All you need to know when visiting the home of LEGO in Billund, Denmark
Billund in Denmark is the home of Lego.
It is where the very first Lego toy brick was made in 1932. And where the first Legoland Park opened on June 7, 1968, next to the original Lego factory.
Legoland Billund is smaller, flatter and easier to get around than Legoland Windsor. Plus it’s just a 90-minute flight from the UK so makes a great alternative for Lego fans.
If you are planning a visit to Legoland Billund, make sure you read our 14 top tips below first and then our review.
1. How to get to Legoland Billund in Denmark
Legoland Billund is across the road from Billund Airport. You can fly there from Manchester, Heathrow and Stansted Airports. Ryanair fly from Stansted and Sun-Air, a British Airways partner, goes from Heathrow and Manchester.
We flew direct from Manchester with Sun-Air (which works in partnership with BA) on a tiny plane. The flight took 90 minutes.
2. Where to stay
It is expensive but you can stay stay at the park – at Legoland Hotel or Legoland Castle Hotel, a stay which can include park tickets, parking and early park access.
There is also Legoland Holiday Village, 450 metres from the entrance to Legoland.
But we stayed over the road at Lalandia Billund – an amazing water park resort, so got the best of both worlds. We stayed in a fantastic two-bedroomed lodge.
3. Best time to go to Legoland Billund
The busiest days at Legoland Billund are Tuesdays and Wednesdays while Saturdays are the quietest.
If you want to go over the summer, go as late as you can as Danish children usually go back to school towards the end of August so it will be quieter.
We found queues manageable despite visiting during the Easter holidays – there are lots of rides and plenty of space.
4. How to avoid the queues
Most people enter the park and start going on rides as soon as they see them so head straight to the back to avoid the crowds.
The longest queues when we went were in the Ninjago area which did mean a wait for Lloyd’s Laser Maze and the Ninjago Ride.
The Ninjago Ride
If you have Ninjago fans you could head there as soon as the gates open. Alternatively, the most popular rides are often quieter in the last 30 minutes before the park closes, although you may miss out altogether if you leave it too late.
To really save time queuing, splash out on the Q-Bot Reserve and Ride system. Instead of waiting in a queue at each attraction, you spend the waiting time elsewhere in the park. An Express pass reduces your waiting time by 50 per cent and an Ultimate pass means almost no waits in queues on your chosen rides, which can be a game changer when you have young children.
The Miniland area is at its heart with recreations of everything from old Amsterdam to Star Wars, made out of Lego, which everyone will enjoy.
This park uses 65 million of the little bricks to build its displays.
There is a Duplo Land, Imagination Zone, Pirate Land, Knights’ Kingdom, Polar Land and Legoredo Town.
Lego Ninjago World and Adventure Land are really popular.
Our favourite ride was the competitive Falck Fire Engine in Adventure Land. You work with your family to use a pump to move a fire engine and then spray out ‘fires’ while racing against other visitors on their fire engines.
Falck Fire Engine ride
The farthest end of the park is the quietest and we found a nice picnic spot by the penguin enclosure where we could watch them swimming while we ate.
6. Age appropriate
Unlike some theme parks, there is lots for little ones including Duplo Land for toddlers and Imagination Zone.
There are also enough rollercoasters to keep teenagers happy – so this suits all ages from two to 16.
There’s plenty for older children
Don’t forget to be aware of height and age restrictions, so children aren’t left disappointed on the day.
7. Food and drink
There are food and drink outfits but the options can be pricey. Plus they get very busy after 12.30pm so take your own food and drinks where possible, to enjoy in one of the picnic areas.
This is obviously a Danish theme park but some of the 4D films are in English – check the times for these in advance.
It’s a nice flat theme park and not overly huge but if little one’s legs get tired, there are pushchairs to hire.
If the weather is bad or you want a break from the rides then there is a good aquarium in the Imagination Zone called Atlantis by Sea Life.
Atlantis by Sea Life
It takes you on an expedition under the sea with a few bricks to find along the way. It doesn’t take very long but is a good spot to dry off or warm up and includes a tunnel under the water.
11. Special needs
The park is flat and all roads and paths are paved so wheelchairs users can go everywhere.
Those with a hidden disability such as anxiety, autism or ADHD can collect a ’show consideration’ wristband.
Disabled and ’show consideration’ access to rides is via the exits or sometimes through the Q-bot entrance.
12. Buying tickets
Buy online to save money and to save time queuing for tickets and download the free, official app to plan your trip.
13. Don’t miss the new Lego House
If you are after another Lego experience – try the big Lego House, which has opened in Billund and is within walking distance of Legoland.
This 12,000-square-metre house is filled with 25 million Lego bricks.
Here, children learn through play with Lego. The house also includes three restaurants and a Lego store.
14. The history
You can go to other Legoland parks, but only one place is the home of Lego.
Almost every visitor stops for an iconic photo outside the main entrance sign. Save time getting in by doing this at the end of the day not the beginning, when the shot will be more clear of people.
This park is not huge but it is historic and has enough to keep you entertained for a full day or a couple of days.
Advance entry starts from around 300DKK – about £30 – per person. For tickets and information visit the Legoland Billund website.
A family day out at the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show 2020
The Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show 2020 is a popular event every year with families.
The UK’s biggest display of leisure vehicles, static holiday homes, lodges and tents is spread over five halls at the NEC in Birmingham.
We’ve been today with our children – it was very appealing given the constant rain that has plagued the half-term holiday.
It’s a great price – adults are just £10 on the door this year (seniors £9) and children under 15 are free. Parking is free at the NEC but it is a long walk from the car park so consider getting one of the free shuttle buses especially if it is raining.
Once you get inside there are scores of caravans and motorhomes to explore – ours loved climbing inside, trying out the seats, working out how the beds worked and imagining they were ours.
There are lots of tents you can buy too, you can see all the different sizes and types all set up.
There are also extra activities, which make it more worthwhile taking children.
There is a climbing wall, a nine-hole mini golf course made out of miniature UK landmarks and a small circuit to try out electric bikes and electric scooters.
The Haven stand had a fantastic ranger from Nature Rockz teaching fire lighting.
There is a theatre area with special guests like Shane Richie, Matt Allwright, adventurer Darren Hardy and chef, author, and Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain.
We watched a chat with the rather lovely Dr Hilary Jones from ITV’s Lorraine, who was discussing the benefits of breaks and holidays, fresh air and exercise.
There was also a dog arena where we saw an agility demonstration and made friends with some gorgeous cocker spaniels.
Plus there are holiday lodges and glamping tents and representatives from holiday parks and other destinations offering ideas for family trips.
And lots of stands selling everything you need if you go camping or caravanning.
The show runs until February 23 2020 at the NEC in Birmingham.
Martin Lewis trick could save up to 60 per cent for families flying with Ryanair
Financial guru Martin Lewis has unveiled a money-saving trick passengers can use when booking Ryanair flghts. The advice particularly benefits families with children under 12.
The budget airline may offer regular cheap flights but the price can rise when adding on extras like cabin bags, seat reservations and priority boarding per person per flight.
It offers different levels of fare including regular, value and plus and generally pushes the ‘regular’ price through advertising, where customers can pay around £20.85 for the extras.
But Martin Lewis has revealed on ITV show This Morning and his website that if you choose the ‘value’ fare first and then add on the extras, you could save money.
And while this is a process we at The Family Holiday Guide always try, Martin says many don’t and instead ‘buy the ticket the airline wants you to buy’.
Martin Lewis told viewers: “In tests we’ve done, 16 out of 20 times you would be better off to get its ‘value’ fare – its cheapest fare – and then add on these extras yourself. In one case it was over 60 per cent cheaper.”
“So when booking with Ryanair, start with the value fare then add on – that’s usually the best way.”
Why this works best when travelling with children
The trick works best when travelling with children.
This is because children under 12 automatically get ‘free’ reserved seating with Ryanair, thanks to its family seating policy, which is designed to ensure children sit with their parents.
With this, at least one adult must reserve a seat (at a cost of around £4 to £6) if travelling with under-12s, and up to four children can be seated next to him or her for free.
