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Interrailing review – we take our children on a train trip around Europe

Interrailing review – we take our children on a train trip around Europe

The highs and lows of a family Interrail holiday using Global Passes

I get some strange looks as I edge down the corridor in my pyjamas.

I’ve already had to stand on a suitcase to get out of the room without waking the other three occupants.

It’s the smallest bedroom we have ever slept in and it’s moving at 100mph.

We are on our first overnight train and it’s certainly an experience we won’t forget in a hurry.

After boarding at nearly midnight, we have to make up the beds as the train rattles along.

There’s no room for us all to stand let alone store our two suitcases.

But it’s all part of the adventure. We have set ourselves a challenge to travel around five countries in 10 days by train.

And it’s made possible thanks to Interrail. We are trying out its Global Pass which allows us to travel on almost all trains around Europe.

This includes Eurostar and trains in our own country while on the outbound and inward journeys.

Frankfurt to Nuremberg train, Interrailing around Europe with children

Although the less said about our outward journey the better – signal problems saw our easy trip to London mutate into a four-train nightmare which left us wondering if we would even make it to the capital, let alone our Eurostar from St Pancras.

But we did. And it has been mostly plain sailing from there. Or plain railing, if that is even a word. And if it isn’t then it should be.

First stop Brussels. We visit Mini Europe with its miniature replicas of famous landmarks and indulge in Belgium’s famous waffles and frites (not together).

Most memorable is the famous Manneken Pis sculpture of a boy urinating in a fountain – he is everywhere we look – replicas are in shop windows, on socks and even made into mini chocolates.

The local trains we catch here are double decker delights to the joy of my daughter.

On day three we depart for Germany, changing trains in Frankfurt to get to Nuremberg.

The trains feel so clean, modern and spacious. Plus, we are lucky enough to have the first class Interrail option – the price difference is relatively small and worth the extra if you can afford it.

After settling into a big apartment hotel (review here) and armed with a Nuremberg Card (which gives free access to attractions and free local transport), we start at the city’s pretty zoo where we spot polar bears and enjoy a dolphin show.

We get a glimpse of German culture, lederhosen and bratwurst at the twice annual fair Volkfest and explore the Old Town.

Nuremberg
Nuremberg

Munich is our day five destination. Although it’s nearly 200 miles from the sea, we join crowds of spectators watching surfers take turns to ride the waves of the Eisbach River where it gushes out from under a bridge.

It then meanders through a huge park, the English Garden, where thousands are gathered enjoying the sunshine and the relaxed atmosphere.

We view the city from the top of St Peter’s Church and my son enjoys a visit to the home of Harry Kane and Bayern Munich – the Allianz Arena.

Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany
Allianz Arena

And you can’t visit Munich without stopping for a traditional Bavarian meal at world famous tavern The Hofbrauhaus, by far the biggest restaurant I have ever seen.

It’s nearly midnight when we take to our (not so comfortable) beds on the aforementioned overnight train, which is taking us from Munich to Venice in eight-and-a-half hours.

And the reason I am to be found early in the morning wandering around in my pyjamas? I’m in search of a toilet and my clothes are firmly inside the one suitcase we could fit under a bed. Our night has been disturbed by noisy passengers getting on and off and I’ll do anything to avoid waking the children.

Although I nearly turn back when I realise everyone else is fully dressed!

A couple of hours later, we arrive in Venice, not exactly refreshed from the journey.

But stepping out of the station is a feast for the eyes – the turquoise waters, fabulous architecture and gliding gondolas soon wake us up.

A canal in Venice
Venice

And the room back at our hotel later feels gloriously spacious after our cramped conditions the night before.

A travelling day beckons next. We take three trains from Venice to Paris with stops at Milan and Zurich. It’s our most stunning journey to date as we pass through the spectacular scenery of Switzerland.

We have three nights in Paris and manage a whistlestop tour of all the main attractions, without the help of trains, using the Tootbus hop-on hop-off buses.

A trip up the Eiffel Tower takes me back to the last time I looked over Paris from on top of it when my boyfriend asked if we could move it together.

Up the Eiffel Tower
Up the Eiffel Tower

So it is nice to return, now, married with children.

We can’t resist a trip to Disneyland for our last day where another train leaves an impression – but it’s just one of the rides, the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Then it’s back on the Eurostar home.

We have been on 28 trains this holiday – so you would think I would know how to exit one.

But at our final top, our village station, I press the wrong button, only to sound an alarm that makes everyone jump.

What a way to announce our arrival home.

Are you interested in an Interrail trip, check out our full guide: Interrail – our guide and top tips for travelling around Europe by train – The Family Holiday Guide

If you would like to hear more about this journey, here is our full day-by-day diary: Interrailing with children – a diary of our adventures on trains travelling around Europe

*All views are, as ever, our own. To help us review the experience and areas travelled around, we were given complimentary Interrail passes, Tootbus passes, a Nürnberg Card and accommodation in Nuremberg.

Living Hotel Nuremberg, Germany: Review and tips

Living Hotel Nuremberg, Germany: Review and tips

We stay at this apartment hotel in the Gostenhof area of Nuremberg

Name

Living Hotel Nuremberg

Where is it?

It is in the district of Gostenhof, about a 20-minute walk from the historic old town.

It’s near to the Gostenhof underground stop on the U1 line which can take you directly to the main station.

What is it?

This is an apartment hotel/ aparthotel, giving you the best of both worlds as the rooms have kitchenettes.

It is popular with people who want to stay for a longer period of time.

Is it family friendly?

Our room was family friendly as there was plenty of space for us to spread out.

The open plan kitchen and living area

The rooms

We are in a two-bedroom maisonette which is spread over two floors with a small balcony. There’s an open plan lounge, dining room and kitchen and a separate toilet downstairs.

The main bedroom in our apartment

Upstairs are two bedrooms and a bathroom, plus the mezzanine-style landing has a huge desk built into it. (Great for us, could be a hazard if you have young children who like to climb).

Food and drink:

You can prepare food, make picnics and eat in your room – although there is no oven, our apartment has a microwave, hob and (rather noisy) fridge. There is also a dining table. And nearby shops include a Lidl.

There is a bar and restaurant on site although the restaurant was closed when we stayed.

But there is a separate breakfast restaurant on the first floor, serving a continental buffet.

The breakfast room

There was a good selection of fruit, yoghurts, bread, rolls, pastries meats and cheeses etc.

But my daughter was disappointed as the only cereal available was muesli and there were no pancakes which are her favourite.

Our highlights

*The size of our apartment.

*There are two bottles of water and two bottles of beer awaiting in the room for free.

The view from our balcony

Top tips

There is no gym, but you can ask them to bring fitness equipment to your room for a small charge!

Downsides

No space to put your toiletries in the bathroom.

A bit of a walk to the centre if you don’t catch the metro.

Nearby

The Old city is a 20-minute walk away.

The underground train station is nearby and there is a tram stop just a five-minute walk.

How to get there from the UK

We travelled by train! We stayed at this hotel as part of an Interrail trip around Europe, here is our travel diary: Interrailing with children – a diary of our adventures on trains travelling around Europe

More information

Address: Obere Kanalstraße 11, 90429 Nuremberg

How to book: nuernberg@living-hotels.com

The reception

*Our stay was complimentary for the purpose of this review – all views are our own.

Interrail – our guide and top tips for travelling around Europe by train

Interrail – our guide and top tips for travelling around Europe by train

Everything you need to know before using an Interrail Pass

What is an Interrail Pass?

An Interrail Pass is a train pass that lets you travel as much as you want across most of Europe.

They are for European residents or citizens only, if you live outside Europe you need a Eurail Pass instead.

Different types of Passes

Location

Interrail Global Pass is valid in 33 European countries, perfect for if you are travelling across more than one country.

Interrail One Country Pass, is self-explanatory – it works across one country. It lets you explore all corners of one country to really get to know it.

Time

You can choose a pass which lasts for anything from four days to three months.

Class

You also have the option of first or second class passes and this depends on your budget.

Second-class is more affordable but the difference in price isn’t as much as you would think and the extra luxury when travelling can really be worth it. Also, meals are often included which you can take off the cost.

Mobile or paperless

Mobile Passes work on your phone if you have Apple devices iOS 13.0 and later and Android devices 6.0 and later. 

This means you can have access to your Interrail Pass straight away and should never leave it behind. It also doesn’t start until you travel.

Issues can occur if you are using the Interrail app and it crashes so keep your mobile pass code handy, it will be a six-digit PNR code.

Traditional paper passes can be ordered online or bought at railway stations. You have to state the start date which offers less flexibility.

What to take with you

Pack as lightly as you possibly can as you will be carrying your luggage around a lot. Backpacks are seen as a traditional option but many like us, opt for suitcases with wheels. We chose these ones from Amazon – the grey three-piece – really reasonably priced, attractive and sturdy, plus they hold a lot. We took the large one on our train trip and used packing bags inside it. We also took the small for spare items, rain coats and electronics.

While you need to limit what you take, don’t forget the essentials:

*Passports and European Health Insurance Cards.

*A steel water bottle that you can refill. This means there is no need to keep buying plastic bottles and everyone can see which is theirs.

*Travel adapters and multiple chargers. We took this European adapter for a British plug to use with my laptop and hair straighteners and this one with only USB sockets for phones and Kindles.

Make the most of sockets on trains and in stations to charge your devices.

*First aid kit – make sure you have painkillers, plasters and travel sickness tablets if needed, plus of course any medication you need and hand gel.

*Credit card/cash – We took some cash for emergencies, around 100 euros, but used specialist cards with no foreign exchange fees. Our preferred one is Halifax Clarity but there are others available. Take a spare card in case one doesn’t work. And always pay in euros never pounds, if you have the option.

*No matter how nice the scenery, nobody and especially children, will want to spend hours and hours on trains just looking out of the window, so make sure you take things to occupy you such as a Kindle or other e-reader (you don’t want to be lugging books around), tablets, card games, activity books, cards or travel games which won’t take up too much precious room. Download any books, podcasts, films or shows before you go, there is often WiFi but it can be sporadic.

*Headphones – the whole train doesn’t want to hear Peppa Pig.

*Comfortable clothes and shoes, this isn’t the time for worrying too much about what you look like and being fashionable.

*A random one, but if you like an uncommon tea, take a few bags with you, I take peppermint tea bags with me then can always ask for a hot water to put my tea bag in if they don’t have any.

Seat reservations

So the beauty of an Interrail pass is being able to hop on and off trains as much as you like. However it’s definitely worth booking seats on busy routes.

Some trains have compulsory booking including Eurostar, other high speed trains, night trains and many in France, Italy and Spain, so make sure to check first.

It also means you are guaranteed a seat, usually have access to a charging point and can sit with any friends or family you are travelling with, especially important when you are with children of course.

The price of seat reservations is sadly not included in the Interrail Pass and the cost can build up.

You can avoid paying seat reservation fees entirely by taking smaller regional trains but this will make the journey a lot slower. We preferred paying for speedier trips between locations but if you’ve got lots of time, it’s an option.

Interrail App

Download Interrail’s Rail Planner app to keep track of your journeys, book seat reservations and access your Mobile Pass.

It should also give you the latest information on train timetables although this relies on you keeping it up-to-date. Some people have also reported issues with the data being wrong in places like Poland.

Alternative sites for timetable data include DB Reiseauskunft.

There’s also a fantastic website which explains everything about European trains and tips and ideas for Interrail newbies called The Man in Seat 61 – we used it to plan a lot of our trip, especially reserving seats and looking at route options.

Accommodation

Book your accommodation in advance. If you are travelling with children you need to know you have a safe, welcoming space where you can all relax and recharge.

It also makes sense to book breakfast in the hotel if you’ve got a long journey that day so the children can fill up on food they like rather than relying on the train menu, which isn’t really designed for youngsters.

Night Trains

If you have a long journey and there is a sleeper train available, go for it! It is such a novelty for children and the cost is similar to a hotel.

However, don’t expect to want to do it again!

We took a night train from Munich to Venice. Boarding wasn’t until nearly midnight, then we had to make our own beds up in a very tiny compartment with a toilet down the corridor.

The beds were hard, the pillows very thin and the passengers getting on and off at the various stops, so noisy, it sounded like they were in a compartment with us!

Am I glad we did it though? Absolutely. It’s a night we won’t forget in a hurry.

When things go wrong

No matter how carefully you plan, something is likely to go wrong.

You can’t prepare for train delays or cancellations, except to try to allocate more time and vow to keep calm when plans change.

Our first day of travelling on our Interrail trip went very wrong before we had even left the UK – full diary here.

There were multiple train cancellations due to signal problems on the line and we struggled to even get to London in order to leave the country and get on the Eurostar. Thankfully, all went smoothly once we had boarded.

Try not to let children pick up on your stress, you don’t want to spoil the trip for them.

Let them know in advance that things might go wrong but that it is all an adventure.

Above all, make the most of this amazing opportunity to explore new places. And of course, have fun.

Now read our INTERRAIL DIARY: Interrailing with children – a diary of our adventures on trains travelling around Europe

*This article contains affiliate links to products we genuinely bought for our trip and recommend. We may make a commission if you make a purchase after clicking on one of them.

*We had complimentary passes for our Interrail trip to enable us to review a holiday like this, all views, as ever, are our own.

We would love to hear any other tips you have, have we missed anything? Please comment!

Interrailing with children – a diary of our adventures on trains travelling around Europe

Interrailing with children – a diary of our adventures on trains travelling around Europe

The highs and lows of our Interrail trip including a very memorable overnight train

We are off on a 2,000-mile train adventure around Europe, only it hasn’t started off quite as planned..

Day 1: Disaster

Route: Cheshire to Brussels. 

Our day starts on a high with a plan to catch three trains.

But fate will soon intervene. 

Carrying as little luggage as possible, we catch our local train to Crewe, a big hub for the north west and here is where our problems start. 

Our train to London Euston is cancelled with talks of a signal problem on the line. 

We find another train but it has to terminate at Birmingham due to the same issue between Milton Keynes and Watford. 

Panic around us is rising as are passenger numbers as people from multiple trains cram on to a platform at New Street awaiting another one. 

We make it on and breathe a sigh of relief. We even find seats. 

But catastrophe rears its head again. After a 20-minute wait at Rugby, the screens aboard ominously declare that the train is not stopping at stops including our destination of Euston. 

Eventually the train driver confirms this to be true and the entire train has to get off at Northampton. The issue means that the platform already resembles a cattle grid and we join the tense throng. 

We have been creeping further south train by train but it seems we may not get any further. Will we even make it to London today let alone Brussels? We start to look at buses and coaches, our journey by train apparently foiled at the first hurdle. 

Suddenly an announcement that a train to London is leaving from platform one and everyone – now waiting upstairs in the concourse – surges down the stairs and back on to the platform, staff urging caution.

To make it worse, we then get separated, three of us packed into one carriage like sardines, my husband in another one with the luggage. We get off and reunite and I’m amazed to see how much clearer this furthest away carriage is. Lesson learned. 

Might we still make it to Euston and then St Pancras in time for our Eurostar to Brussels? 

Train one!

Day 1, part 2 

After a challenging journey and four trains, we are thrilled and relieved to finally arrive at London Euston. 

A hurried walk to St Pancras and we are miraculously still on time for the Eurostar and we sail through security and two passport checks (UK and French).

We have been given Interrail Global Passes to try out for this review – train tickets that allow us to travel on almost all trains in Europe. 

This includes Eurostar and trains in our own country while travelling on the outbound and inbound journeys. 

We are lucky enough to have the first class option, which actually doesn’t cost too much more and is well worth it. 

Our Eurostar carriage feels plush and quiet and we have a meal included. 

It only stops once, in Lille and we arrive in Brussels, Belgium in just two hours. 

Our sixth and final train of the day delights us all. It’s a sleek double decker and we make sure to sit upstairs despite the short journey from one part of Brussels to another.

We walk to our hotel near the main square. 

The city is bustling, it’s fabulous and there are more frites and waffles than you can shake a stick at. 

Waffles in Brussels

Day 2: Brussels

We wake in Brussels. It’s a bustling, thriving, fabulous city whose most famous resident is a boy urinating in a fountain. 

If you’re on a European rail trip then this, the capital of Europe and home of the EU, is a great place to start.

And Mini-Europe is the place to learn more about the continent.

Travelling there is our only train ride of the day. 

It’s got miniature 1/25 scale replicas, made by hand, of famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Mount Vesuvius and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

We also visit a chocolate factory – Choco Story Brussels and a fun, famous sculpture. 

Manneken Pis, a bronze statue of a little boy and a fountain, was designed by Jerome Duquesnoy in 1619, and has become a familiar symbol of the city.

You can’t miss him, there are replicas all over the place!

And yes we tried the waffles, they’re delicious. And more frites. 

Only one train today. But three tomorrow, we are off to Germany. Next stop Nuremberg. 

Manneken Pis in Brussels

Day 3: Back on the rails 

Route: Brussels to Nuremberg 

After breakfast, we pack up and catch a train back to the main station in Brussels.

Comfortably settled on our next train to Germany, we are happy everything is going to plan.

‘Please get off the train. There is a technical problem. Please get off the train’.

We are good at this now and obligingly gather up all our stuff and exit, hoping this isn’t a repeat of day one in England. It’s not. 

Twenty minutes later, we are back on and moving. The train is so, so nice. So much nicer than any I’ve used back home in the UK. The glass doors between carriages automatically slide open as you approach. 

The seats are fabulously comfortable – recliners with foot stands. 

There are tempting, private little booths for four behind glass screens available to book. 

These trains just feel so clean, fresh and spacious. And yes we are lucky enough to have complimentary first class passes with Interrail but all the spaces feel more luxurious.

