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.
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 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.
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.
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.
We stay in a mobile home at this campsite in Peschiera del Garda
Campeggio Bella Italia.
Where is it?
On the shores of Lake Garda, at the bottom right of the lake, in Peschiera del Garda. Lake Garda (Lago di Garda), the largest lake in Italy, is in the north of Italy between Venice and Milan.
What is it?
It is a large holiday park with mobile homes, apartments, bungalows and camping pitches.
Is it family friendly?
There are little playgrounds/play parks, swimming pools and slides (not open out of season), a children’s club for 4-12 year-olds, as well as evening entertainment like mini-discos.
The site is good for riding bikes, walking and backs on to the lake which you can swim in during warmer weather.
Sport-wise, you can play tennis, football, basketball, beach volleyball and table tennis. And during the summer, guests can do water activities on the lake.
There are four types of mobile home here – we stayed in a Girasole Suite.
It slept six, with three small bedrooms, a kitchen/diner and bathroom with good-sized shower.
The kitchen had a hob (no oven), microwave and fridge/freezer. Towels and bedding are provided in the Girasole Suite properties only.
There was a sofa bench on one side of the dining table and a TV (no English channels on ours). Outside the mobile home, there was a decked area with table and chairs plus parking space for a car.
It also had a heater/air conditioning unit and the warmth from it was very welcome when we stayed.
Food and drink
There are four restaurants on site and the prices are very reasonable. We ate twice at Le Terrazze, overlooking the lake.
There is also Corte Riga, which has an almost identical menu to Le Terrazze but offers a takeaway option, Trattoria Bella Italia and a diner and takeaway cafe offering fish and chips and burgers which has an ice cream parlour attached.
*The lake – the site is on the southern banks of Lake Garda. There are exits on to the shallow pebbly beach and a small pier where you can walk down steps into the lake for a swim.
*It’s a 15-minute walk along the lake to the town, Peschiera del Garda, where you can shop, eat or catch a ferry.
*Gardaland theme park is a 10-minute drive.
*Verona is less than half an hour a way and we had hired a car so visited this city which was the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. For our top tips on what to do with children in Verona, read our guide: What to do with children in Verona
*There are other lovely towns around the lake you can visit by car or ferry – we tried Sirmione, Lazise and Garda.
*Supermarkets – there is an Aldi and Lidl nearby, handy if you have a car and want to stock up.
*The park was lovely and quiet as we visited at October half-term in the last week before the site closed for the winter.
*The ice cream parlour – we sampled a LOT of ice cream in different towns on this trip and the ice cream from here was our favourite. Great to walk to for a leisurely dessert after a meal too.
*The park’s position next to the beautiful lake.
*The children’s areas which open in the evening – a little fair and another part with a bouncy castle and bouncy slide.
Combined with evening entertainment and mini-discos, there is a lot to do after dark.
There is also a games room/arcade.
*The choice of restaurants and good-priced range of food.
We ate at Le Terrazze where a child’s pizza was only 4 euros and a plate of adult pasta around 8 euros.
*The swimming pools and water slides here look amazing. We sadly didn’t get to experience them as we visited out of season and they were closed.
*There are sports facilities like tennis courts and beach volleyball courts plus you can hire bikes.
*The distance from Verona airport – about a 25-minute drive.
*You can do water activities at the park’s Waterski Centre between May and mid-September. For an extra fee you can try parasailing, paraflying, a banana boat and more.
*You pay extra for wi-fi.
*You pay extra for bedding and towels.
*If your children will be going in the lake, take beach shoes as it is pebbly.
Campeggio Bella Italia, Via Bell Italia 2, Peschiera del Garda 37019
For more information visit the Campeggio Bella Italia website.
Disclaimer: We were provided with complimentary accommodation for the purposes of this review. All opinions are out honestly held views.
We stay at St Michael’s Manor Hotel with our children to visit the Harry Potter Studios and explore St Albans
St Michael’s Manor Hotel.
Where is it?
A 10-minute walk from St Albans city centre, which is just north of London near the M1 and M25 motorways. The building, converted into a hotel in 1965, is on Fishpool Street bordering the city’s large Verulamium Park.
What is it?
An historic 500-year-old building which is now a lovely four-star upmarket hotel in five acres of fabulous grounds, which include a lake. The hotel has 30 bedrooms, a bar and restaurant.
Is it family friendly?
Families are probably not the hotel’s main market (it is a popular wedding and fine dining venue) but they are well catered for here.
The main attraction for visitors with children is the large grounds, nice for children to run around and explore. There’s a pool with a fountain and big fish. Inside, family rooms are an excellent size and breakfast has plenty of child-friendly options.
The hotel’s suites are the rooms suitable for families of four. We stayed in Sycamore and it was a very good size with a king-size bed and a sofa bed for the children tucked around the corner so it almost felt like having two rooms.
Our hotel room, Sycamore
There were two TVs, one opposite each bed, a massive bathroom with large bath and separate shower.
There was also a desk, large wardrobes with plenty of storage, kettle, ironing board, coffee maker, biscuits and bottled water.
Food and drink
Breakfast was all self-service with a good selection of six cereals, including Weetabix, Cornflakes, Rice Krispies and Coco Pops. There were also pastries, fresh fruit, yoghurt and a full cooked breakfast offering.
Breakfast is served in the bright and spacious Lake Restaurant, which has views over the gardens and, as you might have guessed, the lake.
Breakfast at Lakeside Restaurant
The restaurant also serves afternoon teas, which you can eat on the large terrace or in the gardens on a nice day. The evening meal menu is upmarket fine dining so may not be ideal for children – we ate in the city centre instead.
The large Verulamium Park is a three-minute walk away. It has a playground, splash pool, football goals, Roman museum and plenty of space to run around.
The main attractions of the city centre, like the huge cathedral, market and museums are around a 10-minute walk.
St Alban’s Cathedral
We combined our visit with a trip to Warner Bros. Studios Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter, which is a 20-minute drive from St Albans.
*The grounds – a fantastic space to explore, although be careful with young ones around the lake. The five acres are flat and inviting to burn off energy. In the corners of the garden there are trees and bushes to play in. It could do with a swing or slide in a quiet corner, but apart from that it is a wonderful space.
*The room/suite – we all felt comfortable straight away, a lovely room with plenty of space and everything we could need.
*The bathroom – one of the best family bathrooms we have seen in a hotel – big with a large bath and separate shower, bath robes and fluffy towels.
*Breakfast – a good selection of food for children in a sunny and bright orangery-style restaurant, with great views over the garden.
*Parking – sounds a bit dull but parking is very tricky in St Albans so this is a godsend. The hotel’s large car park is free and stretches around the side and back of the property. It is close enough to the city centre to leave your car for your entire stay. You can stroll through the park to reach the attractions, or take the slightly quicker route along Fishpool Street to the Cathedral area.
Our son’s review!
It’s great, the rooms are named after trees.
It has a delicious breakfast, a fountain, a pond, a garden, deck chairs and a car park.
St Michael’s Manor Hotel, Fishpool St, St Albans AL3 4RY.
We review a stay at NH Amsterdam Centre in Holland/The Netherlands
Where is it?
NH Amsterdam Centre is a well-positioned hotel right next to Leidseplein square in Amsterdam. It is across the road from canal cruises, within five minutes’ walk of Vondelpark, Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum.
What is it?
