Plan Your Stay Play Explore Adventure This Summer

A couple of months ago, my family and I were invited to visit Leicester on a Stay Play Explore overnight break, and as avid travellers and day trippers, we were more than happy to hop the ferry to the mainland and spend a night in Leicester. Now, Leicester may not be the first play you think of when you’re planning a mini break, but hopefully by the end of this post you see why you should.

What is Stay Play Explore?

Stay Play Explore is an amazing way to spend two to three days. Honestly, between you and me, I have no idea how anyone makes any money off this offer, because it’s such good value!Stay Play Explore Hotel

The premise is simple: book your Stay Play Explore Family Fun or Adventure holiday, and choose from three ‘activities’ that you can do during your two days in Leicester, as well as spending a night in a hotel with breakfast included in the price.

We opted to book a different hotel near Leicester the first night so that we could get a bright and early start to the first day of our Stay Play Explore Family Fun break.

Now, let’s start with the hotel. I know you’re thinking budget family hotel, right? You’re wrong. Our hotel was the beautiful Sketchley Grange Hotel complete with swimming pool, kiddies pool, jacuzzi, steam bath and sauna. The room was exquisite. The view was beautiful. We’ve stayed in some nice hotels in our time, but I pretty much think this one took the cake. Booked independently this family room would have cost us £160 for the night according to the sign at reception.  Read a detailed review of the Sketchley Grange Hotel by clicking here.Stay Play Explore Stonehurst Farm

What does Stay Play Explore Family Fun include?

Aside from your bed & breakfast in a four star hotel, there are five activities you can choose from as part of the Family Fun package:

You can choose any three of these, so since we had two full days, we chose Conkers for a full day, the National Space Centre for a half day, and Stonehurst Family Farm for the other half day. You do not have to do all three activities in two days. Your tickets are valid for several months, and if you’re able to you can come back another time and use the one you haven’t yet on a different trip. Or you can choose to book an extra night’s accommodation and use the third on a third day.

We opted for the National Space Centre (read a full review here), Conkers (full review here) and Stonehurst Family Farm (full review here) and had two fantastic days out.Stay Play Explore National Space Centre

We worked out that for two adults and two children, the National Space Centre would have cost us £37 (£48 with two children over 5), Conkers would have cost us £32.95 (under 2’s are free) and Stonehurst Family Farm would have cost £18 (under 2’s are free). For our family of four with one under 5, the total for these three activities would have been £87.95 (£98.95 with two over 5).

(My partner and I are pretty certain we remember the price of the hotel being £160 a night for a family room, but looking on line right now rooms are available for as low as £79, with an additional £37.50 for breakfast.) Add the beautiful hotel with the evening swim, king sized bed and full breakfast in the conservatory and our total would have been (based on the website price) £204.45, (£215.45 with two over 5’s).

Stay Play Explore ConkersSo… how much does the Stay Play Explore Family Fun break cost as a package deal, for all the above? Three activities, the hotel and breakfast will set you back: £129. For our family with the activities we chose, we saved £75.45.

If we had opted to go to the zoo or the theme park instead of the animal farm, our savings would have been £108.03 or £119.96. Those are huge savings for a two/three day break!

TIP: One thing to note if you are booking this is that you must  print out the vouchers that will be emailed to you. We assumed that – like with the 100’s of other places we’ve been, the electronic voucher would be okay, but no, you have to print the voucher out THREE TIMES so that you have one for each attraction. Even the forestry venue, Conkers, insisted on printed vouchers, which we found rather ironic!

If you’re trying to find short breaks to fill up your summer, I cannot recommend Stay Play Explore Leicester enough. I know we’d love to go back for the Family Adventure package when my girls are a little older, and I’m just waiting for that first girly weekend occasion to come along so we can book on the Gourmet Taste package too!

*We enjoyed two beautiful days in Leicester in exchange for this review. All thoughts and opinions are our own. 

21 Reasons To Visit Ladram Bay Holiday Park

Last week my family and I had the amazing fortune of being in Ladram Bay, in Devon on England’s South Coast. I say amazing fortune because the weather was incredible. Our first two days there were shrouded in mist and the final four were beautiful sunshine, so we got to experience the best of both climates.