The children are engrossed in their tablets and I read a book (via the Kindle app on my phone in honour of the first Interrailing rule to travel light) and properly relax for the first time in a long while. 

The gentle swaying, the views – trains are my favourite way to travel when things go to plan. And with me they often don’t.*

A car is never an altogether relaxing experience, even when you’re not the driver, planes feel so cramped and your ears pop. 

The station at Frankfurt is a further revelation, it’s bright, airy and welcoming.

We board our final train of the day for Nuremberg. 

Boarding at Frankfurt for Nuremberg

*Just ask my friends about the time last month when I was meant to be meeting them for a long-awaited catch-up in Birmingham and accidentally ended up on a non-stop train to London Euston.

Day 4: Nuremberg

I wasn’t expecting to see polar bears in Germany. Or a dolphin show.

But both are highlights of our trip to Nuremberg Zoo, a pretty site and an unexpected workout (it’s very hilly). 

Travelling around this city is easy as it has both a tram service and underground trains.

And the tram drops you directly outside the zoo.

Paying for attractions and transport is a doddle* too as it is all free if you buy a Nürnberg Card.**

Worth it for the convenience as well as the cost – zoo entry alone would be over half the price of the card.

We are lucky enough to be here for the twice yearly fair Volksfest.

There are lederhosen, bratwurst, a great family atmosphere and lots of funfair rides. A real glimpse of German culture – and the weather helps as it’s an unseasonably warm and sunny 25 degrees. Shame I forgot to pack our sunglasses while ‘travelling light’. 

We are staying at The Living Hotel in the suburb of Gostenhof on the outskirts of the city.

It’s nice to be able to spread out as our roomy apartment has two floors, plus the bonus of a small kitchen and two bedrooms.

The Old Town is just a 20-minute walk away.

We have more exploring to do here tomorrow before we leave for Munich.

And I must buy some sunglasses. 

Nuremberg Zoo

*I pledge to drop this expression into conversations more regularly, it’s not used enough! 

Day 5: Munich 

Surfing and flirting 

Munich may be nearly 200 miles from the sea but it doesn’t stop professional surfers from flocking here.

They come to enjoy some of the best river surfing in the world and it’s a spectacle to behold as they take it in turns to ride waves that surge from under a bridge.

Crowds of spectators watch to see how long they last before plunging into the water and being whipped downstream. 

It happens on the edge of a park, the English Garden. The Eisbach river continues to flow through the park, creating a lazy river effect.

Today in 25C temperatures, dozens are using it to cool off.

There are thousands of mainly younger people enjoying the warm weather in this huge open space. There’s an amazing vibe and it’s fascinating to walk among them as they dance, play volleyball, sunbathe and flirt. It takes me back a few years. Or possibly decades. 

Games continue in another beautiful nearby park – Hofgarten – with groups of people playing boules.

There’s an almost film set feel about the place that I can’t quite put my finger on not least because of the appearance of some of the buildings. 

Loads get around by bicycle, but transport options are plenty, you can use trams, underground trains and electric scooters. 

It feels like a salubrious university city, which it is. This the country’s third biggest city is also one of its wealthiest. 

It took just an hour to get here from Nuremberg where we started the day wandering the historic streets around the Imperial Castle.

We’ve got another full day to enjoy here tomorrow before our very exciting overnight train to Venice. 

Surfing on Eisbach river in Munich

Day 6: Munich 

Workouts and lederhosen

I have an unexpected workout today. Three hundred and six steps to climb St Peter’s Tower in order to tremble on a narrow ledge with great views over Munich. 

We also look around the Viktualinen market which has opened every day (other than Sundays and public holidays) since 1807. And then wait with a crowd, phones all around pointed in the air, to watch the 11am Marienplatz clock tower show. It’s a mechanical clock which re-enacts scenes from Munich’s history on the grand New City Hall. 

Meanwhile my son is keen to see the home of Harry Kane – and Bayern Munich – the Allianz Arena. 

Inside you can do a tour of the stadium and visit the Bayern Munich museum and club shop. The museum’s very well done, with displays in German and English.

Next we take a flight through 7,000 years of Bavarian history (Munich is the capital of Bavaria) with VR technology at TimeRide Munich. 

There’s plenty of history in our dinner choice.

The Hofbräuhaus has been serving beer, sausages and more since the 1500s.

It’s absolutely huge, full of atmosphere, music and filling German food. 

Sat at tables around us are some of the regulars, often in lederhosen, drinking out of their own beer jugs – kept under lock and key for them. 

No time for trying too much beer though for any of us – we’ve got a night train to Venice to catch.

Next stop Italy.

At the top of St Peter’s Tower in Munich

Day 7: The reality of an overnight train and tears for Venice 

So I don’t get much sleep. 

As it turns out, overnight trains are rather noisy and the beds do not feel like fluffy clouds.

I’m a two-pillow kind of girl but I may as well be lying horizontal, they are so thin. 

Our compartment is obviously tiny. With four of us and two suitcases plus a ladder to get to the top two bunks taking up valuable floor space, attempting to make up the beds when we get inside at nearly midnight on a moving train, is a bit of a challenge. 

The passengers laughing, shouting and  chatting as they get on and off at the various stops, sound like they are in the room with us as we try to sleep. 

Plus a loud ‘Get off the train, get off the train,’ by a guard at one point to a man who presumably has wandered on when he shouldn’t have, is slightly alarming. 

I’m also not sure of the sleep train/pyjama etiquette. There is no en-suite to our cabin and I have to pop to the loo early in the morning while the other three are sleeping.

My clothes are shut in our smaller case which eventually had fitted under a bed (no such luck with the bigger one which I have to clamber over to get out of the room). So I am forced to shuffle self-consciously along the corridor in my PJs. 

EVERYBODY else I see is fully clothed. Is this an embarrassing faux pas? Should I have slept in my clothes? 

I also miss the nearest toilet and have to get into the next compartment along a wobbly connector. Then do the walk of shame all the way back!

Hoping for a final hour of sleep, the guard then brings around four breakfast trays which I balance on the bed around me, until they wake up. Then he is back again to collect all the bed sheets and pillows that they are still sleeping in.

It’s not all bad though. Although I won’t be hurrying to try out an overnight train again, I’m very glad we did it. 

What an experience to travel in a bed and wake up (if I’d slept) in another country for the cost of a hotel room. 

And what a country it is. We love Italy and the children have never been to Venice before. 

We’ve only had one weekend here pre-children and I feel emotional as we leave the station and our eyes feast upon the turquoise waters backed by picturesque architecture. 

My favourite part is standing on the little bridges watching and photographing as the gondolas pass underneath.

We make the most of our day in Italy to dine on divine pasta and pizza.

And I have never appreciated a hotel room as much as the one we are in now, its spaciousness is heaven-sent.

The view from the famous Rialto Bridge 

Day 8

Location: All over the place

We are having a travelling day, working our way across Europe from Venice to Paris with stops in Milan and Zurich. 

The route through Switzerland is slow through the mountains but scenic and I wish we had time to stop for a night here to take in the views some more. 

I also wish for the first time that I’d taken a travel sickness tablet as it is rather winding! 

The children have done well with journeys of two, four and four hours. 

Our last train is a double decker and we sit upstairs although much of the journey is through darkness as night falls. 

I sleep on and off despite the interior automatic doors sounding like the drum sequence used after a joke’s punchline on opening and firmly shutting on everyone on closing, even trapping my handbag in its clutches at one point. 

Other sounds come from our fellow passengers. We aren’t in first class for this leg. Despite our first class Interrail Global Passes (kindly gifted for our review) some trains require seat reservation costs and the charge for the better seats was much higher for this particular train. 

The family next to us make their presence known and break many unofficial train travelling rules throughout the hours. Starting with a loud FaceTime call to a toddler, continuing while watching music videos without headphones and ending with a series of loud, unapologetic burps from the dad! 

The seats are still lovely and comfortable with plenty of leg room. 

We set off at 8.30am and are due to arrive in Paris at 10.30pm. 

Day 9: Paris

I love the Eiffel Tower. Standing on it looking over Paris many years ago, my then boyfriend asked if we could move in together. 

So to return today, not only living together but married with two children, feels special. 

Although this time he says he wants to ask me to move out instead. He jokes. I think. 

Not only do I go back up it, I also photograph and film it from all different angles. 

Including from the top of a hop-on hop-off Tootbus. 

It’s a fabulous vantage point for lots of key Paris landmarks including the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Elysées.

There’s an audio guide on board and place to charge your phones. 

And it stops at all the best tourist spots so we can explore around the Louvre and enjoy a crêpe in the Tuileries Garden.

Notre-Dame is still impressive despite being under reconstruction following the fire nearly five years ago while a violinist gets even more attention than the cathedral itself as she shimmies about while playing beneath it. 

We finally alight back outside the Eiffel Tower, completed in 1889 and now surrounded by men trying to sell miniature sparkly models. 

My daughter, having started off the day excitedly spotting the Eiffel Tower, ends the day clutching a rose pink replica to take home. 

And I have another crêpe. 

Day 10: Paris

We hurtle along at an alarming rate, thrown from side to side while people scream all around us. 

This train is not the relaxing, comfortable experience we have come to expect over our mammoth railway journey. 

Thankfully it’s not part of our Interrail experience. 

It’s a coal train – the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride to be exact. 

We have decided to spend our last day before we travel home at Disneyland Paris. 

And it’s another sunny, warm day to end our Easter Holidays European adventure. 

We enjoy lots of rides and a fabulous Disney show under Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. 

Meanwhile we are getting our beauty sleep in a hotel for the last time. Tomorrow we are homeward bound.  

Disneyland Paris

Day 11: The journey back

After nearly 30 trains in 11 days you would think I would know how to exit one. 

But typically, it seems I don’t and have to bring attention to our arrival home. 

I confidently press the green button to open the door at our village station and a loud alarm sounds. 

I have inadvertently pushed the SOS button, scaring passengers and driver alike. 

It’s the end of another travelling day and the end of our Interrail adventure. 

Arriving in England on Eurostar I’m pleasantly surprised at how grand and welcoming St Pancras station is after being impressed with its European counterparts like Frankfurt. 

And impressed with the speed of the journey – six hours from Paris to our home in Cheshire. 

We have travelled over 2,000 miles on this trip.

If you include every journey, long and short, we have been on 28 trains, six trams, five hop-on hop-off buses and one water taxi. 

Plus of course, there’s been a lot of walking.

What an experience but now I’m glad to be at our final stop. 

We are home. 

Catching Eurostar home from Paris

All views are, as ever, our own. To help us review the experience and areas travelled around, we were given complimentary Interrail passes, Tootbus passes, a Nürnberg Card and accommodation in Nuremberg.

Biddulph Grange Gardens – review, guide and top tips for this National Trust site

Biddulph Grange Gardens – review, guide and top tips for this National Trust site

Everything you need to know about Biddulph Grange in Staffordshire

Name

Biddulph Grange Gardens

What is it?

Biddulph Grange is a series of beautiful landscaped Victorian gardens with surprises around every corner.

A walk here is a feast for the senses through pockets of China, Italy and even ancient Egypt, through tunnels, rockeries, an adventure playground, tree-lined avenues and around a lake.

Part of its magic lies in the way the areas are cleverly hidden from each other through landscaping.

It is a National Trust site – don’t confuse it with Biddulph Grange Country Park next door, run by Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, whose 78 acres of woodland did used to form part of the Grange estate.

Tree-lined avenue at Biddulph Grange National Trust

Tree-lined avenue

Where is it?

Biddulph Grange is in Biddulph, in a valley on the edge of North Staffordshire near to Congleton in Cheshire and north of Stoke.

The history of Biddulph Grange

The house and garden were the creation of James and Maria Bateman, who lived there from 1842 for 27 years and their friend, marine artist Edward Cooke. It had previously been a farm.

James employed specialists to collect plants for him from all over the world. They were placed with trees and eclectic garden buildings.

James moved to London in 1868, his son John remained at Biddulph Grange until he sold it in 1872 to Robert Heath who lived with his family there for 50 years. During this time a fire destroyed the middle section of the original house, an Italianate-style villa and it was rebuilt in 1897.

From 1922 until 1991 it was used as a hospital then it was bought by the National Trust and opened to the public.

The National Trust undertook a huge garden restoration project which continues today.

What did we think?

We have been many times as this is one of our favourite National Trust sites, it possibly even scoops the top spot.

It’s simply stunning and the different sections keep any walk interesting. 

It is especially fabulous for children when they have trails and activities to do.

Highlights

*The view at the start

At the start of your journey, you stand with your back to the house on a terrace above the garden and can take in the view of  the Italian garden. You won’t be able to resist taking a photograph here but you may as well keep your camera or phone out as there are so many picture-worthy spots.

Looking down from the start at the Italian section at Biddulph Grange National Trust

Looking down from the start over the Italian section

*The Chinese Garden

It is easy to miss the Chinese Garden, yet it is arguably the most memorable part, bright with colour and complete with Chinese plants and architecture including a bridge and temple.

*The woodland play area

If you walk up the stunning tree-lined Wellington Avenue (worth a highlight section of its own), there is a path off it which takes you through woodland which is now home to a series of wooden frames and stepping stones for children to negotiate their way along, plus a see-saw. This is a fantastic, more recent addition to the gardens.

Playing in the wooden play area at Biddulph Grange National Trust

The Stumpery 

A stumpery is a garden feature similar to a rockery but made from parts of dead trees. The stumpery here, designed in 1856, was the first to be built anywhere and went on to be widely copied in many Victorian gardens and, even in the woods of Highgrove, Prince Charles’s home in Gloucestershire.

Egyptian Garden

This includes stone Sphynx, topiary obelisks, a topiary pyramid and a temple-style building containing the Ape of Thoth sculpture by Benjamin Waterhouse-Hawkins.

The tennis lawn

There are often activities laid out to do in this section. And in the spring there is a cute little daffodil maze to walk through.

More highlights

There are highlights around every corner including tunnels through rock, a lake, a geological gallery and of course the stunning plants, trees and flowers like monkey puzzle trees, azaleas and dahlias – the gardens are famous for their Dahlia Walk.

Dahlia Walk (taken in March) at Biddulph Grange National Trust

Dahlia Walk (taken in March)

Top tips

Can you see inside the house at Biddulph Grange?

No you can’t. The house itself became derelict until a developer bought it and converted it into nine apartments.

You can still access some of the buildings though, used as a cafe, shop and toilets.

Fish food

You can buy fish food for £1 a bag to feed the big fish in the lake.

Biddulph Grange House

Plant sale

You can buy flowers and plants in an area just past the car park on your way in or out.

Trails

Biddulph Grange really comes into its own for families around special occasions, we particularly love visiting at Easter.

National Trust used to team up with Cadbury but these days organise their own with more emphasis on enjoying nature and the surroundings and carrying out activities rather than solving clues. Children still get a chocolate egg at the end.

The trails are fabulous at taking you around all corners of the garden and Biddulph Grange pulls out all the stops.

See footage of our last Easter trail at the end of this article.

Arrival time

If it’s a Bank Holiday or special occasion, I really advise getting their early to get a parking space and avoid any queuing.

What is the best time of year to visit?

If you have children, it’s lovely to visit when they have an event on like the Easter trails.

The gardens change with the seasons. The dahlias start to bloom in July and reach their peak in early-September.

Biddulph Grange information

Parking: There is a free car park – free for National Trust members and included in the ticket price for non-members. There is also an overflow car park. 

Food: There is a cafe with indoor and outdoor seating, lovely in the sunshine. There is also a picnic spot next to the car park.

Opening hours: Vary depending on the day, but 10am to 5.30pm for much of the year, check out the times for specific dates here.

Cost: Free for National Trust members, £12 adults, £6 children, less for family and group tickets latest ticket prices here.

Are dogs allowed at Biddulph Grange?

No, only assistance dogs.

Best for: All ages.

Time needed: I would say you need at least two hours here, but on a sunny day with friends you could spend much longer.

Access and restrictions: It is not an accessible site, although a lot of the site has pathways, it is on a hill, there are more than 400 steps and uneven surfaces.

Address: Biddulph Grange Garden, Grange Road, Biddulph, Staffordshire, ST8 7SD.

Website: Biddulph Grange Gardens

Related content:

National Trust membership – everything you need to know

The 20 best National Trust gardens in the UK revealed

A new ride is opening in a few days at Cadbury World chocolate factory in Birmingham

A new ride is opening in a few days at Cadbury World chocolate factory in Birmingham

Cadbury Chocolate Quest gets ready to launch

A new ride is opening soon at Cadbury World in Birmingham.

Cadbury Chocolate Quest opens on Friday (March 29, 2024) for the Easter weekend.

And The Family Holiday Guide has some photos of the ride for fans of the chocolate experience to see.

The new indoor trackless ride has 3D themed sets and virtual screens and will be brought to life with sounds, lights, smells and heat making it an interactive and sensory experience. 

Riders will be set a mission by Freddo then travel in nine Cadbury cars to complete an immersive quest to collect all the ingredients needed to make a bar of Cadbury Dairy Milk using lasers to lap them up.

The ride features 23 cocoa pods, cheeky Buttons monkeys and most excitingly, the end of the ride features litres of liquid chocolate.

Putting the finishing touches to the new ride Chocolate Quest at Cadbury World, Birmingham

After disembarking, guests will collect a Cadbury treat made with all the ingredients they have ‘collected’.

Putting the finishing touches to the new ride Chocolate Quest at Cadbury World, Birmingham

Cadbury Chocolate Quest is part of a wider £8m investment for Cadbury World, with further ambitions for the long-standing attraction after its operation was taken over by Merlin Entertainments in January 2023.

