We follow Harry Potter, Ron and Hermione into the Forbidden Forest and test our nerve among the creatures who live there
Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience.
What is it?
A night-time trail through the ‘Forbidden Forest’, known from being in the grounds of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books and films.
You walk at your own pace around an illuminated route, seeing and hearing some of the iconic forest scenes as well as magical creatures from Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts such as Hippogriffs, centaurs and spiders.
Hagrid and Fang
Where is it?
At the gorgeous Arley Hall & Gardens, in Northwich, Cheshire, England.
What did we think?
This is a magical trail as befits a magical world. The experience is carried out on an impressive scale – it was created by Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment, in partnership with Thinkwell.
It is very atmospheric and spooky, with Harry Potter music, sound effects, characters talking and eyes watching you pass, which could be a bit too scary for some younger children.
It would make a great Halloween or pre-Christmas treat for fans of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts.
The flying Ford Anglia
*Conjure a Patronus – choose your wand, point it and utter the words ‘Expecto Patronum’ to cast this spell, which sees off Dementors.
*Bow to a hippogriff and it will bow back.
*Try some Butterbeer (it’s alcohol-free), the wizarding drink loved by Harry Ron and Hermione.
Buy a butterbeer
*The food is delicious.
*Try out a deluminator – to put out the lights like Dumbledore.
*Hear Harry and Ron crashing in the flying Ford Anglia and see the car lights sweeping through the forest.
*Catch a glimpse of a white unicorn slinking through the trees.
*Spiders: Aragog and other big spiders lived in the Forbidden Forest and scare Ron in the Harry Potter books and films. They lurk in this forest too but those with arachnophobia don’t have to see them. You will walk through a section with ‘webs’ in the trees, then can choose to divert from the path if you DO want to see the spiders. Those who don’t, stay on the path. If you do divert, you will see large spiders drop down from overhead, stopping just above your heads.
*It is an outdoor trail in the dark so dress warmly with sensible shoes.
*You can buy Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts merchandise.
Access and restrictions
It is a woodland walk so can be uneven so is not the best terrain to push a wheelchair. Motorised wheelchairs can be hired.
All ages are welcome, younger children may be frightened in places.
Allow about an hour and a half to do the trail and eat at the end.
There are places to buy food along the way or you can stop at the magical village at the end where our highlights included big marshmallows on sticks you can toast and smother with chocolate sauce , fish and chips, Cornish pasties and a roast dinner in a Yorkshire pudding. My son also enjoyed an edible wand.
When is it on?
It runs from Mondays to Sundays, from October 16 to December 15, 2021.
Sessions start at 6.30pm (October 16 to 31), 5pm (November 1 to 9), 4.30pm (November 11 to 28) and 4pm (November 29 to December 15). All sessions finish at 10pm.
Ticket prices vary by date and time, starting from £19.
Children under five are free and from five to 15 are a reduced price.
We take our children and dog to Love2Stay in Shrewsbury where we make exciting finds at our lodge before we even start to explore the rest of the site
Where is it?
Love2Stay is in the countryside on the outskirts of Shrewsbury in the centre of Shropshire.
What is it?
This UK holiday park is a fresh, modern, 22-acre resort where you can stay in anything from your own caravan through to a luxury lodge.
Watch our video tour below and then read on for lots more information.
Is it family-friendly?
Yes, it’s very family-friendly with lots for children to do.
There are two outdoor pools, a sand/beach area, a huge play area/playground and somewhere to play football. There’s also a pizza restaurant and numerous activities ranging from paddle boarding and archery through to den making and tie dying t-shirts.
You can bring your own touring caravan or motorhome or stay in a glamping lodge (Safari Lodge) or luxury Woodland Lodge on the site.
Our woodland lodge
We stayed in a lovely new Woodland Lodge in a spacious plot – the children were thrilled when we arrived to find we had our own hot tub, huge hammock, bean bags and fire pit in the garden!
They decided this was going to be the best holiday ever, before we even got through the door.
Inside the lodge
Inside was a modern open plan lounge/kitchen/dining area, two bedrooms (one with two small single beds and one with a double), a bathroom with shower and an en-suite without.
The twin room
The main bedroom
It’s fully equipped with a microwave, dishwasher, fridge/freezer, oven and hob. The appliances were of a high standard and it was extremely clean.
In the hot tub
If staying in your own caravan or motorhome, there are fully-serviced pitches, warm clean facilities with private showers and complimentary toiletries.
Food and drink
The lodges are self-catering and we cooked in the kitchen and on the fire pit at ours. Each lodge has firelighters, kindling and logs supplied to get your fire pit roaring.
Plus there is a communal outdoor kitchen area with a fire pit, barbecues and woodfired pizza oven you can use.
There is an on-site cafe and pizza restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, selling delicious pizzas, breakfast snacks and other sharing dishes like nachos.
A few items like eggs and milk are sold at reception. There are nearby supermarkets including Sainsbury’s Local, Co-op, M&S and Asda, all within a few minutes’ drive.
*Two outdoor swimming pools and beach.
The natural pool
A BioTop natural swimming pool – free of chemicals and filtered through a reed water garden. This gets very cold, you may need to bring a wetsuit.
A shallow pool for children to splash about in with water sprays that come on every so often, alongside the beach.
The children’s pool
*Small lake for kayaking, paddle boarding and fishing.
Paddle boarding on the lake
*Grassy sports field with two goals for playing your own games.
*A big playground/play area for climbing, swinging and sliding. It was an excellent play area mainly suited for slightly older children aged 6 and above.
The playground/play area
*An assault course for aged eight and over, which can be booked as an activity.
*A small cinema in a tent showing three films a day. All the films when we were there were family films.
*Yoga and pilates sessions.
*Woodland School sessions with fun activities.
*A cafe and restaurant.
The cafe/restaurant and reception behind the outdoor pool
Is it dog-friendly?
Yes, our lodge was dog-friendly and our dog Charlie loved it here – there is a lovely fenced-in space where they can run around off the lead and play and a fantastic adjoining agility area.
They need to be kept on the lead around the rest of the site and are not allowed in some areas such as the pool areas.
Charlie in the dog agility area
Love2Stay is in the heart of Shropshire, a county with lots for children to do.
Buxton’s historical Georgian centrepiece wows on a trip to the Peak District
The Buxton Crescent is a beautiful hotel in the heart of a Peak District town which for centuries has been famed for the healing properties of its spa waters.
This iconic, curved, Georgian building, started out as two grand hotels. And now, a 17-year project has restored it to this luxurious hotel and contemporary spa which sources the natural spring water from beneath it.
Visitors are travelling from all over to stay here, but is it suitable for children? We take our two, to find out what it can offer for youngsters.
Buxton Crescent Health Spa Hotel
Where is it?
It is in lovely Buxton in the Derbyshire Peak District, in a brilliant, central position opposite the Pavilion Gardens.
What is it
The Buxton Crescent is a five-star spa hotel which opened in 2020 following a £70 million restoration.
It has 81 rooms and a big thermal spa and is run by Ensana Hotels.
Buxton first became a spa resort when the Romans discovered warm, bubbling springs underneath what is now the hotel and settled in the area in around 78AD.
In 1789, the Crescent was built by the Fifth Duke of Devonshire to establish Buxton as a Georgian spa town.
It was originally two hotels, vsited by spa seekers who travelled from all over to bathe in Buxton’s thermal waters.
The building was later used for other purposes but by 1992 was derelict.
It was reborn following a huge renovation and the Buxton Crescent Health Spa Hotel opened in October, 2020.
