the UK.  From the moment you’re met at the arrivals lodge to the time you drive away a few days later it’s chill time – big style!

 

Read about our Mummy Blogger’s visit to Longleat Center Parcs with her famiy

Holiday Ideas For You And Your Baby

baby swimmingFantastic summer deals are being pinned up in shop windows and the sun cream is flying off the supermarket shelves

The holiday season is almost upon us! But perhaps you feel like you can’t allow yourself the luxury of a trip abroad because of the newest addition to your little family. Well, think again!

Being a parent is tough, but everyone deserves a break. Holidays are meant to be relaxing yet a lot of adults spend too much time worrying about destinations, baggage allowance and whether they will find enough activities to keep their little ones entertained.

Holidays abroad with young children

The good news is that there are now more toddler friendly holiday resorts than ever before. Each one has all the equipment and facilities you need to create a safe environment in which you can actually relax and enjoy your holiday together!

So with that in mind, where should you go? If you fancy venturing beyond the boundaries of the UK for the promise of reliable and unbroken sunshine, France, Italy and Spain are always popular since they guarantee great weather and are easy to get to.

How do I find holidays suitable for babies?

There are a handful of websites that list some excellent tailor made holiday properties for families children in poolwith pre-school children. Tots To Travel was created by a mother who was frustrated at the lack of safe, family friendly accommodation, so you know that everything on there comes as recommended from a parent that understands your concerns.

Similarly, Baby Friendly Botholes and Holiday Tots only list holidays suitable for parents and toddlers – not just in the UK and Europe but further afield too!

Holidays with everything on site

If you’re looking for a bit of adventure and a location with everything you need on site, then family holidays in Italy with Eurocamp are a good option. It’s not camping in a tent in an overgrown field – oh no! Eurocamp sites have modern lodges and bungalows – so there are no stairs or balconies to worry about!

The site at Lake Garda, for example, has a superb pool complex with slides, fountains and spray playgrounds that Baby will adore. From the start of May to the end of September there is something called a Mini Fun Station Parc, which is specifically designed to entertain children from six months to five years with a range of fun indoor and outdoor activities (led by fully trained and qualified people).
The cosy lodges and bungalows have kitchens so you can cook your own meals, or you can eat out at restaurants on-site. The park actually leads directly onto Lake Garda, so it’s perfect for paddling!

Great choice

So there’s no need to struggle for holiday ideas. Whether you’re thinking of this summer or next, there are plenty of websites and options that prove it’s easier than you think when it comes to taking Baby abroad.

June 13

Check out some of our Hotel & Holiday Reviews

Kingdom of the Elves at Bluestone National Park Resort

We wanted to share a magical experience with our family to start the festive season and Bluestone National Park Resort was our choice. Only an hour an a half car journey from our house,  a luxury five star timber lodge awaited us.  Set in the heart of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Bluestone boasts acres of ‘rolling pastures , historical ruins & an idyllic place to create memories’.

Upon arrival, the staff were friendly, making check-in a really easy experience and within 5 minutes we were in our lodge. However, this is where the luxury began. We booked a 4 bed luxury lodge (Grassholm) as there were 5 of us, but it could have easily slept double this… With its tall pitched ceilings and timber exposed beams, crisp white cotton bed linen, and many quality fixtures and fittings all added to the feel of this luxury experience. The other added feaGrassholm Luxury Lodgetures included a 42″ LCD tv, DVD player, 3 bathrooms, under floor heating & free internet access! Those with young families could also have piece of mind with both top & bottom stair gates but I would like to see the roller blinds have a fitted attachment at the bottom of the pull-cord to secure to the window frame as little ones playing could easily get caught out!  If there was a negative, the lodge was pretty cold upon arrival, but this was turned around pretty quickly when we put the radiators on in all of the rooms, and within the hour we were “home”.  Be aware that they do provide hair dryers and irons for use but you need to collect them from Guest Services with a fully refundable deposit.

We planned a few activities during our stay but The Kingdom of the Elves at Bluestone (sorry The Kingdom of the Elves featuring Cinderella!) definitely proved to be the highlight. Fifteen pounds per head was money well spent. Two hours of entertainment that takes you on a journey meeting many characters and participating in many fun tasks, as well as collecting stamps to complete their journey. Starting with Button’s Boutique dressing like Knights & Princess (also obtaining costumes), decorating cakes with Fairy Upside-down (taking home your very own decorated cake), becoming a band member in the music room, helping to find the key with Father-time, collecting the balls with the Silly Sisters ‘Fruit & Nut’ while all along looking for the missing sliver slipper. Finally in the Star Room (where the missing slipper was found) you got to help Tomorrow Knight to find his Cinderella. A celebration dance to finish marked the end of this magical journey.  An experience not to be missed!