Tim Waters, Regional Director of the Birmingham cluster at Merlin Entertainments, said: “The whole team is so excited to see all the hard work that has gone into this massive project come to life.

“From polishing the cars and testing the flowing liquid chocolate, the team have been working round the clock to prepare the ride in time to welcome guests when it launches on Friday, 29th March.

“We can’t wait to see Cadbury Chocolate Quest in action as we really feel it is a ride that will be enjoyed by everyone.” 

Read our review of Cadbury World, which is a popular family attraction based in the historic village of Bournville, just outside Birmingham city centre, where visitors can learn all about the history, magic and making of Cadbury chocolate. 

Putting the finishing touches to the new ride Chocolate Quest at Cadbury World, Birmingham

With an assortment of interactive zones, a team of in-house chocolatiers, the on-site Cadbury World Café and African Adventure play area, plus the unmissable 4D Chocolate Adventure, there’s so much for visitors of all ages to see and do at Cadbury World. 

Review: Cadbury World, Birmingham – everything you need to know before visiting the chocolate attraction

Review: Cadbury World, Birmingham – everything you need to know before visiting the chocolate attraction

The complete guide to Cadbury World and top tips including how not to get confused and miss half the tour like we did

Name

Cadbury World

What is it?

Cadbury World is a family attraction based around the famous British chocolate maker Cadbury.

It is not a tour of the actual chocolate factory which doesn’t open to the public due to food regulations.

Nor is it a theme park, although it does include a 4D cinema, a gentle ride and yes, some ‘free’ chocolate.

Instead, it is more of a museum or visitor centre – a trip through the history and making of chocolate and Cadbury confectionery.

Where is it?

There is only one Cadbury World and it is in Birmingham. Specifically, it is in the suburb of Bournville – the town that chocolate built – four miles south of Birmingham – in the grounds of the original Cadbury factory.

The village was founded by George Cadbury when he moved his chocolate factory there from Birmingham in 1879, with homes built to house Cadbury workers.

Some of my female ancestors worked at Cadbury including my great grandmother.

She was there for around 10 years before marrying in 1915 and one of her roles was to tie ribbons on the boxes of chocolates.

What did we think?

When you get out of the car, the sweet smell of chocolate tantalisingly fills the air and anticipation is high, particularly as this visit follows our recent viewing of the film Wonka.

But this is not a Willy Wonka-style chocolate factory. And sadly, you don’t get to see any chocolate being made or packaged.

As a reporter in the Midlands years ago, I once filmed inside the actual factory at Cadbury. Wearing a shower cap affair to cover my hair, I watched as Cadbury Creme Eggs were made and wrapped and it was a fascinating experience. I seem to recall that the main taster at the time, wasn’t too fond of Cadbury Creme Eggs, which I thought hilarious and a waste of an excellent job!

It’s a shame families don’t see any of this. What you do get is a history of cocoa beans in the Aztec Jungle, the Cadbury story and how the chocolate is made, over a series of different zones.

Exploring the Aztec Jungle at Cadbury World

Exploring the Aztec Jungle

I will run through all the highlights of our trip first but there were several downsides too, including confusion over the time to arrive, the busy outdoor area, the queue to get in and the fact a lot of visitors (nearly including us) missed a huge chunk of the experience due to bad signage (more on this in top tips).

But the children seemed to get a lot of out of it and are already keen to go back so I’m overall pleased that we made the effort to go.

Highlights

*Do you get free chocolate at Cadbury World?!

Yes. You are welcomed into the tour with a handful of chocolate bars – we were given a Cadbury Wispa, a Dairy Milk Caramel and a Twirl each.

Brandishing 12 chocolate bars at us, we were given the option to buy a small purple Cadbury bag for £1 or a Cadbury tote bag for £2 to put them in – it feels a bit grabby of Cadbury not to present them in a free bag but hey ho.

Free chocolate bars at Cadbury World

Three ‘free’ chocolate bars per person included in the ticket cost

Then, during the tour you are offered warm, liquid Cadbury Dairy Milk in little cups with up to two toppings from a choice of chocolate buttons, fudge, mini marshmallows and crushed Oreos. Delicious but choose your toppings wisely, I felt the Oreo crumbs soaked up too much of the melted chocolate.

*The 4D Cinema

This is in the outdoor area and can be visited before or after (if not closed) your tour. Visitors wear 3D glasses, sit in motion seats and feel as if they are on a chocolate journey which includes a Crunchie rollercoaster.

The 4D cinema at Cadbury World

The 4D cinema

*Demonstration

There is a section where you watch someone demonstrate how chocolates were made by hand using moulds, in years gone by, which I found interesting, given my family connection.

Chocolate demonstration at Cadbury World

Chocolate demonstration

*Drawing with chocolate

You can queue to have a few minutes drawing or writing in melted chocolate from a bottle.

Drawing a heart with melted chocolate at Cadbury World

Drawing with melted chocolate

*Rides

There is a slow ride called Cadabra, where you sit two in the front and two in the back of a moving car around a track. This is a very gentle ride suitable for all ages.

The Cadabra ride at Cadbury World

The Cadabra ride

A new ride is due to open soon called Cadbury Chocolate Quest.

Top tips and downsides

Arrival time.

You would think an ideal arrival time would be shortly before the ticket entry time that you have carefully chosen, but you may be advised to get there much earlier.

When I happened to click on an instructions email on the morning of the day we were going (sent a few days earlier), it advised us to get there an hour and a half earlier if visiting in school holidays which we were (and 45 minutes earlier otherwise).

This is to ensure that you can enjoy the ‘outside activities’ before the tour, including the 4D cinema and play areas, as they may be closed afterwards.

We changed our plans to get there earlier, but wished we hadn’t (see the next top tip).

Outdoor Section

When we arrived at 1.45pm, the outdoor area was so crowded and noisy that it made for a stressful start to the day. We joined a long queue for the 4D cinema.

However, when we returned to the outdoor section at 4pm after our trip around Cadbury World, it was much quieter and there was no queue for the cinema at all.

So if you have children who would be at all sensitive to noise and crowding, check out the later cinema times and play area closing times before you arrive and consider doing this section later. It’s worth it even if you end up being stuck in Birmingham traffic afterwards.

A Cadbury shop front

A Cadbury shop front

Don’t miss any of the route!

It is a self-led tour, which led to some confusion on the day we were there.

Work was being carried out on a new area which may have caused the problem, but we and lots of other people exited the tour into the shop, having missed all the best bits.

I asked someone working there whether they no longer offered the melted chocolate in a cup (my best memory) and found out that we had taken a wrong turning, missing all the upstairs including the ride, demonstration and drawing with chocolate.

We were escorted back in and shown the right way but we had been following dozens of others who I am sure had done the same. I spoke to one woman later who had found the upstairs but still somehow missed the ride.

Tickets and queues

You must book tickets ahead of your visit, don’t just turn up. Even with booked time slots, we were queuing to get in for 10-15 minutes past our designated 2.30pm slot.

Buying chocolate

As well as the free chocolate, you can buy chocolate from the shop at the end or the factory shop if buying in bulk. Prices didn’t seem to be any different to supermarket prices.

You can also pre-order personalised chocolate items.

Cadbury chocolate bars over the years

Cadbury chocolate bars over the years

Cadbury World information

Merlin: Cadbury World is one of the attractions you can visit if you have a Merlin Annual Pass.

Parking: There is a free car park with lots of spaces.

Food: There is a cafe that you can visit on your way in or out, next to reception.

Character afternoon tea is available to pre-book on certain days (normally Monday to Friday, not in school holidays).

There are seats outside for anyone who takes a picnic.

Opening hours: Vary depending on the day, can be 9.30am-5.30pm or 10am-4.30pm, here are the up to date times.

Cost: Latest ticket prices here.

Best for: All ages.

Time needed: It took us an hour and a half to get around the main section, including queueing at the start, allow extra time for the outside section including 4D cinema and outdoor play area.

Access and restrictions: Cadbury World only allows one guest who uses a wheelchair or mobility scooter per timeslot. A wheelchair slot and a standard ticket have to both be booked.

There are some wheelchairs at reception that can be borrowed on a first come, first served basis.

Carer tickets are available if certain criteria are met.

Babies: Children two and under are free but still need a pre-booked ticket.

There are baby changing facilities in all the toilets. There is a baby feeding room in reception and pushchair access throughout.

Address: Cadbury World,  69 Linden Rd, Birmingham B30 1JR.

To book: Cadbury World

Now you can watch our Cadbury World video on Instagram, below, and don’t forget to like and subscribe, thank you!

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Harry Styles Holmes Chapel Walking Tour – full guide and video of the village where he grew up

Harry Styles Holmes Chapel Walking Tour – full guide and video of the village where he grew up

Follow Harry Styles’ footsteps in One Direction around his home town of Holmes Chapel on an official walking tour

Harry Styles fans can now enjoy a fun and completely free day out by touring Holmes Chapel – the village he grew up in.
Harry mentions his pretty Cheshire village frequently and pops home from time to time to see friends and family, so you may even get a glimpse of the star himself.

In fact, fans visit so often that the village has put together a free tour with a safe route around key places like the bakery where he worked, the bridge where he had his first kiss which featured in a One Direction video and even his favourite Chinese restaurant, where he once took Taylor Swift on a date.

Also in Holmes Chapel are his primary and secondary schools and the house he still lived in when he appeared on the X-Factor.

Read on for the full tour and map and our special video tour but first some Harry and Holmes Chapel trivia.

Where is Holmes Chapel?

Holmes Chapel is between Stoke-on-Trent and Manchester in the north-west of England.

It’s an affluent, expanding village in the county of Cheshire next to junction 18 of the M6 motorway.

The village has a lovely, friendly community, churches, independent shops, cafes, thriving pubs and other food outlets and lots of hair salons, perfect for a world famous superstar known for his luscious locks!

Harry himself describes Holmes Chapel as ‘picturesque’ during his X-Factor audition video.

Was Harry Styles born in Holmes Chapel?

Harry Edward Styles was born on February 1, 1994, in Redditch, Worcestershire, but moved to Holmes Chapel as a young child with his mum Anne Twist, dad Desmond (Des) Styles and older sister, Gemma.

A fan poses outside Harry Styles's house

Outside Harry’s former home

Which schools did Harry Styles go to?

Harry’s parents would have been spoilt for choice for great primary schools – there are two in the village – Holmes Chapel Primary School and the smaller Hermitage Primary School – and several others nearby. Harry attended Hermitage Primary School and has been back to visit since he became famous, even welcoming some of his old teachers backstage at concerts in Manchester – the nearest city to Holmes Chapel.

Hermitage Primary School, Holmes Chapel

Hermitage Primary School, Holmes Chapel

He then attended the village’s only secondary school – Holmes Chapel Comprehensive School – known locally as The Comp. He was still at this school, having just taken his GCSEs, when he began filming the X-Factor.

The high school in Selkirk Drive, not included on the official tour, is also where Harry played football with his local team the Holmes Chapel Hurricanes.

Holmes Chapel High School

Holmes Chapel High School

Although a former coach once said he was better at chatting up the girls than playing football!

The Harry Styles Walking Tour

The tour (directions at end) was put together by Holmes Chapel Partnership in a bid to keep fans safe – some had been ‘risking life and limb’ by using a busy road with no pavements to access the famous Harry’s Wall.

Landmark 1: Holmes Chapel Railway Station.

The tour starts at the village railway station as lots of fans arrive by train.  It’s on the Crewe to Manchester Line, with services to Crewe (around 14 minutes) and Manchester Piccadilly (around 40 minutes). Some trains even stop at Manchester Airport, perfect for fans flying in from abroad.

Holmes Chapel Railway Station

Holmes Chapel Railway Station

Harry has used the station a lot, especially while filming in the X-Factor in 2010 when he would regularly leave for London on a Thursday and return to Holmes Chapel on Tuesdays.

Railway ticket officer Graham Blake had known Harry since the Watermelon Sugar star was 10 but got to know the then 16-year-old better during this time.

As he became more and more famous, there would be swarms of fans waiting for him at the station and Graham sometimes had to help him to hide.

Holmes Chapel Railway Station

Landmark 2: Harry’s Wall/Twemlow Viaduct

The route takes fans on a scenic route through the village, passing near to Hermitage Primary School, which Harry attended, over the historic Hermitage Bridge where the impressive Twemlow Viaduct comes into view.

Built in 1841 to carry the railway line over the River Dane, many arriving fans will have already travelled over it in trains from Manchester and Manchester Airport.

Fans walk then through two fields to get to Harry’s Wall.

Harry is famously said to have had his first kiss at this spot.

It’s also well-known to fans as the wall Harry wrote his name on in the One Direction biopic film This is Us.

Harry's Wall where Harry Styles had his first kiss

Harry’s Wall

As he walks up to the viaduct in the video, Harry says: “When I come home, if I walk and like don’t see anyone around, I can feel like I’m six again. Which is pretty crazy. I mean I’m a bit tall for a six-year-old!”

Fans now flock here to take photos and sign messages to the singer on the wall.

Landmark 3: Mandeville’s Bakery

Next on the tour is the bakery where Harry Styles worked on a Saturday, before finding fame on the X-Factor.

Mandevilles Bakery in Holmes Chapel where Harry Styles worked

W Mandeville Bakery

He tells Simon Cowell about his job while on stage during his X-Factor audition and he visits W. Mandeville Bakery during the This is Us video, to reminisce and meet his former boss and colleagues.

Harry says: “I remember when they said that they wanted me to work on Saturdays, I felt like I’d won the lottery. I was like, weekend job, I’m gonna be rich!”

Inside the bakery is a cardboard cut-out of Harry Styles, perfect for having your photo taken with, plus you can grab some lunch at the same time.

Harry Styles cardboard cutout in the bakery where he worked in Holmes Chapel

Have your picture taken with Harry Styles

The bakery opened 94 years before Harry was born, in 1900 and sells an array of delicious cakes, bread and pastries.

Landmark 4: Fortune City Chinese restaurant

Next you get to walk through the centre of Holmes Chapel, passing St Luke’s Church, the jewel in its crown.

Here you are spoilt for choice for food options including cafes, pubs and takeaways.

After passing the precinct, which includes the library and post office, you’ll cross at traffic lights to head to the Chinese restaurant where Harry took his then-girlfriend, Taylor Swift.

The family home where he lived is just before the restaurant on the right.

Harry Styles former home in Holmes Chapel exact location

Harry’s former home

His mum eventually had to move out of this house due to her son’s fame when he was in One Direction and Harry bought her a new home nearby.

Harry said Fortune City was his favourite Chinese restaurant and it was certainly handy for the family, being just a stone’s throw from their front door.

Fortune City Chinese Restaurant Holmes Chapel where Harry Styles took Taylor Swift

Fortune City

Our comprehensive video tour of Harry Styles’ most important places in Homes Chapel

Here is the Harry’s Home Village Tour map and directions, produced by Holmes Chapel Partnership:

Holmes Chapel Partnership Harry Styles Trail

Credit: Holmes Chapel Partnership

Land of Lights Festival Warrington at Gulliver’s World Resort 2023: Guide and review

Land of Lights Festival Warrington at Gulliver’s World Resort 2023: Guide and review

All you need to know about the new Christmas trail Land of Lights Festival North 2023

A new festive lights trail has joined the list of popular illuminations events in the north-west of England.

The theme park Gulliver’s World Resort in Cheshire has launched its Land of Lights Festival 2023.

Read everything you need to know about it after our video tour.

 

Name:

Land of Lights Festival North (there is another one in Milton Keynes).

A girl at the entrance to Land of Lights Warrington, Gullivers World Resort

What is it?

A lantern trail through 12 themed areas.

Visitors walk through illuminations including giant animal and monument lanterns, enjoying festive food and drink.

Where is it?

It is at Gulliver’s World Resort in Warrington, Cheshire.

What did we think?

This was a lovely, long route, longer than most festive trails, past a lake, through play areas which younger children made the most of and felt really magical in places with lots and lots of illuminations.

Highlights

*Our favourite bit was a mesmerising walk through an insect and bug section with blue lights cascading down from above.

The insect-themed area at Land of Lights Warrington, Gulliver's Resort

The insect-themed area

*It was great seeing all the different themed areas, ranging from dinosaurs in a Jurassic section through to skeletons in a Halloween part. Illuminations included Dennis the Menace, animals and Santa.

A T-Rex dinosaur at Land of Lights Warrington, Gulliver's Resort

*A naughty highlight was a ride on the log flume – naughty as we found out afterwards, this wasn’t included in our lights package (see top tips).

Top tips

*Offers – there is a Land of Lights Festival voucher code if you book for a date in January or February – LIGHTS20 gives you a 20 per cent discount.

*Will you get to go on any rides at Gulliver’s World? Not with just a ticket to the lights, this is a separate event. It can be a bit confusing as some of the rides might still be open for other guests – we had two goes on the log flume, without realising that we shouldn’t! Also not included is a Christmas show that visitors were queuing for and a train ride to Santa’s grotto. It is useful to know this before you go else it can get confusing particularly towards the exit and you don’t want your children spotting other things going on and being disappointed. There are different Christmas packages that include the various options if you want to do more than just the lights. One of the festive packages this year called Twinkle includes the Christmas activities (rides, North Pole Express, Elf Workshop and Santa’s Grotto) and also allows access to Land of Lights.

Dennis the Menace at Land of Lights Warrington, Gulliver's Resort

Dennis the Menace

*Gulliver’s Annual Passport holders must still by tickets and don’t receive any perks as this is a stand alone event, say organisers.

