We investigate some of the popular annual passes for 2021 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 2021.
This year sadly you will have to factor in whether these attractions will be open and accessible for you to visit.
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 take our children on a family trip to an award-winning Christmas light festival
Family festive opportunities are in short supply this year so our trip to Lightopia at Heaton Park in Manchester was eagerly awaited.
Organisers promise a safe and socially distanced event.
We took our children after school for a 5.20pm start, here is our full guide to the Christmas festival.
What is it
The Lightopia Festival – Christmas at Heaton Park – is an award-winning and socially-distanced lantern and light festival.
It takes place around a series of lit art installations and laser beams, which have been set up at the park in Manchester.
When it it
Lightopia at Heaton Park runs from November 20, 2020 to January 3, 2021.
The event is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, except during school holidays and closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Gates Open at 5pm, last entry is 8.30pm and it closes at 10pm.
How much are tickets
Tickets are booked in advance, they are £20 online for adults (or £22 on the day), £13 for children (or £15 on the day) and £60 for families of two adults and two children (£68 on the day). Children under three can go free.
Essential carers of disabled visitors can attend for free, the disabled visitor pays the normal admission fee.
*What we called the Rainbow Tree
Children stand on a circle and their moving feet sends different coloured lights shooting up the tree, creating a beautiful display.
*The laser show on the lake.
Visitors are directed to stand in socially distanced spaces to watch this lovely show towards the end of the trail.
*Food and drink
There are stalls and bars dotted around the trail selling food like hot dogs, carvery baps, chips, donuts, malled wine and hot chocolate.
*Prepare to queue at the start, entry is in 20-minute time slots and we did have to wait when we arrived, but it is organised very well so that you are spaced out from the groups in front and behind.
*It’s quite a spaced out route, you will walk a bit further than some other light shows, so take a buggy if you have young children.
*It is all outdoors so dress for the weather and ensure children are wrapped up warm and wearing sensible footwear. You will always be on a path but look out for the occasional bit of uneven ground as it is dark.
Is everything included in the price?
All the displays are included in the ticket price. There are stalls selling food, drink and those flashing hand-held contraptions that our daughter loves. It was card only for payment.
How long will it take?
It takes about an hour and a half but that depends on how fast you walk and whether you buy food and drink. Take your time walking around, to take it all in, you certainly don’t need to rush.
Where to park
There are car parks on site and it is best to book in advance, then follow the directions on your email confirmation.
A first for Dubai with four-star beachfront hotel from Riu
The first four-star, all-inclusive, beachfront hotel has opened in Dubai.
Hotel Riu Dubai is a large family hotel with children’s pools and a water park.
Splash Water Park at Riu Dubai
It is Riu’s 100th hotel in the world and the chain’s first in the Middle East.
The modern hotel has 800 rooms, two children’s pools (one with slides), three large pools for adults, a children’s park and club and a broad terrace with direct access to a large beach.
The hotel has a ‘Splash’ water park, with slides and other attractions for adults and children over 1.2 metres tall.
A restaurant at Hotel Riu Dubai
There are four restaurants and six bars including swim-up bars at the hotel which is located 11km from the airport on the Deira Islands beachfront.
Riu is a Spanish chain with 100 in 20 countries around the world.
Its 24-hour all-inclusive concept includes all meals, snacks and drinks at all the hotel’s bars and restaurants, without limits or schedules.
A Riu Dubai suite
It also includes enjoyment of all the facilities and services such as the water parks, day and nighttime entertainment and access to the gym and spa, where only the beauty and wellbeing treatments carry a charge.
Luis Riu, chief executive officer of RIU Hotels & Resorts, said: “The opening of the hotel Riu Dubai is a major milestone in our hotel chain’s international expansion, because this is our first hotel in the Middle East.
“This is a unique opportunity to offer all our experience with the 24-hour all-inclusive product, which is so popular among our European and American customers, but this time in a completely new destination.”
Riu partnered with developer Nakheel to build the hotel, creator of world-famous developments including The Palm Jumeirah and Dubai’s new coastal city, Deira Island.
*For more information on Riu hotels, read some of our reviews from our family stays in Fuerteventura and Lanzarote.
And link to those stories by clicking on Fuerteventura and Lanzarote individually, but the button just doesn’t work any more.
It’s a Digital Christmas 2020 with the new Santa’s Lapland video call experience
Taking your children to meet Santa may not be possible this year due to lockdown restrictions.
So holiday company Santa’s Lapland is bringing Father Christmas into children’s homes using the magic of video calls.
It will give families a taste of the festive excitement that comes from meeting Santa.
The new scheme follows the announcement that the company has had to suspend their December 2020 trips to Lapland.
The 10-minute video call will prove its Lapland credentials, as an Elf leads the family through the snow and gets up-close with a reindeer, before going live to Santa’s cabin for a personalised meeting with Santa himself.
Paul Carter, CEO of Santa’s Lapland, said: “With restrictions increasing throughout the UK, many of us have been wondering how we will keep the magic of Christmas 2020 alive.
“We intend to help make it one to remember, by offering families the chance to meet Santa from the comfort and safety of their own home.
“While no Christmas can compare to the sheer excitement of travelling to Lapland to visit Santa in his snowy cabin, where the reindeer are real and the Northern Lights dance across the night sky, families will now still be able to enjoy a taste of the real Lapland magic this Christmas.”
Santa Live video calls from Lapland
A personalised ‘Santa, Live from Lapland’ video call experience for up to four children costs from £85 per family from Santa Live.
The company cancelled its December 2020 trips to visit Santa in Lapland following concerns that increasing COVID-19 safety measures and travel restrictions would take too much away from the magic of the experience.
Many customers have postponed their trip to next year and others have taken refunds.
Santa’s Lapland three and four-night trips for 2021 are available to reserve now with departures from November 26 to December 24 from 13 regional airports.
The breaks include snow fun, husky sledding and reindeer sleigh rides, a search for Santa and other activities.
