A Calmer Christmas With Calmer Bannanas At Buckland Park Lake

Christmas is a wonderful time of year, but the hustle and bustle, packed scedules and lack of time can take a toll on us all and the need to switch off from it all can be much needed.

Its not just the adults that need to take a break. I am definitly guily of trying to put too much on the kids at Christmas. I want these few short weeks a year to be crammed with as much magic as possible, but in reality it can all be a bit too much and they need something that give them a more chiiled day out – and this is were I was hoping the ‘Calmer Christmas Experince from Calmer Bananas would be perfect.

On Sunday morning we headed to Buckland Park Lake, Reigate to take part in this event. We parked up on the edge of the lake which was a stuiing sight to see and so surrene – however the boys were a little worried I was going to get them to join in with the wild swimmers!

We headed towards the gingerbread house where we were greeted by a super friendly elf that told us all about what our morning was going to hold. Buckets and scavenger hunt sheets in hand we headed off on our scavenger hunt to find all the pieces we needed to build our own snowman. In my head I had imagined a much lower key hunt, with us literally finding bits and pieces in the wooldna, so I was thrilled to discover a huge trail filled with activites, questions to answer and lots of little elves scattered aroynd to make it a really thetrical dispaly.

At each stop thier was something to keep the boys brains ticking over and thet loved the challange of having to complete a task to gain a piece towards their snowman.

After walking through the beautiful woodland we troated across a liitle bridge over a stream to play a few games of Pooh Sticks and made our final journey toward a pretty shleter nestled betwwen the trres. The numbers are kept low and we didnt bump into anyone the whole way round which made it even more speical and you didnt have the anxiety of having to rush trough tasks to let ohter people in for thier turn.

As a big fan of outdoor fun I actually think I was more excited at the sight of the shelter than the children. I was beatifuult decorated and homed an open fire where we sat down with a hot choclate after building our snowman.

Hot chocolate in hand and toes nicely warming up there was even more fun to come. We each had a gingerbread man to decorate and the boys made thier own christmas decorations. Whislt all these activites were being completed Mother Claus read the children christams stoires and sang a few songs to really get us in the christmas soirit.

There is also an option to have lunch whilst you are there and i was amamzed at the quality of the snack boxes. The boys has christmas tree shapped sandwithes, a candy cane cheese straw and a super cute reinderr brownie. so much thought had gone into it and they gave a big thumbs up for the taste test!

The adult boxes were just as good, and I enjoyed a festive treat with a turkey and cranberry sandwich, homemade sausage roll and a gooey chococlte brownie.

The whole experince was as relazing as i had hoped for. The boys are extremlly boysterous and can sometimes get more than a little over excited, but being ocupied the whole time gave them a mental workout, alonf with a good walk trough the woods, allowing them to really kick back and enjoy the peace and quiet of the calm actitives in the twnt.

This experience far excided my expectations and I would defintly put it top of our activites this year. It was someting differnt ans we will definlty be retrning next year!

Manchester:A Family Day Out

[AD] While international travel is once more a possibility, the lingering spectre of Covid adds extra layers of risk and expense that may mean it remains unattractive for some. That means lots of families are still looking at staycations in 2021 and even into 2022. Today we’re here to convince you that your next family trip – whether it’s a day out or a full blown holiday – should be in Manchester!

History

Manchester has a rich history to discover from its settlement by Roman invaders of Britain as Mamucium to its rapid expansion and economic dominance during the industrial revolution and into the Victorian age. Unfortunately that same rapid growth and success obliterated the ruins of the Roman fort that had stood outside the city for the previous thousand years. If you’ve got history buffs in your family, they might enjoy a visit to a reconstruction of the original city walls, gatehouse and other buildings in Castlefield Urban Heritage Park.

If you’re interested (or want to get your family interested) in the history and heritage of the city, then you might want to try a Manchester treasure hunt, and race through the streets of the city, learning about its buildings, inhabitants and famous happenings to solve the clues and find the answers you’re searching for.

