I don’t know about you, but as the days grow colder and the dark nights grow longer I can’t help reminiscing about all the lovely, warm weather holidays I’ve been on in my life. It seems like it must be time to plan another trip? One of my all-time favourite destinations, which is definitely on our list of places to visit with the kids, is San Diego in California.
I am quite astounded to think it has been almost 20 years since I last visited the place. How time has flown! It was a family trip, during my late teens, when I was living in the American Midwest. As I recall we stayed in a great hotel called the Loews Coronado, not far from the Del Coronado. Marilyn Monroe stayed and filmed scenes in 1958 for the film “Some Like it Hot.”
These days as I would be bringing my husband and 3 young children along to San Diego, we would be more likely to book one of these gorgeous San Diego Beach rentals. They look amazing and more than adequate to accommodate us and our gregarious brood!
One of the fun days I recall from our trip to San Diego was visiting the zoo there. I have a fond memory of visiting the gift shop buying a lovely necklace with beads shaped like butterflies in all colours of the rainbow. I wore that necklace so many times, until it finally broke! I can see that San Diego zoo is still live and thriving though, and from the website it looks even more awesome than before. It also has incredible reviews on tripadvisor. Apparently there is a cable car ride! I’m pretty sure that wasn’t there 20 years ago so it’s obviously time to go back.
Of course we would have to visit the splendid beaches of San Diego. There is nothing our kids love more than splashing around in the sea and messing around in the sand…and getting it ingrained in every pore of their bodies so we have to spend ages washing it all off them and their clothes. I’m still finding some sand in my bag from our last beach holiday and it was a few months ago now! With 70 miles of coastline it is going to be tough choosing which beaches to go to in San Diego!
Here is a list of the top 3 beaches in San Diego that I would like to visit, from the research I’ve done so far.
Coronado Beach – of course, I have to return for all that nostalgia! Apparently it is rated one of the best beaches in the world for families.
La Jolla Beach – this has a nice long sandy stretch, and an aquarium too.
Mission Beach – this sounds like a great beach too, which has something for everyone, including shopping, a rollercoaster and pristine coastline.
Have you visited these beaches and would you recommend them, or any others that you’ve been to?
I have some brilliant in-laws who live in San Diego too, so the trip obviously would not be complete without spending time with them! I am sure they would have lots of recommendations for us. However in advance of asking them I have had a quick look online to see what culinary delights may be in store in San Diego. As you may well know by now I am a huge foodie. My husband jokes that he has never met anybody else who thinks and talks about what they will have for their next meal, while they are in the middle of eating a meal!
I read some reviews of a San Diego restaurant called Blue Water Seafood. Oh my goodness, just looking at the photos has made my mouth water. They do fish tacos, and while I’ve never honestly tried one I can’t imagine not liking them! I don’t think great fish tacos would be easy to find in the UK, so it’s definitely on my list of foods to sample!
There’s another restaurant, in a similar vein, called Truluck’s Seafood, Steak and Crab House. Since my husband is a steak fan and I can’t get enough of seafood I think we would both be happy at this place! Located in La Jolla, San Diego, it looks like a great place for a special occasion…so we’ll have to remember to bring some proper dining attire.
It also looks like Old Town California, in San Diego, will be a great place to head. There are more than a dozen historic buildings to see, and lots of little shops selling souvenirs. Densely packed with places to eat, I think there should be something for everyone, though their specialty is Mexican cuisine (which I can never get enough of…burritos, anyone!?) Our daughter is a huge fan of cheese so I imagine she will be happy with a quesadilla!
And last but not least, I think we may have to consider some of the following child-friendly attractions. So many to choose from!
Legoland California – my 5-year old son is absolutely Lego mad so this will keep him happy. I wonder how it will compare to Legoland Windsor in the UK, which we have now visited quite a few times!
2. SeaWorld San Diego
3. The New Children’s Museum in the downtown Gaslamp Quarter
4. Birch Aquarium
5. San Diego Zoo Safari Park
6. Of course if we are travelling this far, a trip to Disneyland is almost a certainty. Located in Anaheim, 95 miles from San Diego, it is approximately a 1.5 hour drive so I guess we’ll be hiring a car or a minivan!
It’s looking already like we will need at least a week, if not two weeks in San Diego!
Have you been, and do you have any recommendations? If you haven’t been, I hope you’re as excited to plan a future trip as I am!
This is a sponsored post, but as with all my posts everything I write is my own honest opinion
If you’re planning a family trip to Phuket right now, you’re in for a treat. Though we have been to Thailand before, our recent trip was our first time in Phuket. We didn’t know what to expect, but I’m happy to say we really enjoyed it and will definitely go back. We actually went to Thailand this time as part of a bigger trip to attend a family wedding in Malaysia, but we love Thailand so much we couldn’t go all that way and not take our kids there, so we decided to combine a visit to both countries.
One of the major positives about Phuket as a destination for a holiday with small children is convenience. You can fly directly to Phuket from Bangkok (as opposed to some Thai islands which require a flight or road travel from Bangkok to a port town, and then a subsequent boat trip). Also there are some great hotels in the immediate vicinity of the airport itself. I think we would still visit Phuket even when our children are older, as there were many activities we didn’t get a chance to do this time as they aren’t as toddler-friendly, such as elephant treks.
In this post I’m going to tell you about 3 wonderful family-friendly hotels in Phuket, Thailand, all of which we stayed in, would highly recommend, and are close to the airport.
The Slate, Nai Yang Beach – Of all the family-friendly hotels in Phuket, we absolutely loved this one. The whole place looks like a work of art! It is so stylishly decorated, every corner seems to have something interesting to look at. We got off to a good start with an early check-in, which is always a plus when you’ve just got off a long haul flight plus connecting flight with children! We were so relieved and grateful to get to our lovely room, a D-Buk Suite. It had a large bed for us, as well as a comfy daybed for our 8 and 4 year old children. Our youngest (age 2) slept in a cot which was already set up and ready for use when we checked in, along with a little welcome pack containing soap and some baby toiletries.
One of our favourite features at the Slate was the main pool, which has a lagoon shape with a “waterfall” feature, large rocks in the shallow area, and is surrounded by greenery, all of which gave it a lovely natural feel. There is a separate toddler pool and a small box of toys to use at the pool/beach was provided. And there are two further adults-only pools. We managed to visit one of these and it was brilliant! There was never a problem getting sun loungers by the pool. In fact the whole resort felt quiet and exclusive, despite the pretty reasonable price tag.