Work starts next year on one of the biggest LEGOLAND resorts in the world
Work to build LEGOLAND Shanghai is set to start in 2021, Merlin Entertainments has announced.
The huge new park is expected to open in China in 2024 and will incude a 250-room themed hotel.
LEGOLAND Shanghai will be opened after LEGOLAND New York – scheduled for 2021 – and LEGOLAND Korea – scheduled for 2022.
The theme park will be located in the Jinshan District and will draw inspiration from the area.
Other businesses are expected to launch in the vicinity as a result, including hotels, retail, sports facilities, offices and high-end housing.
Merlin is investing a lot in China – it has opened the world’s first Peppa Pig World of Play (Shanghai) and Little BIG City (Beijing).
Merlin Entertainments chief Executive Nick Varney said: “I am delighted to work with our partners to bring one of the world’s largest LEGOLAND Resorts to Shanghai, which builds on the other attractions we have developed in this exciting part of the country.
“The Shanghai LEGOLAND Resort will be a must-visit destination for playful learning experiences for the millions of people who live in the vicinity and beyond.
“The Merlin team looks forward to working with our partners to develop the creative concept design for the resort and making it a reality, marking a significant milestone for Merlin’s presence in the Chinese market.”
Merlin Entertainments announced this week that it has entered into a formal co-operation agreement with the Shanghai Jinshan District Government, CMC Inc. and KIRKBI to develop the resort.
This follows the signing of a framework agreement in November 2019.
A joint venture company is being formed to contribute funding to the construction and development of LEGOLAND Shanghai.
The total project investment is expected to be approximately $550 million.
Families can look forward to a festive treat for 2021 with a visit to Santa in Lapland
This Christmas may end up being low key but families can already get ready for a fantastic festive 2021 with a Santa holiday to Lapland.
Santa’s Lapland and Inghams Santa Breaks have launched their Christmas dates for next year.
The snowy breaks include husky sledding and reindeer sleigh rides, enchanted activities and a visit to the ‘real’ Santa at his home.
Families can choose from two breaks – Santa’s Magic with a selection of hotels or Santa’s Aurora where you stay at the Star Arctic hotel, great for those who want to spot the Northern Lights.
Star Arctic Hotel
Both are available as three or four night holidays with flights from 14 regional airports.
At the time of writing, 2020 holidays to Lapland could still be booked as well.
A spokesperson said: “Santa’s Lapland and Inghams Santa Breaks are paying constant attention to the guidance from the UK’s FCDO, ABTA, Public Health England and local health authorities in Finland.
“Following recent updates, they’re working closely with their partners in Lapland to see what these decisions mean for their Lapland holidays. The Lapland holidays are currently expected to go ahead as planned.”
Family fun awaits at award-winning Christmas light festival
While many Christmas events are being cancelled, an award-winning and socially-distanced light festival in Manchester is set to go ahead.
Lightopia returns to the city with this year’s Christmas at Heaton Park event.
The festive family festival runs from November 20, 2020 to January 3, 2021.
There will be new themes and creations but changes have also been made in light of Covid restrictions, to keep visitors safe including wider footpaths and three entry points to reduce queueing.
There will be a magical illuminated trail, designed so that people can maintain a social distance from each other and two car parks.
Lightopia 2020 will also pay tribute to Coronavirus frontline workers with a Local Heroes Area, featuring the words ‘thank you’ and a colourful rainbow display.
Lightopia creative director Ian Xiang said organisers are “excited” to bring Lightopia back to Manchester.
“We have once again created a world in which light, sculpture and art combine with traditional, Chinese lantern-making techniques to create an immersive experience, full of light and stories,” he said.
“We want our guests to become part of the Lightopia story, helping to create new forms of art as they interact and engage with the luminescent sculptures that trail through Heaton Park.”
Among the new additions will be a Christmas showcase using the Grade I-listed Heaton Hall as its sparkling backdrop.
There will also be Santa’s sleigh, a giant interactive walking piano, an astronomy display and interactive Zodiac sign installation.
Children will love robotic controlled pads on the floor, which create light shows when stepped on.
Another area is dedicated to the Manchester skyline and an immersive Musical City area, will encourage visitors to dance their way through the lights.
Returning attractions include the Woodland Fairytale area, the Animals attraction and the Discovery space.
A Lakeside water show includes a state-of-the-art projection while dragon sculptures will lead the way to Lightopia’s food stalls and licensed bars.
The event from November 20 to January 3 runs between 5pm and 10pm and last entry is 8.30pm daily.
The event is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, except during school holidays and closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Tickets are £20 online for adults (or £22 on the day), £13 for children (or £15 on the day) and £60 for families of two adults and two children (£68 on the day). Children under three can go free.
Essential carers of disabled visitors can attend for free, the disabled visitor pays the normal admission fee.
There was lots to keep them entertained, here are our top tips for what to do with children on a family boat trip along the canal or a holiday in the area.
The market town of Llangollen is a fabulous day out for children.
When travelling by canal, the part between Trevor Bason and Llangollen town is narrow and not suited to beginners.
If you don’t attempt it, it’s still worth spending time in Llangollen before you collect your boat or after you have finished your canal cruise if you are nearby.
To enjoy the town centre, join families relaxing on the rocks next to the River Dee. There are lots of flat stones to walk acroos on the river and shallow pools in between. Families often pop down there to enjoy an ice cream or fish and chips with a view.
You reach the river stones via the Victorian promenade, which is a lovely walkway raised above the river. Next to it there is a large playground.
Children will also love the spectacular Horseshoe Falls, where the canal and river meet to form a weir, a couple of miles west of the town.
You can see kayakers flying down this part of the River Dee and there are pleasant walks.
There are three meres near to this stretch of canal. You can moor up to walk around Colemere, or stop at Blakemere to admire the view.
If you moor up overnight in Ellesmere there is a walk to the town’s lake through woodland off the towpath near Blackwater Marina.
Blakemere at Ellesmere
It is about a 10-minute walk through a lovely wood to the mere, then you can go to the visitor centre, or head clockwise around to the sculpture trail and wide-open playground.
