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A Weekend In Wales - Bluestone Wales

Last month, my family managed to get away for a sneaky weekend break to Bluestone Wales. Long-term readers will know that we had a week at Bluestone last year in June. It was our best family holiday, and the kids have asked to return to Wales ever since. As you can imagine, they were over the moon when we told them we would be going back to Bluestone for three nights.

I think if many families only had time for a four-day break, they would chose somewhere relatively close to home. And you might think that Wales is too far away if you live in London. But it is not! Bluestone Wales is located in Pembrokeshire in South Wales. It takes about four hours to drive there from south west London. Four hours is an easy drive (especially on roomy A roads and motorways). Even with children. We stopped halfway between for lunch and a toilet break. There are loads of nice services on the way, plus a plethora of castles which make for a lovely stop.

Now back to Bluestone. During our previous visit to Bluestone, we had loads of day trips, but this time we wanted to spend most of the time on the resort. Moozles and Dubz loved the Blue Lagoon waterpark and we went every morning. Last year, we were gutted to miss out on a few Bluestone highlights. The first being our visit to Camp Smokey. We were thrilled to finally walk through the 'deep dark wood' to the cafe and enjoy lunch and roast some marshmallows.

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Tenby Beach, Wales

Last week, while we had a family mini-break at Bluestone Wales, we managed an outing to the beach. We went to Tenby last summer and loved it, and could not imagine a trip to Pembrokeshire in West Wales without visiting again. So, armed with buckets and spades, we went to Tenby for a day of fun and fish and chips.

One of my favourite aspects of Tenby is that the beach is sandy. It's great for sitting and chillin', as well as making sandcastles. We saw a few people flying kites and felt jealous that we didn't have one. If you're not fussed about sandcastles or kites, walk along the beach and look up at the beautiful cliff and the pretty pastel houses. It wasn't very warm or sunny during this visit, but we still had a lovely time. To be honest, it is a relief not to need raincoats and wellies when spending the day at the beach in the UK.

If you're visiting Tenby from Bluestone, it takes about 20 minutes by car. There is a fairly big car park near the beach (we paid £3.00 for four hours). It takes less than 10 minutes to walk to the town centre from the beach, where there is a decent selection of cafes. Although there is a cafe by the beach, we like to go into the centre for our favourite place to eat - D. Fecci and Son's Fish & Chips. They make such delicious fish, and even offer them in different sizes (mini is perfect for kids, while I had the regular portion). They also do children's meals, and pies and sausages for fish-haters like Husband. And wonderfully, they have gluten-free options. Such a gem!

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Hooray for Legoland

Last week we surprised the kids with a visit to Legoland Windsor. Hooray! They were thrilled, to put it mildly (check out the vlog below for their reaction). Windsor is a 55-minute drive from where we live in south west London, so Moozles and Dubz didn't have long to wait. They were also very excited to find out that their grandparents would be meeting us at Legoland and then taking them to Leamington for the weekend (though I think that Husband and I were even more excited).

Anyway, we last went to Legoland about three and a half years ago, when Dubz was five months old. As you can imagine, he did not get much out of it, and I had to keep missing out on things to breastfeed him (there is a baby care area where you can breastfeed in private, as well as change nappies). But now that Dubz is almost four, and Moozles is eight, I was looking forward to a fun day we would all enjoy. Dubz hasn't needed a stroller/buggy in over a month, and can now walk three or four miles, which makes family outings so much easier.

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A Day At The Black Country Living Museum

We are in the Midlands for a few days this week for the Easter holidays. Regular readers will know that my in-laws live in Royal Leamington Spa, and we try and visit them often as it is a lovely area. Today we went to Dudley (which is about 50 minutes northwest of Leamington) to visit the Black Country Living Museum.

First of all, I had to ask why it was called the 'black country'. Apparently the area was given the name due to the smoke and soot from the ironworking foundries, but maybe also because of the 30-foot thick coal seam near the surface. The Black Country Living Museum (BCLM) is an outdoor and indoor museum set over 26 acres that shows us what life was like in a Black Country town in the 1800s.

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Our Break in BrusselsI love looking at old photos, though I mostly concentrate on the ones when my children were quite young. Isn't it amazing how one day they're a little baby, and the next thing you know they're at school multiplying their tables. Today I found the photos from our family mini-break to Brussels back in 2010. Oh, the ease of travelling with just one child. Moozles was two but we had a painless journey on the Eurostar to Belgium's capital city. We even forgot the buggy, and it was still fine.

