We take our children to the Hilton Bracknell after visiting Lapland UK
Hilton Bracknell, Hilton Hotels & Resorts
Where is it?
On the outskirts of Bracknell near the main A322 road, next to a Sainsbury’s supermarket and petrol station.
It’s just 10 minutes from Lapland UK (review here), around 15 minutes from Legoland Windsor (review here) and half an hour from Thorpe Park.
What is it?
A large hotel with a swimming pool and leisure centre. It has plenty of free parking on site.
Is it family friendly?
Yes, this is a popular family option in the area offering easy access to Windsor, Lapland UK and Ascot.
Children receive a welcome pack on arrival, breakfast caters for them well and there is a swimming pool to enjoy.
There were lots of children at the hotel when we stayed there and they are made to feel welcome.
We stayed in a two double bed deluxe and it was an excellent size for a family of four.
There were two comfy double beds, a large TV, good-sized bathroom with bath and shower, free bottles of water, a kettle and a useful mini-fridge. The room was spotlessly clean.
Food and drink
Breakfast was nearly all self-service with a good selection of six cereals, including cornflakes and coco pops.
There were lovely warm pastries plus all the usual hot options if you want a cooked breakfast.
Breakfast is served in a lovely, bright and spacious restaurant area. Even though the hotel was busy it was a pleasant environment to eat in. The staff were friendly and helpful throughout.
If you want to eat an evening meal then under-fives eat free with a paying adult. Children aged between six and 12 can dine from the children’s menu for £11.50. We ate elsewhere for dinner so can’t comment on how good it is!
*The swimming pool – a real bonus here are the leisure facilities. These are free for hotel users and the decent-sized pool is split into two halves with a rope. One half is for adult swimmers and the other for children and their families. It wasn’t too busy when we visited on a Saturday morning and really made our stay.
There is also a jacuzzi which children are allowed in, plus a steam room and sauna for adults.
You can collect fresh towels from the leisure centre and the changing facilities are good.
We also spotted a good-sized gym.
*Welcome pack – the small bag given to children at reception kept them entertained in our room. There were crayons, stickers to colour in, puzzles and a crossword.
Children’s welcome pack
*The staff – everyone we met from reception, housekeeping and at breakfast were very friendly. They went out of their way to help and make sure we had a pleasant stay.
*Parking – the hotel’s large car park is free and stretches around the front and side of the building. Even on a busy Friday evening there was space to park.
A busy dual carriageway is the main view from the hotel but it is handily placed next to a large Sainsbury’s supermarket and petrol station.
Coral Reef Waterworld, The Look Out Discovery Centre and Go Ape Bracknell are all less than a mile away.
There are lots of family favourites within a few miles including Lapland UK, Windsor Castle, Legoland Windsor and Thorpe Park.
Hilton Bracknell, Baghsot Road, Bracknell, RG12 0QJ
How to book
For the best rates book direct at the Hilton website.
Disclaimer: We received a reduced rate on our stay for the purposes of this review. All opinions are our honestly held views.
We take our children to review Solent Hotel & Spa in Fareham
Where is it?
The Solent Hotel & Spa is in Fareham, south east Hampshire.
It’s in a good location, near the M27, between Portsmouth and Southampton.
What is it?
The hotel is part of the House of Daniel Thwaites company.
It’s a four-star business and leisure hotel and spa with a swimming pool, AA Rosette restaurant, tennis court, gym and neighbouring pub owned by the same company.
Is it family friendly?
Yes, very much so, this hotel was a real find and very popular with all four of us. Our children are really keen to go back.
*There is a children’s room filled with a PlayStation, table tennis table, pool table, board games and more.
*The indoor swimming pool was large, with a separate, shallow baby pool and comfortable seating around it. Three times a week, there is a special splash time with floats and toys.
The changing rooms are lovely. Getting the children showered and changed after swimming feels easier, with extras such as a costume dryer and plastic bags for wet things.
*There are woods behind the hotel to explore which our children enjoyed.
We had a signature family double – it was nicely decorated with a comfortable double bed and a sofa bed which our son and daughter shared. The sofa bed was great for our two but would be too small for a couple of teenagers.
