Rudding Park 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.

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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.

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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

Treatments

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

Horto

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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.

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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

Visit: http://www.ruddingpark.co.uk

 

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Devon Cliffs holiday park with Haven – the easiest family holiday you will take

Waking up to the view of the waves crashing into the beach from the comfort of my bed made me realise the long drive to the south coast had been utterly worth it.

This year we chose Exmouth in Devon for our family staycation, where we arrived to sunshine after leaving behind a rainy Hull.

Whilst Sandy Bay would make a dreamy picture-postcard setting for a relaxing lazy holiday, we were actually there for an “all-action” holiday with the kids.

We were staying at the Devon Cliffs Holiday Park – one of the region’s finest all-action resorts. And with such stunning views, it was hard believe it was a caravan site we were staying on.

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The view of Sandy Bay from Devon Cliffs holiday park

Haven Holidays

As a family we love our static caravan holidays and find Haven holiday parks by far the best. As soon as you drive in you instantly get that holiday feeling.

Haven has everything covered. The breaks are all about spending quality time with your family, which is exactly what we did, making memories.

I’ve stayed on numerous caravan parks up and down the country with various companies, but none seem to do it as well as Haven Holidays.

Whether you want to camp or take your own caravan, or stay in a static home, Haven have something for everyone. There are 36 parks in seaside locations around the UK to choose from and they’re all rated so you can choose from a quiet secluded site to an all-action adventure park and everything in-between.

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#myhavendays

The best thing about Haven is that there’s plenty included in your break too so you don’t have to spend a fortune searching for activities to keep the kids amused. Everything is on your doorstep, available on site.

On arrival you will be given a welcome park complete with park map and a what’s on guide which outlines everything which is going on during your stay. It couldn’t be easier.

Access to the pools is included so you can swim as many times as you like, and at Devon cliffs the indoor pool has three slides and a designated toddler play area and there’s also two outdoor pools newly refurbished for 2017.

Being in the outdoor pools in the sunshine was like being abroad – without the stress of airports and delayed flights. The kids loved splashing around and the adults even got a bit of time to laze on the sun loungers.

 

All the Haven parks have Nature Rockz activities, which aim to teach survival skills. These include shelter building, bug hunting, bird food making, fire lighting and building bird boxes and are all included free of charge.

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The pools at Haven’s Devon Cliffs holiday park

There are some really great shows including wrestling, the pantomime and creepy crawly shows which are all free.

There’s also dedicated theatre company performers who get the kids involved and host the entertainment with everything from tots discos to karaoke, bingo, game shows and later in the evening there’s live music, bands, artists and comedians.

Activities

If you still want more after paddling in the sea, building sandcastles, skimming stones, kite flying, playing in the amusements and taking part in all the free activities and entertainment, there’s also plenty of paid-for activities you can choose from.

The highlight at Devon Cliffs is the aerial adventure course – an incredible rope course high up in the treetops.

My six-year-old son loved the climbing wall and my ten-year-old nephew loved taking part in the aqua jets class in the indoor pool.

 

All four children enjoyed the inflatable pool party and there’s also everything from fencing, archery and segways to football, target shooting and adventure golf.

All ages are catered for and many activities have different sessions for each age group. As all parents know, if the kids are happy, we are happy.

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The inflatable pool party and climbing wall at Devon Cliffs holiday park

Devon cliffs is also one of only a few Haven sites in the UK that can offer watersports training and hire. From its Beach Club you can learn to windsurf, paddle board, kayak or body board in the sea.

I recommend buying an activity bundle before you go and using the Haven app to pre-book your activities. You can do this seven days in advance of check in. That way you can have a bit of an itinerary and also, you may find if you leave it until you arrive that all the activities, especially the free ones, are all fully booked.

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The beach at the Devon Cliffs holiday park

The caravan site

Devon cliffs is by far the best Haven park we’ve been to and it’s easy to see why it’s award winning. There’s round-the-clock entertainment, plenty of activities, the pools are brilliant and the location is superb.

A particular highlight this park has to offer is the dining experience you’ll get at the South Beach Café, which offers a stunning view from its location high atop the cliffs.