The town itself is pleasant enough to stroll around with a few takeaways and Vermeulens Delicatessen famed for its pork pies. You can walk back to your boat along the canal next to a giant Tesco, which is handy if you need to stock up.
This wharf in Llangollen is part of a World Heritage site.
Welsh cream teas are served at the Wharf Tea Room, with views out over the town and canal.
You can try a horse drawn boat trip from here – they have been running from the wharf for more than 100 years. Trips are 45 minutes or two hours.
Horse drawn boats from Llangollen Wharf
Llangollen Steam railway
This heritage railway line starts at Llangollen Station and runs alongside the River Dee, travelling through the picturesque Dee Valley.
It has events for families throughout the year such as meeting Thomas the Tank Engine.
There is a small cafe and a couple of lovely walks to view the aqueduct. One walk heads along the Llangollen Canal a short distance, down the original Offa’s Dyke path, through some narrow, steep woodland and out onto a bridge with a great view.
Alternatively, you could head out of the marina towards the aqueduct but before you reach it, turn left onto a public footpath signed Ty Mawr Country Park. Walk along the path and then turn right and head down to the river. It is a lovely spot, with a muddy beach, rocks to climb on and even a paddle in the river on a hot day. You then walk back towards the aqueduct and end up underneath its huge towers. This gives children a chance to appreciate the scale of the 200-year-old structure.
Moor up and explore
The beauty of travellng by boat on the canal is that you can stop almost anywhere. We found lots of lovely country walks this way.
The towpath is usually flat and often gravelled so is fine to cycle or scoot in a lot of places.
If your children are older you can send them off the boat along the towpath and collect them when you catch up with them further ahead.
Here are our pick of the best beaches in and around Dawlish.
This is a flat, sandy beach with shallow waters. It is very family-friendly with lifeguards keeping watch over the summer months.
It is a Blue Flag beach – awarded for high standards of cleanliness and safety.
The large car park is set behind a grassy area which you walk through to reach the beach.
The sand is separated into sections by rows of wooden groynes. There is a high, sloped wall above the sand so only walk down via the regular steps provided and hold on to younger children’s hands as you approach.
There can be big waves on a windy day which makes the beach good for bodyboards and surfing.
But when the weather is calm it is a safe bathing spot too.
Heading from the town to the beach you drive past a large funfair and there is an ice cream shop and cafe opposite.
If you fancy a good walk, the beach travels up to the mouth of the River Exe. It also backs on to a wildlife reserve.
Dogs are not allowed on Dawlish Warren beach.
Address: Dawlish Warren Beach, Beach Rd, Dawlish, EX7 0NF.
The town of Dawlish has a beach which is a short walk from the centre.
It’s quite pebbly and travels all the way to Red Rock at Dawlish Warren.
We went on a windy day and the sight of the big waves bashing the sea wall was spectacular. Although paddling/swimming in the sea was definitely off the agenda.
There’s a railway station next to the beach. The railway line runs alongside the beach and there’s a wide footpath between the line and the sand.
Dawlish is a small but pleasant place for a stroll and there is a car park and on-street parking.
The river runs through a park with ducks and swans. There is mini-golf in the park and plenty of cafes or ice cream shops.
We visited Gaye’s Creamery for their famous ice cream cone with clotted cream on top!
Dogs are allowed on part of the beach.
Address: Dawlish Town Beach, SW Coast Path, Dawlish, EX8 5BT.
We walked right alongside Dawlish beach and found:
This beach is about a 10-minute walk from the centre of Dawlish, if you start at the railway tunnel, you can follow the sea path round to the right (with the sea on your left).
Our childen had a great time here, it’s a sandy/stony beach with a sheltered spot/open cave, good for keeping warm unless there’s an easterly wind.
The curved bay is good for swimming and the dramatic red sandstone cliffs with the railway at the bottom forms a spectacular backdrop.
There are rock pools, a few colourful beach huts (some available for hire), a cafe with ice cream shop and occasional dolphin sightings.
The beach used to be known as Gentleman’s Beach, because in Victorian times only men were allowed to bathe there!
The nearest parking is on the street opposite the railway line. You can cross a footbridge from there to get to the beach or enjoy the view from the coastal path above. There is also a car park and on street parking in Dawlish town centre.
Dogs are not allowed on Coryton Cove beach from May 1 to September 30.
This is one for the adventurous families.
You park in Holcombe village and then walk down the steep Smuggler’s Lane to access the beach.
From there head under the railway line and up onto a sea wall path.
Keep a close eye on little ones as there are steep drops until you reach some steps down onto the beach. And the steps are narrow and open to the beach.
It is a sandy beach with good waves for bodyboarding.
You also get dramatic red sandstone cliffs at each end which you can imagine as ideal cover for smugglers who made use of this remote beach in years gone by.
There is a kiosk at the bottom of Smuggler’s Lane selling drinks and snacks.
This is also an excellent spot for train spotters as you can get really close to the trains heading in both directions along the line.
This narrow, isolated beach is used mainly by locals and there are no lifeguards.
Dogs are allowed on Holcombe beach.
Address: Holcombe Beach, Holcombe, Teignmouth, Devon, EX7 0JL.
We discover if Cofton Holidays is as good as it sounds for a break with children
Cofton Holiday Park/Cofton Holidays
Where is it?
Cofton is at Starcross near Dawlish in south east Devon, 20 minutes from the M5 and Exeter.
What is it?
It’s a five-star holiday park. The 80-acre site is family-run and has won multiple awards and we are very impressed, it’s one of the nicest holiday parks we’ve stayed at.
Is it family friendly?
Yes, very much so, there are lots of facilities for children – indoor and outdoor pools, an arcade and a woodland adventure area.
There are indoor and outdoor play areas for younger children and bookable activities.
It’s a great holiday park for children – our two love it as do we.
There are various options – from camping through to more luxurious options.
