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Coronavirus home-school guide: How to teach your children, have fun and stay calm!

Coronavirus home-school guide: How to teach your children, have fun and stay calm!

What to do with children at home during schools closures and our top tips to educate them

Schools have shut and parents all over the country are wondering how best to look after their children at home.

It’s daunting to realise you are now their sole educator for the foreseeable future.

It’s also a challenging time for children – they can’t see their friends and have lost the security of their usual routine and activities.

But now they are away from playground chat about Coronavirus, we can shield them better from anxiety and make this as positive a time as we can for them.

After all, they are living through a period which will be remembered in history – one day they could be telling their grandchildren about the time schools closed.

So, let them remember it for all the good stuff, when they got to spend quality time with the people who love them most.

Where they played games, had fun and learned about things that really mattered to them and interested them.

Read, explored hobbies and passions but above all felt loved and secure at a time when the world around them was confusing and different.

We’ve put together some ideas to help you.

But whatever you do or don’t manage, please don’t feel inadequate or guilty.

EVERYONE is in the same boat. Children are not at school, remember, you are a parent not a teacher.

Timetables and routine

Children respond well to a routine. And their normal schedule has been taken away from them.

You can make a timetable to add structure to their days and a lot of children benefit from having a visual plan in place.

I’m going to attempt to get my children up and dressed first thing – wish me luck, they do love a pyjama day!

I’m also hoping to set aside periods for learning, reading, exercise and creative time but will be flexible and lead by them.

Make sure to set aside good chunks of time for child-led play.

Remember, this is NOT the time to be nagging or upsetting children if they really don’t want to do something.

And if they don’t learn much some days? Don’t worry!

Exercise

Children need plenty of exercise.

Besides keeping their fitness levels up, they’ll feel happier, more positive and more energised if they keep active.

*You could start the day with a PE session – body coach Joe Wickes is doing a free PE lesson at 9am every weekday on YouTube #PEwithJoe.

PE with Joe

*When allowed out, plan a daily walk or jog and try different routes, keeping well away from other people. If you are feeling particularly enthusiastic, make a treasure hunt of things to find or collect bits for a picture!

Keep a safe distance from others and avoid playgrounds and anywhere where children may touch surfaces.

*Plan your own PE sessions in the garden or obstacle courses.

Adapt learning to match their interests

Example: Harry Potter

I have two Harry Potter fans so, I am really thrilled to have found some amazing resources which will combine one of their favourite subjects with ways to learn and be creative.

The Ultimate Harry Potter Project – this blog gives some fantastic wizarding ideas as trialled by a Harry Potter-loving family like potion making, wand making, a Quidditch creation and how to make Mandrakes.

And this site provides loads of carefully made Harry Potter printables like crosswords, words searches, colouring pages and maths worksheets.

And of course, encourage them to dress up and play and let their imaginations run wild.

Topics

Take a topic and research the subject together then do different activities relating to it.

I’m going to try making our own volcanoes, write about them, make poems and paint pictures of them after being inspired by this great website Ways To Learn Through Play At Home (by SEN Resources Blog) and its fantastic YouTube videos.

Life skills

This is the best time you will ever have to learn life skills together such as:

*Gardening: A lot of children love helping in the garden. I’m not exactly green-fingered but I’ve bought packets of seeds and ordered biodegradable seed pots to get us started.

*Decorate (with care): This is potentially a good time to spruce up the house. I’ve splashed out on a huge tub of emulsion and a new roller and have optimistic visions of us all having a go at this together, which could all go horribly wrong. We are also going to have a go at painting the shed.

*Cooking and baking: My two always love to make cakes and biscuits but I’m hoping they’ll enjoy trying some other easy recipes.

*Even cleaning and housework can sometimes be fun!

Virtual playdates

Make sure they don’t lose touch with their friends by arranging regular video calls for them.

We are loving Facebook Messenger where you can do group video chats. There are some hilarious filters you can use too.

It’s also proved a saviour for me and my friends later on in the evenings, with wine in hand!

It’s easy to use, just open Facebook Messenger, select a friend/friends or a group as if you were writing a message then press the video camera icon. To get the filters, press the smiley face.

I saw one mum had asked all the children in a group call who could find various items, which proved entertaining.

One-on-one time

Set a timer and dedicate all your attention to one child.

Let them choose exactly what they want to do and be enthusiastic and supportive.

Do the same with all your children and give the others something to occupy them if possible while they wait their turn, without (good luck with this) interrupting!

Reading

Read to your children, get them to read to you and give them time to read alone. I’ve got two little book worms and it’s one of our biggest joys.

A girl reads a book

Also Amazon Audible has made hundreds of titles free during the Coronavirus.

And World Book Online has made its collection of over 3,000 ebooks and audiobooks available for free for children to access at home.

Plus, there are lots of children’s authors doing online read-alouds and activities, find out more here.

Coding

If your children like coding or want to learn, a company called Code Camp which teaches children aged 7 to 12 to code, has scrapped its subscription fees during this period.

LEGO

Loads of children love LEGO and it helps develop lots of skills including fine motor skills.

If they are really keen, you can print out a free 30-day LEGO challenge here.

30 day LEGO challenge

Make a diary

This is a time they will remember. Use this free printable stay-at-home diary.

Blue Peter Badges

If you have children aged six to 15, apply for a Blue Peter badge. And then they’ll have over 200 places to visit for free until they’re 16, once they are allowed out again.

Planet Earth

On BBC iPlayer they have episodes of Planet Earth. One mum played them for her children and quizzed them at the end of each episode.

Pictures in the window

Children have been painting a picture of a rainbow or something else of their choice to put in the window for their friends to see when they walk past to keep everyone smiling. It’s the #frommywindow initiative.

If you are working from home

Everything is far more challenging when you are trying to work too.

Make sure your colleagues and employers know that you have children at home with you so they have realistic expectations of what you can achieve.

If you have partner who is also working from home, try to take shifts.

Give children activities which don’t need as much supervision where possible.

Accept that the children will have more screen time.

Most importantly – have lots of fun

Try everything you all enjoy – have pillow fights, have a movie night, play music and dance, sing, play tig, make dens, camp in the garden, laugh and be silly.

Concentrate on your children as much as possible, let them mess up the house, give them the freedom to play.

Finally

There has been a great deal of advice and links and websites to help us muddle through this crazy time.

But this has been one of the best things I have read. The author is said to be an experienced home educator who wishes to remain anonymous.

Tips for PARENTS OF SCHOOL CHILDREN who might be spending a lot of time at home together in the near future, because 😷🦠.

Hopefully these are some useful tips/thoughts/experience from a HOME EDUCATOR’S PERSPECTIVE on what can work at home. NB: this is what works for us and all families are different, so take however much is useful to you and leave the rest. Bare in mind, if your child is receiving work to do at home from school, that external factor may give quite a different dynamic to home ed, so your experiences may differ too. But I still hope some bits of this might be useful.

1. Replicating school at home doesn’t work. This is a truth almost universally acknowledged in home ed groups by parents who tried it, including qualified teachers. Naturally sometimes parents begin home ed in a school-like manner, perhaps after removing a child from school, thinking that’s the way to go. But it seems 9/10 times families quickly discover this is a route to frustration for children and parents. So if this happens to you, don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal, read on for alternatives 🙂

2. It’s fine for children to be bored. Actually it’s good for children to be bored. Perhaps not all the time, but definitely sometimes. Boredom breeds creativity. Our minds cannot stay idle, so inevitably they find something to do, and often they find surprising and interesting things. Isaac Newton began his discovery of gravity at home when Cambridge University closed because of the plague. Shakespeare also wrote some of his best regarded plays while hiding in the countryside from the plague. Possibly if feeling bored is unusual for a child, they might find it uncomfortable at first, but rest assured it is good and valuable. Parents, we do not always have to ‘solve’ boredom.

3. Schools spend less time on learning than you might think. There are several calculations by teachers-turned-home-educators that attempt to quantify actual learning time in schools. When the breaks and moving around and getting things out and putting things away and controlling behaviour and setting expectations and golden time and school photos, and last day of term, and a million other things are taken into account, how much focussed learning time is left on average per day? The calculations range from 45 minutes to 2 hours. Consider scaling back your own expectations accordingly.

4. Learning doesn’t have to be at a table with a worksheet. Oodles can be learnt through cooking, gardening, household tasks*, reading stories to each other, board games, card games, toys and roleplay, sewing and knitting, art and crafts, DIY, servicing a car or bike, music, radio, discussing the news, magazines, documentaries… Some families find that things learnt in an active practical way can stick better than learning on paper.
* Yes cleaning really can be educational – think of all the science involved in descaling a sink, enzymes in washing up liquid, microbes on surfaces, dissolving stains in solvents…

5. You don’t have to already know everything your child needs/wants to learn. Welcome questions and try to find answers together if you don’t know. Actually you might want to search for answers together even if you do know, because how to find things out for yourself is a valuable skill for kids to develop. In periods when children’s questions aren’t forthcoming, try voicing your own questions out loud while you go about your tasks, or ask kids their opinion on something to start a discussion. For older kids (we aren’t there yet) it seems to be about helping them find resources (people, clubs, books, courses) that they can learn from. ‘Facilitator not teacher’ is a phrase sometimes used.

6. Learning doesn’t have to happen in school hours. You probably have the children with you longer than they would be in school, so you have the option to pick times when they are more receptive, or that fit with family needs. Some families come to consider all-day every-day as learning time, by noticing and using learning possibilities in all of everyday life.

(7. Because I can’t not mention it after 4 and 6: home learning doesn’t have to happen at home. Unfortunately right now there may be No, or Very Limited, options to go out – follow the advice for your country. But rest assured that there are some (many) home educating families who usually go out a lot, and they may well be having similar challenges staying at home as school families do).

8. Set expectations/ have a rhythm. This might be very individual, but what works for us, while not being too rigid, is to have a pattern of when we do activities together and when we don’t. Eg you might come together to do a joint activity in the morning after breakfast. And during meal prep and clear up might be independent play/activities that they choose themselves. I find I still need to remind frequently that I won’t be taking part in complicated parent-dependant activities when I’m in the middle of clearing up the lunch carnage! And reminding of the slots when we do those things together really helps.

9. Consider including quiet time/a break for everyone. Ours coincides with the toddler’s afternoon nap. But even before a younger sibling, we found it helpful to have a quiet break after lunch. This is when I get some quiet thinking/headtasks time (those things not being at all compatible with awake toddlers). The older one might have some screen time, and/or she usually has creative projects that she wants to work on. It took us some practice to get this going well.

10. Having a bad day? However crazy and distracting your household (younger siblings, pets, deliveries, illness, broken washing machines…) is it truly more crazy and distracting than 30 other kids? Or, if you feel like you didn’t give enough attention to your child today, was it really less than 1/30th of the attention of the teacher at school? Probably not. These can be helpful thoughts, especially on a bad day.

11. Minimise prep, or include the kids in preparing for future activities. Because, quite differently to a teacher, you have these kids with you *all the time*. If you can’t find a way to get it done together, it probably isn’t going to happen. I try not to use the quiet time/break for prepping because that isn’t a really a break and I wouldn’t emerge sufficiently refreshed for getting through the rest of the day.

12. Look for activities that you get something out of as well as the kids. This is how to stay sane. Do as many of these as possible.

13. Atmosphere. You can always subtly change how a situation feels by putting on music, changing lighting, opening a window…

14. Lead by example. Do you wish your child would show an interest in something (more) wholesome (than what they’re doing right now)? What might happen if you gather some interesting objects on the table, and some paper and pencils, and begin drawing? Or put on some exercise clothes and get out your yoga mat and video? Make sure to just casually happen to have some spare pencils & paper/floorspace nearby ready for any requests to join in. Play it cool and don’t be obvious about hoping they’ll take an interest, and keep an open mind about what follows. This can work with so many activities. They might choose to join in, or they might not this time. But chances are they’ll have noticed, and you hopefully got to do something you enjoyed for a short time, and you’ve set a great example, and… sometimes interesting responses emerge much later. 😉

15. Don’t compare. Inevitably we tend to share the highlights where a child made something we’re proud of. We don’t share the moment when the floor can’t be seen, every opportunity provided for doing something wholesome has failed all morning, both the kids are screaming because you dared to use the loo, lunch is hours late, and the toddler has smeared poo on the coffee table. 🤦 But even with the highlights, just because a friend seems to do lots of X or Y, doesn’t mean we all should. Families are different, so focus on what works for yours. Including, ignoring all of the above advice if you think that’s best!