A six-floor hotel featuring cafe and restaurant, gym and sauna.
Is it family friendly?
Fairly – standard rooms don’t accommodate more than two people so you will have to book a suite or superior room.
Breakfast was of a high standard but is adult-orientated – eg cereal options were cornflakes or six different types of muesli. But our children were welcomed with activity book and crayons.
The televisions in the rooms have a good choice of English language channels including some children’s programmes.
Tasteful and modern decor with a light wooden floor, the rooms are welcoming. We thought the beds were very comfortable and a good size.
Bathrooms vary, we tried a superior room with a bath and overhead shower and then a suite (which was a great size), which just had a large shower.
There were good size flat screen televisions (two in the suite)! Plus tea and coffee facilities and a small fridge/mini-bar.
The suite had two televisions
Food and drink
Breakfast has a high-quality selection of food. As noted above, it isn’t geared particularly towards children but the food was excellent with eggs made to order, fruit, cooked options and pastries.
For lunch and dinner, the Copper Pot restaurant does not offer a separate children’s menu but they happily catered for our two.
The restaurant is at the front of the hotel, with modern decor looking out onto the road, park and canal opposite.
We all really enjoyed our dinner there and it was nice to finish the day close to bed for our children after a busy day exploring Amsterdam.
The location is great. Next to the busy Leidseplein, it is walking distance from three major attractions – Vondelpark, Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum.
There is a tram stop across the road with a frequent service into the heart of Amsterdam (Centraal Station is about a 15-minute ride on the tram). In addition, you can take lovely canal strolls just outside the door and catch several canal cruises (we took the Blue Boat company family cruise from just down the road from the hotel, see our review here). There are also plenty of places to eat around Leidseplein.
Location – far enough into the city to be near major attractions but well away from the seedier side of Amsterdam. The hotel is in a great spot for exploring.
Breakfast – a high quality selection of food in a nice dining area. The scrambled eggs were particularly good. The pastries were fresh and there was lots of choice – plus the colouring packs kept the children entertained.
Beds – comfortable and clean in bright and modern rooms.
Value – when we booked it was a great price for peak season, for the standard of hotel.
Address: NH Amsterdam Centre, Stadhouderskade, 7, Amsterdam, 1054ES, Netherlands.
We go glamping in style with our children at Holidaypark Duinhoeve in the Netherlands
What is it?
Holidaypark Duinhoeve (Recreatiepark Duinhoeve) is a relaxing and peaceful holiday park with chalets, lodges, holiday homes, glamping lodges, tents and camping options.
It has playgrounds/play areas, swimming pools and a café. There is children’s entertainment at peak times.
Watch our video of Duinhoeve here and read our full review and tips below.
Where is it?
It is in the middle of Holland, an hour south of Amsterdam, in north Brabant near Udenhout, a short walk from Loonse en Drunese Dunes and a 10-minute drive to Efteling Theme Park Resort.
Is it family-friendly?
Yes, this is a good holiday park for families with younger children especially.
We stayed in a seven-person glamping lodge. It was fabulous – crafted with beautiful wooden frames and interior, all covered with canvas.
Our glamping lodge at Duinhoeve
A big 48 square metres, it has an open-plan kitchen-diner and lounge area with an L-shaped sofa and tv. The kitchen has a hob, microwave combi oven, fridge, freezer, kettle and coffee maker, along with plates, bowls, cutlery and utensils.
The first bedroom has a double bed, the second has bunk beds and a single bed. Then there is a bedstead – a separate space up a ladder, filled with a double mattress.
There is one bathroom with a big double shower (no bath).
The children were really happy with the lodge – there is even an extra little space which little ones can use as a small den or play room, with a little doorway – or it would make a fabulous storage area.
And there is a large undercover decking/veranda area outside at the front with a big picnic bench and separate garden furniture sofas.
We loved staying in this glamping lodge, it felt almost new and very clean.
Food and drink
We bought supplies from a local supermarket, plus a few bits from home and mainly ate at the accommodation or made picnics.
But there is a restaurant on site with outdoor and indoor seating area.
Plus there is a restaurant called Landgoed Bosch en Duin, with a play area, a five-minute walk away where we stopped off one day for Dutch specialities poffertjes (small round Dutch pancakes) and apple pie.
*It is a five-minute walk from the site through woodland to stunning sand dunes – our children felt like we were in a desert.
Dunes of Loon
In fact, the Dunes of Loon in Drunen National Park, which formed 10,000 years ago, is sometimes called the Dutch Desert or Brabant Sahara. It is the largest sand drift area in western Europe.
*It is a 10-minute drive to Efteling – Holland’s biggest theme park, read our review of it here and watch our video below.
*The medieval city of Den Bosch is 25 minutes away.
It has a cathedral, museums, lots of shops and cafes, we sampled the city’s speciality – Bossche Bollen – a Danish pastry reminiscent of a huge round chocolate éclair or profiterole but much nicer.
Bosche Bollen, yum
*Beekse Bergen Safari Park is half an hour away by car.
*This holiday park has three play areas including a nice playground near to our glamping lodge and one next to the swimming pools, with a giant bouncing pillow trampoline.
*The swimming pools
The main pool is solar heated and 1.4m deep throughout. It is on the small side but we all enjoyed it – it was a great temperature, not too cold and we were all glad of it as temperatures reached 33 degrees during our stay.
The small children’s pool is shallow and has a pirate ship with two slides – perfect for toddlers and little ones.
*The surrounding area
Being next to the Dunes of Doon desert was a great bonus plus there are some good walks and cycle routes.
The fabulous glamping lodge we stayed in felt roomy and fresh and the children loved it.
*Dogs are allowed if you are camping, they are not allowed in any of the rental accommodation options apart from rental tents upon request.
We find a winning location for a family break near Chipping Norton in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds
Heath Farm Holiday Cottages
Where is it?
Heath Farm is near the village of Swerford on the eastern edge of the Cotswolds, just a few miles from Chipping Norton, within easy reach of the M40 motorway at Banbury.
What is it?
Five holiday cottages around a pretty courtyard set in 70 acres of gardens, woodland and farmland which guests can play in and explore. The cottages are four and five star and are converted from stone farm buildings. Two of them sleep four people, the other three are for two people.
Is it family friendly?
Children are welcome with plenty of games, activities and lots of wonderful woodland to explore. Outside is a big green lawn with swings from the trees, a trampoline, football net, croquet and other sports games available. There is also an indoor games room with toys for younger children, a pool table, table tennis table and loads of games and dvds.
Our cottage, Cobnut, is beautifully done out with traditional Cotswold stone walls, wooden flooring, and has great views over the surrounding countryside. It has modern facilities including TV and DVD, WiFi, Bosch dishwasher and Neff oven.
Downstairs is an open-plan lounge and dining room with wonderful views and a compact kitchen with granite worktops. The kitchen has all the equipment you could need plus free dishwasher tablets, tea towels and washing up liquid. There was also a carton of milk provided and a delicious cake from Cotswold Baking, which has a premises on the site.
Upstairs there are two lovely bedrooms both en-suite. Both bedrooms can be converted into two single beds, or one king size double. The front bedroom has an en-suite shower room, the rear bedroom has a bath and shower.
There is a handy porch for storing wet boots and outside there is a dining table which looks over the lovely courtyard.