With fresh ingredients and produce delivered straight from local suppliers, it’s not average pub-grub you might expect from a caravan park eatery. We ate there on our last night and the meal was superb, comparable to any top restuarant.

And with it being on the park, you can enjoy a drink or three and walk or stumble back to your caravan at your leisure without the need to move the car. Everything is on your doorstep.

The caravans

There’s a wide range of choice of caravan to suit every budget at each park in the UK. We stayed in a three-bedroom “platinum” caravan which can sleep up to eight people.

The caravan was superb and luxurious. The cozy, roomy lounge with sofa and two chairs was seperate to the kitchen and dining area and there was plenty of room for myself, my parents, my two children and my niece and nephew.

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Our caravan lounge – look through the windows and you can see the sea and the bay in the background!

The location was perfect, we had private parking and our balcony overlooked the sea giving us simply stunning views.

Inside it was extremely modern throughout with attractive furnishings making it home from home and had everything you could need, including a TV in the master bedroom and a full size fridge/freezer.

Our beds were made up for arrival so there was no work to be done on arrival and we also had towels waiting for us.

Remember things like tea towels, bin liners, a bath mat, dish cloth and washing-up liquid. That’s the stuff I usually forget on a self-catering holiday. However there is a convenience shop on site and a Tesco just down the road, so you’re not far away if you need to buy anything.

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Lewis on our caravan decking overlooking the sea

The surrounding area

We could have spent our entire stay on the caravan site because there is so much to do, but you can’t travel all that way and not explore the local area. You won’t be stuck for things to do because the list is endless.

We had a great day at Crealy Adventure Park which is about a 40 minute drive from Devon Cliffs. It’s great value because a day ticket is valid for seven days so you can go as many times as you like.

We also had a day out with Stuart Line Cruises sailing from Exmouth on an hours’ trip to Topsham. Once there we looked around, visited riverside pubs and our round-robin ticket included a return trip via train. We then got the open-top bus back from Exmouth which drives through the caravan park.

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Me and my son Oliver on the boat trip with Stuart Line Cruises

World of Country Life – an indoor and outdoor adventure farm park is also worth a visit and is right next door to the caravan site. There’s plenty for kids to do come rain or shine.

There’s also The Donkey Sanctury, Exmoor zoo and Powderham Castle nearby.

Also, you can’t go to Devon without having a cream tea either and we found a beautiful thatched cottage just outside the caravan park for ours.

How do I book?

To find out more about Haven Holidays, or to book visit www.haven.com or call 0333 202 5305.

If you want to enjoy that holiday feeling all year round you can become and owner at any Haven park. We used to be owners at Thorpe Park in Cleethorpes and there were so many benefits, including an owners only lounge and owners only changing rooms. At Devon Cliffs the owners even got their own pool, gym and spa! #myhavendays

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Oliver and Jasmine at the indoor pool at Devon Cliffs holiday park

 

This is what the new James ride at Thomas Land is like

Just when you think Drayton Manor Theme Park can’t get any better, a new ride is unveiled for the 2017 season. James is now the latest train to get his own themed ride on the island of Sodor inside the much-loved Thomas Land.

The Fat Controller officially opened James and the Red Balloon to a packed crowd of families at the beginning of the month.

My six-year-old son, three-year-old daughter and I were lucky enough to attend the launch event and were among the first to try out the new ride, which sees families fly up and away in their own hot air balloon.

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IN A SPIN: The New James ride at Drayton Manor

The £250,000 ride has a spinning wheel inside, so if that’s left alone you can enjoy a gentle flight that goes up and down while going around in a big circle. But if, like my two, your kids want more excitement, you can make the ride spin, too.

The new attraction is the 20th ride in Thomas Land and proudly sits alongside the likes of the Troublesome Trucks runaway train, Terence’s Driving School and Jeremy Jet’s Flying Academy. The new ride is part of the huge expansion completed in 2015.

Thomas Land – which is free to enter once in the Drayton Manor theme park – really is a dream come true if your little ones are fans of the programme, but even if they’re not they will love the variety of rides.