Good luck and enjoy!

More ideas and free resources for home learning

Twinkl

This website has loads of great teaching resources and is offering a free access code UKTWINKLHELPS.

https://chatterpack.net/blogs/blog/resources-list-for-home-learning

https://kidsactivitiesblog.com/135609/list-of-education-companies-offering-free-subscriptions/

https://classroommagazines.scholastic.com/support/learnathome/grades-1-2.html

https://www.forbes.com/sites/tarahaelle/2020/03/15/101-ideas-to-keep-your-kids-busy-during-coronavirus-closures/#1ed3fe4774a4

https://blog.learningresources.co.uk/free-home-learning-resources-for-families/

We’d love to hear how you are getting on, let us know below!

LEGOLAND Windsor launches the world’s first DUPLO roller coaster for young children

LEGOLAND Windsor launches the world’s first DUPLO roller coaster for young children

A new roller coaster aimed at pre-school children has opened at one of England’s most popular theme parks

The world’s first DUPLO rollercoaster has opened at LEGOLAND Windsor Resort.

The DUPLO Dino Coaster, for children aged around two to five, is part of the attraction’s bigger improved DUPLO Valley area.

The ride has dino-themed carriages which soar around supersized DUPLO dinosaur models, 18 times bigger than if you were to build them at home.

Legoland staff think it will be the perfect first rollercoaster experience for little ones, who need to be 0.9 metres or over to ride it.

The area has also has a new show and new supersized DUPLO models, great for family selfies, plus its own official character, Dexter the Dog.

Outdoor play area Brickville has become DUPLO Playtown with a new rocket play structure for budding astronauts and there is a new puppet show at the DUPLO Puppet Theatre.

DUPLO Valley Airport has a new look with with three coloured helicopters for little pilots to choose from.

Existing family rides at DUPLO Valley include the riverboat Fairy Tale Brook ride and the DUPLO train.

Duplo Valley, Legoland Windsor

Duplo Valley, Legoland Windsor

The area also hosts the resort’s outdoor water play areas – Splash Safari and Drench Towers.

Meanwhile the park has launched a new adult and toddler annual pass to be used while older children are at school.

For £49, a toddler (classed as under 0.9 metres) and adult can visit the theme park as often as they like during term time (Monday to Friday), with 20 per cent off at restaurants and a 10 per cent discount in the shops.

Children under 0.9 metres get free entry anyway to the LEGOLAND Windsor Resort all year round.

Day tickets are from £29 per person when booked online in advance.

Families can book a LEGOLAND short break at the unique LEGOLAND Hotel and enjoy the DUPLO Valley area with stays from £99.25.

The LEGOLAND Windsor Resort is aimed at children aged two to 12 and is open until November 1, 2020, visit here for opening hours.

It has over 55 interactive rides, attractions, live shows, building workshops and driving schools and 80 million LEGO bricks, all set in 150 acres of beautiful parkland.

We’ve got lots of lovely LEGOLAND content here at The Family Holiday Guide for you to enjoy:

LEGOLAND Windsor Resort – read our review and top tips here review and top tips

LEGOLAND Windsor – our 10 top tips to get the most out of your visit

How to beat the queues at LEGOLAND Windsor Resort with the Q-Bot Ride Reservation System

Will the home of LEGO live up to children’s expectations on a trip to LEGOLAND in Denmark?

Top tips for a family trip to the original Legoland in Billund, Denmark

New family attraction – magical woodland adventure park BeWILDerwood to open in Cheshire

New family attraction – magical woodland adventure park BeWILDerwood to open in Cheshire

A 70-acre unique woodland attraction is soon to open in South Cheshire

A family day out full of fun, imagination and adventure is set to open in time for May half-term.

BeWILDerwood Cheshire – A Curious Treehouse Adventure – is throwing open its wonky wooden gates on Saturday, May 23, 2020.

It is in a forest setting where children can ‘run wild’ and promises ‘no noisy rides, no technology and no junk food’.

Tree trails at BeWILDerwood Cheshire

It’s the second Bewilderwood site in the country – the first in Norfolk, has won a host of awards.

The sites are based on the magical children’s BeWILDerwood book series by Tom Blofeld, bringing to life a cast of captivating characters.

BeWILDerwood author and creator Tom Blofeld at BeWILDerwood Cheshire

BeWILDerwood author and creator Tom Blofeld

The Cheshire site, which has been in development for three years, will feature Curious Treehouses, Wobbly Wires (zip wires), Slippery Slopes and a variety of giant wooden play structures to navigate such as a Broken Bridge.

Slides at Tree trails at BeWILDerwood Cheshire

There will also be aerial ropewalks, climbing walls, balancing logs and mazes.

Slides at Tree trails at Swings at BeWILDerwood Cheshire

Face painting and activities like interactive storytelling shows and crafting sessions are included in the ticket price and parking is free.

It is aimed at children aged two to 2 but teenagers and adults can enjoy the equipment too as the focus is on family fun.

Grandparents having fun at BeWILDerwood Cheshire

Fun for all the family

Toddlers and children who are too small to go on the bigger bits have their own areas, Toddlewood on the Hill and Tiptoe Valley.

A todder at BeWILDerwood Cheshire

Food can be bought at the Cosy Cabin and Munch Bar and picnics are welcome.

Tickets are based on height rather than ages and can be bought online.

Grandparents having fun at Tree houses at BeWILDerwood Cheshire

Books from the BeWILDerwood series including A Boggle at BeWILDerwood, The BeWILDerbats and A BeWILDermuddle are also available to buy online.

Gate admission prices for 2020 are:

Born to BeWILD (Under 92cm): Free

Almost WILD (92-105cm): £16.50

BeWILD Now (over 105cm): £18.50

Still WILD (65 years+): £10.50

Address: BeWILDerwood Cheshire, Whitchurch Road, Bickley, Malpas, Cheshire, SY13 4JF.

We’ll be visiting to review soon and will report back!

Coronavirus travel tips: How to keep children safe from germs on aeroplanes

Coronavirus travel tips: How to keep children safe from germs on aeroplanes

How to protect your family from germs on a plane – all the precautions you need to take

I’ve always been a bit OTT when it comes to germs and my children – I’m the mum brandishing a hand gel at parties and soft play.

But the spreading coronavirus has seen us all improve our hygiene standards.

Getting ill can ruin a holiday – so how can we keep our children – and ourselves – as protected as possible when we travel?

Here we explain the extra precautions families can take to look after themselves while flying.

Passengers getting on a full plane

Aeroplanes and germs

Aeroplanes are pretty amazing – they transport us quickly to fantastic destinations all over the world.

But they can also be breeding grounds for germs and bacteria – the result of packing lots of people into an enclosed space for hours at a time.

Studies say that one in five people will get sick after flying, so how can we help prevent our children – and ourselves – from getting ill?

Before the flight

When you travel on a plane, your immune system is challenged by dehydration, lower oxygen levels and other factors, weakening your body’s defence against infections.

But you can boost your children’s immune system to prepare their bodies for flying.

If a child has plenty of sleep and eats healthily before the flight, their immunity will perform better.

Where to sit

Believe it or not, some seats carry a higher risk than others.

Passengers are more vulnerable to illness if they sit in an aisle seat – they receive the most contact and potential contamination from potentially poorly people walking up and down and holding on to head rests.

So put children by the window if possible, where there are less germs.

Also try to not sit your child next to someone who is ill, instead take the seat yourself or discretely ask a flight attendant if you can move seats.

You are less at risk sitting behind someone who is ill or coughing than in front.

Also avoid sitting too near to the toilets if possible as these areas are busier. Plus, people spending more time there may be the sick ones.

Aisle seats on a plane

Avoid aisle seats

Wash hands

Washing hands regularly, especially before you eat, is the BEST way to prevent illness, wherever you are. Help children to wash hands and teach them how to do it properly. Show them how to use warm soap and water, scrub all over for 20 seconds, then rinse and dry.

Discourage children from touching their faces as bugs can be transmitted to their mouth, nose or eyes. And tell them not to put anything in their mouths.

Hand sanitiser

Hand sanitiser removes most bacteria and viruses from hands so use it regularly and before eating and drinking.

Even if children have just been to the toilet and washed their hands, they are likely to have touched seats or other areas on the way back to their seats.

Tell children to rub the gel all over their hands until it is dry. Apply it thoroughly including between fingers.

Supervise young children as it is dangerous if ingested and store hand gel in a bag away from them and to avoid spillages.

A girl touching a plane window

Surfaces

Germs can last for up to seven days inside a plane.

Most germ viruses are transferred by touching not just breathing the air. There are several hotspots on a plane and one of the worst offenders is the tray table.

Children love a tray table. To be safe you can wipe it down with an alcohol-based wipe or gel. Experts also recommend you wipe armrests, seatbealt buckles, screens and remote controls.

There is often a quick turnaround time between flights so these areas do not always get thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

In-flight magazines and seat pockets

Passengers often use the seat pockets as bins and air crew find dirty nappies and used tissues in them among rubbish left behind, so try not to use them if possible.

They contain a lot of bacteria but wipes can’t properly disinfect the fabric of the pocket.

Seat pockets on a plane

In-flight magazines are touched by hundreds of people and are never cleaned so they are full of germs. Avoid!

Water

One of the best ways to stay healthy during a flight is to drink lots and lots of water.

Ensure children drink more than they would at home as they will get dehydrated and then the mucous membranes in the nose and throat will dry up which protect us from most diseases encountered.

Everyone should avoid coffee, alcohol and sugary drinks when flying, which will dehydrate you even more.

Toilets

Aeroplane toilets are a big source of germs.

Avoid touching surfaces in there and turn off the taps and open the door while holding a paper towel.

Aircraft air vents

Vents

The air coming out of the vents is meant to be cleaner than the air around your seat as it is filtered, so leaving them on a low setting can move the germs away.

However, you may want to use hand gel after touching the vent as it is another bacteria hotspot!

Blankets and pillows

Bring your own blankets and pillows for children to use. If you ask for them and they aren’t wrapped, they may not be clean.

Plus having a familiar blanket and pillow to curl up with may also make children happier.

Screens on a plane for entertainment

Entertainment

Bring your own entertainment for children so that they don’t touch onboard touchscreens which have a lot of germs from dirty fingers, coughs and sneezes. Or otherwise wipe them first!

Other Germ-Fighting Travel Tips

Hotels

Health experts suggest wiping down remote controls, light switches, telephones, doorknobs, toilet seat handles and taps to protect children.

Swimming pools

Chlorination does not kill all bacteria. Teach young children to avoid swallowing water in pools and water parks. And make sure they shower after getting out of the pool.

HOWEVER!

If you are going on holiday, do NOT let worry and anxiety spoil a trip.

Arm yourself with hand sanitiser and a bit of knowledge.

And don’t scare your children! Just make them aware of basic hygiene.

Wishing you happy, healthy holidays.

UK airline Flybe collapses into administration – all flights have been cancelled

UK airline Flybe collapses into administration – all flights have been cancelled

Coronavirus crisis is the final blow for struggling airline Flybe

UK airline Flybe has collapsed – all flights have been cancelled and passengers have been told not to go to airports.

Flybe told customers today its business had ‘ceased trading with immediate effect’.

“If you are due to fly with Flybe, please DO NOT TRAVEL TO THE AIRPORT unless you have arranged an alternative flight with another airline,” the company has told customers.

“Please note that Flybe is unfortunately not able to arrange alternative flights for passengers.

“If you have a booking sold by another airline that includes travel on a Flybe flight, please contact the relevant airline or travel agent to confirm if there is any impact to your travel plans.”

The budget carrier, founded in 1979, was once Europe’s largest independent regional airline.

The Exeter-based company operated nearly 40 per cent of UK domestic flights – more than 200 routes and around eight million people a year used its services.