I had trepidations, heading off for a caravan holiday in a holiday park. I’ll be honest – I didn’t think it’s my kind of thing. To me a holiday involves a backpack and a passport, and maybe a youth hostel (I still think I’m 18, clearly), so I went ‘for the sake of the children’. Ladram Bay, however, can have me back any time. We had such a fantastic time, and here are our top 21 reasons why:

  1. The views are spectacularLadram Bay Views

    Ladram Bay ViewFrom the moment you enter the park and head down the hill, your breath is taken away. You enter the park at the top of a mountain, and it’s downhill all the way to the cliff edge, where there’s a wedge that leads to the sea. I think you’d have rotten luck to not have a single glimpse of the ocean from your caravan, as they’re all on a slope. We were in the front row, with a balcony and it was the most beautiful view to wake up to and have dinner to in the evening.  To one side you have high open fields, to the other a beautiful cliff face and in front the ocean. There’s nothing not to love.

  2. The facilities are brand new
    Ladram Bay Facilities

    They’ve had a huge renovation recently, so when I was chatting to regular visitors they were saying that some of the facilities, like the new mini golf area, weren’t even finished two weeks before our visit. The gym was still under construction during our visit, and they were extending the balcony on the restaurant so that more patrons can enjoy those amazing views I mentioned above.  The swimming pool is fantastic, clean and with a squishy ‘bladder’ that I’m sure helps insulate and keep it warm too. It’s the first holiday park heated pool I’ve been in that’s actually been warm enough to swim in, even in cold weather.

    The showers, sauna and steam room are almost spa-like in their appearance – you certainly don’t feel like you’re in a state run swimming pool. Add a dash of aroma therapy to the steam room or some sandalwood to the sauna and you’d think you were in a spa.

  3. The facilities include a pool and pool play area…

    There is so much to do. After previous visits to holiday parks, I’ve learnt to pack a craft box, some story books, a few DVD’s.  On this trip, in six days, we didn’t even open the Trunki. There wasn’t a gap where we had nothing to do – unless what we were doing was nothing, by choice. And we didn’t even get to do everything.

    The pool is almost Olympic sized with a bubble section on one side. It also has a brand new kids play area, with toppling water buckets, a water feature, spraying worm, slide for smalls and larger slides for kids of all ages, or just kids at heart.

  4. and a spa and a sauna…

    I’ve already mentioned this, but for tired and worn out parents, it’s worth a separate mention. There’s a sauna and a spa and they don’t allow children under 17 in them. Yayness. I still think they could add a few drops of essential oil and turn it into a spa experience, but it’s not billed as a spa, so fair enough.

  5. and an adventure play area, arcade area, soft play & mini golf….

    The adventure play area is something we meant to get to, but never quite made it to. There’s a pirate ship, a zip wire, swings and more. There were pretty much always children in that park! There’s a games arcade and a small soft play are and dinosaur themed mini golf too. I found the arcade a little pricey, but it’s not their fault I can’t stop once I’ve set my mind on a specific number of tickets!

  6. and a a full schedule of Start and Ozzie’s Crew Activities

    Start Activities Ladram Bay

    The highlight of ‘things to do’ at Ladram Bay, however is the activities. Between the paid for activities run by the Start Team (and by paid for, I mean around £3.50 an activity, not near £10 like a place we visited last year!) and the free activities run by Ozzie’s Crew (the Greencoats) there was never a shortage of something to do.

  7. The kids entertainment is excellent

    Ladram Bay Facilities

    The only way I can really describe the people running these activities is by saying that they were born for these jobs. They were so engaged with the children. They made you feel like you wanted to be there, they wanted you to be there and more importantly, they wanted to be there. They very quickly got to know the children’s names, and used them. They went above and beyond with entertaining the kids, even if we happened on a member of the teams on their lunch breaks.

    These guys (and girls) made our holiday! (Shout out to Greg, James, Lee, Dan & Ryan – my girls normally ‘don’t like boys’ and they loved you guys!)

  8. The accommodation is luxurious and comfortable

    8I can’t speak for all the caravans, but we were blown away by the one we were in. It had more storage space than our house does (I’m not kidding. We have no cupboards.) It is well stocked – I brought a sieve and funnel for my Kefir, but that’s not something most people take on holiday – with everything you need for self-catering, had a microwave, oven, stove and large fridge and freezer (again, more than we have at home!). There was even an airing cupboard (I know you’re imagining my house right now, but yup, we don’t have one of those at home right now either!)  Oh, then there’s plenty sofa space, and a fire place (my house is starting to sound positively grim now – it’s not really), and a balcony with outdoor seating. On and not one, but two toilets. The kids were stunned by this luxury!

