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 Pontyscyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal
I have been in charge of an 18-tonne canal boat the length of a lorry for roughly a minute.
Concentrating hard, I navigate on to the Pontyscyllte Aqueduct, the width of our craft Askrigg, trying to ignore the 40-metre sheer drop on one side into the River Dee.
The expert, who has just given us an hour’s worth of thorough instructions, steps off the barge and we are alone crossing the longest aqueduct in Britain and the highest in the world.
As introductions to canal life goes, there’s nothing like being thrown in at the deep end as our two children enjoy the ride and my husband helps direct from the front – almost 70 feet away.
We are on a Drifters waterways holiday and our Anglo Welsh boat has just left Trevor basin near Llangollen in north east Wales.
About to depart from Trevor basin
Our four-day route is along the Llangollen Canal with overnight stops at the border village of Chirk and the Shropshire town of Ellesmere.
I quickly discover that canal boating is simultaneously very relaxing and stressful. Once we cross the aqueduct with its amazing views, there are other boats to dodge, tight turns to master and long tunnels to chug through.
There’s even a swing bridge to lift and our six-year-old gets out, armed with the windlass (the tool to lift canal locks and bridges) and starts helping turn the gauge to raise it high above the canal and allow us to pass through.
At first, bridges and locks may be daunting but they quickly become part of the fun, giving the children some activity and making them feel part of the team.
Luckily, every boater seems friendly and happy to help if you get in a fix.
Helming takes some practice, the boat is steered from the rear with a tiller. You may find yourself gently bumping the sides, glancing off low bridges or getting stuck in shallow water.
Coming out from a tunnel
It is all part of the adventure and steering quickly becomes second nature, even if you can never entirely relax at the helm.
We take it in turns so one of us can be with the children, prepare food or even relax, lazing at the front, enjoying the scenery.
There’s something pretty awesome about travelling along in a floating home but I recommend mooring up as often as possible to explore the towpath and surroundings.
We love stopping where we want, discovering walks through the countryside with just cows for company. This slow pace of travel needs to be embraced.
We also make planned stops at Chirk near to the famous castle, Ellesmere with its mere, playground, sculpture trail and quaint town centre, the small village of St Martin’s and also the base at Trevor, from where you can cross the famous aqueduct, a world heritage site, on foot.
As your confidence dealing with the boat increases, so does your speed carrying out its regular checks, filling with water and tying the ropes.
And the quality of our craft Askrigg really helps make the holiday (read our detailed review of the boat). It is one of Anglo Welsh’s Bond class boats and sleeps up to six (read our full review of it here).
Inside our boat Askrigg
There is lots of space inside, two bedrooms, two bathrooms with showers, a well-equipped kitchen, lounge/dining area, television, radio, central heating and WiFi. It is also extremely clean and Covid compliant.
By the end of our mini-break it has become a home from home so as we head back over the aqueduct four days later, the view was just as stunning but any novice nerves about taking a canal boat holiday have disappeared.
All you need to know when visiting the home of LEGO in Billund, Denmark
Billund in Denmark is the home of Lego.
It is where the very first Lego toy brick was made in 1932. And where the first Legoland Park opened on June 7, 1968, next to the original Lego factory.
Legoland Billund is smaller, flatter and easier to get around than Legoland Windsor. Plus it’s just a 90-minute flight from the UK so makes a great alternative for Lego fans.
If you are planning a visit to Legoland Billund, make sure you read our 14 top tips below first and then our review.
1. How to get to Legoland Billund in Denmark
Legoland Billund is across the road from Billund Airport. You can fly there from Manchester, Heathrow and Stansted Airports. Ryanair fly from Stansted and Sun-Air, a British Airways partner, goes from Heathrow and Manchester.
We flew direct from Manchester with Sun-Air (which works in partnership with BA) on a tiny plane. The flight took 90 minutes.
2. Where to stay
It is expensive but you can stay stay at the park – at Legoland Hotel or Legoland Castle Hotel, a stay which can include park tickets, parking and early park access.
There is also Legoland Holiday Village, 450 metres from the entrance to Legoland.
But we stayed over the road at Lalandia Billund – an amazing water park resort, so got the best of both worlds. We stayed in a fantastic two-bedroomed lodge.
3. Best time to go to Legoland Billund
The busiest days at Legoland Billund are Tuesdays and Wednesdays while Saturdays are the quietest.
If you want to go over the summer, go as late as you can as Danish children usually go back to school towards the end of August so it will be quieter.
We found queues manageable despite visiting during the Easter holidays – there are lots of rides and plenty of space.
4. How to avoid the queues
Most people enter the park and start going on rides as soon as they see them so head straight to the back to avoid the crowds.
The longest queues when we went were in the Ninjago area which did mean a wait for Lloyd’s Laser Maze and the Ninjago Ride.
The Ninjago Ride
If you have Ninjago fans you could head there as soon as the gates open. Alternatively, the most popular rides are often quieter in the last 30 minutes before the park closes, although you may miss out altogether if you leave it too late.
To really save time queuing, splash out on the Q-Bot Reserve and Ride system. Instead of waiting in a queue at each attraction, you spend the waiting time elsewhere in the park. An Express pass reduces your waiting time by 50 per cent and an Ultimate pass means almost no waits in queues on your chosen rides, which can be a game changer when you have young children.