The indoor to outdoor rooftop swimming pool.
Is it family friendly?
The hotel’s main market is adults including couples, older families and friends but it is surprisingly child-friendly and our two absolutely loved it.
They adored our suite (see accommodation below), the food and especially the indoor to outdoor rooftop swimming pool.
Plus, the location opposite the park was a huge bonus with its two play areas, boating lake, ice creams and mini train.
And there are so many amazing things to do in the surrounding area (more below).
We stayed in a junior suite which can hold two adults and two children. We parents slept in the main bedroom in a sumptuously comfortable four-poster bed beneath a magnificent chandelier.
Our bedroom in a junior suite
The children were in the lounge area where a sofa bed had been converted into a small double. They loved having their own room (and tv opposite the bed)!
The lounge became the children’s room
There was a separate bathroom with the biggest overhead shower head I’ve ever seen and a freestanding bath outside the bathroom within the area between the two bedrooms.
Food and drink
The restaurant is lovely, it’s elegant and serene so keep your fingers crossed for well-behaved children but it’s big enough to be able to relax.
There is a children’s menu with a great choice of food for younger diners. The pasta and meatballs went down well with our two as did waiter Joe’s napkin tricks.
Our meals were so tasty and there was a great choice of wine.
Breakfast was equally delicious, there was a good choice of cereals and lovely pastries, plus pancakes and cooked breakfasts.
There is also a Spa Cafe serving lighter meals and desserts with indoor and outdoor seating.
The main swimming pool
The rooftop swimming pool was the best I have ever been in, thanks to its warm temperature, which meant that for the first time ever I was able to get straight in instead of very slowly, while shivering. There was also the novelty of being able to swim from inside to outside and vice versa.
Children aren’t allowed in the spa or its two smaller pools but they are thankfully allowed in this one.
The drinking water
I know it’s just water, but the water here tastes so nice, we all drank a lot more than we usually would in the restaurant.
The town’s drinking well, St Ann’s Well, is opposite the hotel and you can fill up your own bottles here but the hotel is supplied directly.
Buxton Mineral Water is still bottled here and sold around the world.
Buxton is one of only two Roman spa towns in England – the other being Bath.
Famous faces who have travelled here include Mary Queen of Scots who came to ‘take the water’ in Buxton to treat her rheumatism.
Visitors to the hotel spa now find a relaxing, contemporary space where they can also bathe in the town’s water – it flows chemically untreated into a thermal pool surrounded by wall tiles dating back to 1924 and covered with a stained glass canopy.
Use of the spa is included with all stays and also includes a relaxation pool, spa baths, three saunas, two steam rooms, a gym, a salt cave, two relaxation pools and an ice fountain.
The spa is not for children so we parents took turns individually to enjoy it.
Treatments from the spa menu cost extra and include traditional beauty therapies along with wellness and holistic treatments.
The grade one-listed crescent-shaped building was designed by architect Sir John Carr.
Modelled on the Royal Crescent in Bath, this fine example of Georgian architecture feels wonderfully impressive as you arrive.
The staff were so friendly and helpful and went out of their way to assist and chat and make our stay extra special.
The Peak District is the country’s oldest National Park and there are loads of great family walks to enjoy among its rolling hills.
There are also lots of attractions that children will love. We visited:
*Poole’s Cavern and Buxton Country Park
A two million-year-old limestone cave with fabulous formations, read our review and guide to it here.
*Peak Wildlife Park
A lovely zoo where you can walk among some of the animals. It also has play areas, read our review and guide here.
Peak Wildlife Park
*We also climbed Shutlingsloe Hill, known as the Matterhorn of Cheshire.
The third highest peak in the county has a distinctive profile. It’s very steep and rocky towards the top.
Climbing Shutlingsloe Hill – the Matterhorn of Cheshire
We had an amazing time at the Buxton Crescent Hotel and we all would love to return, it’s a perfect destination for all ages to relax and enjoy the luxurious surroundings and beautiful Peak District.
We take our children to explore spectacular caves on a family day out in the Peak District
Poole’s Cavern & Buxton Country Park
What is it?
Poole’s Cavern is a two milion-year-old limestone cave. It is one of the best show caves in England – there are vast illuminated galleries to explore, filled with fantastic formations like crystal stalactites and stalagmites.
From the car park here is an entrance to Buxton Country Park – an uphill stroll though woodland to a hilltop viewpoint where you can look out across the Peak District.
Where is it?
It is on the edge of Buxton in the Peak District, in Derbyshire.
What did we think?
Poole’s Cavern is a fascinating all-weather attraction. The ancient, natural limestone caves are exciting with fascinating formations and an interesting history, which the guide explains. (All tours are guided).
Visitors explore the cavern (Credit: Visit Peak District & Derbyshire)
To be able to follow our time below ground with a walk high above in the country park, with great views, is brilliant.
*Austin, our fantastic guide around the caves, really kept the children (and us) interested with tales including what happened to the cavern’s biggest stalagmite and pointing out graffitti on a cave wall left by the Victorians. He also told us about the geology behind how the caves and formations were created.
*I had a secret chuckle at the prominent shape of the ‘poached egg’ stalagmites – you’ll see why when you get there!
*Solomon’s Temple – a tower at the top of the hill in Buxton Country Park – climb it to appreciate the Peak District views.
*The temperature in the cave is always 7C, so don’t forget jumpers or coats, especially in summer when you may not think to bring them.
*Guided tours are every 20 minutes and leave from the visitor centre exhibition area. Tours last around 50 minutes.
*The caves are lit but are still quite dark. At the end of the tour, the guide will turn all the lights off for a few seconds so you can imagine what exploring the cave by candlelight used to be like. You may want to hold your child’s hand for this bit. If one of you would not like this darkness, you can let the guide know beforehand.
*Buxton Country Park – we took the yellow route up to the to Solomon’s Temple and the green route back down again. It is quite steep.
*Also here is one of Go Ape’s highest adventure courses, with zip wires and aerial walkways. This needs to be booked separately.
Where did we stay?
We stayed at a beautiful five-star, spa hotel, the Buxton Crescent, read our full review of it next.
Poole’s Cavern and Buxton Country Park information
Facilities: There is a visitor centre which shows archaeology found in the cave and is interesting to look around while you are waiting for your tour.
There is also a shop selling rocks and minerals, toys, gifts and books.
And there are accessible toilets with baby changing facilities.
Food: There are two picnic areas plus a cafe selling drinks, snacks and light meals.
Opening hours: First tour at 10am, last tour at 4.30pm, every day.
Cost: Adults (aged over 16) are £12.50, children (aged five to 16) are £6, students and seniors with valid ID are £10 and a family ticket for two adults and two children is £32.
Best for: Ages six and above.
Time needed: The cavern tour takes around 50 minutes. The walk to the top of the hill in the adjoining country park and back can be done in an hour.
Access and restrictions: There are walkways and handrails. The first main chamber is 100 metres long and is accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs. After that are 14 steps up and 14 back down again (you return the way you came).
Are dogs allowed at Poole’s Cavern? Dogs are allowed in the cafe and the visitor centre but not in the cavern, except for guide dogs.
Parking: There is a pay and display car park.
Address: Poole’s Cavern Visitor Centre, Green Lane, Buxton, Derbyshire, SK17 9DH.
The woodland adventure where adults can join in the fun as well as the children
What is it?
BeWILDerwood Cheshire is a family attraction based on the adventures of magical characters from children’s books written by Tom Blofeld.