The company

Chief executive, Mark Anderson, said the company had made ‘every possible attempt’ to avoid collapse but had been ‘unable to overcome significant funding challenges’.

“The UK has lost one of its greatest regional assets,” he said.

“Flybe has been a key part of the UK aviation industry for four decades, connecting regional communities, people and businesses across the entire nation.”

Coronavirus

The coronavirus has seen demand for flights plummet in recent weeks, putting added pressure on the company which was already struggling with rising fuel costs and competition from other airlines.

The government announced in January that it was in communication with the company about it finances and had announced a rescue deal.

The whole global airline industry is in crisis because of the coronavirus outbreak, which began in China.

Flight schedules have been cut and planes grounded.

Jobs

The collapse puts more than 2,000 jobs at risk.

The government has said it will help Flybe’s workers find new jobs and will work with other airlines to minimise disruption and replace services.

Help

Flybe passengers and staff are being offered free travel by all First Rail train operators, which consist of Great Western Railway, South Western Railway, TransPennine Express and Avanti West Coast.

EasyJet has offered rescue fares for passengers and free flights to Flybe staff to get home.

Passenger rights

Flybe customers who bought tickets directly from the company will not be protected by the Atol scheme.

But if you went through a travel agent or another third party you might be covered.

Some people may be able to get their money back if they paid by credit card or with some debit cards.

For all your rights go to the Martin Lewis MoneySavingExpert website,

Customers are also advised to monitor the Civil Aviation Authority website for further information .

You can contact the administrators by email at flybeadministration@uk.ey.com.

Easter 2020 ideas for children around the South East of England – our top picks

Easter 2020 ideas for children around the South East of England – our top picks

The best Easter 2020 entertainment from egg hunt to lambing activities, walks and spring festivals

Spring is a great time for family fun and adventures and getting outside with your children.

Here are our pick of the best Easter activities planned around the South East of England.

Buckinghamshire

Waddesdon Manor is having a Cadbury Easter Egg Hunt from April 4 to 13.

Discover fun facts about nature and new parts of the gardens while taking part in an egg hunt around the grounds. Children £3, grounds admission applies.

Children can also enjoy an Easter petting farm at the manor which runs from April 15 to 19.

Get up close and personal with new furry, hairy or feathered friends this Easter, as animals return to Waddesdon’s stable yard. Free with grounds admission.

Dorset

Farmer Palmer’s, just outside Poole, is planning family-friendly Easter-themed activities.

The Easter fun includes hands-on experiences with the animals that populate the farm and an Eggstravaganza featuring hundreds of chocolate eggs over the weekend (April 10 to 13).

Entry from £12.50, children aged two are £5.50 and children under two are free.  For more information go to the website.

East Sussex

The annual Marbles Match and Easter Bonnet Parade takes place in the imposing shadow of Battle Abbey, site of the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

The marbles match at Battle Abbey

The marbles match

Visitors will be able to watch local teams lose their marbles in a traditional competition dating back to 1945. It starts at 10am on Good Friday, April 10.

Spectators of all ages will also be able to give marbles a try or take part in the Easter Bonnet competition. For more information go to the website.

Hampshire

Visit Gambledown Farm where in Spring, lambs are bottle fed, bluebells and daffodils are out and children can see baby chicks.

If you are looking for a family Easter break, the farm offers barn stays and glamping set in 270 acres of Hampshire countryside, go to the website for more information.

Chicks at Gambledown Farm

Chicks at Gambledown Farm

Gilbert White’s House Garden Bird Easter Egg Hunt runs from April 4 to 19. Children can hunt for painted eggs in the gardens and meadow, which are all based on the eggs of the birds which nest in the grounds. Find them all and claim a chocolate egg.

The cost is £3 in addition to the general admission price, adult £12, child under 16 £5, for more information go to the website.

Easter at Gilbert White's House

Gilbert White’s House

There will be an Easter Sunday Cruise and Egg Hunt on the John Pinkerton II canal boat on the Basingstoke Canal through beautiful Hampshire countryside on April 12.

Take a leisurely afternoon cruise to King John’s Castle where children can search out their Easter eggs. All trips are crewed by trained volunteer members of the Basingstoke Canal Society, a charity dedicated to safeguarding the canal. All proceeds are used to maintain the canal for the future. It is a two-and-a-half hour return trip.

The price is adults £12, children £6. Book online here.

The John Pinkerton II canal boat on the Basingstoke Canal

The John Pinkerton II canal boat

Jane Austen’s House Museum is arranging some family-friendly activities. There will be an Easter egg trail, family walks and a Young People’s Writing Workshop.  Booking is required for the workshop (April 4 to 19) and walks (April 8 and 15), go to the website.

Meet Bobtail Bunny and forest friends Betty Bunny, Hennie the Hedgehog and Red the Deer at Paultons Park from April 4 to 19, go to the website.

Easter at Paultons Park

Easter at Paultons Park

Butser Ancient Farm will be celebrating the ancient festival of Eostre and the goddess of Spring. Visitors will be able to meet the Saxons from Herigead Hundas with demonstrations, traditional crafts, cooking and DIY archaeology experiments. There will also be mini-mosaic making, wattling and more.

And Butser’s Roman IX Legion will be in residence in the Roman village with fighting and marching demonstrations, archery, Roman cooking, crafts and more.

It runs from April 10 to 13, prices are from £9 for adults and children aged three to 16 are £5. Go to the website for more information.

Kent

There will be Easter fun at Hever Castle from April 2 to 19 April.

Children can hunt for colourful carrots and bunnies in a free Easter trail in the castle or take part in two free Easter egg hunts in the grounds at 11am and 3pm.

They can also create an egg-shaped decoration to hang on the Easter tree in a free craft activity.

Admission prices, castle and gardens: adults £18.80, children aged five to 15 £10.70 and under-5s free. See the website  for more information.

Easter at Hever Castle

Easter at Hever Castle

Spa Valley Railway in Tunbridge Wells is having Easter activities from April 10 to 13 April.

Spot all the Easter bunnies alongside the railway between Tunbridge Wells and Eridge. A chocolate egg will be available (whilst stocks last) for all children taking part.

Resident steam engine ‘Ugly’ will be in action each day and standard fares apply.

Adult tickers are £10, children aged two to 15 are £5 and a family ticket for unlimited travel on the day is £28.00 when booked online in advance here.

West Sussex

Easter sees the return of the Worthing Observation Wheel. Standing at a height of 46 metres, the WOW is the tallest wheel on the south coast offering views of up to 10 miles across the South Downs and along the coast. See here for information.

Whatever you do, have a fantastic time!

Thorpe Park will reopen in March 2020 with the world’s first Black Mirror experience

Thorpe Park will reopen in March 2020 with the world’s first Black Mirror experience

Surrey theme park to open in time for the Easter Holidays

Surrey theme park Thorpe Park is reopening on March 27, 2020 in time for the school Easter holidays.

The family attraction in Chertsey, built on an island, has more than 30 rides, attractions and events.

It is adding to these with the world’s first experience based on the Netflix show Black Mirror.

Black Mirror Labyrinth, designed around the world of programme creator Charlie Brooker, is a digital maze which uses cutting-edge visual technology.

It is said to use ‘sensory-defying environments to reveal an uneasy truth that manipulates and displaces your very existence’.

Black Mirror Labyrinth ride experience at Thorpe Park theme park

The park already has the UK’s fastest roller coaster Stealth and the country’s only winged coaster.

It also home to the world’s first horror-themed roller coaster Saw – The Ride, featuring a beyond-vertical 100ft drop.

The park is running various events this year.

HYPERSpring is between April 4 and May 31, 2020 and Supercharged Summer is from July 18 to September 6 .

And its Halloween event Fright Nights is returning from October 3 to November 1, 2020 giving visitors the chance to ride coasters in the dead of night and take on award-winning live action scare mazes and experiences.

Thorpe Park Resort is in Chertsey, England, 20 miles from Central London.

Top tips for a family trip to the original Legoland in Billund, Denmark

Top tips for a family trip to the original Legoland in Billund, Denmark

All you need to know when visiting the home of LEGO in Billund, Denmark

Billund in Denmark is the home of Lego.

It is where the very first Lego toy brick was made in 1932. And where the first Legoland Park opened on June 7, 1968, next to the original Lego factory.

Legoland Billund is smaller, flatter and easier to get around than Legoland Windsor. Plus it’s just a 90-minute flight from the UK so makes a great alternative for Lego fans.

If you are planning a visit to Legoland Billund, make sure you read our 14 top tips below first and then our review.

1. How to get to Legoland Billund in Denmark

Legoland Billund is across the road from Billund Airport. You can fly there from Manchester, Heathrow and Stansted Airports. Ryanair fly from Stansted and Sun-Air, a British Airways partner, goes from Heathrow and Manchester.

We flew direct from Manchester with Sun-Air (which works in partnership with BA) on a tiny plane. The flight took 90 minutes.

2. Where to stay

It is expensive but you can stay stay at the park – at Legoland Hotel or Legoland Castle Hotel, a stay which can include park tickets, parking and early park access.

There is also Legoland Holiday Village, 450 metres from the entrance to Legoland.

But we stayed over the road at Lalandia Billund – an amazing water park resort, so got the best of both worlds. We stayed in a fantastic two-bedroomed lodge.

Lalandia

Lalandia

3. Best time to go to Legoland Billund

The busiest days at Legoland Billund are Tuesdays and Wednesdays while Saturdays are the quietest.

If you want to go over the summer, go as late as you can as Danish children usually go back to school towards the end of August so it will be quieter.

We found queues manageable despite visiting during the Easter holidays – there are lots of rides and plenty of space.

4. How to avoid the queues

Most people enter the park and start going on rides as soon as they see them so head straight to the back to avoid the crowds.

The longest queues when we went were in the Ninjago area which did mean a wait for Lloyd’s Laser Maze and the Ninjago Ride.

The Ninjago Ride

The Ninjago Ride

If you have Ninjago fans you could head there as soon as the gates open. Alternatively, the most popular rides are often quieter in the last 30 minutes before the park closes, although you may miss out altogether if you leave it too late.

To really save time queuing, splash out on the Q-Bot Reserve and Ride system. Instead of waiting in a queue at each attraction, you spend the waiting time elsewhere in the park. An Express pass reduces your waiting time by 50 per cent and an Ultimate pass means almost no waits in queues on your chosen rides, which can be a game changer when you have young children.

5. Layout

Legoland Billund is divided into themed areas.

The Miniland area is at its heart with recreations of everything from old Amsterdam to Star Wars, made out of Lego, which everyone will enjoy.

This park uses 65 million of the little bricks to build its displays.

There is a Duplo Land, Imagination Zone, Pirate Land, Knights’ Kingdom, Polar Land and Legoredo Town.

Duplo Land at Lego Billund

Duplo Land

Lego Ninjago World and Adventure Land are really popular.

Our favourite ride was the competitive Falck Fire Engine in Adventure Land. You work with your family to use a pump to move a fire engine and then spray out ‘fires’ while racing against other visitors on their fire engines.

Falck Fire Engine ride

Falck Fire Engine ride

The farthest end of the park is the quietest and we found a nice picnic spot by the penguin enclosure where we could watch them swimming while we ate.

6. Age appropriate

Unlike some theme parks, there is lots for little ones including Duplo Land for toddlers and Imagination Zone.

There are also enough rollercoasters to keep teenagers happy – so this suits all ages from two to 16.

A rollercoaster at Legoland Billund

There’s plenty for older children

Don’t forget to be aware of height and age restrictions, so children aren’t left disappointed on the day.

7. Food and drink

There are food and drink outfits but the options can be pricey. Plus they get very busy after 12.30pm so take your own food and drinks where possible, to enjoy in one of the picnic areas.

8. Language

This is obviously a Danish theme park but some of the 4D films are in English – check the times for these in advance.

9. Pushchairs

It’s a nice flat theme park and not overly huge but if little one’s legs get tired, there are pushchairs to hire.

10. Aquarium

If the weather is bad or you want a break from the rides then there is a good aquarium in the Imagination Zone called Atlantis by Sea Life.

