Center Parcs Longleat – amazing family break

Where can you enjoy a few days of fresh air, be completely car-free, spend time swimming with your family, and also enjoy delicious pancakes and the most hysterical magic show you have ever seen, just a few hours drive away from home?? Center parcs really does have it all…

We’re no strangers to Center parcs, having now been 3 times.  Friends often ask me about it, and so I decided to write a blog post to share some of our favourite activities at Center parcs, and a few tips as well.

Admittedly Center parcs is not a cheap holiday, but if you’re able to go outside of school holidays it really can be a good deal.

Our last visit was a 4-night midweek break to Center Parcs Longleat Forest in the summer of 2016.  The previous year we had been to Woburn Forest.  I think there are pros and cons to each, but in this post I will concentrate on Longleat as that was our most recent trip.  If anyone is interested I can cover more about Woburn in my next post!  One of the features I like most about Longleat is the stunning forest.  It is more expansive than Woburn, which is either an advantage or a disadvantage depending on your point of view.  But it is the type of tree and the density of the trees at Longleat which I find most alluring.

Center Parcs Longleat forest

The accommodation is fairly basic but we have always found it very comfortable.  Our kids always enjoy arriving and making the place their own by drawing all over the blackboard in the living area.  We stayed in a 3-bedroom woodland lodge this time, which had one shared bathroom and a kitchen area.  At the front of the lodge is an area to lock up bikes and trailers.  At the back is a little patio with a barbecue and a small table with a few chairs.  We were lucky enough to catch sight of this little fellow rustling around behind our lodge!

Deer outside woodland lodge

Our oldest is obsessed with swimming so while other people usually arrive and get settled into their lodge straightaway, we always find ourselves heading to the pool first, then dinner, then getting our bicycles from the bike rental place, then heading to the lodge around 8pm, when everybody else seems to have that bit done and dusted!  Completely backwards!  Swimming is included in the price of your visit to Center parcs and is probably one of the highlights for most people who visit.  It can get rather busy and confusing in the Longleat changing rooms – the layout at the newer Woburn resort is definitely better and you can get an electronic wristband which locks and unlocks your locker, and can be used to purchase food and drinks as well.  The pool area at Woburn also has a great area for the little ones that looks like a pirate ship.  Though Longleat has toddler areas they were not as exciting for our preschooler.  One advantage Longleat has is part of the pool is outdoors, which is enjoyable if the weather is cooperative!

img_0834
Some stepping stones over an indoor pond, near the entrance to the subtropical swimming zone
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
White water rapids slide in the subtropical swimming zone – our 7 year old daughter had a blast on all the water slides

We really enjoy cycling everywhere while at Center parcs.  Everything you need to do this can be hired from the cycle hut, but you can bring your own bicycles and this would save money.  We adults hired bicycles, and one for our 7 year old, but the 3 year old brought his balance bike, and for the 1 year old we hired a trailer.  It was easy to fit the 3 and the 1 year old in the trailer at the same time, when needed, as there are enough straps to fasten them both in safely.

img_0851
The Spa at Center Parcs Longleat
img_0859
Relaxation area at Aqua Sana Spa, Longleat

The spa at Woburn Forest is newer and state-of-the-art.  I was lucky enough to spend a few hours there with my husband last year.  This year I decided to try out the spa at Longleat for the first time, and I wasn’t disappointed!  Though not quite as flashy as Woburn it is nonetheless incredibly relaxing and service is top-notch.  Basking in the little suntrap with a magazine on a recliner, after a massage, is one of my best memories of our visit to Center parcs!

img_0933
Nutty Noah the Magician

img_0870

The other big draw for us at Longleat is the magic show at the Pancake House.  This takes place just twice a week, and it doesn’t seem to be very well-advertised so many people don’t even realise it is on!  This surprises me as it really is too good to miss.  Nutty Noah, the entertainer, is really the most hilarious magician you will ever meet!  And he also does some very good magic!  The children were falling about laughing uncontrollably, as were the adults, for the entirety of the show.  Just plain brilliant.

Delicious savoury pancakes
Delicious savoury pancakes

img_1047

When you attend on magic show night (which absolutely must be booked in advance) the price you pay includes a savoury pancake and the dessert buffet, as well as the show.  The picture above of a dessert waffle, was actually taken when we returned to the pancake house the following day, for more gluttony!  I am not sure this is meant to be the point of a Center Parcs holiday, but for us scoffing pancakes and waffles at this restaurant is very much now a tradition.  On the day we returned we were delighted to find there was another entertainer doing free balloon modelling for the children.  He will literally make any animal you ask for!  So both our kids got a nice souvenir.