The weather was very wet and as we were on a tightish timeframe we decided on hiring a golf buggy. This was an instant hit with the kids and a god-send to us all getting about the park. There is a mini-bus service which was very adaptable and extremely friendly but didn’t give us the freedom we wanted as it only runs once an hour. Hiring a buggy didn’t come cheap but we compromised by eating in our lodge instead of eating out which paid for itself. We did however always make sure that an adult was at the back to hold onto the kids as there weren’t any seatbelts!

Later the same day, we shared story time with Santa and his comical Elf helper who had the children dancing, stretching and chiming along. Santa was just like the pictures, white beard, big belly, round face, a rosy nose and a gentle soft voice. The children made magical reindeer dust and tied it with their names to take home and put on our lawns on Christmas Eve. This will help guide Santa to our houses. He’s not going to miss ours as we have three bags!!! The children all took in turns to meet Santa and each received a gift.

There were many facilities available on the park but we didn’t manage to see and do everything – we barely scratched the surface! We experienced the Adventure Centre (not only for Christmasland) with it’s mini golf, large timber climbing frames with twirly slides, Lego station , and even a climbing wall and tree tops climbing experience (there was an additional cost for these). For younger children there was a bouncy castle, soft play, many ride on toys and a very large chill out tepee.

We went to the Blue Lagoon Water Park on more than one occasion. All pools had walk in ends which instantly gave my youngest confidence. My children loved the water and all the different pools, slides, wave machine & lazy river that took you outside – on this particular wet cold wintery evening you can imagine how quick I swam to get around! The facilities were kept very clean and there always seemed to be an assistant if you needed help.

The most relaxing part for me was my pamper session at The Well Spa (situated in the Village Square ). I had a 30 minute Decleor facial booked to detoxify and rejuvenate my skin. Once I completed the usual paperwork I was escorted upstairs to await my therapist. I was then shown to one of the eleven treatment rooms. With muted lights and soft music there was already a fear of me falling asleep. The treatment & products were explained to me and then it was time to unwind. My therapist had lovely warm gentle hands applying the products and then removing with warm moist flannels. Massaging with each application and finishing with an Indian head massage. The Decleor range was totally natural products and scented with essential oils. I was pleased to say that although I have very sensitive skin I had no adverse reaction with these products. I was actually so taken with the texture and scent that I couldn’t help but purchase an early Christmas present in the form of a Decleor gift set. Before I left it was recommended that I rehydrate with some chilled water and a lie down in the relaxation room but I did feel a little overdressed as everyone else had robes on.

This was our first visit to Bluestone and a memorable one it’s been. Although our short break was quite expensive you were definitely paying for luxury and to save the pennies for our future visits I will always check out the great offers & packages online.

(Sian went to Bluestone with husband George and 3 children 2, 4 and 6)

Travelling with a Toddler: Avoid Common Mistakes

toddler travelBefore children arrive, travelling is, for many couples, a simple and relaxing experience.

Once the family starts to grow and there are more than two people to consider, travel of any kind can seem daunting – but it needn’t be, if you plan ahead.

Babies are relatively easy to travel with but travelling with a toddler is when the ‘fun’ really starts! The natural inquisitiveness, restlessness and general contrariness of the average toddler can make even a short drive a trial – how on earth do people manage to go on holiday, and actually enjoy it?

Clever packing is the key

There are a number of things parents can do to make traveling with their little ones simpler, and even fun. Firstly, prepare your child for what is going to happen before they go; tell them, for example, you will be getting on a plane or a train, having lunch, then arriving and going to a hotel, so they know what is happening and can look forward to things.

When packing, make sure favorite teddies or blankets are included, as well as any necessary medicines you will need. Pack light, if you can, as chances are you will end up carrying a toddler as well as your luggage at some point!