*What to wear? This is all outdoors so make sure to wrap up warm and bring waterproof clothes.

*There are some dog-friendly nights (they must be kept on a lead) on November 16 and 30, December 14 and 28, January 7 and 21 and February 4 and 18.

*Can you buy tickets at the event – yes, at the higher price if they have not sold out.

*There is no strobe lighting but some lantern features do include flashing, twinkling and colour changing lights.

Land of Lights Festival Warrington information

Dates: It runs until February 25, 2024.

Food: There is festive food and drink to enjoy at The Food Hub at Safari Kingdom where you can buy churros, Yorkshire pudding wraps, German sausages and drinks.

There are other drinks stalls around the trail. And Lagado’s Restaurant and Grill (next to the entrance and exit plazas) is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings if you prefer to sit down in the warm.

Opening hours: Depending on the night, it runs from about 4.45pm until 8pm or 9pm

Cost: Depending on the date – there are peak and off-peak dates), tickets bought in advance online are £15 or £19 for adults and children. Concessions £9 and £11.

Tickets not bought in advance are £18 or £22 for adults and children and £9 and £11 concessions.

Under-twos are free.

There is no senior rate, the concessionary rate is for those with a Blue Badge, DLA or PIP letter and their carer.

Best for: All ages.

Time needed: The trail takes around 90 minutes, depending on walking speed and how much you stop to eat, drink and look at the lights.

Access and restrictions: The route is mainly flat and firm, with some slight inclines.

There is a boardwalk which will not suit all mobility requirements but marshals will assist people on an alternative route if required.

Accessible toilets are available along the route.

Address: Gulliver’s World Resort, Old Hall, Warrington, Cheshire, WA5 9YZ.

To bookLand of Lights Festival Warrington

Parking: Parking is free

Chester Zoo Lanterns and Light 2023 – all you need to know about this Christmas lights trail

Chester Zoo Lanterns and Light 2023 – all you need to know about this Christmas lights trail

Full guide and review of Lanterns and Light at Chester Zoo

The UK’s most popular zoo has launched its Christmas lights event for 2023.

Visitors will be flocking to the festive trail in Cheshire – Lanterns and Light – which is one of the most talked about in the North West of England.

And we were lucky enough to visit on opening night for this review and guide – here is everything you need to know plus our exclusive video.

 

Name:

Chester Zoo Lanterns and Light

What is it?

This animal-themed festive lights trail takes place after opening hours at Chester Zoo.

Visitors walk through new illuminations, lanterns and light installations meeting characters along the way and festive food to buy and enjoy as you go.

An illuminated rhino at Chester Zoo Lanterns and Light

An illuminated rhino

Where is it?

Chester Zoo is on the northern outskirts of Chester in North West England.

What did we think?

The lovely lights and music of this trail are a great way to get into the Christmas mood.

It’s quite a relaxing trail, with cute touches and some stunning moments.

Highlights

*The flickering fire gardens – it was quite breathtaking to see real fire used as opposed to more modern illuminations – in hundreds of little lanterns.

*Person-controlled animal puppets dance and interact with visitors including elephants, an octopus, wild dogs and a rather enthusiastic zebra.

A person-controlled puppet wild dog at Chester Zoo Lanterns and Light

A person-controlled puppet

*A woolly mammoth makes a grand entrance on a large 3D projection screen.

a 3D woolly mammoth at Chester Zoo Lanterns and Light

Woolly mammoth

*Marshmallow toasting with different flavoured chunky marshmallows including salted caramel, vanilla and chocolate orange.

Marshmallow toatsing at Chester Zoo Lanterns and Light

Marshmallow toasting

*A lane filled with larger than life pea-lit animals such as a stag, penguins and a giraffe.

Illuminated penguins at Chester Zoo Lanterns and Light

Illuminated penguins

*The children enjoyed a virtual reality experience at the end of the trail.

*Knowing that every ticket helps the zoo in its conservation work supporting projects in more than 20 countries, helping animals to survive and thrive.

Top tips

*Will you see any animals? You will sadly not get to see any of Chester Zoo’s 27,000 animals – the trail follows a specific route and the animal habitats are all closed. The zoo, a world-leading conservation charity, is home to nearly 600 species, many endangered in the wild and is well worth a visit during normal opening hours – Chester Zoo – our top tips to save you time and money on a family day at this hugely popular attraction for families

An octopus puppet at Chester Zoo Lanterns and Light

An octopus puppet

*Is Lanterns and Light free for Chester Zoo members? Chester Zoo members pay the same price for tickets as everyone else. Organisers say this is because it is a special event outside usual opening hours which raises funds for the zoo and its mission.

*What to do if you are visiting the zoo in the day – you need to go back to the main entrance at 3.30pm when it closes and wait for your ticket time so book as early as you can.

*What happens if the weather is bad? The event will only be cancelled in extreme weather and you will be contacted in advance.

*What to wear? This is all outdoors so make sure to wrap up warm and bring waterproof clothes.

*There are three little rides for younger children including a carousel, which cost £3 each. The virtual reality experience at the end costs £6 each or £10 for two and there are three different options. Ours enjoyed a Christmas experience where they became an elf – the other two are animal-based.

The map of Lanterns and Light at Chester Zoo

Lanterns and Light map

*You might catch a glimpse of Santa.

Father Christmas at Chester Zoo Lanterns and Light

Chester Zoo Lanterns and Light information

Dates: It runs on various dates from November 17 to December 31.

Food: There is festive food and drink around the trail to enjoy, mostly within a Christmas Market Foodhall. Stands include pizza, burgers, hot chocolate, popcorn, crumble and giant, stuffed Yorkshire puddings.

Yorkshire pudding menu at Lanterns and Light at Chester Zoo

Yorkshire pudding menu

You are also allowed to take your own food, just no alcohol.

Opening hours: There are timed tickets every 15 minutes with sessions from 4.15pm to 8pm. The event closes at 9.15pm.

Cost: Prices for Lanterns and Light range from £18 to £22 for adults and £12 to £17 for children, depending on the day. Children under two and carers are free but still need a booked ticket.

Best for: All ages.

Time needed: The trail takes 60 to 90 minutes.

Access and restrictions: The trail is flat but a bit uneven in places, plus it can be hard to see in the dark.

You can hire a mobility scooter or wheelchair by emailing guest.services@chesterzoo.org or a buggy at rentals when you get there.

For guests who need a quieter environment there are quiet times at 4pm on November 18, 23, 24, 25, 29 and December 6, call 01244 380280.

Address: Chester Zoo, Upton-by-Chester, Chester, CH2 1LH. How to get to the zoo.

To book:   Lanterns and Light

Parking: Parking is free

Website: Chester Zoo Lanterns and Light

We review The Bay Filey – a dog-friendly Yorkshire holiday park on a beach

We review The Bay Filey – a dog-friendly Yorkshire holiday park on a beach

We take a family holiday to a holiday park on the beach in Filey, Yorkshire

Name

The Bay Filey Holiday Resort

Where is it?

On the North Yorkshire coast near to Filey, south of Scarborough.

What is it?

A dog-friendly holiday park where you can stay in a house or a lodge, with access to a sandy beach.

Facilities include a swimming pool, gym, restaurants, pharmacy, playground, shop and arcade.

A lodge at Bay Filey Holiday Park in Yorkshire

Our lodge at Bay Filey Holiday Park in Yorkshire

Is it family friendly?

Yes, there’s lots for children to do – there’s an indoor heated swimming pool (and separate baby pool), arcade and small adventure playground. They can play tennis, basketball or football and you can book activities (for an extra charge) such as pottery painting, archery and teddy-bear making.

The arcade at The Bay Filey holiday park

The arcade

Plus, of course, the beach – Hunmanby Gap Beach – is a short walk away for long, sunny days or even rainy day walks.

The beach at Bay Filey Holiday Park in Yorkshire

The beach

Is it dog friendly?

Yes, it really is and a lot of the people staying here had a dog with them. There was a box of goodies waiting in the lodge for our dog Charlie, containing a ball, travel bowl, blanket, poo bags and bag holder.

A dog present at Bay Filey Holiday Park in Yorkshire

Charlie’s box of dog goodies

They are even allowed in the pub and pizza restaurant – which is good as holidaymakers are encouraged not to leave their pooches alone in the accommodation.

Although they need to be kept on a lead around the site, the beach is a perfect place for well-behaved dogs to stretch their legs and enjoy the ball from their goody bag.

A dog on the beach at The Bay Filey Holiday Resort

Charlie on the beach

The accommodation

When you first drive into this park, it feels like you are entering a modern housing estate. There are lots of pretty houses to stay at, but further into the park, you find sections with roomy lodges.

Houses at The Bay Filey

Houses at The Bay Filey

We stayed in a four-person lodge near to the lake – larger six-berths are also available.

It had an open plan lounge/kitchen-diner with two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Inside our lodge at Bay Filey Holiday Park in Yorkshire

Inside our lodge

One bedroom had a double bed, the other had two singles and both rooms had tvs, plus there’s one in the lounge.

A bedroom at our lodge at Bay Filey Holiday Park in Yorkshire

A bedroom at our lodge

A sliding glass door at the front opened out on to a small outside terrace with a table and chairs and a partial view of the lake.

The lodge outdoor terrace at The Bay Filey Holiday Resort

The outdoor terrace

The kitchen was well-equipped with an oven, hob, microwave, dishwasher and even a washing machine.

Wi-fi was available in our lodge. But it is not available in every holiday home here, so check before you arrive.

Food and drink

The kitchen in our lodge was big enough to make self-catering a breeze.

There are also two restaurants on site – a pizza restaurant and takeaway called The Four Cats and a pub called John Paul Jones – both with great menus.

The Four Cats pizza restaurant/takeaway

The woman making delicious pizzas at The Four Cats was lovely and worked so hard, with takeaway orders coming in as well as for those dining in. Two pizzas was plenty for the four of us. There is even a dessert pizza, topped with chocolate and marshmallows.

Our highlights

*Access to the beach – being able to walk to a lovely beach has to be a big tick on anyone’s holiday wishlist – see our top tips for more details of how to access it.

*Arrivals – unlike many parks, here you can arrive any day at any time of the year, even during peak times. The only requirement is that stays are a minimum of two nights.

*Dog walking – outside our lodge was a lovely meadow with paths to walk dogs and explore, plus the footpath to the beach via the cliffs and other walk along footpaths in the area.

Top tips

Activities

Activities need to be booked in advance – download the Away Resorts App to book.  The tennis court also needs to be booked this way. You can start booking 21 days before your stay so make sure you download the App in advance especially during busy periods to reserve the activities you want.

Making a glitter globe activity at The Bay Filey Holiday Resort

Making a glitter globe activity

How to get to the beach

There are two paths to the beach from the site – the main route off Silversands Way is steep in places, not suitable for anyone with mobility issues.

The path to the beach from Th Bay Filey holiday park

The main path to the beach.

The second way, from a gate on Sunrise Way, is a longer and narrow walk with clifftop views towards the end (and steep drops). It takes you through the beach car park and past a lovely beach café at the end.

Alternative path to the beach from Th Bay Filey holiday park

Alternative way to the beach

If you don’t want to walk too far or have a lot of beach paraphernalia to transport, you can drive a mile to the beach car park, which costs £5 for the day. There’s a steepish slope down to the beach but it’s not too far this way.

You can pay to use Portaloo-type toilets here at 20p a go.

Beach cafe

There is a beach cafe in a glorious spot overlooking the beach and sea. It serves food like toasted sandwiches, all-day breakfast, cakes and quiche and is great value. We had a lovely lunch, enjoying the view.

The beach cafe overlooking Hunmanby Beach

The beach cafe

If you are driving, turn left out of The Bay Filey and go left at the first roundabout and the car park is about 1 mile down the road.

But you will walk directly past it if you travel to the beach from the beach car park or if you take the clifftop walk from the site.

Swimming pool

You don’t need to book the pool but this can mean it is full when you arrive and you will have to return at another time, so check with staff when the best time would be. It’s a nice big pool but can get very busy and the changing rooms are a bit tight and could do with a revamp.

The swimming pool at The Bay Filey Holiday Park

The swimming pool

The gym at The Bay Filey Holiday Resort

The gym

Nearby

Hunmanby Gap Beach

The nearest attraction is obviously the beach. Hunmanby Gap Beach is a big sandy beach with a lovely café overlooking it. Great for swimming in the sea and perfect for dogs.

The beach when the tide is in at The Bay Filey Holiday Resort

The beach when the tide is in

When the tide if out, you can walk from here to Filey Beach.

Filey

The traditional seaside town and former fishing village of Filey is a couple of miles away. There is a promenade and an award-winning beach. Filey Beach is dog friendly but they are only allowed on certain parts of it from the start of May to the end of September.

Aerial clifftop view of Filey Beach

Filey Beach

Parking can be tricky, we parked at Filey Country Park and walked down steep steps and a steep slope to get to the beach. Attractions on the seafront include crazy golf, a bouncy castle and arcade.

Mini-golf at Filey Beach

Crazy golf at Filey Beach

Scarborough

Scarborough is around 25 minutes away and has beaches, a busy town centre, harbour and attractions like Sealife, Escape Rooms, Burton Riggs Nature Reserve and Alpamare Waterpark.

The wave pool at Almpare Waterpark

Alpamare Waterpark

The waterpark has an indoor wave pool and an indoor splash area with two toddler slides. There are four big water slides, one that you slide down on a mat and two on inflatables. There are also two gorgeously warm outdoor pools – which we surprisingly loved and spent a lot of time in on a cold, rainy day, while feeling sorry for the lifeguards on duty under umbrellas.

Away Resorts exclusive discount code

Away Resorts is a UK holiday park operator with 20 parks across the country in locations including Scotland, Lincolnshire, Isle of Wight, North Wales, Hampshire and Dorset, Cornwall, Hayling Island and Essex.

The company says its sites are all different but make the most of their individual surroundings.

We have an exclusive discount code for you when booking a holiday with Away Resorts until September 3 for 2023 holidays.

Use the code FAMHOLGUIDE10 for your excusive discount.

This offer excludes Away Resorts Boston West, Clumber, Gara Rock, Kenwick, Piperdam and Woodland Lakes.

The football pitch at The Bay Filey holiday park

The football pitch

More information

Address: The Bay Filey, 1 Moor Rd, Primrose Valley, Filey YO14 9GA

Telephone: 0330 0537000.

How to book: The Bay Filey Holiday Park

RELATED CONTENT: Review: Love2Stay – a fantastic holiday park in the middle of Shropshire with loads for children to do (and dogs)!

RELATED CONTENT: Cofton Holiday Park near Dawlish in Devon – Family Holiday Guide review

*We received a complimentary stay for the purpose of this review, all reviews and tips are our own.

 

Things to do in Bath for families

Things to do in Bath for families

What to do in beautiful Bath

England’s popular spa town is named after and famous because of its Roman-built baths.

Often voted among the best places in the country to live, work or visit, the city boasts stunning architecture, Roman remains, was once home to the author Jane Austen and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Bath is on the banks of the River Avon, in the west of England.

More specifically, it’s in the north-east of the county of Somerset, 97 miles west of London and 11 miles south-east of Bristol.

The city is brimming with things to do, here are some of the best attractions and ideas:

Roman Baths

With more than one million visitors a year, the Roman Baths are a huge tourist pull.

The Romans built this grand temple, bathing and socialising complex in around 70AD.

Constructed around Britain’s only hot spring, it is now one of the best-preserved Roman remains in the world.

Sadly, it’s not possible to swim in the Roman Baths today but you can taste the water which has been freshly pumped.

Roman Baths

Roman Baths

Spoiler: The drinking water is warm and rather unpleasant but a good experience!

Tip: Make sure everyone takes an audio guide. You wear them around your neck and hold them to your ear like a phone. In each area is a number to type in and there are different guides for children – theirs are the numbers on orange backgrounds.

There are separate audio guides for children at the Roman Baths

There are separate audio guides for children

For more information visit the website: Roman Baths

Bus Tour

The city is not huge but if it’s your first visit, you struggle to get around, need a rest or just fancy a fun way to see the city, take a hop-on, hop-off bus.

On a sunny day, it’s a treat for children (and grown-ups) to sit on top of an open-air bus.

We went with TOOT BUS and tried both their tours – the City Tour and the longer Skyline Tour, take a look at the route maps.

They stop near all the major attractions and have audio in 10 languages – you collect headphones when you get on and plug them in next to your seats under the window.

TOOT open-top bus tour in Bath

TOOT BUS Tour

Why is travelling by open-topped bus so much more fun and relaxing than going anywhere by car?

Tip: The app works well for showing where all the buses are so you aren’t waiting around. Your e-ticket is swapped for a paper ticket when you first board and you will need it every time you hop on and hop off so don’t lose it!

The Royal Crescent

As we said at the start, the architecture in Bath is a sight to behold.

And The Royal Crescent is one of the best examples of Georgian architecture in the UK – this iconic landmark was built between 1767 and 1775.

Formed, as you would expect, in the shape of a crescent, it’s a 538-foot wide, curved row of 30 terraced houses overlooking Royal Victoria Park.

Many important people have lived or stayed here and it has been the location for films and dramas including Bridgerton, Persuasion, Inspector Morse and The Duchess.

Curious visitors can even get a look inside one – a museum resides at Number 1 Royal Crescent. This restored town-house shows what fashionable life would have been like in the 18th century. Children are enthusiastically welcomed and can turn detectives on a trail around the house.

Inside Number 1 Royal Crescent, Bath

Inside Number 1 Royal Crescent

There is also a hotel located in two of the town houses – The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa.