One of the activities our children enjoyed was “mini crossbows”.  It’s a short, indoor activity, but was enjoyable for both a 3 and a 7-year old with a budding interest in archery.

img_0999
Mini-crossbows

My husband and I managed to escape for a couple hours to play tennis, while the older children attended the kids’ club in the “activity den” and our youngest was with my parents who joined us for a couple days at Center parcs.  There are a few events to choose from which take place at the activity den, that are aimed at 3-7 year olds.  My daughter has previously been to the pirate and princess party, which was a big hit, but this time she decided on the Mad Hatter’s tea party.  They seemed to enjoy decorating hats, playing games, and each had a box of cupcakes to show off when they emerged at the end of the session.  There was also an opportunity at the finish to watch them singing together as a group with the other children, which was sweet.

I’ve included some photos at the end here, from our visit to Longleat Safari Park, which is really just next door to Center Parcs Longleat Forest.  Right after checking out of Center Parcs on the last day, we went to the safari park.  There is so much to do here, we didn’t manage it all!  The kids absolutely loved it.  The boat cruise is good fun, and there are some great activities.  There is also an indoor area which our kids enjoyed, with a chamber full of balloons, with a fan in each corner.  Our 19 month old in particular thought this was the most amazing thing ever.

img_1117

img_1119

img_1114

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
My daughter took this photo of this monkey hanging out on our car

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read my handy guide to gift-buying.  I find that if I’m buying a gift for my own child it’s easy – they tell me exactly what they want all the time!  Even for my children’s same-age friends, again pretty simple.  But ask me to buy for a child who is a little older and I’m completely clueless.  Sometimes with younger I can’t remember, either!  This guide solves all those problems.  It was put together with the help of 250 mums on facebook.  Take a look…

Handy guide to buying a gift for a child of any age

 

Rhyming with Wine

 

The Tale of Mummyhood

 

Accidental Hipster Mum
Please share if you like this post!Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponPin on Pinterest

Christmas at Kew – magical light trail at Kew Gardens

Giant baubles, shimmering lights, and a tunnel of sensational colours…all these and much more can be found at Christmas at Kew.

My daughter and I happened to visit Kew Gardens during the day last January, as we have a membership, and we had a free afternoon. She was 7 years old at the time. The remnants of Christmas at Kew could be seen, and it became apparent to her from all these carcasses (an empty Santa’s grotto and huge numbers of unlit lanterns) that we had actually missed this event! I had considered it previously but always dismissed it, uncertain that my children would be interested. My daughter was so disappointed, but she quickly became determined that we should go the following year, when it was actually on. So our journey on the trail began!

I bought tickets just a few weeks ago, I think I should have done it sooner really, to get the more popular early slots, but I managed to get tickets for the 7pm slot on 20 December. Phew!


img_5848The night of the big event came! I decided after much deliberation to take both my daughter and my 4-year old son as though it was late I thought he might like it. I brought a buggy as I knew he would be too tired to walk at this time of day. We wrapped up warm (essential) and brought a few torches. My son had those mini lights you can attach to your fingers. We arrived a little early, and managed to find some on-street parking a short walk away, which is free on many residential streets. It was no problem getting in and though it looked crowded the ticket scanners were working quickly so we stood in line for just a few minutes.

img_5845
The Hive
View from below the Hive
View from below the Hive

We started the trail straightaway, and were delighted by all the lights. Some of these are set to music. We were quite taken with a heart-shaped disco ball rotating to the song “Oh Holy Night” and another area, which looked like a sea of hundreds of spherical multicoloured lights fading on and off and flashing. It was just the right amount of darkness so that the lights stood out, but not so dark as to be too hazardous, though the torches were definitely useful. There was also a tunnel you can walk through, containing bands of lights that changed colour. My son declared at this point that it was “better than Disneyland!” (though he hasn’t actually been to Disneyland!) The new giant Hive sculpture was absolutely spectacular as well.

img_5847
Giant candles

At several points along the trail were stalls selling mulled wine and cider. Sadly as I was driving I didn’t partake, but I made a mental note for next time!

Halfway round the trail (about 30-40 minutes in, as we were taking our time strolling and taking photos) was the area with a lot of food options, including lots of hot food and desserts like freshly made doughnuts, ice cream and waffles. It was relatively busy and rather chaotic here. The queues for hot food were long. Luckily my kids had eaten already so we skipped to dessert.

Ice cream and doughnuts at Kew
My daughter peruses the tempting offerings in the ice cream shop

The shop here is open (as is the main shop by Victoria gate) and there is both indoor and outdoor seating. You can also get mulled wine here and hot chocolate. Toilets are available, and last but not least a set of Victorian style funfair rides. The rides cost £2.50, and tokens can be purchased from a booth. Credit cards are accepted. My kids went on 2 rides each, which was enough I thought! There was hardly any queue for the little cars and mini train ride (for under 6’s really) but a bit of a queue for the carousel, which wasn’t a problem.

Then it was onto the rest of the trail, which included a little 5-minute show with elves and Santa. The kids enjoyed this and it was a chance for a little sit down. This half of the trail took us another 30-40 minutes, but it can be done faster.


img_5842
Santa and his elves

There is also a place in this second half to toast large marshmallows that come in different flavours. We didn’t try this as we had just eaten a large Nutella waffle and were all sugared out! But it looked like a popular activity.