The hotel is located on Nai Yang Beach, though it is separated from the beach by a road. The beach is a little dirty in places, to be completely honest, but to balance this there are several independent places where you can eat, right on the beach, get massages, and do your laundry cheaply (we had to do laundry pretty much straightaway, to our surprise, due to some travel sickness!) Having these amenities is a major plus, as we like to get out of a resort, have a wander and check out the local scene, where possible.
There’s a good kids club called the Tin Box, which our children enjoyed. There are some paid activities and many free ones. We paid for our daughter to do tie-dye T-shirt and Batik T-shirt making and “walk on waterball” in the pool. There was a free kids cooking class which took place in a very grown-up kitchen, which they enjoyed. They were actually shuttled there by golf buggy, which was quite a highlight!
The food is very good at the Slate. It is on the pricier side, but kids eat free at the restaurants which helped a lot. Also water is provided in your hotel room, on a daily basis, as well as jugs of iced lemon water by the pool. I don’t think we had to buy any bottled water at all during our stay!
If you’re looking for something truly special I recommend their signature restaurant, Black Ginger. In order to get there a man rowed us from the spectacular entrance (pictured below) across the lagoon on a raft, while lit torches flickered all around us. It was a unique experience! The food and drinks were fabulous too, and despite the sophisticated ambience they cater completely for children as well, providing a kids menu and crayons. My daughter enjoyed her won ton soup and mocktail!
2. Sunwing Kamala Beach
Next on the list of great family-friendly hotels in Phuket is the Sunwing. We stayed here for a couple of nights. It is certainly a family-friendly hotel to the max! In fact, if you don’t have children I probably wouldn’t advise staying here as it is SO popular with families and the noise could get a little much if you’re hoping for a relaxing resort.
It is located on Kamala beach, which is quite a buzzing stretch. There is no road to cross so you can get straight from the back of the hotel onto the beach. There are vendors on the beach selling drinks. The beach here is a little cleaner but it isn’t pristine by any means…I found (and disposed of) a piece of broken glass bottle which was alarming!
There’s a large kids club at Sunwing, but kids can’t be left by themselves here. They have various activities such as free face-painting and T-shirt decorating (paid). There’s also a games room for older children age 8 and above, which my daughter liked!
There are many swimming pools, I think we counted about 6, and waterslides too! The pools were lovely and very much enjoyed by our children. There is lots of entertainment around for kids, including special appearances by the hotel mascots. The main restaurant has a relaxed atmosphere, and there’s a section with lots of pillows where children can sit and watch cartoons projected on a big wall. There were many children playing or sleeping on couches in full view of their parents, during dinner, so you can feel quite at home here even if your children are active like ours and don’t like to sit still for too long!
Food is decent at Sunwing. The breakfast buffet was very busy, but not bad. At dinner there is a kids buffet, which was free if accompanied by a paying adult. They label all foods so any potential allergens are clearly marked, which I felt was very thoughtful.
3. Phuket Marriott Nai Yang Beach
We only had a night here, but it was long enough to know we would like to come back! Of the 3 family-friendly hotels in Phuket we stayed at this one had the nicest, calmest beach which was great for our kids. The hotel is literally right on the beach, and it is a lovely clean, quiet stretch which isn’t shared with any other hotels or businesses at the moment, giving a real get away from it all feeling, despite being so close to the airport (you can hardly hear the planes, though you can see them in the distance, which our youngest actually enjoyed anyway.) At low tide you can wade a long way out and play on the sand banks. Bliss! Just don’t forget the sun cream!
There’s a good kids club here too. Our 4 year old son was happy the instant he entered the place, and the two women working there were so friendly and really took an interest in him and some lego models he brought with him, so he was really won over.
The main pool here has an infinity edge with a great view of the beach. It’s a lagoon style pool which winds around the resort to some extent, so there are several rooms with direct pool access from the room.
We had two interconnecting rooms on the first floor (note there is no lift to the first floor rooms though we were escorted to our room at the start by a bell hop and driven the whole way there in a golf buggy).
We didn’t have many meals here but the ones we had were great. The breakfast buffet was out of this world. There was even a juice bar! You could select the fruits or vegetables you wanted to include and it was all prepared for you. There was a huge fridge with lots of different juices to choose from. There were whole coconuts on offer (to drink from). There was also a custom noodle soup bar. We could have spent hours at this breakfast buffet. It felt relaxed and staff were attentive and helpful. During the day free ice lollies were handed out near the pool.
All in all these family-friendly hotels in Phuket were winners. If you’re looking for a lovely holiday with kids, in Thailand, I suggest you try them all! But if you just want one hotel for your trip I think our favourite was the Slate, as it seemed the most unique. Wishing you happy family travels!
If you liked this post you might be interested to read about our family trip to Bali, another beautiful destination that’s great with kids!
This is an easy post to write as I love both eating, and Disneyland!
There are tons of good options for eating at Disneyland Paris. Obviously I haven’t tried all of the restaurants, but we did sample a fair number on our recent trip. Due to some unforeseen medical circumstances we stayed longer than expected, but looking on the bright side, it means I can share more information with you all.
So, for my first top tip: If you’ve already booked a trip to Disneyland Paris, the first thing I recommend you do next is to book restaurants in advance if you plan to dine out at any buffet or sit-down restaurants. It might seem like over-the-top organisation to have everything mapped out in advance, but trust me. It’s much easier to book and cancel later than to try and organise a last-minute reservation, especially at some of the more popular restaurants. There are a handful of restaurants that you can’t book beforehand eg Rainforest Cafe or Annette’s Diner in the Disney Village, which is probably fine if you don’t mind chancing it and waiting in a queue sometimes, but if your group consists of mostly small hungry people like ours then it makes sense to book!
My second tip: Plan dinner around the Disney parade times. When we visited, the parade was daily at 5.30pm (this may vary so check the programme, which you can obtain at the entrance to the park). You may wish to eat before or after this if you’d like to see the parade. Though on days you aren’t planning to watch the parade you might find 5.30pm is a quieter time at restaurants and therefore a good choice!