Tip: Make the most of the staff’s expertise and don’t miss the chance to dress up in Georgian clothing. Also, there is a lovely small park opposite the Crescent, which makes an excellent picnic spot.

Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House

This cafe/restaurant – hailed a world-famous tea and eating house – is set in one of the oldest houses in Bath.

It is known for its regional speciality – Sally Lunn Bath Bunns – a type of bun baked to a secret recipe.

The Bunns are similar to brioche and can be eaten with sweet or savoury toppings.

Sally Lunn’s is open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner.

Sally Lunn's cafe and restaurant window, Bath

Sally Lunn’s

Tip: The restaurant gets really busy, if you don’t want to queue (you can only book if eating after 5pm), you can bypass the queue to visit a tiny museum and shop downstairs which sells Bunns to take home to toast and eat at your leisure.

Address: Sally Lunn’s House, 4 North Parade Passage, Bath, BA1 1NX.

Tip: Confusingly, there’s another regional speciality you can find in this city, called the Bath Bun, sprinkled with fruit and crushed sugar.

Try both to decide which wins the battle of the buns.

American Museum and Gardens

This Georgian estate on the outskirts of Bath, includes an American museum, beautiful gardens with valley views and a lovely children’s outdoor play area.

It was founded in 1961 to bring American culture and history to Europe.

Its cafe, The Deli, sells America favourites such as macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, filled bagels, hot sandwiches, cakes, scones and American cheesecake.

American Museum and Gardens, Bath

American Museum and Gardens

The museum recreates American houses through different decades and the enthusiastic staff will let you play games in a replica saloon bar.

Tips: If it’s a nice day and you buy food from the café, take it outside and enjoy it on the terrace with fantastic views over the garden.

Website: www.americanmuseum.org

Pulteney Bridge

As well as being a much-photographed example of Georgian architecture, this is one of only four bridges in the world to have shops all across it on both sides.

Walk across it or view it from the crescent weir or Parade Gardens (you have to pay to enter these gardens).

Pulteney Bridge, Bath

Pulteney Bridge

Interesting fact: It featured in the 2012 film version of Les Miserables.

Park and Ride

If you have a car, there are three excellent park and ride options around the edge of the city.

We used the one at Odd Down. The buses run every 10 to 15 minutes and this is a much less stressful option than trying to drive and park in Bath.

Parking is free all day if you buy a return bus fare (£2.70 per adult with children free).

For more ideas of what to do in Bath, visit the city’s official tourist information site Visit Bath.

*Have we missed any of your favourite attractions? Let us know of any attractions you would like us to add.

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*We received free or reduced rates for the purpose of this story, all views are our own.

Cheddar Gorge – all you need to know about this natural phenomenon

Cheddar Gorge – all you need to know about this natural phenomenon

England’s largest gorge is a great family adventure but follow our advice to stay safe and enjoy it for free

Name

Cheddar Gorge

What is it?

A popular tourist attraction, Cheddar Gorge is a stunning limestone gorge in the Mendip Hills with show caves.

Visitors can complete a three-mile circular walk around the naturally-formed gorge – up one side, along the cliffs 900 feet above sea-level and back down the other side and through the village of Cheddar.

You can also visit the caves where the so-called Cheddar Man was discovered – a 9,000-year-old skeleton. There are two – the largest is Gough’s Cave which is over 500,000 years old with cathedral-like caverns, a large underground river system, stalagmites and stalactites.

Cheddar Gorge

Cheddar Gorge

Where is it?

It’s near the village of Cheddar in Somerset in the west of England.

What did we think?

This stunning landscape is well worth a look.

The walk would be quite tough for younger children and less fit adults – there are lots of steep parts and the pebbly way means you have to watch your feet a lot of the time.

But the views at the top, and the satisfaction of completing the route, make it worthwhile.

We can see why it is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

How to enjoy Cheddar Gorge for free.

If you do the circular walk clockwise, like we did, you will descend Jacob’s Ladder – not a ladder but a challenging 274 steps – down from the cliff tops into the village, for FREE.

If you want to walk UP the steps instead (there are four resting stops on the way up) – you will need to buy a Cheddar Gorge Caves and Day Ticket. If you’ve got any leg power left, another 48 steps takes you to the the top of the Lookout Tower and some fabulous views.

The ticket includes entrance to the steps and the Lookout Tower, both caves, the Museum of Prehistory and a cinematic experience called Beyond the View.

But it’s a fantastic experience without the extras and you can even park for free too if you park on the road instead of in one of the car parks.

There are more spaces further up the road away from the village – a good place to park is near to the Black Rock entrance to the trail.

Top tips

*There are some incredibly steep, sheer drops, keep an eye and a hand on children and keep dogs on a lead. I wouldn’t risk this with a child who could run off or anyone who wouldn’t appreciate the dangers.

*Wear walking boots or other suitable footwear, it’s a rocky walk.

*In need of some Christmas decorations? There is an all-year round Christmas shop in Cheddar!

Cheddar

Cheddar

*There is rock climbing and adventure caving for adults and children aged eight and above. Thrillseekers can also try out the Black Cat Freefall – where participants (minimum age 11), climb a 30-foot ladder and take on a big cave jump, attached to a safety line.

*If you want to find out more about the area, visit the Cheddar Man Museum of Prehistory.

Cheddar Gorge information

Food: The route around the gorge takes you through the village of Cheddar where you can buy ice-cream and other food or try cheese tasting at The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company. Alternatively, take a picnic like we did, to enjoy at the top (it can get very blustery but the views are fabulous).

Cost: The cliff-top walk is free if you do the circular route and descend Jacob’s Ladder. Fees apply to ascend the ladder, visit the caves or museum or to take part in the activities like caving and rock climbing.

Best for: Older children and relatively fit adults.

Time needed: Around 2.5 hours for the walk, longer if you include the caves, museum, activities or a look around the town.

Access and restrictions: The walk, the caves and the Jacob’s Ladder steps are not suitable for wheelchairs or anyone with limited disability. You can get a sense of the place via car – the drive through the gorge is one of the most scenic in Britain.

Address: Cheddar Gorge and Caves, The Cliffs, Cheddar, Somerset, BS27 3QF.

Parking: We parked by the side of the road – there seemed to be more spaces further up the road away from the village. A good place to park is near to the Black Rock entrance. Car parks include Cheddar Gorge Car Park and Cliff Street Car Park.

To book: The walk is free but to book paid-for parts of the experience go to the website Cheddar Gorge

Where to stay: We stayed at Wookey Hole Hotel, just eight miles from Cheddar Gorge and on the site of Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions, if you are inspired to explore more cavern, don’t miss our hotel review here.

RELATED CONTENT: Review: Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions – kooky by name and kooky by nature

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Review: Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions – kooky by name and kooky by nature

Review: Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions – kooky by name and kooky by nature

All you need to know about Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions, near Wells in Somerset

Name

Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions

What is it?

A family attraction centred around one of the UK’s largest series of show caves, said to be home to the Witch of Wookey Hole.

Aside from the caves, there is crazy golf, dinosaurs, a vintage penny arcade, 4D cinema, soft play and a circus theatre.

Where is it?

In the Mendip Hills near Wells in Somerset, in the south-west of England, 20 miles south of Bath.

What did we think?

The caverns are well worth a look, a stunning natural phenomenon. Eight of the chambers are open to visitors. You can see underground pools and even a cheese tunnel, home to Wookey Hole cheese.

Cave-aged cheddar cheese at Wookey Hole Caves and attractions

Cave-aged cheddar cheese

The rest of the attraction is curious in that it is quite a mish mash of themes and ideas filling the space – I still can’t decide if that makes it charming or confusing.

Nevertheless, we easily filled over half a day and all enjoyed ourselves.

Highlights

*The caves – they are filled with history – they began to be formed millions of years ago and have been used over the last 50,000 years by various inhabitants including giant hyenas, lions, bears, Neanderthals and Romans. More recently they have featured in films and tv shows such as Doctor Who.

Inside the caves at Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions

Inside the caves

The temperature is a constant 11° Celsius.

*The Enchanted Valley area when you exit the caves is great for dinosaur fans – there are lots of them to see, some moving and roaring, along with a huge King Kong and a woolly mammoth.

A dinosaur fossil dig at Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions

Digging for dinosaur fossils

*There’s a maze of mirrors which is fun to explore, inside a traditional arcade area.

*The circus theatre is worth a look – it stars local young performers who really impressed us with the scale of their skills including aerial, unicycles and even a sprinkling of magic.

Circus at Wookey Hole Caves

Circus at Wookey Hole Caves

*The 4D cinema plays different films – we saw a Scooby Doo show.

*There’s a nine-hole pirate-themed golf adventure course (crazy golf) included in the ticket price.

*We all enjoyed an area with soft foam balls that you can fire out of cannons.

*The staff are very friendly with some getting into character dressed as wizards and witches to enhance the experience.

Top tips

*The layout can be confusing. Buy/collect your tickets opposite the ice cream parlour near to the hotel (we stayed here, don’t miss our review), then cross the road and walk up the slope to access the caves first.

A t-rex at Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions

You walk past the dinosaurs on your way to the caves and through them afterwards.

*The caves take around 35 minutes to get around. They are dimly lit and a bit slippery, with some steps. And watch your head as it can be low in places, but this all adds to the fun of exploring.

*We went during school holidays, but during term-time, you book on a guided tour of the caves. Make the most of the staff stationed in the different caverns to ask them questions as it enhances the experience.

*Wookey Hole Caves is one of over 200 attractions around the UK that Blue Peter badge holders can get into for free. Badge holders with a valid badge card must be accompanied by a full paying adult.

* Look out for the human-shaped stalagmite that legend says is a witch turned to stone by a monk from Glastonbury, hence the legend.

*When you first go into the 4D cinema experience, you enter a room with a talking bat (he natters on for rather a long time) and a witch on a big phone screen – it could be rather dark and scary for some younger children. The 4D cinema experience involves the chairs moving and shaking at times and sensations such as puffs of air. Children under three are not allowed in.

Our video

Wookey Hole Caves information

Where to stay: We stayed at the hotel on site Wookey Hole Hotel, which means we were first in the caves in the morning, read our review to find out more.

Wookey Hole Hotel

Wookey Hole Hotel

Food: There’s a large restaurant on site selling meals such as chicken nuggets and sausages and chips. There are a few sandwich and cake options too. It has a bit of a canteen feel so could be nicer to sit on one of the few tables outside.

Next to the car park is an ice cream parlour with a delicious array of flavours.

Opening hours: For current opening times visit Wookey Hole Caves

Cost: For current cost visit Wookey Hole Caves

Best for: Ages five to 12 but adults will love the caves.

Time needed: At least half a day.

Access and restrictions: The caves are not accessible for wheelchairs or prams, the ground is bumpy and slippy and there are around 200 steps. The rest of the site is said to be accessible.

Parking: There’s a large car park and parking is free.

Address: Wookey Hole Caves, The Mill, Wookey Hole, BA5 1BA.

Telephone: 01749 672243

Email: witch@wookey.co.uk

To book: Wookey Hole Caves

RELATED CONTENT: Review: Wookey Hole Hotel in Somerset (at Wookey Hole Caves)

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*We were given free admission for the purpose of this review, all views are our own.

Review: Wookey Hole Hotel in Somerset (at Wookey Hole Caves)

Review: Wookey Hole Hotel in Somerset (at Wookey Hole Caves)

We stay at the hotel next to the famous Wookey Hole Caves in Wells

Our video tour of the hotel and attraction

Name

Wookey Hole Hotel

Where is it?

At the famous Wookey Hole Caves attraction in Somerset, two miles from the cathedral city of Wells and 20 miles from Bath.

What is it?

A 58-room hotel with a memorable turret shaped like a witch’s hat.

There’s a nod to witches in other details too including the curtains in our room.

A witch statue peers out of a bush at Wookey Hole Hotel

A witch peers out of a bush at the hotel

This is due to the legendary Wookey Hole witch – said to have lived in the caves until she was killed by a monk.

Is it family friendly?

Yes, there were lots of families here when we stayed and it is the target market for the hotel. Many are likely to be here to visit the adjacent Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions.

Children also benefit from a well kitted out games room and a great children’s menu in the restaurant.

The rooms

We had a family room with a comfortable double bed and two singles, a great alternative to the usual offering of two double beds and the children were pleased to have a bed each.

There was lots of good storage space, tea and coffee facilities and a tv plus free WiFi for unlimited devices.

A family room at Wookey Hole Hotel

Our family room

There are also double, superior and luxury family rooms. And a Witch’s Hat Suite for two adults with a bedroom and lounge. It can be found, as you might imagine, under the Witch’s Hat tower turret.

Food and drink

The Bistro is the bar and restaurant on site. It’s a nice room with wide windows on two sides.

The restaurant/bar at Wookey Hole Hotel

The restaurant/bar

Breakfast is served between 7.30am and 10am daily and there’s the choice of a buffet-style continental or a cooked alternative such as an English breakfast or eggs benedict.

There’s a good selection of evening meals, with something for everyone, served from 5.30pm to 8.30pm.

Our highlights

*The location – this is fantastic if you want to visit Wookey Hole Caves as it’s right next door. You can also do some scenic walks around the village and to Ebbor Gorge, which is about a 30-minute walk from the hotel.

*There is free car parking.

*The games room includes a giant Connect Four, air hockey table, table football, Jenga and classic arcade games.

Part of the games room at Wookey Hole Hotel

Part of the games room

Top tips

*As you’re staying on the same site, make sure to get up and out early as you can be first in the caves like we were – they opened at 9.30am when we stayed.

*Book the restaurant for breakfast or evening meals before you arrive to make sure you get one at your preferred time.

*Adjoining rooms are available if needed as are travel cots – only the bottom sheet is provided so bring your own bedding.

*There are often special packages available with stays including tickets to Wookey Hole, breakfast and discounts to other attractions, if you book directly with the hotel.

Nearby

*The adjacent Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions is a series of show caverns which date back millions of years. Alongside the caves are a dinosaur park, 4D cinema, adventure golf, soft play and circus theatre. Read our full review of Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions.

Dinosaurs at Wookey Hole Caves

Dinosaurs at Wookey Hole Caves

*The hotel is just eight miles from the stunning Cheddar Gorge, don’t miss our full guide to this natural phenomenom.

Cheddar Gorge

Cheddar Gorge

*It’s two miles from beautiful Wells – the smallest city in England. We spent a fantastic afternoon here, spending ages exploring the Bishop’s Palace glorious gardens.

Bishops Palace and Gardens, Wells

Bishops Palace and Gardens, Wells

*It’s 20 miles from Bath, where we spent a lovely couple of days visiting attractions like the Roman Baths, the Royal Crescent and the American Museum and Gardens as well as enjoying hop-on, hop-off open air bus tours. Read our full guide: Things to do in Bath for families

More information

Address: Wookey Hole Hotel, The Mill, Wookey Hole, Wells, Somerset, BA5 1BB.

Telephone: 01749 672243.

Email:  hotel@wookey.co.uk

How to book: Wookey Hole Hotel

RELATED CONTENT: Review: Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions – kooky by name and kooky by nature

RELATED CONTENT: Things to do in Bath for families

RELATED CONTENT: Cheddar Gorge – all you need to know about this natural phenomenon

*One night of our stay was free for the purpose of this review, all views are our own.

Madeira – an island of highs, views and pretty red roofs

Madeira – an island of highs, views and pretty red roofs

We take a trip to the home of Ronaldo – the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira

There’s a spontaneous and enthusiastic round of applause as our plane touches down in Madeira.

We are cheering both the gentle landing and the stunning approach to this airport said to be so challenging to land at that pilots need special training.

Stepping off the plane, I catch a first glimpse of the countless red-roofed homes scattered over the hills which will become an abiding memory from this trip.

That and the view from our hotel room, pina colada slipping down as easily as the waves roll over the rocks in the Atlantic Ocean below us.

I’ll be as bold as to say this might be one of the best hotel room views we’ve ever had.

But then we are in Madeira – an island where stunning scenery is around every corner.

Our particular corner of this Portuguese island is the village of Canico de Baixo.

And our hotel is the Riu Madeira. A large, all-inclusive resort with two outdoor pools, an indoor pool, as much fresh food as you can eat and as many cocktails as you can drink.

One of the outdoor pools at the Riu Madeira hotel

One of the outdoor pools

There’s also a tennis court, games room, an area to play bowls and evening entertainment from singers, bands, magicians and a ballroom dancing duo who call up our daughter to help demonstrate her Strictly Come Dancing skills.

The applause makes her day. And it’s the staff here, especially those in the busy restaurant area, who deserve a pat on the back.

It can’t be easy to keep guests from over 300 rooms fed and watered but they come round to top up your wine glass with an efficient smile before it’s even half emptied.

We’re almost as quick to clear our plates of tasty food. The main restaurant is buffet style catering to every possible preference. There’s also a more adult focussed Kulinarium restaurant with table service. And a poolside bar and grill.

The main bedroom in our junior suite room at Riu Madeira hotel

The main bedroom in our junior suite

Our room is a junior suite with two large beds and a sofa bed for the four of us to choose from.

Having a separate lounge area allows us to spread out as does the large dressing room area – all kept spotless by our lovely maid.

Oh and that balcony I mentioned earlier overlooking the sea. It is literally a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean.

Sea view from the balcony of a junior suite room at the Riu Madeira hotel

Sea view from the balcony of a junior suite room at the Riu Madeira hotel

And there are plenty of stones to throw on the rocky beach.

The area around the hotel is a fun place to explore with caves, a small seawater pool, exercise equipment and a busy promenade to enjoy.

The lure of the swimming pool at our hotel is just as popular with our children – indoors if the showers sweep in, or outdoors when the sun shines.