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Thomas Land

Outside the Thomas Land gates, there’s also the rest of the Drayton Manor theme park to explore.
It’s easy to see why it is one of the UK’s most popular family attractions with more than a million visitors per year.

The rides are for children of all ages and include everything from the carousel, dodgems and pirate ship to the G Force rollercoaster, splash canyon and the Apocalypse drop tower. There are lots of other attractions, too, including a 4D cinema, dino trail and crazy golf. Animal lovers can also get up close and personal with the park’s furry friends in the 15-acre zoo.

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FUN: Oliver and Jasmine Lovell at Thomas Land

Can you stay over?

But Drayton Manor is more than a day out. At the end of a great day you don’t have to make tracks home because the theme park has its own hotel. The four-star 150 bedroom Drayton Manor Hotel features executive rooms, presidential suites and 15 Thomas-themed rooms, as well as two bars, two restaurants plus The Grill Inn, next to the hotel.

I’d thoroughly recommend staying over. The hotel is lovely, contemporary and stylish, and obviously caters well for children. Our family room had a very comfortable king bed and a lovely sofa bed for the kids.

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HAPPY: Jasmine Lovell at Thomas Land

In the hotel’s restaurant, my children enjoyed playing with the train tables with other children, which kept them amused while we waited for our food.

While 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.

We went for the buffet, which seemed easier for the kids, and they loved helping themselves. After eating, we headed to the children’s entertainment, which runs from 6.30pm to 8.30pm and really makes you feel like you’re on holiday.

The children’s entertainers were great with the kids, who loved the Punch and Judy show, juggling and party tricks, which was followed by a disco. The entertainment is all included in the price of your stay.

The kids were so excited to stay at the theme park and could see the rides from our bedroom window. Staying over turned a day out into a mini-break and if you’re having a second day in the park, or stay over the night before, you can get in nice and early without any travelling.

Where is it?

Drayton Manor Theme Park is near Tamworth, Staffordshire. Use postcode B78 3TW

How much is it?

It’s always cheaper to book in advance online instead of paying on the gate on the day. Aged 12-59: on the day £39, pre-booked £25. Aged 4-11/ 60+: on the day £29, pre-booked £20. Aged 2-3: £7 on the day and pre-booked. Under 2’s: free. Other discounts are available. For tickets visit the website or call 0844 472 1950.

The 2017 Drayton Manor Park season runs until Thursday, October 26. The award- winning Magical Christmas event will be on selected dates from November 18 to December 31.

  • Reviewed April 2017

Gulliver’s Kingdom at Christmas

It snows every day at Gulliver’s Kingdom in Matlock Bath during the festive season.

The children who had gathered for the little Gully show were asked to close their eyes and cross their fingers and make a wish for snow – then, as if by magic the white stuff fell from above and the music began to play.

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As soon as that snow began to fall the children who had been mesmerised by the characters could not run over to it fast enough.

Obviously it was fake, but it was white and fluffy and they had the best time playing in it.

Seeing my children stood there wishing for snow then watching their faces as it began to fall was truly magical.

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WISH: Oliver and Jamine Lovell wish for snow at Gulliver’s Kingdom

Straight after it was our turn to see Santa. Gulliver’s Kingdom – a theme park which is aimed at children aged three to 13 – is the only place we’ve seen him this year and not had to queue. We were able to walk straight through the lovely winter wonderland during our time slot and admire the displays, then were taken straight to Santa by his friendly elf.

MORE REVIEWS: Gulliver’s Kingdom, Matlock Bath in summer

It wasn’t the best grotto we’ve ever seen, or the most enthusiastic Santa – but the kids did love being invited into his workshop afterwards where they were able to choose their present themselves. They loved searching through the shop and it’s nice as a parent to say you can have anything you like – absolutely anything – and not have to worry about the price!

Seeing Santa is included with all tickets during the festive season and despite it not being in the height of summer, there was plenty of rides open, including the log flume!

The wide range of rides and attraction – from the Western World and pirates play area, to the log flume and Drop Tower – makes Gulliver’s Kingdom one of the best theme parks in the UK for children which is why we didn’t mind the 90 minute journey from Hull.

Children shorter than 90cm go free, yet can still go on 11 of 23 rides and enjoy all of the shows, play areas and interactive experiences.