This was family-friendly when we visited, with a large garden with ten tables outside. Inside the recently renovated pub welcomed children with colouring books and pens. The children’s menu had classic dishes like fish and chips, burger and chips, macaroni cheese and sausage and mash. Our meals were very high quality, large portions, cooked quickly and with very attentive service.
The nearest large village is Great Tew, a picture postcard part of the Costwolds. You can stroll past thatched roofed cottages, enjoy walks in rambling countryside and indulge at the local pub the Farndale Arms or the tasty Bakergirl cafe and takeaway.
A few miles past Wigginton is a small children’s farm and playground. The site is a little rundown and overgrown but has a good selection of ducks and farm animals. The staff are happy for you to take time holding rabbits, guinea pigs and gerbils. You can easily pass an hour or two here.
Further afield you have the famous sites of the Costwolds including Chipping Norton, Stow-on-the-Wold and Bourton-on-the-Water.
*The gardens – 70 acres to explore is a child’s paradise. A safe, wide lawned area with swings, trampoline and croquet lawn is a good place to start. Then there are woodland trails and paths to explore. Most of the site is safe but watch children by some steep drops, particularly near the pond area.
Heath Farm has woodland walks
*The friendly hosts – you’re greeted by potentially three generations of the Barbour family. Five-year-old Violet showed us around, enthusiastically revealing hidden trails in the woods and picking raspberries from the fruit and vegetable garden.
Her grandparents Nena and David Barbour own the farm and renovated the holiday cottages – welcoming their first guests in 1992. They are on hand to help with questions, offer advice on the surrounding area and, if you are lucky, give away some homegrown fruit and veg.
Nena and David Barbour
*The quality of the cottage – traditional yet modern, the finish is of a high standard, it was extremely clean and tastefully decorated. We felt relaxed and comfortable straightaway.
*The games facilities – there are lots of games and activities to do. There is a large trampoline, croquet lawn, games shed full of golf, cricket, bowls and football equipment. Next to the courtyard is a giant chess and draughts board. If it rains there is an indoor games room.
*Towels and bedding are provided
*Our cottage had a washing machine/dryer. Guests also have access to a shared laundry room.
*If staying with young children note that the pretty courtyard which the cottages surround has a water feature and shallow pond.
*The farm produces walnuts and hazelnuts.
*Picnic baskets are provided so you can pack one to take out with you.
Both are on the eastern coast of this French island. But which is best for you and your family? We stayed at both with our two children over May half-term and compare them here to help you decide.
Our Eurocamp chalet at Marina d’Erba Rossa had three bedrooms but was small and basic.
Our Eurocamp mobile home at Marina d’Erba Rossa
The one at Sole di Sara was newer, more modern and a bit roomier, which made quite a difference. However this is a smaller site so book early to get your preferred type of mobile home. There were no three-bedroom versions available when we booked.
Our mobile home at Sole di Sari
Marina d’Erba Rossa is located on a lovely beach with access to the Med from next to the swimming pool. It also has an animal park within its spacious grounds. It is a bit tired looking in places.
The beach at Marina d’Erba Rossa holiday park in Corsica
Sole di Sari is more attractive and feels more salubrious, with its mountainous backdrop. Instead of the sea, this site has direct access to a river, which you can swim and paddle in.
Sole di Sari play area
The area surrounding Marina d’Erba Rossa, is the rather nondescript town of Ghisonaccia. There’s a nice drive into the mountains on the D344. Nearby beaches include Plage Pinia with a large pine forest beyond the sands.
The town of Solenzara is slightly nicer and has a marina. Sole di Sari is on the road to the mountain pass Col De Bavella. A winding (note for those who get travel sick) route with wonderful views. We met a rampaging wild bull on our way up! Nearby beaches include Scaffa Rossa, a five-minute drive away as well as Canella and Fautea just down the coast.
Marina d’Erba Rossa has a great selection of outdoor activities for children – a fabulous, big swimming pool, a nice playground/play park (climbing and slides, no swings), a raised enclosed netted play area with zip wire and trampolines, basketball court, tennis courts, crazy golf, outdoor gym, pool tables, table football, table tennis and a volleyball net on the beach. It also has an indoor gym and a children’s club.
Sole di Sari has a lovely playground, with a good variety of swings, fireman’s pole, seesaw etc. In the same area you can try French boules, basketball (bring your own ball) or table tennis (take your own bats and ball). There’s a river you can swim in, small swimming pool area and a seasonal children’s club.
We ate in the restaurants at both sites and really enjoyed the food. The menus were mainly pizza-based (Corsica is French but with Italian influence), but our children love pizzas, plus they were delicious. Prices were similar at both sites and each had indoor and outdoor areas to sit. The interior of Marina d’Erba Rossa was particularly nice. The exterior of Sole di Sari was peaceful with lovely views.
Both sites had a bar. The bar was open all day at Marina d’Erba Rossa.
Marina d’Erba Rossa’s swimming pool was much bigger and slightly warmer and well-suited for all ages.
The swimming pool at Marina d’Erba Rossa
The pool at Sole di Sari was small and there were also smaller pools and whirlpools around it.
Sole di Sari swimming pool
Shops and bakeries
There is a small shop at Marina d’Erba Rossa, selling essentials. There is also a Spar, 200 yards from the entrance of the camp and a larger supermarket three miles away.
There is no shop at Sole di Sari, the nearest bigger shop (a Spar) is the other end of the town, around two miles away.
Both holiday parks have a bakery service. Marina d’Erba Rossa’s was open 730am to 930am when we were there and sold just-cooked baguettes, croissants and pain au chocolat. Sole di Sari’s bakery was 8am to 9am and the food was not cooked on site.
There were two friendly Eurocamp representatives at each site. We received a text the day before each check-in from them, to welcome us and ask our arrival time. You can contact them during your stay via this number for help, extra pillows, queries etc, which is really handy.
There was a separate Eurocamp reception at both parks, they are not manned all the time and official check-in was not until 3pm so do let them know when you will be arriving.
We had a wonderful time at both holiday parks – they may only be half an hour apart but they are very different.
Marina d’Erba Rossa is very suited to active, older children. It benefits from the much larger pool and having the beach on its doorstep.
Sole di Sari feels much more peaceful and luxurious. The mobile home we stayed in was much nicer. It’s a hilly, attractive site with stunning mountain backdrops. The river is a lovely natural activity and the playground is great. But there is less for children, especially older children, to do and you have to drive to the beach.
So decide what your family’s priorities are or do what we did and visit both!
When to go
We visited at May and it was lovely and quiet. The weather was a good temperature, warm but not too hot although it rained twice.
Our Eurocamp Corsica tips
*Learn how to use the heating straight away. Though hot in the day, when we went the temperature really dropped at night and it was cold.
*You need to buy your own washing up liquid, washing up brush/sponge/cloth, toilet/kitchen rolls and all food and drink. Consider bringing small items you need in your suitcase.
*The mobile homes have kettles which can be boiled on the hob. Bring a travel kettle if you want a quicker morning cuppa.
*Bedding and towels need to be booked in advance if you want them and cost extra.
*You will need a hire car.
*Take your own balls, bats and rackets for basketball, table tennis and tennis.
In the small town of Solenzara, two thirds of the way down the east coast of Corsica on the Côte des Nacres (Coast of Pearls).
What is it?
Sole di Sari is a small, eco-friendly holiday park with a stunning, mountainous backdrop. This hilly site opened in 2012 and has nearly 140 mobile homes – 22 of them run by Eurocamp when we stayed (May half-term 2019).