Martin Lewis says: “As a result, there’s usually little point selecting a ‘regular’ fare, which has to be applied to everyone in your group, if you’re travelling with children this age.
“On the 10 bookings we checked where kids were part of the group, adding seats, cabin bags and priority boarding separately won every time – even when we selected only the priciest seats in rows 18-33.”
The Money Saving Expert website features 20 other Ryanair cost-cutting tips.
VisitEngland and Peppa Pig team up to launch a top 25 for under-fives
Peppa Pig is inspiring young children and their families to plan adventures around England.
The TV favourite is sharing 25 top experiences, based on her own travels in the popular programme.
It is part of a new Peppa Pig hub which has been launched on the VisitEngland website.
There is a downloadable activity sheet and tick list to help families follow in Peppa’s footsteps. plus young fans can also watch clips from the show.
The ideas, from becoming a King or Queen for the day at one of England’s castles to spotting creepy crawlies at a nature reserve, showcase the huge potential for family breaks across the country, whatever the weather.
There are also some ideas picked by Mummy Pig, Daddy Pig, Granny and Grandpa Pig plus Peppa’s younger brother George, to inspire the whole family to make memories.
According to recent VisitEngland research, spending quality time with family and friends is the main reason for families taking a UK break.
Among favourite activities highlighted by the survey are with visiting attractions, getting outdoors and going to the beach.
Peppa Pig is currently shown on Channel 5 Milkshake and Nick Jr.
Holiday from a narrowboat this year to explore the countryside with children
Britain’s network of inland waterways wind through thousands of miles of countryside.
And they can be explored on a family trip with a difference – staying on a narrowboat – your own floating holiday home.
Emma Lovell from Anglo Welsh, one of the largest canal boat holiday companies in the UK, thinks Spring is one of the best times to take a narrowboat trip.
“In Spring you can enjoy seeing waterside hedges and trees coated in blossom, birds building nests and rearing their young and spring lambs playing in the fields as well as ducklings, swans, coots and moorhens bobbing along on the water and bluebells in waterside woodlands.”
The company has compiled its top 10 Spring canal boat holiday destinations for 2020.
1. Navigate through Shakespeare country and Warwickshire farmland
Start from Anglo Welsh’s narrowboat hire base at Wootton Wawen, on the Stratford Canal near Henley-in-Arden. It takes around six hours, travelling through 17 locks, to reach Stratford upon Avon.
Travel over the Edstone Aqueduct and on through the Warwickshire countryside and stop off at Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm in the canalside village of Wilmcote, where Shakespeare’s mother grew up.
Once in Stratford, there are overnight moorings in Bancroft Basin, perfect for enjoying all that Shakespeare’s birthplace has to offer, including riverside parks, theatres, shops, restaurants and museums.
2. Staffordshire to the Peak District
Cruise into the Peak District on a week’s break from Anglo Welsh’s barge hire base on the Trent & Mersey Canal at Great Haywood in Staffordshire.
From here, you can reach the beautiful Caldon Canal and travel into the Peak District.
The journey takes boaters up to Stoke on Trent, passing Wedgewood World along the way, and, once on the Caldon, through hills and wooded areas alongside the River Churnet.
Here there’s the chance to spot kingfishers, herons, jays and woodpeckers, as well as otters which have recently returned to the area.
The return journey along the Caldon to Froghall, takes around 43 hours, travelling a total of 72 miles and passing through 70 locks.
Travel round the Stourport Ring through stretches of Worcestershire countryside – on a week’s break from Anglo Welsh’s canal boat rental base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove.
This popular circuit takes boaters on an 84-mile, 114-lock journey, in around 56 cruising hours.
Much of the route is rural, cruising sections of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, Worcester & Birmingham Canal Navigation, River Severn, Birmingham Canal Main Line and Stourbridge canals.
Rural highlights include Kinver Edge with its extensive woodlands and National Trust Holy Austin Rock Houses, idyllic stretches of Worcestershire countryside along the River Severn and a dramatic flight of 30 locks at Tardebigge, climbing two-and-a-quarter miles with views of the open countryside all around.
This circuit also takes boaters through central Birmingham, Kidderminster and the ancient City of Worcester with its magnificent cathedral.
Cruise to the gateway of the Yorkshire Dales and explore the ancient woods at Skipton Castle, from Anglo Welsh’s canal boat hire base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire.
It takes just over three hours to reach Skipton with its medieval fortress and acres of woodland trails to explore. For nearly a thousand years, Skipton Castle Woods provided fuel, food and building materials for castle inhabitants. Today there are at least 18 species of trees flourishing there and hundreds of flowering plants, including wild orchids and bluebells in the Spring.
The journey along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Silsden passes through the typical Yorkshire stone-built villages of Kildwick and Farnhill and on into a dense wooded area famous for its bluebells and deer.
5. Bath to Pewsey
Drift through the prehistoric Vale of Pewsey – it takes around 19 hours to reach Pewsey Wharf from Anglo Welsh’s canal boat rental base at Brassknocker Basin on the Kennet & Avon Canal just outside Bath, perfect for a week afloat.
Along the way, boaters pass through miles of Wiltshire countryside, with a series of waterside villages and country pubs to visit along the way.
Highlights on this route include the mighty Caen Hill Flight of 29 locks at Devizes, cruising along the edge of the ancient Savernake Forest and the beautiful Vale of Pewsey, part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and home to prehistoric Avebury.
The journey to Pewsey and back takes around 38 hours, passing through 74 locks (37 each way).
Travel to Llangollen on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains. It takes around 12 hours to reach this pretty town from Anglo Welsh’s canal boat rental base at Whixall Marina, on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire.
Along the way, travel through the Shropshire Lake District and across the incredible Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ and now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Once in Llangollen, boaters can moor up to enjoy exploring the town including its regular markets packed with local produce, shops, restaurants, steam railway and famous Horseshoe Falls.
The journey to Llangollen and back passes through just four locks (two each way).
7. Four Counties Ring
Start a week’s break at Anglo Welsh’s canal boat rental base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire and travel round the popular Four Counties Ring, one of the most rural canal cruising circuits.
Travelling for around 58 hours and passing through 96 locks, this route takes canal boat holidaymakers through the counties of Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Cheshire and Shropshire and travels sections of the Trent & Mersey, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Shropshire Union canals.
Rural highlights include panoramic views from the flight of 31 locks (also known as ‘Heartbreak Hill’) between Middlewich and Kidsgrove on the Trent & Mersey Canal, stunning views of the rolling Cheshire Plains on the Shropshire Union Canal, acres of farmland on the Middlewich Branch, wildlife spotting at Tixall Wide on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal and the National Trust’s Shugborough Hall with its extensive waterside gardens.
8. Shropshire Lake District
Cruise to the Shropshire Lake District from Anglo Welsh’s narrowboat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor in North Wales on a short three or four-night break (three or four nights). You may catch a glimpse of heron chicks and other water birds and wildlife.
Llangollen Canal in Shropshire
The journey to the medieval market town of Ellesmere takes around seven hours, passing through just two locks and over two magnificent aqueducts, including the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
This Wonder of the Waterways, carries the Llangollen Canal 38 metres high above the Dee valley, with magnificent views of the valley and Welsh Mountains beyond.
Formed thousands of years ago by the melting of the glaciers during the retreating ice age, the meres of the Shropshire Lake District, including The Mere at Ellesmere, are particularly beautiful in Spring.
And every Spring, Moscow Island on The Mere is home to the Heron Watch Scheme, with live images allowing visitors to watch the birds build nests and raise chicks.
9. Abingdon and Oxford
Take a Thames boating holiday to Abingdon from Anglo Welsh’s narrowboat hire base on the River Thames near Oxford.
It takes around five hours, passing through six locks and travelling 15 miles to reach the historic riverside market town of Abingdon – perfect for a short break.
Along the way, as well as cruising through the outskirts of the ancient city of Oxford, you will pass through stretches of Oxfordshire countryside, with meadows, stretches of woodlands and the chance to hear cuckoos calling.