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VIEWS: Oliver and Jasmine Lovell at Gulliver’s Kingdom, Matlock Bath

The theme park is set on a stunning hillside which gives fabulous views over the main street in Matlock Bath. Make sure you’ve got your comfortable shoes on for walking up the hills though! However there is a travellator for one of the steepest hills you can hop onto and also a char lift to transport you from the bottom of the park to the top.

With that in mind I’d say it’s best to start at the top and work your way down to the bottom of the park.

If you want to keep the costs down, picnics are allowed in the park. I was really impressed there’s a warm indoor picnic area upstairs in the party house where adults can also get a hot drink.

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GROTTO: Oliver and Jasmine Lovell meet Santa at Gulliver’s Kingdom, Matlock Bath

But it’s downstairs where the real fun happens! The huge house has everything from a cinema room to rides, a massive sandpit, indoor soft play, ball pools, pedal tractors and interactive games. You could actually spend hours in the party house alone, I’ve not come across anything quite like it anywhere else.

Mrs Christmas’ Kitchen is also inside the party house where you will find a very welcoming Mrs Christmas. Due to it being so cold, we spent a long time in the party house and we still had to drag the kids out.

The entire park is decorated very festive and if like us you leave when it closes at 4.30pm it will be dark so you will be able to see all the twinkly lights which light the entire park up.

I loved the fact there wasn’t a teenage crowd at Gulliver’s Kingdom too. 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.

MORE REVIEWS: Dayton Manor including Thomas Land at Christmas 

My six year old 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 and my three year old daughter liked the outdoor play areas and the magic carpet.

There’s also Gulliver’s parks in Warrington and Milton Keynes so no doubt we will be trying them next!

 

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. Prices range at Christmas for various packages.

FACILITIES:

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

BABY:

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

PARKING: Free

VISIT: www.gulliverskingdom.co.uk

HOTEL: www.batemansmillhotel.co.uk

Sundown Adventureland, Retford

THEY SAY: Adventure park for the under-10s with soft play and rides, Angry Birds activity area plus a cafe.

WE SAY:  A great full day out for younger children. Both indoor and outdoor fun with several themed areas to make it feel like several days out in one.

 

Sundown Adventureland gets better every time we visit.

Since our last visit there’s a brand new Angry Birds activity play area which was a massive hit with my two children and my friends two. Also in this new area is a flying pigs ride and teacups.

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Genius swing in the Angry Birds play area

 

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Angry Birds play area

Unlike most theme parks, Sundown Adventureland only has half a dozen- or so – rides – the rest of it is made up with play areas and places to explore on foot. What I love about it is the fact children are encouraged to enter and explore for themselves and see and hear different things – it’s not just about going on rides.

Rides include the tractor ride where you’re taken around the animated farm. There’s two steering wheels and room for an adult in the back so if you’ve got two children that’s one less argument to have!

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There’s also the Rocky Mountain Railroad which is a fairly gentle train ride and the Robin Hood Ride. Not to be missed is the Jolly Pirate Boat ride, but be warned, you most likely will get wet!

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The rest of the park is split into different areas which makes it feel like several days out in one. You can’t miss the massive Fort Apache which has also had a facelift since our last visit. Kids and adults can run around the top of the fort, or, inside is slides, swings, play frames and a zip wire.

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I love Shotgun City – this is the main western street where you can really feel the wild-west atmosphere. Climb on horses or explore in the saloons. You can’t miss it as it’s the main entrance to the park.

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But its Toy Town that is my favourite. Here, kids can go inside a fire station and drive a fire engine, clean teeth at the dentists and visit the butchers, post office and opticians. Grown-ups can squeeze in if they bob down, but the kids love it because it’s all built to their size. There are themed activities in each building and children can even go upstairs and enjoy peering out the windows across the little town.

Storybook Village is similar and also another of our favourites. Here you can go inside the Three Little Pigs’ brick house, or visit Little Red Riding Hood in hers, or Hansel and Gretel’s – being able to play and explore in each one.

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Storybook Village

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My children also enjoyed the Sundown Farm – full of plastic animals and interactive games to learn and discover them.