BeWILDerwood author and creator Tom Blofeld
It’s all in a wood and includes treehouses, slides, den building, storytelling and zip wires.
Where is it?
It’s north of Whitchurch on the A49 in south west Cheshire near the border with Shropshire.
What did we think?
This is a lovely day out for families.
It’s a great size and laid out nicely in a circle so it’s easier to navigate.
The best bit for me was that adults are encouraged to join in all the fun!
Racing my daughter on the zip wire
*The zip wires: There are three sets of two zip wires with staff helping people on and off them. They are longer and faster than the ones you get at play parks and exhilarating to do together.
*The slides: You grab a little bag to sit in to ride the ‘slippery slopes’.
*Parents included: the fact that children and grown-ups are all allowed on everything together is really fun.
*Toddlers: There are smaller sized versions of the equipment for really little ones to go on.
*The mazes: The mazes are all created from wood and go up and down steps and over little bridges.
*Get there early: We were there at 10am when it opened on a Sunday and got straight on everything and nowhere was crowded. After lunch, we spotted queues for the zip wires.
*Times: Make a note of the times for any events like the storytelling (every hour from 12noon) and get there early to get a seat.
*Crafts: There is a craft activity on every day so remember to leave time for this.
My daugher wears her creation
*Clothes and shoes: Wear comfortable clothes and shoes such as trainers. If the weather is wet, you may need a change of clothes.
*Other BeWILDerwood sites: This is the second Bewilderwood, the first is in Norfolk.
*How to pronounce BeWILDerwood: the WILD is not pronounced wild but willed – I asked as I like to know these things.
Food: You can buy food and drink from two places – the Munch Bar and Cosy Cabin.
There are lots of places to eat a picnic.
Opening hours: 10am to 5pm, last entry at 4pm.
Cost: Prices are based on height and everything is included in the cost. Under 92cm are free, 92cm to 105cm are £17.50, those over 105cm are £19.50. Adults 65 and over are £12.50. Wheelchair users are free. Parking is free.
Best for: Children aged 2 – 12 but adults will enjoy it too.
Time needed: We stayed for four hours but you could stay longer.
Access and restrictions: There’s a path around the site which slopes in places. There is no access on the equipment for wheelchairs or pushchairs/buggies/prams but they can be taken in to the park.
We have a family holiday at a complex of luxury self-catering cottages in the middle of Cornwall
The Valley, Cornwall.
Where is it?
The Valley is in a fabulous location in the centre of Cornwall near to Truro and Falmouth – perfect for exploring in all directions.
What is it?
A 13-acre complex of 46 luxury self-catering cottages and exclusive leisure facilities including an indoor pool, outdoor pool and tennis court.
Cottages at The Valley
Is it family-friendly?
Yes, it feels safe and secure and there are facilities for children including an outdoor play area, games room and swimming pools.
The Valley provides lots for free including highchairs, stair gates, bed guards and travel cots. There are toys and books to borrow from a room next to the reception too.
Plus, babysitters can be arranged if needed.
The 5-star two and three-bedroom cottages are spaced out across the site.
There are six types, we stayed in a Villa Gallery and absolutely loved it – we felt at home straight away.
It was modern and clean and spread over three levels as it is set on a hill.
The kitchen/dining room was on a mezzanine floor overlooking the lounge, all under a high ceiling with beams.
Off the kitchen was a balcony overlooking the pool.
The beds were really comfortable – our double bedroom had a desk, television and en-suite. The children’s twin room also had a desk and there was a separate bathroom.
There was a warm laundry room with washing machine and a third toilet in a cloakroom next to the front door.
It all felt really fresh and clean, with loads of room and storage.
Food and drink
The cottages are self-catering and our kitchen was well-equipped with everything we needed.
The on-site restaurant, called Azura, opens from March 30 until October half-term. It was closed when we visited but serves children’s meals and has an area where you can sit with your dog.
There are also restaurants and takeaway options in nearby Truro and Falmouth.
The outdoor pool heated from mid-June to mid-September.
There is also a heated indoor pool, with a spa pool next to it.
There is a small fitness suite in a room next to the pool.
*Tennis and squash courts
You can borrow rackets and balls from reception to enjoy games of tennis or squash or teach your children to play.
The games room has a table tennis table, pool table and table football.
There is a lovely play park with equipment for different ages, including swings, slides and climbing walls.
Is it dog-friendly?
Yes, dogs are really welcome here, which we really appreciated, this being our first holiday with our puppy Charlie.
Dog walks around The Valley
Ours was one of several dog-friendly cottages. Charlie received his own welcome letter, box of luxury food, ball and dog basket. Our cottage was near to an entrance to a dog footpath.
Lots of attractions and beaches nearby are dog-friendly so we could take him with us everywhere. The Valley can provide details of dog sitters if needed.
As The Valley is in central Cornwall, it is easy to reach dozens of beaches, gardens, towns and attractions.
Both north and south coasts are easily accessible.
This huge tropical garden and massively popular tourist attraction has been recognised by the British Travel Awards as the best UK Leisure Attraction for five years’ running.
Beaches – we were blown away by the spectacular beaches and beautiful blue sea. We visited during the Easter holidays and they weren’t too busy.
Cartwheels on Holywell Bay, where Poldark was filmed
Nearby beaches include Perranporth on the North coast, Holywell Bay near Newquay (which features in Poldark), Gwithian near Hayle and Gyllyngvase (Gylly Beach) in Falmouth.
We also visited Carne Beach on the south coast and Porthmeor Beach in St Ives.
We caught the King Harry car ferry to visit this small, pretty fishing village on the south coast.
St Mawes Castle
Our children enjoyed exploring St Mawes Castle, one of Henry VIII’s coastal fortresses, now run by English Heritage.
This National Trust garden on its own peninsula has stunning views over the Fal estuary as well as woodland walks. There is also an art gallery, cafe and gift shop.
A few minutes’ drive away from The Valley is the cathedral city of Truro, with shops, restaurants, parks, streams, a theatre and museum.
The port of Falmouth is a 15-minute drive from The Valley.
There are walks you can take from and around The Valley – itineraries are available from reception.
Enjoying the view at Tintagel Castle
Further afield but worth the trip, we visited these ruins of a 13th century Cornish castle with links to the stories of King Arthur set high on the coast in north Cornwall with fabulous views, read about it here.
A tourist attraction for families with younger children – with visitors catching a steam train from the car park to the site, filled with outdoor play areas. Read our report on it here.
We take our children and dog to explore the historical Tintagel Castle in north Cornwall
What is Tintagel Castle?
The ruins of a 13th century Cornish castle with links to the stories of King Arthur and Merlin the magician.
Where is Tintagel Castle?
This English heritage site is in north Cornwall (south-west England), set high on the coast next to the village of Tintagel with stunning views over the Atlantic.
It lies half on the mainland, half on a peninsula in the sea, known as Tintagel Island.
What did we think?
This was a memorable trip, the link to the myth of King Arthur captured the imagination of my son. He also enjoyed reading all the historical information dotted around.
But it is the stunning views from these clifftop ruins that will stay with me (along with the memory of all the steps)!
We all thought our picnic spot was our best ever – we found a little private bit away from the path with the most incredible views over the turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Best picnic spot
Our children’s verdict: amazing.
Tintagel is thought to have been where Cornish kings lived between the 5th and 7th century.
Then the 12th-century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth named it in his History of the Kings of Britain as the place where King Arthur was conceived.
These legends are said to have inspired Richard, Earl of Cornwall, to build the castle here in the 1230s.