On the journey, whether it’s a train, plane, car or boat, make sure you have a small rucksack on you at all times with a change of clothes (for them and you!), plenty of favorite snacks and drinks, and tools for distraction – books, DVD player, little games you can play together. If you have a tablet PC or smartphone, load it up with simple games your toddler can play. If you can, get up and walk around a lot, pointing out all the interesting things you can see both inside and out. For long journeys, you could try wrapping a number of little items such as stickers or new toys, and bringing one out every half hour or so as a surprise. Where possible, if driving, stop frequently for a run around in the fresh air.

Plan ahead to reduce delays and disappointment

A handy tip when flying is to have one parent board as soon as they can, stowing luggage and arranging seats, with the other parent and children boarding last; airlines may allow families to board first, but that can result in small children having to sit in their seats for 20 minutes or more whilst everyone else boards. Much better to have them do some more running around whilst everyone else boards.

For the holiday itself, reduce stress by planning ahead and pre-ordering important items such as show tickets or Disney tickets, to avoid queues. Don’t expect toddlers to have a huge attention span, and think about how you will fit any required naps into the day; taking a buggy for naps can be helpful, even if your child walks most everywhere now.

By thinking ahead and packing well, even families with the most energetic of toddlers can travel calmly and enjoyably!

Read some of our recent hotel and holiday reviews!

Our Family Holiday at Butlins Ocean Hotel, Bognor Regis

Butlins Ocean Hotel

Modern & Fun Lobby Furniture

The Ocean Hotel, home of the Butlins Butler.

 

It was our first holiday at Butlins Ocean Hotel and I will admit I was a little apprehensive at first. The “Hi-de-hi” images of dated and old fashioned parks came to mind, that is until we arrived and they were soon replaced by an extremely modern ocean themed hotel with a fresh and quirky entrance and chic
decor. There was even a spa on the reception floor!! We checked in at three and from the moment we arrived there seemed to be lots of staff offering assistance with luggage and directions. It was a quick & easy check-in but even this experience was enhanced with the self serve refreshments on offer to wash away that tired feeling after our long journey to the south coast.

When we booked, we hoped to have a room in the Shoreline Hotel which was the family themed hotel, and we were initially disappointed that the rooms in the Shoreline only slept four. As we are a family of five the Ocean Hotel (spa & hotel) was our only option and we weren’t disappointed. Our room was located on the (orange) fourth floor – each floor was colour co-ordinated which made it easier especially for the children to find – and the second we got into the lift the entertainment began.

Bonnie Bear

Bonnie Bear

The lifts were quite dark with flashing blue spotlights, a sparkly floor & disco music. We had lots of dances in there during the week but I’m sure it wouldn’t be everyones cup of tea… When we got to our room it was bright, modern, and more spacious that I was expecting. This was
definitely a good sized open plan room with two sleeping areas separated by the bathroom and we had a balcony over looking the fairground and sea. Being right opposite the fairground did worry us at first as we thought it was going to be noisy in the evenings, but in fact most evenings the funfair closed at 6pm with two exceptions when it closed at 9pm – very reasonable and well thought out indeed. Not that the balcony was a negative, far from it, but I have to admit I was initially nervous with three young children 4 floors up on a balcony, so I had to double check that each panel was securely fastened (which of course it was) and that the gaps between the toughened glass panes were too small to squeeze through but once this was done, we did relax a little.

Kids Room at the Ocean

Kid’s Room

The room was entertainment itself especially for the kids too. At one stage we had one on the balcony watching the rides, one in the bathroom watching the fluorescent lights over the bath & my eldest (almost six) found himself enjoying his own telly in his room. My only negative was that there wasn’t enough storage for a family of five. They did have a plastic box under each single (children’s) bed but I had to clean them before use. But back to the positives - each morning when the maid had been around she would create an animal out of two small towels which was fun for the kids and a lovely touch. I would also like to mention a free safe deposit box was included in our room which was piece of mind for us as we had passports with us.

Towel Elephant

We had breakfast and dinner included in our package, which turned out really well as it gave us the choice to choose where we ate our meals and also to explore the restaurants on site. Included in the package we were also allowed to choose a character breakfast which for us was located in Papa Johns – this was a buffet-style breakfast with a visit from Billy & Bonnie Bear. The kids thoroughly enjoyed the food but the entertainment was second to none.

