This rooftop spa garden is possibly the UK’s best new place to relax

You can even have your very own bath butler serving you prosecco and strawberries during your treatment

This could just possibly be the best spa I’ve ever been to – and I’ve visited more than my fair share over the years.

There is so much to tell you about this lavish spa which has been in the making for ten years and cost a mind-blowing £9.5m to create.

If the price tag doesn’t give you an idea of how palatial the spa at the highly regarded privately-owned Rudding Park Hotel is, let me try and set the scene….

As my best friend and I lazed in the sun on the rooftop spa garden beside the spa bath, while being served prosecco direct to our light-up loungers, I couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.

We were in Harrogate, north Yorkshire, but felt a world away in sheer luxury in the newly opened, world-class spa.

Spread across three floors you will get lost (several times) as you wander around the different areas of this spa, yet you can’t escape the luxury.

Why Strictly fans will love this day out 

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The rooftop spa garden at the Rudding Park Hotel

The rooftop spa garden

Allow me to start with the unique area which truly sets this spa apart from any other I’ve been to. The rooftop spa garden is an absolute haven of peace and tranquility.

It’s a UK first and features an stunning indoor-outdoor infinity pool (which means you can swim into it from the inside), several steam rooms and saunas, panoramic experience showers and a relaxing foot spa to enhance the spa journey.

Scattered with sun loungers and chic white sofas, the garden is a gorgeous place to relax, especially when the sun is shining.

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Joanna Lovell in the spa bath on the rooftop spa garden at Rudding Park Hotel

The area was designed by horticulturist Matthew Wilson, who won the People’s Choice award for his 2016 Chelsea Flower Show offering.

Outside the herbal spa bath and cabin sauna complete the experience and drinks will be served even if you’re in the water.

Its owners really have created a world-class experience which is a destination in its own right which has an edge over anywhere else I’ve been to.

Why a Haven holiday is the easiest family break you will take 

I loved the atmospheric “experience” showers, where at the push of a button you can choose between “Caribbean rain” or a North Sea squall, with appropriate birdsong, lighting, and water temperature to match.

Step outside of these wonderful showers and you can sit and gaze outside as you enjoy a relaxing foot spa, alternating between hot and cold water to improve circulation.

The spa

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A relaxation area at Rudding Park Hotel

From the exterior, it’s obvious that the spa is a much newer building compared to the rest of the hotel. It’s floor to ceiling glass windows make it look like a creation from Grand Designs.

The theme of the spa is to reflect the beauty of Rudding Park’s natural surroundings, bringing the outdoors inside. This is why the spa is so light, airy and incredibly spacious.

As you might expect there’s a beautiful indoor pool where you can take a dip or simply laze the day away besides. It opens onto a courtyard with outdoor loungers too.

The Juniper Log Sauna also provides calming views through a glass-fronted wall, while the the herbal bath steam room uses freshly-picked rosemary to add to scents of lavender and menthol.

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The Rudding Park Hotel

There’s a circular luxury steam room with a mosaic dome and comfy seats. There are also four mind and sense zones which are relaxation areas with a twist. You can nod off in the dark sleep zone under a starlit sky, or try the audio room with personal headsets to listen to music or meditation.

For the mind, a ‘literary wall’ offers books on art, well-being and even mandala colouring-in therapy. The visual zone projects images of lapping waves, wildflower meadows and majestic mountains on the ‘video mood wall’.

You also must try the Rasul room. Here you rub thick mud all over your body before washing it off and applying a salt scrub, leaving you feeling baby-soft.

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The indoor-outdoor hydrotherapy pool at the Rudding Park Hotel


There’s 11 treatment rooms, including a couple’s room where partners can enjoy a glass of champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries in a bubble-jet copper bath, waited on by their own personal bath butler.

If that doesn’t get the tastebuds going, nothing will!

As you would expect there are a number and variety of treatments to choose from including signature treatments, facials, massages, pregnancy treatments, treatments for two, sports rehabilitation and beauty treatments.

I opted for the Flow Wellbeing massage which is designed to release any resistance or stress in the body. I was massaged from head to toe and the experience was completed with a facial.

My therapist was incredibly professional and made me feel very at ease. It was a truly amazing 50 minutes I never wanted to end.

The hotel bedrooms

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Rudding Park Hotel is one of the most highly regarded hotels in the UK, which offers luxury accommodation in a Grade-I listed regency house.

Despite the hotel being a traditional country house, the hotel interior is contemporary with high-spec furnishings.

All rooms have a 40 inch flat screen tv, a media hub, free wifi and Molton Brown toiletries. There are also eight luxury self catering lodges in the grounds.

Our ground-floor room, with its own private terrace, was complete with whirlpool bath big enough for two, or three, and a walk-in rain shower.

Next to our beds I found a pillow menu and a little card informing me of the weather forecast for the next day.

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The bath in our room at the Rudding Pak Hotel

The restaurants


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We also had the pleasure of dining in the new Horto restuarant which opened in May at around the same time as the spa.

The three AA Rosettes eatery uses seasonal ingredients from the hotel’s kitchen garden, offering à la carte dining, plus seven and eight-course tasting menus with a twist – diners are encouraged to eat each dish without seeing the menu first.

I’m not a fussy eater so I went with the “don’t look” concept and realised eating blind is something I’ve never done before, but an experience I’d recommend and like to try again.

Will my kids like the new £3m adventure park William’s Den?