There are 3 main types of places to eat at Disneyland Paris. The first is a sit-down restaurant, where you order and your meal is served to you. The second is a buffet style restaurant. The third is counter service, where you order at the till and receive the food there, and carry it over to a table yourself. I’ll mainly talk about the first 2 types as we visited those the most, and they’re the ones you’ll want to book in advance. But there are plenty of counter service places where you can get yourself something to eat, eg fast food like hot dogs, chips or chicken nuggets, but the quality was a little variable and not necessarily cheap, either (though admittedly it is cheaper than eating at buffet or sit-down restaurants).
So without further ado, here is a list of restaurants that we dined at just a few weeks ago at Disneyland Paris.
Inventions – This is probably the most popular restaurant at Disneyland Paris, as it is THE place to meet the likes of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, et al, at the comfort of your dinner table, without queuing for eons. It is located in the Disneyland Hotel, at the entrance to the Disneyland Park. If you’d like to eat here, you absolutely must book in advance! I booked a table a month in advance, for 8 persons, and the only time slots they had left during our 4 night stay were 2pm and 10pm, on one of the days. Admittedly this was during May half-term, which is a busy period. You can also book a character breakfast here, which I am sure would be a brilliant start to the day.
What we loved: The food is amazing at Inventions. It’s a buffet style restaurant, but it feels high end and special. Of course the main draw is that this is the only restaurant where you get to meet Disney characters during your meal (with the exception of Auberge, where you can meet the princesses). They will come over to your table and pose with you for photos, and sign your autograph book if you like! It really is lots of fun.
Would we go again: Given the opportunity, of course!
Just to be aware: All this fun and celebrity experience comes at a price.
Auberge De Cendrillon – This was my second visit to the Auberge Restaurant, located in Fantasyland in the Disneyland park. The last time we visited was 6 years ago, and my then 2.5 year old daughter met Disney princesses as well as some of the princes. These days for some reason the princes no longer do the rounds at Auberge, but it was still a lovely experience, albeit with a hefty price tag! The Disney princesses Ariel (Little Mermaid), Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Rapunzel, Cinderella and the two mice all visited us at our table. There is a friendly chaperone with the princesses, who helps make sure each princess visits every table so in theory there is no need to worry that you will get missed.
What we loved: Besides the thrilling moments of meeting the princesses (though this was lost on our toddler, who just wasn’t interested at all, haha!) we loved the interesting desserts at the restaurant.
Just to be aware: Very expensive. All this Disney magic comes at a price! You may like us feel a little anxious waiting for the princesses to come to your table. The chicken that I had as a main course was a little overdone.
Would we go again: As we have now been twice I think it will depend if the children are still interested to meet the princesses when we go next time. But something tells me we will return to Auberge!
Cafe Hyperion – This counter service cafe is located in Discoveryland (not far from the Buzz Lightyear ride) in the Disneyland Park. We only had breakfasts here, as it is one of the locations where you can get breakfast if you have a “Plus” breakfast voucher (more info on this, later in the post). The breakfast consisted of a hot drink, bottle of water or orange juice, a croissant or pain au chocolat, and a bacon and egg muffin. I found this amount of food to be more than adequate, considering we had plans for a big lunch. It was also good not to be TOO FULL before marching around the park with small children, trying to fit in all the attractions! While you are eating you can sit and watch Star Wars clips and sometimes there are amateur music performances. There was a visiting choir there when we went, singing Disney tunes.
Plaza Gardens – A buffet restaurant in the Disneyland Park. Really great food! Rather busy atmosphere.
What we loved: Great selection of delicious food, lots of variety.
Would we go back: Yes.
Restaurant Chez Remy – this sit-down restaurant in the Walt Disney Studios is very popular, particularly as it is new and Ratatouille-themed. We were a little alarmed when we arrived for our 11.30am reservation as we were ushered into a waiting room which was chock full of families waiting for their table, but it was only a matter of minutes before we were shown to our table, and I think there was only a wait because the restaurant hadn’t quite opened yet.
What we loved: The “giant” furnishings. Our chairs were champagne corks, and the tables look like giant jam jars. From some of the tables you can see people getting off the Ratatouille ride. Excellent food and a really helpful and nice waiter.
Would we go back: Absolutely. And next time I’m determined to go on the Ratatouille ride as well!
Restaurant Des Stars – This buffet restaurant located in Walt Disney Studios has a relaxed atmosphere, and lots of old photos from classic films and famous actors from back-in-the-day. The food here was truly delicious and there was a great variety.
What we loved: The ice cream and dessert bar. You can help yourself to soft-serve ice cream (think Mr. Whippy) and decorate it to your heart’s content with sweets and sprinkles. There were so many desserts and I was so stuffed from the delicious buffet…I need to go back again and this time save room for pudding!
Would we go back: In a heartbeat.
Steakhouse – We booked this place quite last minute and I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s a sit down restaurant in the Disney Village. It was actually very good, and the portions were large! It has an airy feel inside, not too crowded and we all agreed it had a spacious feel to it with dark wood and quite high ceilings.
What we loved: Generous portions
Would we go back: Not my top choice, as I’m not a huge meat-eater, but still a very good restaurant so yes we would go again.
Parkside Diner – This 1930’s style diner is in the New York Hotel, which is just on the opposite side of the Disney Village to the parks. We really enjoyed our meal here, and as the weather was so beautiful we actually sat outside and I enjoyed a lovely cool glass of cider with my starters.
Our little one was asleep at the time so it was an extra-peaceful moment! Not much quiet time during that week in Paris so I really soaked it up. The picture below just shows the starters I ate!
What we loved: Lovely location for sitting outdoors, wonderful food (though possibly not quite as much selection as Cape Cod)
Would we go back: Without a doubt
Cape Cod – This buffet-style restaurant is in the Newport Bay Hotel, about a 15 minute walk from the parks. We booked this place quite last minute as well (just a couple days before), and didn’t get a table near the windows facing the lake, which we would have liked. But on the other hand it did mean we were closer to the buffet which was quite a seafood feast. My 4-year old even enjoyed fish soup, which is definitely a first!
What we loved: Mini pecan pie desserts. Delicious food. Lovely walk along the lake from our hotel (New York) to the Newport Bay Hotel.