    The beds were comfortable, the linen was cotton and pleasant, and the heating was really useful for the first two days once we figured it out.  There’s a reason my two year old wants to go back to the caravan instead of being at home! Oh and a decent sized TV with what I think was Freeview channels.

  9. There’s also a choice of accommodations

    Ladram Bay offers a choice of accommodations, so a large party can sleep in the luxury cabins, or a group of four can  have a budget caravan. You can have a caravan with or without a balcony, or with a jacuzzi on the balcony. Or a touring caravan pitch if that’s your thing. There’s a vast range of choice and related price options. You can use the facilities whether you’re there in a camper van for a night or a static van for six months.

  10. They offer great value last minute deals

    If you’re like me and like to do things on the fly, Ladram Bay’s website is a good one to check for last minute offers. The prices are really reasonable. Off peak they don’t have quite the same number of activities on (i.e Start activities are only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays off peak, if I recall, and the shop has shorter opening hours, but still completely acceptable!)

  11. Ladram Bay has a beach and a forest and a mountain

    I love the beach, but I don’t like lying on it in the sun, so for me having variety is a bonus. There’s a forest you can climb up the mountain to, there’s a mountain you can climb, and there is a beach. I think it’s wonderful having a variety of options so you can please everyone. I took the children rockpooling while my husband climbed the mountain – we were all happy!

  12. You can tick off some of your #50things
    18

    You know we love our National Trust #50things campaign, and on this trip we ticked off explore a cave, hold a scary beast, discover the creatures in a rockpool,  and build a raft and you could also do a few others, like canoe down a river except it would be the sea or if you’re small like mine, the pool.

  13. The staff are happy to be there

    I’ve said this before, but it really struck us: the staff are happy to be there. When I asked Ben, the Pebbles Restaurant manager if he thought that was true, he pointed at the view and said ‘How could we not love working here!’

    I asked a few of the staff what made working there good, and they all said the management really look after them. For example, when they designed the kitchen they specifically opened it up so that the chefs could still enjoy the view rather than being stuck in a windowless box all day. I think that’s awesome.

  14. Ladram Bay StaffThe staff are really attentive

    I’ve mentioned how good they are with the children before, but I was really struck by how good they were in looking after everyone. Even if there were just the three of us in the pool, there were three life guards on duty – and they all seem to rotate position every 15 minutes or so to keep fresh, I suppose. When the pool was really full and the sauna and steam room were being over run by a group of about 20 15 year old boys, it didn’t take long for one of the life guards to stick his head in and make sure all the under 17’s were out quickly. No one is left to run riot, so the holiday isn’t ruined for everyone. I love that.

  15. You can eat decent food on site

    We’ve all bought over priced, terrible food. We accept stale chips, dry burgers and limp lettuce as part of holiday park food. You don’t get that here. We didn’t eat from the take away, but we did visit Pebbles Restaurant twice – read the full review here – and the food was amazing. The children’s options were what I would call standard, and not overly exciting, but the rest of the menu is fantastic. I had the most amazing, locally sourced rib eye steak with melt in your mouth dauphinoise potatoes. It was incredible. And that’s just one of the meals. If we were in the area and not at Ladram Bay, I’d still drop in for a meal!

  16. You can do all your grocery shopping on site

    There’s a little shop on site that stocks pretty much everything you need, though we found the selection of nappies to be on the slim side. There was everything else though, especially if you’re camping and find yourself short of anything. There’s a fab range of food stuff, and fresh food, as well as freshly baked pastries and while they could charge whatever they want, really, we didn’t find the prices to be over the top – it certainly wasn’t worth driving the 15 minutes to Exmouth instead.

    You can also send and receive mail from the Reception if you need to.

  17. There’s limited internet

    There’s communal internet in the Waves Bar, but that was down for two days. There’s also an option to pay for wifi in your caravan. At £20 for one week, it isn’t ‘cheap’ and it didn’t always work well. Vodafone doesn’t get signal all the time, but EE was fine for syncing my laptop to a phone internet. My advice: unless you’re like me and have to work even on holiday, embrace it. Leave the phone and enjoy the time with your family. Forget about the internet. Just spend time.