The menu is ever changing, but on our visit it included Whitby crab, Yorkshire Grouse, North Sea Hallibut, Shetland Scallops, a garden carrot salad a onion tart with halzenut.

I opted for the accompanying wine flight and each glass was perfectly explained to me before it was poured.

Whilst I enjoyed the experience and could not fault the food, I could not help thinking the setting wasn’t quite right.

For a fine dining experience like this I want white table cloths and a feel of luxury. Instead this restaurant (as lovely as it is) is accessed via the spa.

The Clocktower

This is the main restaurant in the hotel where you will find modern British food with a relaxed ambience.

Guests can dine in the restaurant with its striking pink glass chandelier, or the bright and airy conservatory alongside the 400 year-old olive tree.

Here you can choose from a set menu or dine a la carte. Dishes include everything from burgers, steaks and monfish to lamp chops and fish and chips.

Our break was perfectly finished in here with a delicious breakfast, before we had to return to reality.

Perfect for…

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A romantic mini-break, special occassions, a girlie weekend or a stylish hen do.

Need to know

Where: Rudding Park is located near the former spa town of Harrogate. It’s a 13-minute drive from the station. Use postcode HG3 1JH.

Prices: The sleeping Beauty spa break including dinner, bed and breakfast, access to the spa and a 50 minute treatment each costs £177 per person.

Call: 01423 871350




What National Holidays coach trips are like with two kids: Hull to Legoland


I don’t mind admitting I was a little apprehensive about taking two young children on a four-hour coach trip by myself from Hull to Legoland.

My six-year-old and four-year-old have never been on a coach for that length of time before and I worried I may not have been able to keep them entertained on the journey.

However, we like an adventure and when I told Oliver and Jasmine they were super excited so off we went and I’m so glad we did because it turned out to be one of the best family weekends away we’ve ever had.

FUN: Oliver thought the coach trip was fab!

We went on the Legoland Spectacular break with National Holidays – the UK’s leading specialist in short breaks and holidays by coach – which included a one-night hotel stay, travel and entry into the theme park in Windsor on two days.

The coach first picked up at Hull Paragon Station but we got on closer to home in Elloughton. Despite it being early at 7.40am the driver couldn’t have been cheerier welcoming us aboard and after I’d secured my children’s booster seats off we went.

I thought I would be the only one travelling alone with children but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Behind me was a mum and daughter spending some quality time together for her sixth birthday. In front of me was another single Mum from Hornsea and her son.

There was also a Grandma travelling with her grandson and a dad travelling with his toddler son and his mum.

I needn’t have worried about keeping the kids entertained either because the coach driver put Disney films on the main TV for them to watch and being in row four we had a perfect view.

I was also armed with their tablets, sticker books, colouring books and a huge picnic so they were happy and thought the whole experience was a wonderful adventure.

The coach also had a toilet so I didn’t have to worry about them needing the loo.

We stopped for 45 minutes at a service station, where we got lunch, and arrived at Legoland just after 12.30pm.

I actually enjoyed the journey and found it very relaxing. Usually when I take my children away, I drive us there, so it was nice having someone do that for us. I also felt very safe and it was nice to chat to other adults, too.

We were given free time in Legoland until it closed that day at 5pm. See my more detailed thoughts about Legoland in this review.

Jolly Family Outings visits Legoland, Windsor

It’s a brilliant family day out. The theme park is dedicated to children aged two to 12 and has more than 55 interactive rides and attractions. If you go in summer don’t forget your costumes as the outdoor splash zone is amazing. My children most enjoyed the pirate show – seeing them summersault into the water and also loved taking their driving test in the Lego cars.

FAVOURITE: The kids love taking their ‘driving test’ at Legoland

After our day out we were then driven to our hotel, which turned out to be the Hyatt at Heathrow Airport, which was about a half-hour drive away.

I was really impressed with the hotel – it was of a very high standard. Our mini break included bed and breakfast, but I’m told many National Holiday breaks also include an evening meal.

I asked my children whether they wanted to get changed and go down for a meal or get into our PJs and get room service.

So my son leisurely changed into his PJs while my daughter put on her dress and sparkly tights to go downstairs. Typical.

Anyway, it was two votes to one because I fancied seeing what the restaurant was like and I was glad I did, because we had a lovely meal. Then it was back to our room for a relaxing bath before bed.

SPACIOUS: The kids loved chilling out at the Hyatt Heathrow Airport Hotel

The next day, we didn’t have to meet at the coach until 9.30am, so it gave us chance to have a leisurely breakfast first

Oliver and Jasmine saw our driver and ended up calling him over and he even buttered Jasmine’s toast – if that’s not good and beyond the call of duty service – I don’t know what is!

We were back in Legoland by 10am and, having found our bearings, knew exactly what rides we wanted to go on.vWe had until 3pm when we met back at the coach to set off for Hull.

Jolly Family Outings (5)
REAL LEGO: The kids loved seeing Lego London!

On the way back, once the kids were settled and watching the film, I found myself googling more coach holidays.

It turns out National Holidays offers more than 1,000 holidays every year, including weekend and city breaks, showtime breaks, special event and sporting breaks, family fun breaks to the UK and Europe’s top theme parks and attractions and seaside breaks.

I’ve got my eye on going to Blackpool with the kids on our next trip.

We were back in Elloughton just after 7.30pm after having a 45-minute break at Woodall services for tea. By 8.15pm both Oliver and Jasmine were tucked up in their beds after a brilliant weekend and Mummy returned home relaxed for once!