Luxury lodges at Coftons
You can take your own tent, caravan or motorhome.
There are static caravans, luxury holiday lodges with hot tubs and holiday cottages and apartments to choose from.
We stay in a static caravan in a great location, next to the centre where reception, the pools and restaurants are based.
Our static caravan
It is warm and cosy with two bedrooms and very comfy beds. The main bedroom has an en-suite, and there’s a separate bathroom with shower.
The double bedroom
The kitchen/diner/lounge is open plan.
The lounge area
It feels modern and clean, very comfortable with everything we need, except maybe a dishwasher!
The kitchen area
Food and drink
Two of the restaurants on site serve from the same good menu.
The Swan pub is on the ground floor and includes an outside patio.
Amelia’s upstairs is bigger and also includes outdoor seating overlooking the pool. There is a soft play area off this restaurant for under-eights.
Evening meals and Sunday carveries are also served in the Warren Retreat – an area which hosts children’s discos, live cabaret and other entertainment. This area is closed when we visit due to Covid restrictions.
There’s also a fish and chip takeaway and a small shop selling essentials including bread and milk.
There’s a lovely heated indoor swimming pool, which we use nearly every day. It is perfectly warm and a real hit with us all.
It is all one depth, there are splash taps and large, clean changing rooms.
There’s also a heated outdoor pool, open over the summer, great for warmer days.
There is an arcade with lots of games. It also has American pool tables and a mini tenpin bowling alley with four lanes.
*Woodland adventure area
At the top of the site and at the base of a forest Is a wooden adventure area complete with zip wire, assault course and climbing nets.
Woodland adventure play area
There is an outdoor play area with swings and climbing frames.
There’s a soft play area for younger children (closed when we were there due to Covid restrictions).
Anglers are well catered for here – there are well-stocked fishing lakes and fishing competitons. Assisted fishing is available for adults and children. All fish caught are put back into the water.
There are activities for children in the day – when we stay, youngsters can learn to fish or try pond dipping. At other times there are children’s discos in the evening and other entertainment.
Learning to fish
The nearest beach is the Blue Flag beach at Dawlish Warren. It’s a 35-minute walk or a seven-minute drive. There’s a big car park next to it which can get busy and a fun fair. Life guards are on duty during the summer months.
The town has a river, sea walk, crazy golf and places to eat plus Dawlish Town Beach.
*Haldon Forest Park
This is 3,500 acres of woodland with three walking trails and four cycling rails (bikes can be hired).
We take our children to Cofton Holiday Park and explore the surrounding beaches and attractions
“This is amazing,” says our son and we all feel the same.
The sheer joy of a family swim makes the months of lockdown seem a distant memory.
This perfectly warm indoor pool is just one of the excellent facilities at Cofton Holiday Park near Dawlish in Devon.
Swim sessions are pre-booked and limited to an hour to ensure the pool isn’t too crowded while Covid precautions are in place.
It is the same with Cofton’s large outdoor pool, which opens over the warmer months.
The pools are at the centre of the sprawling site along with restaurants and arcade and it’s all just a short walk from our static caravan.
We are in a Tamar model and it is a superb place to stay – modern, spotlessly clean, with two smart TVs, fast WiFi, two bathrooms, good kitchen facilities and plenty of space in the well laid out lounge/dining area.
Our static caravan
There are also luxury lodges with hot tubs, holiday cottages or you can bring your own tent, caravan or motorhome.
The lounge area
Children could spend their whole holiday at Cofton – there’s also a woodland adventure park with zip line, small playground, fishing lakes and woods to explore.
It would also be pretty easy to eat here every night with three restaurants (one closed during our visit), serving good family food and drinks at reasonable prices. There is also an excellent fish and chip shop and a small store on site selling essential food and drinks.
The outdoor pool and restaurants
Plus there are children’s activities run by the entertainment team with daily activities like pond dipping, fishing lessons and pirate adventures, when we visit.
With beautiful Devon on our doorsteps we have to get out and about too.
The beaches are our main aim and the nearest is Dawlish Warren. You can walk from the site – up steep woodland, along a footpath to a walk which takes about half an hour.
Alternatively it is a 10-minute drive from Cofton to the beach’s large car park, past a popular funfair.
This child-friendly flat beach stretches along a sand spit at the mouth of the Exe estuary.
It’s good for games and sandcastle building, there are lifeguards patrolling during the summer and a cafe and ice cream shop.
We also spend time at Coryton Cove near Dawlish, a sheltered partly sandy spot with a cafe.
For an adventurous trip out, try Holcombe Beach. You can’t park there but have to leave your car in the village and negotiate the steep Smuggler’s Lane.
Once you walk under the railway line, which hugs the shore, you come out on a high sea wall path (beware, there’s a sheer, high drop) with steep, narrow steps leading down to the sand.
The beach is good for bodyboarding and offers great views with dramatic red sandstone cliffs at both ends. If you love train-spotting then you can stand inches from the main railway line as services whizz past.
For a more sedate pace of life, try Dawlish town with its gentle river running though the park and traditional seaside appeal.
Devon clotted cream ice creams from Gaye’s Creamery, eaten beside the ducks floating along the weirs on the river makes for a relaxing afternoon.
You can also enjoy the crashing waves along the sea wall and games of mini-golf.
Cofton Holdays is only 20 minutes from Exeter and a similar drive to the hills of Dartmoor.
Haldon Forest Park with its range of bike and walking trails is another good option if you want to head inland.
Back at the park
After one hearty dinner at the park’s Amelia’s Cafe, as the evening sun shines over the rolling hills, we set out to explore the area on foot.
We look down to the holiday park laid out before us. “This is amazing,” I say.
We take a trip down memory lane in Exeter and find out if it is family-friendly and good for children
A tatty white door, three overflowing bins and a weed-covered driveway isn’t the normal tourist photo opportunity.
But it’s the outside of this terraced house in Exeter which has inspired our visit.
It’s where my husband lived when he was at university in Devon – and now he’s come back with a wife and two children in tow.