  18. The whole family is catered for

    We’re a man, woman and two girls under 10 so maybe we’re not the widest demographic to judge by, but I think every age, size, preference, is catered for. There wasn’t a thing lacking the whole week and not once did we think “oh, I wish we could… “

  19. You manage your budget

    19

    One ice cream or one a day, restaurant dinner once or daily, activities once or daily, it’s all up to you. You don’t have to spend more money than you would do at home. Between the beach, pool, soft play, adventure play ground and taking your own bat and ball onto the lawn area, you don’t have to spend money. It’s not like you’re being milked dry at every corner.

    Cook in the caravan, eat at the restaurant, grab a takeaway, it’s up to you.

    Pay for activities, do the free activities, your call.

    You spend what you can afford and you’re unlikely to feel too left out if you don’t do everything

  20. It’s a family owned site

    The site is family owned, and has been for 70 years. They have an allocation of Hoseasons caravans which allows them to ‘compete’ for awards, but for the rest Ladram Bay is family owned and run, and you can feel it. While it has all the hallmarks of a UK caravan holiday site, it doesn’t feel like you’re in a corporate machine.

  21. There’s plenty to do off site

    If you want to leave the site, there’s so much to do in the area. From a historic fishing village called Beer to a fun family day out at World of Country Living you could not spend a single day on site, but that would be a waste – and that’s huge for me to say. Normally I’m all about getting out and exploring, but we had so much fun and were so busy, and yet so relaxed at Ladram Bay we didn’t even want to go off site and even extended our holiday for an extra day – both brand new experiences for us!

To be fair and balanced, I should add a negative, so one thing I would like to see more of is a focus on local food in the shop. The owners of the site also own a butchery, I think, so having a ‘Devon Local Food’ section would be nice. The fresh meat in the shop is delicious, but it could be from anywhere. You can buy local chutney, jam and mustard in the shop too, but again some local produce and local specialities (cheese, for example) would be nice for foodies like me. It would probably just require a change in marketing, rather than produce!

So those are our reasons to visit Ladram Bay. We hope to be back again soon and would love to see you there!

We were given four nights at Ladram Bay for review. Thoughts and opinions were entirely our own. 

Five Great Christmas Events For The Family

For the first few years living in the UK, I found the whole cold winter, dark days, early nights and crazy commercialism of Christmas utterly strange. Four years ago we had our first Christmas back in the Southern Hemisphere, however, and I was surprised to find that I really missed the post card Christmas, the log fires, and mulled wine. A winter Christmas had truly become Christmas the way I like it.  This year we’ll be in Australia for Christmas, and there’s quite a bit we’ll be missing out on here in what’s meant to be a very cold winter, so I thought I’d share some of the things that are still on my bucket list for Christmas activities with my girls.

1. Hogwarts

Hogwarts at the Harry Potter Tour is an almost guaranteed hit with kids at Christmas. We visited for the grand opening when Aviya was just 4 days old, and I’d love to go again – specially since they’re doing a whole ‘Hogwarts in the Snow’ thing. The Harry Potter movies are loved by kids of all ages, which makes Hogwarts a perfect place to visit this year. Walking round the castle provides a unique experience and the studio tour provides a fascinating insight into how the films were made. It’s also a great chance to see the props and sets that were used in the film up close.

Kids at christmas hogwarts2. Legoland

Legoland is considered one of the very best of all the theme parks in the UK and I’ve written about it and visited it many a time. Ameli has over 100 visits under her belt, and the pass holder bricks to prove it. For her birthday this year we stayed at the Legoland hotel, which was amazing, but we’ve still never made it to one of their seasonal events!

From November 22nd to December 24th, Legoland put on the Bricksmas Express where you and the children can discover a charming Christmas land where fairy lights twinkle, festive food delights and LEGO®bricks are a-plenty. It’ll be awesome, I’m sure and I do wish I could take the girls to Santa’s LEGO grotto.