Tintagel Castle Bridge
This stunning footbridge, finished in August 2019, links the two halves of the castle for the first time in over 500 years since an original crossing was lost.
We cross the bridge
Before this, visitors had to climb steps and queue for a small bridge at the base of the cliff.
If you fear heights look away now – the bridge travels over a 58-metre drop.
Tintagel Castle bridge
This bronze statue of an ancient king stands high on the cliff – popular with photographers, not so much with our dog who didn’t know what to make of it!
The beach and Merlin’s Cave
Below the castle is a secluded beach known as Tintagel Haven with rocks and a waterfall.
Best of all, it is where you can explore Merlin’s Cave .
This large cave in the cliffs under the castle is said to have been home to Merlin, the wizard of Arthurian legend. (See our top tips for information about access to the beach).
Tintagel Castle top tips
Mobility and fear of height
This site is not suitable for anyone with mobility issues or a big fear of heights – there are steep paths and sheer drops.
When we went, a one-way system was in place due to Coronavirus restrictions and the route included a LOT of steep steps.
The path from the village to the castle and back is steep – so make use of the Land Rover service if you need to, particularly on the way back up. There is a small charge for people and dogs.
Check the tide times and visit when the tide is out. That way you can get to the beach and go into Merlin’s Cave.
The beach is accessed via steep steps and when we went, we also had to clamber over rocks.
Try to visit on a fine day – the ruins are all outdoors and the area is exposed.
The castle sometimes closes due to bad weather or high winds, so check before you travel, via the website, Facebook or by calling 01870 770328.
Dogs are welcome – we took ours – but they need to be kept on leads due to the steps, cliff edges and nesting birds. Water is available for dogs at the cafe.
Tintagel Castle information
Food: There is a cafe at the bottom of the hill (Castle Road) near to the beach. You can also take picnics.
Opening hours: From 10am to 4, 5 or 6pm, depending on the time of year.
Cost: English Heritage members are free. Adults are £15.70 (off-peak £14.50. Children are from £9.40 (£8.70 off-peak). Concessions are £14.10 (£13.10 off-peak)
A family of two adults and up to three children costs £40.80 (£37.70 off-peak) and a family of one adult and up to three children is £25.10 (£23.20 off-peak).
Best for: Children who can cope with the hilly site.
Time needed: We spent three hours here including the beach.
Toilets: At the bottom of Castle Road near to the beach are toilets. And there are others in the village.
Other facilities: A small shop and an exhibition exploring the stories linking Tintagel to King Arthur which includes a 3D model of the site showing how it has changed over the centuries.
Parking: There are pay and display car parks in Tintagel Village, 600 metres away from the site.
Access and restrictions: This site is set on a steep hill and there are uneven surfaces, drops and slopes. A Land Rover service is available along the road – Castle Road – down to the cafe and exhibition and back,. There is a charge and there may be queues. It doesn’t run during winter.
We investigate some of the popular annual passes for 2021 including Merlin, National Trust, English Heritage and Chester Zoo
There are so many amazing places to take children across the UK but the cost can really add up, especially over the holidays.
So is it worth splurging on an annual pass so you can visit your favourite places as often as you want? We investigate the most popular options for 2021.
This year sadly you will have to factor in whether these attractions will be open and accessible for you to visit.
What is it?
The UK’s biggest annual pass offering entry to 32 Merlin attractions including Alton Towers, Legoland and more.
What do you get?
Entry to 32 attractions – London Eye, Chessington World of Adventures, Thorpe Park, Alton Towers, Warwick Castle, Sea Life Centres, LEGOLAND Windsor, LEGOLAND Discovery Centres, Madam Tussauds sites, Blackpool Tower, five Dungeon sites around the UK, Shrek’s Adventure.
You also get free car parking at theme parks and Warwick Castle (with a Premium Pass), 20 per cent off food and drink inside and discounted entry for family and friends.
How much is it?
The Standard Pass is £179 per person, £139 per person for a family pass for 3 or more people (maximum three over-12s).
The Premium Pass is £229 per person. £189 each for a family pass.
If you renew the pass after 12 months, the family price drops to £109 (standard) and £149 (premium).
Can I pay monthly?
Yes you can, with a new monthly membership option.
For the Standard Pass it costs £29.99 per person joining fee and then £8.99 per month per person.
The total cost over a year would be – £137.87 per person, similar to a family pass cost.
For the Premium Pass the cost is £34.99 joining fee and then £11.99 per month. The total cost is £178.87 per person, similar to an annual family pass.
Note: you have to sign up for a minimum of 12 months.
What about the small print?
The Premium Pass gives you entry to all attractions at all times plus priority entry to venues, a fast track pass voucher and free parking.
With the Standard Pass, you ARE restricted on which days you can use it at certain attractions.
In August and all UK Bank Holidays: No entry to any central London attractions including London Eye, Sea Life, Shrek’s Adventure, the London Dungeon and Madame Tussauds London.
Valentine’s Day: No London Eye entry.
October half-term weekends around Halloween: No entry to London Dungeon.
Friday, Saturday or Sunday in August and September 1: No entry to Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Chessington, LEGOLAND Windsor, Warwick Castle.
No free parking at any attraction with a Standard pass.
How much could you save?
The standard pass costs £46 per month for a family of four (2 adults, 2 children).
If you visited one attraction a month, Merlin’s website claims you will save £684 over a year compared with on-the-day entry.
You can use the Merlin Pass official calculator here.
However there are lots of 2 for 1 offers available online and via cereal packets and newspapers for most of these attractions, so nobody should be paying full price.
That makes the pass roughly the same price as a monthly visit to a Merlin attraction.
In order to save money with this pass you need to visit more than 12 attractions in the year. If you are going to manage that then it could be good value.
Look out for Merlin pass discounts – this usually happens in January and June. You can save between £20 and £50.
(For our reviews, tips and advice on LEGOLAND Windsor, click here).
National Trust membership
What is it?
An annual pass giving free entry to more than 500 National Trust parks, gardens and houses.
What do you get?
Free entry to National Trust sites, free parking at most car parks, a handbook and a National Trust magazine three times per year.
How much is it?
A family pass for 2 adults and up to 10 children (living at the same address) costs £126 per year.
For 1 adult and up to 10 children it is £78 per year.
Children under 5 go free anyway, so take that into account. You can pay by monthly direct debit if you prefer.
What about the small print?
It is relatively simple but there are some car parks not included for free. Sites like Stonehenge and Tatton Park, which aren’t exclusively run by the National Trust, can incur some charges.
You have to sign up for a year at a time and can only cancel when your renewal is due. Be sure to mark your renewal date in your diary so you don’t miss it.
How much could you save?
Average entry price to a large National Trust place is around £30 for a family of four so you can save a lot.
Car parking can be costly too, from £3 to £7 at a lot of places.
Membership costs £10.50 per month for a family with two adults and £6.50 for a family with one adult, so if you go to a NT site once a month or more, you canstart to save money.
Good value for the sheer number of sites and car parks you can use, especially if you have a good selection near to you, as we do.
Annual membership to the most popular tourist attraction outside London.
What do you get?
Unlimited access to Chester Zoo, Fast track entry, 10 per cent discount in the zoo’s shops and cafes, a quarterly magazine, access to junior members’ events, one free entry annually at several other UK zoos (Bristol Zoo, Colchester Zoo, Edinburgh Zoo, Newquay Zoo, Living Coasts, Marwell Zoo, Paignton Zoo and Twycross Zoo).