LEGOLAND: Oliver loves the giant lego spider
  • Reviewed March 2017

Need to know…

LOCATION: Legoland Windsor,  Winkfield Rd, Windsor SL4 4AY

PRICES: Prices start at £99 per person with National Holidays, travelling from Hull.

MUST SEE: The pirate show at Legoland.

CONTACT: National Holidays website or call National Holidays on 0844 477 9990.

Legoland website  or call Legoland on 0871 222 2001.

Stay, Play & Explore short breaks

THEY SAY: Short break including hotel and tickets to three attractions in Leicester and Leicestershire from just £139.

WE SAY: We saved at least £100 overall booking these days out and the hotel as one package. Can’t be beaten.

IT sometimes feels like you spend more on hotels and days out tickets on short breaks in the UK than you would a package holiday to Spain.

So I was quite excited to discover the Stay Play Explore website, where you can get a night in a hotel and tickets to three of ten attractions of your choice for just £139.

Run by tourism organisation Leicester Shire Promotions, the offer includes a large selection of hotels in Leicester and Leicestershire and the prices are fixed for all hotels, whatever the weather, so you won’t be stung once you’ve chosen your dates.

Booking was incredibly easy – you just choose your hotel and dates and then the days out tickets are emailed to you.

There’s a choice of ten attractions to choose from, with everywhere from Twycross Zoo and Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre to Stonehurst Family Farm and Swadlincote Ski Centre. (See bottom of this post for a full list)

It seemed perfect for our family because visiting new places and making memories is what life is all about for us.

Just remember to print three versions of the e-ticket off and take it with you to each attraction, where the barcode is scanned.

However, if one night away isn’t enough, extra nights can be added to your short break at the time of booking for a special Stay Play Explore discounted rate.

Our hotel of choice was the Hilton East Midlands Airport Hotel. It’s not small bed and breakfasts that are on offer – the deal includes nice four-star hotels, including brands such Hilton, Marriott and Jury’s Inn, as well as individual spa hotels.


Additional child tickets are available to purchase and the Hinckley Island Hotel, Sketchley Grange and Hilton Leicester hotels have family rooms to accommodate two adults and three children if you’re a family of five.

We chose the Hilton because it was about halfway between Conkers and Twinlakes theme park – the two attractions we would visit that weekend.

Another good thing about these tickets is that they are valid from your date of arrival until December 31 that year, so you don’t have to visit all three attractions in one weekend if you don’t want to.

We chose to visit Conkers first, which is in the heart of the national forest. There’s a great mix of indoor and outdoor fun to be had here in the 120-acre area of maturing woodlands, lakes and ponds.

We spent ages walking around and enjoying being outside. The kids loved running through the maze and the wobbly bridge was also a hit with the children, who enjoyed running across it once they had climbed up it.

Oliver & Jasmine with friends at Conkers

There’s also several assault course-type trails for teenagers and adults to have a go at.

There’s also a little train (at no extra cost), which takes you to a huge outdoor play area. The small water play area and the viewing platform, which you can climb to the top of for great views across the site, were also good fun. If you’re feeling brave, there’s also a barefoot walk where you can experience walking on timber, bark, coal, pebbles, wood and clay.

If that’s not enough, there are several outdoor adventure and experience days suitable for all the family, which can be pre-booked at an additional cost.

If the weather isn’t so great, there are things to do inside, too, with more than 100 indoor interactive exhibits for the kids to get stuck into.

We spent a full day at Conkers and left covered in mud and ready for hot bath!

The rain never spoils our fun #friendsforlife

It wasn’t long before we arrived at The Hilton, which was an ideal base for us. Our comfortable room was complete with a double bed, a single bed and a sofa bed.

The hotel also has a 16m pool and, if you’ve got the energy, a fitness centre.

For tea we went to the Plank and Leggit pub down the road – it’s a Fayre & Square pub with an indoor fun area, so it was perfect for the kids.

The next day, after a lovely Hilton breakfast, we were up and ready for the 30-minute drive to Twinlakes Theme Park in Melton Mowbray for another full-on day of fun.

It’s billed as the East Midlands’ number one all-action, family tourist attraction and, for our children, who range in age from three to seven, it was perfect.

Family fun #makingmemories

There’s so much to do, we didn’t know where to start and didn’t get through it all in one day.

It’s everything from a farm with falconry displays to a theme park with rides and indoor fun, too. If you’re there on a hot day, the water park is a must. There’s more than half an acre of wet and wild fun with water flumes, lagoons and slides. There’s even sun loungers to laze on – not that we got the chance for that!

The favourites for my children were the rollercoaster, the pirate ship and the huge sandy play area, oh and the boats, they were really good fun.

twinlakes.jpgI even found myself on a ride, flying through the air, lying on my stomach – it was surprisingly relaxing.


The two attractions we chose are full days out in themselves, so we’ve saved our tickets for the National Space Centre and will visit later in the year.

I’ve worked out, for a family of four, the trip would have cost £35 for Conkers tickets, £80 at Twinlakes Theme Park, £50 at the National Space Centre and £80 for a hotel, so a total of £245. That’s a saving of more than £100 if booked through the Stay Play Explore website.

  • Reviewed July 2016


You can choose three of the following ten attractions:

ATTRACTIONS:  National Space Centre, Conkers, Twycross Zoo, Twinlakes Theme Park, Stonehurst Family Farm, Swadlincote Ski Centre, Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre,  Bosworth Water Park, Conkers Outdoors, King Richard III Visitor Centre

CALL: 0116 225 4000




Sand Le Mere Holiday Park, Tunstall

THEY SAY: Unbeatable caravan holidays in Yorkshire. Enjoy our huge range of facilities, accommodation range and on-site entertainment.