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We also spent a lot of time in the under fives play area where kids can climb aboard Noah’s Ark or enjoy the monkey swings.

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INFO: There’s several outdoor picnic benches to enjoy your lunch at and also a large picnic shelter to eat under.

If you fancy a sing-along, visit monkey Mischief, where you will find the stuffed animals come to life behind the glass in the jungle singing well-known songs.

And no visit to Sundown is complete without a visit to Lollipoppet Castle. It’s so big, you can’t miss it. Inside my children found a giant microphone and disco lights and stayed for ages dancing on stage.

There’s also two big outdoor sand areas with activity centres to climb on so you can feel like you’re at the beach.

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The heavens opened about 45 minutes before we left but it wasn’t a problem because there’s two indoor play areas. Crash Landings is massive and the Rodeo Corral indoor play centre is smaller but both have a cafe.

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Crash Landings

There’s also Honey’s Pumpkin cafe which has a nice play area at the back. It’s not soft play, but has plastic play houses and ride-ons which is better for younger ones.

There’s so much to do, you’ll definitely need a full day there.

 

  • Reviewed April 2016

 

SUNDOWN at Christmas

T hanks to a variety of days out, my children were lucky enough to see Santa seven times across the festive period.

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It may seem a little like overkill – but it seems the big man pops up everywhere you go in December these days – and it’s nice to enjoy it while they are still young enough to appreciate the magic.

But there was only one place we went to where the journey to the actual grotto was via a sleigh ride.

After jumping onboard the big red sleigh, we were taken through a magical enchanted forest, which the kids absolutely loved, and dropped off at Santa’s door.

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Santa was at Sundown Adventure Land, the theme park designed exclusively for the under-tens every day from November 15 until Christmas Eve.

It’s likely to be the same next year and I’d definitely recommend keeping it in mind for next Christmas.

Each Christmas Spectacular ticket included a pre-booked Santa visit and gave full access to the park and all its rides and attractions.

We played all day and then, as the evening drew in, the market square came alive with hundreds of twinkling lights and decorations.

The shops were full of goodies and chestnuts were roasting in the outdoor markets. It genuinely was magical.

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We only intended staying until late afternoon but, after discovering the indoor kids’ entertainer, we didn’t leave until it closed at 7pm.

 

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Indoor children’s entertaiment

We’ve now visited in both summer and at Christmas and I’d say it’s a fab place to go, whatever the weather.

 

NEED TO KNOW…

LOCATION: Treswell Road, Rampton, near Retford, Nottinghamshire, DN22 0HX.

TIMES: Mostly open 10am to 5pm but times do vary, so check the website before you travel.

PRICES: Adults and children: £14. Under-twos: free.

Free parking.

CALL: 01777 248274.

VISIT: www.sundownadventureland.co.uk

 

Lightwater Valley, Ripon, North Yorks

THEY SAY: One of the finest theme parks in the UK.

WE SAY: A great day out with a fab Angry Birds adventure playground, falconry centre and Eurpoe’s longest rollercoaster – to name a few.

All my four-year-old son has talked about since returning from Lightwater Valley is Henry the owl and the snake.

Forget the brilliant rides he loved going on over and over again – the highlight for Oliver was getting to hold an owl on his arm and looking at the snakes.

It was at the Falconry Centre he watched from behind the glass as the huge, white python opened its mouth and ate a rat, right before his very eyes. It was gross. I can’t think of seeing anything worse, but the children found it fascinating.

We missed the flying display as we had waited until the last show at 4pm and arrived too late to find the gate already locked, but we still got to walk round the centre, which is home to more than 35 amazing birds of prey including owls, falcons, eagles and hawks.

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TIP:  If your child is on the borderline for a particular height then pop into Visitor services office at the entrance where they can be measured and issued with a height confirmation wristband to save them being measured for every ride.

The highlight for me was something a little more tame like the swan pedalos or the big wheel.

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With more than 40 rides and attractions, Lightwater Valley has something for everyone though. Entry is based on height so it’s one price for anyone over 1m tall. Under 2s are free and those under 1m are £5 – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of rides for toddlers to go on because there is!