We also had buffet dinner at Papa Johns on our first evening but I have to say we were disappointed with the cleanliness and lack of food choices/availability ofpizza on offer on the buffet. Slow service was an issue too as we had to wait quite a while for drinks. Disappointed with this we tried the “The Deck” the next day, but this time with much more success. The Deck had excellent food choices and great service, but quality of food was not the best we came across on site. Finally we tried in-house at the “Kaleidoscope Restaurant” and we didn’t venture far again. It was fantastic quality, excellent choice & superb service. Both breakfast and dinner were five star every day, and I can’t say enough good things about it. We also discovered the booth seating area which worked really well with the kids being penned in to eat their dinner.Butlins Ocean Hotel

So, the food was great, the room was great, but what about the entertainment? Well, the entertainment was on offer all day, everyday, for everyone, and most
of the activities and shows are included but some needed to be booked in advance. We were given an entertainment booklet on arrival which we nicknamed our  “Butlins Bible”. The booklet was a great source of knowledge as the activities and entertainment were broken down into age groups, daily timetables and more detailed descriptions of events. It was extremely useful and a lot of thought has gone into it. As our three children are all six & under we concentrated on the shows that most suited their age, like getting close to the animals at the Wild Show (exciting & educational), Billy’s Photo Story Puppet Show which was fun and Angelina Ballerina’s Zumba Dance which was energetic. We saw many different children’s characters with opportunity for photo shoots too.

All of this was without exploring the funfair too. Most of the funfair rides were free, and they had lost of rides for kids of all ages to go on like the traditional bumper cars, go karts, teacup rides and flying spaceships. There was even a soft play area inside, and most pleasing of all, even in the height of summer the queues were a maximum of 10 mins per ride. There was plenty to keep our kids of 2,4 and 5 happy but I do have to add that the carousel being out of order was a disappointment.The park’s many facilities also included a great swimming pool with lots of water slides, water guns, a wave machine & Jacuzzi. The pool had a large walk-in shallow end which worked well for my young children who aren’t that confident in water and the water temperature was good. It really was an excellent swimming pool which would have been a haven if the great British weather let us down. I was however disappointed with the shower temperature. It was way too hot and the children wouldn’t even rinse off and I couldn’t blame them.  I also heard pretty much every other parent complaining. Finally, access to the pool was not too easy as the buggy and wheelchair access was closed until you asked them to open it!

View from our balcony overlloking the fun fair

Our Balcony Views

Butlins Ocean Hotel Bognor Regis is a massive site and the upkeep of these grounds must be a very big job in itself. This said I was very impressed that it was kept so well. Daily we saw staff cleaning, gardeners pruning, and even someone IN the ponds clearing and tidying the reeds. Whether it was early morning, during the day or late in the evening the grounds would reflect how much time was invested in keeping it in such a good state. There were some more great touches found around the site too. At the entrance to all restaurants, the pavilion and many more places you could find alcohol hand wash dispensers to help keep everyone as clean and germ free as possible; all the shops had modern up to date toys which pleased the kids and most of the lawns had picnic blankets laid out for anyone to use which was the perfect solution as we forgot ours!

All in all, this was a great holiday, and one which I admit surpassed our expectations by a long way. My mental images of the old Butlins have now definitely by replaced a new, modern, superbly clean Butlins that I would be happy to recommend to friends and families of all ages.

For more information, go to the Butlins website.  If you’re interested in a Butlins Spa break at the Butlins Ocean Hotel, read a review here.

 

 

Preparing for our Family Holiday in France

GB Sticker

We have three young children and were all heading off on our first family holiday abroad.

 

We thought that choosing a holiday that didn’t entail too much time in the car would be a good idea so France was a logical destination. We thought that a drive, a ferry crossing followed by another drive didn’t seem too bad and would keep the cost down and give us our own transport when we’re there.

I made a list of all main things I would need from passports, tickets, foreign currency and insurance policies. What more would I need besides beach wear, sunscreen & first aid box!

As this is all new to us I decided to look on the internet and was surprised to read the ‘other essential things’ I needed.

