Showing posts with label cheap days out. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cheap days out. Show all posts

Friday, 21 September 2012

Piddle Valley: SeaLife Adventure Park - a review

This is the fourth of a series of posts based on our crazily busy holiday down in Bournemouth and Slough.  Yes, you heard that correctly; Slough.  We've had an intense week of family days out; it's cost us far too much, but we've had an absolutely ball.  Sleep is high on the agenda this week.

I am publishing the posts that were drafted during the trip over the next few weeks between other yummy musings.  The first one: Sandy Balls is here and the second; Wet Bottoms: A review of Peppa Pig World is here.

The third: Painful Groynes - a day at Bournemouth beach is here

The fifth and final in the series - A review of Legoland Windsor is here.

Enjoy the series.  If you don't want to miss a thing you can subscribe by email over on the right hand panel, or follow on Facebook or Twitter.

Day four: Piddle Valley and Sea Life Adventure Park, Weymouth - a review

 It was absolutely throwing down with rain when we pulled into the car park by Sea Life Adventure Park.  The puddle outside my car door was so big I had to leap from a sitting position in the car to a standing position about a metre from the car, all in one go!

The irony of the name of the place we'd driven past en route to Sea Life Adventure Park wasn't lost on me; Piddle Valley.  I do love the place names around here!

But with ponchos and umbrellas, and a day bag with spare clothes, snacks, plasters, germoline etc (with 2 adults and 2 children under 6 years old.  We ALWAYS need a first aid kit of sorts!) we braved the weather to enter the park.

I have to be honest; if we were at home and I was on my own, there's absolutely NO WAY I would have braved the weather to go on a trip out with the two girls.  My excuse would be fairly persuasive and would focus on the logistical difficulty of keeping hold of two child in a potentially busy, unknown environment whilst also carried the day bag (rucksack in this case) and the umbrella.  I have to also admit to being really pleased that we DID brave the weather, because we had a lovely day.

Special Events


Within 2 minutes of entering the reception area pretty much at opening time, we bumped into Timmy.

For those who have older children, or indeed no children, let me explain quickly who Timmy is.  Remember Wallace and Gromit?  Shaun the Sheep?  The brilliance of the Aardman team?  Their venture into cartoons for pre-schoolers took the form of Timmy.  He is the cutest lamb ever, who gets up to all sorts of fun at his nursery school with his other animal friends (their are ducks, owls etc.  They probably have names, but since it doesn't have 'speech' in the cartoon I'm afraid I've never worked out what they are.)  There's even a website with lots of resources, games and activities where you can watch clips called Timmy Time.

Timmy was stood in reception.

Just to clarify this further; a 6 foot Timmy was stood in reception.

As part of a promotional tour of various theme parks, (Timmy has a feature length DVD out called Timmy's Seaside Rescue) he was today at the Sea Life Adventure Park.  My girls were, luckily not traumatised.  After all, they'd been cuddling 6 foot tall Peppa and George only two days ago.  So they launched themselves on Timmy; who may well now be traumatised, and wouldn't let go for quite some time!

It's funny how it's the deviations from the days plan that are often the most memorable moments!  Future events in October 2012 include Shark Week, so it's worth checking out the Sea Life website here before you go to see what special events may be on.

Things to see and do


So what was the park like?

The exhibits are amazing.  I didn't want to take any photos inside the habitats, as obviously it is kept fairly dark for the comfort of the creatures used to living miles under the sea.  These pictures are courtesy of the Sea Life Adventure Official web page.  Head on over there to see more.

There are sharks swimming over your head....

..turtles (some the size of small cars).....

...sea horses....

.. enormous crabs (really enormous - I felt ill watching the trainer handle him - I did risk a picture of that....

 ...penguins (I took this photo too.. not bad?)...

...and tank after tank of amazing sea life exhibits.

And on top of the amazing habitats; there's so much more to do.
  • a penguin footprint trail, so that you can ensure to see everything; 
  • a trail of questions to keep the children engaged.  Whilst we were there, they had an additional trail of Timmy's sea life questions, which they also had a go at.  
  • Face painting.  I don't know if they just do this in the holidays or not.  The guy that did the beautiful fish and starfish on my girls cheeks was good at it though!