3. Edinburgh Castle

I’ve only ever had two brief stops in Edinburgh and each time I’ve made a note that I really would love to return with a bit more time on my hands. In the week before Christmas (from the 20th December) you can learn how the famous author Charles Dickens found the inspiration for his book ‘A Christmas Carol’ after his visit to an Edinburgh graveyard – okay maybe more for me than the kids, that one, but I’d love to step back into Victorian England and have a chinwag with the ghost of Christmas past. And top it off with a feast in Jacobite Room. It would certainly be an experience to remember. Whilst it might not have the rides and high tech thrills of a theme park, it does provide a stunning setting to experience Christmas in. The sheer size of the castle and the breath taking surroundings make it a perfect place to visit for kids of all ages.

Whilst you’re in Edinburgh, why not check out what else the city has to offer.

4. Alton Towers

Alton Towers is another popular theme park in the UK. As a park, Alton Towers are said to be particularly good at catering for younger children. Looking at their Christmas line up, I think there’s so much going on, you’ll have trouble fitting it all in, really, what with meeting your favourite characters at the new CBeebies Land, embarking on a mission of discovery in Sharkbait Reef by SEALIFE and enjoying festive fun on their magical rides.Then there’s lunch at the hotels, a visit to the Wacky Waterpark and of course that very special visit to Santa and his elves in his secret hideaway grotto. I’m sure everyone will sleep well after that day out.

kids at christmas alton towers

5. Celtic Manor

Celtic Manor is a great alternative to the more obvious places to visit. It’s located in South Wales, and has plenty to offer kids, including the Christmas village, ice skating and Santa’s grotto. I only heard about Celtic Manor recently, when someone was telling me about their spectacular fireworks display that included live music and entertainment.

When you also take into account beautiful natural surroundings, then Celtic Manor is a great choice of a Christmas break for you and your kids.

kids at christmas celtic manor

I’m not sure what we’ll be doing in the run up to Christmas, but if Christmas 2012 is anything to go by, it’ll include frequent visits to the swimming pool, and queuing for an hour to spend 30 seconds in a snow dome filled with fake snow… trust me, it’s more fun than it sounds, and is how the Southern Hemisphere tries to capture a few moments (quite literally) of the romance of a white (ish) Christmas.

 kids at christmas celtic manor

 

A Day Out In London: Visiting Hamleys Toystore

I honestly never thought I’d say this, but it turns out spending a morning in a toy shop can actually be a fun event.

If you’re heading to London any time soon, and specifically if you’re looking for a way to kill time indoors for a few hours, Hamley’s Toy Store in Regent Street is amazing. On our way in I told my 4 year old Ameli that I wouldn’t be buying anything and we were just there to look, and amazingly, that was fine! She didn’t ask for anything all day, and was more than happy with the ‘free’ things she walked away with. (More on those in a bit.) I was quite surprised. I had expected a bit more fight! (In truth I think she was so overwhelmed she wouldn’t have known what to ask for anyway!)

I am in love with these Magic Markers. Ameli was thrilled to take the picture home!

I am in love with these Magic Markers. Ameli was thrilled to take the picture home!

Hamley’s Toy Store isn’t a shop. It’s an experience. Seriously. When they open the doors at 11am (on a Sunday) there’s a whole countdown, and eager browsers and shoppers alike are dragged into the spirit of the thing by ‘hosts’ counting down to the opening of the shop, by princesses and the Hamley’s bear waving at them and welcoming them. I’ve never really experienced anything quite like it!

The rest of this review has moved. Please visit our travel site here

The Tiger Who Came To Tea Live In London

If I were to have any regrets about my life before children it would be that I didn’t take enough advantage of the theatrical options that life in London offers. I mean, we did go to Royal Albert Hall, we did go to the National Opera and we did see ballet. We saw King Lear, and we saw amazing concerts from Leonard Cohen to Nickelback, but considering that we lived in London, and that we had two good full incomes, we really didn’t take advantage as much as we could have.

I do love the theatre though, and it is my sincere hope that the girls will grow up loving it too. Which means that we need to expose them to it now, in their childhood.

When Kids Week came along a few months ago, I was thrilled to get two adult tickets with two free child tickets for The Tiger Who Came To Tea Live.

We walked into the theatre with no expectations, since we have never actually read the book and had no idea what Judith Kerr’s story was about. Sometimes its nice that way.

The Lyric Theatre in London is beautiful, small and perfect for a show aimed at children. We had front row seats, so the kids had to sit on our laps to be able to see the whole stage.I only realised this a few minutes in, and Aviya’s face went from ‘that’s nice’ to ‘WOW’!the tiger who came to tea live

The show itself is highly engaging, with the audience being encouraged to participate from the off. They make use of ‘old tricks’ like a bit of slap-stick comedy from the father, or the Tiger knocking on the door and disappearing – cue hundreds of children shouting warnings at the cast, but it works brilliantly. The children adore it.