WE SAY: Budget caravaning holiday by the sea. Great for kids.


You don’t always have to go far to feel like you’ve really got away from it all. During the May half-term I took my two children to the Sand Le Mere Holiday Village which is in Tunstall, near Withernsea and only a 40 minute drive from where we live.

It seemed funny staying somewhere so close to home, but as soon as we drove up the sweeping drive towards the caravan holiday park I instantly felt chilled and there was no stress of a long journey.


We were staying in a luxury two-bed caravan by the sea, which was really comfortable and modern.

We opted for the welcome pack so I didn’t have to pack the essentials including tea and coffee and washing up liquid.

I did however forget the bath mat and a hand towel so my top tip is to remember these!

Oliver and Jasmine have stayed in some beautiful hotels, but they get so much more excited when we stay in a caravan – for some reason kids just love caravans.

Once they had found their bedroom they were keen to unpack and settle in before exploring.

The resort is centred around the main complex, which is home to the swimming pool, amusements, soft play and a café.

There’s also a large showbar and a restaurant bar with outside seating and a park with mini golf.


If you need it there’s also a convenience shop, a launderette and there’s fresh water fishing in the well-stocked fishing lake.

Unfortunately for us we chose the worst week – weather-wise – to visit. Not only was it raining and really cold, it was also extremely windy.


The caravan felt like it was getting a battering from all angles and we needed the heating on, which is not what you hope for at the beginning of June.

But we were determined not to let the weather spoil our holiday and so used the entertainment planner we were given on check-in to plan activities for our four-night stay.

We swam more than we probably would have done if the weather was nicer and took advantage of the kids’ indoor activities.

We did everything from science club and art attack to family boules and bingo.

For my son the best activity he did was playing in the turbo paddlers in the pool.

Charactar breakfast and the turbo paddlers

Many of the kids’ activities are included in the price of the holiday and you can just turn up, but there are some paid-for activities you need to book.

Pool empty

They both loved the character breakfast where as well as sitting with all the other children for their own little party to eat, they met the mascot, Sandy Le Meerkat and also sang and danced with the enthusiastic entertainment’s team.

The holiday site has direct access to the beach – unfortunately for us it was too windy to brave it but I’m told it’s beautiful.


And when the sun goes down you can enjoy live entertainment on stage and dance the night away – all included in the price.

On site as well as the static caravans you can also camp, bring your own tourer or stay in a luxury lodge with its own hot tub.

One thing I did must say is that all the staff were very friendly and welcoming.

It’s also a good base to explore Hornsea, Bridlington and Scarborough for a proper family seaside holiday.

© Jolly Family Outings


WHERE: Southfield Ln, Tunstall, Yorkshire, HU12 0JF

Summer holiday prices start from £522 based on a family of four sharing a two-bedroom holiday home for seven nights. Children’s clubs, most facilities and evening entertainment are included.



CALL: 01964 670403.

Butlins, Bognor Regis

The last time I went to Butlins I found myself on stage in a red bikini.

It was 1986, I was three years old and won third place in their “picture of health” competition.

Fast-forward 25 years and I was visiting again, this time with my own family, including our nine-month-old son.

We wanted to take Oliver away in his first year, but didn’t fancy the hassle of flying anywhere, so opted for Butlins in Bognor Regis.

The resort is located on a lovely Blue-flag beach in west Sussex, with the South Downs National Park right on its doorstep. It’s a shame it was freezing when we went though!


On arrival, we made our way to the main pavilion, where we were greeted by the Redcoats team and handed our activity schedule booklet.

Each one is printed ready for arrivals each week. With pages and pages of information and events, it was clear there was going to be so much to do.

Each section is broken down into age groups, so for us it was a case at looking to see what was available for the under-fives and planning our week.

There was something for all the family to do, every hour of every day, and the absolute best part is that it is all included in what you have already paid.

So whether you want to try beach football, visit the outdoor fairground, play for hours in the indoor play zone, join the messy play activity session, watch a show, go to dance class or meet live animals, you can see at a glance what to do when.

There are even Club Red events for the older children to go on without their parents, where they can make new friends and take part in events such as archery and jewellery making, as well as learning magic and walking the high ropes at the circus.

Having visited other, more expensive, well-known holiday parks in the past, I was surprised at just how many activities were included in the price.


Even though Oliver is so young, there was even a lot for him to do, including storytime and the daily puppet show.

We also made full use of the babies’ playing area. Complete with a ball pool, soft play, mirrors and slides, it was the perfect colourful place for him to explore and was strictly for under-ones, making it safe for him to crawl about.


The only time we put our hands in our pockets was when we wanted to buy drinks in the evening or treats.

We also went swimming in Splash World every day. There, you can fly down the flumes, dance in the rain showers or simply float in the waves.

All the activities are designed to help you spend time as a family and it’s obvious a lot of money has been spent – and continues to be spent – on the resort to improve the facilities.

Although the majority is included, there are paid-for activities, including character photoshoots and lunches, bike hire, cinema and ten-pin bowling.


At Bognor Regis, there are several types of accommodation available on site.

The cheapest are the apartments, which have an open-plan kitchen, diner and lounge and prices vary depending on whether you opt for standard, silver or gold.

We stayed in the Shoreline Hotel, which is designed for families with young children.

We had a Columbus Quarters room, which was the perfect family room, with its own “children’s den” away from the main sleeping area, complete with bunk beds and its own TV.