  • Model making.  Again, this may have been a holiday extra.  They had large laminated posters of various different clay modelled sea creatures.  The girls got a big lump of, well, dough, or clay, and shaped their won starfish and puffer fish respectively.  
  • A splash park.  Within the main park there is a small section of fountains.  The sort that the children run about underneath on a spongy surface.  By the time we reached this part of the park it was after lunch and the sun had made an appearance, so the swimsuits came out and our girls ran around for half an hour!  This was in August, so it wasn't cold (just wet!)

  • A mini arcade area and slides by the cafe area midway around.  I suspect this area is a lot nicer when it's not still throwing it down with rain.  It was a fine place to sit and eat lunch though, as it took us until then to get to this part of the park!  There's a larger facility by the main entrance which we didn't use but looked fine.
  • A smallish log flume.
    As if we weren't wet enough!?
  • The Sea Life Tower is not at the same location as the Sea Life Adventure Park.  You can buy joint tickets, but you'll need to travel from one to the other and treat them as separate trips.  We didn't bother with the tower this time.  Check it out here.
  • There's another theme park next door.  Don't be fooled though; you can't access it from Sea Life.  It's entirely separate.
All in all there's a great layout and a good portion of the actual exhibits are inside.  Check out your visitor map here to plan your visit.

The down side


Bear in mind that many of the exhibits are inside because the creatures are used to living miles under the sea where it's fairly dark.  Therefore the lighting within each building is very low.  Even though it was overcast outside, I still found it difficult transitioning to the new light levels as we entered each area.  Because of this; the fact that adults start by checking out what's at eye level, not necessarily what's around their knees; and because some of the flooring in some areas is a little uneven; I'd keep a very tight hold of young children.

Other tips


Always pack a swimsuit and a small towel.  We pack one poncho style towel between the two children.  Enough for the types of splash parks that this, and many other theme parks now have.  And even if they don't, the towel came in handy after a ride on the log flume.  We also packed (through necessity) rain macs, umbrellas, sun cream (I know it sounds crazy, but did you see the crazy mixture of weather we had in the UK in August?), snacks and bottles of water.

Opening and Prices


Sea Life Adventure Park, Weymouth, is part of the Merlin Group. It is open from 10am til 5pm daily.  You can buy tickets in advance online here from £13 each.  Or treat yourself to either a Sea Life Adventure Park Annual Pass, or a Merlin Annual Pass (incorporating access to other Merlin attractions such as Legoland and Alton Towers) here. 

This is NOT a sponsored post.  We paid full price.

Friday, 13 April 2012

The National Trust: 50 things to do before you're 11 3/4 years old

We have enjoyed some of our best days out at National Trust properties.  And my favourite memories of childhood are set outdoors; so I was really pleased to see that the National Trust's current campaign aims to get children back outside.

Climbing trees; building dams; making mud pies; digging for worms; these are activities that were pretty much all children did in the 70s, but which, in today's technology and health and safety obsessed age, seem to have disappeared, victims either to the lure of the DVD and games consoles, or to the wrap-in-cotton-wool mentality of parents.  According to the report commissioned by the National Trust three times as many children are taken to hospital having fallen out of bed, compared to falling out of a tree.  A third have never even climbed a tree and a shocking one in ten can't ride a bike.

You can pick up a scrapbook from any National Trust property and start ticking off the activities; then continue the fun at home; visiting the 50things website and earning points towards an explorer badge.  Although it would be slightly ironic if all the children simply 'logged on' to earn their badge, instead of actually getting outside!