So I thought I’d share them with you too:

  • Valid Driving License (both the photo card and paper counterpart)
  • A GB sticker clearly displayed on the back of your car (unless your car has ‘Euro-plates’ – number-plates that show a circle of 12 stars on a blue background)
  • Headlamp converters (stickers you put on your headlights when you’re driving on the right, so your lights don’t dazzle motorists coming the other way)
  • Single Use Breathalysers are obligatory in all motorised vehicles as of 1 July 2012 (Road users are advised to carry at least two breathalysers at all times & kits should complying with French regulations and carrying the “NF” label. Available from Halfords from £3)
  • Carry a Warning Triangle (Compulsory)
  • Reflective Jackets (jacket must be stored in the vehicle not kept in the boot) Non-compliance is a fine able offence

While driving in France, did you also know:

  • Children under 10 can’t travel in the front seat
  • The drink-driving limit is 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood – lower than the UK limit of 80mg per 100ml
  • The speed limit is 50kph in towns, 80-100kph on open roads and 110-130kph on motorways
  • It is illegal to cross, even partially, on to the hard shoulder of a motorway without due cause.
  • In built-up areas, if there’s no yellow diamond sign, you must give way to any cars coming out of a side turning on the right
  • In-car radar detectors and satellite navigation systems which warn of the presence of speed cameras or radars are illegal whether in use or not. Their use or possession can attract fines and/or, confiscation of the device and the vehicle.

Bon Voyage  x

February Half Term in London – Part 3

So, I’m back for the last time to talk about my family’s favourite days out in London.

There’s no time like half term than to indulge your children and bring them to their Capital City for the day and you don’t have to spend a fortune (although you certainly could if you wanted) because London really does have the best selection on offer for absolutely free. Lots of places, museums in particular ask for no more than a donation that suits your pocket so it really does make it viable to travel from further afield and grasp with both hands all we have to offer families here in London! I’ve talked previously about free things, something for a modest budget and a total treat and in this instalment it’s no different but I may just have saved some of the best till last…

BEST FOR FREE

The Science Museum, South Kensington – District Line, www.sciencemuseum.org.uk

We go to the ‘Science Museum’all the time and never get bored, we sometimes while away hours upon hours trawling round everything and going back to the bits we love the most and other days we just pop in to have a play in the ‘Basement’ which is set up especially for under fives. With a whole area for them to play, explore and try out experiments suitable for their age it’s a fabulous day out in itself forgetting that there are floors upon floors and displays upon displays of other things to keep the little ones (and the big ones) entertained. While you’re there check out one of the ‘Bubble’ talks which are not only fun, interactive and educational but suitable for children of all ages.

Playing with water at the ‘Science Museum’

Playing with water at the ‘Science Museum’

Upstairs the ‘Launch Pad’ is also designed for little minds but slightly older ones this time. With lots of hands on experiments as well as more ‘talks’ there really is something for everyone. For the rest of your time there my favourites have to be the human body exhibition, the area where your photo can be taken and aged up down or changed in sex and I simply love the household goods from  bygone times not least because there is a ‘Baby Daisy’ vacuum cleaner donated to the Museum by my own Grandmother on view.

What else is in the vicinity?

When visiting the ‘Science Museum’ why not check out the ‘Natural History Museum’ next door. A stones throw away and with a world of entertainment for little ones it’s certainly not one to be missed and it definitely won’t be forgotten. Dinosaurs, stuffed animals, fossils… This really is for any little explorers you might have and despite it not being as hands on and interactive as The Science Museum it’s still a great day out for the children! A short walk away from both museums is the ‘Princess Diana Memorial Playground’, a playground like no other you will have ever been to.

On the warmest October day ever in the ‘Princess Diana Memorial Playground’

On the warmest October day ever in the ‘Princess Diana Memorial Playground’

In Hyde Park and right next door to ‘Kensington Palace’ it’s a lovely central location from which you can start or finish your day. In summer children can splash about in the water feature but in winter it’s like an enchanted garden, a BIG one. There may be a small queue in busier times but it’s worth the wait and your offspring, no matter how old they are will NOT be disappointed! From a giant pirate ship to Tee Pee tents, tunnels and tree houses, this place has it all!

BUDGET TREAT

The National Army Museum, Kids’ Zone £2.50 per child (under 2s FREE)

Sloan Square – Circle and District Lines,

www.nam.ac.uk

Now this is one we haven’t actually been to ourselves yet but I have it on very good authority that it’s a wonderful experience! With the majority of the museum and its exhibitions being completely free of charge and only having to pay for the Kids’ Zone it’s a very inexpensive day out and I hear the children love it! It’s one we’ll be visiting in half term that’s for sure as it would appear that it’s suitable for absolutely all ages from tiny babies to adults!