The main bedroom, with its king-size bed opened out on to a lovely patio area with acres of green space.

We added the dining plan to our room package, which meant we could have our breakfast and evening meal in the main hotel every day. It was worth doing because, although we grabbed a sandwich while out and about during the day, it was nice to start and end the day with a decent meal.

I was quite impressed with the level of food and service in the hotel’s restaurant. Although it was a self-service set-up, we were always greeted and seated, with drinks brought to our table.

Chefs were on hand to let us know what was on offer and the food was of decent quality.

There is also the Wave Hotel and Apartments, a newer hotel, which is perfect for older children, and the Ocean Hotel, which promises the premium hotel experience.

Overall, I can’t praise the resort enough. If you are looking for a brilliant family holiday in a top-class park, with everything you need on tap and all at an affordable price, you won’t find better than Butlins Bognor Regis.

  • Reviewed September 2011



LOCATION: Upper Bognor Rd, Bognor Regis, West Sussex PO21 1JJ

CALL: 0845 0704757


Redworth Hall Hotel, County Durham


As we drove up the sweeping drive towards Redworth Hall Hotel, I wondered whether we had made a mistake bringing the kids.

Picture the scene. A beautiful hotel, and me and my sister with four kids in tow. The website said it was family- friendly – but they all say that.  I was worried we might not fit in among other guests seeking a quiet, luxury break away.

I’m not saying our children aren’t well behaved, but I’d much rather my two- year-old threw a strop in a budget chain hotel surrounded by other stressed-out parents who understand, than in a luxury one with guests who may not be quite so forgiving.

Praying they would behave as we stepped into the amazing reception hall , I need not have worried, thanks to the lovely staff who welcomed the children with open arms. They were given a treasure hunt sheet and encouraged to explore the hotel to look for clues so for them the hotel was already a winner!




We soon found the Great Hall, with its original Jacobean features and open fireplace, and got lost several times making our way through the building.

The hotel is secluded and tranquil, yet just minutes from the A1.

We reached our luxury room by climbing a grand, sweeping wooden staircase rising up from the Baronial Lounge.

The room was impressive with comfortable beds, sofas, and a roomy bathroom and the kids thought it was amazing.

The 1744 Restaurant serves exquisite dishes in fine surroundings and we enjoyed three courses for £25.

And the 14m hotel pool, designed in the style of Roman baths, is impressive, but the whirlpool bath, steam room, sauna and gym would have to wait until we revisit without children.


But the icing on the cake for the kids was the soft play area. Behind a closed door lay a world of tubes and slides that didn’t infringe on the hotel at all. Directly outside is the cafe area which overlooks the pool. We visited after our evening meal (to tire the kids out before bed) so we took our wine with us and enjoyed a drink whilst they played. Our kids were the only ones in there so it was heaven for them, and not so bad for us too!

Somehow, the hotel is perfect for families, but also the ideal place for couples to seek some rest and relaxation.

  • Reviewed November 2015



LOCATION: Redworth Hall Hotel and Country Club,  Surtees Rd, Newton Aycliffe, DL5 6NT.

CALL: 0800 808 9596.



HAVEN: Thorpe Park caravan park, Cleethorpes

THEY SAY: Round-the-clock family fun from dawn until dusk. Our breaks are about spending quality time with your family.

WE SAY: A fantastic well-kept holiday park, right on the beach. Plenty to do for all the family and lots of places in the local area to visit too.


CHILDREN love caravans.

It doesn’t matter how many all-inclusive foreign holidays we go on, or how many luxury hotels we stay in – the excitement for my two when I tell them we’re going to stay in a caravan is unstoppable.


After grabbing their sleeping bags (saves making the beds), they love choosing their bedrooms and fighting over which bed to sleep in. It’s fun, fun, fun all the way and as a family we love it.

One of my friends laughed when I said I was off in a caravan – reckons it’s not something he could imagine me doing. Granted I like my luxuries, but there’s nothing wrong with staying in a caravan. I draw the line at a tent, but if there’s heating and a shower I’m there.

We’ve got a static van, (loving named the tin box) at Thorpe Park in Cleethorpes and despite the fact we go several times a year, the kids never get bored. The holiday park is one of 36 Haven parks nationwide.

It’s a very well kept Haven park so you can be assured of a decent level of service. You can book your accommodation direct with Haven or use a private owner to rent from.

First you need to decide which van to stay in. There’s something for all budgets so you can take your pick from a standard, deluxe, prestige, summer house or platinum van, with either two or three bedrooms to sleep up to six people. Alternatively you could book a pitch and bring your touring caravan or tent. Check-in times vary depending which caravan you go for, but timings are between 1pm and 4pm.

INFO: Travel cots are available to book but are designed to go in the main living room and do not fit in the bedrooms.

If you book directly with Haven the fun passes for all your party are included in the cost of the accommodation. If you book with a private owner the passes will need to be purchased from the reception.


Although you can still access the caravan site including all caravan areas, a large park, two fresh-water lakes, the golf course and access to the beach without the fun passes – they are needed to be able to enter the main complex where you can participate in the kids’ clubs and get unlimited access to the swimming pool, amusements, parks, activities and evening entertainment.


Inside the pass zone, the main outdoor area is a lovely huge open space with parks, trampolines, sand areas and outside seating. You can enjoy a drink from the bar whilst sat outside in the sun whilst the children play which is really relaxing you for and fun for them!