Then again, Brussels is a good city to visit with little ones. We strolled through the Grand-Place, visited parks and statues. And we had lots of lovely meals. And all those chips. It's a child's dream. My only issue is the terrible photos. What on earth was I using as a camera back then? Ugh. Thank goodness for today's smart phones and their fancy cameras.

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My UK Travel Wishlist for 2016Forget new year's resolutions. It's cold and dark, and all I can think about are  next year's holidays. I am not even thinking about sunny holidays lounging in the sun. I just love getting out of London and visiting new places. As an American expat, there are still so many places in the UK that I haven't yet visited. So I thought I would share some of the beautiful UK cities, brimming with culture, that I would like to visit in 2016.

My UK Travel Wishlist for 2016

Bristol - I have been wanting to visit Bristol for ages, and hopefully 2016 will be the year we visit. As a family, there is so much for us to see. There is an open-top bus tour around the city, which takes about an hour. We recently took a bus tour around London and loved it. After the bus tour, we could visit the At-Bristol Science Centre. There are loads of hands-on exhibits and shows for the entire family to enjoy. Afterwards we could walk around the harbour and take in the lovely sights. Stop at Stable Pizza for one of their amazing pizza or pies.

No visit to Bristol would be complete without exploring Clifton Village and seeing the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Whilst in Clifton, the kids would love a visit to Bristol Zoo Gardens. Lions, seals, gorillas, oh my!

My UK Travel Wishlist for 2016

York - Once a year, Husband and I manage to have a weekend to ourselves, and I think that York would make a romantic kid-free city-break destination. Though there seem to be a lot of family-friendly activities there, Husband and I are desperate for some alone time. We could start off by climbing the steep steps of Clifford's Tower (it is all that is left of York Castle, which was built by William the Conqueror). After working up an appetite, we could have afternoon tea at Bettys. The scones and cakes look amazing. We could also go for a walk through York's alleyways, passageways and ginnels which sounds quite quaint. Whilst walking around, I could drag take Husband into the many antique shops.

My UK Travel Wishlist for 2016

Colchester - I've recently learnt that Colchester is Britain's oldest recorded town. That's a lot of history. And there would be no better place to begin than at Colchester Castle (a Norman castle dating from 1016). My kids love visiting castles, especially my three year old son, Dubz, who loves knights. There are family events, creepy vaults and dressing up. Dubz and Moozles would also enjoy visiting Colchester Zoo. We all love animals, especially elephants and giraffes. Plus a huge soft play and playgrounds for when Husband and I need a rest. While in Colchester, I wouldn't mind going for a ride on a narrow boat. These boats are such a charming part of British history and I think the kids (and their American mother) would get a kick out of a boat ride. We could then enjoy Sunday Lunch at the Church Street Tavern (it sounds delicious and they even have a kids menu).

 

So these are the three UK cities that I am hoping to visit in 2016. They are full of culture, fun and beauty. Have you been to any of these three cities? Any tips to share?

 

*Photo credit: top photo, Carolyn Eaton

 

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Family Holiday at Bluestone Wales

A few weeks ago my family and I drove 4 1/2 hours from South West London to South Wales. And to Bluestone Wales for our family holiday. This is the third year in a row that we have had our main holiday in the UK, but this was the best holiday by far. If you have never been to Bluestone Wales, then book your holiday now (after reading this post, of course). If you are planning a trip to Bluestone, then read on for tips.

We arrived at Bluestone at 3pm and we only had to wait a few minutes to check in (which we did at a gate, whilst in our car). I have heard that there can be long queues if you arrive at 4.30pm (the time when you are able to drive straight to your lodge). We then parked the car and went to the soft play until 4.30pm. The soft play was a good size, with several slides, mini-golf, indoor rock climbing and even a bouncy castle. We had such great weather during our week at Bluestone that we only visited the soft play twice. But I can see how great it would be if the weather was particularly cold or rainy.

We were so pleased to arrive at our holiday home - a Grassholm lodge, on Preseli View.  I was a bit worried at first, as there was a huge construction site on the side of our lodge, but we could not hear them at all when we were inside the house. Our two-story lodge was detached, but there are some semis (if you have a smaller family or if you want to be next to friends or family). Inside, everything was comfortable and modern. Everything looked quite new, and the kitchen had all the necessary amenities (including a cafetiere, as Husband will not drink instant coffee). The beds were comfortable and the shower had terrific pressure.