His time as a student hadn’t resulted in much knowledge of whether the city was child-friendly.
But on our short break we discover there is plenty – apart from taking a trip with dad down memory lane – to entertain the little ones.
This is the best place to start – the bustling waterfront has quirky shops, bars, restaurants and wide paths for cycling, scooting and strolling alongside the River Exe and Exeter Canal.
Saddles & Paddles
We take a different mode of transport by hopping into a canoe, hired from Saddles & Paddles on the Quayside. As the name suggests they hire bikes and boats from a waterside store.
After a cheery and comprehensive briefing, the four of us are paddling, occasionally even in unison, along the river and then canal.
Family canoe ride on the River Exe in Exeter
We work as a team to travel the two miles or so to the Double Locks pub where you can moor up and grab a drink in the large garden, which has a playground and plenty of space.
We then turn round and head back to the Quay, returning via a super low bridge which you have to duck under.
The canal is very safe as no motorboats are on it, just canoeists, kayakers and paddleboarders. It is a peaceful and fun way to start our visit.
Where is child-friendly to eat in Exeter?
After working up an appetite, we tuck into giant pizzas at On The Waterfront, which is next to Saddles & Paddles. It has good outside seating and an atmospheric inside in an old customs house.
On the Waterfront restaurant
The children’s pizzas, only £6 each, disappear in a flash and even our large adult portions go down well. This is a good, friendly, relaxed family restaurant.
On the opposite side of the water, in a glass building, sits another excellent eatery.
Lobster at Rockfish
Rockfish is a chain with restaurants around the South West. It’s known for its fresh seafood and changes its dish of the day daily to reflect what’s come out of the waters around Devon.
I have a fabulous lobster and our children tuck into tasty fish and chips.
The children’s menu, well priced at £7.95, includes an ice cream dessert and a great pack of goodies to keep them entertained.
It has a puzzle book, dolphin jigsaw, card games and colouring pencils.
The activities all carry a message about protecting the maritime environment.
Once you’ve headed up the steep streets (Exeter is a fairly hilly city) into the city centre, the cathedral should be your first stop.
The Cathedral Green is a lovely space and inside the large cathedral (entrance £5 adults, children free) you can collect a free children’s activity booklet, guiding you around the building with questions and clues to answer about what’s inside. There is also brass rubbing sheets you can do at a cost of £2.
Exeter is an historic city with links to the Romans, Normans and more. You can wander past Sir Francis Drake’s favourite pub – the half timbered Ship Inn, as you walk from the cathedral to the castle.
It is more castle walls really than traditional fortress but most of the walls sit in Northernhay Gardens, the oldest public open space in Britain, which dates back to the 1600s.
Today the gardens are peaceful, picturesque and a good space for children to run around.
If you exit the gardens via the war memorial and turn left you come to Exeter’s most colourful street, Gandy Street, with coffee shops and bars lining the cobbles. It is a good spot to stop for snack or drink.
The RAMM and Underground Passages
Two of the city’s other top attractions are closed when we visit.
The Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery (RAMM) reveals the area’s rich history and global connections.
And we were sad to miss the city’s Underground Passages where guided tours have taken place since the 1930s. They were designed to bring clean drinking water from natural springs outside the walled city.
The Underground Passages (pic: Mike Alsford)
Haldon Forest Park
One place which wasn’t closed – and very much open to the elements as we discover on a wet walk – is Haldon Forest Park.
Haldon Forest Park
About four miles outside the city, this large woodland area is packed with walkers, cyclists and Segway riders.
There is a Go Ape course, cafe, playground and lots of different length trails to tackle. As it’s pouring, we take the simple green route, which is a 1.5 mile circular walk with spectacular views out towards the sea.
You could easily spend most of the day at this large park, especially if you brought bikes with you.
There are other attractions on the outskirts of Exeter like Crealy Theme Park and Darts Farm Shopping Village.
The city is only around half an hour from the seaside resorts of Exmouth and Dawlish, as well as the hills of Dartmoor.
If you wanted to you could base yourself in the city and explore all of those areas.
But our time in Exeter is up and we have created plenty of new family memories to add to the student stories from two decades ago.
Mattel Play! will not be reopening following coronavirus closure
It was popular with youngsters who loved children’s favourites Thomas & Friends, Fireman Sam and Bob the Builder.
But now Mattel Play! on the Royal Albert Dock has closed for good.
The adventure play centre at the Albert Dock launched in 2016 and was the first of its kind in Europe.
It was split into three themed areas dedicated to the iconic characters.
The Heritage Great Britain attraction closed in March to prevent the spread of coronavirus but has now revealed that it will not reopen.
Harold the Helicopter’s ball pool
A spokesperson said: “Following five wonderful years at the Albert Dock, we have taken the difficult decision to close Mattel Play! Liverpool.
“As the focus of the Albert Dock continued to be more bars and restaurants, we have therefore, following a discussion with the landlord, agreed to exit our lease earlier than planned.
“We would have very much liked to have remained at the Albert Dock throughout the summer months but the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and the consequences which are likely to be felt for many months, made this ambition untenable.”
This website reviewed Mattel Play! and thought it was great for younger children who were fans of Fireman Sam, Bob the Builder and Thomas.
Navigate along the middle of the canal where the water should be deeper but when passing another moving boat, stay on the RIGHT – remember it is the opposite side to road travel in the UK.
The speed limit is 4mph, walkers will overtake you. Slow down when passing moored boats, other moving boats, when going around corners and approaching tunnels. If you make a breaking wash behind you, you are going too fast.
How to stop
You use reverse to slow down and to stop a narrowboat. Small thrusts on the throttle and then back to neutral will slow the boat down quickly and smoothly.
Right of way
When approaching a bridge or a tunnel with room for only one boat, the craft nearest has the right of way. When waiting, stop and keep to the right.
Give way to non-powered craft like canoes and rowing boats.
The tiller is at the back of the boat. Move the tiller in the opposite direction to the way you want to go – pushing it right sends the boat left and left sends it right. It can be hard to remember this when you are panicking!