Food

After you’ve built up an appetite exploring, you’re going to need to eat and Manchester offers some world class restaurants.

Mana is the only Michelin starred restaurant in the city and well worth checking out if you’re interested in fine dining. It’s rigorously contemporary restaurant using the very best ingredients from right across the British Isles – and by no means the most obvious ones. Have you ever tried Reindeer Moss from the Isle of Sky?

Kids might enjoy the Cafe Football – the sport soaked casual restaurant overlooking Old Trafford. Specials include the Nicky Butty and the Mara Doner – it’s a must for the hungry football fan.

Football

For many people, Manchester is followed automatically by the word United – and for others of course, by City. Fortunately both groups of fans (be they die hard followers or casual supporters from afar) are catered for in the city, with tours of the teams’ respective stadiums and fullmuseums dedicated to their history. Even non-sports fans will find a lot to reward them, if only in the sheer scale of the enterprise and the clear passion of players and supporters down the years.

A Touch Of Luxury At Andaz London Liverpool Street

Although we are Londoners, being South of the river means going into central London is still always an exciting experience. The hustle and bustle, the towering buildings, the eclectic diversity of everyone there is always food for my sole and something I will never tire of – and it’s something I encourge my children to enjoy too.

What is even better than a day trip is an over night stay, and we were lucky enough to experience a night at Andaz London Liverpool Street. Andaz London Liverpool Street is a short walk from London Bridge station and a stones throw from the Shoreditch District, which is certainly one of my favourite parts of London.

Andaz London dates back to 1884 and was formally known as The Great Eastern. My Dad who is a born and breed East Ender, remembers the hotel from his childhood, and I’m glad to stay the original features have been mixed perfectly with a modern twist, giving it that feel wow factor.

Upon arrival a glass of very welcomed glass of Prosecco was placed in my hand after a slightly fraught journey with two over excited boys! We checked in with ease and made our made upstairs to check out our room. We had an interconecting room which allowed for plenty of space to chill out, infact the rooms were some of the most spacious I have stayed in. The soft, cosy beds were super inviting and the simplistic decor made for a very calming atmosphere.

The little notes back to the hotel’s East London roots with art from a local tattoo artist were the perefct touch, and the boys were even left some tattoos to try on themselves!

The black and white, clean lines of the bathrooms were beautiful and complemented the rest of the room perfectly.

We wanted for nothing inside the room as there was a fully stocked mini bar…much to the boys delight, tea and coffee facilities and of course robes and slippers that we slipped into as soon as we settled in.

The boys unloaded their toys and I sat back and relaxed until it was time to head down to dinner.

Every evening there are complimentary drinks in the lounge between 6 – 8pm. I was a little hesitant about going along with the boys, but they thoroughly enjoyed listening to the music and taking in the atmosphere.

Our room was located directly next to Liverpool Street Station and I was worried about the noise, but we didn’t hear a peep from outside and we all slept really well. The 12oclock check out allowed us to have a lay in and enjoy our room before heading down to breakfast.

Breakfast while we are away is always a highlight for the kids, and if it is a buffet style they are even happier. So their eyes lit up when the saw the plethora of food on offer. There was everything from cereals and fruit, continental style treats to a full english or there was the option to order from the menu with favourites such as pancakes and eggs Benedict – we really were spolit for choice!

Sometimes I find you are ushered out as there is a big turnover of people, but the kids were uncharacteristically relaxed and we sat for a good while, enjoying the delicious food and each others company.

Andaz London is perfect if you want a centeral location, a touch of luxury and good food with a quirky twist. A family friendly hotel with all the little touches to make it a great stay for the adults too!

Travelling To Isle Of Wight With Red Funnel

After being restricted with travel for so long due to covid, having a trip planned was even more exciting- and it was actually the travelling there that I was getting most excited about!

Being able to travel by another means than just a car was such an exciting thought and something the boys hadn’t done until our trip on board the Red Funnel Ferry to the Isle Of Wight the other week.