I don't know if it is because I am American, but finding modern family accommodation in the UK can be a bit tricky. Some people will rent out their homes, with all the furniture and amenities fresh from the 1960s. I do not enjoy sitting on old, dusty sofas. I do not like beds that have frilly, polyester bedspreads.  I don't like to find the fur of 83 different dogs ground into the carpet and rugs. And I certainly do not want to drink tea from your 20-year old kettle that is covered in limescale. But our lodge at Bluestone was comfortable and clean. And the grounds of Bluestone were maintained very well and all the buildings and playground equipment looked nice and new.

Each lodge comes with a highchair and a travel cot, so you don't even have to ask for one beforehand. And there were stairgates already at the bottom and the top of the stairs that you could use (my youngest is three so we didn't need them). Another nice touch was that each lodge has a picnic table outside, so that you can enjoy your meals and drinks outside if you are that way inclined. My kids love eating outside, so they were very excited about this. Husband, also known as the 'whitest man alive', cannot handle too much sun exposure so we sometimes ate dinner inside.

We did not eat all our meals at our holiday house. We ate most of our lunches out during our day trips, and one night we ventured in the heart of Bluestone Village for dinner at one of their many restaurants. We chose the new Oak Tree restaurant as we loved the idea of Welsh and Italian fusion. And we were not disappointed. The food was delicious and I even had my daughter trying to steal my crab risotto with pan fried cod (picture below - you must try this!). I was a bit surprised that the total came to £90 as we expected everything in Wales to be much cheaper than London. But we thoroughly enjoyed our meal, so cannot complain.

On our last night at Bluestone, we ordered in from their takeaway service. We arrived back at our lodge, after a particularly busy day, at 5pm. Ordered food (paid with a card). Everyone bathed and showered, and then our food arrived 35 minutes later. It was so easy and the food was plentiful and good.

Moozles and Dubz, age seven and three respectively, loved the outside part of our lodge. They were constantly playing in the flowers and looking for rabbits. They would often play with our neighbours' little girls, which I found quite sweet. And sometimes other children would be walking home with their parents and they would stop to play. On our penultimate day at the lodge, we returned from Tenby to find that the grass has been mowed. My poor daughter was so upset. She had loved the long grass and wildflowers, and dramatically asked 'why would they do that? Don't they like nature?' Awww.

Another impressive aspect of Bluestone is the Blue Lagoon Waterpark. We went swimming most days, and loved it. In fact, Dubz had never been in a swimming pool before (blame that second-child syndrome), and he loved it. Moozles was obsessed with the slides and the lazy river. Dubz loved the wave machine and the pirate area (great for little ones though it was colder than the other water areas). The waterpark is open to the public but only Bluestone guests are allowed in between 9am-11am. Apart from going in the morning, during this quieter time, we also went swimming in the afternoon and neither times were too hectic.

One afternoon, while Husband took the kids to the playground, I escaped to the Well Spa. About two weeks before our holiday, Bluestone emailed me with an offer for a two-hour spa break for just £10. How could I refuse?! I enjoyed the various saunas and steam rooms, but I did find it confusing as to whether there was an order in which to enjoy the thermal rooms. I tried them all, though a couple were so hot I had to leave immediately. But I loved the herbal steam room and the hot slate sauna. Sweating feels so good when you're not pushing a buggy up a hill in 35C heat (sorry, I'm still have heatwave flashbacks). There was also an outdoor pool/hot tub. And there were some 'experience showers' but I could not figure out how to turn them on. In the end I only spent an hour at the spa as it was quite small.

Bluestone is located near some fab family-friendly attractions. We went to The Dinosaur Park and Tenby beach one day and Folly Farm on another day. But part of me wished that we had stayed and explored Bluestone some more. I am still sad that we didn't get the chance to have lunch at Camp Smokey. And our kids would have loved to go to the waterpark twice a day instead of just once. And there are loads of activities that the kids can take part in (while mum and dad can have a break). I can definitely see us returning to Bluestone in the autumn or winter and enjoying their indoor activities more.