How much is it?
Individual adult membership is £95 and it is £53 per child, if paying by direct debit and £105 and £59 if not.
So family membership for 2 adults and 2 children is £245 per year by direct debit.
What about the small print?
Fairly straightforward, the zoo is open every day except Christmas Day and Boxing Day. You can go anytime. If you are using your free visit to another zoo you must take your membership card and membership letter.
How much could you save?
A day visit to Chester Zoo is up to £85 for a family of four booked in advance. There are rarely offers and discounts available.
You must all visit the zoo at least four times per year to start saving money.
If you live close enough to visit regularly and have children who enjoy it, a Chester Zoo pass is a great family treat. Plus if you are members, you don’t feel you have to see every single animal and area each time and spend a whole day there for every visit, which is far more relaxed.
We take our children on a family trip to an award-winning Christmas light festival
Family festive opportunities are in short supply this year so our trip to Lightopia at Heaton Park in Manchester was eagerly awaited.
Organisers promise a safe and socially distanced event.
We took our children after school for a 5.20pm start, here is our full guide to the Christmas festival.
What is it
The Lightopia Festival – Christmas at Heaton Park – is an award-winning and socially-distanced lantern and light festival.
It takes place around a series of lit art installations and laser beams, which have been set up at the park in Manchester.
When it it
Lightopia at Heaton Park runs from November 20, 2020 to January 3, 2021.
The event is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, except during school holidays and closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Gates Open at 5pm, last entry is 8.30pm and it closes at 10pm.
How much are tickets
Tickets are booked in advance, they are £20 online for adults (or £22 on the day), £13 for children (or £15 on the day) and £60 for families of two adults and two children (£68 on the day). Children under three can go free.
Essential carers of disabled visitors can attend for free, the disabled visitor pays the normal admission fee.
*What we called the Rainbow Tree
Children stand on a circle and their moving feet sends different coloured lights shooting up the tree, creating a beautiful display.
*The laser show on the lake.
Visitors are directed to stand in socially distanced spaces to watch this lovely show towards the end of the trail.
*Food and drink
There are stalls and bars dotted around the trail selling food like hot dogs, carvery baps, chips, donuts, malled wine and hot chocolate.
*Prepare to queue at the start, entry is in 20-minute time slots and we did have to wait when we arrived, but it is organised very well so that you are spaced out from the groups in front and behind.
*It’s quite a spaced out route, you will walk a bit further than some other light shows, so take a buggy if you have young children.
*It is all outdoors so dress for the weather and ensure children are wrapped up warm and wearing sensible footwear. You will always be on a path but look out for the occasional bit of uneven ground as it is dark.
Is everything included in the price?
All the displays are included in the ticket price. There are stalls selling food, drink and those flashing hand-held contraptions that our daughter loves. It was card only for payment.
How long will it take?
It takes about an hour and a half but that depends on how fast you walk and whether you buy food and drink. Take your time walking around, to take it all in, you certainly don’t need to rush.
Where to park
There are car parks on site and it is best to book in advance, then follow the directions on your email confirmation.
A first for Dubai with four-star beachfront hotel from Riu
The first four-star, all-inclusive, beachfront hotel has opened in Dubai.
Hotel Riu Dubai is a large family hotel with children’s pools and a water park.
Splash Water Park at Riu Dubai
It is Riu’s 100th hotel in the world and the chain’s first in the Middle East.
The modern hotel has 800 rooms, two children’s pools (one with slides), three large pools for adults, a children’s park and club and a broad terrace with direct access to a large beach.
The hotel has a ‘Splash’ water park, with slides and other attractions for adults and children over 1.2 metres tall.
A restaurant at Hotel Riu Dubai
There are four restaurants and six bars including swim-up bars at the hotel which is located 11km from the airport on the Deira Islands beachfront.
Riu is a Spanish chain with 100 in 20 countries around the world.
Its 24-hour all-inclusive concept includes all meals, snacks and drinks at all the hotel’s bars and restaurants, without limits or schedules.
A Riu Dubai suite
It also includes enjoyment of all the facilities and services such as the water parks, day and nighttime entertainment and access to the gym and spa, where only the beauty and wellbeing treatments carry a charge.
Luis Riu, chief executive officer of RIU Hotels & Resorts, said: “The opening of the hotel Riu Dubai is a major milestone in our hotel chain’s international expansion, because this is our first hotel in the Middle East.
“This is a unique opportunity to offer all our experience with the 24-hour all-inclusive product, which is so popular among our European and American customers, but this time in a completely new destination.”
Riu partnered with developer Nakheel to build the hotel, creator of world-famous developments including The Palm Jumeirah and Dubai’s new coastal city, Deira Island.
*For more information on Riu hotels, read some of our reviews from our family stays in Fuerteventura and Lanzarote.
And link to those stories by clicking on Fuerteventura and Lanzarote individually, but the button just doesn’t work any more.
It’s a Digital Christmas 2020 with the new Santa’s Lapland video call experience
Taking your children to meet Santa may not be possible this year due to lockdown restrictions.
So holiday company Santa’s Lapland is bringing Father Christmas into children’s homes using the magic of video calls.
It will give families a taste of the festive excitement that comes from meeting Santa.
The new scheme follows the announcement that the company has had to suspend their December 2020 trips to Lapland.
The 10-minute video call will prove its Lapland credentials, as an Elf leads the family through the snow and gets up-close with a reindeer, before going live to Santa’s cabin for a personalised meeting with Santa himself.
Paul Carter, CEO of Santa’s Lapland, said: “With restrictions increasing throughout the UK, many of us have been wondering how we will keep the magic of Christmas 2020 alive.
“We intend to help make it one to remember, by offering families the chance to meet Santa from the comfort and safety of their own home.
“While no Christmas can compare to the sheer excitement of travelling to Lapland to visit Santa in his snowy cabin, where the reindeer are real and the Northern Lights dance across the night sky, families will now still be able to enjoy a taste of the real Lapland magic this Christmas.”
Santa Live video calls from Lapland
A personalised ‘Santa, Live from Lapland’ video call experience for up to four children costs from £85 per family from Santa Live.
The company cancelled its December 2020 trips to visit Santa in Lapland following concerns that increasing COVID-19 safety measures and travel restrictions would take too much away from the magic of the experience.
Many customers have postponed their trip to next year and others have taken refunds.
Santa’s Lapland three and four-night trips for 2021 are available to reserve now with departures from November 26 to December 24 from 13 regional airports.
The breaks include snow fun, husky sledding and reindeer sleigh rides, a search for Santa and other activities.
Family fun awaits at award-winning Christmas light festival
While many Christmas events are being cancelled, an award-winning and socially-distanced light festival in Manchester is set to go ahead.
Lightopia returns to the city with this year’s Christmas at Heaton Park event.
The festive family festival runs from November 20, 2020 to January 3, 2021.
There will be new themes and creations but changes have also been made in light of Covid restrictions, to keep visitors safe including wider footpaths and three entry points to reduce queueing.
There will be a magical illuminated trail, designed so that people can maintain a social distance from each other and two car parks.
Lightopia 2020 will also pay tribute to Coronavirus frontline workers with a Local Heroes Area, featuring the words ‘thank you’ and a colourful rainbow display.
Lightopia creative director Ian Xiang said organisers are “excited” to bring Lightopia back to Manchester.
“We have once again created a world in which light, sculpture and art combine with traditional, Chinese lantern-making techniques to create an immersive experience, full of light and stories,” he said.