It was an early start for us as we were only staying over night and I wanted to pack as much in as possible. This was easily done as the Red Funnel ferries run from early hours of the morning until late in the evening.

We had a priority booking slot that meant as we arrived at the port in Southampton we had plenty of time to get our car in line and pop to the on site shop for a toliet stop and to grab a few snacks.

I’m a pretty nervous driver to say the least and the thought of boarding the ferry was leaving me filled with a little dread to say the least! I needn’t have worried though as it was such a well run boarding I was on and parked before we knew it. The kids couldn’t wait to get out of the car and do some exploring; so we headed up to the lounge, found some comfy seats and I relaxed with a coffee in hand as we set sail.

There was an array of hot and cold food on offer, as well as plenty of snacks and even toys to keep the kids busy, although mine were too busy taking in the view as we sailed along. After a while they got itchy feet so we headed to the top deck where the sea breeze hit us and I honestly could have sat there taking it all in for the rest of the trip.

The hours journey flew by and before we knew it we were heading back down to the car where departing the ferry was just as pain free as the boarding.

We headed straight to our first destination of Robin Hill County Park when we arrived, which is only 15 mins from the port and comes hightly recommended from us.

Our return voyage was a night time booking and I’m really glad we got to experience this as the coasttime and the cruise liners we passed where so beautifully lit up it gave us a completely different kind of journey on the way home – and of course being dinner time the boys couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have some sausage and chips to fill their hungry bellies!

We have so much more to discover on the Isle Of Wight and we certainly wouldn’t want to get their any other way!

A Weekend At Robin Hill Country Park

One of my resoultions for 2020 was to travel more with the kids – the Covid pandemic hit and all my plans were put on hold. One thing it did do though is to open my eyes to the amazing places we have here. Somewhere I haven’t been since I was a child is the Isle Of Wight, so when I was asked to visit I jumped at the chance.

I didn’t have any recollection of the Isle Of Wight and certianly didn’t remember visiting Robin Hill.

We got off to an early start and after a couple of hours drive we boarded the ferry and before we knew it we arrived in the Isle Of Wight. It was an easy 15 minute drive to Robin Hill where we were greeted with smiles and shown what was going own. With the map firmly in our grip we headed off to explore.

Robin Hill covers a huge 88 acres of beautiful parkland and woodland that has been transformed into a fabulous adventure area that is more than sympathetic to it’s stunning surroundings.

Frankie has reached that akward age where he thinks he is to grown up for most things I suggest these days. He’s too big for the park, he doesn’t want to go for county walks – the list is pretty endless. So when I saw him leap through the treetop canopy walkways to get to the Jungle Heights my heart was already won over…as was his.

High up aroungst the trees is Jungle Heights which was definitely the highlight of our trip. It is an collection of netted areas set amongst the woodland that you can run, climb and bounce on to your hearts content. As well as this there is a lovely little cafe area nestled away where the adults can grab a drink, sit back and watch the fun. Relaxing music is played through large speakers which made for a really calming atmosphere and I honestly could have sat there for hours.

Around this area is the Squirrel run where the little ones can start from the bottom and weave their way up to the top of the treetop walkway.

From here we headed over to the toboggans. Frankie took to these alone whilst I went on with Oscar. Frankie speed off into the distance while poor Oscar had to creep around the run with his nervous mother!

This was something the boys had never done before and they absolutley loved it. Next to this there were also some huge slides that the boys spent a lot of time working out how to get down them as fast as possible. The addition of sitting of their coat seemed to be the winning combination.

A liitle further along a jouney we stopped off at the huge ponds which were also home to the suspended bridges. It was so tranquil there and whist I enjoyed the beauty of the surrounding the boys weaved their way across the floating bridges.

Dotted around the park there are lots of little extras to keep you entertained, such as falconary exibitions which we sadly missed and a circus play area which was great place to stop and warm up under the shelter of the tent whilst they honed their circus skills.