The actors entered the stage with huge smiles and full of enthusiasm. They sang and had fun and the audience loved it. The children were mesmerised by the on stage magic – the disappearing food, emptying juice bottle and vanishing contents of the cupboard and fridge.

The Tiger Who Came To Tea Live

– Engaging show

– Short enough for children

– Beautiful theatre experience

The tiger/father/postman/milkman was played by Matthew Dudley. The tiger was a huge suited hind-leg standing creature made up entirely of frills and the actor who played him was fantastic. The kids loved the tiger and my daughter has been emulating his walk and curtsy all day long. I was worried that a huge stuffed tiger would be scary for the kids, but it wasn’t – his way, his movement, him presence, were all comical and lovable. He was really very well portrayed.

The actress who plays Sophie, the little girl, Abbey Norman, is wonderful too. She had such a lovely singing voice, she was an absolutely mesmerising. She was full of energy and looked like she was having fun.

Finally the mother, Jenanne Redman, was so like a real mother: she led the tick-tocks and told the story in the ‘everything on stage is a prop’ kind of manner – like the passing of time, had fantastical facial expressions, and made everything happen – she brings out the food, makes the bathroom appear, and loads of other little scene setting things, that are largely unnoticed…. pretty true to life, I think! I did laugh out loud when the tiger said he was hungry and she grabbed her daughter away from him. So mother like indeed.

the tiger who came to tea live

I think the real magic of this show is definitely that of the props. The tiger eats all the sandwiches,cakes and biscuits off the plates, so there’s obviously some kind of mechanism to flip inside of the plate upside down.  My daughter is convinced the Tiger ate them.

There must also be an opening back to the cupboards and the fridge, that someone takes things out as the large tiger “eats” through everything. It really provided an element and awe and magic and reality that the children adored and I appreciated.

We loved The Tiger Who Came To Tea, the actors, the set and the props. It was a fantastic show, and a brilliant 55 minutes of day time entertainment for the kids.

Here’s a little clip from the live stage show:


YouTube Direkt

And here’s more information:

The Tiger Who Came to Tea
Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1D 7ES
Box Office:  0844 412 4661 www.thetigerwhocametotealive.com

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! London – A Great Day Out In London

Ameli and I spent a day out in London today, with a visit to Hamleys Toy Store (more on that later), lunch at Planet Hollywood, and then a first-for-us visit to Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

Ripley was an American cartoonist, entrepreneur and amateur anthropologist, who created the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! newspaper panel series, radio show, and television show which feature odd facts from around the world. He himself explored  over 120 countries of the world, collecting the weird, the wonderful and the down right bizarre.

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! certainly contains a collection of eclectic things, from the portrait of Brad Pitt made entirely out of cigarette ash, to the somewhat disturbing picture of Kennedy made out of butterfly wings, to the really clever snake effect portrait of Mrs Obama, made out of bottle tops.Ripley's Believe It Or Not! London

Read more on our new travel blog Giving Up Normal

Disclaimer for reviews

A Day Out In Birmingham, Midlands

If you’re stuck for something to do this summer – whether it’s with your kids, your friends or your other half, museums are a great way to pass the time. We all know that the British weather – even during the height of summer – can’t guarantee unending sunshine, and when it is looking a little overcast and glum outside, museums are a perfect option for a cultural afternoon.

A little while ago, the girls and I spent a day in Birmingham, and I was really surprised by it. For some reason I’d imagined it as a very industrial city, but it is really beautiful and a lot of work has gone into making the city centre people friendly.

The Midlands city of Birmingham is also packed with stunning museums and galleries and over the summer months, there are plenty of events, activities and exhibitions that can keep people of all ages amused. Book into one of the Travelodge hotels in the city centre and make the most out of your time in Birmingham. Here’s some of what you can enjoy:

birminghamBirmingham Museum and Art Gallery

The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery offers a wealth of craft activities for creative kids to enjoy. Fees apply, but it would be a perfect way to pass an hour or two with small people. There’s also a sensory gallery where you can experience a variety of artworks through touch, sound and light.