Fortunately the sun is out for most of our week in Madeira so we can explore the narrow, hilly roads around the island.

We head east to the stunning clifftop walk of Ponta de São Lourenço .

The view from our walk at Ponta de São Lourenço

The view from our walk at Ponta de São Lourenço

Drive north west through mountains and tunnels to the natural seawater pools and aquarium in Porto Moniz.

Seawater pools in Porto Moniz

Seawater pools in Porto Moniz

And go south to Câmara de Lobos – a fishing village made famous by Winston Churchill, who painted its pretty harbour when he came in 1950.

Children looking at Churchill's view in Camara de Lobos

Looking at Churchill’s view in Camara de Lobos

One must in Madeira is to head up high.

We take the cable car from the centre of capital Funchal to Monte. It’s a spectacular ride and at the top you can enjoy the beautiful Monte Palace gardens before riding back down again on the cable car.

A statue and flowers in Monte Palace Garden, Madeira

Monte Palace Garden

Another way down is by toboggan on a traditional wicker basket sleigh along steep streets, guided by two people with nothing for brakes but the grips on their shoes.

If you like heights it’s worth stopping by at the Madeira Skywalk. You can walk across a glass walkway on a balcony 580 metres above the sea attached to some of the highest cliffs in Europe.

Madeira Skywalk

Madeira Skywalk

After a busy week of highs, it’s nearly time to leave.

The cliffs beneath the Madeira Skywalk

The cliffs beneath the Madeira Skywalk

For a last time, we awaken and pull back the curtains to enjoy the view and the sound of the Atlantic from our bed.

Then it’s back to the airport, named after the island’s most famous export.

Not its fortified wine but the footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.

He was born here and returns regularly and this is one happy family which may follow suit.

 

Where we stayed

The Riu Madeira hotel in Canico de Baixo, a four-star all inclusive, read our full guide and review to it here.

What to do in Madeira

*Visit the capital Funchal and take the Madeira Cable Car up to the large Monte Palace Gardens which are set on the steep hillside.

*Take a toboggan ride on a traditional wicker basket.

*Visit the traditional fishing village of Câmara de Lobos, visited by Winston Churchill and find the spot where he painted the view. Also look for his statue in the village.

*Visit the salt water pools at Porto Moniz and the small aquarium in the town.

*Take a walk at inland Levadas – similar to canal paths – at various sites throughout Madeira. The Fanal forest walk in the north west of the island is one of the best places to explore.

*Take a walk at Ponta de São Lourenço for stunning scenery and ocean views,

*Visit Santa Catarina park Funchal with its large playground, busy lake and views over Funchal and its port.

*Football fans can stop at the CR7 Museu – a museum dedicated to Cristiano Ronaldo on the waterfront in Funchal. There is a statue of the footballer outside.

*Stop by at the Madeira Skywalk on the cliffs of Cabo Girão and walk across the glass walkway on a balcony that juts out of some of the highest cliffs in Europe, 880 meters above sea level.

RELATED CONTENT: Riu Madeira – all you need to know about this refurbished all-inclusive hotel

*We received complimentary accommodation for some of our stay at the Riu Madeira, all views are our own.

 

 

Riu Madeira – all you need to know about this refurbished all-inclusive hotel

Riu Madeira – all you need to know about this refurbished all-inclusive hotel

We review the Riu Madeira Hotel on the Portuguese island of Madeira and give you a video tour

We love a Riu hotel so when we found out the Riu Madeira had been refurbished, we were excited to try it out. Here’s our full review and guide to this four-star all-inclusive on the gorgeous Portuguese island of Madeira.

Name

Riu Madeira

Where is it?

The hotel is in Praia dos Reis Magos in Caniço de Baixo on the south coast of the Portuguese island of Madeira, east of the capital Funchal.

It is nestled in the hillside overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Outdoor restaurant seating at the Riu Madeira hotel

Outdoor restaurant seating

What is it?

It’s a four-star all-inclusive hotel with three restaurants and two pools and is one of the Riu Hotels & Resorts hotels.

As it’s all-inclusive, everyone wears a wristband and all food and drink is included. It also has a spa, hairdressers, lobby bar and a big room to watch shows and entertainment each evening.

Swimming pools and the sea at the Riu Madeira hotel.

Is it family friendly?

It’s great for everyone including families. Children will love the pools, location and food – there’s so much choice that there should be something for even the fussiest eaters including pizza and three pasta options every day.

There’s a tennis court and a place to play bowls. But there isn’t a RiuLand Children’s Club as we’ve seen at other Riu hotels and the two outside pools are deep although there’s a separate little paddling pool.

The lobby or reception area at the Riu Madeira hotel

The reception area

The rooms

There are 327 rooms, including single and twin rooms along with junior suites.

They all have air-conditioning, a balcony or terrace and free Wi-Fi, which was very fast and reliable.

The main bedroom in our junior suite room at Riu Madeira hotel

The main bedroom in our junior suite

We had a fabulous junior suite with the most stunning view over the sea, wonderful to enjoy from the bed or balcony. It had two double beds pushed together and a separate area with a sofa bed. There were two televisions, a bathroom with two sinks and a shower, plus bathrobes which you could wear around the pool (not available in children’s sizes). The sound of the sea from the room was so relaxing.

The second room in our junior suite at Riu Madeira hotel

The second room in our junior suite

Food and drink

There are three restaurants and all food and drink, including alcohol, is included.

The main buffet restaurant – we ate mostly in this restaurant which serves a huge selection of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are plenty of tables inside and out, overlooking the pools. It only felt really busy on one morning, which was a Sunday.

The main buffet restaurant at Riu Madeira hotel

The main buffet restaurant

Kulinarium – this is an a la carte speciality restaurant. The food is delicious, made from local produce and the service is fantastic, staff are so attentive. The menu is small and there is no separate children’s menu but if there is nothing they fancy, you can always fetch something from the buffet restaurant. This restaurant gets booked up in advance so make sure you book a night on arrival.

Kulinarium speciality a la carte restaurant at Riu Madeira hotel

Kulinarium

Pepe’s Food – this is a poolside grill bar which has a selection of food and drink open during the day.

Pepe's Food pool bar and restaurant at Riu Madeira Hotel

Pepe’s Food

Sports and activities

There’s a hard-surface tennis court, a card games room and an area to play bowls plus a small gym.

The tennis court at Riu Madeira

The tennis court

We spotted lots of people running along the sea front and many stop to use the outdoor gym equipment dotted around on the path running behind the hotel.

We went in February half-term but from around July to mid-September there’s a daytime entertainment programme for six to 12-year-olds, six times a week.

Our hotel highlights

One of the outdoor pools at Riu Madeira

One of the outdoor pools

*The pools – the indoor pool, one of the outdoor pools and the paddling pool is heated during the winter months.

Indoor pool at Riu Madeira hotel

Indoor pool

*Entertainment –  after dinner in the show room there was a different music act each evening until around 9pm followed by a show from 9.15pm including a magic show, a circus-themed performance and an Elton John tribute. Our favourite was the ballroom dancing as our daughter got picked to have a go.

The bar area at the Riu Madeira hotel

The bar area

*Views of the sea – the view from our bed and balcony and many of the sunbeds of the ocean, were stunning.

View from the sunbeds at the Riu Madeira hotel

View from the sunbeds

*The staff – staff were so friendly and attentive throughout the hotel.

Top tips

Pool towels are available from a hut next to the outdoor pools. You are allowed one each but can swap for a dry one or for a pool card whenever you want.

The towel hut at the Riu Madeira hotel

The towel hut

Breakfast got busier later in the morning so go earlier if you can for a more relaxing experience.

If you want to eat at the a la carte Kulinarium restaurant book as soon as you arrive because it fills up quickly.

Tell us more about Madeira

Madeira is one of the Madeira Archipelago (group of islands), as well as Porto Santo, Desertas and the Selvagens. The islands are south west of Portugal, off the coast of Africa and are actually closer to Morocco than Portugal.

Madeira used to be hard to explore as it is so mountainous with rugged coasts, but today there are raised roads and loads of tunnels – two of them over 1.9 miles long.

My abiding memory of Madeira will be of all the red-roofed homes scattered over the hills and the pretty lights sparkling on the hillsides at night, which you can even see from the airport as soon as you arrive.

The view of red roofed buildings from the Madeira Cable Car from Funchal to Monte

The view from the Madeira Cable Car

Nearby

If you leave the hotel by its rear exit, you cross a narrow path to get to the pebbly beach.

It’s pretty to look at but not easy to walk on and quite hard to swim from – you’ll need shoes and there are a lot of rocks plus the sea seems rough. There is a jetty with steps down into the sea and further around to the left is a part sectioned off by rocks which feels safer to swim in.

The pebbly beach at Riu Madeira Hotel

The beach is pebbly

Madeira is a wonderful island to explore. We had a hire car and marvelled at some of the steep mountain roads.

The capital Funchal is just a 15-minute drive from Riu Madeira. We were lucky enough to be there during its Carnival celebrations and enjoyed one of the colourful parades.

We took a cable car from Funchal, it’s a stunning ride up to the top where we visited the beautiful Monte Palace gardens before riding back down again.

Monte Palace Gardens

Monte Palace Gardens

Another way back down but not for the faint-hearted is by the famous Madeira Toboggan Ride. Passengers on wicker basket sledges are helped down the hill by two runners wearing straw boaters, in a tradition dating back to the 19th century and experienced by my grandparents in the 1970s.

We also visited the traditional fishing village Camara de Lobos which was loved by Winston Churchill after he visited in 1950 and stood at the site where he painted a portrait of the bay.

Children looking at Churchill's view in Camara de Lobos

Looking at Churchill’s view in Camara de Lobos

We headed east to the stunning clifftop walk of Porto do San Lourenco and drove north west to the natural seawater pools and aquarium in Porto Moniz.

A seawater pool at Porto Moniz

A seawater pool at Porto Moniz

When to go to the Hotel Riu Madeira

We went in February when the average temperature is 20 degrees and the rain is 97mm. This was perfect for us as we don’t like it too hot. Here is a year-round look at the average weather in Madeira:

January 20 degrees, 80mm rainfall
February 20 degrees, 97mm rainfall
March 21 degrees, 53mm rainfall
April 21 degrees, 55m rainfall
May 22 degrees, 22mm rainfall
June 24 degrees, 6mm rainfall
July 26 degrees, 1mm rainfall
August 27 degrees, 2mm rainfall
September 27 degrees, 28mm rainfall
October 25 degrees, 89mm rainfall
November 23 degrees, 88mm rainfall
December 21 degrees, 118mm rainfall

Riu Madeira more information

Accessibility: The hotel is on a hillside but is said to be generally suitable for those with reduced mobility. There are stairs up from the pool area to the restaurant and reception but also a small lift.

Facilities: Gym, hair salon, spa, tennis court, bowls, three restaurants, three pools, paddling pool, free Wifi.

The gym/fitness suite/centre at the Riu Madeira hotel

The gym

 

Address: Praia dos Reis Magos, 9125-024 Caniço de Baixo, Portugal

How to book: Riu Madeira

RELATED CONTENT: Madeira – an island of highs, views and pretty red roofs

We were given complimentary accommodation for part of our stay in exchange for this review. All views are our own.

Want to watch a basketball match in Orlando? Here’s all you need to know

Want to watch a basketball match in Orlando? Here’s all you need to know

We watch Orlando Magic play a home game at the Amway Center in Florida

On our recent visit to Orlando, we were keen to check out a proper American sports event.

Our son is a basketball fan, so we secured tickets and are so glad we did – it’s a night we won’t forget and the atmosphere was amazing.

Here’s our guide, if you are interested in doing the same.

What is it?

Our tickets were to watch Orlando Magic, a professional basketball team based in Orlando, Florida which competes in the National Basketball Association as a member of the league’s Eastern Conference Southeast Division.

It was their season opening game at home to Boston Celtics in front of a packed crowd of around 18,000 people.

Our children, aged 12 and 8, really enjoyed the experience which is totally different from a sporting event in the UK and extremely family-friendly.

Where is it?

Orlando Magic play their home games at the Amway Center. This big arena, which also hosts concerts, is in downtown Orlando about a 15 to 20-minute drive from Disney World or Universal Studios.

Children at the Amway Center, Orlando Magic, Florida

The Amway Center

What did we think

Our children loved this experience and are keen to go back to another NBA game in the USA.

It is very family-friendly with pre-match entertainment, food, activities on the big screen, gifts being thrown out into the crowd and more.

We didn’t hear any swearing or nasty chants like you may at a British football match. It felt really fun and safe.

Highlights

*Pre-match there were fun and games outside the Amway Center with a Fan Fest (this happens for the bigger matches at Magic). There was face panting, basketball hoops for children to shoot at, music from a DJ and merchandise stalls.

*Once inside, younger children could play at STUFF’s Magic Castle (named after the Orlando Magic mascot), a play area on the promenade level of the concourse.

*It isn’t hard to find children’s food at one of the dozens of stalls inside. There is pizza, hot dogs, pretzels, ice cream and more. We tucked into some pre-match pizza. A word of warning though – it gets quite overwhelmingly busy as it seemed almost everyone was having a meal before the match started.

*The atmosphere – we loved the countdown to tip-off, the last 10 or 15 minutes had light shows, music and more as the players were announced. Once the game starts there is so much to see, children won’t get bored.

*Apart from the action you get t-shirts fired into the crowd as prizes, games to play via the big-screen and chants to join.

*GIveaways – lots of matches have giveaways for fans with t-shirts or hats on every seat. Everyone at our match received a free t-shirt waiting on their seat for them – all adult extra-large but a great keepsake!

Our top tips

*Get there early. At a British sporting event, most people aren’t in their seats until the last few minutes. We got to the Magic game more than an hour before it started and it was packed!

Children at the Amway Center, Orlando Magic, Florida

Enjoying the match

*Bags aren’t allowed in, only very small handbags. Don’t bring your backpack from a day at the parks, you won’t get it inside.

*Food is similar priced to Orlando theme parks and portions are big so consider sharing to save some money. Drinks, including water, are very expensive in the USA and you can’t bring bottles in so this does add to the cost of the experience.

*Taxis are the best way to get to the Amway Center as there wasn’t much parking around.

*If you are worried about it being busy at the end, maybe leave a few minutes beforehand if it isn’t a close game to ensure children aren’t waiting around for a taxi, Uber or Lyft.

Our Lyft driver was able to pull up and collect us about 100 metres from the exit of the stadium.

Orlando Magic information

Food: There were all sorts of food options with a stall every 20 metres on different levels of the stadium. There was water and soft drinks available everywhere for children. You can eat food and have drinks either on the concourse or at your seat.

Opening hours: The stadium opens one hour before the match starts. Matches last between two and two and a half hours. So if a match is advertised to start at 7pm EST then arrive at 6pm and you will probably be there until 9.30pm.

Cost: Tickets depend on how close to the action you want to sit and who the opposition is. Tickets cost more for matches against more famous teams like Boston Celtics or LA Lakers. Tickets range from 15 dollars to 1,000 dollars.

Best for: Children aged six and above with the patience to watch the match, which lasts about two hours including breaks for half-time.

Time needed: Arrive one hour before the match starts. The game then last between two and two-and-a-half hours.

Access and restrictions: Fully accessible with seats available for wheelchair users and companions. There are two accessible elevators on the west side of the building, which services the Event, Founders, Terrace, and Mezzanine Levels.

There are also four accessible elevators in the NE, NW, SE and SW corners of the Club Level that provide access from the Club Level down to the loge and club seating areas.

Address: Orlando Magic, Amway Center, 400 W Church St Suite 200, Orlando, FL 32801, United States.

For tickets: If you’re planning on attending a game, you can contact an Orlando Magic Ticket Representative by visiting orlandomagic.com/tickets using the ‘Live Chat’.

Where to stay: We stayed at Marriott Village Orlando which was also a great location for Universal and the very expensive but very wonderful Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Disney World

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*We received free tickets from Orlando Magic for the purposes of this review. All opinion are our own.

The best things for families to do in Clearwater and St Pete in Florida

The best things for families to do in Clearwater and St Pete in Florida

Family-friendly fun in America’s St Pete and Clearwater

If you’re heading to Florida and want to stay by the coast then consider St Pete and Clearwater.

With 35 miles of award-winning white, sandy beaches, warm blue sea and a fabulous choice of hotels, it’s a great place for a family holiday.

It’s also ideal if you’re mixing your holiday up a bit, perhaps starting with the busy parks of attractions like Universal and Disney World and then heading to the sea for a change of scenery.

Here is our list of top things for families to do in St Pete and Clearwater.

Clearwater Beach

Aerial picture of Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach is regularly named the best beach in the US in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards.

There are lots of activities to keep everyone entertained including swimming, boating, fishing, jet skiing, beach volleyball and biking along the Beach Walk promenade.

At sunset, Pier 60 hosts street performers, live music, craft stalls and food every evening, we enjoyed a delicious meal at Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill on the beachfront.

St Pete Beach

Enjoying the beach at RumFish Beach Resort, St Pete, Florida

Enjoying the beach at RumFish

St Pete Beach has also scooped America’s best beach honour – in 2021.

It boasts turquoise water and soft white sand. The sunset from the beach at our hotel Rumfish Beach Resort was stunning – here is our hotel review.

Little Toot Dolphin Adventure

Dolphin spotting with Little Toot Cruise

Dolphin spotting

Enjoy a Little Toot dolphin cruise from Clearwater beach with tours lasting 60 to 90 minutes.

The boats are built to provide maximum viewing areas for passengers with open netting.