The children were thrilled with little welcome packs for them on their bed, full of activities and treats. And two little dressing gowns (two bigger ones for us were in the wardrobe).
Our room at the Solent Hotel & Spa
Room amenities are good – a fridge held complimentary water and milk, plus there were biscuits, teas and coffee, a kettle and a desk.
If pushed to find anything to change I would say a step in our room next to the children’s sofa bed looked nice but could be a trip hazard at night.
Food and drink
The restaurant feels really nice to sit in, pleasingly designed and decorated. It has a choice of seating areas including a conservatory, an outdoor terrace and booths.
Breakfast was delicious with the most attentive, lovely staff, who specially made me pancakes one day when they found out how much I wanted some.
A sweet baked waffle special was lovely and brought to the table along with hot drinks.
Staff help you to a cooked breakfast while you help yourself to pastries, cereal, fruit, yoghurt etc, more than enough to keep everyone happy.
At night you can also eat at the hotel.
We ate at the Parson’s Collar pub next door, run by the same company, and also finished nicely with televisions and an ice cream bar. The menu was great and portions are generous.
The hotel is close to Whiteley shopping centre and leisure complex so there are plenty of places to eat.
It is about 15 minutes drive from the nearest beach, Lee-on-Solent.
It is also 20 minutes from Peppa Pig World and Paultons Park.
*The hotel is beautifully designed and our room was also nicely decorated.
*The fabulous breakfast and attentive breakfast staff.
*The games room and woodland are great extra entertainment.
*The swimming pool and changing rooms.
*There is lots of parking.
*Staff on reception were very helpful providing something I’d forgotten to pack.
Solent Hotel & Spa, Rookery Avenue, Whiteley, Fareham, Hampshire, PO15 7AJ
RELATED CONTENT: Our full holiday review of Portsmouth
RELATED CONTENT: Review: Portsmouth Historic Dockland
RELATED CONTENT: Review: Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth
We stayed as guests of the hotel for this review. All views are our own. For prices and information visit the hotel website.
We take our children to explore this big zoo in the south of England
What is it?
Marwell Zoo is a 140-acre zoo with more than 1,200 animals from 135 species. It opened in 1972 and is owned by conservation charity Marwell Wildlife.
Where is it?
It is in Owslebury, just eight miles from Winchester in Hampshire, signposted from the M3 and M27.
It is also 10 miles from Southampton, 16 miles from the New Forest, 19 miles from Portsmouth and 40 miles from Bournemouth.
What did we think?
This is a lovely zoo with great staff interaction and talks. It is really spread out over a large area so if you have young children and are wondering whether to take a buggy or pushchair, don’t hesitate – it is a lot of walking for little legs.
*There is a good view of the animals, including giraffes, penguins, tigers, meerkat, rhinos and snow leopards.
The train at Marwell Zoo
*The train is fun but don’t miss it, there is only one station near the entrance, next to the gift shop. Expect a long wait to get going while they sort out tickets etc as the system isn’t a fast one but feels authentic with a proper ticket inspector.
*There is also a free land train which stops at several points.
*The hippo – you don’t get to see these as often as other animals so it is exciting to see one here.
*Staff are friendly with lots of useful information to impart as you move around the sections.
*My son loved interactive screens in places like the Tropical House.
*There are great adventure play areas for the children – in fact we found it hard to get them away from these to see the animals
A play area at Marwell Zoo
*As it is spacious, a busy August day when we visited didn’t feel too crowded.
* Most of the animals seem to be in nice big enclosures.
Our top tips
*Buy tickets online to save time
*The land train is free and stops at different destinations to give tired legs a rest. The little rail train only stops at one station near the entrance. It is £2.50 for a 15-minute ride and fun.
*Take a picnic if you can. There are loads of picnic areas but the queue at the cafe we visited was long.
*The information cabin has all the times for the animal talks.
Marwell Zoo information
Food: There are cafes, kiosks and picnic areas.
Opening hours: Open daily from 10am apart from Christmas day and Boxing day.
Cost: Children aged two and under are free. Peak times including a donation – child £17, adults £21, family £72. Includes optional donation.
Best for: All ages.