“We want our guests to become part of the Lightopia story, helping to create new forms of art as they interact and engage with the luminescent sculptures that trail through Heaton Park.”
Among the new additions will be a Christmas showcase using the Grade I-listed Heaton Hall as its sparkling backdrop.
There will also be Santa’s sleigh, a giant interactive walking piano, an astronomy display and interactive Zodiac sign installation.
Children will love robotic controlled pads on the floor, which create light shows when stepped on.
Another area is dedicated to the Manchester skyline and an immersive Musical City area, will encourage visitors to dance their way through the lights.
Returning attractions include the Woodland Fairytale area, the Animals attraction and the Discovery space.
A Lakeside water show includes a state-of-the-art projection while dragon sculptures will lead the way to Lightopia’s food stalls and licensed bars.
The event from November 20 to January 3 runs between 5pm and 10pm and last entry is 8.30pm daily.
The event is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, except during school holidays and closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Tickets are £20 online for adults (or £22 on the day), £13 for children (or £15 on the day) and £60 for families of two adults and two children (£68 on the day). Children under three can go free.
Essential carers of disabled visitors can attend for free, the disabled visitor pays the normal admission fee.
We take our children to Cofton Holiday Park and explore the surrounding beaches and attractions
“This is amazing,” says our son and we all feel the same.
The sheer joy of a family swim makes the months of lockdown seem a distant memory.
This perfectly warm indoor pool is just one of the excellent facilities at Cofton Holiday Park near Dawlish in Devon.
Swim sessions are pre-booked and limited to an hour to ensure the pool isn’t too crowded while Covid precautions are in place.
It is the same with Cofton’s large outdoor pool, which opens over the warmer months.
The pools are at the centre of the sprawling site along with restaurants and arcade and it’s all just a short walk from our static caravan.
We are in a Tamar model and it is a superb place to stay – modern, spotlessly clean, with two smart TVs, fast WiFi, two bathrooms, good kitchen facilities and plenty of space in the well laid out lounge/dining area.
Our static caravan
There are also luxury lodges with hot tubs, holiday cottages or you can bring your own tent, caravan or motorhome.
The lounge area
Children could spend their whole holiday at Cofton – there’s also a woodland adventure park with zip line, small playground, fishing lakes and woods to explore.
It would also be pretty easy to eat here every night with three restaurants (one closed during our visit), serving good family food and drinks at reasonable prices. There is also an excellent fish and chip shop and a small store on site selling essential food and drinks.
The outdoor pool and restaurants
Plus there are children’s activities run by the entertainment team with daily activities like pond dipping, fishing lessons and pirate adventures, when we visit.
With beautiful Devon on our doorsteps we have to get out and about too.
The beaches are our main aim and the nearest is Dawlish Warren. You can walk from the site – up steep woodland, along a footpath to a walk which takes about half an hour.
Alternatively it is a 10-minute drive from Cofton to the beach’s large car park, past a popular funfair.
This child-friendly flat beach stretches along a sand spit at the mouth of the Exe estuary.
It’s good for games and sandcastle building, there are lifeguards patrolling during the summer and a cafe and ice cream shop.
We also spend time at Coryton Cove near Dawlish, a sheltered partly sandy spot with a cafe.
For an adventurous trip out, try Holcombe Beach. You can’t park there but have to leave your car in the village and negotiate the steep Smuggler’s Lane.
Once you walk under the railway line, which hugs the shore, you come out on a high sea wall path (beware, there’s a sheer, high drop) with steep, narrow steps leading down to the sand.
The beach is good for bodyboarding and offers great views with dramatic red sandstone cliffs at both ends. If you love train-spotting then you can stand inches from the main railway line as services whizz past.
For a more sedate pace of life, try Dawlish town with its gentle river running though the park and traditional seaside appeal.
Devon clotted cream ice creams from Gaye’s Creamery, eaten beside the ducks floating along the weirs on the river makes for a relaxing afternoon.
You can also enjoy the crashing waves along the sea wall and games of mini-golf.
Cofton Holdays is only 20 minutes from Exeter and a similar drive to the hills of Dartmoor.
Haldon Forest Park with its range of bike and walking trails is another good option if you want to head inland.
Back at the park
After one hearty dinner at the park’s Amelia’s Cafe, as the evening sun shines over the rolling hills, we set out to explore the area on foot.
We look down to the holiday park laid out before us. “This is amazing,” I say.
We take a trip down memory lane in Exeter and find out if it is family-friendly and good for children
A tatty white door, three overflowing bins and a weed-covered driveway isn’t the normal tourist photo opportunity.
But it’s the outside of this terraced house in Exeter which has inspired our visit.
It’s where my husband lived when he was at university in Devon – and now he’s come back with a wife and two children in tow.
His time as a student hadn’t resulted in much knowledge of whether the city was child-friendly.
But on our short break we discover there is plenty – apart from taking a trip with dad down memory lane – to entertain the little ones.
This is the best place to start – the bustling waterfront has quirky shops, bars, restaurants and wide paths for cycling, scooting and strolling alongside the River Exe and Exeter Canal.
Saddles & Paddles
We take a different mode of transport by hopping into a canoe, hired from Saddles & Paddles on the Quayside. As the name suggests they hire bikes and boats from a waterside store.
After a cheery and comprehensive briefing, the four of us are paddling, occasionally even in unison, along the river and then canal.
Family canoe ride on the River Exe in Exeter
We work as a team to travel the two miles or so to the Double Locks pub where you can moor up and grab a drink in the large garden, which has a playground and plenty of space.
We then turn round and head back to the Quay, returning via a super low bridge which you have to duck under.
The canal is very safe as no motorboats are on it, just canoeists, kayakers and paddleboarders. It is a peaceful and fun way to start our visit.
Where is child-friendly to eat in Exeter?
After working up an appetite, we tuck into giant pizzas at On The Waterfront, which is next to Saddles & Paddles. It has good outside seating and an atmospheric inside in an old customs house.
On the Waterfront restaurant
The children’s pizzas, only £6 each, disappear in a flash and even our large adult portions go down well. This is a good, friendly, relaxed family restaurant.
On the opposite side of the water, in a glass building, sits another excellent eatery.
Lobster at Rockfish
Rockfish is a chain with restaurants around the South West. It’s known for its fresh seafood and changes its dish of the day daily to reflect what’s come out of the waters around Devon.
I have a fabulous lobster and our children tuck into tasty fish and chips.
The children’s menu, well priced at £7.95, includes an ice cream dessert and a great pack of goodies to keep them entertained.
It has a puzzle book, dolphin jigsaw, card games and colouring pencils.
The activities all carry a message about protecting the maritime environment.
Once you’ve headed up the steep streets (Exeter is a fairly hilly city) into the city centre, the cathedral should be your first stop.
The Cathedral Green is a lovely space and inside the large cathedral (entrance £5 adults, children free) you can collect a free children’s activity booklet, guiding you around the building with questions and clues to answer about what’s inside. There is also brass rubbing sheets you can do at a cost of £2.
Exeter is an historic city with links to the Romans, Normans and more. You can wander past Sir Francis Drake’s favourite pub – the half timbered Ship Inn, as you walk from the cathedral to the castle.
It is more castle walls really than traditional fortress but most of the walls sit in Northernhay Gardens, the oldest public open space in Britain, which dates back to the 1600s.
Today the gardens are peaceful, picturesque and a good space for children to run around.
If you exit the gardens via the war memorial and turn left you come to Exeter’s most colourful street, Gandy Street, with coffee shops and bars lining the cobbles. It is a good spot to stop for snack or drink.