Top Tips:

  • We ordered groceries through Tesco and picked them up in Carmarthen (SA31 3AX) through their free click and collect service. It is on the way to Bluestone and it did not take much time to do. Please be aware that the fridges are small so do not overbuy fresh food. We did also stock up on a few items at the shop in Bluestone Village (the prices were reasonable).
  • For the kitchen, bring handwash, bin bags, paper towels, salt and pepper, condiments and dishwasher tablets. Our dishwasher was in need of rinse aid and salt. Also, bring foil for cooking and covering leftovers, and cutlery and sippy cups for your little ones, if needed.
  • I bought extra loo roll, but we were fine with what Bluestone provided us.
  • If you want to see one of the dinner shows at the Wildwood Cafe, book ahead. We tried to book when we were there, but they were sold out.
  • We were thankful that we had brought out gro-anywhere blackout blinds as the kids' bedrooms were quite bright.
  • If you want to rent a golf buggy (you're not allowed to drive your car around Bluestone except for when you arrive and depart), bring your drivers license. Both Husband and I forgot ours, and had to walk everywhere (did I mention that Husband had convinced me not to bring the stroller??!!). Luckily it only took about 15 minutes to reach the waterpark, soft play and the main village. And there is a shuttle that stops throughout Bluestone if you do need a lift.
  • On the morning of check-out, Husband went and bought pastries from Millers Bakery for our goodbye breakfast. The pastries were so yummy. And we also got some French bread for a picnic on our way home.
  • Halfway between South West London and Bluestone is Caldicot Castle. I recommend stopping there on your way home for a visit and a picnic in the courtyard. But there are some other nice castles in Wales you can visit.

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Check out Bluestone's Twitter and Facebook pages if you want to find out about any deals they are offering.

 

We were given a complimentary stay at Bluestone Wales for the purpose of this review (though we paid for all the extras). All opinions expressed are entirely my own.

 

 

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I booked this week's holiday to Dorset about two months ago. We didn't have a holiday last year so this break was much-needed. The trouble is, when you haven't been away in a while, is that you forget the difficulties of a holiday. Gone are the non-children-having holidays. I used to pack for my husband and myself before jetting off to somewhere cool and hip. Then we'd eat all our meals out, drink lots of booze, have lots of sex and sleep-in. 

Oh, how times have changed. These days my poor old Husband must pack for himself because I have to pack for myself and both kids. I also have to pack snacks and various essential items. I almost never forget anything for the kids. But I often forget things that I need. This trip, I forgot to pack socks and panties for myself. Ugh.

So if you are pregnant, or have a baby, and want to know what to really expect from your holiday with a toddler, here it goes:

1. Most likely, you will stay in the country as you can't face to take your toddler on an airplane. Not all toddlers are terrors when flying. By the time my daughter was four, we had taken her to the USA twice, The Seychelles, Spain, Malta and Guam. My son, who is 23 months old, doesn't even have a passport. The thought of taking him on an airplane sends shivers down my spine.
2. Rather than going to a cool, boutique hotel, you will be staying in a self-catering cottage/apartment/caravan.

3. There is NO sleeping in. You will wake up at your usual time of 6.00am because that is when your children will wake up. You could try alternating sleeping-in with your partner, but the shrieks will keep you from falling back to sleep. However, your partner will be able to sleep through the cries, as always. My husband actually sleeps better as he can then sleep diagonally across the bed.
4. Rather than wandering around the area aimlessly or going shopping or looking at art galleries, you are exploring all the nearest farms and playgrounds.

Who has time to sightsee, we have playgrounds to discover?!

 
5. You will then rush back to your 'home' so that the toddler can nap in their travel cot in the afternoon. If you have just the one child, this is when you can relax. If you have another/more children, then it's time for more 'fun'. 
I don't want to nap, I want to play all day long.
6. You will eat most of your meals at your holiday home. Not to save money, but to save the embarrassment.
Yes, I'm normally quite a greedy toddler but I'll just play with Daddy's wallet on the restaurant floor then demand food when we get into the car.
7. You won't be packing lingerie for this trip - but you will need plenty of nappies, wet wipes, games and books.

8. There are no boozy late nights. No lie-ins. No sex. But there is ice-cream. *sobs into ice-cream* 
9. You are having fun and making lovely family memories. There'll be time for the 'other stuff' when the kids are teenagers and no longer want to go on holiday with us. And by then, I should be well into menopause so no worrying about birth control. Silver linings, people. Silver linings!