This is a great idea; and if you want to get started; here's the list:
Sudbury Hall & the National Museum of Childhood, Derbyshire

1. Climb a tree
2. Roll down a really big hill
3. Camp out in the wild
4. Build a den
5. Skim a stone
6. Run around in the rain
7. Fly a kite
8. Catch a fish with a net
9. Eat an apple straight from a tree
10. Play conkers
11. Throw some snow
12. Hunt for treasure on the beach
13. Make a mud pie
14. Dam a stream
15. Go sledging
16. Bury someone in the sand
17. Set up a snail race
18. Balance on a fallen tree
19. Swing on a rope swing
20. Make a mud slide
21. Eat blackberries growing in the wild
22. Take a look inside a tree
23. Visit an island
24. Feel like you're flying in the wind
25. Make a grass trumpet
26. Hunt for fossils and bones
27. Watch the sun wake up
28. Climb a huge hill
29. Get behind a waterfall
30. Feed a bird from your hand
31. Hunt for bugs
32. Find some frogspawn
33. Catch a butterfly in a net
34. Track wild animals
35. Discover what's in a pond
36. Call an owl
37. Check out the crazy creatures in a rock pool
38. Bring up a butterfly
39. Catch a crab
40. Go on a nature walk at night
41. Plant it, grow it, eat it
42. Go wild swimming
43. Go rafting
44. Light a fire without matches
45. Find your way with a map and compass
46. Try bouldering
47. Cook on a campfire
48. Try abseiling
49. Find a geocache
50. Canoe down a river

I'm afraid I'm fast approaching 40 years old and there are still 7 things on this list I haven't done yet.  I'll enjoy discovering those with my children.

Can you guess which ones?  Which have you done?

Friday, 6 April 2012

Chatsworth House Easter eggstravaganza! A review

If you are thinking of heading out for the day this weekend you wouldn't do much better than a day out at Chatsworth House.  The home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, this beautiful house is set in the heart of the Peak District in Derbyshire.  From the house, to the extensive gardens and grounds, to the farmyard and adventure playground, the farm shop and animal handling; there is something for everyone here.

And of course it's EASTER!  So this week, until the 15th April, Chatsworth plays host to the Easter Bunny (and cheeky he is too).  There are Easter Egg hunts throughout the day and with 2,500 mini eggs strewn all over a field (per hunt) it's a child's paradise!  There are Easter crafts in the Oak Barn, so that you can keep out of the rain (if it threatens) and make those all important bunny ears for yourself, or an Easter card for Nana.

The Easter Eggspress is trundling around the grounds at regular intervals throughout the day and it's from this brilliant tractor ride that you may spy the Easter Bunny himself.  Do you think he'll come over and say hello?  Of course he will.

If you manage to fit in an Easter Egg Hunt, Eggspress ride and craft session, you still need to leave time to enjoy the refurbished woodland adventure playground with new Rope Challenge finished only last week.

Tip 1:  But remember; take everyone's bucket and spade, wellington boots and spare clothes.  That sand gets everywhere and for some reason the children love the water!

For us, these activities filled the day; but you've still got the animal handling, milking demonstrations, farmyard daily talks, tours of the house, formal garden tours and a separate, more subdued, egg hunt in the gardens; where the eggs are less edible!

If you take a picnic, then a day out for 2 adults and 2 children (3yrs to 16 yrs) would set you back £17.10 for a family ticket entry to the farmyard and adventure playground*, £3 for car parking, £10 for four seats on the Eggspress and free entry into the Easter Egg Hunt (though you must remember to ask for your Egg Hunt tickets when you pay.  Easter crafting is free.  That's a total of £30.10 for a family of 4.  You'll also come home with children wearing bunny ears they've made themselves and with pockets full of mini Easter eggs from the hunt, as well as small bag of mini eggs from the Easter bunny!

On the basis of the smiles that were glued to our two girls' faces all day today; that's £30 well spent.

Tip 2:  HOWEVER, it's a very good idea to either arrive early (the farmyard opens at 10.30am, so be parked by 10am at the latest and queueing at the farmyard gate); OR, even better, book online and print your tickets before you arrive.

If you don't pre-book and arrive at around 11am, you'll be queueing for up to an hour.
If you do pre-book, there's a separate queue for that and you'll waltz right in.  (Chatsworth House members also get to use the fast queue!)

For details of the Easter activities and to book your tickets; click here

If you are travelling from further afield you can stay in Chatsworth's historic holiday cottages to give you more time to take in the beautiful surrounding countryside.  You'll find fine food and a bed and breakfast at the Devonshire Arms in Beeley; or indeed at the Devonshire Arms in Pilsley on the Chatsworth Estate.
And a final tip:  Take extra coats, jumpers, hats, scarfs and definitely gloves this weekend.  The temperature had dropped suddenly today and out there, in the Peaks, you notice it.  Go prepared.  The car park is so close, it doesn't matter if you end up popping them back in the car, just remember to get your hand stamped when leaving the farmyard, so you can get back in again!