The Miniland area is at its heart with recreations of everything from old Amsterdam to Star Wars, made out of Lego, which everyone will enjoy.
This park uses 65 million of the little bricks to build its displays.
There is a Duplo Land, Imagination Zone, Pirate Land, Knights’ Kingdom, Polar Land and Legoredo Town.
Lego Ninjago World and Adventure Land are really popular.
Our favourite ride was the competitive Falck Fire Engine in Adventure Land. You work with your family to use a pump to move a fire engine and then spray out ‘fires’ while racing against other visitors on their fire engines.
Falck Fire Engine ride
The farthest end of the park is the quietest and we found a nice picnic spot by the penguin enclosure where we could watch them swimming while we ate.
6. Age appropriate
Unlike some theme parks, there is lots for little ones including Duplo Land for toddlers and Imagination Zone.
There are also enough rollercoasters to keep teenagers happy – so this suits all ages from two to 16.
There’s plenty for older children
Don’t forget to be aware of height and age restrictions, so children aren’t left disappointed on the day.
7. Food and drink
There are food and drink outfits but the options can be pricey. Plus they get very busy after 12.30pm so take your own food and drinks where possible, to enjoy in one of the picnic areas.
This is obviously a Danish theme park but some of the 4D films are in English – check the times for these in advance.
It’s a nice flat theme park and not overly huge but if little one’s legs get tired, there are pushchairs to hire.
If the weather is bad or you want a break from the rides then there is a good aquarium in the Imagination Zone called Atlantis by Sea Life.
Atlantis by Sea Life
It takes you on an expedition under the sea with a few bricks to find along the way. It doesn’t take very long but is a good spot to dry off or warm up and includes a tunnel under the water.
11. Special needs
The park is flat and all roads and paths are paved so wheelchairs users can go everywhere.
Those with a hidden disability such as anxiety, autism or ADHD can collect a ’show consideration’ wristband.
Disabled and ’show consideration’ access to rides is via the exits or sometimes through the Q-bot entrance.
12. Buying tickets
Buy online to save money and to save time queuing for tickets and download the free, official app to plan your trip.
13. Don’t miss the new Lego House
If you are after another Lego experience – try the big Lego House, which has opened in Billund and is within walking distance of Legoland.
This 12,000-square-metre house is filled with 25 million Lego bricks.
Here, children learn through play with Lego. The house also includes three restaurants and a Lego store.
14. The history
You can go to other Legoland parks, but only one place is the home of Lego.
Almost every visitor stops for an iconic photo outside the main entrance sign. Save time getting in by doing this at the end of the day not the beginning, when the shot will be more clear of people.
This park is not huge but it is historic and has enough to keep you entertained for a full day or a couple of days.
Advance entry starts from around 300DKK – about £30 – per person. For tickets and information visit the Legoland Billund website.
What will change at Merlin’s theme parks and other attractions when they reopen as Coronavirus restrictions are lifted
All Merlin Entertainment theme parks, attractions and accommodation are to reopen on July 4 for day visits and short breaks – with safety measures in place.
Alton Towers and Warwick Castle have been welcoming visitors since June 6 but they will be joined by Thorpe Park, LEGOLAND Windsor, Chessington World of Adventures Resort, the Blackpool Tower, SEA LIFE Centres and Madame Tussaud’s.
The attractions will be limiting visitor numbers to allow for social distancing.
All visitors must pre-book tickets online.
There will be safety measures in place including new routes around the attractions and new queuing formats.
Staff will wear PPE and carry out enhanced cleaning, in alignment with Government guidelines.
Nick Varney, Merlin Entertainments’ CEO, said: “We are delighted to be reopening following UK Government guidance.
“There has been a huge effort from our world class health and safety team, and all our teams across our attractions, to ensure we are ready to safely welcome guests back through our doors.
He said Merlin operates in 25 countries across four continents and the UK is the final country where attractions are still waiting to reopen fully.
“We look forward to welcoming guests from across the UK back to our sites, just as we have done successfully across Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and North America,” he said.
“In each location, we have seen our guests embrace the ‘new normal’ and actively adhere to the new safety measures we have put in place.
“After the extended lockdown, we recognise that people need leisure and escapism and to make new happy memories with those they love. We look forward to helping them do just that.”
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.
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’.
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
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.
There will also be aerial ropewalks, climbing walls, balancing logs and mazes.
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.
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.
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.
Books from the BeWILDerwood series including A Boggle at BeWILDerwood, The BeWILDerbats and A BeWILDermuddle are also available to buy online.
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.
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.
Avoid aisle seats
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 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.
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.
In-flight magazines are touched by hundreds of people and are never cleaned so they are full of germs. Avoid!
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.
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.
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.
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
Health experts suggest wiping down remote controls, light switches, telephones, doorknobs, toilet seat handles and taps to protect children.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
The Haven stand had a fantastic ranger from Nature Rockz teaching fire lighting.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Travel time from the UK: 4 hours
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).
Travel time from the UK: 7.5 hours
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.
Travel time from the UK: 14 hours
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.
Travel time from the UK: 22 hours
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.
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!
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
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
*An elf passport.
*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.
*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.”
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.
*Before you go into the formal gardens, the house itself is lit up at the front with a fabulous laser display.
There is also a light display when you reach the back of the house, along with rings of fire.
*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.
*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.
*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.
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.
National Trust Dunham Massey, Altrincham, WA14 4SJ
For more information and to book go to the website.
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