Address: 25 Causeway Blvd, Slip 16, Clearwater Beach.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Looking after turtles at Clearwater Aquarium, Florida

Clearwater Aquarium

Clearwater Aquarium is famous as it was once home to Winter the Dolphin who was given a prosthetic tail and whose story was turned into a film, Dolphin Tale and its sequel.

It is dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of sick and injured marine animals.

Visitors can see dolphins, sea turtles and otters. There are educational games, moving dinosaur models and a cafe.

Address: 249 Windward Passage, Clearwater, FL 33767, USA.

Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise

Captain Memo Pirate Cruise, Clearwater, Florida

Captain Memo Pirate Cruise

This child-friendly cruise on a pirate ship from Clearwater Beach includes entertainment like treasure hunts and water gun fights for the children and free beer and wine for adults.

Salvador Dalí Museum

Salvador Dali Museum in St Pete, Florida

Salvador Dali Museum

This art museum on the waterfront in St Petersburg is dedicated to the work of Salvador Dali.

It holds the largest collection of his work in the US.

Address: 1 Dali Blvd, St Petersburg, FL 33701.

Urban murals

A St Pete Mural, Sewing Seeds by Taj Tenfold

A St Pete Mural, Sewing Seeds by Taj Tenfold

St Pete is brought to life by more than 600 murals which adorn its walls.

You can take a guided tour of the colourful street art in the Downtown area.

There’s even an annual mural festival each October called Shine.

Morean Arts Centre

The Morean Arts Centre in St Petersburg displays works by local, national and international artists.

Its roots date back to 1917 when it was the Art Club of St Petersburg.

Address: 720 Central Ave St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

The Great Exploration’s Children’s Museum

This interactive museum is aimed at young children up to the age of around seven and is designed to make learning fun and active.

It is located next to the Sunken Gardens.

Address: 1925 4th St N, St Petersburg, FL 33704.

Sunken Gardens

Next to the children’s museum is this site – four acres of botanical gardens in St Petersburg, which have been around for over a century.

The gardens boast hundreds of plant species, cascading waterfalls and even a flock of flamingos.

Address: 1825 4th St N, St. Petersburg, FL 33704.

Watch a baseball game

Baseball at Tropicana Field

Baseball at Tropicana Field

To experience the excitement of an American baseball game, watch the Tampa Bay Rays at their home – the Tropicana Field stadium in downtown St Petersburg.

A great opportunity for baseball fans, The Rays play Major League Baseball games.

Address: One Tropicana Dr, St. Petersburg, FL 33705

Kayak through Fort De Soto Park

A great way to explore this beautiful park is by renting a canoe or kayak.

Newbies and experienced paddlers are welcome at the Topwater Kayak Outpost and you might get to see local wildlife including manatees, egrets and dolphins.

Address: 3500 Pinellas Bayway St. Petersburg, FL 33715

St Pete Pier

Home to a range of restaurants and a state-of-the-art playground, the pier is a huge draw for travellers of all ages.

We dined at Doc Fords Rum Bar and Grille, which is in a fantastic position at the end of the pier overlooking the water.

Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille, St Pete restaurant, Florida

Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille, St Petersburg

Fairgrounds St Pete

Fairgrounds St Pete is an art and technology museum.

Made by 60 artists, it is described as an immersive world of playful art and technology exhibits based on original Florida stories.

Address: 800 28th St. South, St. Pete, Florida 33712

Getting to St Pete/Clearwater:

St Pete/Clearwater is easily accessible with British Airways offering daily flights between London and Tampa (30 minutes to Clearwater) and Virgin Atlantic operating daily flights from the capital. Or you can fly to Orlando Airport (90 minutes to Clearwater) from London and Manchester.

Where to stay

We stayed at Winter The Dolphin’s Beach Club in Clearwater, where rooms are around £165 a night, read our review.

We also stayed on the heart of St. Pete Beach at RumFish Beach Resort, where rooms are around £230, here’s our review.

More information

For more information visit the area’s official travel website – www.visitstpeteclearwater.com

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*Photo credit: Thanks to VisitStPeteClearwater.com for some of the images used.

 

RumFish Beach Resort on one of America’s best beaches – St Pete in Florida

RumFish Beach Resort on one of America’s best beaches – St Pete in Florida

All you need to know about RumFish Beach Resort

Our full review and guide to the hotel where our room leads on to one of America’s best beaches, we fly through the air on a zip wire and enjoy free s’mores every night.

Name

RumFish Beach Resort

Where is it?

Located directly on St Pete beach, one of America’s best beaches, around a 20-minute drive from the city of St Petersburg in Florida.

What is it?

A three-star resort hotel with more than 300 recently renovated rooms, restaurants, beach access and children’s activities.

Is it family friendly?

Absolutely – there is lots to do for children with a packed calendar of activities daily.

The swimming pool at RumFish Beach Resort

The swimming pool

They can swim in the sea or the family pool, use water slides, zip wires, take pedalo rides, watch magic and entertainment shows or play tennis or mini-golf.

Water slides at RumFish Beach Resort

The water slides

The rooms

They aren’t the prettiest from the outside, especially arriving via the car park but the rooms make up for that with their size.

The bedroom at RumFish Beach Resort

Ours had two queen beds, a spacious bathroom with bath and shower, as well as lots of storage space in the wardrobe which also had a safe.

The real bonus though is the separate kitchen, lounge and dining area. The kitchen has a large fridge-freezer, sink, hob, plates and cutlery.

The kitchen/lounge/diner in our room at RumFish Beach Resort

The kitchen/lounge/diner in our room

Next to that is a four-seat dining table and sofa with TV.

And the icing on the cake? Our ground floor room opened directly onto the beach through a sliding patio door. Higher level floors benefited from a small balcony.

The view from our room at RumFish Beach Resort

The view from our room

The decor was slightly dated but was bright and pleasant with a white and blue sea theme.

Food and drink

With the kitchenette in your room, you can easily self-cater here but if you do fancy eating out there are lots of choices.

The main resort restaurant in the evenings is the RumFish Grill, complete with large fish tank, which featured on US TV. You can go and see the fish in the tank all day and even take tours of it with staff. There is a separate large bar area next to the restaurant.

For daytime dining, there is Gulfside Grill. Again, it’s not that attractive from the outside but don’t let that put you off.

Gulfside Grill cafe/restaurant at RumFish Beach Resort in Florida

Gulfside Grill

Inside and on the patio, friendly staff do American breakfast favourites and lunchtime meals. We had a lovely stack of pancakes here in the morning. The patio overlooks the family pool and pool bar serving drinks all day.

Staying at RumFish means you can also dine at any of the options at the nearby (TradeWinds) Island Grand Resort.

It’s about a 150-yard walk along the beach and has five places to eat including Salty’s Bar for light seafood meals with fresh shrimp a popular option, a Pizza Hut takeaway and ice cream parlour and several other more adult-focussed options.

Within a five-minute walk of RumFish, there are local restaurants and a 7-11 store or Dunkin Donuts to grab any supplies or quick snacks.

Nearby

This area is all about the beach so you won’t want or need to head too far but make sure to explore the sister Island Grand hotel for more activities.

This is bigger than RumFish and the family activities are divided between the two sites. At check-in, staff give you a pamphlet and map explaining what is available.

The Island Grand contains the pedalos, water slide and mini-golf options while Rumfish has the zip wire, surf simulator machine and fireside s’mores.

Make sure to take a walk along St Pete beach at sunrise or sunset to take in the stunning shoreline before it gets too hot.

A mum and children enjoy the sunset on St Pete's Beach, Florida

Enjoying the sunset

Aside from the beach, the area near the hotel doesn’t have lots of interest but take a 20-minute car or bus ride into St Petersburg to enjoy its pier, markets, museums and laid-back harbour vibe.

The city is well worth a morning away from the beach – the pier has a children’s playground and is a lovely spot to eat, we went to the busy and family-friendly Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille.

Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille, St Pete restaurant, Florida

Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille

We have written a full guide on what families can do in Clearwater and St Pete if you are looking for more ideas.

Our highlights

*The location – it really takes some beating. To be able to open your room door and walk straight on to the pure, white sand on a beach named America’s best by Trip Advisor in recent years is fabulous.

Especially at sunset the beach comes alive with people taking in the view either from a hotel cabana or while swimming in the warm, shallow sea.

Sunset on St Pete's Beach at RumFish Beach Resort

Sunset

*The cabanas – Your resort fee entitles you to a free cabana each day, the helpful attendants will set it up for you and also are the best place to ask about doing any activities. It is important to have a shady cabana on the beach when it gets hot.

*The activities – The range of children’s activities – and the ability to use both hotels – makes the resort stand out. Our children loved the water slide and the zip wire, while we took a pedalo out as a family. All of that was included in the resort fee.

The only extra costs would be to hire jet-skis or paddleboards.

*Dining freedom – Having a good range of options to either self-cater, grab a takeaway pizza, eat at a casual spot right on the beach or enjoy a more formal seafood meal means there is a suitable option for everyone depending on your mood that day.

Top tips

*Check activity timings – we nearly missed the zip wire as the staff were very strict on finishing it one evening despite a queue of excited children.

Some activities didn’t seem to be obviously available at the advertised time so be persistent and ask the staff.

*A few of the younger staff, who mainly ran the activities, were fairly laid back and casual about assisting you, in contrast to the cabana team and the restaurant staff who couldn’t do enough for you.

*Evening entertainment – if the timings work out try to catch the stunning sunsets on the beach and go to the children’s entertainment.

We saw a great magic show where our daughter was on stage as the assistant and also a fun pirate theme games night.

*The beach is best early and late. Sunrise and sunset are the most spectacular times to be on the sand or in the sea, particularly during the hotter months between April and November.

Enjoying St Pete Beach at RumFish Beach Resort

Enjoying the beach

*Explore both resorts on arrival – it is hard to navigate RumFish and it’s bigger, sister hotel the Grand Island Resort so have a good walk round and check out where all the activities are and restaurants are located.

*Don’t miss the s’mores – there is a fire pit lit every night at RumGish with s’mores to toast on an open fire. It was a lovely way to end the evening and a proper American treat.

Relaxing at RumFish Beach Resort

RumFish Beach Resort

RumFish Beach Resort information

Address: RumFish Beach Resort, 6000 Gulf Blvd, St Pete Beach, FL 33706, United States

How to book: For the best rates book direct at www.tradewindsresort.com/rumfish

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*We received a complimentary stay for the purpose of this review, all views are our own.

Florida in 10 days – where to stay and what to do

Florida in 10 days – where to stay and what to do

Our 10-night Florida itinerary – Universal, Disney World, Legoland, a basketball match, five hotels, three waterparks and four days by the coast

A trip to Florida can be a once-in-a-lifetime holiday so if you are lucky enough to be going, you need to plan wisely.

There is SO MUCH to see and do that when you first sit down to organise this adventure for your family, it can seem overwhelming.

We’ve just taken our children to Florida – it was their first time in America and very special.

Our trip included Universal, Disney World, Legoland, a basketball match, five hotels (including one dream hotel – more of that later), three waterparks and four days by the coast staying on two of America’s best beaches.

I feel tired just writing all that! But it was manageable thanks to enthusiasm and some down time.

So here is our 10-day itinerary, we hope it inspires you.

 

Day 1

Travel and settle in at our first hotel

Hotel 1 – Springfield Suites at Marriott Village Orlando.

Springfield Suites, Marriott Village Orlando, Florida

Springfield Suites

This was a great location – a 20-minute taxi drive to Universal and a free shuttle to Disney World.

Read our full review here: Marriott Village Orlando hotels near to Disney World and Universal Studios

Day 2 and 3

Universal Resort Orlando (Universal Studios)

Olivander's Wand Shop, Universal Studios Orlando, Florida

Olivander’s Wand Shop

The amazing attraction that is Universal Resort Orlando is made up of the theme parks Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure plus the Volcano Bay water park.

This had the edge over Disney World for us especially as three of us are Harry Potter fans. It’s where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is – Diagon Alley is at Universal Studios and Hogsmeade is at Islands of Adventure. You can even catch the Hogwarts Express between the two.

Highlight: Our son being chosen by ‘Olivander’ to select a wand for him in the mini-show at Olivander’s Wand Shop.

We’ve got a full guide, pictures and video for you – Universal Orlando Resort – guide and top tips for one of the most popular attractions in the world

Day 3 evening

Basketball match

We wanted to do something authentically American like a sports match and our son is a basketball fan.

We went to the Orlando Magic home stadium the Amway Center, to see them take on Boston Celtics.

Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics basketball match at the Amway Center

Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics at the Amway Center

Everyone arrives an hour early to soak up the atmosphere and gets to their seats early to enjoy the entertainment.

It was a fantastic experience, read about it here: Want to watch a basketball match in Orlando? Here’s all you need to know

Day 4

Hotel 2 – Four Seasons Resort Orlando

Relaxing at Four Seasons Resort Orlando

Four Seasons Resort Orlando

Widely named the best hotel in Florida, this was a real treat. It is a very luxurious place to stay with such attentive staff, delicious food and sumptuous surroundings.

Best of all, there’s a little water park so it’s a great place to enjoy a more relaxing day amid all the busy parks.

It’s within Disney World grounds and has a free shuttle bus service there.

We had a fabulous day enjoying the five-star surroundings, trying out the water slides and the lazy river, before hitting Disney the next day.

Read all about this glorious place – Top luxury hotel review and tips – Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Disney World

Day 5

Disney World

In front of the castle at Magic Kingdom, Disney World

Disney World

Disney World is one of the reasons that Florida is so popular. There are four parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios plus water parks.

We did a long day here to maximise the value of the expensive tickets. We started at 8am and left Epcot at 8pm. Yes, it was tiring but we saw a lot in one day.

We bought a Park Hopper ticket and started at the iconic Magic Kingdom, leaving after the parade in the afternoon and heading for Epcot. This was a great decision as the Frozen Ever After boat ride there is amazing.

Day 6

Legoland Florida Resort

Now with a hire car, we drove 45 minutes to Legoland.

Legoland Resort Florida entrance start

Legoland Florida

Fantastic for younger ones and without the queues of Universal and Disney World (at least not when we went), this was a slower-paced couple of days in the park and at its water park.

We stayed on site at its Pirate Island Hotel and our favourite part was the Ninjago ride, which we went on four times.

Read all about it – Legoland Florida Resort – park and hotel review, guide and top tips

Part 2 – the coast

After a fast-paced few days, we were ready to head to Florida’s Gulf Coast – to lovely Clearwater and St Pete.

Day 7

After spending the morning at Legoland we headed for hotel 4 – Winter the Dolphin’s Beach Club in Clearwater.

The private beach at Winter the Dolphin's Beach Club hotel in Clearwater

The hotel’s private beach

This hotel has a swimming pool and is on a private beach so it was nice to chill out for the afternoon after we arrived.

Day 8

We went to Clearwater Aquarium where film star Winter the Dolphin from A Dolphin’s Tale was rescued and rehabilitated.

In the afternoon we took a boat trip on Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise and in the evening, enjoyed the sunset, a market and a lovely meal.

Captain Memo Pirate Cruise, Clearwater, Florida

Captain Memo Pirate Cruise

Day 9

We moved again to St Pete Beach and our final hotel – RumFish Beach Resort.

Enjoying the beach at RumFish Beach Resort, St Pete, Florida

Enjoying the beach at RumFish

Our room opened out on to the beach and we enjoyed water slides and zip wires and an evening’s magic show.

Day 10

We headed into St Petersburg to enjoy its pier, markets, museums and laid-back harbour vibe and our final lunch overlooking the water before a last beautiful Florida sunset. For more ideas on what to do in Clearwater and St Pete, read our guide to the best attractions for families.

Sunset at St Beach beach, Florida

Sunset

Day 11

After pancakes for breakfast, we left for our flight home.

What do you like to do in Florida? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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*We received complimentary or reduced prices for some of the attractions and hotels, for review purposes, all views are our own.

Legoland Florida Resort – park and hotel review, guide, video tour and top tips

Legoland Florida Resort – park and hotel review, guide, video tour and top tips

We take our children to stay at Legoland Florida Resort in the US

As part of an action-packed holiday in Florida, we squeezed in two days and nights at Legoland Resort, enjoying the main park and waterpark and staying at one of its three hotels.

The entrance to the park was just a few quiet steps from our room at Pirate Island Hotel – bliss after racing throngs of people at Disney World and Universal.

When we arrived in our hotel room, the children were thrilled at the bunk beds, the theming, the LEGO to play with and the treasure hunt for LEGO gifts.

And we adults were quite content to sleep opposite a giant image of a bearded Lego pirate next to wallpaper and curtains depicting Lego pirates.

If first impressions are anything to go by then Legoland Pirate Island Hotel was a hit. And we still hadn’t entered the park!

Read all about our mini-break to find all about what we thought of the park and hotel and don’t miss our top tips to make the most of your visit.

Name

LEGOLAND Florida Resort.

Where is it?

Legoland Florida is in the Winter Haven area. It is about an hour’s drive from Orlando in central Florida, America.

The resort is in its own grounds next to Lake Eloise in a self-contained safe site.

What is it?

LEGOLAND Florida Resort is a holiday destination made up of Legoland theme park (the second biggest in the world after Windsor), Legoland Waterpark, a new Peppa Pig theme park and three on-site hotels – the Legoland Hotel, Pirate Island Hotel and the Legoland Beach Resort.

Is it family friendly?

Do you really need to ask? The resort is all about families and their target age is two to 12.

The hotels have themed rooms, bunk beds, Lego to play with around the hotel, evening entertainment and specialised family dining at breakfast and in the evening.