For other ideas for crafts and baking activities to keep the children entertained this Easter please click here.


*£19.80 with gift aid resulting in a £2.70 voucher back to spend in the shop or restaurants.  If voucher is used, net cost is £17.10.  £18.00 without gift aid.

Please note:  this is an independent review based on our family's experience of Chatsworth House on Friday 6th April 2012.  No payment, gift or encouragement of any kind has been received by this author.  This blog prides itself on unbiased honest opinions of products and services.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Christmas at Clumber Park!

Regular readers will know that we are National Trust members in our family (despite the fact that I'm sure we don't get value out of it, as pretty much all the six or so sites within driving distance of us are all over 30 minutes drive away, so it requires a full day usually to take advantage.)

However; when I received this season's 'Christmas what's on' guide I was struck by the number of Christmas activities taking place at National Trust properties.  Since we've not previously visited Clumber Park then it was top of our list.  Being members, entry would be free.

The mistake we made was 'not' to rush when we planned to go on Saturday.  If you are a mum you probably find yourself spending most of your time desperately trying not to be late (or is that just me?), so I made a conscious effort to relax yesterday and decided to do some chores first.  Apparently Father Christmas was going to be in attendance at Clumber from 12noon until 5pm, so when we finally set off at 2pm I wasn't too worried.  I figured we'd join the queue for Father Christmas first and still have some time to play on the park (assuming there was one... it was a good bet, and there was) before it got dark.

We arrived at 3pm after a 40 minute drive.  I feel that I need to stress this bit quite a lot, so I'll say that again.  We arrived at 3pm.  A good 2 hours before Father Christmas was, we were led to understand, due to finish his meet and greet for the day.  Firstly there were no signs showing us where to find him, so I had to ask a passing Elf.  (stop sniggering!).  The Elf wasn't too helpful.  He pointed me towards a corner where he thought there would be a member of Elfing staff selling tickets to see Father Christmas, but when he noticed that his colleague was no longer there he just shrugged.  So I tried a member of the National Trust staff in the main shop who didn't know exactly and pointed me towards the Toy Shop.  (I was getting worried by this stage...)

When I arrived at the Toy Shop my request was met with that expression... you know the one... the expression that says "I'm-really-sorry-for-what-I'm-about-to-say,-less-so-for-you,-than-for-me,-for-having-to-say-it-and-making-2-under-5yr-olds-cry".  And of course that it the essence of what this lady said.  That Father Christmas tickets were sold out.  Already.  Well I welled up.  I couldn't face telling the two girls who were looking at me with worried expressions, the eldest more so, who had caught the meaning of the conversation already.

But my hubby is a clever man.  And so he quickly said. "But is there anyway they can just see him quickly simply to give him their letters.  They brought their letters to give him personally and we've come a long way."

Hurrah!  This was a request that, after the lady rushed off with her walkytalky and returned, could be met.  We would have to be quick she said.  But yes, they could hand in their letters and say a quick hello.

Afterwards the girls were, of course, ecstatic to have seen Father Christmas in person, to have given him their letters and a kiss, and had a picture, and to hear from his (more) helpful Elf that they were indeed on the good list (a very impressive large Christmassy book that looked suspiciously like a dictionary in disguise!)  while they waited in the queue.

The lady, back at the Toy Shop, was still apologetic when we returned there to buy a treat each for the girls and she apologised for not being able to do more, which was nice, but I wasn't sure what more she meant.  The girls got exactly what they came for.  They didn't need to sit and chat with him for ages.

And so, my conclusion is this.  If you are responsible for arranging a meet and greet session for the white bearded fellow, don't worry too much about how much time the children get with him.  Price it sensibly (I think £5 maximum, but less would be more enjoyable for the parents), and ensure to have a very helpful Elf with the 'Good list' book talking to the children in the queue to cleverly extend the experience.