With these passes there’s a variety of daily Haven activities included at no extra charge – for example mini archery, fencing, make a mess craft sessions, baby sensory classes, quizzes pop up theatre and discos. They’re all run by the funstars team who are lively and friendly with the kids.

TIP: Download the Haven app to keep up to date with the daily activities.

Haven also run tons of additional paid-for activities on site including pool parties, the zip wire, the climbing wall, nature classes, fencing, archery, biking, mini golf, water walkers and swimming lessons, to list a few.

Water Walkers and the trampoline.

TIP: You can book your activities online before you come under ‘My account’ in your holiday confirmation online.

Oliver loves the turbo paddlers. The 30 min class is £4 and is taught by an instructor who is in the pool with the little ones. They play games and learn how to manoeuvre them across the pool. The pool is closed during the sessions so the kids (no more than eight) have it to themselves.FotorCreated

In the passes area there’s also a mini fairground which you can buy tokens for and pay for each ride, including helter-skelter, dodgems, bouncy castle and a few smaller rides individually.

Indoors the pool is a big part of the complex and is a massive fun pool with indoor slide, baby pool and Jacuzzi. Outside, when it’s warmer the lazy river is open, along with the outdoor tube slides and there’s plenty of sunbeds too.


© Haven


Outdoors pool fun!

There’s also a big amusements hall, a soft play area, the showbar for the evening entertainment and a large bar/lounge/restaurant area which has been refurbished for 2016.


The whole park is flat so it’s pretty easy to get around, but there is a land train which goes around the site and there are also bikes you can hire. On a recent trip my sister and I had the best laugh trying to transport four kids with us at the back pedaling. *Shout out to the kind bloke who pushed us up the hill when we started going backwards!*


The beach is accessible from directly from the site. It’s just literally sand and sea but is fairly private and only used by Haven guests. If you want to be on the seafront near the amusements, shops, bars and cafes you will need to go into town which is less than ten minutes away by car.

You can also visit the main seafront via the open top bus which comes onto the Thorpe Park site.

On site there’s a Spar shop, but not too far down the road is a massive Tesco Extra if you wanted to do a big shop whilst you’re here.

Don’t forget their scooters for getting around!

INFO: There’s free Wi-Fi in the Carousel Bar

There’s also plenty to do in the local area making it the perfect base for day trips. Pleasure Island Theme Park which is just a stone’s throw away, as is the Jungle Zoo and Cleethorpes Light Coast Railway. On the seafront there’s everything you would expect including amusements, the pier, a massive beach, cafes, bars, restaurants and souvenir shops.

A little further up the road in Lincolnshire is Hall Farm Park, Rand Farm Park, Woodside Wildlife Park and Pink Pig Farm. Not too far are also the cities of Lincoln and Hull which are both worth a visit.

You could easily spend a week away at Thorpe Park with all the activities and events on-site, plus visits to Cleethorpes and other local attractions.

You can also get day passes for Thorpe Park if you’re not planning on staying over.


  • Reviewed April 2015



LOCATION: Thorpe Park Holiday Park, Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, DN35 OPW

OPEN: The park opens from March 31 until October 1.

PRICES: Vary depending on length of stay and time of year. Check website.

CALL: 0333 202 5256





Gullivers Kingdom, Matlock Bath


THEY SAY: Derbyshire’s Best Family Day Out. The wide range of rides and attractions makes Gullivers Kingdom one of the best theme parks for children in the UK.

WE SAY: Fab day out. Great family feel to the park. Good value for money too.

IF you want a theme park without the teenage crowd, Gullivers Kingdom is for you. There’s three parks across the country and so far we’ve only sampled the one in Matlock Bath. However we love the family-feel about the place and will definitely make a trip to the others in Warrington and Milton Keynes.

The family theme park is aimed at children aged between three and 13 so was perfect for our party which included children from the age of two to nine. It’s very family orientated, there are no bars and no alcohol is permitted. Unlike other large theme parks, you won’t come across groups of teenagers, as not one guest who isn’t part of a family can enter.


There’s everything from teacups and a pirate ship to a log flume and rollercoasters.

I didn’t have to pay for my two-year-old daughter Jasmine, as those shorter than 90cm go free, yet she could still go on 11 of 23 rides and enjoy all of the shows, play areas and interactive experiences.


For Oliver (four) and myself, tickets totaled £30, which was brilliant value for money for a full day out. I spent more at Hull Fair the week before, within the hour!

My son loved Western World, where you can explore little buildings, including a bank, a church and a jail. He also loved operating the diggers, which surprisingly didn’t need extra money to operate.



It also has to be said that the staff on each and every ride were friendly and helpful – with one staff member even charging my phone for me. (Can’t be without it too long or I come out in a rash!)



The theme park is set on a hill, so you do need a bit of energy to get around it, but it offers amazing views over Matlock and was probably the only form of exercise I got in 2015!

TIP: There’s a chairlift and a travellator  and you can get your pram on both to make the uphill sections easier.



The other added bonus is car parking is free.

If you enter your child’s height here, you can see if there are any ride restrictions for them before you go.



I was in two minds whether to allow my children on the log flume or not. They’re only four and two, but they wanted to go on so we gave it a go. It was lovely at first on the flat stretches – but as soon as we made our way up I knew it was a bit of a mistake! Lets just say we only went on it once!





There isn’t a hotel on site at Matlock Bath. We decided to stay over and make a weekend of it. We chose the Bateman’s Mill Hotel, just a 20 minute-drive from the park.