Once moored up at Abingdon, boaters can enjoy exploring riverside walks, parks and eateries, including the popular waterside Nag’s Head.
10. Stockton to Stoke Bruerne
Travel through the Northamptonshire countryside to Stoke Bruerne on a four-night break from Anglo Welsh’s canal boat hire base at Stockton, on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire.
Narrowboat families can cruise to the village of Stoke Bruerne and back.
The journey takes around 12 hours, travelling 28 mostly rural miles and passes through 16 locks, as well as the 2813-metre long Blisworth Tunnel.
Once in Stoke Bruerne, you can visit canalside pubs, browse the waterway history collections at the Canal Museum and follow the village’s woodland walk and sculpture trail.
Anglo Welsh offers over 160 canal boats for hire from 11 bases across England and Wales, with accommodation for between two and 12 people.
Boats have kitchens, fresh water flushing toilets, hot water and showers, beds, TVs, DVD players and WiFi.
Hirers are provided with life jackets on request and boat steering tuition as part of all its packages.
2020 boat hire prices start at £530 for a short break on a boat for four people, £755 for a week.
A holiday favourite in England is one of the best in Europe for family trips with children
Portugal’s Algarve region has been named the top family-friendly destination in Europe in a new survey.
The Algarve won top spot in the Columbus Direct analysis.
In second place was Cornwall, with its beautiful beaches and fantastic attractions.
St Ives, Cornwall
Majorca, Corsica and Tenerife complete the top five.
Popular Spain and Greece were named the most family-friendly countries.
The analysis measured each area’s family-friendly hotels, child-friendly restaurants, flight times from the UK and number of children’s activities available.
The Algarve was rated highly for its hotels, restaurants and activities. The area is popular with families because of its beaches, attracting around four million visitors a year.
Stuart Lloyd, Travel Insurance Expert at Columbus Direct said: “It is great to see so many destinations provided by our European neighbours that cater to families on holiday and help make parents’ choice far easier and stress-free.
“It is also great to see Cornwall appear as one of the top places to go to as a family, with the rise of the staycation and also for outside of the UK wanting to holiday here.”
Here is the full top 20 destinations. Which is your favourite?
Ryanair extends its summer schedule with three new routes for 2020 on sale now
Ryanair has announced three new Manchester routes to Denmark, France and Ireland, starting in March 2020.
The airline will be flying to Copenhagen (daily), Kerry (twice weekly) and Paris Beauvais (four times a week), as part of its extended UK Summer 2020 schedule.
It is also increasing flights throughout the summer to Shannon in Ireland, from five to six times a week.
Ryanair’s Eimear Ryan said: “Manchester consumers and visitors can now book their summer holidays on 66 routes as far out as October 2020, flying on the lowest fares and with the greenest/cleanest major airline in Europe, with the lowest CO2 emissions per passenger/kilometre.”
To celebrate the new Manchester routes, Ryanair has launched a seat sale on its European network with fares from £14.99 for travel from now until the end of March 2020, which must be booked by Thursday, January 23, only on the Ryanair.com website.
We have tickets up for grabs for the February show at the NEC in Birmingham
It’s competition time! We have teamed up with the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show 2020 to give you the chance to win tickets to this great family day out.
The winner will be able to choose a date to visit the show, which runs for six days, from February 18 to 23 at the NEC in Birmingham.
We have two sets of two tickets to give away which will allow two families free entry as children 15 and under don’t pay.
How to enter on Facebook
To enter, go to our Family Holiday Guide Facebook page and comment on the competition post, telling us why you want to win. Don’t forget to like our page and tag friends and family who would love to win!
How to enter on Twitter
To enter you need to make sure that you have liked the Family Holiday Guide Twitter page and then RT the competition post.
Sign up to our emails here. When you sign up, we’ll also automatically enter you into our current prize draw!
All you need to know about the show
The UK’s biggest display of leisure vehicles, static holiday homes, lodges, tents and more will be spread over five halls.
There will be lots going on for families with activities like climbing and crazy golf for children to enjoy.
Plus there is a new area where children and adults can try out some of the most cutting-edge electric ride-ons, from bikes to scooters, skateboards and even unicycles on a special indoor course.
There is a theatre area with special guests like Shane Richie, Matt Allwright, adventurer Darren Hardy and chef, author, and Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain.
Dog lovers can watch canine agility demonstrations and see the famous Springer Spaniel trio Max, Paddy and Harry, who have thousands of followers on social media.
Guests can try their hand at towing during free one-to-one sessions with experts from The Camping and Caravanning Club.
The Caravan and Motorhome Club will also be offering visitors the chance to get behind the wheel with campervan test drives and motorhome maneuvering sessions.
Plus the Holiday Park Experience and Glamping Village will be giving ideas and help for planning your 2020 trips.
If you don’t win our prize then tickets for the show are available now and priced at £8 for adults and £7 for seniors.
Tickets on the door cost £10 for adults and £9 seniors – children 15 and under go free.
Competition terms and Conditions
We have two sets of two tickets for any day of the show.
Entries close at 11.59pm on February 10 and the winner will be announced on February 11.
No prize or part of the prize is exchangeable for cash or other services.
Entrants must be aged 16 or over and UK resident only.
The first correct entry selected at random after the closing date will receive the tickets.
For further information about The Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show, the latest news or to buy tickets visit the website.
What is new for the Theme Park Capital of the World this year at attractions including Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, Epcot, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld
Orlando in Florida is welcoming 30 new additions for 2020.
There will be a theme park expansion, the world’s tallest slingshot ride, an ‘acoustically perfect’ theatre, a new celebrity chef restaurant and one of the largest booms for hotel growth in decades.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Walt Disney World Resort)
*The first-ever Mickey-themed ride-through attraction, ‘Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway,’ will open.
*Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance’ has opened and is the second attraction for the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land.
Epcot (Walt Disney World Resort)
Epcot is undergoing one of the biggest transformations of any Disney park in history, bringing a host of new attractions and experiences in 2020, including:
*Three new films from January 17: Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along, Canada Far and Wide in Circle-Vision 360 and Awesome Planet.
*Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure opens in summer 2020, shrinking guests to the size of Chef Remy and racing them through Gusteau’s restaurant on a wild adventure.
*Epcot’s new nighttime spectacular HarmonioUS, the largest nighttime spectacular ever created for a Disney park.
*La Crêperie de Paris, a new restaurant located in the France pavilion at Epcot, debuting in summer 2020, offering both table and quick-service crepe options.
Universal Orlando Resort
*The Bourne Stuntacular, a cutting-edge live-action stunt show based on Universal Pictures’ blockbuster Bourne films, will debut in spring 2020 at Universal Studios Florida.
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
*Ice Breaker at SeaWorld Orlando, opening spring 2020, takes riders on the steepest vertical drop in Florida.
*Riptide Race at Aquatica Orlando will be Florida’s first-ever dueling water slide, featuring side-by-side racing lanes through nearly 650 feet of slide.
New Entertainment Beyond the Parks
Outside the famous theme parks, Orlando is reaching new heights this year, from some of the world’s tallest thrills rides to one of the most acoustically perfect spaces on earth.
*Steinmetz Hall at the Dr Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, opening September 2020, will achieve an N1 sound rating – the lowest level at which humans can detect sound.
Dr Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
*ICON Park, located on International Drive and home to The Wheel and Starflyer attractions, will welcome more record-breaking attractions in 2020, including two major thrill rides:
The Orlando Slingshot will catapult guests 450 feet into the air and is set to the be the World’s Tallest Slingshot ride.
The Orlando Gyro Drop Tower will reach 400 feet, making it the world’s tallest free-standing drop tower. Riders freefall at up to 75 miles per hour.
*The Orlando Science Center’s ‘Pompeii: The Immortal City,’ runs June 6 to September 7, 2020 and is one of only four US sites for the interactive exhibit.
Orlando Science Center
*’Drawn to Life,’ a new Cirque du Soleil show, transports guests into the world of Disney’s animation in Cirque’s signature style, opening at Disney Springs in March 2020.