And for good measure throw in a Snowman and walking Christmas Tree wandering around outside with the actual Christmas tree to have their pictures taken with the children.  My youngest cried when we had to say goodbye to the Snowman.

Worth a visit.... but get there early.  We couldn't join in with the wand or lantern making either - as they'd ran out at about 3pm (typical!)

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Out of the mouths of babes...

So we are all lined up waiting our turn for a go on the bumperboats.  These are round boats, with inflatable rings around them.  They seat two, and you use a joystick style controller with a button on the top to direct the electric motor and point the boat in the direction you want to go. 

We are at Wheelgate Adventure Park, just north of Nottingham, in the Midlands.  It's a great park for young children, with plenty of rides for them.  We've been to the park a couple of times before, but had never yet got around to a go on the boats. 

Well today was the day.  The sun was shining and the girls were being particularly well behaved making for a nice family day out.  We reached the start of the queue and the man in charge of the ride handed us two lifejackets for the girls.  I'd ride with Cheeky Monkey no.1, my husband with other youngest of our two cheeky monkeys, now approaching 3 years old.  My husband had been holding CM No.2 in his arms, but placed her back down on the ground so he could put her life jacket on.

Jackets were put on.  CM No.2 looked down at hers, a thick padded jacket which came out from her chest a good few inches.  She patted her chest with a satisfied expression.

It was fairly quiet in this queue.  I should point that out now.

CM No. 2 looked up at daddy, still patting her chest in a satisfied manner.

"Daddy,"  she shouted up.  "Look, you can't pick me up now!"
"Ok luv," he responded and asked "why?"
"You can't pick me up now, daddy, because I've got BIG boobies!"  And she giggled the cheekiest giggle and shouted to her sister.
"Look!  I've got BIG boobies!"  patting away on her chest.

Kids.... Don't you just love 'em!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Entertaining the children on a budget...!

The girls have got a week off this week.  And so, as a working mum, I have had a few days off work to spend some quality time with them.  But therein lies the challenge.  In my head "quality time" involves travelling to purpose built adventure parks where we laugh together, skipping along eating ice creams, the sun shining, everyone relaxed and happy.

Alright, I know, I'll try and grasp reality again.  Day trips with two under 5s is a little bit more like strapping a shield to your arm and trying to slay a dragon with 2 heads.  You need skill, strength, plentiful snacks, eyes in the back of your head, plasters and antiseptic, and a spare kidney to cover the costs.

So, today we left the house with a small changing kit (3 nappies, wipes and sacks), 4 juice boxes, a bottle of water, a packed lunch, buckets and spades and a total of £5.40 ($8.89) in change.  Safe to say that we were on a budget.  So it was to a nearby park, recently refurbished with swings, slides, and a sand pit (obviously), that we headed.  Turns out that the land train was in residence and my youngest absolutely loves trains, so it was an interesting education for the children as I tried to explain that the money I'd bought with me was just for ice creams, and if we wanted a ride on the train we probably couldn't also afford the ice creams.

They were surprising receptive.  And lucky.  As I discovered that the cheapest ice creams were in fact affordable, so they got to do both.  The lesson for my eldest was that she couldn't have the fancier ice cream she'd had her eye on.

But the sun shone.  We made sandcastles.  Ate our packed lunch in the rose garden.  Rode the train.  Ate the ice creams.  And had a thoroughly lovely day.  Interestingly I came home with 90p and I expect that if I'd have taken £10, or even £20, I would probably still have come home with 90p.  So we did indeed manage a lovely day on a budget.  Never underestimate the lure of a simply swing set and sandpit.

I left the dragon at the scene.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Days Out for the Kids this Summer!

The summer holidays made easy!

Check out the National Trust website for their "60 Days of Summer" activity planner with loads of ideas for great days out.

Simply start at their home page where you'll find "Schools Out". There are links to various local planners too, for example their "Get Sussed for Summer" planner for the East Midlands. (simply type "Get Sussed for Summer" in their search engine and you're there.)

Have fun!

The Essential Day Trip Packing List for Mums!

So you're off on a day trip during these summer holidays. So what to pack?