Is it family friendly?
This is a peaceful, quiet site. There is less for children to do here than the other Eurocamp site in Corsica (Marina D-Erba Rossa, read our review of that here) – but it is more modern and beautiful.
There’s an outdoor play area, with climbing frames and swings, a basketball court, boules court and swimming pool. Plus there’s the added excitement of having a real river to paddle and swim in. And lots of nearby beaches to enjoy.
The holiday homes
The Eurocamp holiday homes here are modern and equipped with a hob (no oven), microwave and fridge freezer.
The Vista 3 bedroom sleeps eight (maximum six adults).
The Vista 2 Bedroom, which we stayed in, has a double room and a twin room and sleeps up to six.
There is an open plan kitchen/diner area. There are no televisions, no toaster or dishwasher. The kettle is heated on the hob. There is a microwave and plates, cutlery, saucepans etc.
It is more salubrious than the lodge we had at Marina D’Erba Rosa – although that site has plenty going for it.
Food and drink
As well as the self-catering option, there is a bar and restaurant on site. Pizza, pasta and salads are included on the menu and we enjoyed two meals there, one outside, enjoying the view over the swimming pool. You can also order takeaway.
There’s a bakery on site from 8 to 9am, but no shop. The nearest supermarket, a Spar, is five minutes drive away.
There is an ice cream parlour over the peak summer period.
The Alta Rocca mountains are a short drive away.
There are several beaches nearby. We tried Canella beach (five miles south). We really liked this beach although we got rained on after about 20 minutes!
Our children also enjoyed Scaffa Rossa beach, about a mile away, which had bigger, rougher waves and rocks on one side.
Scaffa Rossa Beach
We also went to Palombaggia (an hour’s drive), after visiting the town of Porto Vecchio. This is a popular beach and was the busiest we tried. It was a bit of a walk from the car park but nice with beautiful turquoise water.
*The modern holiday home/lodge/chalet.
*The stunning location. Even swinging on a swing seems more special when you are looking at mountains.
*The pool area has beautiful views – the main pool is small so may not be enough for older children and although meant to be heated, it was cold when we were there. It never got too busy though.
*The site is on a river, which you can swim and paddle in. The river bank is a rocky sun trap with sun beds tastefully placed here and there. (You can’t see the river from the sun beds).
*The lovely outdoor playground, basketball court and French boules area below the swimming pool.
*The site runs its own kids’ clubs during most of July and August.
*You have to pay for WiFi.
*There is no oven (just a hob and microwave), no dishwasher, no washing up liquid/brush/cloth, soap or tea towels provided.
*You hire bed linen and towels. The beds are not made up ready for you but are quick to do – just two sheets and a pillowcase.
*The nearest airport Bastia is 89km away.
*The nearest beach, Scaffa Rossa, is 1.5km away.
Sole di Sari Campsite, Route de Bavella – RD 268, Lieu dit Pianu, 20145, Solenzara, Corsica.
Marina D’Erba Rossa is on a beach on the quiet eastern coast of Corsica, halfway down the island, five minutes from the town of Ghisonaccia.
The beach at Marina d’Erba Rossa
What is it?
A fairly big holiday park with mobile homes and camping pitches.
Is it family friendly?
Yes, family holidays are the key market here. There is a good new playground, nice swimming pool, table tennis, mini golf and pool tables (for an extra charge). It is on a lovely big beach, which has a volleyball net. There is even a small animal ‘zoo’ with ostriches and llamas.
There’s also a children’s club and other entertainment.
The mobile homes
Our Esprit mobile home was compact and a little dated but really well positioned in the corner of the park next to the animals.
Our Eurocamp mobile home
It had three bedrooms (one double, two twins) which was great for our family of four, having six people in here would have been a squeeze.
The kitchen had a hob, microwave, fridge-freezer, plates, cutlery etc. There was no oven or dishwasher.
There’s a shower room and separate toilet, no television, decking and a gas barbecue outside.
Food and drink
As well as the self-catering option, this site has a lovely restaurant with outdoor seating too. The menu is dominated by pizzas, luckily they were delicious. There’s also a takeaway option.
There is a shop selling essentials and a bakery, which was open from 7.30am to 9.30am, selling freshly cooked baguettes, croissants and pain au chocolat.
Ghisonaccia is a quiet town a few miles from the site but has all the shops you need including a large supermarket. There is also a Spar store near to the site.
There are beaches along the coast including one with a huge pine forest.
It is an hour’s drove to the bigger cities of Bastia and Porto Vecchio.
The historic roman site of Aleria is a 20-minute drive.
*The swimming pool – not too cold and big enough to have plenty of fun.
*The beach and its location, accessed from next to the pool. It is a big, sandy beach.
*The outdoor play park/playground has new equipment which our two loved.
*There’s a raised netted area in another part of the park with trampolines and a zip wire.
*There is an indoor games/arcade room and gym.
*The restaurant is lovely, although didn’t open until 7pm.
*Having a small animal park/zoo on site was a nice touch although the peacock was a bit noisy, waking us up in the morning!
Marina D’Erba Rossa, Route de la Mer, 20240 Ghisonaccia, France
We stay at the chic Orchid Hotel in Bournemouth with our two children – read the review and see the exclusive video from our family stay.
What is it?
This is a stylish but relaxed boutique hotel in Bournemouth with 31 rooms, all with en suites. It opened in 2004 but has recently had a complete refurbishment.
Where is it?
The Orchid Hotel is near the centre of Bournemouth on Gervis Road, a few minutes’ walk from the town’s main beach and pier.
Is it family-friendly?
It is modern, quiet and welcoming with friendly staff. We felt completely at ease with our children there. There are some nice child-friendly touches like boiled egg and soldiers on the breakfast menu.
There are different style rooms to choose from for a range of prices.
One of our interconnecting rooms
We had two interconnecting rooms. These are located either side of an entrance hall behind one shared front door. The two inner doors are heavy and could not initially be left open. This would have disappointingly giving us two separate rooms (not much use unless we split up with one adult and one child in each room. But we checked at reception and were given two door stops. Once the doors were propped open, it gave us a luxurious two-bedroom suite.
The other interconnecting room with single beds
One room had a king-sized bed and bathroom, the other had twin beds and a smaller bathroom. Both had televisions and each had chairs to sit at in the window.
One of the en-suites
Food and drink
We enjoyed a good quality breakfast with a choice of cereals, fruit, yoghurt and all the hot food needed for a full English. Guests can eat outside in the garden on sunny days.
We were tempted by the restaurant (called No. 39 and run by a Michelin-starred head chef) for our evening meal. But we decided to go for a safer option with our two and found Urban Reef on the sea front in nearby Boscombe. It was fabulous – read more about it and our full review of Bournemouth here.
The Orchid Hotel is near to the town centre and a 12-minute walk from East Cliff beaches, Bournemouth Pier and Bournemouth aquarium Oceanarium. Bournemouth Gardens are a 13-minute walk and Bournemouth Railway Station is a 14-minute walk away. See our full review and video of Bournemouth here.
*The size – not too big, not too small with a cosy, relaxed feel.
*The decor – tasteful and modern, especially the main areas.
The bar area
*The location – not in the busy heart of Bournemouth but close enough.
*Free parking with several spaces in front and a car park behind.
*There is also free Wi-Fi.