*Wild Florida’s 75-acre drive-through safari park brings visitors nose-to-snout with giraffes, wild boars and other animals. The safari area will include a zipline over a grazing area.
*Two Orlando malls are set to undergo enhancements in 2020 – Pointe Orlando and Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets.
New Resorts and Hotels
Orlando has the second highest number of hotel rooms of anywhere in the US and is undergoing a huge hotel expansion.
*JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa opens February 2020 with 516 rooms, a Spa and a rooftop terrace with nightly views of theme park fireworks.
JW Marriott Orlando
*Universal Orlando Resort’s 2,050-room Dockside Inn and Suites opens March 2020. It is a coastal-themed budget hotel with rates starting at $76 per night.
There are a host of new eateries adding to Orlando’s diverse food scene.
*Knife & Spoon at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, is a concept from chef John Tesar, opening spring 2020.
*Ole Red, a new restaurant by country superstar Blake Shelton, will open at ICON Park in 2020 and merge southern hospitality, good food and live country music. Also coming to ICON Park in 2020 is Ox Grill, offering contemporary fare with steaks, pasta and a selection of international dishes.
*Camelo Pizzaria opens on International Drive in early 2020. The Brazilian thin-crust pizza place is the first location outside Brazil.
*Sixty Vines, a restaurant with Napa Valley-inspired seasonal cuisine, will open in spring 2020 in Winter Park and offer guests 60 varieties of wine on tap.
*Norman’s will be moving to Restaurant Row. Created by celebrity chef Norman Van Aken, the concept will open in the Dellagio Plaza spring 2020.
*Kavas Tacos + Tequila at Pointe Orlando opens September 2020. The locally owned restaurant will feature Mexican comfort food, tequila flights and entertainment. Also opening at Pointe Orlando is The Hampton Social, themed after the New York coastal resort region.
*AG’s Market, a lakefront food hall opening late 2020, combines retail, beverage and food options with a second-floor seating area showcasing the theme park fireworks.
We’ve put together a selection of the best destinations for Easter breaks
April is a great time to travel – whether you are tied to the Easter holidays or not. You can jet off for some sunshine, enjoy a staycation in the UK or depart for a city break. We have rounded up our favourite April options.
Time from UK: 90 minutes
We visited the original LEGOLAND in Billund, Denmark in April, it was chilly but there was plenty to do and crowds were low. Read about it here.
The entrance to Legoland in Billund, Denmark
If you stay at Lalandia next door there is a giant indoor water park and ice rink. Read about it here.
Billund is now known as the Capital of Children and is regarded as one of the most child-friendly places to live and work.
Time from UK: 10 hours
Rio Grande River, Texas
If you only associate Texas with 1980’s American soap opera Dallas, then think again.
The second largest state in the US, has loads of appeal for a family holiday.
But get to Texas before it gets too hot – April or October are the best times.
You can hit Houston – the home of NASA with children’s museums and parks. Then head to the coast at Galveston or Corpus Christi for sea and sand.
Time from UK: 3.5 hours
Popeye Village in Malta
This island nation in the Mediterranean between Sicily and North Africa may be small, but Malta has lots to offer for a family holiday.
You can split your time between Malta and its quieter sister island Gozo.
Families can explore Malta’s capital – the old town of Valletta and see dolphins and sea lions at the Mediterraneo Marine Park.
There is also a Playmobil Fun Park for little ones.
Plus Popeye Village Malta, a former Popeye film set, is now a tourist attraction with a number of activities for children.
Time from UK: 2.5 hours
The Algarve is the traditional favourite for a family holiday to Portugal, but what about Lisbon and its coast?
You can enjoy the old trams around the city, visit Europe’s largest aquarium and then head for the beaches at Cascais and Guincho.
Pricewise, it is one of the cheapest options in Europe for families.
UK – Bath
Why not try a mix and match Easter break centred on the historic city of Bath.
Explore the Roman baths and the Royal Crescent landmark in this south of England city, in the county of Somerset.
And then if you get some spring sunshine it’s not too far to the beach at Weston Super Mare for some old fashioned seaside fun.
If it rains, you could visit some of nearby Bristol’s indoor attractions like SS Great Britain, the Planetarium, Aerospace Bristol and We The Curious, the city’s science museum.
Where are the best holiday destinations to take your children in February half-term?
Half-term in February is often the toughest month to find a break – it’s cold, money is tight after Christmas but there are some good options to enjoy a fabulous holiday with your children.
Travel time from the UK: 4 hours
Maspalomas in Gran Canaria
This island has the most activities of any in the Canaries.
There is a wildlife sanctuary in the hills, Palmitos Park, plus watermarks, camel rides on the dunes of Maspalomas and much more.
We went in February and the weather was great.
*The other Canary Islands are also great options including Tenerife, Lanzarote (read our review here or ) and Fuerteventura (read our review of a holiday in Fuerteventura here).
Travel time from the UK: 7.5 hours
Quieter and less developed than Dubai or Abu Dhabi, Oman offers an authentic glimpse into the Middle East.
There are plenty of family resorts along the coastline and the capital Muscat is worth a visit too.
*It is a good time of year for other Middle East destinations as well such as Dubai or Abu Dhabi, where the temperature will be a similar 22-26C.
Travel time from the UK: 14 hours
There is loads to see in Malaysia. You can spend a couple of days in the buzzing capital Kuala Lumpur with the Petronas Towers which were once the world’s tallest building, then travel to Penang for its beaches, resorts and colonial Georgetown.
Travel time from the UK: 22 hours
The furthest family trip but it will be worth it. February is ideal for the North and South Island. Don’t miss the beaches of the Bay of Islands, the bubbling geysers in Rotorua, whale watching in Kaikoura and adrenaline fuelled fun in Queenstown. You need two weeks minimum but this is the time of year to take it.
Winter is a good time to try a big city like Liverpool with plenty of indoor attractions. You can meet some dinosaurs at the World Museum Liverpool, find out about the history of the city at the Liverpool Museum, pop into the Beatles Experience, take a tour of Anfield the home of Liverpool FC and cross the Mersey on the famous ferry.
The city centre is compact and the waterfront spectacular even in bracing weather.
*Where do you like to go in February? Let us know below!
Grannies go free at Alton Towers in 2020 to celebrate the opening of the World of David Walliams
Staffordshire theme park Alton Towers has revealed that the star attraction of its soon-to-open World of David Walliams themed area will be Gangsta Granny: The Ride.
The world-first ride experience is inspired by Walliams’ biggest selling children’s novel Gangsta Granny.
Fans will also be able to stay overnight in one of four Gangsta Granny themed bedrooms in the Alton Towers Hotel.
Stay overnight in a Gangsta Granny room
We revealed last year that the World of David Walliams will be arriving at Alton Towers this Spring (2020) with a host of rides and attractions, bringing to life much-loved characters from the author’s children’s novels.
To celebrate the launch of Gangsta Granny: The Ride, Alton Towers is offering a new Grannies Go Free pass for 2020.
Published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, Gangsta Granny tells the story of Ben who discovers that his Granny is secretly an international jewel thief.
David Walliams works with Alton Towers on the new Gangsta Granny ride
Comedian, actor and best-selling author David Walliams OBE said: “I’m absolutely thrilled that Gangsta Granny is becoming a ride at Alton Towers.
“I never imagined it would happen so it’s a real delight to see my characters brought to life in a ride.
“I’ve worked really closely with the team at Alton Towers to make sure the ride is just as funny and exciting as the book. I think children and their parents and even their grandparents are going to love it!”
The new 4D ride experience will see guests join the main characters as they attempt the greatest heist in the history of the world: to steal the Crown Jewels.
On-board a royal carriage, they will set off on a Crown Jewels tour only to be caught up in Ben and Granny’s adventure.
The ride will whizz, twist and spin passengers 360 degrees through a series of scenes where they will see, feel, hear and even smell an electrifying and unique retelling of the Gangsta Granny story.
Using state-of-the-art special effects, 3D projection-mapping and animation inspired by the artwork of Tony Ross, passengers will descend with Ben and Granny into the sewers, be chased through the streets of London and even come face to face with the Queen.