Time needed: At least four or five hours, preferably a whole day or until children get too tired.
Access and restrictions: Accessibility good. One free carer admitted with each guest with accessibility needs. Some free wheelchairs available to hire.
Address: Marwell Zoo, Thompson’s Lane, Colden Common, Winchester, SO21 1JH.
RELATED CONTENT: Review: nearby Solent Hotel
RELATED CONTENT: Review: Portsmouth Historic Dockland
RELATED CONTENT: Review: Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower
(Main picture credit: ©2018 Marwell Wildlife)
Museums, ships and a boat ride make this a must for sea lovers or young history fans.
What is it?
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is a huge tourist site where families and other visitors can explore the UK’s naval past.
It includes museums and some of the most famous ships in British history including the star attraction HMS Victory.
It is part of the Royal Naval Dockyard and is run by the National Museum of the Royal Navy.
Where is it?
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is on the waterfront in the centre of Portsmouth, Hampshire.
What did we think?
It is massive! To get around everything is more than a full day out and it has some of the most important living history in the country.
*HMS Victory – stand in the spot where Nelson fell on the top deck of this famous warship during the successful Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
The plaque showing where Nelson fell
The ship he sailed is beautifully restored with a simple, clever route through the different decks. She has sat in a dry dock on the site since 1922. There is a free audio guide to carry around.
We also enjoyed seeing how the 800 sailors on board lived.
A word of warning though, there are steep steps and low ceilings throughout so keep a close eye on children.
*Harbour tour – a 45-minute ride on the Solent Cat boat – it takes you around Portsmouth’s waters with an on-board commentary, seeing existing navy warships and getting a sense of the scale of the dockyard. It is also a good chance to sit down after walking around the large site.
*Action Stations – an entire building with hands-on activities for children including rope courses, the tallest indoor climbing wall in the UK and a helicopter simulator. There is also a Laser Quest (for an extra charge).
*Other highlights include HMS Warrior, Mary Rose and the Royal Navy Museum.
Our top tips
*Cut down on walking by doing the harbour tour last and jumping off at Gunwharf Quays for food, shopping or the Spinnaker Tower (read more about the tower here).
*Tackle HMS Victory either early or late in the day, especially with younger children, so it isn’t too crowded walking around the narrow decks.
*Consider paying for a Full Navy ticket giving repeat entry for up to a year as there is enough to occupy a few separate visits if you want to do more than see just the Victory.
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard information
Food: There are four different options. Boathouse 7 offers full meals, Boathouse 4 sells sandwiches, snacks and a children’s menu, the Copper Kettle serves cake and coffee or there is a Costa Coffee as well. The site has three picnic areas too.
Opening hours: Daily 10am to 5.30pm in summer, 10am to 5pm in winter.
Cost: A ‘Full Navy’ ticket costs £31 per adult with children free in the summer holidays and allows a year’s access to all the naval attractions at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard – except for the Mary Rose, Mini Ports and Laser Quest.
You can also buy single attraction tickets for £18 per adult for one attraction, £25 for two attractions and £32 for three. Again children go free in the holidays.
Best for: Ages 5-10
Time needed: All day to see everything. Allow at least one hour per attraction.
Access and restrictions: There is a Special Access Route around the site with ramps for wheelchairs and buggies. There is also wheelchair access to the lower decks of HMS Victory.
Address: Victory Gate, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth, PO1 3LJ.
There is a nearby railway station, Portsmouth Harbour Station. Plus there is a large car park (£5 for four hours) 400 yards away.
Now read our full review of a break in Portsmouth here.
For amazing views of Portsmouth, take your children to the top of the Emirates Spinnaker Tower
What is it?
The 170-metre tall Emirates Spinnaker Tower offers panoramic views around Portsmouth harbour, The Solent and the Isle of Wight.
It’s the city’s most prominent landscape and can be seen from 23 miles away.
The tower was a millennium project but wasn’t opened until 2005. Portsmouth residents voted for the design – the Spinnaker sail shape reflecting the city’s maritime heritage.
Where is it?
The Spinnaker Tower is on the waterfront in Portsmouth, in the middle of the Gunwharf Quays shopping and leisure complex. You can’t miss it!