Would we go back: Absolutely. Though the location is not as convenient, it’s definitely worth going if you’re staying at one of the nearby hotels.
Should I purchase a meal plan for Disneyland Paris? And how does it work?
Before going to Disneyland Paris this year, I did quite a lot of online research to work out whether we should organise a pre-paid Disney meal plan or not. This has to be booked prior to your stay, and if you book a Disney hotel you will be asked or sometimes offered a meal plan as part of a package deal or offer at the time of making your Disneyland booking.
There are 4 plans that you can choose, if you decide to go for it: Hotel, Standard, Plus and Premier. Hotel is the least expensive plan, Standard and Plus are mid-range, and Premier is the priciest option.
The Hotel plan is just that, it allows you to dine at your hotel. Which may be a perfectly good option.
The Standard plan includes all of the buffet restaurants, for example Restaurant Des Stars and Plaza Gardens.
The Plus plan includes all of the buffet restaurants and some extra ones, for example Restaurant Chez Remy.
With the Premier plan you can dine at any of the restaurants, including Inventions and Auberge de Cendrillon (assuming you can get a reservation! Did I mention yet about booking in advance?!)
When you arrive at your hotel and check in, you will be given lots of meal vouchers which state which plan you are on. If you are on half board you will get a breakfast voucher and another voucher which can be used for lunch or dinner. The vouchers are flexible so it is absolutely fine to not use a lunch/dinner voucher one day, and then use two lunch/dinner vouchers the following day. For full board you will get vouchers for all 3 meals. Then when you go to a restaurant, you produce these vouchers instead of payment. However, in practice you may need to pay a little extra if you have more drinks and so on. The vouchers do not include alcoholic drinks.
As touched upon above, each restaurant at Disneyland is in one of the 3 categories. If you have standard vouchers but wish to eat in a Plus or Premium restaurant, the voucher will have a value which will be put towards your meal at that restaurant. Unfortunately I didn’t have any luck finding out what the value would be, before going to Disney, even though I did call up and ask! But while at one of the restaurants we did enquire, as we had a Plus voucher and were interested in a Premium menu item. To our amusement our waiter checked for us in a large complicated-looking spreadsheet he had in a folder, and I’m pleased to report the amount was reasonable. But it might vary from one restaurant to another, I really can’t say.
You can find a list of all the available restaurants and use the filter to determine which category they are in, on the Disneyland Paris website:
Overall I think the Meal Plan is a great idea if you are planning to eat at many restaurants in the same category, however it may not work so well if you have a mix of restaurants in different categories as we did! However, if you can get a good offer on a hotel which includes a meal plan, it is really great to feel that food is already included and you don’t have to pay as you go.
I am not sure much money is saved as you may end up spending more than you would have on food, but you’ll be more inclined to have some dining experiences, and it does take some of the stress out of the trip! Though one thing to note is that on some meal plans, the breakfast vouchers actually have to be redeemed at a cafe in the Disneyland Park, before it stops serving at 11am. This could be a little inconvenient if you fancy a slow start to the day, or you like to eat breakfast the minute you wake up…and is just something you might want to factor in.
Another thing to mention is that a kettle is not provided in a lot of hotel rooms! There was one in our room at the Disneyland Hotel but not at Hotel New York. This was not great news for me as I really like to have a tea or coffee as soon as I am up.
And finally, they used to include an afternoon snack and drink called the “pause gourmand” with the meal plan, but this is no longer included.
Enjoy your dining experiences at Disneyland Paris! It really is a major part of the fun, for us anyway, and it’s a great way to take the weight off your feet for a little while and soak up the great atmosphere at Disneyland.
If you haven’t seen it yet, please check out my previous post, for info on trip planning, accommodation and attractions at Disneyland Paris
Yes it’s the review you’ve all been waiting for, our 2017 trip to Disneyland Paris, as a family of 5! The last time we visited was 6 years ago exactly, when my oldest was 2 and a half. She would have loved to return sooner, but we seem to have been so tied up with baby brothers and other holidays that all of a sudden she is now 8! It was high time to return… I’ve divided this post into hopefully helpful sections covering the following topics. Of course these are only my opinions and I am not an expert, just a mum who loves Disneyland! (Please note: I’ll talk about food, restaurants and meal plans at Disneyland Paris in my next post)
From what age is it worth taking the kids to Disneyland Paris?
When should we visit Disneyland Paris
Where should we stay at Disneyland Paris
Rides and attractions at Disneyland Paris
Should I get a photopass?
How do we use the Fast Pass system?
From what age is it worth taking the kids to Disneyland Paris?
I’ve been asked from what age it is worth taking the kids to Disneyland. I think it’s definitely enjoyable at age 2 and a half, but perhaps I’d say 3 and up is ideal, as they can remember more, and possibly by this age they may have seen a few Disney films and recognise more characters at the park (which is very exciting!) However even children who have never seen a Disney film can enjoy Disneyland! My 4 year old and 2.5 year old had a brilliant time and they hadn’t seen many films. They barely knew who Mickey Mouse was, yet it was still magical to see him.
Given a choice I probably wouldn’t take a baby or a one year old to Disneyland, as it is quite an intense trip and so much more enjoyable just a year or two later (if like us you don’t live close by and only manage to go occasionally and not on a regular basis. It is, after all, a fairly expensive holiday once you consider how everything adds up!). Having said that, Disney is baby-friendly, and you can hire pushchairs there if you haven’t brought your own. There is a baby switch service too so parents with young children can take turns getting onto a ride without having to queue twice. So all in all if you’re a diehard Disney fan you’ll still have a good time. Do remember to bring all the bits and pieces you need for your baby, including any medications…as there is no pharmacy at Disneyland and you would need to venture out to Val d’Europe even just to get some paracetamol (yes, we had this experience!)
When should we visit Disneyland Paris?
My main bit of advice is to avoid school holidays or any French national holidays if possible, as the park will definitely be busier at these times! Both times we have visited have been during the May half term holidays. We were lucky to have absolutely wonderful sunny weather on both occasions.
Where should we stay at Disneyland Paris?