In other parts of the David Walliams area will be Raj’s Shop, a Royal Carousel, Raj’s Bouncy Bottom Burp and other surprises.
John Burton, Creative Lead for Alton Towers Resort, said: “David’s stories are full of witty characters, intrigue and exhilaration so it’s been a fantastic challenge to build all that into a new ride experience.
“It’s the first time we’ve attempted such a complex combination of a physical ride experience, high-tech special effects and brilliant story-telling to ensure guests feel they are with Granny and Ben on every step of their adventure.”
Alton Towers in Staffordshire, a member of the Merlin Entertainments family, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
It opens for 2020 on March 21.
The park says the new area will open in the Spring but has not given an official launch date yet.
Grannies (and Grandads) go free
Alton Towers is offering one free adult (aged 60 and over) ticket per full price child ticket when bought by March 20. The free tickets can be used during the 2020 season (March 21 to November 1, 2020). For full terms and conditions, go to www.altontowers.com/tandcs
Gangsta Granny-themed rooms
There are four themed rooms in the Alton Towers Hotel. They cost from £281.50, based on a family-of-four with bed and breakfast, book via altontowers.com
Gangsta Granny Facts
It was first published on 27th October 2011.
The anniversary edition was published in 2018.
Gangsta Granny was David’s first children’s number one bestseller.
It stayed at the top of The Sunday Times top ten for 24 weeks.
Overall sales of Gangsta Granny are 1.75 million in the UK alone.
Gangsta Granny has also been adapted for the stage by the Birmingham Stage Company.
A television adaptation was commissioned by the BBC in 2013 and first aired on BBC One on Boxing Day 2013. The cast includes Miranda Hart, Rob Brydon, David Walliams as Ben’s Dad and Joanna Lumley as The Queen. It is currently available to view on Netflix.
David closed 2019 as the UK’s biggest-selling author. His titles took three of the top 10 overall bestselling books of 2019 as well as the top three bestselling children’s books of the year.
He is one of the most influential children’s writers and has revolutionised reading for children.
Since the publication of his ground-breaking first novel, The Boy in the Dress (2008), global sales of his books have exceeded 37 million copies.
Across his titles, he has celebrated a total of 55 weeks at number one in the overall book charts and more than 150 weeks at number one in the children’s charts – more than any other children’s writer.
His most recent novel, The Beast of Buckingham Palace, was published in November 2019 and went straight to number one in in the overall industry bestseller charts where it remained for four weeks and included the coveted UK Christmas number one spot.
*For more information on Gangsta Granny: The Ride and other new attractions inspired by the books of David Walliams visit www.altontowers.com/Walliams.
We take our children in search of the actual Hunter Street house in the Netherlands
Hunter Street is a popular Nickelodeon/TeenNick children’s television series, set in Amsterdam.
The first series started in March, 2017 when a boy called Max joins the Hunter family.
When he and the four other children Anika, Sal, Tess, and Daniel, wake up the next morning, they discover that their foster parents Erik and Kate have disappeared.
They turn detectives to try to find out what happened to them while keeping up appearances that everything is fine.
It’s a family adventure following clues, boat racing through canals, exploring tunnels and finding lost treasure while fighting off bad guys.
Their grand home also houses a museum, which the family run.
In real life though, the Hunter House exterior is a real home.
Our two children love this comedy/drama so when we visited Amsterdam they were keen to find this actual Hunter House.
The address is Singel 140-142, a small canalside road just outside the heart of the city.
We got there via a tram to Nieuwezijds Kolk stop and it was then about a five-minute walk, through some side streets and over a canal.
It’s a big, tall building on the canal. Our children were excited to see it and enjoyed having their picture taken outside but did complain the black door in the series had been painted dark green!
The house is private property so you won’t be able to go in and see inside.
Plus you won’t spot any of the stars as the actual show is filmed elsewhere in the Netherlands, in Aalsmeer.
Hunter Street stars Stony Blyden, Mae Mae Renfrow, Kyra Smith, Thomas Jansen, and Daan Creyghton. Wilson Radjou-Pujalte and Kate Bensdorp join the cast in the second season, and Eliyha Altena and Sarah Nauta join in the third season.
It is produced in the Netherlands by Blooming Media and was co-developed with the Nickelodeon Netherlands television series De Ludwigs.
We investigate some of the popular annual passes for 2020 including Merlin, National Trust, English Heritage and Chester Zoo
There are so many amazing places to take children across the UK but the cost can really add up, especially over the holidays.
So is it worth splurging on an annual pass so you can visit your favourite places as often as you want? We investigate the most popular options for 2020.
What is it?
The UK’s biggest annual pass offering entry to 32 Merlin attractions including Alton Towers, Legoland and more.
What do you get?
Entry to 32 attractions – London Eye, Chessington World of Adventures, Thorpe Park, Alton Towers, Warwick Castle, Sea Life Centres, LEGOLAND Windsor, LEGOLAND Discovery Centres, Madam Tussauds sites, Blackpool Tower, five Dungeon sites around the UK, Shrek’s Adventure.
You also get free car parking at theme parks and Warwick Castle (with a Premium Pass), 20 per cent off food and drink inside and discounted entry for family and friends.
How much is it?
The Standard Pass is £179 per person, £139 per person for a family pass for 3 or more people (maximum three over-12s).
The Premium Pass is £229 per person. £189 each for a family pass.
If you renew the pass after 12 months, the family price drops to £109 (standard) and £149 (premium).
Can I pay monthly?
Yes you can, with a new monthly membership option.
For the Standard Pass it costs £29.99 per person joining fee and then £8.99 per month per person.
The total cost over a year would be – £137.87 per person, similar to a family pass cost.
For the Premium Pass the cost is £34.99 joining fee and then £11.99 per month. The total cost is £178.87 per person, similar to an annual family pass.
Note: you have to sign up for a minimum of 12 months.
What about the small print?
The Premium Pass gives you entry to all attractions at all times plus priority entry to venues, a fast track pass voucher and free parking.
With the Standard Pass, you ARE restricted on which days you can use it at certain attractions.
In August and all UK Bank Holidays: No entry to any central London attractions including London Eye, Sea Life, Shrek’s Adventure, the London Dungeon and Madame Tussauds London.
Valentine’s Day: No London Eye entry.
October half-term weekends around Halloween: No entry to London Dungeon.
Friday, Saturday or Sunday in August and September 1: No entry to Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Chessington, LEGOLAND Windsor, Warwick Castle.
No free parking at any attraction with a Standard pass.
How much could you save?
The standard pass costs £46 per month for a family of four (2 adults, 2 children).
If you visited one attraction a month, Merlin’s website claims you will save £684 over a year compared with on-the-day entry.
You can use the Merlin Pass official calculator here.
However there are lots of 2 for 1 offers available online and via cereal packets and newspapers for most of these attractions, so nobody should be paying full price.
That makes the pass roughly the same price as a monthly visit to a Merlin attraction.
In order to save money with this pass you need to visit more than 12 attractions in the year. If you are going to manage that then it could be good value.
Look out for Merlin pass discounts – this usually happens in January and June. You can save between £20 and £50.
(For our reviews, tips and advice on LEGOLAND Windsor, click here).
National Trust membership
What is it?
An annual pass giving free entry to more than 500 National Trust parks, gardens and houses.
What do you get?
Free entry to National Trust sites, free parking at most car parks, a handbook and a National Trust magazine three times per year.
How much is it?
A family pass for 2 adults and up to 10 children (living at the same address) costs £126 per year.
For 1 adult and up to 10 children it is £78 per year.
Children under 5 go free anyway, so take that into account. You can pay by monthly direct debit if you prefer.
What about the small print?
It is relatively simple but there are some car parks not included for free. Sites like Stonehenge and Tatton Park, which aren’t exclusively run by the National Trust, can incur some charges.
You have to sign up for a year at a time and can only cancel when your renewal is due. Be sure to mark your renewal date in your diary so you don’t miss it.
How much could you save?