Having a splashing time in the grounds of the ‘Chelsea Hospital’

Having a splashing time in the grounds of the ‘Chelsea Hospital’

At the moment there is the popular ‘War Horse’ exhibition which explores the hugely popular Michael Morpurgo novel alongside touching real-life stories of war horses and the men who depended on them. Featuring exclusive content from Michael Morpurgo, the acclaimed stage production by the National Theatre and the Spielberg-directed film, this hands-on, interactive exhibition is one for all the family and one I’m particularly looking forward to! Of course there’s so much more to this museum with an extensive program of events and activities complementing their permanent galleries and for the children not only is there the ‘Action Zone’ where older ones can get interactive bringing history to life but the aforementioned Kids’ Zone for the tiny ones. As stated this is chargeable and is hugely popular so a slot MUST be booked in advance to avoid disappointment. This new children’s play area explores aspects of army life from camping to clothing. It includes a dedicated soft-play space for babies, plus arts and crafts, dressing-up costumes, books, interactive toys and panels. Worth a visit I think don’t you?! When you leave don’t forget to pop down the road and take a walk round the ‘Chelsea Hospital’, home to the Chelsea Pensioners.

We took a fabulous walk round the grounds there in the summer, it’s free to get in and beautiful so don’t miss it! It’s quite moving to see the elderly gentlemen taking the air and enjoying their well deserved retirement.

Having a splashing time in the grounds of the ‘Chelsea Hospital’ last summer.

A SPECIAL DAY OUT

Lollibop’s Mini Disco, Ministry of Sound, Elephant and Castle – Northern and Bakerloo Lines, 12-5pm £10 pp or £15pp on the door (for ages 3 – 10 years), Booking line 0844 844 0444 or online with Ticketmaster,

 www.lollibopfewtival.co.uk

The ‘Lollibop Festival’ comes to London once a year in the summer and is the only festival entirely dedicated to little ones. Just as with an adult festival there is live music, dancing, food and attractions galore and do you know, it was one of the best days out we have ever had so when we left after our magical day knowing it would be another year before we could experience some ‘Lollibob festival’ glory again it was with a little sadness in our step.

Florence at ‘Lollibop Festival’ in the summer

Florence at ‘Lollibop Festival’ in the summer

Imagine our delight then, when we heard about the disco they are specially hosting for this half term! Kick off the kid’s holiday with a banging start and head down to what will undoubtedly be a brilliant day out for the whole family! DJ’s Dick and Dom will be pumping out the tunes while special appearances will be made by favourites such as Scooby Doo! Plus there’ll be loads of activities during the day such as beat boxing and hula hoop workshops, dance games, live music, story telling, bubble shows and entertainers! If it’s even a smidgen of just one hour’s worth of the normal festival it’s gonna be a sure fire winner and you’d be mad to miss it if you can help it!

So there we have the last of my top picks for half term and don’t forget all the best of the rest London has to offer from City Farms dotted all over the place with FREE entry, ‘Kids AM’ film screenings at ‘Vue Cinemas’ across the Capital (costing from just £1.50 per ticket for adults and children, www.myvue.com) and all the other wonderful and FREE museums of which there are plenty… It’s also worth looking to see if your train operator offers two for one entry on many attractions as so many do and then you can take a real treat to affordable in one easy step! Just get googling and come to your Capital City!

Ruth

Ruth Davies blogger at http://rocknrollerbaby.livejournal.com

February Half Term in London – Part 2

Museum of Childhood

Pretending to drive a police car in the ‘Museum of Childhood’

Well, as you may have realised from my previous post, I’m passionate about taking children out in London, showing them the sights, teaching them the history behind this beautiful City and showing them what London in 2012 has to offer!

Besides the upcoming Olympics there is a tremendous amount to be enjoyed with children in our Capital City but with the games approaching what better time is there to bring your children to London and sample the delights on offer! The summer will be truly hectic and while it will surely be fun and exciting I think February half term could be just the time to come and experience a little bit of London life. I have been writing about things to do for free, something for a small budget and a blow out treat and I hope you enjoy my selections for this, my second instalment.

BEST FOR FREE

The Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green – Central Line.

This is a great little place to stop by and feed your own nostalgia as well as being given the opportunity to show your children what you were playing with when you were their age. With so many toys from other eras it’s a treasure trove of interesting finds but it doesn’t stop there. There is always an exhibition or two which will capture your little ones attention (at the moment it’s ‘Magic Worlds’ where children can delve into the realms of fantasy, illusion and enchantment with the major new exhibition revealing how magic has been embraced for hundreds of years) and a program of events which are full to the max for half term. There are of course the regular features too like the rocking horses, a little ones play area and a sensory zone! Plenty of interactive play to wear the children out and thoroughly have a good time!