Try to always think ahead as a canal boat can be slow to react to a turn, especially at low revs when you will have less control. The turn will continue after you want it to if you don’t centre the tiller before the turn is completed.
Also be aware that as the boat turns in the middle, the front might be okay but the rear may hit something. To move the back of the boat (the stern), push the tiller the way you want the rear to go.
If you are in danger of hitting something put the throttle in reverse to slow down or stop.
How to park/moor a narrowboat
You can park where you like as long as it does not create an obstruction such as just before a lock, near to a bridge, on a corner or at a water point.
Approach slowly and when you are parallel with the side, use reverse gear. Get close enough so that a passenger can step off safely with a rope.
Look for mooring points with rings in the ground as these are the simplest to use. Otherwise you can use a mooring pin/metal stake which you hammer into the ground. Make sure you hammer the mooring pin right into the ground or it may be pulled free by the weight of the boat.
Tie the boat at the front and back, I asked our instructor to show me twice how to tie the ropes to ensure I got it right and was very glad I had.
Keep the rope tight – if it is loose, the boat will bang against the side when other boats pass or can come away altogether if not knotted properly.
Bond class narrowboat, Askrigg
How to turn your canal boat around
If you need to turn your narrowboat around, there are turning places every few miles called winding holes or swinging areas.
These are wider parts of the canal, marked on maps that you can plan for in advance.
When you are turning, keep the propeller and rudder away from shallow water and debris. Aim to put the bow/front of the boat into the winding hole, reverse and then go forwards and away in the other direction.
Look out for the wind or current causing difficulties and if necessary, someone can step on to the towpath and use a rope to help.
The wind once prevented us from making a turn and a friendly man on the side asked us to throw him a rope so he could help out. He said it had happened to several boats before us which made me feel better!
Listen and look out for boats already heading towards you through the tunnel if it is too narrow for two boats.
If the way is clear, put on your headlights and sound the horn before entering the tunnel. Turn the internal lights on too.
Make sure nobody is on the roof or the side of the boat.
Coming out from a tunnel
When heading towards a small bridge, the space to navigate through can appear alarmingly narrow.
Do your best to line up the boat as you approach, get the front end into position and under the bridge. Then steer the back through. You may hit the sides but it shouldn’t do any harm at a slow speed.
You use a lock key to wind the bridge up, it can seem as if it is not fully open if it hangs a little over so be careful when navigating underneath it.
Close the bridge behind you unless there is another boat waiting to use it.
Canal swing bridge
A lock is used to raise or lower a boat to the level of the water ahead.
They can be pretty daunting the first time you use them as there is a lot to think about.
There is usually a queue of boats so wait your turn and don’t be afraid to ask someone to help you. We did and having expert reassurance from seasoned boaters made the lock experience more relaxing.
Remember, if you are going up, the lock needs to be empty first and if you are coming down, the lock has to be full.
One person needs to get off the boat before the lock, armed with a lock key called a windlass. They slowly and carefully open and close the gates and the paddles which let the water in and out, in the correct order.
The person at the helm has to steer the boat into the lock and keep it as far forward as possible as there is a ledge/cill at the back which the boat can get caught on – look out for the cill marker to show you where it is.
Navigating a lock on the Llangollen Canal
Filling up water is simple but there aren’t that many places to do it. Boat hire companies recommend you fill up every day, we found that wasn’t essential but every other day is a must.
You can stop at a water point (marked on the map and signposted) and operate the tap using the Yale key your boat hire company should have given you.
You connect one end of the boat’s hose pipe to the tap and insert the other end into the hole of the boat’s water tank.
We were told the water can be drunk but we had taken bottled water.
Canal boats have chemical toilets which hold the waste in a tank on board.
We did not need to empty ours but check with your hire company how to at a pump-out point if you are staying on the boat long enough to need to do so.
Work together – we naturally found which jobs we were best at and got much better at mooring and doing all the necessary checks.
Take it in turns to steer and relax and make sure you enjoy the slow pace of life, the surroundings, the friendliness of people you pass and have fun.
How to keep children happy and safe on a narrowboat trip
To our children’s great excitement, we recently took them on a narrowboat holiday – the prospect of our own barge for a few days really captured their imagination.
Home for the break was a 67-foot boat along the Llangollen Canal between Shropshire and Wales (full story here).
We loved the sense of freedom and slow pace of life and learned a lot in a short space of time.
But how do you keep children happy and safe on a canal boat holiday?
First off – are children safe on a canal boat?
We felt that at aged nine and six, our children would be safe – they both swim and follow instructions, plus they were happy to wear life jackets.
To be honest, I would not have wanted to take this holiday when they were toddlers.
It would be hard work and you would need to keep an eye on them at all times. Plus you would need more than two adults when going through locks for example – one to helm, one to operate the lock and another to look after the children.
How to prepare children for a canal boat holiday
You will want your children to be excited about the holiday and all they can do to help.
But also make sure to give them some general safety advice.
Talk them calmly through the dangers and how to stay safe. You could also show them a video.
General safety advice for children on narrowboats
Children should wear a like jacket
*Wear lifejackets and non-slip shoes
*Don’t run by the water
*Don’t lean too far over the side
*Step on and off the boat when it is safe to do so, don’t try to jump across a gap.
*Be very careful at locks and listen to instructions. Locks have steep sides and water comes in and out quickly.
*Children should always be supervised by an adult.
What to pack for children on a canal boat holiday
*Comfortable clothes including shorts and fleeces.
*Anorak and waterproofs.
*Life jackets/buoyancy aids – check with your boat hire company if they are provided, ours were with Anglo Welsh.
*Scooters or bikes if allowed as large sections of the canal towpath are flat and have a hard surface. You can send one adult off with the children while the other steers the boat. But check with your hire company how many are allowed and where you can keep them.
*Most importantly, pack activities for the children to do while travelling (see next section).
What activities to take for children on a canal holiday?