Average entry price to a large National Trust place is around £30 for a family of four so you can save a lot.
Car parking can be costly too, from £3 to £7 at a lot of places.
Membership costs £10.50 per month for a family with two adults and £6.50 for a family with one adult, so if you go to a NT site once a month or more, you canstart to save money.
Good value for the sheer number of sites and car parks you can use, especially if you have a good selection near to you, as we do.
Annual membership to the most popular tourist attraction outside London.
What do you get?
Unlimited access to Chester Zoo, Fast track entry, 10 per cent discount in the zoo’s shops and cafes, a quarterly magazine, access to junior members’ events, one free entry annually at several other UK zoos (Bristol Zoo, Colchester Zoo, Edinburgh Zoo, Newquay Zoo, Living Coasts, Marwell Zoo, Paignton Zoo and Twycross Zoo).
How much is it?
Individual adult membership is £95 and it is £53 per child, if paying by direct debit and £105 and £59 if not.
So family membership for 2 adults and 2 children is £245 per year by direct debit.
What about the small print?
Fairly straightforward, the zoo is open every day except Christmas Day and Boxing Day. You can go anytime. If you are using your free visit to another zoo you must take your membership card and membership letter.
How much could you save?
A day visit to Chester Zoo is up to £85 for a family of four booked in advance. There are rarely offers and discounts available.
You must all visit the zoo at least four times per year to start saving money.
If you live close enough to visit regularly and have children who enjoy it, a Chester Zoo pass is a great family treat. Plus if you are members, you don’t feel you have to see every single animal and area each time and spend a whole day there for every visit, which is far more relaxed.
We escape the cold and rain for indoor Christmas fun at EventCity in Manchester
Winter Funland 2019
Where is it?
EventCity, opposite the Trafford Centre in Manchester
What is it?
The biggest indoor Christmas event in the UK. It includes a pantomime, ice rink, circus, Santa and huge funfair.
It replaced Winter Wonderland in 2018, which was at the site previously.
When is it?
Before and after Christmas – it runs for a month until January 4, 2020.
How long does it last?
Visits are in sessions of four hours.
What did we think?
It was good value for money compared to other Christmas events as it is mostly all free once you are inside including the fair rides, ice skating and two shows.
Plus it was a relief to know we’d be warm and dry whatever the weather after knowing plenty of people who have got soaked through after paying a lot of money for outdoor festive treats.
It perhaps lacked a big Christmas feel and would have benefited from more staff dressed up or more festive decorations.
But if your children love rides, you are on to a winner.
*The funfair with lots of rides suitable for young children up to about 10, including carousels, mini coasters and dodgems. There were queues for most things but not horrendously long. It was a lot quieter in the last hour.
*An ice rink for ages four and up. It is fairly small and was not too busy when we went. There were several penguin supports for children.
*The circus – there are three performance times you can choose from in each session. You sit around a smallish round stage being amazed by a series of performers including a couple on rollerboots, two motorcyclists inside a sphere and acrobats.
*The pantomime/Christmas show – this was in the same area as the circus. It wasn’t quite as good as the circus and a few people walked out of our session. The four actors tried their best but the show wasn’t particularly Christmassy and two of them were in slightly scary alien costumes!
*Santa – this year’s grotto is next to the entrance and is open half an hour before session times so you don’t have to lose any of your four hours waiting to see Father Christmas. Queues to see him close an hour before the end of each session.
Fastpass tickets are available to visit Father Christmas to cut queuing time and give you an allocated 15-minute timeslot. Book when you buy your tickets.
Facilities for parents
*There is plenty of space to park prams and buggies.
*There is a quiet breastfeeding area and baby changing facilities.
*There is a baby chill-out zone where little ones can be out of their prams.
You are not supposed to take your own food and drink inside.
There are stalls selling food and drink including pizza, carvery baps, chips, donuts, popcorn and candyfloss, plus plenty of tables to sit at to eat. There is also a bar.
All-inclusive tickets are £23.50 per person, under 3s and carers are free. It is £89 for a family of four — two adults and two children or one adult and three children. Children are aged up to and including 16. Tickets available via www.winterfunland.co.uk
Tickets can be printed off or displayed on the screen of your phone/tablet etc.
Parking is included in the cost.
What is not included in the cost
Food and drink, a present from Santa (this can be paid for before if wanted) and photo opportunities.
There is also a cloakroom charged at £1 per item.
Children aged three to 10.
Access and restrictions:
The venue is fully wheelchair accessible but check which rides can be accessed. There is disabled parking and disabled toilets.
EventCity, opposite the Trafford Centre in Manchester.
Winter Funland Manchester postcode for satnavs is M17 8AS.
Al Fresco Holidays launches in four new resorts for 2020
A leading family holiday company has added four new resorts across Europe for 2020
Al Fresco Holidays will now operate mobile homes in six countries after launching in holiday parks in Croatia, France and Italy.
Among the new options are Brioni Sunny Camping in Croatia, Le Soleil de la Mediterannee and Camping Club Le Napoleon in France as well as Montescudaio Camping Village in Tuscany.
The new Croatian park is near a shingle beach, overlooking the Brijuni archipelago – a National Park consisting of 14 islands. It is near the historic city of Pula.
Brioni Sunny Camping in Croatia
The new French sites include Le Soleil de la Mediterranee in the Roussillon region, which boasts a large waterpark featuring a lagoon, lazy river and two giant waterslides.
Camping Club Le Napoleon, in the Languedoc in southern France, is a family-focussed site with a waterpark, games room, a sauna, massage services and onsite beautician.
Camping Club Le Napoleon in southern France
In Italy, Montescudaio Camping Village is a large holiday park situated in the Tuscan countryside. It has a pool side restaurant, takeaway, and onsite bar.
Montescudaio Camping Village in Tuscany, Italy
Some of Al Fresco’s existing parks have been upgraded for the new season with new waterslides at Duinrell in the Netherlands, which we reviewed here, and a new waterpark at Marina D’Erba Rossa in Corsica, which we visited here.
There will be new mobile homes at certain parks with the newly designed three-bedroom Da Vinci Lounge and the Toscanini Lounge which has an open plan kitchen.
Families in the north west welcome the airline’s new route to Antalya
Europe’s leading airline Easyjet is launching a new route from Liverpool to Antalya in Turkey.
Flights will operate weekly on Thursdays throughout the summer, providing families from the North West with a direct route to another popular Turkish resort.
It joins Easyjet routes already available to Dalaman and Bodrum in Turkey from Liverpool.
The port of Antalya offers lots of historic attractions and is situated on what is known as the Turquoise Coast for its stunning blue waters.
Flights will take off from April 2, 2020 and the new service is expected to carry over 8,000 customers during its first season.
Seats are now on sale with fares from £60.16 return.
Ali Gayward, EasyJet’s UK Country Manager, said: “We are delighted to confirm today that we will be launching a new route from Liverpool to Antalya.
“As the largest airline at Liverpool, we’re focused on strengthening our network and providing our customers in the North West with excellent services by offering great value fares, a convenient schedule and more choice when they travel.”
Antalya will become the 33rd destination on easyJet’s Liverpool network.
John Irving, CEO for Liverpool John Lennon Airport, said: “We are delighted to see easyJet add a further new route to their expanding network from Liverpool.
“We expect Antalya to prove popular with the region’s holidaymakers who can now take advantage of our award-winning Faster, Easier, Friendlier approach to the passenger experience, helping to get their holiday from here off to a great start.
“Holidays to Turkey are popular with passengers from across the North West and North Wales.”
To book and for more information visit the Easyjet website.
Picture shows John Irving, CEO of Liverpool John Lennon Airport and Ali Gayward, EasyJet’s UK Country Manager, celebrating the announcement of the new route from Liverpool to Antalya.
We take our children to the Hilton Bracknell after visiting Lapland UK
Hilton Bracknell, Hilton Hotels & Resorts
Where is it?
On the outskirts of Bracknell near the main A322 road, next to a Sainsbury’s supermarket and petrol station.
It’s just 10 minutes from Lapland UK (review here), around 15 minutes from Legoland Windsor (review here) and half an hour from Thorpe Park.