What else is in the vicinity?

After the ‘Museum of Childhood’ why not hop on the tube a couple of stops to Stratford, home of the Olympic stadium and the new ‘Westfield Shopping Centre’ which also has surprisingly great facilities and play areas for the kids as well as a brilliant viewing platform of the work in progress for the games. You could pop in for a bit of retail therapy before taking the kids to your next stop of the day. Next try out the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) which is actually a bit of a treat in itself and I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t like to sit at the front and pretend to be driver! Either alight at the next stop, Pudding Mill Lane, and take a walk along the Green Way where you will be able to view the stadium up close in all it’s amazing glory or just watch as it goes by from the window of the train and head on to West India Quay, home to the ‘London Museum of Docklands.

Building a dam at the ‘London Museum of Docklands’

Building a dam at the ‘London Museum of Docklands’

I always head here when in the area because it’s a simply fascinating museum and you can book a slot for their magical soft play area for the children to have a run around in. It’s actually a little bit more than just soft play with lots of hands on and interactive games and display, our favorite being the real river where you can build a dam; you could easily spend more than just your allotted hour which is why we go back time and time again. While you wait for your time slot neither you nor your children will be disappointed with everything else on offer and will enjoy learning about the history of the docks in the extra special way that it is provided!

A BUDGET TREAT

Thames Clippers, various routes, Adult fares from £3, children from £2 and under 5’s FREE.

Us with friends enjoying a ‘Thames Clipper’ trip

Us with friends enjoying a ‘Thames Clipper’ trip

Not to be used just by commuters and passengers who have to travel this fun boat on the Thames acting like a bus service can be used to travel from destination to destination and really become an attraction of the day itself! It’s really easy to hop on and hop off and your usual tube pass can be used with a top up fee making it incredibly easy too! If for instance you want to travel from the ‘Southbank Centre’ to the ‘Tate Modern’ why not hop on a ‘Thames Clipper’ instead of the tube or bus! Enjoy a scenic trip down the Thames and let the children have an experience they will remember as they watch the famous landmarks from a different view point! I loved taking Florence on the Clipper and the friends we travelled with had just as much fun as us. If you’re looking round some of the free things in London it’s an inexpensive way to really spice up the day and give it an extra twist. Buy a day pass and use it for your entire trip or just hop on for one ride only, either way it’s something that bit more unusual than your average public transport and not something you’ll do every day! Unless you’re a commuter of course!

A SPECIAL DAY OUT

The Tower of London, Tower Hill – District, Circle Lines and DLR, ticket prices start at (individual rates) of £19.80 for adults, £10.45 for children between 5 and 16 (under 5’s are free) and £17.05 for concessions, packages are available.

Possibly not a great one for the very tiny, as steps are in abundance here but if you’re seasoned sling wearers like us then it shouldn’t prove a problem and the little ones will find just as much to enjoy here as the big ones so don’t let the steps put you off if you can cope! We love walking past the Tower as often seems to happen living in London but hadn’t been inside before and when recently we finally did we realised we had been missing out! It is steeped in history with something to capture all imaginations and stimulate an interest in the ‘Tower of London’.

My family enjoying our day out at the ‘Tower of London’

My family enjoying our day out at the ‘Tower of London’

It is a brilliant day out! I’d say 3 hours is probably about the best amount of time to allocate when visiting with children as there is enough to capture their attention for that long but it is tiring due to the walking and stair climbing so too long might be a bit over the top for young ones. Visit the gory bloody tower, take a tour with a Yeoman Warder (or Beefeater as they’re more popularly known), check out the Royal Beasts exhibition and see the many beast sculptures throughout the tower. Watch live enactments of historical scenes, see carvings on the walls left by prisoners and get to visit the crown jewels and try to make the soldiers who guard them smile (impossible)! Walking round the battlements and looking out over London is a lovely experience for both old and young and I really do think that if it’s history, fun and something totally special to London that you’re after then here is the place to be!

So that was my second lot of choices for fabby days out with children in London but if nothing has caught your eye just yet, do come back and read the third and final part of this series soon.

Ruth

Ruth Davies blogger at http://rocknrollerbaby.livejournal.com