Atlantis by Sea Life in Legoland Billund

Atlantis by Sea Life

It takes you on an expedition under the sea with a few bricks to find along the way. It doesn’t take very long but is a good spot to dry off or warm up and includes a tunnel under the water.

11. Special needs

The park is flat and all roads and paths are paved so wheelchairs users can go everywhere.

Those with a hidden disability such as anxiety, autism or ADHD can collect a ’show consideration’ wristband.

Disabled and ’show consideration’ access to rides is via the exits or sometimes through the Q-bot entrance.

12. Buying tickets

Buy online to save money and to save time queuing for tickets and download the free, official app to plan your trip.

13. Don’t miss the new Lego House

If you are after another Lego experience – try the big Lego House, which has opened in Billund and is within walking distance of Legoland.

This 12,000-square-metre house is filled with 25 million Lego bricks.

Here, children learn through play with Lego. The house also includes three restaurants and a Lego store.

Lego House in Billund

Lego House

14. The history

You can go to other Legoland parks, but only one place is the home of Lego.

Almost every visitor stops for an iconic photo outside the main entrance sign. Save time getting in by doing this at the end of the day not the beginning, when the shot will be more clear of people.

Conclusion

This park is not huge but it is historic and has enough to keep you entertained for a full day or a couple of days.

Advance entry starts from around 300DKK – about £30 – per person. For tickets and information visit the Legoland Billund website.

RELATED CONTENT: Will the home of LEGO live up to children’s expectations on a trip to LEGOLAND in Denmark?

RELATED CONTENT: We review a water park holiday resort opposite LEGOLAND in Denmark called Lalandia Billund

The entrance to Legoland in Billund, Denmark, when it opened in 1968/1969.

The entrance to Legoland when it opened in 1968/1969.



We visited as guests of the park to review it, all views are our own.

Is the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show 2020 good for children?

Is the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show 2020 good for children?

A family day out at the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show 2020

The Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show 2020 is a popular event every year with families.

The UK’s biggest display of leisure vehicles, static holiday homes, lodges and tents is spread over five halls at the NEC in Birmingham.

We’ve been today with our children – it was very appealing given the constant rain that has plagued the half-term holiday.

It’s a great price – adults are just £10 on the door this year (seniors £9) and children under 15 are free. Parking is free at the NEC but it is a long walk from the car park so consider getting one of the free shuttle buses especially if it is raining.

Once you get inside there are scores of caravans and motorhomes to explore – ours loved climbing inside, trying out the seats, working out how the beds worked and imagining they were ours.

There are lots of tents you can buy too, you can see all the different sizes and types all set up.

There are also extra activities, which make it more worthwhile taking children.

A climbing wall at the Children in a motorhome at the Caravan, Camping & Motorhome Show 2020

There is a climbing wall, a nine-hole mini golf course made out of miniature UK landmarks and a small circuit to try out electric bikes and electric scooters.

Mini golf at the Caravan, Camping & Motorhome Show 2020

The Haven stand had a fantastic ranger from Nature Rockz teaching fire lighting.

A ranger teache fire lighting at the Mini golf at the Caravan, Camping & Motorhome Show 2020

There is a theatre area with special guests like Shane Richie, Matt Allwright, adventurer Darren Hardy and chef, author, and Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain.

We watched a chat with the rather lovely Dr Hilary Jones from ITV’s Lorraine, who was discussing the benefits of breaks and holidays, fresh air and exercise.

There was also a dog arena where we saw an agility demonstration and made friends with some gorgeous cocker spaniels.

The dog arena at The show runs until February 23 2020 at the NEC in Birmingham.

Plus there are holiday lodges and glamping tents and representatives from holiday parks and other destinations offering ideas for family trips.

And lots of stands selling everything you need if you go camping or caravanning.

The show runs until February 23 2020 at the NEC in Birmingham.

Children’s television favourite Peppa Pig inspires families with her top 25 adventures to have around England

Children’s television favourite Peppa Pig inspires families with her top 25 adventures to have around England

VisitEngland and Peppa Pig team up to launch a top 25 for under-fives

Peppa Pig is inspiring young children and their families to plan adventures around England.

The TV favourite is sharing 25 top experiences, based on her own travels in the popular programme.

It is part of a new Peppa Pig hub which has been launched on the VisitEngland website.

There is a downloadable activity sheet and tick list to help families follow in Peppa’s footsteps. plus young fans can also watch clips from the show.

The ideas, from becoming a King or Queen for the day at one of England’s castles to spotting creepy crawlies at a nature reserve, showcase the huge potential for family breaks across the country, whatever the weather.

A family at Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

There are also some ideas picked by Mummy Pig, Daddy Pig, Granny and Grandpa Pig plus Peppa’s younger brother George, to inspire the whole family to make memories.

According to recent VisitEngland research, spending quality time with family and friends is the main reason for families taking a UK break.

Among favourite activities highlighted by the survey are with visiting attractions, getting outdoors and going to the beach.

Peppa Pig is currently shown on Channel 5 Milkshake and Nick Jr.

Peppa Pig and Visit England map

Visit the new Peppa hub or view the interactive map.

Peppa Pig’s top 25 experiences to have on an England break

  1. Have a play day at a museum

    The Natural History Museum, London

    The Natural History Museum, London

  2. Be King or Queen of the castle
  3. Have a picnic at a stately home
  4. Drift along canals on a boating holiday
  5. Go on a steam train journey
  6. Go paddling in the sea
  7. Enjoy an icecream on a pier
  8. Go rock pooling
  9. Build a sandcastle bigger than you
  10. Get competitive at crazy golf
  11. Jump in muddy puddles in a forest
  12. Spot Creepy Crawlies at a nature reserve
  13. Smell flowers at a garden
  14. Go camping in the countryside
  15. Be a strawberry farmer for the day
  16. Get crafty at an art gallery
  17. Hunt for dinosaurs at a museum
  18. Sing along at a theatre show
  19. Listen to your voice echo in a cave
  20. Eat cakes at afternoon tea
  21. Sing and dance at a family festival
  22. Splash about at a water park
  23. Ride on the top deck of a tour bus
  24. See how high you can fly a kite
  25. Visit a petting farm
Best family holiday destinations for warm weather and sunshine in March

Best family holiday destinations for warm weather and sunshine in March

Where to travel in March for the best family holidays with your children abroad in the sun or here in the UK

In March, the promise of warmth is coming and you won’t have to go quite as far to seek out the sunshine.

Here are our top picks for family trips in the third month of the year.

Morocco

Travel time from the UK: 3.5 hours

Temperature: 17-25C

Aerial view of Agadir, Morocco

Agadir, Morocco

Morocco is nicely warm in March.

You can choose the explosion of sights and smells in Marrakech or Casablanca.

But there are also more straightforward bucket-and-spade holiday options in a ready-made tourist resort like Agadir with sweeping beaches and large all-inclusive hotels.

Los Angeles, USA

Travel time from the UK: 10 hours

Temperature: 20C

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

LA in California is hot and humid in the summer but ideal in early spring.

There’s a Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios of course but also the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the beaches of Santa Monica and museums with everything from dinosaurs to space shuttles.

Florida, USA

Travel time from the UK: 10 hours

Temperature: 20-26C

Hogwarts at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Florida

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Florida

Florida is at its best when it isn’t too hot to hit Disney World.

In spring it isn’t too hot to queue for rides but is warm enough to be on the beach.

There are so many activities for children and make sure you consider alternatives to Orlando and its theme parks, like the Tampa Bay area, the Gulf Coast from Naples or south to the Florida Keys.

Madrid

Travel time from the UK: 2 hours

Temperature: 16C

Madrid

Madrid

The Spanish capital is warming up in March for a city break with a difference.

You can explore the parks and squares as well as sample some tapas.

Madrid also has an excellent zoo and aquarium, a cable car and on the outskirts there is the Warner Bros theme park.

Windermere, Lake District, UK

Temperature: 8C

Windermere in the Lake District

Windermere

March means daffodils across the beautiful Lake District in the northwest of England.

Yes, it’s still cold but there is so much colour.

We visited Windermere in March where you can balance spring walks with indoor attractions like the World of Beatrix Potter and the Aquarium of the Lakes. Read our article here: Five family-friendly activities around Windermere in the Lake District

Where do you like to holiday in March? We would love to know!

The best February half-term holiday destinations in the UK and abroad

The best February half-term holiday destinations in the UK and abroad

Where are the best holiday destinations to take your children in February half-term?

Half-term in February is often the toughest month to find a break – it’s cold, money is tight after Christmas but there are some good options to enjoy a fabulous holiday with your children.

Gran Canaria

Travel time from the UK: 4 hours

Temperature: 18-21C

Maspalomas in Gran Canaria

Maspalomas in Gran Canaria

This island has the most activities of any in the Canaries.

There is a wildlife sanctuary in the hills, Palmitos Park, plus watermarks, camel rides on the dunes of Maspalomas and much more.

We went in February and the weather was great.

*The other Canary Islands are also great options including Tenerife, Lanzarote (read our review here or ) and Fuerteventura (read our review of a holiday in Fuerteventura here).

Oman

Travel time from the UK: 7.5 hours

Temperature: 22-26C

Oman

Oman

Quieter and less developed than Dubai or Abu Dhabi, Oman offers an authentic glimpse into the Middle East.

There are plenty of family resorts along the coastline and the capital Muscat is worth a visit too.

*It is a good time of year for other Middle East destinations as well such as Dubai or Abu Dhabi, where the temperature will be a similar 22-26C.

Malaysia

Travel time from the UK: 14 hours

Temperature: 28-32C

Malaysia

Malaysia

There is loads to see in Malaysia. You can spend a couple of days in the buzzing capital Kuala Lumpur with the Petronas Towers which were once the world’s tallest building, then travel to Penang for its beaches, resorts and colonial Georgetown.

New Zealand

Travel time from the UK: 22 hours

Temperature: 22-25C

New Zealand

New Zealand

The furthest family trip but it will be worth it. February is ideal for the North and South Island. Don’t miss the beaches of the Bay of Islands, the bubbling geysers in Rotorua, whale watching in Kaikoura and adrenaline fuelled fun in Queenstown. You need two weeks minimum but this is the time of year to take it.

Liverpool, UK

Temperature: 5C

Liverpool

Liverpool

Winter is a good time to try a big city like Liverpool with plenty of indoor attractions. You can meet some dinosaurs at the World Museum Liverpool, find out about the history of the city at the Liverpool Museum, pop into the Beatles Experience, take a tour of Anfield the home of Liverpool FC and cross the Mersey on the famous ferry.

The city centre is compact and the waterfront spectacular even in bracing weather.

*Where do you like to go in February? Let us know below!

 

Gangsta Granny: The Ride comes to Alton Towers based on the popular book as part of the new World of David Walliams

Gangsta Granny: The Ride comes to Alton Towers based on the popular book as part of the new World of David Walliams

Grannies go free at Alton Towers in 2020 to celebrate the opening of the World of David Walliams

Staffordshire theme park Alton Towers has revealed that the star attraction of its soon-to-open World of David Walliams themed area will be Gangsta Granny: The Ride.

The world-first ride experience is inspired by Walliams’ biggest selling children’s novel Gangsta Granny.

Fans will also be able to stay overnight in one of four Gangsta Granny themed bedrooms in the Alton Towers Hotel.

Stay overnight in a Gangsta Granny room

Stay overnight in a Gangsta Granny room

We revealed last year that the World of David Walliams will be arriving at Alton Towers this Spring (2020) with a host of rides and attractions, bringing to life much-loved characters from the author’s children’s novels.

To celebrate the launch of Gangsta Granny: The Ride, Alton Towers is offering a new Grannies Go Free pass for 2020.

Published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, Gangsta Granny tells the story of Ben who discovers that his Granny is secretly an international jewel thief.

David Walliams works with Alton Towers on the new Gangsta Granny ride

David Walliams works with Alton Towers on the new Gangsta Granny ride

Comedian, actor and best-selling author David Walliams OBE said: “I’m absolutely thrilled that Gangsta Granny is becoming a ride at Alton Towers.

“I never imagined it would happen so it’s a real delight to see my characters brought to life in a ride.

“I’ve worked really closely with the team at Alton Towers to make sure the ride is just as funny and exciting as the book. I think children and their parents and even their grandparents are going to love it!”