What is it?
A large hotel with a swimming pool and leisure centre. It has plenty of free parking on site.
Is it family friendly?
Yes, this is a popular family option in the area offering easy access to Windsor, Lapland UK and Ascot.
Children receive a welcome pack on arrival, breakfast caters for them well and there is a swimming pool to enjoy.
There were lots of children at the hotel when we stayed there and they are made to feel welcome.
We stayed in a two double bed deluxe and it was an excellent size for a family of four.
There were two comfy double beds, a large TV, good-sized bathroom with bath and shower, free bottles of water, a kettle and a useful mini-fridge. The room was spotlessly clean.
Food and drink
Breakfast was nearly all self-service with a good selection of six cereals, including cornflakes and coco pops.
There were lovely warm pastries plus all the usual hot options if you want a cooked breakfast.
Breakfast is served in a lovely, bright and spacious restaurant area. Even though the hotel was busy it was a pleasant environment to eat in. The staff were friendly and helpful throughout.
If you want to eat an evening meal then under-fives eat free with a paying adult. Children aged between six and 12 can dine from the children’s menu for £11.50. We ate elsewhere for dinner so can’t comment on how good it is!
*The swimming pool – a real bonus here are the leisure facilities. These are free for hotel users and the decent-sized pool is split into two halves with a rope. One half is for adult swimmers and the other for children and their families. It wasn’t too busy when we visited on a Saturday morning and really made our stay.
There is also a jacuzzi which children are allowed in, plus a steam room and sauna for adults.
You can collect fresh towels from the leisure centre and the changing facilities are good.
We also spotted a good-sized gym.
*Welcome pack – the small bag given to children at reception kept them entertained in our room. There were crayons, stickers to colour in, puzzles and a crossword.
Children’s welcome pack
*The staff – everyone we met from reception, housekeeping and at breakfast were very friendly. They went out of their way to help and make sure we had a pleasant stay.
*Parking – the hotel’s large car park is free and stretches around the front and side of the building. Even on a busy Friday evening there was space to park.
A busy dual carriageway is the main view from the hotel but it is handily placed next to a large Sainsbury’s supermarket and petrol station.
Coral Reef Waterworld, The Look Out Discovery Centre and Go Ape Bracknell are all less than a mile away.
There are lots of family favourites within a few miles including Lapland UK, Windsor Castle, Legoland Windsor and Thorpe Park.
The city of Winchester is known as England’s Christmas capital and its market was recently voted one of the best in Europe.
So we take a December trip to the home of Alfred the Great to find out what its Christmas appeal is for children, plus see our video below.
The Winchester Cathedral Christmas Markets
The centrepiece of the city’s festive fun is this beautiful market which runs for 34 days around Christmas.
There are 110 stalls around Cathedral Close. You enter via the side of the building through some arches and onto the market which has dozens of stalls selling Christmas gifts, arts and crafts.
The main food and drink section of the market is at the far side. There are the usual selection of German sausages, Gluhwein and more. Our two enjoyed testing the pancakes from an excellent crepes stall, which was reasonably priced and properly cooked by two ladies from France. There was also a man toasting marshmallows and another roasting nuts.
There is also a British Crafts Village section, which you enter via a small platform, with a nativity scene at the end.
The market is very popular with 350,000 visitors each year and it was busy when we went which means you need to keep a close eye on your children. Also, there are no toilets in the market itself, the nearest ones are at the Cathedral Visitors Centre.
The ice rink
In the centre of the markets is a covered ice rink. It offers one-hour skating slots through the day from 10am with the final one starting at 8pm.
The busiest times are in the late afternoon but numbers are limited so even in a full session the ice isn’t too busy.
A family skating ticket for two adults and two children costs £37.95. it also costs £5 to hire a Penguin skating aid, which is essential if your children are new to skating and makes for a more fun experience on the ice for beginners.
The rink has a large Christmas tree in the centre and viewing areas at either end for family and friends to watch.
You can collect your skates in the waiting area up to half a hour before your allocated time slot. All children’s sizes are catered for and there is a £1 charge to leave bags in a locker.
It is a great festive atmosphere with lights and music on the ice adding to the fun. There is also an ice bar and cafe next to the rink for hot and cold food.
Across the city
Winchester takes Christmas very seriously and even away from the cathedral there was a large market along the High Street when we visited. There were plenty of local stalls and food outlets at that market as well.
The two nearest Christmas activities near Winchester are at Marwell Zoo, which we reviewed earlier in the year, read about it here. The zoo has a special Christmas at Marwell experience which can be booked as either a daytime or evening visit. Only the daytime experience includes a visit to the zoo itself.
The Watercress Line has a Santa Special train running until December 24. Children receive an activity pack and gingerbread on board while adults can enjoy white wine and mince pies. Tickets are available by advanced booking only.
Also, in Winchester there is a Meet Father Christmas event running at the Great Hall. From December 21 to 23, you can meet Santa in one of the city’s grandest buildings. Tickets include that all-important meeting plus a festive gift and Christmas-themed crafts.
Where do I park?
Parking is difficult but there are three park and ride options. If you are coming from the East, you can use either Barfield or St Catherine’s Park & Ride. Visitors from the south can use South Winchester.
If you want to try and get closer to the city centre, then the Chesil multi-storey car park is your best bet. We parked here and it was about a 10-minute walk to the cathedral.
For more information go to visitwinchester.co.uk
(We were given free entry to the ice rink for the purpose of this review. All opinions are our own).
We take our children to ‘Lapland’ in the UK for a full family festive experience
It is one of the country’s most popular Christmas days out for families who want to experience Lapland without the cost of travelling to Finland.
So here is all you need to know about Lapland UK, plus our top tips for visiting and please watch our video below!
What is it?
A full Christmas experience for children which tells the story of Father Christmas, complete with elves, snow, a personalized Santa visit, toy making, gingerbread decorating, ice skating and more.
Where is it?
In ‘Lapland’ accessed by magic from Lapland UK, in Whitmoor Forest near Ascot in Berkshire.
How it works
1. Children get a special invitation each to visit ‘Lapland’ through the post telling them they have been chosen to help Santa make toys. There is a special app you can use so that two of the elves you will meet, appear on your invitation through your phone to talk and build the excitement.
2. When you get there and check in, each child is given an Elf Passport to have stamped at various points. You can also buy Jingles here – elf money that the children can spend there – £1 is one Elf Jingle.
A pouch of Jingles
3. The tour starts in a round room where elves tell the Father Christmas story, teach elf rhymes and the elf wave and build up the excitement for the children (Little Folk) and adults (Big Folk) until finally opening the doors to ‘Lapland’.
The doors to Lapland
4. You walk past snow-topped cabins to the toy workshop. Here, as in other places around the site, children have the option of entering through much smaller doors than the adults, which is a nice touch.
5. Inside the workshop, they are entertained by more elves and then each child helps to make a toy (a soft snowman our year, which they stuffed and added buttons to and a nose and scarf etc), which they hand over to be wrapped for Santa to deliver to children on Christmas Eve.
6. Then it’s through one of several magical tree tunnels to the next area, a kitchen where Mother Christmas is waiting, she talks to the children, they decorate gingerbread biscuits then listen to a story.
Mother Christmas tells a story
7. After that it is on to the Elf Village where you have an hour-and-a-half free time to ice skate on the outdoor rink, visit husky dogs and spend your Jingles in the toy and sweet shops, food and drink outlets. There is even a special post office where children can write a letter to Santa, have it sealed and post it themselves.
8. Then it’s on to the main event – visiting Father Christmas. You walk through a magical forest, past elf homes and past the reindeer to a waiting area.
Elves come and out and call each family group through using just the children’s names. Then you are taken down a winding path to visit Santa in a log cabin, who amazes the children by knowing special details about them. He gives them a present (soft husky toy dogs when we went) and they find their names in his good book. They have a photograph taken by an elf.
Are they in his good book?