For the children:

  • A snack box (raisins, goodie bars, mini chocolate bars, bananas, at least 2 juice drinks per child)
  • Sun hat
  • Sun cream (ideally cream them before you go out, but take some spare just in case!)
  • Rain coat, or if you can manage it a rain suit (they include legs, and this is England you know!)
  • Wellies
  • Nappies/wipes/nappy bags if applicable
  • Change of clothes for each child (including underwear - in case they get drenched, muddy, sandy... etc)
  • A mini high chair, or bumper cushion, for small children in case highchairs aren't available; OR,
  • A picnic blanket (regardless of if you've taken a picnic - these are really useful)
  • Tissues
  • Antibacterial hand gel
  • Mini first aid kit (single dose sachets of children's paracetamol and ibuprofen, plasters, antibacterial cream for cuts and scrapes)
  • A mini colouring book and pencils for each child (just in case)
  • A flask - a large one with a lid that converts to a cup (or two cups if you can manage it. Thermos, of course, do a good one) for that all important cuppa!
  • Spare socks for all (for some reason they always need socks)
  • A buggy - if only to carry that lot around in.
Having a picnic?
  • A selection of sandwiches
  • A selection of party food to your taste (scotch eggs, sausage rolls, mini sausages, cheesy dippers, couscous, pasta salad, cucumber sticks, grapes, etc etc)
  • Plastic plates for all (makes it much easier to track whether they've all actually eaten anything!)
  • More juice for all - ideally not requiring separate cups
  • A selection of deserts to your taste (mini jelly pots and spoons, mousse pots, cupcakes/fairy cakes, etc )
  • Milk for babies
  • At least one bib
  • Baby food, and spoons.
For yourself:
  • Your wellies
  • A change of socks
  • Sunhat or baseball cap
  • Your own suncream (don't forget those shoulders. See earlier post!)
  • Raincoat
  • Change of clothes - if only to keep in the car. I've had juice split all over me more than once, and those nappies aren't always foolproof; especially when they are sat on your knee!)
  • Adult paracetamol and ibuprofen
  • Money!
  • Any relevant tickets, annual passes etc
And of course, the all important kitchen sink.
Let me know if I missed anything....

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Great family days out at Wheelgate Adventure Park

We had an absolute ball yesterday!

I took the girls to Wheelgate Adventure Park ( It was brilliant. My mate had suggested it for a day out with my two girls (4 and 1yrs) and her girl and boy (4 and 1yrs). I'd never been before, but I wish I had.

It's near Mansfield, in the East Midlands, and is perfect for little ones. They have all the traditional children's activities; a carousel, small airplane rides, a mini pirate ship, a 6 lane bumpy slide (with traditional sacks to slide down on!) and a playground area including 2 mini zip lines (that the older girls loved), slides, swings, special swings for babies, a fort, climbing frame, monkey bars etc. And that was before you got near the mini roller coaster, go-carts, pitch and putt, the toddler's play village and the larger Robin Hood fort area for older children, the bouncy castles (at least 4), the mini train and the Tropical House! And if it happened to rain, there was a huge indoor play centre, split into older and younger children's areas.

We never made it inside the indoor play area.

The girls loved it. Most of the rides have a minimum height restriction of 1 metre or 1 .1 metres. But you have to pay for all children bigger than 95cm, because they can go on some rides accompanied by an adult. The height restrictions do vary across the rides - so beware what promises you make!

So for a good day out, for only £9.45 each (I had to pay for myself and the elder. The younger got in free, so it cost us £18.90), it's definitely worth it. We took a picnic and plenty of juice and snacks, so didn't spend a penny other than the admission fee.

Word of warning for yummy mummy's everywhere though. I managed to get sun burnt and a mild case of sunstroke, even though we had our rain coats and wellies with us. Here in the Midlands we have been getting those warm, but overcast, days. It appears that, even through cloud, my fair skin can't cope! I hadn't put the girls in hats, and I'm normally paranoid about sunscreen and hats simply because of how easily I know I burn. So for me to get caught out is very rare! Luckily the girls were fine. Phew!

Beware of the sneaky sun this school holiday season. White lines across your shoulders is not a yummy mummy look!

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