The new 4D ride experience will see guests join the main characters as they attempt the greatest heist in the history of the world: to steal the Crown Jewels.

On-board a royal carriage, they will set off on a Crown Jewels tour only to be caught up in Ben and Granny’s adventure.

The ride will whizz, twist and spin passengers 360 degrees through a series of scenes where they will see, feel, hear and even smell an electrifying and unique retelling of the Gangsta Granny story.

Using state-of-the-art special effects, 3D projection-mapping and animation inspired by the artwork of Tony Ross, passengers will descend with Ben and Granny into the sewers, be chased through the streets of London and even come face to face with the Queen.

Gangsta Granny The Ride at Alton Towers

In other parts of the David Walliams area will be Raj’s Shop, a Royal Carousel, Raj’s Bouncy Bottom Burp and other surprises.

John Burton, Creative Lead for Alton Towers Resort, said: “David’s stories are full of witty characters, intrigue and exhilaration so it’s been a fantastic challenge to build all that into a new ride experience.

“It’s the first time we’ve attempted such a complex combination of a physical ride experience, high-tech special effects and brilliant story-telling to ensure guests feel they are with Granny and Ben on every step of their adventure.”

Alton Towers in Staffordshire, a member of the Merlin Entertainments family, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

It opens for 2020 on March 21.

The park says the new area will open in the Spring but has not given an official launch date yet.

Grannies (and Grandads) go free

Alton Towers is offering one free adult (aged 60 and over) ticket per full price child ticket when bought by March 20. The free tickets can be used during the 2020 season (March 21 to November 1, 2020). For full terms and conditions, go to www.altontowers.com/tandcs

Gangsta Granny-themed rooms

There are four themed rooms in the Alton Towers Hotel. They cost from £281.50, based on a family-of-four with bed and breakfast, book via altontowers.com

Gangsta Granny Facts

It was first published on 27th October 2011.

The anniversary edition was published in 2018.

Gangsta Granny was David’s first children’s number one bestseller.

It stayed at the top of The Sunday Times top ten for 24 weeks.

Overall sales of Gangsta Granny are 1.75 million in the UK alone.

Gangsta Granny has also been adapted for the stage by the Birmingham Stage Company.

A television adaptation was commissioned by the BBC in 2013 and first aired on BBC One on Boxing Day 2013. The cast includes Miranda Hart, Rob Brydon, David Walliams as Ben’s Dad and Joanna Lumley as The Queen. It is currently available to view on Netflix.

David Walliams

David closed 2019 as the UK’s biggest-selling author. His titles took three of the top 10 overall bestselling books of 2019 as well as the top three bestselling children’s books of the year.

He is one of the most influential children’s writers and has revolutionised reading for children.

Since the publication of his ground-breaking first novel, The Boy in the Dress (2008), global sales of his books have exceeded 37 million copies.

Across his titles, he has celebrated a total of 55 weeks at number one in the overall book charts and more than 150 weeks at number one in the children’s charts – more than any other children’s writer.

His most recent novel, The Beast of Buckingham Palace, was published in November 2019 and went straight to number one in in the overall industry bestseller charts where it remained for four weeks and included the coveted UK Christmas number one spot.

*For more information on Gangsta Granny: The Ride and other new attractions inspired by the books of David Walliams visit  www.altontowers.com/Walliams.

Annual passes and membership at top attractions across the UK in 2020 – our tips and advice

Annual passes and membership at top attractions across the UK in 2020 – our tips and advice

We investigate some of the popular annual passes for 2020 including Merlin, National Trust, English Heritage and Chester Zoo

There are so many amazing places to take children across the UK but the cost can really add up, especially over the holidays.

So is it worth splurging on an annual pass so you can visit your favourite places as often as you want? We investigate the most popular options for 2020.

Merlin Pass

The Octonauts ride at Alton Towers

Alton Towers

What is it?

The UK’s biggest annual pass offering entry to 32 Merlin attractions including Alton Towers, Legoland and more.

What do you get?

Entry to 32 attractions – London Eye, Chessington World of Adventures, Thorpe Park, Alton Towers, Warwick Castle, Sea Life Centres, LEGOLAND Windsor, LEGOLAND Discovery Centres, Madam Tussauds sites, Blackpool Tower, five Dungeon sites around the UK, Shrek’s Adventure.

You also get free car parking at theme parks and Warwick Castle (with a Premium Pass), 20 per cent off food and drink inside and discounted entry for family and friends.

How much is it?

The Standard Pass is £179 per person, £139 per person for a family pass for 3 or more people (maximum three over-12s).

The Premium Pass is £229 per person. £189 each for a family pass.

If you renew the pass after 12 months, the family price drops to £109 (standard) and £149 (premium).

Can I pay monthly?

Yes you can, with a new monthly membership option.

For the Standard Pass it costs £29.99 per person joining fee and then £8.99 per month per person.

The total cost over a year would be – £137.87 per person, similar to a family pass cost.

For the Premium Pass the cost is £34.99 joining fee and then £11.99 per month. The total cost is £178.87 per person, similar to an annual family pass.

Note: you have to sign up for a minimum of 12 months.

What about the small print?

The Premium Pass gives you entry to all attractions at all times plus priority entry to venues, a fast track pass voucher and free parking.

With the Standard Pass, you ARE restricted on which days you can use it at certain attractions.

In August and all UK Bank Holidays: No entry to any central London attractions including London Eye, Sea Life, Shrek’s Adventure, the London Dungeon and Madame Tussauds London.

Valentine’s Day: No London Eye entry.

October half-term weekends around Halloween: No entry to London Dungeon.

Friday, Saturday or Sunday in August and September 1: No entry to Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Chessington, LEGOLAND Windsor, Warwick Castle.

No free parking at any attraction with a Standard pass.

How much could you save?

The standard pass costs £46 per month for a family of four (2 adults, 2 children).

If you visited one attraction a month, Merlin’s website claims you will save £684 over a year compared with on-the-day entry.

You can use the Merlin Pass official calculator here.

However there are lots of 2 for 1 offers available online and via cereal packets and newspapers for most of these attractions, so nobody should be paying full price.

That makes the pass roughly the same price as a monthly visit to a Merlin attraction.

Verdict

In order to save money with this pass you need to visit more than 12 attractions in the year. If you are going to manage that then it could be good value.

Top tip

Look out for Merlin pass discounts – this usually happens in January and June. You can save between £20 and £50.

(For our reviews, tips and advice on LEGOLAND Windsor, click here).

National Trust membership

deer outside Dunham Massey

Dunham Massey

What is it?

An annual pass giving free entry to more than 500 National Trust parks, gardens and houses.

What do you get?

Free entry to National Trust sites, free parking at most car parks, a handbook and a National Trust magazine three times per year.

How much is it?

A family pass for 2 adults and up to 10 children (living at the same address) costs £126 per year.

For 1 adult and up to 10 children it is £78 per year.

Children under 5 go free anyway, so take that into account. You can pay by monthly direct debit if you prefer.

What about the small print?

It is relatively simple but there are some car parks not included for free. Sites like Stonehenge and Tatton Park, which aren’t exclusively run by the National Trust, can incur some charges.

You have to sign up for a year at a time and can only cancel when your renewal is due. Be sure to mark your renewal date in your diary so you don’t miss it.

How much could you save?

Average entry price to a large National Trust place is around £30 for a family of four so you can save a lot.

Car parking can be costly too, from £3 to £7 at a lot of places.

Membership costs £10.50 per month for a family with two adults and £6.50 for a family with one adult, so if you go to a NT site once a month or more, you canstart to save money.

Verdict

Good value for the sheer number of sites and car parks you can use, especially if you have a good selection near to you, as we do.

(We have lots of National Trust articles on this site, including reviews of Dunham MasseyQuarry Bank MillTatton Park, and our Famous Five trail in Dorset).

English Heritage membership

A visitor does a handstand in front of the stones at Stonehenge

Stonehenge

What is it?

A pass allowing access to 400 historic places including Stonehenge, Dover Castle, Tintagel Castle and more.

What do you get?

Unlimited access to 400 sites, free car parking, free entry for up to 6 children, a handbook, children’s activity pack and members’ magazine four times per year.

How much is it?

A family membership for 2 adults and up to 12 children costs £105 per year. For 1 adult and up to 6 children, it is £60.

What about the small print?

Not all events at English Heritage sites are free for members. They do get a reduced rate though.

You will get a reminder  letter one month before membership renewal. You must cancel at that time or pay for another year in full.

How much could you save?

Entry to each site varies in price. There are some for less than £20 for a family of four, but others come to £50.

You need to visit at least five English Heritage sites per year to start saving money.

If you need ideas then this is a good page on their website here.

Verdict

Lots of properties but if you also have National Trust membership as well, do you really need both?

(For our review of Stonehenge, click here).

Chester Zoo membership

An orangutan and a baby orangutan in a hammock at Chester Zoo

Chester Zoo

What is it?

Annual membership to the most popular tourist attraction outside London.

What do you get?

Unlimited access to Chester Zoo, Fast track entry, 10 per cent discount in the zoo’s shops and cafes, a quarterly magazine, access to junior members’ events, one free entry annually at several other UK zoos (Bristol Zoo, Colchester Zoo, Edinburgh Zoo, Newquay Zoo, Living Coasts, Marwell Zoo, Paignton Zoo and Twycross Zoo).

How much is it?

Individual adult membership is £95 and it is £53 per child, if paying by direct debit and £105 and £59 if not.

So family membership for 2 adults and 2 children is £245 per year by direct debit.

What about the small print?

Fairly straightforward, the zoo is open every day except Christmas Day and Boxing Day. You can go anytime. If you are using your free visit to another zoo you must take your membership card and membership letter.

How much could you save?

A day visit to Chester Zoo is up to £85 for a family of four booked in advance. There are rarely offers and discounts available.

You must all visit the zoo at least four times per year to start saving money.

Verdict

If you live close enough to visit regularly and have children who enjoy it, a Chester Zoo pass is a great family treat. Plus if you are members, you don’t feel you have to see every single animal and area each time and spend a whole day there for every visit, which is far more relaxed.

Top tip

If you are planning to visit, don’t miss our popular article Chester Zoo – our top tips to save you time and money.

Discover the best and worst rated airlines in latest Which? survey

Discover the best and worst rated airlines in latest Which? survey

Which? reveals the results from its 2019 airline survey

British Airways, Ryanair and American Airline have been named among the worst performers in the Which? Annual airline survey.

In contrast, Jet2, Easyjet, Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic were praised for their efforts by passengers.

BA was criticised for its food and drink, seat comfort and value for money in the survey of 6,500 holidaymakers.

The airline was second from bottom in the long haul category and third from bottom in the short haul section.

Ryanair was voted worst short haul airline for the fourth successive year with passengers criticising its confusing luggage rules.

Vueling and Wizz Air were also near the bottom of the list.

Among the best performing airlines in the survey was Jet2, which gained five stars for its customer service, and EasyJet.

In the long haul category, American Airlines finished bottom of the list, with one customer claiming ‘the cabin was scruffy, the staff rude, the food awful’.

Singapore Airlines was top of the long haul list with Emirates and Virgin Atlantic also performing well.

Rory Boland, Which? Travel editor, said: “Year after year, the same culprits continue to sink to new lows, yet for many of us, there is a choice.

“You don’t have to keep booking with an airline that has let you down – or one that you loved for years but has slipped in quality.

“If you get a choice and you are flying short haul, choose Jet2. It is better quality than BA and often has better fares than Ryanair. If you are heading to the states, Virgin Atlantic beats BA hands-down.”

Families flock to Winter Funland 2019 in Manchester for a huge Christmas experience out of the cold

Families flock to Winter Funland 2019 in Manchester for a huge Christmas experience out of the cold

A panto, ice rink, circus, Santa AND funfair all under one roof at huge Christmas event for children

Thousands of families have been flocking to Manchester to escape the cold weather into an entirely indoor Christmas extravaganza.

The UK’s biggest Christmas indoor event Winter Funland 2019, includes a huge ice rink, a Christmas circus, a pantomime, a vast indoor funfair and of course, Santa Claus.