It’s a fantastic novelty for children to be in a floating home, relaxing, playing, watching the world go past, helping with some of the jobs.
But there are also hours spent travelling where kids can get bored.
Take reading books, activity books, board games, toys, paper and pens with you plus tablets or whatever else your children enjoy to pass the time.
If there is WiFi and a television, they may not work.
Pack a camera children can use to take photos, but not an expensive one in case it falls in the canal!
Take some binoculars. You can get children wildlife spotting and feeding the ducks.
And there will be plenty to teach them about the history of the canals.
Or take hats and pretend to be pirates.
Don’t go too far
It’s tempting to power on to new destinations with a tick-list of achievements.
But be flexible, the best times on our trip were when we ended up in a random spot in the evening and headed off in the fresh air to explore nearby footpaths, fields and woods.
Exploring the countryside at St Martin’s in Shropshire
So don’t be too rigid and build in plenty of stops if the weather is dry, so that children can stretch their legs and whoever is at the helm can relax.
If children are inside, make sure the lights are on when you go through a tunnel else it will go very dark very quickly and they won’t be able to see.
If they are outside, ensure an adult is with them and they stay seated as tunnels can be very narrow and low.
Our two loved the tunnels and we played an echo game to keep them entertained but they can be very long and dark so some children could be scared.
Warn them that you will be turning the headlight on and sounding the horn before entering.
And obviously ensure nobody is on the roof or side of the boat.
Going through Chirk Tunnel in Wales
What jobs can children do to help on a boating holiday
There are different boating jobs children can help with depending on their age.
They can help plan the route, keep the boat tidy, cast off and tie the ropes.
Older children can help with the steering under supervision.
They can also help with working the locks as long as they know how to do so safely.
However, don’t get them doing every lock with you because they get just as much fun from sitting on the boat as it rises or falls in the lock.
Younger ones can look out for tunnels, bridges and oncoming boats.
We got our children to keep tabs on the number of each bridge because that tells you whereabouts you are on the canal.
Our daughter helps lift a bridge at Froncysyllte in Wales
What route to take with children
Pick places which will entertain children – work around stopping points which have family attractions where possible.
For instance we made sure to stop at Ellesmere because of its lake walk, playground and sculpture trail.
Pick spots which are near to playgrounds, woodland walks or leisure centres.
Blakemere at Ellesmere
Most importantly have lots of fun. You can feel like a real team on this sort of a holiday and it will certainly be one they remember.
We share all the details of our 67 foot bond class Anglo Welsh barge
Boat hire company Anglo Welsh has more than 160 narrowboats at 11 bases across England and Wales.
We hired one from its Trevor Basin site in north Wales to take across the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal into Shropshire.
It was our first canal boat trip and we booked it through Drifters Waterway Holidays.
We had a great time (read our full review) Here we’ll look at the boat in more detail and explain how suitable it is for children.
We hired a 4-6 berth canal boat called Askrigg, a bond class narrowboat, which is one of the most luxurious that Anglo Welsh offers.
Bond class narrowboat, Askrigg
Let’s start with space and there was plenty of it. The length of the boat is 67 feet and it’s nearly 7 feet wide. It doesn’t even feel that narrow.
It’s quite dauntingly long when you take the helm for the first time but it is fabulous for the children to have so much room to move about and play.
Starting at the rear is a bedroom with two small single beds.
There are two small beds in one bedroom
A narrow corridor, which could be a squeeze for some, runs alongside the next three rooms.
There is a bathroom, a bedroom with a double bed followed by a second identical bathroom.
The other bedroom has a small double bed
It opens up into a galley area with kitchen and dining table with sofa-seating which converts into another bed if needed.
At the front of the boat are two leather chairs facing a TV and radio.
Inside the Anglo Welsh narrowboat Askrigg
It’s a great layout and worked well for us – having two bedrooms and two bathrooms is a real bonus.
There are places to sit outside at the front and rear of the boat.
Was it easy to helm?
It is straightforward, once you’ve grasped that turning the tiller right makes the boat go left and vice versa.
As you steer from the rear, take glasses if you need them!
It’s good fun, rewarding but never relaxing when you are at the helm. It’s definitely best to take it in turns if there are two of you, to give each of you a chance to fully enjoy the experience.
What about equipment?
The boat is very well equipped. We found plenty of crockery, pots and pans, cutlery and cooking utensils. It was all in an excellent condition, very clean, and most of it looked new.
There is a gas oven, grill and four-ring hob as well as a microwave (only use the microwave when the engine is running or it will sap all your power). A kettle to boil on the hob is provided as well as a fridge freezer.
Bedding and towels are provided, along with a hairdryer and a couple of folding chairs.
What about gadgets?
There is a small TV with signal dependent on your location – we didn’t get ours to work but it does take DVDs.
There is also a radio and CD player.
In the lounge area are two plug sockets and underneath the television is a cigarette lighter point.
Try to charge mobile phones and other devices while the boat is moving as electricity drops when the engine is turned off.
Is there space to shower?
The bathrooms are a fairly tight squeeze for an adult around the toilet and sink areas but the showers were large, powerful and warmed up instantly.
Don’t forget to pump out the shower using the button at the side of it where you are done. A new bar of soap is supplied in each bathroom.
The chemical toilets are flushed using a lever with your foot.
Canal boat toilets use a sealed holding tank on board which you empty at a pump-out point if and when you need to – we didn’t.
Is there enough water and can you drink it?
There is initially enough water onboard for at least a day.
You can stop at a water point (marked on the map and signposted) and access the tap using a key Anglo Welsh give you.
You connect one end of the boat’s hose pipe to the tap and insert the other end into the hole of the boat’s water tank.
It’s a really simple process once you’ve managed to moor up!
We were told that it’s best to fill up every day, but we were careful with our water usage and managed every other day.
You can apparently drink the water but we took bottled.
How does electricity work on an Anglo Welsh boat?
We never ran out of power. An inverter on the boat converts the power from the onboard batteries.