The Orchid Hotel, 34 Gervis Road, Bournemouth, Dorset, BH1 3DH
How to book
For more information see The Orchid Hotel website.
Our exclusive video showing you around the hotel
We stayed as guests of The Orchid, all views are our own.
Is Port du Crouesty holiday village, in France, family friendly?
Where is it?
Port du Crouesty holiday village is in a quiet location in south west Brittany – about two hours drive from St Malo. It is sandwiched between a busy marina and a sandy beach at the end of the Rhuys Peninsula.
What is it?
It’s a large holiday village with apartments set between a port and a beach. The resort has hundreds of apartments, two swimming pools, playgrounds, a shop and restaurant. It is run by Pierre & Vacances.
Is it family friendly?
Yes, the resort is geared around family holidays. Our room overlooked the harbour and had a grassy area outside for playing games. There is plenty of space, a lovely beach with sailing facilities, bike hire and a children’s club. It is a very French area so English is not widely spoken.
Our family room was on the small side but it was nicely furnished in a dark blue nautical theme.
We had a double bedroom and two sofa beds in the lounge/kitchen area, which was fairly well equipped.
The apartment had a nice balcony with dining table for four. French rooms tend to be smaller than English so consider moving up a grade in your accommodation to get extra space.
Food and drink
There is a cafe open in high season in the centre of the resort and the marina area has at least a dozen options ranging from fancy restaurants to bakeries and takeaway pizza stalls.
The beach and marina are the two nearest attractions but it is a 20-minute drive to Vannes, a beautiful walled town with a bustling market. There are lots of beaches to explore within a short drive, and you can catch ferries to nearby islands too.
*Beach. The lovely sandy beach, Plage du Fogeo, borders the holiday village with a bustling sailing club. It boasts golden sands and relatively shallow waters, ideal for family time.
Playing on the beach at our resort
*Harbour. The busy harbour is good for a stroll and has plenty of cafes and restaurants. There are stalls selling crepes and Breton biscuits too. Our favourite restaurant of the bunch was Le Cap Horn on the quayside.
*The balcony. Our apartment had a great view over the marina in the evening and was a lovely spot to eat.
*The space. This is a large holiday village with plenty of green space, two small playgrounds and two pools.
*Walks. A short walk away is the Carin Petit Mont ancient site which was some lovely walks around the headland, a good fun way to burn off a big dinner.
Pierre & Vacances Port du Crouesty, 56640, Arzon, France.
St Ermin’s Hotel in Westminster proved a hit with this family on a break to London
What is it?
St Ermin’s Hotel is a grand and classic London hotel which balances its history with a relaxed attitude to children.
Where is it?
This hotel is ideally situated in the heart of Westminster, between Parliament and Buckingham Palace, right opposite New Scotland Yard. The area feels very safe and quiet in the evenings so there’s no noise to wake the little ones.
Is it family friendly?
Yes, the staff enjoy children being around, breakfast is relaxed, the outside entrance has a little green space and the Budding Bonds themed package offering a treasure hunt for youngsters is a nice touch (see more under highlights).
The hotel’s budding Bond’s package
We stayed in a lovely family suite at St Ermin’s which boasted two big beds and the added bonus of two bathrooms. It was nicely decorated and a good size for London where hotel rooms are usually on the small side.
It had a large TV and sofa for relaxing on.
Food and drink
Breakfast is very tasty but the real treat was an afternoon tea. The sandwiches and cakes are beautifully presented and our children loved the experience. There is champagne for the adults and on a warm day you can eat outside on the balcony overlooking the wonderful entrance to the hotel.
The Caxton Grill is the restaurant for evening meals, it is quite formal but lighter bites (perhaps better suited to children) can be eaten at the Caxton Bar next door.
The bartender will even mix a child’s cocktail which certainly impressed our son.
It is walking distance to Buckingham Palace, St James’ Park, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, the Southbank. There are plenty of restaurants on the main road towards Victoria, about a five minute walk from the hotel.
*The Bond theme. This hotel is where MI6 were based during World War Two and the 007 package is a perk for budding James Bonds. Staff handed our son a sheet with clues to solve around the hotel. It’s a great way to explore – the staff really embrace it, pretending to be security officers if you ask them for help – and when you’ve finished you get a couple of special prizes.
The hotel interior
*The entrance. It gives a real wow factor for children and adults thanks to the tree lined entrance and grand staircase next to reception.
*The history lesson. St Ermin’s housed MI6 during World War Two and more recently it was the venue where Boris Johnson amazed the country by pulling out of the race to become Prime Minister.
*Exploring. The hotel is large with plenty of nooks and crannies, an old library and corridors to venture into. Our children enjoyed exploring such an historic building.
St Ermin’s Hotel, 2 Caxton Street, Westminster, London, SW1H 0QW.
How to book
This is a brilliantly-located and child-friendly hotel in the heart of London. For more information and room rates visit their website St Ermin’s
We stayed as guests of St Ermin’s for this review. All views are our own.
Does Staycity in York offer the best of both worlds for families, with an apartment and a hotel in one?
Aparthotels are a growing type of accommodation, especially in major cities.
The idea is to offer the facilities you would expect from a hotel, with the space and freedom of an apartment.
Staycity is one of the largest operators with aparthotels across Britain, Ireland and France.
We tested their York aparthotel to see if it was a good option for families and better for children.
Where is it?
Staycity Aparthotel York It is at the southern end of York city centre, just outside the city walls, next to the Barbican centre.
What is it?
Staycity describe their aparthotels as a perfect blend of home and hotel, in city centre locations. This one was built in 2016.
Is it family friendly?
Yes, when we stayed here, we found it excellent, our apartment was roomy with everything we needed and was much more relaxing than a cramped hotel room.
Our lounge/diner/kitchen area
There are 197 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments. Ours was a two-bedroomed apartment with two modern bathrooms and a lounge/kitchen/diner with cooker, microwave dishwasher and all kitchen equipment.
The main bedroom had an en-suite, tv and double bed. The second bedroom had twin beds.
Food and drink
There is a relaxed café in reception where we ate a simple buffet breakfast for £7.95 per adult. Children’s breakfast is free (up to two children free per paying adult).
The reception/cafe area at Staycity Aparthotel York
There is a Co-op store next door if you want to cook for yourself. Staycity is also near to several restaurants. We ate in a nice Italian called Totos.
The aparthotel is just outside the city walls, a five-minute walk from the city centre and near to lots of attractions including York Castle Museum.
*Our children could have their own room.
*The modern bathrooms.
*Towels are provided.
*The fully-equipped kitchen.
The dining area in our apartment
*As many guests eat in their apartments, breakfast was a relaxed affair despite there being only a few tables.
*Guests get discounted car parking at a multi-storey car park behind the hotel for £11 per day. We left our car here for the duration of our stay and walked everywhere.
*There is a gym and a laundry, although we didn’t use them and 24-hour reception.
Staycity Aparthotel York, Paragon Street, York, YO10 4AH.
We take our children to review Solent Hotel & Spa in Fareham
Where is it?
The Solent Hotel & Spa is in Fareham, south east Hampshire.
It’s in a good location, near the M27, between Portsmouth and Southampton.
What is it?
The hotel is part of the House of Daniel Thwaites company.
It’s a four-star business and leisure hotel and spa with a swimming pool, AA Rosette restaurant, tennis court, gym and neighbouring pub owned by the same company.