There is also loads of food and drink for sale including vegan, vegetarian, gluten and lactose free options.

For parents of young children, there is plenty of space to park prams and buggies as well as a quiet breastfeeding area and baby changing facilities.

Last year, over 85,000 people visited the event.

Winter Funland event director, Andy Windmill, said: “Last year’s event was a phenomenal success and this year is bigger, brighter and full of even more festive fun.

“We have pulled out all of the stops to ease queues for Santa, quicker service for food and of course – brought in even more exciting funfair rides.”

Winter Funland is at EventCity, opposite intu Trafford Centre and there are over 3,000 free car parking spaces.

It runs until January 4, 2020. Visits are in sessions of four hours.

All-inclusive admission tickets are £23.50 per person and under 3s are free. Fastpass tickets to visit Father Christmas at Santa’s Grotto are also available from the website here www.winterfunland.com

Lapland UK 2019 – our full guide, top tips and review of this popular Christmas day out for families

Lapland UK 2019 – our full guide, top tips and review of this popular Christmas day out for families

We take our children to ‘Lapland’ in the UK for a full family festive experience

It is one of the country’s most popular Christmas days out for families who want to experience Lapland without the cost of travelling to Finland.

So here is all you need to know about Lapland UK, plus our top tips for visiting and please watch our video below!

What is it?

A full Christmas experience for children which tells the story of Father Christmas, complete with elves, snow, a personalized Santa visit, toy making, gingerbread decorating, ice skating and more.

Where is it?

In ‘Lapland’ accessed by magic from Lapland UK, in Whitmoor Forest near Ascot in Berkshire.

How it works

1. Children get a special invitation each to visit ‘Lapland’ through the post telling them they have been chosen to help Santa make toys. There is a special app you can use so that two of the elves you will meet, appear on your invitation through your phone to talk and build the excitement.

2. When you get there and check in, each child is given an Elf Passport to have stamped at various points. You can also buy Jingles here – elf money that the children can spend there – £1 is one Elf Jingle.

A pouch of Jingles

A pouch of Jingles

3. The tour starts in a round room where elves tell the Father Christmas story, teach elf rhymes and the elf wave and build up the excitement for the children (Little Folk) and adults (Big Folk) until finally opening the doors to ‘Lapland’.

The doors to Lapland

The doors to Lapland

4. You walk past snow-topped cabins to the toy workshop. Here, as in other places around the site, children have the option of entering through much smaller doors than the adults, which is a nice touch.

5. Inside the workshop, they are entertained by more elves and then each child helps to make a toy (a soft snowman our year, which they stuffed and added buttons to and a nose and scarf etc), which they hand over to be wrapped for Santa to deliver to children on Christmas Eve.

Making toys at the Toy Factory at Lapland UK

Making toys

6. Then it’s through one of several magical tree tunnels to the next area, a kitchen where Mother Christmas is waiting, she talks to the children, they decorate gingerbread biscuits then listen to a story.

Mother Christmas tells a story at Lapland UK

Mother Christmas tells a story

7. After that it is on to the Elf Village where you have an hour-and-a-half free time to ice skate on the outdoor rink, visit husky dogs and spend your Jingles in the toy and sweet shops, food and drink outlets. There is even a special post office where children can write a letter to Santa, have it sealed and post it themselves.

The ice rink at Lapland UK

8. Then it’s on to the main event – visiting Father Christmas. You walk through a magical forest, past elf homes and past the reindeer to a waiting area.

Elves come and out and call each family group through using just the children’s names. Then you are taken down a winding path to visit Santa in a log cabin, who amazes the children by knowing special details about them. He gives them a present (soft husky toy dogs when we went) and they find their names in his good book. They have a photograph taken by an elf.

Children look to see if they are in Santa's good book at Lapland UK

Are they in his good book?

9. In the next area, you collect your free photograph and are slipped a toy like the one your child made earlier so that Santa can deliver it on Christmas Eve. Then it’s out through a gift shop where there are lots of accessories you can buy for your husky! And then it’s out the door and back into the car park in ‘England’.

What is included in the price at Lapland UK?

*Parking.

*An elf passport.

*Elf newspaper.

*Making a toy activity.

*A version of the toy they made in the toy factory to take away secretly to give them on Christmas day.

*The gingerbread that the children decorate.

*Ice skating and hire of skates.

*Meeting Father Christmas.

*A gift from Santa – soft toy husky dogs our year.

*A printed family picture from the Santa visit.

What costs extra at Lapland UK?

*Food and drink.

*Reindeer food.

*Shop purchases.

*Extra pictures from the Santa visit.

What did we think?

This is a magical Christmas day out for young children and very well organized. The staff are all fantastic, taking on the role of elves and reindeer and the children loved it. It is a fabulous four hours of festive entertainment.

Is Lapland UK worth the cost?

This is a staggeringly expensive Christmas experience. It is a shame this costs so much money as it just isn’t possible for many people, particularly bigger families.

For the four of us it was over £450 on a weekday – which works out at over £100 an hour. We were lucky enough to be treated to it for a special family birthday. I don’t think we would be able to justify doing it again another year.

If you can afford it and want to splash out, make sure your children are the right ages to appreciate it, I would say, no younger than three and of an age where they still believe in the magic of Christmas.

Top tips for Lapland UK

*Do take advantage of the app to make your child’s invitation come to life, it is a magical start to the experience.

*Get there half an hour before your time slot to park, walk to the start, check in etc. You can not start the experience until your time slot so there is no point getting there any earlier.

*Buy Jingles at the start – £1 is 1 Elf Jingle, they come in a red velvet pouch. Children can use them to pay for things in the Elf Village and you can cash in those you don’t use at the end. We bought ours £5 worth each and it was enough (a lead for the toy husky from Santa was just £3 in the gift shop at the end, but beware there are lots of toys which cost a lot more)!

*Personalise your visit online. Make sure Santa has all the details he needs to show your child that he knows all about them. But don’t worry if you don’t get chance to do this as you can tell them at the desk when you are waiting to see the Big Man (just make sure little ears can’t hear you)!

*Ice rink – children can have skates which go over their shoes and are easier to balance on instead of proper ones. There are also support penguins for young children to hold on to or stand on.

*Consider taking a change of clothes in case children fall over on the ice rink. It was raining when we went and there is no cover so the surface was wet even though staff were frantically trying to keep the water off it.

*You could spend a lot of money in the Elfen Village if you aren’t careful as a lot of it is shops and food and drink outlets so take your time doing the ice rink and the Santa letter writing!

Our five-year-old’s verdict

“We saw Father Christmas and he gave us some huskies. And we went in the Enchanted Forest. It was fantastic! I liked seeing Santa Claus best.”

Address

Whitmoor Forest, Swinley Rd, Winkfield Row, Ascot SL5 8BD

Where to stay

We stayed at the Hilton Bracknell Hotel 10 minutes away, which has a fantastic swimming pool, read our review here.

Website

https://www.laplanduk.co.uk

Have you been? What did you think? We would love to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

 

Dunham Massey Christmas Lights 2019 – our review and guide

Dunham Massey Christmas Lights 2019 – our review and guide

The National Trust property in Cheshire hosts its popular illumination display for the third year

Thousands of visitors will be heading to Dunham Massey over the festive period to enjoy the magical light trail around the park and garden.

And we’ve had sneak preview of this fabulous Christmas display, so here is our review, top tips and all you need to know, plus watch our video below.

What is it?

Dunham Massey – a National Trust property with deer park and gardens – is hosting its third annual Christmas Light Trail.

Thousands will head to the Cheshire site for the fabulous experience, which is perfect for families.

It features dazzling light displays, music, fairground rides, food and drink.

When is it?

The illuminations run from November 22 to December 30, 2019.

Ticket start times run every 20 minutes between 4.30pm and 8pm.

How much are tickets?

Tickets are prices from £17.50 for adults, £11 for children aged three to 16 and under-threes are free. A family ticket is £54.00.

Our highlights

*Before you go into the formal gardens, the house itself is lit up at the front with a fabulous laser display.

Dunham Massey Christmas Lights house

There is also a light display when you reach the back of the house, along with rings of fire.

Dunham Massey Christmas Lights house

*There are lots of memorable features as you go around including huge glittering reindeer near the start – apt for a park which is home to lots of deer, firework lights in the trees, a laser walk and lots more.

*The large lawn area inside the gardens is lit up in a sea of lights, changing pattern, in front of a tunnel of glittering lights.

*You can toast marshmallows in fire pits in the rose garden. These can be bought at a stand in the corner of the garden – £1.50 for a large marshmallow on a stick – there are several flavours including gingerbread and caramel.

Toasting marshmallows at Dunham Massey Christmas Lights

*There is different music as you go around including songs from Christmassy films – a Frozen song at the start thrilled our daughter.

*There are a few fairground rides in the Stables Courtyard for younger children – a carousel, helter skelter, merry-go-round and swing boats.

*There are food and drink stalls selling mulled wine, hot chocolate, hot dogs, chips, pizza, churros etc.

Top tips

*You are not supposed to take your own food and drink but I did see several people with their own marshmallows (and sticks) to toast.

*Wrap up warm – it is all outdoors.

*Book a parking space in advance – even if you are a National Trust member with free parking.

*Father Christmas appears on the trail as part of a small show. There is no grotto or individual meeting.

Other questions

Is everything included in the price?

Fair rides, food and drink are extra. You buy ride tokens – £2.50 each or £10 for five if bought in advance when you book your tickets.

Some stalls accepted payment by card. There is no cash machine.

How long will it take?

The route keeps to the paths and ensures you don’t miss anything. It is around a mile long and takes around an hour and a half but you can stay as long as you like until it closes. It is wheelchair and buggy-friendly but is dimly-lit in places and can get busy.

Can you catch a glimpse of the lights if you happen to be already at Dunham Massey when it gets dark?

If you are there just before the gardens close at 3.30pm, you may see some of the lights as it starts to get dark but you will not get anywhere near the full effect.

Do National Trust members need to pay?

National Trust members pay full price, there is no discount. Parking is free for NT members, but you still have to reserve a space ahead of time as the car park gets busy.

Address

National Trust Dunham Massey, Altrincham, WA14 4SJ

For more information and to book go to the website.

The 9 top tips to finding cheap flights for you and your family

The 9 top tips to finding cheap flights for you and your family

We reveal how to save money when flying

As families think about booking flights for 2020 trips, we share some top tips for bagging a cheap fare.

Secret Flying, which specialises in uncovering discounted plane tickets, has compiled its guide to saving money on a family holiday.

You will get a cheaper flight if you do the following:

1. Travel midweek

The cheapest days to fly are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

2. Book a round-trip/return trip on a long haul airline

Round trips will usually be cheaper than two one-way tickets if you are flying further than Europe.

3. Check one-way on budget carriers

Occasionally, two one-way tickets with separate budget carriers around Europe will cost less than a round-trip ticket. For example, you could fly out to Malaga with Ryanair but return with EasyJet.

4. Booking last minute can work with charter flights

Companies which specialise in flying package holidaymakers, like Tui, can be heavily discounted at the last minute.

This is because if the package holidays haven’t sold then there will be extra space on their planes which they want to fill with flight-only passengers. We have seen prices as low as £249 to Florida and £299 to the Caribbean.

5. Last minute is rarely cheaper with scheduled or budget airlines

Most long haul airlines like British Airways and Virgin Atlantic raise prices the closer you get to departure. It is the same with budget carriers. In these cases, it probably pays to book in advance.

6. Use Skyscanner ‘Everywhere’ to find a bargain

The SkyScanner website lets you search every departure from a specific airport. For example, you can search every flight from Manchester between May 23 and May 30 (half-term week) to see which destination is the cheapest option.

7. Stop over on a long haul flight

You can save on airfare taxes, which often make up the bulk of any long haul fare, by taking a short flight to a European destination and going long-haul from there.

For example, flying from Birmingham to Amsterdam and then going with KLM to the Far East or the USA can be cheaper than going directly from the UK. You must stay over for at least 24 hours in Amsterdam in this case to benefit from the tax saving.

8. Be flexible

The more flexibility with dates you have, the more your chances of saving money will be. This is tricky with school holiday dates but try searching midweek departures in the summer holidays or leave it until closer to September for cheaper flights.