The RAMM and Underground Passages
Two of the city’s other top attractions are closed when we visit.
The Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery (RAMM) reveals the area’s rich history and global connections.
And we were sad to miss the city’s Underground Passages where guided tours have taken place since the 1930s. They were designed to bring clean drinking water from natural springs outside the walled city.
The Underground Passages (pic: Mike Alsford)
Haldon Forest Park
One place which wasn’t closed – and very much open to the elements as we discover on a wet walk – is Haldon Forest Park.
Haldon Forest Park
About four miles outside the city, this large woodland area is packed with walkers, cyclists and Segway riders.
There is a Go Ape course, cafe, playground and lots of different length trails to tackle. As it’s pouring, we take the simple green route, which is a 1.5 mile circular walk with spectacular views out towards the sea.
You could easily spend most of the day at this large park, especially if you brought bikes with you.
There are other attractions on the outskirts of Exeter like Crealy Theme Park and Darts Farm Shopping Village.
The city is only around half an hour from the seaside resorts of Exmouth and Dawlish, as well as the hills of Dartmoor.
If you wanted to you could base yourself in the city and explore all of those areas.
But our time in Exeter is up and we have created plenty of new family memories to add to the student stories from two decades ago.
How to keep children happy and safe on a narrowboat trip
To our children’s great excitement, we recently took them on a narrowboat holiday – the prospect of our own barge for a few days really captured their imagination.
Home for the break was a 67-foot boat along the Llangollen Canal between Shropshire and Wales (full story here).
We loved the sense of freedom and slow pace of life and learned a lot in a short space of time.
But how do you keep children happy and safe on a canal boat holiday?
First off – are children safe on a canal boat?
We felt that at aged nine and six, our children would be safe – they both swim and follow instructions, plus they were happy to wear life jackets.
To be honest, I would not have wanted to take this holiday when they were toddlers.
It would be hard work and you would need to keep an eye on them at all times. Plus you would need more than two adults when going through locks for example – one to helm, one to operate the lock and another to look after the children.
How to prepare children for a canal boat holiday
You will want your children to be excited about the holiday and all they can do to help.
But also make sure to give them some general safety advice.
Talk them calmly through the dangers and how to stay safe. You could also show them a video.
General safety advice for children on narrowboats
Children should wear a like jacket
*Wear lifejackets and non-slip shoes
*Don’t run by the water
*Don’t lean too far over the side
*Step on and off the boat when it is safe to do so, don’t try to jump across a gap.
*Be very careful at locks and listen to instructions. Locks have steep sides and water comes in and out quickly.
*Children should always be supervised by an adult.
What to pack for children on a canal boat holiday
*Comfortable clothes including shorts and fleeces.
*Anorak and waterproofs.
*Life jackets/buoyancy aids – check with your boat hire company if they are provided, ours were with Anglo Welsh.
*Scooters or bikes if allowed as large sections of the canal towpath are flat and have a hard surface. You can send one adult off with the children while the other steers the boat. But check with your hire company how many are allowed and where you can keep them.
*Most importantly, pack activities for the children to do while travelling (see next section).
What activities to take for children on a canal holiday?
It’s a fantastic novelty for children to be in a floating home, relaxing, playing, watching the world go past, helping with some of the jobs.
But there are also hours spent travelling where kids can get bored.
Take reading books, activity books, board games, toys, paper and pens with you plus tablets or whatever else your children enjoy to pass the time.
If there is WiFi and a television, they may not work.
Pack a camera children can use to take photos, but not an expensive one in case it falls in the canal!
Take some binoculars. You can get children wildlife spotting and feeding the ducks.
And there will be plenty to teach them about the history of the canals.
Or take hats and pretend to be pirates.
Don’t go too far
It’s tempting to power on to new destinations with a tick-list of achievements.
But be flexible, the best times on our trip were when we ended up in a random spot in the evening and headed off in the fresh air to explore nearby footpaths, fields and woods.
Exploring the countryside at St Martin’s in Shropshire
So don’t be too rigid and build in plenty of stops if the weather is dry, so that children can stretch their legs and whoever is at the helm can relax.
If children are inside, make sure the lights are on when you go through a tunnel else it will go very dark very quickly and they won’t be able to see.
If they are outside, ensure an adult is with them and they stay seated as tunnels can be very narrow and low.
Our two loved the tunnels and we played an echo game to keep them entertained but they can be very long and dark so some children could be scared.
Warn them that you will be turning the headlight on and sounding the horn before entering.
And obviously ensure nobody is on the roof or side of the boat.
Going through Chirk Tunnel in Wales
What jobs can children do to help on a boating holiday
There are different boating jobs children can help with depending on their age.
They can help plan the route, keep the boat tidy, cast off and tie the ropes.
Older children can help with the steering under supervision.
They can also help with working the locks as long as they know how to do so safely.
However, don’t get them doing every lock with you because they get just as much fun from sitting on the boat as it rises or falls in the lock.
Younger ones can look out for tunnels, bridges and oncoming boats.
We got our children to keep tabs on the number of each bridge because that tells you whereabouts you are on the canal.
Our daughter helps lift a bridge at Froncysyllte in Wales
What route to take with children
Pick places which will entertain children – work around stopping points which have family attractions where possible.
For instance we made sure to stop at Ellesmere because of its lake walk, playground and sculpture trail.
Pick spots which are near to playgrounds, woodland walks or leisure centres.
Blakemere at Ellesmere
Most importantly have lots of fun. You can feel like a real team on this sort of a holiday and it will certainly be one they remember.
Our first boating holiday takes in the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal
I have been in charge of an 18-tonne canal boat the length of a lorry for roughly a minute.
Concentrating hard, I navigate on to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the width of our craft Askrigg, trying to ignore the 40-metre sheer drop on one side into the River Dee.
The expert, who has just given us an hour’s worth of thorough instructions, steps off the barge and we are alone crossing the longest aqueduct in Britain and the highest in the world.
As introductions to canal life goes, there’s nothing like being thrown in at the deep end as our two children enjoy the ride and my husband helps direct from the front – almost 70 feet away.
We are on a Drifters waterways holiday and our Anglo Welsh boat has just left Trevor basin near Llangollen in north east Wales.
About to depart from Trevor basin
Our four-day route is along the Llangollen Canal with overnight stops at the border village of Chirk and the Shropshire town of Ellesmere.
I quickly discover that canal boating is simultaneously very relaxing and stressful. Once we cross the aqueduct with its amazing views, there are other boats to dodge, tight turns to master and long tunnels to chug through.
There’s even a swing bridge to lift and our six-year-old gets out, armed with the windlass (the tool to lift canal locks and bridges) and starts helping turn the gauge to raise it high above the canal and allow us to pass through.
At first, bridges and locks may be daunting but they quickly become part of the fun, giving the children some activity and making them feel part of the team.
Luckily, every boater seems friendly and happy to help if you get in a fix.
Helming takes some practice, the boat is steered from the rear with a tiller. You may find yourself gently bumping the sides, glancing off low bridges or getting stuck in shallow water.
Coming out from a tunnel
It is all part of the adventure and steering quickly becomes second nature, even if you can never entirely relax at the helm.
We take it in turns so one of us can be with the children, prepare food or even relax, lazing at the front, enjoying the scenery.
There’s something pretty awesome about travelling along in a floating home but I recommend mooring up as often as possible to explore the towpath and surroundings.
We love stopping where we want, discovering walks through the countryside with just cows for company. This slow pace of travel needs to be embraced.