What did we think?
This gives spectacular views and is a great experience for children. It’s only a quick trip but there is an animated video and quiz sheet to keep youngsters entertained, as well as two cafes.
What exactly is there to do?
*An animated video at the start.
*A lift which takes you up 100 metres to the main viewing level in 30 seconds – travelling at 4 metres per second.
*The main viewing platform has a 350 degree view out of the windows. There is a Sky Walk on this level – a glass floor section in the middle of the room to walk over, which is good fun for those who don’t mind heights.
The glass floor
*Also on the main level, for £4 per person you can have a go at a virtual reality game called Altitude for aged nine and over, which makes you feel like you are navigating your way around the outside of the tower with the harbour below.
*On the next floor up there is a small cafe called The Clouds, with a great view, which serves cakes and drinks.
*Above that, on the top floor, is the Sky Garden – this level is open to the elements and has deck chairs and a green artificial grass floor.
*There is another bigger cafe on the ground floor with much more choice.
Also available for the adventurous:
*Abseiling 100 metres down the side of the tower.
*The Drop – jump from a platform 25 metres high (weekends only).
Our top tips
*Don’t skip the animated video before the lift as it is good for children and tells the story of Portsmouth.
*If your child is upset by the height, there isn’t much need to take them up the stairs to levels 2 and 3. The main level is bigger and the stairs can get busy.
*Book in advance for cheaper entry and also check out special events during the school holidays such as character visits.
Don’t miss our review of a family holiday to Portsmouth by clicking here!
Emirates Spinnaker Tower information
Food: Drinks and cakes on the second floor cafe 105 metres up and a bigger cafe on the ground floor.
Opening hours: Daily 10am to 5.30pm.
Cost: Family ticket £35 on the day. Adult entry £11.50, children (aged four to 15) £8.50. Under-fours free. A ticket is valid all day and booking online saves 10 per cent.
Best for: All ages
Time needed: 45 minutes.
Access and restrictions: The first two viewing levels (the main floor and the cafe) are available via a lift to wheelchair users. There are three disabled toilets on site.
Address: Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth, PO1 3TT. There is a large car park at Gunwharf Quays.
(Main picture credit: Stefan and Sara Venter)
Read our review of a family break to Portsmouth where we try out some of the best attractions for children
We’re standing on the top deck of Britain’s most famous warship, looking out over a bustling harbour.
Suddenly there’s a bang and my son is clutching his chest – he’s recreating the final moments of the country’s greatest naval hero Nelson.
We’re all aboard HMS Victory – at the exact spot where Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson fell.
Getting close to Britain’s naval history is a must in Portsmouth after all – even on a family holiday.
Portsmouth is known as the great maritime city and we begin by taking it all in more than 105 metres above its harbour at the Emirates Spinnaker Tower.
It takes just 25 seconds to reach the top in a lift and from the viewing gallery you can enjoy the entire Portsmouth panorama as well as views of the Isle of Wight.
One of our children loved the glass floor you can walk over – the other isn’t keen on heights! And both liked finding letters to complete a word search around the tower.
There are three viewing levels and two cafes (read a full review of the tower here).
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
If you want to see some of Britain’s best known ships up close then it’s a short walk from the tower to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
This huge site, which is still home to the Royal Navy, has enough attractions to occupy an entire day.
Out first stop was HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship from the Battle of Trafalgar.
It is amazingly well preserved with a well thought-through route that takes you right down into the bowels of the boat.
Where they slept on HMS Victory
You can follow in Nelson’s footsteps and also experience life below deck where the sailors had to eat, sleep and be treated for war wounds.
Also at the dockyard we sampled the Action Stations hanger which has a climbing wall, rope course and a helicopter simulator giving children the chance to act like Royal Marines.
The site also has HMS Warrior, the biggest ship in the world when it was built in 1860, Henry VIII’s famous Mary Rose and plenty more.
Perhaps the best way to appreciate its scale is to go on the museum’s 45-minute harbour tour. This takes you around the Royal Navy’s current warships and onto The Solent. You can hop on and off at Gunwharf Quays near the Spinnaker Tower to cut down on walking (and enjoy a shop if you have time).