At the end is the grand finale with the Palm House beautifully lit, and incredible projections illuminate the waters in front of it, to various Christmas songs played at a very gentle level. My son was completely captivated and would have watched it for a very long time! But my daughter was getting tired by now so we left. It was 9.45pm!

img_5843

If you’re uncertain about it, I hope my review will help you decide. The photos don’t really do it justice, it has to be experienced!

I would certainly recommend it as a great family evening excursion, the children absolutely loved it, and I am looking forward to next year already!

Christmas at Kew img_5697  img_5718 img_5751

img_5762

You can book through the Kew website

http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens/whats-on/christmas-kew-details

It is on until 2 January 2017. Enjoy!

If you’d like to read more about days out with the kids please check out the rest of my blog, which I am steadily adding to.

If you’re interested to watch a fun and Christmassy 2-minute animation please check out this post (click below).

Elfin’s ice-skating escapade

Please share if you like this post!Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponPin on Pinterest

Elfin’s ice-skating escapade

Elfin the Christmas elf’s got a new video out and this time he is showing off his new ice-skating skills in a beautiful winter wonderland.

Elfin on Ice
Elfin on Ice

 

 

img_5601 img_5602

His skating moves seem to improve each time he goes by, and he spreads a little magic too…

He does take a little tumble at the end but a lovely magical snowflake lands in his hand making him feel much better about it all… Elfin just loves snow!

In case you missed his other two videos here they are below!

Please leave a comment if you or your children like it, and let us know if you have ideas for more Elfin videos! And click subscribe (circle with Elfin’s picture at the end of the video) to stay updated…there may well be one more video before Christmas! Your idea could magically be made into a real video…

Please share if you like this post!Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponPin on Pinterest

Elfin the magical Christmas elf dances in Santa’s grotto

A new Elfin the Christmas elf video is out!

In this minute long escapade, we see Elfin the Christmas elf through the window of Santa’s grotto, practising his dance moves for the Christmas party!  I think he is pretty good!  If you like the video please give it a thumbs up and subscribe, as  a few more Elfin videos will be on their way shortly and you’ll be alerted as soon as they arrive…

 

If you missed the first, original Elfin the elf video which came out just a few weeks ago, you can watch it here!  In this one, Elfin magically comes to life…

 

If you’d like to read about fun things to do with the kids please check out the rest of my blog.

Below is a link to a post about taking my son to Mercedes World on his birthday, a fun little outing for both boys and girls!

http://awaybies.com/a-driving-lesson-for-a-car-mad-birthday-boy-great-indoor-activity-for-a-wintry-day/

We will be visiting Christmas at Kew soon, so look out for my review here.  I’ve never been before so am really excited!

Please share if you like this post!Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponPin on Pinterest

Pirate party success

Tips for hosting your very own pirate party!

The pirate themed party for my son’s 4th birthday was a resounding success, I’m pleased to report! In this post I’ll share all the details for anyone who is interested. If you need more information please do feel free to ask in the comments below.

My husband craftily made this pirate treasure chest out of a cardboard box. This was a huge hit with the kids. We filled it with plastic balls (the kind you get in ball pools at soft play, ours are from mothercare), but shredded newspaper would have worked equally well. The chest then functioned as a lucky dip box. We bought mini pirate telescopes (they don’t really function but are fun as a bit of pirate kit) which were from amazon, and each one was wrapped up and put into the chest. At the start of the party each child had a go at rummaging in the chest for their prize.

img_4403

I bought party boxes for the party food. The party time was 1.30-3.30pm, as I didn’t want my son to be too tired for the party, but I needed the morning for preparation! Having it after lunch also avoided having to give the kids a full meal, though they still had plenty to eat!

img_4425

Each party box contained a bear to-yo fruit roll, a chocolate mini-roll and a pack of Pom-bear. Each child also got a fruit shoot which once chosen was labelled with their name (I pre-wrote the labels and my daughter helped with the process of sticking labels on during the party). We had labels for the party food boxes as well so each child could just grab any one box and it could be labelled afterward.

img_4428

This is a picture of the pass the parcel while it was being wrapped. The central prize was a light up yo-yo and each layer contained a stretchy dinosaur (25p from a shop called Fun Learning).

img_4436

img_4440

And last but not least the pirate ship cake! I made this myself using box mixes for speed (Betty Crocker devil’s food cake) and a YouTube tutorial by the icing artist (icingartist.com) without which I could never have managed it. The pirates themselves I fashioned from fondant, just using pictures of pirates I found from a google search.

I’ll update shortly on all the other games the kids played which my husband (dressed as a pirate!) led.

Please check out my next post to read about the Ever after high/My little pony madness of my daughter’s 8th birthday.

Triple birthday madness

You might be interested to read this post, about taking my son to drive a miniature Mercedes car!
Please share if you like this post!Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponPin on Pinterest