9. In the next area, you collect your free photograph and are slipped a toy like the one your child made earlier so that Santa can deliver it on Christmas Eve. Then it’s out through a gift shop where there are lots of accessories you can buy for your husky! And then it’s out the door and back into the car park in ‘England’.
What is included in the price at Lapland UK?
*An elf passport.
*Making a toy activity.
*A version of the toy they made in the toy factory to take away secretly to give them on Christmas day.
*The gingerbread that the children decorate.
*Ice skating and hire of skates.
*Meeting Father Christmas.
*A gift from Santa – soft toy husky dogs our year.
*A printed family picture from the Santa visit.
What costs extra at Lapland UK?
*Food and drink.
*Extra pictures from the Santa visit.
What did we think?
This is a magical Christmas day out for young children and very well organized. The staff are all fantastic, taking on the role of elves and reindeer and the children loved it. It is a fabulous four hours of festive entertainment.
Is Lapland UK worth the cost?
This is a staggeringly expensive Christmas experience. It is a shame this costs so much money as it just isn’t possible for many people, particularly bigger families.
For the four of us it was over £450 on a weekday – which works out at over £100 an hour. We were lucky enough to be treated to it for a special family birthday. I don’t think we would be able to justify doing it again another year.
If you can afford it and want to splash out, make sure your children are the right ages to appreciate it, I would say, no younger than three and of an age where they still believe in the magic of Christmas.
Top tips for Lapland UK
*Do take advantage of the app to make your child’s invitation come to life, it is a magical start to the experience.
*Get there half an hour before your time slot to park, walk to the start, check in etc. You can not start the experience until your time slot so there is no point getting there any earlier.
*Buy Jingles at the start – £1 is 1 Elf Jingle, they come in a red velvet pouch. Children can use them to pay for things in the Elf Village and you can cash in those you don’t use at the end. We bought ours £5 worth each and it was enough (a lead for the toy husky from Santa was just £3 in the gift shop at the end, but beware there are lots of toys which cost a lot more)!
*Personalise your visit online. Make sure Santa has all the details he needs to show your child that he knows all about them. But don’t worry if you don’t get chance to do this as you can tell them at the desk when you are waiting to see the Big Man (just make sure little ears can’t hear you)!
*Ice rink – children can have skates which go over their shoes and are easier to balance on instead of proper ones. There are also support penguins for young children to hold on to or stand on.
*Consider taking a change of clothes in case children fall over on the ice rink. It was raining when we went and there is no cover so the surface was wet even though staff were frantically trying to keep the water off it.
*You could spend a lot of money in the Elfen Village if you aren’t careful as a lot of it is shops and food and drink outlets so take your time doing the ice rink and the Santa letter writing!
Our five-year-old’s verdict
“We saw Father Christmas and he gave us some huskies. And we went in the Enchanted Forest. It was fantastic! I liked seeing Santa Claus best.”
The National Trust property in Cheshire hosts its popular illumination display for the third year
Thousands of visitors will be heading to Dunham Massey over the festive period to enjoy the magical light trail around the park and garden.
And we’ve had sneak preview of this fabulous Christmas display, so here is our review, top tips and all you need to know, plus watch our video below.
What is it?
Dunham Massey – a National Trust property with deer park and gardens – is hosting its third annual Christmas Light Trail.
Thousands will head to the Cheshire site for the fabulous experience, which is perfect for families.
It features dazzling light displays, music, fairground rides, food and drink.
When is it?
The illuminations run from November 22 to December 30, 2019.
Ticket start times run every 20 minutes between 4.30pm and 8pm.
How much are tickets?
Tickets are prices from £17.50 for adults, £11 for children aged three to 16 and under-threes are free. A family ticket is £54.00.
*Before you go into the formal gardens, the house itself is lit up at the front with a fabulous laser display.
There is also a light display when you reach the back of the house, along with rings of fire.
*There are lots of memorable features as you go around including huge glittering reindeer near the start – apt for a park which is home to lots of deer, firework lights in the trees, a laser walk and lots more.
*The large lawn area inside the gardens is lit up in a sea of lights, changing pattern, in front of a tunnel of glittering lights.
*You can toast marshmallows in fire pits in the rose garden. These can be bought at a stand in the corner of the garden – £1.50 for a large marshmallow on a stick – there are several flavours including gingerbread and caramel.
*There is different music as you go around including songs from Christmassy films – a Frozen song at the start thrilled our daughter.
*There are a few fairground rides in the Stables Courtyard for younger children – a carousel, helter skelter, merry-go-round and swing boats.
*There are food and drink stalls selling mulled wine, hot chocolate, hot dogs, chips, pizza, churros etc.
*You are not supposed to take your own food and drink but I did see several people with their own marshmallows (and sticks) to toast.
*Wrap up warm – it is all outdoors.
*Book a parking space in advance – even if you are a National Trust member with free parking.
*Father Christmas appears on the trail as part of a small show. There is no grotto or individual meeting.
Is everything included in the price?
Fair rides, food and drink are extra. You buy ride tokens – £2.50 each or £10 for five if bought in advance when you book your tickets.
Some stalls accepted payment by card. There is no cash machine.
How long will it take?
The route keeps to the paths and ensures you don’t miss anything. It is around a mile long and takes around an hour and a half but you can stay as long as you like until it closes. It is wheelchair and buggy-friendly but is dimly-lit in places and can get busy.
Can you catch a glimpse of the lights if you happen to be already at Dunham Massey when it gets dark?
If you are there just before the gardens close at 3.30pm, you may see some of the lights as it starts to get dark but you will not get anywhere near the full effect.
Do National Trust members need to pay?
National Trust members pay full price, there is no discount. Parking is free for NT members, but you still have to reserve a space ahead of time as the car park gets busy.
National Trust Dunham Massey, Altrincham, WA14 4SJ
For more information and to book go to the website.
As families think about booking flights for 2020 trips, we share some top tips for bagging a cheap fare.
Secret Flying, which specialises in uncovering discounted plane tickets, has compiled its guide to saving money on a family holiday.
You will get a cheaper flight if you do the following:
1. Travel midweek
The cheapest days to fly are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
2. Book a round-trip/return trip on a long haul airline
Round trips will usually be cheaper than two one-way tickets if you are flying further than Europe.
3. Check one-way on budget carriers
Occasionally, two one-way tickets with separate budget carriers around Europe will cost less than a round-trip ticket. For example, you could fly out to Malaga with Ryanair but return with EasyJet.
4. Booking last minute can work with charter flights
Companies which specialise in flying package holidaymakers, like Tui, can be heavily discounted at the last minute.
This is because if the package holidays haven’t sold then there will be extra space on their planes which they want to fill with flight-only passengers. We have seen prices as low as £249 to Florida and £299 to the Caribbean.
5. Last minute is rarely cheaper with scheduled or budget airlines
Most long haul airlines like British Airways and Virgin Atlantic raise prices the closer you get to departure. It is the same with budget carriers. In these cases, it probably pays to book in advance.
6. Use Skyscanner ‘Everywhere’ to find a bargain
The SkyScanner website lets you search every departure from a specific airport. For example, you can search every flight from Manchester between May 23 and May 30 (half-term week) to see which destination is the cheapest option.
7. Stop over on a long haul flight
You can save on airfare taxes, which often make up the bulk of any long haul fare, by taking a short flight to a European destination and going long-haul from there.
For example, flying from Birmingham to Amsterdam and then going with KLM to the Far East or the USA can be cheaper than going directly from the UK. You must stay over for at least 24 hours in Amsterdam in this case to benefit from the tax saving.
8. Be flexible
The more flexibility with dates you have, the more your chances of saving money will be. This is tricky with school holiday dates but try searching midweek departures in the summer holidays or leave it until closer to September for cheaper flights.
9. How to get an upgrade
According to Secret Flying, the best ways to boost your chances of a free upgrade to business class is to be a member of the airline’s frequent flyer programme, dress smartly and only check in at the airport.
If you check in online, your seats will already be allocated and the airline is less likely to move you up a class.
Secret Flying is a free service for users who get daily flight deals to their inbox every evening. Alternatively there is a new app. For more information please visit www.secretflying.com