A warm and friendly welcome awaited us when we checked in at the 18th-century converted mill, and our massive family room was really comfortable.

The next day, we enjoyed a full English breakfast before setting off back home. Staying over turned a day out into a memorable weekend away.




Need to know…

LOCATION: Temple Walk, Matlock Bath, Derbyshire, DE4 3PG

OPEN: March to December, excluding November.

PRICES: Children measuring under 90cm go free. £15 if booked online for those taller than 90cm.


  • Lockers
  • Wheelchair hire
  • Cash point
  • Dedicated smoking areas


  • Mother’s feeding room
  • Microwave facilities in the restuarants
  • Baby change rooms in each area of the park
  • First Aid point






Lightwater Valley, North Yorkshire

Flamingoland, North Yorkshire

CBeebies Land at Alton Towers Resort, Staffordshire

Thorpe Park Resort, Surrey

THEY SAY: One of the first theme parks in the UK. 20 miles from central London. 

WE SAY: Best for older children. The highlight for us was the splashpark and beach.

I nearly passed out as I opened my car door and stepped out from the air conditioning into a 34C heat. I chose the hottest day of the year to visit Thorpe Park theme park and it felt like we were abroad.

Due to the weather, we headed straight for the beach and splashpark area. There was no way I was going to queue with two young children for rides in that sort of heat!

Armed with swimming costumes and buckets and spades, we headed straight for Amity Beach, which lies in the heart of the resort.



TIP: Use the one-time height check for younger guests to avoid having to get them measured at every ride.


We got ourselves a couple of sun loungers, a parasol and made a base, where we stayed for the next few hours enjoying the slides and paddling in the pool.It was so relaxing you could easily forget you were in the centre of a theme park.



I could have stayed there all day actually. I can honestly say it was one of the best family days we had in summer 2015. There’s slides for different age groups and the kids were having a brilliant time but with more than 30 rides and attractions, it was time to explore.

Mummy and Jasmine

For the younger riders, there is the Flying Fish rollercoaster, (need to be a minimum of 0.9m tall), the Teacups (need to be 1.1m tall) Mr Monkey’s banana ride, (need to be at least 0.9m tall), the rocky express train ride (need to be 0.9m), the dodgems (minimum of 1.1m tall) and the Angry Birds 4D experience. However I don’t really think Thorpe Park is the place to go if you’ve only got pre-school aged children. It’s definitely more of a place for older kids. Check the resort map here.

For those who are a little taller, there is the log flume, rumba rapids, quantum magic carpet ride and the Vortex giant spinning pendulum.

And for the real daredevils, there’s the Swarm, which is the UK’s first winged roller coaster; Samurai, which reaches forces of up to 5Gs as you spin 360 degrees; and Stealth, one of Europe’s fastest and tallest rollercoasters.

TIP: If your children are under the height restriction but you still want to ride, try Parent Swap, where one parent queues on behalf of both.

There are plenty of places to eat and drink and, with free wi-fi, you can tweet your experiences as you go.

Parents can also still enjoy the height- restricted rides when visiting with toddlers, and you only have to queue once. After swapping over, the second rider gains entry to the ride via the ride exit. A voucher is required to use this service, pop in and collect one from guest services.

And the fun doesn’t have to end at the end of the day.

During the summer months, there are a programme of evening events including Island Beats and Ministry Of Sound music nights.

As the sun goes down, the park comes alive with a soundtrack of swooshing rides and amazing music.

Guests can upgrade their tickets for just £10 to book in for Island beats.


There is a Thorpe Park Hotel on site. If you stay over in this hotel, your second day in the theme park is free. Hotel rooms include a buffet breakfast. Hotel guests can also get a free Fastt-track pass which is valid until 11am. Parking is also free at the hotel.

Due to cost, and the fact we were going into Windsor the next day, we choose to stay at the Christopher Hotel in Eton.

Just 20 minutes drive from Thorpe Park, Eton is a beautiful town best known as the location of Eton College – a famous public school attended by the Royals.

The hotel was really nice and family friendly. The rooms had their own front door onto the driveway so there was no traipsing through corridors or faffing about with lifts and stairs. We parked right outside our room.

Our room at the Christopher Hote
Breakfast at the Christopher Hotel


Need to know…

LOCATION: Staines Road, Chertsey, Surrey, KT16 8PN

OPEN: Seven days a week. Opening hours depend on season. Check website.


  • Free wifi
  • Buggy hire (£9)
  • Three baby changing facilities
  • lockers
  • First Aid point
  • Wheelchair hire (£50 deposit)

PARKING:  £6 per day. They advise to buy a car parking ticekt online in advance. There’s a barrier system so make sure you have your ticket handy when leaving.

PRICES: Vary. Online booking in advance is cheaper. Online day ticket: £27.99. Children under the age of three enter for free.

CALL: 0871 663 1673.





Alton Towers

Lightwater Valley




Thomas Land @ Drayton Manor Theme Park

THEY SAY: Drayton Manor features some of the biggest, wettest and scariest rides around! There’s also a host of fantastic family entertainment and Drayton Zoo.

WE SAY: A fab day out. Well worth a visit, even if your children are not particularly into Thomas the Tank.


Thomas Land at Christmas is magical. Fact. We had such a fantastic time in December 2014 that we went back in 2015 – and I don’t even like going to the same place twice!

Waiting for Thomas at the station #tooexciting

You will find Thomas Land in the Drayton Manor theme park. At Christmas and February half term Thomas Land is open, as well as a few smaller rides from the main park.