We decided to make the most of our trip this time by staying in the Disneyland Hotel, which we had never tried before. I can highly recommend this, especially if members of your party have little legs and/or tire easily, as it is the closest hotel to the park itself. In fact, you might even say it is IN the park! However, there are several other Disney hotels which are pretty close as well (walking distance) and somewhat cheaper…all include a shuttle bus to the parks and free “magic hours”, meaning you can enter the Disneyland park 2 hours before everybody else, at 8am instead of 10am. (The Walt Disney studios did not open early for magic hours, only the Disneyland park, and note that even though it opens early there are some rides that aren’t open till later.)
There are also Disney character meet and greets in the hotel lobbies of all Disney hotels. After the Disneyland Hotel, the next closest hotel to the parks is the New York Hotel, and we have actually stayed in this hotel as well. It has a very different vibe and is a slightly longer walk, but the walk is through the Disney Village, full of restaurants, bars and shops which is good fun in itself! My 4 year old son was cockahoop for the Lego store in the Disney Village. This was almost a drawback, as we had to make a pitstop at the Lego store every time we passed by!
Anyway, I will share a little more about the Disneyland Hotel as we did love it and would stay here again if we can. Upon arrival at the Disneyland Hotel the check-in process was quick and easy. We were pleased to find we had interconnecting rooms with the rest of our party, as we had requested. And we found a box of tasty chocolates and a card on the table (pictured below), which was a nice touch. Additionally every evening there were little chocolates placed on the beds.
Each room contains two double beds, with very comfortable pillows. There was a mini-bar (though the prices were exorbitant!)
The bathroom has lots of subtle Disney details, including super cute Disney toiletries with mouse ears.
The Disneyland hotel has a small kids club area called the Minnie Mouse Club as well as an arcade. I believe you can leave your kids at the Minnie Mouse Club, but we didn’t on this occasion. There’s a lovely indoor swimming pool too which our daughter enjoyed. The hotel has a bar and 2 restaurants, one of which is Inventions, well-known for its character breakfasts and other meals. I’ll write more about Inventions in my next post.
There are many, many accommodation options around Disneyland and a little further afield in Paris. Previously we have stayed at the Radisson Blu hotel, which was a shuttle ride away. You may find that you prefer an apartment-style accommodation. There is something to suit most budgets. You can check prices here for the Radisson Blu hotel:
I haven’t included a whole section on travelling to Disneyland Paris, but as we were travelling from the London area we found it easiest to go via Eurostar. We had seats in the Standard Premier section, and a drink and light meal is provided. Children under 3 do not require a ticket if they are able to travel on your lap. The journey from London St Pancras to Marne La Vallee in Paris was smooth and straightforward. The most brilliant thing, is that when you arrive and come out of the station you can see the Mickey Mouse ears and Disneyland gates straightaway, which is incredibly exciting! There’s a service you can pay for as well (25 euros) which allows you to send your luggage straight to your hotel so you can enter the park immediately. We didn’t use this, but it does sound ultra-convenient. You can use this service on the way back as well.
Rides and attractions at Disneyland Paris
Disneyland Paris has 2 parks – the main Disneyland park and the Walt Disney Studios. There is high security getting into the parks and hotels, which I see as a positive thing. I’ll start by talking about the Disneyland park, which is subdivided into Main Street and 4 lands. We spent the majority of our time in Fantasyland and Discoveryland, but we also enjoyed Frontierland and Adventureland. In this section I’ll list a few of our favourite rides and attractions.
It’s a small world
The “It’s a small world” ride was a real favourite with our children. Luckily the queues are never too long for this indoor boat ride as it’s fast-loading. The tunes may drive you crazy eventually, but it’s a happy and gentle ride that will have you singing along…
2. Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast ride
The Toy Story Buzz Lightyear ride was another huge hit with our children, especially our 4 year old son. I think we went on this one about 6 or 7 times! You get a laser gun with which to shoot targets and you get points for successfully hitting targets. The competitive element makes it quite addictive. Hint: Hit the moving targets for more points! And smile for the camera 😉
3. Casey Junior is a gentle rollercoaster train ride in Fantasyland which even my 2 year old son was ok with.
4.Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups – Our 2 year old also seemed to enjoy this ride which really made him giggle, and I didn’t suffer too badly despite all the spinning around in circles which normally makes me very dizzy!
5. Disney Illuminations Show – The next most popular attraction, for us, was this beautiful show which took place every evening in the Disneyland Park at 11pm (but this varies according to park closure times). It was pretty late for our kids to stay up but our older two (age 4 and 8) managed it quite happily, and it was well worth the effort as the show is absolutely sensational! It includes amazing light projections onto the castle, pyrotechnic effects and fireworks, all accompanied by a stirring Disney soundtrack that included many of our favourite tunes from the Little Mermaid, Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Frozen, as well as Star Wars (which our 4 year old was particularly thrilled by). Get there early to get a good spot to view the show. The best position is probably directly in front of the castle, or along Main Street.
The Autopia ride is great fun as well for any budding car enthusiasts. The queue is very long however, due to slow loading! But the length of the ride is quite decent.
7. Disney Princess Starlit Waltz
The Disney Princess Starlit Waltz show is a must-do for all princess fans. This takes place a few times a day on a stage just to one side of the Disney castle, which is a great backdrop. You’ll see most of the Disney princesses (though not Elsa or Anna from Frozen), as well as the corresponding princes. Check the leaflet for the show times.
8. Peter Pan’s Flight – when we visited 6 years ago our then 2.5 year old daughter found this ride a little dark and scary, but this time she loved it, as did our 4 year old son. You sit in “boats” which seat 4 persons, and are suspended from above. It moves quite gently, and I do love the beginning where you see a cityscape scene by night, from above, but Captain Hook does look rather menacing in the dark! Still, it’s a magical ride and a very popular one too. Definitely try use the fastpass for this one!
9. The Disney Stars On Parade – Another must-see, this parade takes place daily in the Disneyland park at 5.30pm. Last time we went to Disneyland Paris I recall seeing the parade twice, and it was a major highlight for our 2 year old daughter. Frozen fans will be pleased to find that Elsa and Anna feature in the parade.
I haven’t mentioned Hyperspace Mountain or Star Tours, but if I had had the chance to go on these I would have! I’ve been on Space Mountain many times in the past both here and at Walt Disney World in Florida, and it’s one of my all-time favourite rides anywhere in the world. Also, for all Star Wars fans out there, you can meet Darth Vader in the “Starport”. He and his crew do not break from character for a second, and it’s quite a formidable experience not to be missed! Professional photographer is present to capture the moment, but as with all meet and greets you’re welcome to take your own photos as well.