The amount of power available depends on how long the engine has been running so keep it running for a time when you are moored (but not after 8pm).
It’s recommended to charge mobiles and tablets etc when the engine is running so you don’t drain the batteries.
Was there heating on the boat?
All the company’s boats have gas central heating with radiators and ours was cosy and warm.
There’s also a multi-fuel stove, which we didn’t use.
Are there life jackets/buoyancy aids?
If you request them when you book, you can chose a life jacket to fit when you are at the boatyard before you depart. Both our children had one and were happy to wear them.
Are pets allowed?
Yes, up to two dogs are allowed, one is free to bring, a second costs £25 or £35 depending on the length of stay.
Are bikes allowed?
You can take one or two bikes but they have to be kept outside and you need to be careful when going under bridges or tunnels if you leave them on the roof.
Was it clean and Covid-compliant?
Canal boating is an excellent socially-distanced holiday option as you have self-contained accommodation and you are never too close to other people.
Our boat was very clean and had been thoroughly disinfected beforehand. Anti-bacterial spray and cleaning products were supplied on board.
Do they tell you how to use the boat?
Yes, the handover is very thorough. Ours took an hour as the Anglo Welsh staff member explained every aspect of the boat, how to helm it, all the safety precautions and more.
He also had plenty of time for questions and even headed out of the marina with us for the first few hundred yards of our journey to help with any teething problems and offer tips.
On arrival back, the staff turned our boat round for us and moored it.
We collected our boat from Trevor Basin in north Wales. There is free parking at the boatyard and we were able to park right next to the barge, which was great for loading and unloading.
A great space for children with everything you could need.
Our first boating holiday takes in the famous Pontyscyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal
I have been in charge of an 18-tonne canal boat the length of a lorry for roughly a minute.
Concentrating hard, I navigate on to the Pontyscyllte Aqueduct, the width of our craft Askrigg, trying to ignore the 40-metre sheer drop on one side into the River Dee.
The expert, who has just given us an hour’s worth of thorough instructions, steps off the barge and we are alone crossing the longest aqueduct in Britain and the highest in the world.
As introductions to canal life goes, there’s nothing like being thrown in at the deep end as our two children enjoy the ride and my husband helps direct from the front – almost 70 feet away.
We are on a Drifters waterways holiday and our Anglo Welsh boat has just left Trevor basin near Llangollen in north east Wales.
About to depart from Trevor basin
Our four-day route is along the Llangollen Canal with overnight stops at the border village of Chirk and the Shropshire town of Ellesmere.
I quickly discover that canal boating is simultaneously very relaxing and stressful. Once we cross the aqueduct with its amazing views, there are other boats to dodge, tight turns to master and long tunnels to chug through.
There’s even a swing bridge to lift and our six-year-old gets out, armed with the windlass (the tool to lift canal locks and bridges) and starts helping turn the gauge to raise it high above the canal and allow us to pass through.
At first, bridges and locks may be daunting but they quickly become part of the fun, giving the children some activity and making them feel part of the team.
Luckily, every boater seems friendly and happy to help if you get in a fix.
Helming takes some practice, the boat is steered from the rear with a tiller. You may find yourself gently bumping the sides, glancing off low bridges or getting stuck in shallow water.
Coming out from a tunnel
It is all part of the adventure and steering quickly becomes second nature, even if you can never entirely relax at the helm.
We take it in turns so one of us can be with the children, prepare food or even relax, lazing at the front, enjoying the scenery.
There’s something pretty awesome about travelling along in a floating home but I recommend mooring up as often as possible to explore the towpath and surroundings.
We love stopping where we want, discovering walks through the countryside with just cows for company. This slow pace of travel needs to be embraced.
We also make planned stops at Chirk near to the famous castle, Ellesmere with its mere, playground, sculpture trail and quaint town centre, the small village of St Martin’s and also the base at Trevor, from where you can cross the famous aqueduct, a world heritage site, on foot.
As your confidence dealing with the boat increases, so does your speed carrying out its regular checks, filling with water and tying the ropes.
And the quality of our craft Askrigg really helps make the holiday (read our detailed review of the boat). It is one of Anglo Welsh’s Bond class boats and sleeps up to six (read our full review of it here).
Inside our boat Askrigg
There is lots of space inside, two bedrooms, two bathrooms with showers, a well-equipped kitchen, lounge/dining area, television, radio, central heating and WiFi. It is also extremely clean and Covid compliant.
By the end of our mini-break it has become a home from home so as we head back over the aqueduct four days later, the view was just as stunning but any novice nerves about taking a canal boat holiday have disappeared.
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.
What will change at Merlin’s theme parks and other attractions when they reopen as Coronavirus restrictions are lifted
All Merlin Entertainment theme parks, attractions and accommodation are to reopen on July 4 for day visits and short breaks – with safety measures in place.
Alton Towers and Warwick Castle have been welcoming visitors since June 6 but they will be joined by Thorpe Park, LEGOLAND Windsor, Chessington World of Adventures Resort, the Blackpool Tower, SEA LIFE Centres and Madame Tussaud’s.
The attractions will be limiting visitor numbers to allow for social distancing.
All visitors must pre-book tickets online.
There will be safety measures in place including new routes around the attractions and new queuing formats.
Staff will wear PPE and carry out enhanced cleaning, in alignment with Government guidelines.
Nick Varney, Merlin Entertainments’ CEO, said: “We are delighted to be reopening following UK Government guidance.
“There has been a huge effort from our world class health and safety team, and all our teams across our attractions, to ensure we are ready to safely welcome guests back through our doors.
He said Merlin operates in 25 countries across four continents and the UK is the final country where attractions are still waiting to reopen fully.
“We look forward to welcoming guests from across the UK back to our sites, just as we have done successfully across Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and North America,” he said.
“In each location, we have seen our guests embrace the ‘new normal’ and actively adhere to the new safety measures we have put in place.
“After the extended lockdown, we recognise that people need leisure and escapism and to make new happy memories with those they love. We look forward to helping them do just that.”