Then there’s the theme parks…

The rooms

At Legoland Pirate Island, the rooms are, you may have guessed, pirate-themed. Images cover every wall, curtains and even the carpet.

The rooms themselves have a children’s area with bunk beds, and a rollaway third child’s bed if needed, a tray of Lego and a child’s TV which can play all the Lego movies on demand.

Bunk beds and Lego to play with at Pirate Island Hotel, Legoland Florida Resort

Bunk beds and Lego to play with

Adults get a king-sized bed (which was surprisingly high off the ground), plus side tables with lights and their own larger HD TV.

Double bed in a room at Pirate Island Hotel, Legoland Florida Resort

The bathroom is compact with toiletries provided in Lego-branded tubes.

The room also has a small desk, safe and good storage for cases.

With lots of pirate ship-style brown wood it is quite dark in the room and the corridors of the hotel.

For a fresher, brighter feel – but fewer pirates – consider the Legoland Hotel which is next door.

Food and drink

The Shipwreck Restaurant serves breakfast and dinner.

Breakfast (included free with all rooms) is unusual as it is table-service and you get a family skillet (basically a big round tray) with hot food on it to share.

Ours had waffles, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, American breakfast biscuits (a type of savoury scone) and a gravy/creamy sauce to go with them.

Breakfast at Pirate Island Hotel, Legoland Florida Resort

Breakfast at Pirate Island Hotel

Friendly waiters and waitresses take your drinks orders and you can request other items like cereal.

A big shout out to our lovely waitress Bailey who went the extra mile to get us some fruit and pancakes on request.

We enjoyed experiencing something different, but the skillet won’t suit every family at breakfast time.

There is a similar skillet offering in the evening for all courses of a three-course menu (adults $36 and children $15).

We were given a salad starter with bread then a choice of two skillets as a main course with a range of meats or fish and sides like mashed potato, rice and beans.

Pirate Island Hotel at Legoland Florida

Pirate Island Hotel

The restaurant will also do specific dishes for children like chicken and chips on request.

Dessert was either an ice cream and cookie dish or fresh fruit and marshmallows with chocolate sauce to dip in.

The quantities are absolutely huge, if you have a big appetite you will get value for money here. For those who prefer smaller portions, it might be a bit daunting!

Nearby

More Lego stuff – the adjoining hotel next door has a large reception area and Lego to play with. There is also a nice bar area, more pleasant than the Smuggler’s Bar in Pirate Island.

Lego fun to play with in the hotels at Legoland Florida Resort

Lego fun in the hotels

But of course, the main nearby attraction is the theme park itself – only 130 steps and 30 seconds away.

We could see the entrance opposite our room!

Legoland theme park

Legoland Florida has most of the rides you might expect if you have been to Windsor.

Lego Ninjago was our favourite as all four of us could compete together, shooting the villains with 3D glasses on as we spin through the ride.

Fortunately, the park was lovely and quiet when we visited during the week in October half-term so we could ride it four times!

Children with a Lego punk at Legoland Florida

Lots of photo opportunities

The site is spacious and with the lake on one side and plenty of greenery, it is quite a relaxing place to visit.

Most of the rides are suited to younger children, but there are some speedier ones.

We also enjoyed the aqua coasters and the fire engine ride where you have to pump your own engine to reach the blaze and put it out.

Some of the rides might feel a bit dated and quaint if you have just been to Disney World or Universal Studios but our children really enjoyed driving their own motorboats or steering a car in the driving school. Plus it was a relief to escape the crowds and the queues from the bigger parks.

Meeting a life-sized Lego figure at Legoland Florida

Meeting a life-sized Lego figure

There are several places to cool down from the Florida heat – such as indoor spaces where you can create with Lego and a 4D theatre.

For a bigger cool off there is Legoland Water Park on site.

Legoland Water Park

You can only enter the water park with a ticket to the main park itself, but you need to pay extra.

Frustratingly it is at the far end of the park – a 15/20 minute walk from the entrance which means if you return to the park after a break/lunch like we did, you have to carry your swimming gear past all the rides – there is no separate entrance.

Once you make it inside, there is a nice, long lazy river with giant Lego bricks floating along to play with and a pool with a wave machine which runs every 10minutes. The water is lovely and warm and it feels very safe.

There is seating at the front of the wave pool and some umbrellas for shade.

Opposite the wave pool is a section with small slides and a splash park for younger children.

Splash zone and water slides for younger children at Legoland Florida

Slides and splashes for younger children

It has a large bucket which tips water over everyone every few minutes, five or six gentler slides and spray guns to fire water at parents.

For older children, there are the Twin Chaser and Splash Out rides. These were much bigger, faster water slides but unfortunately were closed when we visited.

There is only one changing room at the entrance to the water park and it is fairly basic.

We enjoyed our visit to cool off but parts of it do need updating and painting.

Peppa Pig Theme Park

The new Peppa Pig Theme Park is aimed at young fans of the children’s tv phenomenon.

It includes interactive rides, themed playgrounds, a cinema and character shows and an indoor cinema for quieter moments.

There’s a splash pad for practising jumping in muddy puddles, fair games and a little roller coaster.

Our highlights

*Location – it is amazing to be staying so close to Legoland park. You can leave your hotel room just before the 10am opening and be straight on a ride minutes later.

No accommodation at Disney, Universal or most UK theme parks gets you so close to the entrance.

*Rooms – the theme is fun, the treasure hunt on arrival is entertaining and it is a magical experience for small children. It is brilliant to see their faces when they enter the room for the first time and discover their bunk beds, TV and Lego tray.

*Pool options – you can choose the theme park waterpark or there are smaller, shallow pools at both Pirate Island Hotel and the Legoland Hotel. The pool at the Legoland Hotel had its own small slide.

Legoland Hotel swimming pool at Legoland Florida Resort

Legoland Hotel swimming pool

*The setting by Lake Eloise – it feels very calm and tranquil compared with other theme parks. You can do a short boardwalk along the lakeside, although the signs warning of possible alligators and snakes could be alarming (we think we spotted an alligator eyeing up its prey in the lake near to the shore).

Top Tips

*Go to the park at opening and you get the place to yourself for a bit. It is so close to the hotel that it makes sense to get in first. We visited on a quiet midweek in October and didn’t have to wait more than five minutes for any ride all day. At the same time of year at Disney and Universal, some ride waits were 90 minutes!

*Breakfast got very busy after 8.30am so try and go beforehand if you don’t want to queue for a table. Also, the restaurant is more relaxing when it is quieter – the rest of the time it sounded like a full-on children’s party!

*Grab some towels from your hotel pool area to take to the waterpark if you haven’t brought your own with you. You use your room card to access the towels from inside a cabinet and check them back in when you return after your swim.

*There are strollers and lockers to rent just inside the entrance to the park.

Strollers and lockers to hire at Legoland Florida Resort

*Download the Legoland app for help navigating the park and seeing theatre times etc.

Video Tour

Legoland Florida Resort information

Food: There are various food outlets around the parks serving a range of fast food, ice creams and drinks.

For bigger meals there’s a pizza and pasta all-you-can eat buffet.

Address: Legoland Florida Resort, 1 Legoland Way, Winter Haven, FL 33884, USA.

Opening hours: Opening Hours change depending on the season but are generally – theme park 10am to 5pm, waterpark 12noon to 4pm.

Parking: Parking is free for hotel guests. Otherwise, it costs over $23 pre-paid or over $37 on the day.

How to book: LEGOLAND FLORIDA booking

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*We received complimentary or reduced prices for LEGOLAND Florida Resort, for review purposes, all views are our own.

Marriott Village Orlando hotels near to Disney World and Universal Studios

Marriott Village Orlando hotels near to Disney World and Universal Studios

All you need to know about Marriott Village Orlando and its three hotels SpringHill Suites, Fairfield Inn and Courtyard Hotel

We stay at Marriott Village Orlando – a great base from which to get to the top Florida attractions of Universal or Disney World.

Name

Marriott Village Orlando

Where is it?

Marriott Village is in the Lake Buena Vista area near Disney World. It’s in a quiet development just off the main International Drive road which runs from Orlando to Disney.

What is it?

A village with three different hotels, SpringHill Suites Orlando, Fairfield Inn Orlando and Courtyard Hotel Orlando.

Each hotel has its own pool with all three available to those staying. There is a shared food court, playground, shops and gym.

If you stay in one of the hotels you can use a free shuttle bus to Disney World.

Is it family friendly?

Yes, very much so. We stayed at SpringHill Suites Orlando which is probably the most family-orientated with large rooms, free breakfast, Disney shuttle and ticket outlet and an outdoor pool with splash pads.

The view from our room at Springhill Suites, at Marriott Village Orlando, Florida, hotel, Disney World, Universal, US, USA, America,

The view from our room

The hotel could do with a slight modernisation on decor and furniture but was excellent value, very practical and a pleasant place to stay.

The rooms

All the rooms are the same and they are a great size with two double beds and a sofa bed if needed.

Our room at Springhill Suites, Marriott Village Orlando, Florida, hotel, Disney World, Universal, US, USA, America,

Our room

There is also a sink, fridge and microwave if you want to make your own food.

Kitchen area in our room at Springhill Suites, Marriott Village Orlando, Florida, hotel, Disney World, Universal, US, USA, America,

Kitchen area

The decor is a little dated and could maybe do with an upgrade in places but with a desk, bathroom with bath and shower, separate sink area and storage cupboard there is loads of room.

Desk in our room at Springhill Suites, Marriott Village Orlando, Florida, hotel, Disney World, Universal, US, USA, America,

Desk in our room

There were also two televisions so our children could have one each and the free WiFi was fast and reliable.

Food and drink

Breakfast is self-serve and can get quite busy. We suggest going early.

The highlight is definitely the Mickey Mouse waffle makers which give you a Mickey-shaped snack to start your day.

Mickey Mouse waffle at breakfast at Springhill Suites, Marriott Village Orlando, Florida, hotel, Disney World, Universal, US, USA, America,

Mickey Mouse waffles for breakfast

The queue to use them gets long but it is great fun for children to make their own, under supervision.

There is also plenty of other food with a good range of cereals, yoghurts, fruit, drinks and hot food.

There’s a shared food court area if you want a quick and easy lunch or dinner like pizza and fries. It isn’t a restaurant as such but there is a nice seating area outside if the weather is good and a few stools and tables inside.

The food court at Marriott Village Orlando, Florida, hotel, Disney World, Universal, US, USA, America,

The food court

There is a standard menu of family favourites and you can also buy drinks and snacks for your room.

Then there are three restaurants next door within walking distance next to the Marriott Village.

We ate at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse and had a tasty meal with a good children’s menu and an activity pack to keep them entertained.

About a five-minute walk away are five more restaurants including an Italian grill but it means crossing a very busy road which we weren’t too keen to do with young children.

There is also a small store attached to a petrol station for water and snacks.

Nearby

*Disney World is the nearest attractions with a daily shuttle from the hotel. Book as soon as possible the day before to guarantee a place.

The shuttle bus runs between Marriott Village and the Magic Kingdom Transportation Center.

*Universal Studios – we took a taxi to Universal Resort Orlando from the hotel, which took around 20 minutes. And if you are visiting Universal make sure you read our full guide first (especially if you are Harry Potter fans) – Universal Orlando Resort – guide and top tips for one of the most popular attractions in the world

*We wanted to experience an American sports match so booked tickets for basketball at the nearby Amway Center to see home team Orlando Magic take on Boston Celtics. It was fantastic, here’s our report Want to watch a basketball match in Orlando? Here’s all you need to know

Our highlights

The room size – there is lots of space and having two TVs, plus a fridge and sink gives you options for entertainment and self-catering.

Location – it is in a really nice, quiet area away from the hustle and bustle of Disney or Universal but near enough to get to both quickly.

The pools – being able to use three pools is a bonus. We found the one at SpringHill enough for our needs with a shallow main pool big enough for a proper swim, separate jacuzzi and splash pads for smaller children.

The swimming pool at Springhill Suites, at Marriott Village Orlando, Florida, hotel, Disney World, Universal, US, USA, America,

The pool

The play area – a small but well stocked play area with two climbing frames – one for ages two to five and another for six to 12-year-olds.

There is also a basketball hoop, giant chess set and hopscotch.

Marriott Village Orlando information

Address: Marriott Village Orlando, 8623 Vineland Avenue, Lake Buena Vista, Orlando, Florida.

How to book: Marriott

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*We received complimentary or reduced prices for this hotel for review purposes, all views are our own.

Top luxury hotel review and tips – Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Disney World

Top luxury hotel review and tips – Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Disney World

We spend two sumptuous days with our children in one of America’s top luxury hotels fabulously located within Walt Disney World Resort

Name

Four Seasons Resort Orlando.

Where is it?

It is within the grounds of Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, US, a short ride from the Disney parks themselves.

What is it?

Four Seasons Resort is one of the top luxury hotels in America – widely considered the best in Orlando with a price tag to match.

Relaxing at Four Seasons Resort Orlando

The AAA Five Diamond Award property has 443 rooms (68 are suites), fabulous restaurants and a small water park.

The lazy river at Four Seasons Resort Orlando

The lazy river

Guests staying here are able to get into any of the Disney parks 30 minutes early. And travel there and back by free shuttle bus.

Is it family friendly?

Oh yes, yes, yes. Our children adored this hotel, thoroughly appreciated the luxury and special touches and were thrilled with the water park.

Water slides at Four Seasons Resort Orlando

Water slides at Four Seasons Resort Orlando

Staff were so good with them. When we checked in, they received a bag containing a scavenger hunt.

This was a great opportunity to explore the hotel and find our bearings while they searched for various points to have their booklets stamped.

And the prize at the end? Free ice cream in a fabulous café/ice cream parlour on site, prettily named Lickety Split.

There’s also a great, free kids’ club for children aged four to 12, with enthusiastic staff and brilliant facilities.

The rooms

Our room was spacious and luxurious. It was a park view room which meant we could watch the Disney fireworks and lights displays from our balcony.

Our spacious room at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando

Our spacious room

It had two queen-sized beds, the largest hotel television we’ve ever seen and an iPad for contacting reception, booking restaurants, ordering extra pillows etc.

The big bathroom had two sinks, a bath, separate shower and a large mirror with a television in the centre, a great novelty, plus Bose surround sound.

Bathroom mirror television at Four Seasons Orlando

Bathroom mirror television

There was a very useful changing and wardrobe area with space for luggage between the bedroom and bathroom.

Plus, there was seating, a mini fridge and a present waiting for our daughter on the bed.

Food and drink

There are six places where you can eat at the hotel. We dined at Ravello restaurant, a modern Italian, with exquisite food and helpful, knowledgeable staff who called us by name.

This is also where the delicious buffet breakfast is served and it was lovely to be eating such quality fare.

We also enjoyed a lovely lunch around the pool, a server collects your order and delivers it back to you where you are sitting.

Nearby

The Disney World Parks of Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios are just a 10-minute ride away.

Hotel guests can enter the parks 30 minutes early – a huge bonus to be able to start exploring and queuing for the most popular rides when it’s a bit quieter – and travel there and back by free shuttle bus.

Our highlights

*The staff: From the moment we pulled up in our hire car and multiple staff appeared to help with our luggage and park the vehicle, through to those on reception, the concierge service, the Disney desk, those around the pool and the restaurant staff, we have never experienced such diligence and care.

*The Explorer Island water park: you can swim or float on rings along a lovely lazy river which loops around the grounds, there is a small pool off it with a volleyball net and basketball hoops.

There is a big infinity pool, which from a distance, blends into a lake behind it. There are two water slides in a separate area plus a big splash zone.

The main pool at Four Seasons Resort Orlando

The main pool

An adults-only pool in a separate area looked especially peaceful and inviting.

*Games and sports: There’s a games room called The Hideout with pool table, games consoles, a tv and more. There are also pool and table tennis tables dotted around in other places along with a basketball court.

The hideout at Four Seasons Resort Orlando

The Hideout

*Seating: It is invitingly placed around the pools and is a mixture of sunbeds, cabanas and egg chairs. And there are towels available on tap.

Anything else to note?

We didn’t have time to use them but there’s also three tennis court, a golf course (Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club), a spa with 18 treatment rooms and a fitness centre.

Splash zone at Four Seasons Orlando

Splash zone

Top tips

*Be sure to check Disney park opening times and shuttle bus times the night before, the timetable comes out every evening. The buses usually run every hour. The Disney desk opposite reception can link your tickets to your resort booking so you can great straight into the theme park in the morning

*On set days, there are Disney character breakfasts at the hotel – The Good Morning Breakfast with Goofy and Pals or you could even pay for a private breakfast or private meet and greet character experience with Mickey.

*Ask at reception for the times of Disney fireworks to watch, especially if you have a park-view room.

*This hotel isn’t cheap, rooms can cost up to $2,000 per night. That doesn’t include breakfast ($40 per adult and $20 per child). It is clearly aimed at the top end of the market but you are paying for an exclusive experience. There are no hidden costs here unlike other resorts with no resort fee and no costs for the kids’ club.

Sun lotion and water are freely available at Four Seasons Orlando

Sun lotion and water are freely available

The cheapest meals available on site were from the poolside restaurant with the most expensive at the top floor Capa steakhouse, which has two terraces with views across Disney World.

As it’s so expensive, it’s best to plan your days here when you can use the facilities and enjoy the tranquillity away from the crowds of places like Disney World.

The splash zone at Four Seasons Resort Orlando

Video

More information

Address

Four Seasons Resort Orlando, 10100 Dream Tree Boulevard, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, 32836, USA.

How to book

Four Seasons at Walt Disney World Resort

Children relaxing at Four Seasons Orlando

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We received a discounted stay for the purposes of this review, all views, as ever, are our own.