My daughter Jasmine is only two and measures under 1m tall, so it was only £5 entry for her, but there was still dozens of rides she could enjoy.

She particularly liked the UK’s largest Angry Birds activity park, driving one of the Eagle’s Creek Farm tractors around the farmyard and riding on the miniature railway.

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Angry Birds adventure park

TIP: Use the mini land train to get around the park – it runs approx every 20 mins

There’s also a mini pirate ship, teacups, swings, car rally track, several other smaller rides and even a mini roller coaster for the younger children. She was allowed on the carousel, but only in the carriages, not on a horse.

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Plenty for younger children to go on…

The rides are categorised by height. For those over 1m in height, (suggested age range of five to nine), there’s the carousel, wild river rapids, the little dipper, ladybird roller coaster, flying camels and the Flying Cutlass large pirate ship.

And for the even bigger kids, who measure over 1.2m, (suggested ages of 9+), there’s Whirlwind – a typhoon of screams that’ll twist even the bravest of souls, and Europe’s longest rollercoaster – The Ultimate. There’s also Raptor Attack’s abandoned mineshaft, Twister and the Eagle’s Claw spinning ride. If you like going upside down, the Black Pearl pirate ship is the one for you.

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Mummy & Oliver on the big wheel

TIP: During the Summer months the park has a number of Front of Queue Tickets for sale in a kiosk by The Conservatory at a cost of between £1.50 and £4.00 depending on the ride.

The skate karts were also a massive hit, (For those measuring over 1.3m in height) where riders clamber on-board a kart and hurtle around the downhill, twisting track.

On our second day at the park we hopped on the train straight away in the morning and started at the bottom end of the park and worked our way back up and it was far less bsy doing it that way – although it was hard getting the kids past the rides they wanted to go on!

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There currently isn’t anywhere to stay on site at Lightwater Valley, but a holiday resort is in the process of being built, so watch this space.

NEED TO KNOW…

LOCATION: North Stainley, Ripon, North Yorkshire, HG4 3HT

OPEN: 10am until 6pm in summer. Parking is free.

PRICES: Online prices: £20 per person for anyone over one metre and £5 for anyone under one metre in height. Under twos are free.

FACILITIES: Two cash machines, free parking, picnic benches, wheelchair hire, irst aiders, baby change. Lightwater Valley is on the 159 bus route.

CALL: 08717 200011

VISIT: www.lightwatervalley.co.uk

Pink Pig Farm, Scunthorpe

THEY SAY: Fantastic Farmyard Food, Fun And Family Frolics!

WE SAY: A full day out with farmyard, adventure play and an indoor soft play centre.

MORE than 120,000 people per year visit Pink Pig Farm in Scunthorpe. We visit at least once a year – usually twice because there’s so much to see and do for a full day out.

Over the years we’ve met newborn piglets, ridden on trailers, played in the mud and raced ducks.

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I think she enjoyed the sand!

The actual animal farm only plays a small part of the attraction as a whole, with the usual offerings including the sheep, goats, ponies, geese, alpacas and chickens.

It’s all very open and there’s plenty of space to leisurely walk around to see the different animals.

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But it is the adventure playground areas which seem to bring my family the most fun. mComplete with downhill racing carts, a log swing, the tractor and the wooden play frames, its always hard to tear the kids away.

My children love climbing the hill with his their four-wheeled cart and jumping in it before setting themselves back up to race back down again before crashing into the tyres at the bottom.

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The farm seems to improve each time we visit with a new wooden play frame and slide installed last year. It’s really good to see the owners not resting on their laurels, despite its popularity, and expanding all the time.

Across the other end of the farm is the duck racing, which never seems to get boring, although it is tiring!

There are four very old-fashioned cast iron pitcher pumps, where the kids are challenged to use their muscles to be the first to race their rubber duck down their lane to the finish line.

The faster you pump your water, the more chance you have of taking first place in the ultimate water splashing interactive duck racing game.

And in the same barn as the duck racing is the indoor dark maze, where you can wander in and out of the light to navigate your way to the end, while spotting creepy-crawlies along the way.