Shopping at Disneyland
Main Street is a fun and atmospheric place to wander and do some shopping. Our daughter was treated to a new Snow White dress and some accessories (her last Snow White costume, from M&S has been well-loved for 5 years!) I would advise though that if your child has their own costumes at home you should bring these along, to avoid having to spend exorbitant amounts in the rather overpriced shops, though it seems inevitable that most people will end up buying something! We also enjoyed the Star Wars shop in Discoveryland and came home with 2 huge light sabers which I probably could have done without…
Walt Disney Studios includes many of my favourite attractions.
Moteurs… Action! Stunt Show Spectacular – I insisted that we go to see this epic show which displays some amazing automobile stunts. Disney “Cars” fans will enjoy seeing the real Lightning McQueen, too! There are some loud bangs so parents may prefer not to bring children or babies who aren’t too keen on noise. The show takes place just a couple of times a day so make sure to check the show times leaflet and plan accordingly. There is usually a huge queue for the show but once the doors open it moves quickly, and there is normally space for everybody as the seating section is enormous.
2. Mickey et le Magicien – Another not to be missed show is Mickey and the Magician. It’s a vibrant, exciting show for all the family, with lots of singing, dancing and Disney magic! A lot of the show is in French, with a little English thrown in. You can see characters from many of your favourite Disney films, including Queen Elsa singing “Let It Go.” And you know you want to see that!
3. Disney junior Live! was a fun show too, note that the audience sits on the floor. My 4 year old was excited by the Disney clubhouse puppets and declared that it was ” the REAL Mickey Mouse!!”
4. Rock n Rollercoaster starring Aerosmith – Big kids and adults will enjoy the Rock n Rollercoaster which has an Aerosmith theme and music. We didn’t get to ride it this time, but thoroughly recommend it as we loved it last time. The queues can be long so you might like to use a fast pass for this ride (I’ll explain what this is at the end).
5. Toy Story Playland – Toy Story fans might enjoy the Toy Story land, which has a fairly gentle rollercoaster called Slinky dog.
6. Ratatouille – There’s also the Ratatouille ride here in the Studios, which is supposed to be awesome but sadly I didn’t get to ride it this time so I still have no idea what it’s like!
7. Crush’s coaster is in the Studios as well, which is a brilliant rollercoaster with many twists and turns!
8. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – obviously this one is not for the faint-hearted! Has some brilliant visuals, quite creepy and thrilling!
Should I get a photopass?
There are many meet and greets with characters in the Studios, including Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Spiderman, and the Toy Story characters. I recommend getting a photo pass if you plan to do some meet and greets, and if you’re keen to get some good photos of yourselves. It costs about 60 euros, but all of the professional photos that are taken of members of your party (there are photographers at many, though not all of the meet and greets) will be uploaded to your photo pass account as high quality digital images. You can then use those photos however you like. In addition any photos that are taken on rides eg. Buzz Lightyear, Thunder Mountain will be uploaded and saved to your account as well. A word of advice though, if any photos are taken by photographers at meet and greets in the 1-2 hours before your holiday at Disneyland ends you may have trouble accessing them, so it is important to plan for this. It takes a little while for the photographers to get the photos uploaded from their memory cards onto the system, in order for them to show up and be available for printing. You will eventually be able to view them, provided you have shown the photographer your photopass card BEFORE they take the photos. We got caught out by this, but in the end it was not a problem as I wrote to the photopass customer services and they were very helpful and fortunately were able to retrieve some photos of my son with Spiderman which I had thought were lost forever!
How do we use the Fast Pass system?
Make use of the Fast pass system! This is free to use. Some visitors may not be aware that it’s free, as there is often a charge at theme parks for this sort of thing. Basically in order to use it you have to scan your Disney admission ticket at the Fastpass terminal (usually located near the entrance to a ride), and you’ll get a Fastpass ticket that tells you what time to return (usually in a couple hours’ time). You then return at that time and you can board the ride via the Fastpass entrance which normally has little or no queue (depending on the time of day and popularity of the ride). You can only have one Fastpass ticket at a time.
Also note that some hotel packages may include fast passes, as ours did. Additionally if you have a disability whether it is permanent or temporary, or if you are pregnant, you can obtain a special pass from City Hall to reduce your need to queue (you’ll need to provide some documentation).
5 more Top Tips for visiting Disneyland:
Remember to pace yourself and take breaks to relax and refuel. You and/or your children will become exhausted and crazy otherwise! The Walt Disney studios tends to be a little less busy and taking in a show is a great way to have a rest and get out of the sun.
Book 3-4 nights stay at Disneyland – We think a 4 night stay is ideal, and allows you to enjoy the best of both parks without having to adopt a breakneck pace. Though you can of course still have a fabulous trip if shorter. If you have longer you could venture to the sights of the centre of Paris itself, also there’s apparently good shopping a train stop away at Val d’Europe.
Bring bottles for water! There are several water fountains dotted around where you can fill your bottles up. Stay hydrated, without breaking the bank
Bring suncream – there’s nowhere to buy this in the parks (at least, I didn’t see any!)
Pack some on-the-go entertainment for the kids – the queues can be very long so you’ll want something portable to keep them occupied. We found the Animated encyclopaedia of Disney characters really good and it doubles as an autograph book…though it’s a little heavy to carry (we kept it mostly in the buggy!)
Coming soon: My next post is live! Click below to read about Restaurants at Disneyland Paris and understanding the Meal Plan system. Eating at Disneyland Paris is fun and can be stress-free, but it will really improve your experience (and may help you spend less) if you plan in advance! Sign up for my email newsletter to be alerted when the new posts are published.
We had such a wonderful time at Hampton Court Flower Show 2017. I went this year (my second time) with my youngest (now 2.5 years), who was able to really enjoy it this time, as opposed to last time when he was only 6 months old and it was an extremely hot day which was quite tough on us both!
Tips if you’re going to Hampton Court Flower Show:
Arrive early if you need to park your car. Traffic in the surrounding area may slow you down more than you expect. I arrived at 9.30am and was able to get a space easily in the main car park, but there was a constant flow of cars arriving and parking so it was filling up steadily.