We also make planned stops at Chirk near to the famous castle, Ellesmere with its mere, playground, sculpture trail and quaint town centre, the small village of St Martin’s and also the base at Trevor, from where you can cross the famous aqueduct, a world heritage site, on foot.
As your confidence dealing with the boat increases, so does your speed carrying out its regular checks, filling with water and tying the ropes.
And the quality of our craft Askrigg really helps make the holiday (read our detailed review of the boat). It is one of Anglo Welsh’s Bond class boats and sleeps up to six (read our full review of it here).
Inside our boat Askrigg
There is lots of space inside, two bedrooms, two bathrooms with showers, a well-equipped kitchen, lounge/dining area, television, radio, central heating and WiFi. It is also extremely clean and Covid compliant.
By the end of our mini-break it has become a home from home so as we head back over the aqueduct four days later, the view was just as stunning but any novice nerves about taking a canal boat holiday have disappeared.
All you need to know when visiting the home of LEGO in Billund, Denmark
Billund in Denmark is the home of Lego.
It is where the very first Lego toy brick was made in 1932. And where the first Legoland Park opened on June 7, 1968, next to the original Lego factory.
Legoland Billund is smaller, flatter and easier to get around than Legoland Windsor. Plus it’s just a 90-minute flight from the UK so makes a great alternative for Lego fans.
If you are planning a visit to Legoland Billund, make sure you read our 14 top tips below first and then our review.
1. How to get to Legoland Billund in Denmark
Legoland Billund is across the road from Billund Airport. You can fly there from Manchester, Heathrow and Stansted Airports. Ryanair fly from Stansted and Sun-Air, a British Airways partner, goes from Heathrow and Manchester.
We flew direct from Manchester with Sun-Air (which works in partnership with BA) on a tiny plane. The flight took 90 minutes.
2. Where to stay
It is expensive but you can stay stay at the park – at Legoland Hotel or Legoland Castle Hotel, a stay which can include park tickets, parking and early park access.
There is also Legoland Holiday Village, 450 metres from the entrance to Legoland.
But we stayed over the road at Lalandia Billund – an amazing water park resort, so got the best of both worlds. We stayed in a fantastic two-bedroomed lodge.
3. Best time to go to Legoland Billund
The busiest days at Legoland Billund are Tuesdays and Wednesdays while Saturdays are the quietest.
If you want to go over the summer, go as late as you can as Danish children usually go back to school towards the end of August so it will be quieter.
We found queues manageable despite visiting during the Easter holidays – there are lots of rides and plenty of space.
4. How to avoid the queues
Most people enter the park and start going on rides as soon as they see them so head straight to the back to avoid the crowds.
The longest queues when we went were in the Ninjago area which did mean a wait for Lloyd’s Laser Maze and the Ninjago Ride.
The Ninjago Ride
If you have Ninjago fans you could head there as soon as the gates open. Alternatively, the most popular rides are often quieter in the last 30 minutes before the park closes, although you may miss out altogether if you leave it too late.
To really save time queuing, splash out on the Q-Bot Reserve and Ride system. Instead of waiting in a queue at each attraction, you spend the waiting time elsewhere in the park. An Express pass reduces your waiting time by 50 per cent and an Ultimate pass means almost no waits in queues on your chosen rides, which can be a game changer when you have young children.
The Miniland area is at its heart with recreations of everything from old Amsterdam to Star Wars, made out of Lego, which everyone will enjoy.
This park uses 65 million of the little bricks to build its displays.
There is a Duplo Land, Imagination Zone, Pirate Land, Knights’ Kingdom, Polar Land and Legoredo Town.
Lego Ninjago World and Adventure Land are really popular.
Our favourite ride was the competitive Falck Fire Engine in Adventure Land. You work with your family to use a pump to move a fire engine and then spray out ‘fires’ while racing against other visitors on their fire engines.
Falck Fire Engine ride
The farthest end of the park is the quietest and we found a nice picnic spot by the penguin enclosure where we could watch them swimming while we ate.
6. Age appropriate
Unlike some theme parks, there is lots for little ones including Duplo Land for toddlers and Imagination Zone.
There are also enough rollercoasters to keep teenagers happy – so this suits all ages from two to 16.
There’s plenty for older children
Don’t forget to be aware of height and age restrictions, so children aren’t left disappointed on the day.
7. Food and drink
There are food and drink outfits but the options can be pricey. Plus they get very busy after 12.30pm so take your own food and drinks where possible, to enjoy in one of the picnic areas.
This is obviously a Danish theme park but some of the 4D films are in English – check the times for these in advance.
It’s a nice flat theme park and not overly huge but if little one’s legs get tired, there are pushchairs to hire.
If the weather is bad or you want a break from the rides then there is a good aquarium in the Imagination Zone called Atlantis by Sea Life.
Atlantis by Sea Life
It takes you on an expedition under the sea with a few bricks to find along the way. It doesn’t take very long but is a good spot to dry off or warm up and includes a tunnel under the water.
11. Special needs
The park is flat and all roads and paths are paved so wheelchairs users can go everywhere.
Those with a hidden disability such as anxiety, autism or ADHD can collect a ’show consideration’ wristband.
Disabled and ’show consideration’ access to rides is via the exits or sometimes through the Q-bot entrance.
12. Buying tickets
Buy online to save money and to save time queuing for tickets and download the free, official app to plan your trip.
13. Don’t miss the new Lego House
If you are after another Lego experience – try the big Lego House, which has opened in Billund and is within walking distance of Legoland.
This 12,000-square-metre house is filled with 25 million Lego bricks.
Here, children learn through play with Lego. The house also includes three restaurants and a Lego store.
14. The history
You can go to other Legoland parks, but only one place is the home of Lego.
Almost every visitor stops for an iconic photo outside the main entrance sign. Save time getting in by doing this at the end of the day not the beginning, when the shot will be more clear of people.
This park is not huge but it is historic and has enough to keep you entertained for a full day or a couple of days.
Advance entry starts from around 300DKK – about £30 – per person. For tickets and information visit the Legoland Billund website.
What will change at Merlin’s theme parks and other attractions when they reopen as Coronavirus restrictions are lifted
All Merlin Entertainment theme parks, attractions and accommodation are to reopen on July 4 for day visits and short breaks – with safety measures in place.
Alton Towers and Warwick Castle have been welcoming visitors since June 6 but they will be joined by Thorpe Park, LEGOLAND Windsor, Chessington World of Adventures Resort, the Blackpool Tower, SEA LIFE Centres and Madame Tussaud’s.
The attractions will be limiting visitor numbers to allow for social distancing.
All visitors must pre-book tickets online.
There will be safety measures in place including new routes around the attractions and new queuing formats.
Staff will wear PPE and carry out enhanced cleaning, in alignment with Government guidelines.
Nick Varney, Merlin Entertainments’ CEO, said: “We are delighted to be reopening following UK Government guidance.
“There has been a huge effort from our world class health and safety team, and all our teams across our attractions, to ensure we are ready to safely welcome guests back through our doors.
He said Merlin operates in 25 countries across four continents and the UK is the final country where attractions are still waiting to reopen fully.
“We look forward to welcoming guests from across the UK back to our sites, just as we have done successfully across Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and North America,” he said.
“In each location, we have seen our guests embrace the ‘new normal’ and actively adhere to the new safety measures we have put in place.
“After the extended lockdown, we recognise that people need leisure and escapism and to make new happy memories with those they love. We look forward to helping them do just that.”
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
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.