Is it family friendly?
Yes, very much so, this hotel was a real find and very popular with all four of us. Our children are really keen to go back.
*There is a children’s room filled with a PlayStation, table tennis table, pool table, board games and more.
*The indoor swimming pool was large, with a separate, shallow baby pool and comfortable seating around it. Three times a week, there is a special splash time with floats and toys.
The changing rooms are lovely. Getting the children showered and changed after swimming feels easier, with extras such as a costume dryer and plastic bags for wet things.
*There are woods behind the hotel to explore which our children enjoyed.
We had a signature family double – it was nicely decorated with a comfortable double bed and a sofa bed which our son and daughter shared. The sofa bed was great for our two but would be too small for a couple of teenagers.
The children were thrilled with little welcome packs for them on their bed, full of activities and treats. And two little dressing gowns (two bigger ones for us were in the wardrobe).
Our room at the Solent Hotel & Spa
Room amenities are good – a fridge held complimentary water and milk, plus there were biscuits, teas and coffee, a kettle and a desk.
If pushed to find anything to change I would say a step in our room next to the children’s sofa bed looked nice but could be a trip hazard at night.
Food and drink
The restaurant feels really nice to sit in, pleasingly designed and decorated. It has a choice of seating areas including a conservatory, an outdoor terrace and booths.
Breakfast was delicious with the most attentive, lovely staff, who specially made me pancakes one day when they found out how much I wanted some.
A sweet baked waffle special was lovely and brought to the table along with hot drinks.
Staff help you to a cooked breakfast while you help yourself to pastries, cereal, fruit, yoghurt etc, more than enough to keep everyone happy.
At night you can also eat at the hotel.
We ate at the Parson’s Collar pub next door, run by the same company, and also finished nicely with televisions and an ice cream bar. The menu was great and portions are generous.
The hotel is close to Whiteley shopping centre and leisure complex so there are plenty of places to eat.
It is about 15 minutes drive from the nearest beach, Lee-on-Solent.
It is also 20 minutes from Peppa Pig World and Paultons Park.
*The hotel is beautifully designed and our room was also nicely decorated.
*The fabulous breakfast and attentive breakfast staff.
*The games room and woodland are great extra entertainment.
*The swimming pool and changing rooms.
*There is lots of parking.
*Staff on reception were very helpful providing something I’d forgotten to pack.
It’s not often you get to stay in a castle – let alone one that has featured in ITV’s Cold Feet
Where is it?
It is in the Menai Bridge area just into Anglesey rising above the waters of the Menai Straits in its own large grounds.
What is it?
A castle built like a French chateau with 30 rooms and three self-catering lodges on site.
Is it family friendly?
Fairly, it is an historic house with some quiet areas for couples plus dinner is a very formal affair. But having said that the hotel does welcome families, giving them the option of self-catering lodges or hotel rooms. The staff are friendly and the outside space is great to run around and explore.
You have two options and we sampled both:
Our hotel bedroom had a large double bed and sofa-bed. The furnishings were top notch and the bathroom had luxury toiletries and a powerful shower. It was fun negotiating the winding staircase up to our room and the old fashioned lift as well.
A hotel room
If you prefer self catering, there are several options of varying sizes. We stayed in the Gate Lodge, which used to be home to the attendants who worked for the Chateau owners.
The two-storey cottage had great views across the Menai Straits, plenty of space and a well-equipped kitchen. You get full use of the facilities but no food is included.
Food and drink
Breakfast was tasty and filling in a large, wood-panelled dining room. The evening meal was spectacular, with lobster pasta a hit with our four-year-old.
I enjoyed the best cooked steak I have ever had. It is a formal, romantic setting so I would definitely eat as early as possible with a family to avoid feeling uncomfortable – but don’t miss out because of that as the food is great.
The location provides easy driving to Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey Sea Zoo and the popular beaches in every direction. It is a long walk to the nearest shops and restaurants off site.
*Real history. How often can you say you’ve stayed at a castle? Chateau Rhianfa was built in the French renaissance style in the mid-1800s. Just going through the huge main door to reception feels like an adventure.
Inside Chateau Rhianfa
*The gardens. The beautifully kept gardens are great for exploring, there are steep bits so keep an eye on small children.
*Its own beach. Okay, that may be slightly exaggerating as there isn’t a lot of sand but when the tide is out on the Menai Strait, the hotel has its own stretch of mainly rocky beach to use. Think more rock pooling than lying on a lounger but it will keep children occupied for an hour or so.
*The wine bar. The best part about stopping here is exploring all the nooks and crannies inside and outside. There are lots of turret windows to grab a table and a view at, we found a wonderful secret bar called the Wine Cave complete with peep hole for a quick family drink. The children loved the historic feel of the bar.
Claim to fame
Fans of ITV’s Cold Feet will recognise this venue as it featured in an episode for the wedding of Spanish nanny Ramona in 2019.
We stay at Lalandia on a family holiday to Billund – the home of LEGO
Where is it?
Across the road from LEGOLAND Billund, in the small Danish town which is the home to the world famous toy.
What is it?
Lalandia is a Center Parcs-style resort with lodges, a huge indoor water park, an ice rink, soft play area and restaurants.
Is it family friendly?
Absolutely, it is geared around families with children of all ages. There are soft play areas for toddlers, mini golf and the Aquadome has rides for ages three up to teenagers.
You can rent a modern Scandinavian style chalet, which inside looked like a smart part of an Ikea showroom. We had a Classic Plus 4 with two decent sized bedrooms, a lovely lounge and kitchen area and a good sized balcony.
Our chalet at Lalandia
You have to hire bedding and there is a shower not a bath. The chalet has a good sized deck for sitting on and the park is large so there is plenty of space to run around with small playgrounds dotted around the site.
Food and drink
Denmark isn’t a cheap place to go but there are family-friendly options in Lalandia’s indoor ‘town square’ of shops and restaurants.
Lalandia town square
Our favourite was Ristorante Il Bambino, an Italian buffet. There are also Mexican and American restaurants along with cafes and take away choices. We also enjoyed the brilliant ice cream shop on site.
LEGOLAND – the home of LEGO is next door with a large theme park, which is the main reason to come here.
The entrance to Legoland in Billund, Denmark
Billund itself isn’t a particularly scenic town but there is a large zoo a short drive away.
*The Aquadome. This huge indoor water park, the biggest in Scandinavia, is the number one reason to stay at Lalandia Billund. There are slides for all ages and all bravery levels, warm toddler pools, a wave machine, gentle rapid ride and a giant splash zone where a 1,000 litre bucket of water loudly deposits its contents every few minutes. It is free entry if you stay in one of the chalets.
*Winter Wonder. You can hire your skates and get on the rink or grab a tube and take on a small ice slide. This space isn’t huge but it is something different for an hour or so. You have to pay to use all the Winter Wonder facilities.
*Monky Tonky Land. This is a giant soft play area with slides, tunnels and big ball pits. There are also children’s workshops. You get free entry if you are staying on site.
Lalandia Billund, Ellehammers Alle 3, 7190 Billund, Denmark
Our top tips for using Airbnb for a family holiday with children
We tried Airbnb for the first time for a holiday to Italy with our two children. We stayed in a remote location on a hillside in Tuscany – here is what we discovered about Airbnb.
How does Airbnb work?