Bring cash for parking (it costs £15 in the main car park opposite the main entrance to the palace). I am not sure about the other car parks. You may be able to park for free at Bushy Park and walk.
Wear a sun hat and sunscreen. Bring a bottle of water, which you can refill on site. Wear good walking shoes or sandals.
Buy a show guide (£5). It comes with a map, and is very useful for finding whichever bits of the show you’re most interested in.
There is a cash point within the show grounds.
If you have small children they might enjoy the children’s play area, which is quite small but does have a little ball pool and some soft play type items, some giant Lego bricks and giant Jenga. There are also various activities for children, especially on the weekend.
Don’t miss the butterfly dome! My toddler was excited though a little wary of these beautiful creatures. Bring a camera!
Check out the scarecrow competition, I was really impressed with all the creativity and detail. Each entry is from a different school.
There are loads of great food and drink options at Hampton Court Flower Show and you can get everything from champagne to churros with chocolate.
The restaurants require pre-booking but there are plenty of stalls where you can get various interesting foods, and free samples of treats like fudge. I tried some gin fudge which I must say was very tasty! The Allium Cafe is undercover and doesn’t require pre-booking. The queues were a little chaotic though, and they had run out of all the salads we wanted so we had to choose different ones at the last moment. Though we enjoyed some very tasty chicken and vegetable pies (£5.50).
There is of course a lot of shopping to be done, if you’re so inclined. Save some time to do this as lots of vendors offer special discounts on products if you buy it at the show (and you can bring/buy a crate on wheels to carry it in if you don’t have a buggy with you in which to stash it!) I came away with some lovely palazzo trousers and matching scarf, and half a dozen small potted succulent plants.
Have fun! I found the whole day flew by and I soon had to leave to get home for my older children. Till next time, Hampton!
If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read about our trip to Center Parcs! Click on the link below:
When we first moved to southwest London, several people asked us if we had been to “the amazing Bushy Park” yet. We were a little puzzled as though we had been to Bushy Park, we had only been to the playground and seen vast expanses of grass… Admittedly it is really lovely and it’s wonderful to see freely roaming deer here, but it seemed we must still be missing something!
Then we discovered the area around the Pheasantry Cafe, with gorgeous azaleas and darling ponds with little bridges over them. This woodland enclave of Bushy Park feels very special indeed, and it’s quite tucked away so you feel far from the hustle bustle of London, yet it’s still very close to London. Finally I understood about the “amazing Bushy Park”!
Bushy Park is actually one of London’s Royal Parks. Others include Richmond Park, Regents Park, and Hyde Park. Bushy Park is conveniently located right opposite Hampton Court, so you could potentially combine a visit to both in the same day.
There are always plenty of ducks bathing in the ponds here, enjoying the shade. We spotted a few friendly squirrels, and in the past we’ve seen little bunny rabbits too! My youngest was intrigued by a very tame squirrel he met.
Travelling to Bushy Park
Bushy Park is accessible by car (definitely get there early to park, on weekends). There’s a small sign to the Pheasantry cafe, from the main road (Chestnut Avenue) that runs through Bushy Park. Blink and you’ll miss it so keep your eyes peeled! Follow the sign which leads you down a drive towards the car park.
By train you could go to Teddington or Hampton Court or Hampton Wick train stations. It is a bit of a walk…so depending how you feel you might want to consider getting to the Pheasantry by bicycle, or getting a taxi from the station.
Eating and drinking
As usual we brought a little picnic with us, but my daughter was determined to try out the Pheasantry cafe too. Of course! It’s not a proper day out without buying something from the cafe…?!
The Pheasantry cafe itself has indoor and outdoor seating. They serve hot and cold food and drinks, including tuna/crayfish/egg mayonnaise sandwiches, pasta salads, pizza, chips, cakes, jelly and ice creams. The toilets are in the same building as the cafe and there is a baby changing room and disabled facilities.
The staff were very helpful, filling up my son’s water bottle for him which was much appreciated as he likes to drink a LOT of water!
Ball games and dogs aren’t allowed in the Pheasantry enclave but you can enjoy them in the rest of Bushy park.
In the main expanse of the park there’s a huge playground which is great for all ages, with a large sandpit. There’s a separate car park with a cafe stand, closer to this playground. There are decent toilet facilities located next to the playground. To find the car park look for the Diana fountain and you’ll see the car park entrance.
There is probably much more to explore than I’ve managed to cover this time, and I must add as well that there is a good Italian restaurant which backs onto Bushy Park, called Cafe La Fiamma.
You can see a map of Bushy Park and the surrounding area using the link here:
If you enjoyed Bushy Park, you might like to visit Richmond Park. Check out my post on visiting Isabella Plantation, a gorgeous part of Richmond Park you’ll fall in love with. I’ve also written a post about Hampton Court and the Magic Garden, a great day out with the kids (or without!) Click on the link below to find out more and plan your visit.
Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park is just breathtaking at the moment. We’ve been a number of times, but it never ceases to amaze. If you have never heard of it, it’s just a small part of the expansive Richmond Park, which is one of the eight Royal Parks in London (the others include Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, St James’ Park and Bushy Park). It’s completely free to visit, and easily accessible by bicycle or car. It is a little trickier by bus or train but not impossible if you are not averse to a bit of a walk! You can also hire bikes at Richmond train/tube station.
Isabella Plantation itself is quite hidden, so it’s definitely worth checking out the map before embarking upon a visit. Richmond Park has other gems well worth exploring too, such as Pembroke Lodge and Gardens which has a great cafe and amazing views (there is even a straight sightline all the way to St. Paul’s cathedral, which you can view through a telescope that is conveniently provided at King Henry’s mound), the Richmond Park playground, and hundreds of free-roaming red and fallow deer.
The colours at this time of year at Isabella Plantation are exquisite. It is honestly one of the most uplifting places I’ve ever visited, and has the impressive ability to be simultaneously beautifully kept and cultivated, while still looking quite natural and wild. There is also good signage within the plantation, so if you keep an eye out you shouldn’t get too terribly lost! There are many benches and logs to sit on, if you or the kids need a little rest.