Read our full review of Portsmouth’s Historic Dockland here.
Being so close to the sea means there are beaches aplenty around Portsmouth at places like Lee-on-Solent and Hayling Island.
Nearby Southsea and its pebbly beach is the closest but if you want soft sand then you have to head for the Isle of Wight.
Fortunately there is a quick way to the Isle of Wight – on a Hovertravel hovercraft.
It is the last remaining passenger hovercraft in the country and is a great experience.
The Hovertravel hovercraft
You can get from Southsea to Ryde in 10 minutes and the journey is smoother and quieter than we imagined.
At Ryde, it is just a short walk to a lovely sandy beach with views back across the water to Portsmouth.
Read a full review of the hovercraft here.
After a busy day, we continued the nautical theme at our base – the family-friendly Solent Hotel & Spa, midway between Portsmouth and Southampton.
The Solent Hotel & Spa
Pictures of yachts and boats adorn some of the walls and if you fancy a dip in something warmer than the sea then there’s a 13 metre pool with plenty of space for children.
In fact, little ones are well looked after at The Solent with a goodybag in the room, mini dressing gowns, a games room with Xbox and table tennis plus a large woodland to explore.
There’s a relaxed restaurant and a modern pub on site and the fabulous breakfast certainly filled us up for a day’s exploring.
It’s also only 20 minutes from Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park.
Read our full report of the hotel here.
You don’t have to be near the sea to have a good time in this part of the country. We spent a full day at Marwell Zoo on the outskirts of Winchester, on our way home.
This wildlife park is certainly large and the spacious habitats for giraffes, zebras, hippos and tigers mean plenty of walking to see everything.
It was a busy day but didn’t feel crowded and you can pack it all in with the help of a road train and a miniature railway around the site.
For a full review of the zoo, click here.
Naturally, the sea and Portsmouth’s role in our naval history is a big draw to holiday here with your children.
But you don’t have to be on the top deck of HMS Victory to discover a family break in this part of the world can be a real winner.
We review a family holiday to St Malo in Brittany and try out Brittany Ferries for the first time
I can’t spell it. I can’t even pronounce it, but the Breton delicacy Kouign Amann may just be the best thing I have ever eaten – it’s buttery, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth heaven.
I buy a whole cake, warm from the oven and it quickly diminishes as I sit on the harbour-side in Port du Crouesty – on the southern tip of Brittany.
Getting to this lesser visited area of the region was part of our adventure as we crossed the Channel by ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo.
The Brittany Ferries ship feels huge, with lots to see and do. Once you’ve stood on deck and waved goodbye to England, there are children’s discos and shows, a small soft play area, games room, restaurants and even a cinema.
It’s like a mini-cruise and we make the most of everything on our way back but the outward journey was overnight. So after a magic show we were all excited to get to our cabin and sleep onboard.
The disco onboard
The nine-hour crossing soon passed and we woke up ready for Brittany. (For a detailed review of our crossing with Brittany Ferries click here).
Many people know and love this most westerly corner of France, returning year after year.
We were stopping on the Rhuys peninsular between the Atlantic and the Gulf of Morbihan. This is French holiday country – there’s barely an English accent.
And not many speak much English so I was glad my husband’s French is better than mine.
Port du Crouesty is a modern harbour development. We stayed at Pierre & Vacances resort, which is in a winning location.
Sandwiched between a busy marina and pretty beach, there are two outdoor swimming pools and plenty of good restaurants at the harbour, all within walking distance of our apartment.
Playing on the beach at our resort
If you are feeling active, you can hire bikes and there is also a sailing club.
Depending on when you stay, there’s also a children’s club and activities.
Our one-bedroom apartment had two comfortable sofa beds in the lounge. It was on the small side for the four of us but the view over the marina from the balcony made up for it.
The apartment overlooked the marina
Other rooms look over a great grassy area and lovely playground. For a more detailed review of Port du Crouesty, click here.
If the weather is good you don’t need to go far but we made the most of our wheels to explore the area.
We drove 20 miles to the historic walled town of Vannes. After getting stuck into its bustling market – and more French food – we headed for Vannes Aquarium.