If you are lucky enough to visit on a hot day, the kids can even pretend they are at the beach in the giant sandpit complete with slides, balls, and buckets and spades to play with. As soon as our children saw the sand they had kicked off their shoes and socks and they were in.

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Mummy and Jasmine on the red tractor

The huge indoor play barn is an attraction in itself. Inside you will find a massive indoor play area including soft play and giant Lego.

TIP: You can either just pay for access to the farm, or just for access to the indoor barn, or for both.

There are even play kitchens to keep the little ones entertained while the food arrives from the Oink Cafe. It’s decent food, too.

Not to be missed, and one for the adults, is the farm shop, where they stock produce from more than 30 local suppliers. There’s a butchery, bakery and a deli.

Here you can buy everything from home-made sausage rolls and pork pies to award-winning sausages and free-range pork and eggs. It’s almost worth the trip for the shop alone, which also produces superb ice cream. Attached is a 90-seater restaurant serving up breakfast, lunch and coffee and cakes.

TIP: Entrance to the farm shop and restaurant is free. From the restaurant you can access a small outdoor play area complete with a climbing frame and sand area.

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That’s what you call proper ice cream!

Reviewed: August 2015

NEED TO KNOW:

LOCATION: Holme Hall, Holme Ln, Scunthorpe DN16 3RE

PRICES: Weekends and school holidays: Playbarn only: Children: 4.99. Adults: £1.

Playbarn and farm: Children: 6.99. Adults: £4.50

 

Term time, 9am until 2.30pm: Playbarn only: Children: £3.50 , Adults £1.

Playbarn and Farm Park: Children £4.50, Adults: £ 2.50. Children under 2 pay £1

After school: Children £3.50, Adults Free.

TIMES: Open 362 days per year. 9am until 5pm.

CALL: 01724 844466

E-MAIL: info@pinkpigfarm.co.uk

VISIT: http://www.pinkpigfarm.co.uk

Switherns Farm, Leeds

THEY SAY: A great family day out in Leeds. Our farm has plenty to offer whatever your age you are! Focus on fun, families and fabulous fresh food.

WE SAY: A great cheap day out, with a farm, adventure play and indoor play centre.

IF it hadn’t been for the signs on the way saying “Keep going” and “nearly there”, I think I would have given up and gone home!

Completely off the beaten track, there’s no way to get to the farm without driving on a dirt track for what seems like forever, bouncing over numerous unavoidable potholes on the way.

But it’s well signposted, so you know you’re heading in the right direction and worth sticking with for a cheap afternoon out!

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We visited on Mother’s Day. We had other plans for the afternoon too, so I chose Switherns Farm because it’s cheap so I expected there wouldn’t be that much to do – making for a perfect few hours out.

But I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. The farm (which is free for under 5s) is only £3 per adult and £1 for children aged over 5 is well stocked with cows, calves, pigs and piglets, sheeps and lambs, rabbits, ducks, geese, donkeys and a shetland pony.

We were given the opportunity to feed the lambs some milk from a bottle which a lovely experience. It’s a shame there wasn’t some sort of queuing system though, instead of letting the kids fight it out for themselves who got a bottle!

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INFO: Hand washing facilities are available and you can buy bags of carrots to feed the animals for 30p each in the farm shop.

On the farm there’s also a big barn which has a trampoline, bouncy castles and loads of ride ons to play on.

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There’s also a huge haystack to climb and an adventure playground area with slides, swings and a huge climbing frame. At the other side of the park there’s also two massive zip wires which start from the top of a haystack and a big net climbing wall. There’s also beams to balance walk on.

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The farm is owned by a couple with two children who have opened their doors to allow families the chance to experience farm life. They like visitors to understand from field to fork – by petting the animals then eating and buying the final products!

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Inside there’s a farm shop and cafe. It felt a bit wrong seeing Lamb Curry on the menu but they are proud of the fact the meat they sell is provided by the animals on the farm thanks to the onsite butcher.

INFO: The cafe has disabled access, toilets and baby changing facilities.

From the cafe and farm shop you can also access the play barn and take food and drink inside too. There’s plenty of tables inside this soft play area to sit at whilst the kids explore. Entry into the play barn is £3 per child – adults don’t pay to enter. Inside there’s the usual slides and ball pools. There’s also a small toddler area. You can visit the farm without going into the soft play, and vice versa.