I took my 2 year old there on a whim this week, as we had a morning free. We parked at the Broomfield car park, from which the entrance to Isabella Plantation is a 5-10 minute walk (I recommend bringing the buggy (or sling) if little one is easily tired!) There is a refreshments stand in this car park, where I noticed you can buy drinks including coffees, and ice creams.
We wandered aimlessly along a beautiful flower-festooned path and eventually came to the other end of Isabella, where there is a large pond with ducks and geese called Peg’s Pond and another entrance gate. There is a helpful map (pictured below) and public toilets here. Just outside the gate there is a disabled persons parking area for those who require it. We then headed back along a parallel path, which breaks away, opening onto Stills pond which is just absolutely stunning. There were several people here taking photographs and even painting with watercolours. But in most of Isabella Plantation on a Tuesday morning we very much felt we had the place to ourselves, taking in the scenery.
We then walked along some smaller paths, which took us back to Peg’s pond. I hadn’t realised we were going in a circle! I am directionally challenged to say the least. I managed to then get my bearings and take us to the fabulous Thomson pond, where our kids have always enjoyed the stepping stones, visiting the ducks, and having a little picnic. There is a big grassy space here to set up a picnic blanket and have a run around.
This time we were lucky enough to see a family of ducklings! My toddler was absolutely thrilled.
Such a beautiful spot!
If you’re in the area you might like to check out Petersham nurseries which is nearby. Here’s my review of our tasty meal there!
My Amsterdam mini-break review – a rare escape for mummy and daddy!
Much as we do love them, it is not often we get time away from the kids, even just for an evening out. So this weekend escape really felt like a once in a lifetime sort of opportunity! Free of schedules, school runs, bedtimes and endless demands from children. That in itself was a treat, then to spend our time in the incredible city of Amsterdam was something else altogether! I thought I would write about it here, in case anyone is thinking of going, as we stayed in a wonderful hotel and ate at some great places that are just too good to not share…
We stayed in the Grand Amrath Hotel. I highly recommend it! It’s an old building from 1916, and the architecture is so fascinating. I discovered after booking that it has made it into the Lonely Planet guide as a sight in itself! If you’ve seen the film “The Grand Budapest Hotel” this hotel reminded me of the one in the film… If you haven’t seen it, well, you must as it is such a sweet film!
The location of the Grand Amrath is brilliant as it’s right in the centre of Amsterdam, near the Centraal Station. If you’re flying to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, there’s a train that will take you directly from the airport to this station. From there it’s just a 5 minute walk to the hotel. No Ubers required!
We were stunned when we entered the room by its high ceilings with full height windows and lush blackout curtains. The room was large with the comfiest big bed (we have super king at home, so I do perceive some hotel beds to be a little stingy on size but this one I had no complaints about!) Every room had a FREE minibar (incredible, I know!!) containing bottled water still and sparkling, soft drinks, wine, beer and nuts, as well as a Nespresso machine. Just all this was to die for, seriously! We had a beautiful view over one of the canals though not all rooms have a view so if you book perhaps it is best to request this. We were thrilled as well, as the hotel concierge put a delicious chocolate cake in our room for my husband, as they knew it was his birthday, which was a lovely touch and made us feel very welcome.
As if that wasn’t enough, the hotel also has an amazing pool and spa which we checked out the next day as we had arrived late in the evening and were meeting friends as well. We raced straight down to the hotel bar and enjoyed drinks there, the atmosphere is very relaxed and service good.
The spa pool was so relaxing, and contains a jet stream which you can swim against for a little exercise, and a star-effect ceiling. There is also a jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and a gym as well as spa treatments which I didn’t have time to enjoy but sounded great from the spa menu!
I initially found the Amrath hotel on Secret Escapes, but in the end I booked through booking.com, if you click on the link below it will take you directly to the booking.com webpage where you can check out the Grand Hotel Amrath Amsterdam. Booking.com UK
Eating and drinking
We eventually managed to venture away from the fabulous hotel, but we walked everywhere during this trip (despite the bitter cold!) therefore all my tips are for central Amsterdam. My top 5 favourite places to recommend are:
Omelegg – absolutely brilliant, tiny little place for breakfast, which is so very popular you might find yourself waiting outside for a table like we did (and I wouldn’t try to come with a big group or you’ll never get seated)…but definitely worth the wait! They have every type of omelette under the sun, as well as burgers, and the service was efficient yet cheerful. http://omelegg.com/
Pancakes – You can’t go to Amsterdam without having pancakes of course! This place is very central, right opposite Centraal Station in fact. They have every pancake under the sun. Super tasty, and when you’ve paid they give you a little clog keychain souvenir. At least they did while we were there! www.pancakes.amsterdam
Aneka Rasa Indonesian restaurant – The “Rice Table” (Rijsttafel) which has become something of a cultural tradition in Amsterdam was very popular with all our friends. You get a little of everything, including prawn and chicken satay, vegetable dishes, rice and dessert. And besides beer they have mini bottles of prosecco too if this takes your fancy! http://anekarasa.nl/
Dwaze Zaken – a cosy cafe just opposite the pancakes place. A great place to hang out with friends for a coffee and some lunch. http://www.dwazezaken.nl/
In de Olofspoort – We knew we had to try out some jenever, or Dutch gin while in Amsterdam. This bar, which is in a historic building that was built in 1618, offers over 200 different spirits including traditional and exotic local jenevers. I don’t think we could have found a cosier, more authentic-feeling place to while away a few hours. And the jenever wasn’t too bad either! They also have draught Belgian beer and wine, if preferred. http://www.olofspoort.com/
No trip is complete without a little shopping, and we found some great toys for the kids at this little shop which has very cleverly rigged up many of the toys so they move around in the shop window and overhead while you browse. Definitely an attention-grabber! As was this bicycle laden with ducks and flowers. http://knuffels.nl/
I already can’t wait to return to Amsterdam, and it’s such a short flight as well! I need to get back to the spa to have an actual treatment, as well as check out the museums and loads more. I hear the tulips are incredible in the spring, so that’s one excuse to return! Check out the hotel we stayed in via this link, if you’re interested. Booking.com UK
Have you been to Amsterdam? I’d love to hear about the places you visited and liked there…do leave me a comment!
If you enjoyed this post you might like to read about exploring Richmond Park or Bushy Park in London, two of the famous Royal Parks not to be missed!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!