The highlights were some of the biggest turtles we’ve ever seen and a crocodile which seemed to have been found after it ended up in the Paris sewer system.
More four-legged creatures delighted Josh and Jess on another day out, to Branféré Animal park.
This is more of a lovely parkland stroll with added wildlife than a traditional zoo. Wallabies wander freely around, giraffes and rhinos enjoy huge enclosures and birds of all shapes and sizes fly overhead.
In the middle of it all was a series of amazing nets placed among the treetops to run across. A high-level walkway with more than 17,000 square metres of netting. Great fun all round. If you don’t look down.
The Parcabout high-level walkway in the trees
The Rhuys peninsular is blessed with beaches. We visited four in all.
Our favourite was one we had all to ourselves – Plage du Goh Velin was a five-minute drive from our apartment.
Armed with nets and buckets, we looked for crabs, collected shells, climbed rocks and even found a cave.
A day at Plage du Goh Velin
And every day we sampled more of the area’s amazing food – delicious sweet and savoury crêpes, baguettes, cheeses, pastries and seafood.
Our trip was during half-term but outside French holidays, which really made a difference, everywhere was quiet.
As we left St Malo in glorious sunshine on the aptly named ship Bretagne, we were lucky there was plenty of fun on the ferry to keep the holiday spirit going.
The ferry Bretagne leaving St Malo
And there was one more surprise to remind us of the region. The chunk of Kouign Amann that I’d sneaked home.
The icing on the cake of our trip to beautiful Brittany.
Accommodation: We stayed as guests of Pierre & Vacances resort in Port du Crouesty, Brittany, France for the purposes of this review. All opinions are our own. For a more detailed review of the accommodation click here.
Travel: We travelled courtesy of Brittany Ferries. See our detailed review of Brittany Ferries here.
(This article contains affiliate links).
Read our report on a Brittany Ferries trip to France
A ferry can be a great way to travel with children – it breaks up a long journey, is (fairly) relaxing, you get to keep your own car on holiday plus you can pack loads into it.
The four of us have used ferries to cross the Channel for holidays to France and Denmark.
Here we review a crossing with Brittany Ferries, which operates between the UK and France, the UK and Spain and Ireland and France. We travelled between Portsmouth and St Malo.
Boarding was smooth and quick at both ports. Yes there are a lot of cars on board – our ship, the Bretagne holds 2,000 passengers and 580 cars – but it didn’t take more than 20 minutes to disembark in a well drilled operation.
One word or warning, there can be a lot of steps to climb up from the car park to the higher decks if you have small children.
A four-berth cabin on board Brittany Ferries
We booked a four-berth club cabin and our children loved it, it was a real adventure for them.
There were bunk beds on either side (the top one folds back when not in use to give more space), a small television on the wall and an en-suite with shower and toilet.
We found it cosy and very well soundproofed and both children slept well.
Cabins are not just for night times though, it is also worth booking a cabin for a day trip if you have small children. It is good to have a base and somewhere to relax (for parents as well if you have been chasing them around the ferry). Plus they are great if your child still naps.
There was plenty of choice for all budgets. There is an à la carte restaurant, self-service restaurant, cafe, and a bar.
We ate at the self-service La Baule – breakfast on the outward leg and a dinner coming home to England.
The price is reasonable and drinks at the bar aren’t bad value either.
The ferry has children’s entertainment
Early evening shows for children kept ours entertained. There was a children’s entertainer with a good line in balloon animals, a mini disco and in high season they put on a panto.
There are also two cinema screens showing family films. The screens aren’t full size but it’s a nice way to while away a couple of hours.
There is also a video games room and soft play area.
We were fortunate to enjoy good weather in both directions and it was fantastic to go out on the sundeck and watch Portsmouth harbour disappearing into the distance.
Our children loved seeing the wake caused by the huge engines, spotting the Channel Islands as we motored past and walking around the outside of the ferry.
The whole trip felt like an adventure for them and a memorable part of the holiday.
RELATED CONTENT: Britain to Brittany with two children and lots of delicious treats
RELATED CONTENT: Revie: Port du Crouesty holiday village in Brittany
We travelled as guests of Brittany Ferries for the purpose of this review. For more information and bookings visit their website.