9. How to get an upgrade

According to Secret Flying, the best ways to boost your chances of a free upgrade to business class is to be a member of the airline’s frequent flyer programme, dress smartly and only check in at the airport.

If you check in online, your seats will already be allocated and the airline is less likely to move you up a class.

Secret Flying is a free service for users who get daily flight deals to their inbox every evening. Alternatively there is a new app. For more information please visit www.secretflying.com

Holiday fun with our children on a family holiday to Lake Garda and Verona

Holiday fun with our children on a family holiday to Lake Garda and Verona

We try out family-friendly activities around the lake and take a trip to Verona

We are holidaying in the beautiful Lakes – but for once it’s not our beloved English Lake District.

The waters are a clearer turquoise, there isn’t a walking boot in sight and ice creams are in greater supply.

We are in the fashionable Italian Lakes for a slightly chilly October half-term break and I am feeling cosy but a little out of place in my ‘school run coat’.

We are staying on the southern end of Italy’s largest lake, Lake Garda, loved by families and affluent travellers.

Peschiera

Peschiera

And home for the trip is also a family favourite with a great lakefront location.

Bella Italia – a five-star campsite – is a 15-minute lakeside walk from the town of Peschiera Del Garda.

It has four pools (sadly closed at this time of year), the same number of restaurants with well-priced tasty food, playgrounds, a children’s club, ice cream parlour, bouncy castles, fairground rides and more.

For our full review of our accommodation read Bella Italia holiday park and watch our video below.

Our three-bedroom mobile home, a Girasole Suite, is smaller than similar holiday homes we have stayed in but is an ideal base to explore the area.

Girasole Suite at Campeggio Bella Italia at Lake Garda

Girasole Suite

And we start out on the pebbly beach in front of the holiday park before getting on to the water itself – the quickest way to get around the lake’s beautiful towns and villages is by ferry.

The ferry around Lake Garda

You can hop on and off, visiting several spots in a day. Among our favourites were the enchanting village of Lazise with its castle and playground and tourist magnet Sirmione – the most picturesque yet busiest spot on the lake.

Boats at the town of Garda in Lake Garda, Italy

Garda

Another busy spot is Italy’s biggest theme park, Gardaland, just 15 minutes away.

There are plenty of rollercoasters for older children but younger children are well-catered for too – there’s even a small Peppa Pig Land.

And a Sea Life aquarium next door is a good rainy day option – you can buy one ticket covering a visit to both on the same or consecutive days.

Just a short drive away lies a more relaxing day out. Parco Natura Viva is a zoo and safari park with hippos, giraffes, rhinos and bears among a lovely site.

Riding a golf buggy at Parco Sigurta

Parco Giardino Sigurta

Another attraction worth a visit is Parco Giardino Sigurta. This 600-acre garden has a maze, small animal farm and plenty of space to run around in beautiful gardens. We explore on foot then hire a golf cart for 18 euros to get around the whole site.

Read our full guide here: What to do in Lake Garda with children – our top tips and watch our video below.

Further afield, but still only half an hour away, is Verona.

Our children love the huge Roman amphitheatre, the 2,000-year-old Arena.

Two children outside the Arena amphitheatre in Verona, Italy

The Arena

Others head to this city of Romeo and Juliet to leave love notes at Juliet’s balcony, linked to the fictional star-crossed lovers.

Romeo and Juliet's balcony in Verona, Italy

Juliet’s balcony

But it isn’t the most child friendly spot with a cramped courtyard full of selfie hunters taking photos at Juliet’s statue and balcony.

You are better off exploring Verona’s pedestrianised centre, the square around the Arena and its riverside walks. It is a compact city and in a day you can see historic churches, castles, museums or stop by one of countless gelato outlets.

To keep younger ones really happy, the city’s new Children’s Museum is a fantastic hands-on place where they can learn about light, water, power and science through play. It is well worth a couple of hours of your time.

Children's Museum, Verona

Children’s Museum, Verona

We throw ourselves into the Verona experience with an authentic Veronese feast prepared for us at Locanda Ristori – one of the city’s traditional eateries.

Afterwards we plan to walk it off up the Torre Dei Lamberti – the city’s 368 step tower.

However, the lure of the lift taking us most of the way up is too strong. And from there stretches street upon street of terracotta roofs, spectacular even in the rain.

For all our Verona ideas read: What to do with children in Verona and watch our video below.

As we stroll away from the city, one last ice cream in hand, it isn’t hard to see why this area has been one loved by visitors for centuries.

Our time in the city made famous by Shakespeare and Lake Garda has definitely been a triumph, not tragedy.

Disclaimer: We were provided with complimentary accommodation, entrance to attractions and a Verona Card for this visit. All opinions are our own.

The ‘World of David Walliams’ is being created at a popular theme park

The ‘World of David Walliams’ is being created at a popular theme park

Work has begun to bring the magic of David Walliams’ books to life at Alton Towers resort

Alton Towers Resort has announced that a David Walliams World will be launched at the UK attraction from Spring 2020.

The partnership with the comedian, actor and best-selling author, will see some of his best-loved characters brought to life at the Staffordshire resort.

The theme park said the project is ‘shrouded in secrecy’ but will centre around the existing Cloud Cuckoo Land area.

Nearly 100 specialists from Alton Towers’ creative team and experts in the latest theme-park technology are working on the project.

It will include:

*A ground-breaking headline attraction

*A number of other attractions and characters across the theme park and within the resort’s hotels.

David Walliams OBE was the UK’s biggest selling author in 2017 and 2018. He began writing children’s books in 2008 and has published 12 novels as well as short story collections and picture books.

He said: “It’s a huge thrill for some of my favourite characters to be getting their own attractions at Alton Towers.

“I can’t wait to experience them for myself and from all the work that has gone in I think people are going to love it. All will be revealed next year.”

The resort has been working with David Walliams and HarperCollins Children’s Books for the past two years on the project and construction work has already begun.

Alton Towers Resort managing director, James Walker said: “We are delighted to be able to announce our partnership with David Walliams on what promises to be a hugely exciting addition to Alton Towers Resort in 2020.

“David’s books have really captured the imagination of Britain’s children and their families. So it’s a huge honour to be working with David on this fabulous collaboration for 2020, the year in which we celebrate our 40th birthday as the nation’s favourite theme park.”

 

Sign up to be the first for updates by visiting www.altontowers.com/Walliams or following @AltonTowers across social media.

More information about the arrival of ‘The World of David Walliams’ at Alton Towers will be released soon.

Harry Potter Studio Tour London – our full guide, review and must-read tips

Harry Potter Studio Tour London – our full guide, review and must-read tips

We take our children on a family trip to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter

What is it:

The Harry Potter Studio Tour is a magical long look behind the scenes of the famous wizarding films.

It is at the actual Warner Bros. studios near London where a lot of the filming for the eight Harry Potter movies took place.

This is nothing at all like a theme park – there are no rides.

Instead, fans can explore the sets, see the thousands of props and costumes and have their pictures taken with iconic memorabilia and backdrops.

It has won lots of travel awards hailing it the best UK attraction and best family day out.

What did we think?

Harry Potter fans will adore this attraction. There’s absolutely LOADS to see. It’s a four-hour (or so) look at how the films were made.

It makes you appreciate how much work, talent and creativity goes into making films like these.

It’s a really memorable day out – our oldest child is a fan but our youngest – who is too young for the books or film yet – also enjoyed it.

Our highlights

*When you first enter the main lobby before the tour, a huge dragon hanging from the ceiling gives the wow factor. (Apparently it’s Ironbelly from Deathly Hallows Part One, but we haven’t watched that far yet)!

*The tour starts in a room where people in ‘pictures’ on the the walls are talking to you – fans, actors such as James and Oliver Phelps (who play Fred and George Weasley) and Harry Potter writer JK Rowling. Then you go into a small cinema and watch a short film with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson talking about making the movies. At the end, the screen lifts up revealing the door to the Great Hall.

*The Great Hall – the iconic heart of Hogwarts Castle is the perfect area in which to start the experience. The space in the middle is clear for visitors but tables are laid for dinner along the sides. Sadly we didn’t get to enjoy a great feast!

The Great Hall at Harry Potter Studio Tour in London

The Great Hall

Models of the characters wear some of the costumes. It’s great to see the size of Hagrid at the front, next to the other teachers. The ceiling is arched but not enchanted (this was created afterwards with special effects). A guide comes in to the hall with you, pointing out areas of interest, you are free to explore on your own from then on.

Gringotts Wizarding Bank at Harry Potter Studio Tour in London

Gringotts

*Gringotts Wizarding Bank. Although this part is a reproduction of the actual set, this room takes your breath away as you walk in – it’s vast. And sparkly! With marble columns, huge chandeliers and goblin bankers sitting at their desks.

A goblin banker at Gringotts at Harry Potter Studios in London

*Diagon Alley – you don’t get to go in the shops, but can peep in at the famous store fronts like Flourish and Blotts, Mr Mulpepper’s Apothecary and Ollivanders wand shop. One shop even has a broomstick floating in the window.

Diagon Alley at the Harry Potter Studios in London

Diagon Alley

*The Hogwarts Express. You see the train at platform 9¾ and can climb on board, walking along the narrow corridor but not going in any of the small carriages. This train was the one used on location for exterior shots only.

A boy pushes his trolley through the wall on platform 9 3/4 at Harry Potter Studios in London

But you do get the chance to sit with your family in a carriage nearby with a green screen for a window. You have your picture taken (to buy if you want afterwards) and are given emotions to act, which is great fun. A video then plays on the screen/window to simulate the train moving through different landscapes, but be warned – Dementors appear at the ‘window’ at one point which can be scary so sit younger children nearer the camera.

*Wand training – our children loved being taught how to use a wand. Participants stand in front of mirrors and follow a demonstration video, learning wand moves, with help from a guide.

*The guides – they are fabulous. They are spaced around the attraction, are friendly, approachable and very knowledgable. They know loads of fascinating facts so make sure to talk to them.

*Green screen photo areas. You are put in Hogwarts robes, in the house of your choice, unless you have your own. You can pose for a ‘Have you seen this Wizard’ poster picture, ride a broomstick over London and buy the resulting pictures and video.

*Dobby the house elf interactive motion capture experience – stand in front of three different stages of the CGI process and watch Dobby reflect your movements – my daughter loved this bit and didn’t want to leave.

A girl uses the Dobby interactive motion screen at Harry Potter Studio in London

*Seeing the animatronic versions of creatures like Buckbeak the Hippogridd and how they were made.

*The props – there are so, so many amazing with such attention to details. For example in Snape’s Potions Classroom there are more than 950 potion jars with weird and wonderful props inside.

*The tour ends with a stunning model of Hogwarts Castle. There are interactive screens here showing how it was built (in 40 days) and how it was used in the films.

*The shop at the end is huge with lots of quality (expensive) merchandise.

Top tips:

*DO NOT turn up to the Harry Potter Studio Tour without pre-booking a ticket. Buy one in advance from the website.

*Book tickets as far ahead as you can as, even though 6,000 people a day take the tour, they sell out quickly.

*Tickets are timed entry, to control the amount of visitors entering. You can take as long as you want going round so it can get busier throughout the day. We booked our tickets for the first time slot of the day (9-9.30am the day we went) and didn’t have any crowds or queues to face – even half an hour behind us, people were queuing for things we hadn’t.

*Opt to have your tickets posted then you can go straight in on arrival, otherwise you have to collect them from a ticket window and there might be a queue.

*Arrive at least 20 minutes early to park and get through the security checks – bags are checked and people are scanned with metal detector wands.

*After the security checks you enter a room where you can collect a handheld digital guide for £4.95. These enhance the tour for adults and some children, they give extra details and facts for visitors as they walk around.

*Also in this first room you can collect a free children’s ‘passport’. They can be stamped around the tour and make for a nice memento. They also give clues for spotting the golden snitch.

*When leaving the door with the talking pictures to enter the cinema, go through the door on the left and then you can sit on the front row of the theatre and be first into the Great Hall. If it’s your birthday you may even get to open the doors.