The first time we went, in 2014, as we walked into Drayton Manor, Bing Crosby’s White Christmas was playing and I instantly felt festive.

You can’t fail to feel festive!

The kids had already clocked the huge Christmas tree, which was lit up in the distance, changing colour as we passed, and they could hardly contain their excitement.

We were one of the first families to arrive in the park that morning because we had stayed over in the Drayton Manor Hotel the previous evening. Click here to view a map of the park.

Thomas Land boasts 12 themed rides, but at Christmas there’s also others in Drayton Manor open including the carousel, dodgems and big wheel. There is also an indoor play area, a 4D cinema, and it will grow with an expansion due to open next year.

2014: You can’t fake that kind true excitement.

Everywhere we went there was Christmas music and lights and beautiful trees and decorations and great lenghts had been gone to with the fake snow – to the point every tree was covered which really added to the magic.

I was impressed at the amount of outdoor patio heater areas to keep everyone warm and the staff on every ride were helpful and friendly.





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2015: Jasmine and Mummy at the station #christmasfun

TIP: There’s plenty of outdoor seating so you’re welcome to take a picnic

My son, Oliver, was so impressed Thomas the Tank had a red shiny nose and loved watching him on his turntable.


We joined in with a live show with the Fat Controller and his friends who sang Walking In A Winter Wonderland from the station balcony – now if that doesn’t make you feel festive, nothing will.

Snow also falls at least three times a day in Thomas Land over the Christmas period, mulled wine is on offer and there is also an ice skating rink (charged extra at £2 per person).

2015: We love the carousel

We also paid extra to meet Father Christmas in his Castle of Dreams, which was a lovely experience. You can pre-book and that way are given a time to join the queue to save time.

Oliver, 3. Drayton Manor Christmas 2014

Santa really took his time with us and asked lots of questions and we brought home a special gift – a lovely keepsake Drayton Manor snow globe.

In 2015 we actually visited after Christmas. I admit it was a little strange seeing Santa after the big day – I’ve never done that before. I did think about not bothering going to see him, but the Castle Of Dreams is so impressive, and it was included in the ticket price, so we went inside and I’m so glad we did.

Instead of the usual, “What would you like for Christmas?” conversations, Santa asked all about our Christmas, and he told the children the three secrets to Christmas.

He asked them to close their eyes and then, while he told them the secrets, he dropped a present into their hands.

Aged two, five, seven and nine, my children and niece and nephew all thought he was truly magical.

And before home time, there is also a magical fireworks display.

TIP: Book online to save a lot of money. Print your tickets and go straight to the gates when you arrive. There’s no need to join the queue at the ticket booths if you have printed your tickets.

I think Oliver’s favourite was Terence’s driving school, where he could ride the engine around the yard himself.

He also loved Harold’s helicopter tours and steering Sodor’s classic cars. Since our visit in 2014, there’s a whole new area in Thomas Land with plenty of new rides. To read about the expansion, click here.

But it’s more than just rides, there is also a zoo home to 100 animals from all over the world, including endangered species. We even saw reindeer.

There is also a dino trail, which Oliver absolutely loved and wanted to know what each dinosaur was called.

I think we will definitely go back in summer next year, when it will look different again. It will be worth the journey back to experience all rides, including water slides, the big wheel, dodgems, chairlift and live shows – to name a few.

2015: Santa’s elves paint Oliver’s face #toocute


2015: Jasmine, 2, with no idea which train?!


Staying over at the Drayton Manor Hotel really made our into a proper mini-brea.

When we arrived at the hotel, just a stone’s throw from the entrance to the theme park, the kids were given a bag full of goodies, including a teddy bear and Thomas book and were able to get excited about the next day ahead, having seen all the train displays in the hotel.

I’d thoroughly recommend staying over, the hotel is four star and was more like a business hotel and actually hosts weddings – much better than some I’ve stayed in at other large theme parks. Parking is free.

Despite being contemporary and stylish, it’s obviously well catered for children.

Mine enjoyed playing with the trains table in the restaurant, which kept them amused while we waited for our food. Just one bit of advice though, either take your own train for the track, or rent one for £10 deposit, but get it from reception before you sit down to dinner, as they don’t have them in the restaurant.

It’s not cheep and cheerful – the food is of a high standard, with duck and steak on the menu, to name just a couple of choices.

Children playing, parents relaxing – at the Drayton Manor Hotel

There’s also camping and caravaning options. Click here for details.

2014: Sign of a good time! My three and one-year-old were shattered! #wayhome

Location, times, prices, facilities and weblink

LOCATION: Drayton Manor Park, Near Tamworth, Staffordshire. B78 3TW

PRICES:  Cheaper online.

Winter Prices: Adults £15 (£30 on the gate), £10 for four to 11 year olds (£20 on the gate) and £5 for children aged two and under.

OPEN: Depends on season. Check website.



  • Changing facilities in all toilets
  • Nursing private cubicle at The Grill Inn
  • Pushchair hire £6
  • Nappies and other essential baby care items can be purchased from the Toy Shop
  • Baby food can be purchased from Teashop, Knapford Station Café, First and Last coffee stop and Mrs Kyndley’s kitchen.


  • First Aid centre
  • Lost Property
  • Lockers next to Emily’s playcentre. £1 for two hours.
  • Cash Points at Guest Services
  • Free Parking

CALL: 0844 4721950.




CBeebies Land at Alton Towers, Staffordshire

Flamingoland, North Yorkshire

Legoland, South East England

Lightwater Valley, North Yorkshire