Airbnb is the world’s biggest accommodation-sharing website with millions of users. It connects people looking to rent their homes or properties with those looking for somewhere to stay.
Hosts list and rent out unused spaces while travellers search for and book accommodation in 192 countries around the world.
Booking is straightforward although the sheer amount of choice can be overwhelming at first.
Make sure you use the filters to specify requirements like a pool in the summer or family-friendly accommodation.
This narrows down the search results plus there is a handy map on the site to show you where all the properties are, along with lots of pictures.
It is also wise to check the cancellation policy as there are five different levels ranging from no money back to free cancellation up to 24 hours before.
As a guest, you pay in full as you book through a secure platform, and hosts will receive that money 24 hours after guests check in.
It is definitely a cheaper option than traditional sites but beware of the hidden costs.
Our accommodation was very good value but some places stick on charges for extra residents in the small print and the cleaning costs vary quite a bit.
Look beyond the headline price per night.
This worked brilliantly for us, our host owned a group of apartments atop a hill in the Tuscan countryside. He responded quickly with loads of useful information and was always on hand to answer email queries before we arrived.
He met us upon arrival to show us around and answer any questions we had.
Some users report problems with disappearing bookings and payments. Airbnb say you should always pay through their proper channels to ensure you have some comeback if things do go wrong.
The reviews system
Airbnb is strict on reviews to ensure they are authentic so on lots of properties there isn’t much feedback.
But that does mean that the system is potentially more trustworthy than other sites.
We chose a property with some reviews (the host is often reviewed as much as the property) and found them to be spot on. We would always be cautious and book with a host who has a number of reviews.
Our host Gianfausto said “welcome to my home”. He even played the piano for guests and struck up a rapport with everyone staying there.
It felt more personal than a normal holiday and a bit different, I don’t think we have ever stayed anywhere with our children as authentic or remote.
We can see whyAirbnbis so popular, it gave us a very different holiday at an affordable price.
Answer these questions before booking an all-inclusive hotel for you and your children
All-inclusive holidays have never been as popular as they are now in 2018.
Holidaymakers on all-inclusive breaks can relax knowing after paying one price up front, all their meals and drinks have been paid for in advance. But it certainly doesn’t suit everybody.
So should you and your family go all-inclusive or not? The answer depends on you, your budget and where you’re going. Our comprehensive guide can help you decide.
What is all inclusive?
All-inclusive usually means that the accommodation, meals, drinks (soft and alcoholic) and entertainment are included in the cost. Some or all activities can also be added and occasionally also the airfare.
Where are you going?
It is important to take into consideration your destination when deciding whether to go all-inclusive.
In general the more familiar, cheaper and developed the location, the easier self-catering or a non all-inclusive hotel stay, will be.
In places like France and Spain, there are often nearby supermarkets, restaurants and bars, selling food and drink at reasonable prices.
But in destinations such as Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, Morocco and Cuba, there may be a lack of self-catering accommodation, limited restaurants and food can be expensive to buy. Also if safety is an issue you may be better off staying at and eating at a big resort.
So, unless you are a seasoned traveller, confident being out and about in less-developed areas with your children, staying at a hotel and eating there can be the more sensible option in some areas.
What do you want from your holiday?
If you want to relax away from the stresses of everyday life, with nothing to plan, everything taken care of for you, food prepared, drinks poured and entertainment for you and your children on the doorstep then all-inclusive could be for you.
But if you are adventurous, keen to explore the area, visit attractions and try out local restaurants, you may be better off self-catering, else you’ll be paying for food and drinks more than once and staying somewhere there is less incentive to leave. Self-catering also suits people who enjoy planning and are good at sticking to a budget while away.
We took a self-catering trip to Italy (read about it here) where we did a mix of cooking and eating out at lunchtime which kept costs lower than an all-in hotel.
How many people are going?
The bigger the group the easier all-inclusive may be. We recently took an all-inclusive trip to Fuerteventura (read about it here).
There were 11 of us, aged three to 70, and for us, all-inclusive was more straightforward.
It meant the children didn’t have to sit for ages waiting in restaurants for food as we ate buffet-style quickly and easily, there was something for all tastes and there were no worries about the bill or paying for drinks.
A villa is another good alternative for a big group. You can split the cost of accommodation, food and drink and take it in turns to cook. You will also have more space than a hotel room with communal spaces to socialise.
How long do you want to stay?
One complaint often levelled at all-inclusives is that it gets a bit samey. Same food, same pool, same activities.
A week suits us but I know people who love two weeks, as they feel they can really relax.
Pick a good all-inclusive like this one in Gran Canaria with three or four restaurants and you might find you have enough variety for 10 to 14 days.
The other way to break things up is to get out on excursions or attractions to keep the scenery fresh.
What is included?
Check what is included before you book an all-inclusive as it varies from resort to resort and some travellers end up paying for things they expected to be covered.
Added extras can include bottled water, snacks, activities, resort fees, hotel safe and Wi-Fi charges (and Wi-Fi is sometimes only available in the hotel reception).
There are usually one or two main buffet restaurants serving similar food.
There can be other restaurants such as Japanese, Thai or Asian eateries, which can be buffet-style or à la carte.
Sometimes only meals in the main buffet area are included in the cost and you have to pay to eat in any other restaurants.
Others allow a restricted number of visits to other restaurants while expensive all-inclusives may have no limit.
Sometimes there may be a cost for items like lobster and steak.
Often you have to reserve tables in all but the main buffet restaurants in advance. Check first as this can be before the holiday or on set days while you are there. Also ask whether there is a dress code.
The food package sometimes includes snacks and ice cream between meals.
For some people the free (well, included) drinks is the biggest draw as bar tabs can get very expensive.
Often it is the local brands of drinks (such as spirits and wine) that are given, with charges for imported brands.
But high-end all-inclusives can include premium brand international drinks. At more expensive resorts, you may also have waiter service on the beach, fetching you drinks and cocktails as you relax on a sun lounger or, more likely, build sandcastles.
Minibars in some all-inclusives include free drinks and snacks but check first. At the same time confirm whether room service is free.
So how much do you drink?
If you are a family of four, we calculate that both adults need to be at least moderate drinkers to save money going all-inclusive.
In a country like France where a decent bottle of wine can cost about £3, you won’t save a lot so assess the destination and be honest about your drinking!
The activities included in the cost vary enormously, so check first. They can include non-motorised water sports like kayaking and paddleboarding, beach games, exercise classes, water aerobics, water sports and scuba diving. So it is a good opportunity to try out new things. There may also be a games room, tennis courts, gym, children’s clubs, water park, playground or mini golf.
Normally you will pay for motorised water sports, spa treatments, excursions and babysitting.
Check the entertainment schedule straight away so that you don’t miss something you may enjoy.
There can be discos, live shows, children’s discos, children’s magic shows, character breakfasts etc. The quality also varies considerably between hotels so check out reviews.
Double check before what happens if you have to cancel your trip, will you lose the whole all-inclusive cost including meals? Make sure you have a good travel insurance policy.
Do you need to tip?
Lots of people like not having to carry cash around but tipping is welcomed at some hotels, find out the resort or culture’s tipping policy in advance.
Tipping is usually appreciated but not required to recognise good service to staff including bartenders, servers and housekeepers.
Will you save money?
Here comes the crunch – is all-inclusive it cheaper? Unsurprisingly the answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. Let’s do a quick comparison.