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The Play Barn at Switherns Farm

TIP: Staff try not to restrict play time in the Play Barn, but in busy times sessions may be limited to two hours.

Reviewed: March 2016

 

NEED TO KNOW…

LOCATION: Swithen’s Lane, Rothwell, Leeds LS26 0BT

TIMES: Daily 10am until 4pm.

PRICES: Farm: £3 adults. £1 children over the age of 5. Children under the age of 5 are free. Play Barn: £3 per child.

FACILITIES: Cafe, farm shop, baby changing

E-MAIL: info@swithensfarm.co.uk

CALL:  0113 282 8828

VISIT: www.swithensfarm.co.uk

Elsham Hall, Gardens & Country Park, North Lincolnshire

THEY SAY:  One of the most imaginative gardens in England. There is a sensory garden, great drifts of bulbs and wild flowers.

WE SAY: Plenty of open space to run about. Perfect for a few hours of outdoor fun.

IT was meant to be summer when we visited Elsham Hall but despite being August it threw it down! We had to keep stopping for cover, and even ate lunch under a parasol to shelter from the rain – but it didn’t spoil the fun.

I like days out at places like Elsham Hall because it reminds me that great family days out don’t always have to include hours travelling in the car and big theme parks.

Sometimes all kids need is to pull on their wellies and splash in muddy puddles and that’s exactly what we did when we visited.

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We packed up a picnic and took my niece and nephew, aged five and seven, and my two children, aged three and 18 months, and we had a great time.

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Never too cold for a cocktail sausage!

There’s an adventure playground, animal farm, woodland trail and a walled garden, not to mention the wild butterfly garden and the carp and trout lakes where you can feed the fish.

Located about 20 minutes from the Humber Bridge it’s easy to find and parking is free.

The attraction opens in March and always hosts a lambing Sunday and closes in September.

I’ve noticed a lot of the reviews of Elsham Hall online are negative, noting there isn’t that much to do, and while I agree it may not be a full “day out”, and it is one that should be enjoyed at a slower pace, there was certainly enough to keep us occupied for a few hours, even on a rainy day.

I think days at places like this are what you make of them, but if you like to be entertained, choose to visit at a time when there is something going on because throughout the year there is all sorts, from Easter egg hunts to bank holiday fun days.

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The park dates from 1790 and today is well known for the peacocks that freely roam the grounds.

Having bought fish food in the shop at the entrance, my nephew Lewis was keen to find the fish to feed first.

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And we didn’t have to look very hard, from the viewing platform dozens of carp immediately swam to the surface to take the food.

We spent quite a while feeding them on the first viewing platform we reached, but just around the corner there is also another bridge platform.

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Mummy trying not to fall in!

We enjoyed walking through the butterfly garden and the animal farm area was also another favourite for us.

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Main courtyard at Elsham Hall

There is a guinea pig house and we also met Eddie the turkey, who struts his stuff freely, but he did scare my youngest.

The staff are really friendly and helpful and allowed my niece Emily and my son Oliver into the area where the rabbits are kept so they could stroke them.

They were asking all sorts of inane questions, as kids do, but she was very patient in answering them.

There’s also a small farming museum, and an indoor old school where my kids enjoyed sitting at the desks and drawing.

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If you visit on a Sunday you will also be able to see the working blacksmith.

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  • Reviewed August 2014

Need to know…

LOCATION: Brigg, N.E. Lincolnshire, DN20 0QZ

OPEN: March until September and bank holidays.

PRICES: Adults: £5.75. Children: £4.75, children under 2 are free. Family ticket – £21. Family season ticket £45.

CALL: 01652 688698.

E-MAILenquiries@elshamhall.co.uk

VISIT: www.elshamhall.co.uk

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

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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

 

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

STAYING OVER

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.

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Children playing, parents relaxing – at the Drayton Manor Hotel

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

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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.

FACILITIES:

Baby

  • 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.

WEB: www.draytonmanor.co.uk

 

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CBeebies Land at Alton Towers, Staffordshire

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