Step inside a 17th century painting, eavesdrop on Albert Einstein, or squeeze yourself into a chair in the shape of a 19th century corset.

There are also family fun trails which you can enjoy for free – it’s a great way to introduce children to a variety of art styles.

Thinktank

Thinktank is well worth a visit regardless of the additional events and temporary exhibitions that it may have over the summer period. Spend some time in the outdoor Science Garden – perfect on a sunny day – and get hands-on with some of the interactive displays and objects.

Gas Hall

Gas Hall is home to incredible exhibition that features work by Rowland Emett, who was the creator of the contraptions in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It’s the largest exhibition of its kind, and will engross the imaginations of everyone, no matter their age.

Circus Academy

If your kids like active challenges, take them to one of the Circus Academy workshops that are scheduled around the city throughout the summer. There are workshops being held at Soho House and Blakesley Hall in August.

Birmingham Sea Life

We actually never made it beyond the entrance of the Sea Life Centre, but even that was quite something, with huge fish tanks adorning the room. Very beautiful and the girls were thrilled with even just the 20 minutes we spent there.

If you’re planning on making more than one visit over the year, the Birmingham Museums Annual Pass (this doesn’t include the Sea Life Centre), set at £85 per year for families, gives you the chance to visit various museums across the city, as many times as you like.

I was pleasantly surprised by our day trip to Birmingham, and look forward to the next one!

 

Feast in the Woods Festival Ashford, Kent

I don’t want to tell you about the weekend we just had. I don’t want to share the awesomeness that was our Feast in the Woods experience. I really don’t want to tell you how my children connected with nature, how strangers became friends and how we spent the weekend resting in the beauty of the outdoors. I don’t want to tell you anything about it at all – at least not till I’ve bought my tickets for next year.

A few months ago I was searching for events to populate my UK Festivals Pinterest board when I came across a festival called Feast in the Woods.

Well – I love feasting and I love woods. I had to check it out. I swapped a few emails with the organiser, Rebecca Cork of Honeywoods Camping and the rest, as they say, is history.

We arrived on the campsite on Saturday afternoon, just as the rain stopped. I was feeling apprehensive and not really in the mood for cold, wet, and mud. But we went on, as the sun peaked out, and set up our tent. I didn’t know anyone and I was worried we’d spend the weekend standing outside looking in on other people’s friendships, conversations and fun. Festival Kids

The rest of this review has moved. You can see it here

Honeywoods Feast in the Woods

Whipsnade Zoo, Luton, Bedfordshire

Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire is really part zoo, part wildlife reserve. If you say ‘zoo’ you tend to think of a bunch of animals in cages. While this is partly true, there’s also part wildlife reserve like the ones you’ll find in Africa – where you get to drive or walk around with nothing between you and the animals. In a sentence, the Whipsnade Zoo is fantastic. We spent a bank holiday Monday there and we loved every minute of it. 
Whipsnade Zoo

 

The rest of this review has moved. Please click here to read it. 

 

The Vyne National Trust, Basingstoke

A few years ago the National Trust started a campaign aimed at getting children outdoors - 50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 3/4. We started working our way through the fifty things when Ameli was just two, using the online system. Last year we carried on with it and by the time she was four, she had ticked off 37 things! This year we decided to start from scratch and see how we could get on with it through the summer.

One of the benefits of following the #50things program is that as National Trust members, we get to visit a lot of properties around the area and find what they have earmarked that can be ticked off in their grounds – things like explore the inside of a tree, play Pooh sticks and so on, so it’s really useful, actually, and a cheap day out.

 

The rest of this review has moved. Please find it hereThe Vyne Basingstoke Hampshire

If you’re following along with the #50things project, here’s a list of things you can tick off at The Vyne:

1. Climb a Tree

2. Roll down a really big hill (Hidden Realm)

4. Build a den

5. Skim a stone

6. Run around in the rain

9. Eat an apple straight from a tree (on selected days, I think!)

10. Play conkers

11. Make a trail with sticks

13. Make a mud pie (Hidden Realm)

14. Dam a stream (Hidden Realm)

16. Make a daisy chain

18. Create some wild art

19. Play pooh sticks

25. Make a grass trumpet

28. Climb a huge hill

31. Hunt for bugs

33. Catch a Falling leaf

44. Go bird watching

45. Find your way with a map and compass