*A couple of parts can be frightening –

The Forbidden Forest – it’s only a short walk through, but it is dark, there is fake mist rising and eerie sounds and movements.

Buckbeak in the Forbidden Forest at the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London

Buckbeak in the Forbidden Forest

If your children would be scared by big spiders – take the first turning on the right inside the forest to miss a part complete with a big Aragog and family.

If you have children who don’t want to enter the forest at all, ask a member of staff and they will take you another way round. Once through the forest, you come out at Platform 9¾ and see the Hogwarts Express – if you tell them this it might get them through!

The other frightening part for some children is at the end of the fabulous Gringotts section where a dragon appears to run at you breathing fire.

You can hear the roar from the room before, which causes the walls to ‘shake’. When you look in, it’s a set of a destroyed Gringotts made to look deeper than it is with a clever screen. A digital but very realistic Ukrainian Ironbelly moves towards you, setting the bank on fire. It’s a short sequence on repeat and anyone who doesn’t want to see it has about 10 seconds to run through this room before it starts again. Our children were worried so a heroic member of staff brandishing a sword to ‘defend them’, led them through.

Wands for sale at the shop at the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London

Wands for sale at the shop

*Be prepared to spend money once inside – we are normally careful but here we ended up paying for two green screen pictures and two green screen videos (£50), food in the café as we were away so couldn’t make a packed lunch, plus a little gift in the shop at the end, totaling £90 on top of already expensive tickets.

*For more tips and answers to all your Harry Potter Studios questions, go to Harry Potter Studio Tour London – EVERYTHING you need to know

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter information

Food

There are a couple of cafes at the entrance/exit (Chocolate Frog Cafe and Hub Cafe) along with a food hall.

Half way around the tour is the Backlot Café with seating inside and out. Staff will supply hot water for heating up bottles here. This is also where to buy butterbeer and butterbeer ice cream. You can queue separately for this.

You can take a picnic, but you must eat it at the Backlot Café half way round.

Opening hours: vary throughout the year, check here.

Cost:

2019: Adult £45, child aged 5-15 £37, family (2 adults and 2 children or 1 adult and 3 children) £148,

2020: Adult £47, child aged 5-15 £38, family (2 adults and 2 children or 1 adult and 3 children) £150.

Children aged 0 to 4 are free but still need a ticket. Carers are also free.

You can also buy a complete studio tour package which includes a studio tour ticket, digital guide and souvenir guidebook. An adult package costs £54.95 for 2019 and £56.95 for 2020. A child package costs £46.95 for 2019 and £47.95 for 2020. These give a saving of £4.95.

There are also deluxe tickets including studio tour entry with a two-hour guided tour, reserve parking, a souvenir guidebook, a butterbeer, four free photographs and a video at one of the photo opportunities and a hot meal and drink.

The Deluxe ticket includes entry to the Studio Tour with a complimentary two hour guided tour, reserved parking, a souvenir guidebook, a Butterbeer, four free photographs and a video at one of our photo opportunities and a choice of hot meal and drink. They cost £225.

Best for: Harry Potter fans aged eight and above and equally interesting for adults!

Time needed: Around four hours but you can stay as long as you like.

Access and restrictions: Most of the studio tour is suitable for wheelchairs but some areas are difficult including the cobbled streets of Diagon Alley. It is also suitable for buggies/pushchairs/prams or these can be left in the cloakroom.

Address: Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden, WD25 7LR

NOW READ: Harry Potter Studio Tour London – EVERYTHING you need to know

RELATED CONTENT: When visiting the Harry Potter Studios, we stayed at a beautiful hotel in nearby St Albans, read our article here: Review: St Michael’s Manor Hotel in St Albans

RELATED CONTENT: We also enjoyed time in St Albans: A family break in St Albans with our children proves a great mixture of old and new

Deserts, fairytales and glamping – a family trip to Efteling and the Brabant region of Holland.

Deserts, fairytales and glamping – a family trip to Efteling and the Brabant region of Holland.

We stay at a holiday park in the middle of the Netherlands with our children

Sand stretches before us. A vast expanse of gold, nothing on the horizon save for a makeshift den of withered tree branches.

Where is this extraordinary landscape? The Sahara? Outer Mongolia?

Try central Holland, the Dunes of Loon.

This natural phenomenon was created by sand drifts 10,000 years ago and its 30km of desert are fun to explore.

the Dunes of Loon in Drunen National Park

Dunes of Loon

You experience it by walking just five minutes from our family campsite at Duinhoeve (read our full Duinhoeve Holiday Park review and tips here).

And we certainly feel like explorers as we unzip the door to our glamping lodge at the park.

Our glamping lodge at Duinhoeve holiday park in Holland/The Netherlands

Our glamping lodge at Duinhoeve

From the outside it is a huge tent, but through the zipped entrance you find a fabulous, modern interior.

There are three bedrooms, a den/storage area for children, spacious shower and bathroom, TV, well-equipped kitchen and large dining table. See our video below.

The park is ideal for younger children with three playgrounds aimed at under-7s and two swimming pools – one large and heated by solar power, the other for toddlers complete with pirate ship.

There’s a restaurant/cafe selling hot and cold meals every evening.

There’s also bike and go-kart hire. Very useful as Duinhoeve is well located to explore what the natural world has to offer with cycle paths and walks through the dunes and woodland.

If you want to experience further afield then the small medieval city of Den Bosch is less than 30 minutes away.

The cathedral city of Den Bosch

Den Bosch

If you are browsing its ancients streets, squares and markets don’t forget to try the local delicacy Bosch Bollen – a type of giant profiterole sold in every bakery.

Bosche Bollen, yum

The city was home to the medieval painter Hieronymus Bosch, famous for his fantastical imagination.

And if it is a wild imagination you want to witness, then just 10 minutes from Duinhoeve is the fairytale themed theme park of Efteling (full review and top tips for visiting Efteling here).

Children at Efteling Theme Park

Efteling Theme Park

Think Disneyland minus the schmaltz, the sky high food prices and super-long queues.

Not that Efteling is quiet, it is still Holland’s largest theme park and draws visitors from around Europe.

The best place to get a feel for Efteling is the Fairytale Forest with recreations of Sleeping Beauty’s castle, Pinocchio’s workshop and the witch’s gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel, which even smells authentic.

The park is broadly divided into two halves, to the left of the entrance is mostly aimed at younger children. Head right if you have roller-coaster loving tweens and teens who are seeking plenty of thrills. See our exclusive video below.

With our younger ones, some of the best rides are Symphonica – a theatrical indoor adventure and the Pirana River Rapids Ride.

If you need a break, there are plenty of places to sit and rest. You can hop on a steam train around the park, take a leisurely boat ride on a lake, or head up the pagoda viewing tower to see Efteling from above.

When you are hungry you can pick from plenty of food options with more than just the usual expensive fast-food.

A day at Efteling ends with a 15-minute fire and water show called Aquanura, set to classical music.

Efteling is a reminder that this area – capable of extraordinary landscapes is also pretty good at man-made mythical lands as well.

Aquanura water show at Efteling

Aquanura water show

There’s more water and drama back at our glamping lodge that night.

After days of humidity, a terrific thunder storm breaks out. As we look out across the park, enjoying the sight and the sound of the rain hammering on the canvas roof, we are very glad to be in safe and secure in our very, very posh tent.

*This was the second of a two-part holiday to Holland, starting in Amsterdam, read the first part here: Is Amsterdam child-friendly? We take a family trip to the beautiful capital of the Netherlands to find out

*We travelled via mini-cruise with DFDS – read about our journey here: We review a mini-cruise from Newcastle to Amsterdam with DFDS ferry operator

RELATED CONTENT: Amsterdam’s top attractions and activities for children

RELATED CONTENT: Our full guide to getting around Amsterdam with children

RELATED CONTENT: Amsterdam’s park and ride service – all you need to know

RELATED CONTENT: We review Efteling – the biggest theme park in the Netherlands – and give our top tips for visiting

RELATED CONTENT: We review a mini-cruise from Newcastle to Amsterdam with DFDS ferry operator

(We received complimentary accommodation, tickets to Efteling and ferry crossing, all views are our own).

Is Amsterdam child-friendly? We take a family trip to the beautiful capital of the Netherlands to find out

Is Amsterdam child-friendly? We take a family trip to the beautiful capital of the Netherlands to find out

We take our children via mini-cruise to Amsterdam in Holland

Amsterdam may be a stag and hen do favourite – but there is much more to the city than its infamous seedier side.

We head to the beautiful Dutch capital with our children, in search of a family-friendly break.

It’s just a short, 45-minute plane journey from the UK. So we decide to travel by ship. Obviously.

Billed as a mini-cruise, our overnight ferry crossing is with DFDS from Newcastle.

Our cabin on the Princess Seaways

Our cabin

The children love it and it doesn’t feel like part of the journey – more a highlight of the holiday.

It sets sail at 5.30pm, so enough time to explore the ship, eat and enjoy the entertainment.

Then most of the journey is spent asleep in our cabin, before waking up for breakfast and disembarkment. Read our review and tips for taking this ferry crossing here and watch our video below.

Our visit to the Netherlands is in two parts so it’s a bonus to have our car and lots of luggage.

Part 1 Amsterdam

There are bicycles EVERYWHERE we look. I’m expecting this but am still staggered at the sheer volume of cyclists, their confidence and the natural way they rule the road.

Bicycles parked in Amsterdam

All ages are on two wheels, children too young to pedal themselves ride on a seat or in a trailer with an adult.

And NOBODY wears a helmet.

It’s a stressful city for car drivers to negotiate – it’s also difficult and expensive to park.

So we use a cheap park and ride car park on the outskirts (read our Amsterdam park and ride guide here) and take a couple of trams to our hotel.

NH Amsterdam Center is a good base to explore from plus it was great value when we booked. (See our full hotel review and pictures here).

A suite at NH Amsterdam Centre hotel

Our hotel room

It’s a well-positioned hotel next to Leidseplein square in Amsterdam, across the road from canal cruises, within five minutes’ walk of Vondelpark, Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. Plus, our room is huge.

Then, armed with an I amsterdam city card, which gives free access to attractions, public transport including ferries and a free canal cruise, we start our exploring.

We tick off Nemo Science Museum, a great hands-on attraction, where our children even get to be scientists in a lab.

Nemo Science Museum exterior

Nemo Science Museum

We take a pancake cruise – a 75-minute cruise – with all you can eat pancakes and toppings. None of us get near to the record of 15. Then, part of the boat’s floor opens up to reveal a ball bit below deck.

The Pancake Boat

The Pancake Boat

We pop to see the outside of the real-life Hunter Street house from the Nickelodeon programme of the same name.

And we get close to nature at Artis Zoo – a beautiful attraction, with some species you don’t get to see in English zoos.

Less child-oriented but a must-see for art lovers, is the Van Gogh Museum which houses the biggest collection of the Dutch painter’s work in the world. Even his famous work Sunflowers is there when we visit.

We use our cruise tickets (free with the I amsterdam card), with the Blue Boat Company. The cruise really caters for children – they have their own Pirates commentary on headphones and goody bags.

The Blue Boat Company in Amsterdam

The Blue Boat Company

Read our complete reviews and guides to Amsterdam’s children’s attractions here and watch our video below.

We get around by trams and on foot (read Our full guide to getting around Amsterdam with children).

Walking is a great way to see the city and the canals but it’s a challenge to negotiate the roads and crossings with children, remembering to check the cycle lanes and look out for trams as well as other traffic.

Amsterdam is fascinating, brilliant and intensive and when it’s time for part two of our trip, all four of us are ready to head south.

Go to Part 2: Deserts, fairytales and glamping – a family trip to Efteling and the Brabant region of Holland.

RELATED CONTENT: Amsterdam’s top attractions and activities for children

RELATED CONTENT: Our full guide to getting around Amsterdam with children

RELATED CONTENT: Amsterdam’s park and ride service – all you need to know

RELATED CONTENT: We review Efteling – the biggest theme park in the Netherlands – and give our top tips for visiting

RELATED CONTENT: We review a mini-cruise from Newcastle to Amsterdam with DFDS ferry operator

(We received complimentary ferry crossing and two i amsterdam cards, all views are our own).