We price-tested a week to the Costa del Sol at May half-term for a family of four.
All-inclusive prices (flights, transfer, hotel, food and drink) range from £2,500 to £3,200 for a decent four-star resort.
Now the DIY option. Flights come out at £350 per person for four people (total £1,400). A comparable hotel with breakfast included, ranges from £800 to £1,000. That gives us a total of £2,200-2,400, leaving £800 for a week’s food and drink. That is the true cost of the all-inclusive.
Meals out in the Costa Del Sol at a reasonable restaurant would be around £60 for a family of four. So it comes down to lunch and how much booze you want.
Will you save money going all-inclusive?
An all-inclusive resort can be cheaper if you take advantage of all they have to offer but often the cost is comparable, so it is about choice and what will work best for your family.
We have always thoroughly enjoyed all-inclusives with our young children, in between other more active and adventurous breaks.
I love the huge range of food and beautiful pools and our children like the familiarity of being in one resort and getting to know what to do and where everything is. We still try to get out and about a bit too to explore the area to achieve the perfect balance.
How to find a hotel both you and your children will love
Finding the right hotel is crucial for enjoying your precious family holiday. Once you have children you are likely to spend more time at your hotel, even on a more active holiday. Children can get very tired being out all day and often need time to relax in the room and enjoy the facilities. So what are the important things to look for when choosing a hotel?
People often look at the room, the pool, the grounds, the restaurants, the room service, yet they ignore the most important factor – the location.
Is it on the beach, in the right part of town, opposite a brilliant restaurant or a noisy disco? Decide what is important for your family and choose accordingly and read reviews to check there are no hidden surprises.
Make sure you are near to the attractions or the beach you will be spending time at, else children can be worn out before they even start. And check out the transport options nearby or offered by the hotel.
If it’s a hot summer holiday, you’ll need a swimming pool to help everyone cool off. If the weather is going to be cold or potentially wet – then an indoor pool is a great distraction for a few hours.
For us, a pool is almost essential on a family holiday unless we are doing an all-action city break where we will barely be in the hotel. And a slide or splash area is a big bonus.
Always check the small print to see if an outdoor pool is heated, or if an indoor pool has limited times for families.
A small, cramped room is not much fun with children. Besides all the extra stuff you will have, toddlers and older children need space. And you will all feel on top of each other if the room is tiny.
So aim for a bigger room if possible and obviously you want somewhere that feels clean and fresh. Your children are likely to be crawling on the room floor at some point or may be putting something in their mouth (don’t forget hotel room tv remote controls are among the most contaminated items, yuck)!
Families with three or more children are often forced to book more than one room, which is costly, then everyone ends up sleeping in one room anyway.
Bigger families will have to work harder to find a hotel and destination that will accommodate all the family in one room or suite.
If you’re travelling with young children, you will probably need a kettle and a fridge. And a microwave can make life a lot easier too.
Hotels outside the UK often don’t have a kettle and they are vital for anyone wanting to mix up baby milk or heat food pouches.
If there isn’t one, invest in a travel kettle or contact the hotel to see if they can put one in your room.
Fridges are useful for storing milk and possibly some drinks for mum and dad for after the children are asleep!
We’ve also used hotel fridges to keep supplies like butter and cheese so that we can make picnics to take out.
Eating in or out
Does the hotel have a restaurant? If you check in late or fancy an easier night, a nice restaurant on site is useful.
If you plan to be eating out, research the availability and location of suitable nearby restaurants and read reviews and check out menus to see if they are child-friendly.
A good, included breakfast, can start the day on a high for everyone.
Our children love the familiarity of having breakfast in the same place every day and getting to know where everything is and what they like best. And they enjoy the independence of starting to choose for themselves and even fetching their own food and drinks.
Do the staff make your children feel welcome?
It might be the best hotel in the world, but if you feel constantly on edge, praying your children behave, then you won’t relax.
The vibe needs to be a family one. Check reviews to see if staff make a fuss of children and enjoy having them around.
Most places call themselves child-friendly, not all are friendly to children.
You don’t necessarily need loads of outdoor space but you do need a bit. A dash of green space to run around in, a nature trail or a terrace to explore and sit on, can turn a hotel stay into more of an adventure for children.
We love to explore our hotels, roaming the corridors and outside in the grounds. For example, when we stayed at St Ermin’s Hotel in London, it was great to have a terrace with a bee hive on it.
If you are planning to use children’s clubs or a babysitting service, make sure to investigate what is available in advance.
Some kids’ clubs don’t operate all year plus services can be costly.
A soft play area or other indoor play area will really make life easier for you and more fun for your children.
A playground outside is always welcomed too and gets a big tick from us.
Before you start to look at hotels, draw up a list of criteria that will ensure all adults and children are going to be comfortable, relaxed and happy on holiday.
*Is there anything else important to your family? Let us know in the comments below, we would love to hear from you.
Our top tips guarantee you always get the best hotel rate
Step 1 – Website search
There are so many sites out there it’s hard to know where to start. Here’s what we do.
Use a multiple search site. We usually use Trivago to benchmark all the prices as we find it the easiest and quickest website to get an idea of the price.
We also think Booking.com has a good range of available accommodation and like Expedia for the quality of its pictures and information. TripAdvisor is obviously a favourite for its customer reviews.
Step 2 – Breakfast
Find the two or three cheapest options and check which include breakfast then compare accordingly. An included breakfast can save you time and money plus can be easier when travelling with children, unless there are nice cafes or bakeries nearby you are keen to try.
Step 3 – Cashback
Check the situation with cashback websites like our favourites TopCashback and Quidco.
You can save up to 12 per cent off the price of a hotel by signing up to a cashback site, clicking its link to the company you are booking through and then booking.
It also works for package holidays, even a two per cent saving on a £3,000 package is worth £60 – enough for a meal out or airport lounge passes.
Step 4 – Direct booking
Check the hotel’s own website and contact them, most want you to book directly through them as they don’t have to pay commission so may match or beat your best online price.
They may have a special deal for those who book direct such as three nights for the price of two. Or you could ask them to include breakfast for you.
Step 5 – Secret hotel
See if the hotel is on a secret deal with Lastminute.com.
It offers top secret hotels at a serious discount – the catch is you don’t know which hotels they are.
However, you can usually work out which hotel is being offered with a bit of research.
Copy and paste the description they use into Google – it often matches the hotel’s own website. Or it may be very similar to the description used on other websites where the hotel is named.
Step 6 – Credit card
Okay this won’t get you money off, but it may just save you a fortune. The recent Monarch demise, of which we were one of the victims, showed the value of using a credit card to pay for travel.
The card gives you protection so that you will get your money back if the airline or hotel goes bust.
Package holidays are generally covered under the ATOL scheme but if you have sorted everything yourself – the DIY route – always use a credit card.
We had for our cancelled Monarch flights and American Express was brilliant, refunding the £350 almost immediately.
One example – how we got a peak season hotel in Florence for £50 a night
We were looking for a hotel in Florence in peak season.
Trivago’s best price was £65 a night, cashback from TopCashback brought that down to £60.
But this hotel was on a Lastminute Top Secret list for £56.75.
We then got 11 per cent back via TopCashback, which made it £50.50 for a family room. Read the review of the hotel here, it was perfectly fine for the money.
For more advice check out this guide from MoneySavingExpert.com.
Have you got any tips to share? We’d love to hear them.