To end our day we decided to hop on board the tractor ride so we could spot anything we might have missed. It was turing to dusk by now and it was beautiful to see the park as the sun was coming down. It was also an opportunity to see the lights coming on for the evening event that was just going to start. I was gutted the boys were too tired to stay as it looked like such a fun filled evening – it does however give us the excuse to return next year.

All tired out we made on last stop at Colossus, which is a huge ship ride that the boys went on countless times – I honestly don’t know how they weren’t ill.

Robin Hill was more than I had expected it to be. They offer a place were kids can just be kids alongside stunning scenery that the adults can enjoy too. You really can make a whole day of it and we loved it so much we made a return trip the very next day!

Would you like to visit Robin Hill?

Getting That Festival Vibe At Chessington World Of Adventures – Wilderfest

[PRESS TRIP] As a family we have a huge love of festivals and a huge love of Chessington World Of Adventures, so can you imagine how excited we were to find out these two had been combined to come up with Wilderfest – a festival within Chessington World Of Adventures itself, and during the summer holidays we were lucky enough to go and check it out.

We arrived to singing and dancing whilst we queued, which was great for getting you into that festival vibe and a good distraction for the little ones. After a very short queue we made our way inside and it was that tough choice of what we were going to do first. As I only had the younger two we opted to take advantage of the smaller rides, check out the animals and soak up the atmosphere of Wilderfest.

A lot of people think that its all about thrill seeking rides at Chessington World Of Adventures, when in fact some of the days we have chosen to enjoy the smaller attractions and these have been the best ones.

We headed straight for Sealife which we haven’t done for a long time now and we absolutely loved spotting all the different fish and getting the opportunity to hold a huge African snail – well I did as the kids chickened out!

From here we passed by the penguins that were relaxing in the midday sun and made our way to the monkey enclosure where the boys absolutely love the play area. This gave the adults time to take five minutes whilst they played.

Staying on an animal theme we hopped onboard Zufari which is one of my favourite attractions. The big Jeep takes you past a whole host of animals such a Rhinos and Giraffes and then gives you a pretty big surprise at the end, but I won’t spoil that for you.

Feed and watered we hit the rides, which in hindsight probably wasn’t the best idea as sugar doughnuts and fast rides aren’t exactly the best combination! We flew down the log flume at Tiger Falls, got soaked again on the chair swings and plummeted into the ground on the all new Croc Drop which called for some time to chill out at Wilderfest.

Throughout the day we were treated to music that popped up all across the park and lots of characters milling about and introducing themselves to the children, but there was also a whole area dedicated to Wilderfest where you could join in with funfair sytle game, grab some steet style food or just chill out.

The higlight for Oscar though was definitely meeting the baby panda and hippo – even I had to do a double take as they were so life like.

All in all Chessington World Of Adventures didn’t disappoint again and for me the thing that pulls me back time and time again after being a visitor for over thirty years is the fact one trip is never the same. They are constantly evolving to create a different and magical experience each time you vist.

Now I need to wait and see what they have in store for Halloween!

Inside Tower Bridge

[PRESS TRIP] I have passed over Tower Bridge countless times either on foot or by car and the magnitude of it never fails to amaze me. The iconic blue immediately catches my eye and it has always been one of my favourite London landmarks. I have passed this love down to my children who all get equally as excited as me at the sight.

So can you imagine the excitement levels when I told them we would be taking a trip inside – well this was filled with a little apprehension as both Frankie and I are not good with heights!

A short walk along the river chatting about what we might see and do once we arrived and we were there to be greeted by a lovley lady who gave us lots in infromation on the bridge whilst we waited in the short queue. It was then time to make our way inside. We took the small windy staircase of the North Tower up to the top which was great to add to or anticipation, but for those with buggies or access issues there was a lift that could be used.

On the way up there were lots of interesting facts to read, most of which I had no idea about. Once inside the walkway we were greeeted with a light and airy area with panoramic views across London. We purchased a view guide and the boys loved matching up the landmarks in the book when they came across them, and there were also guides on the windows that were really useful.

But of course what we were most looking forward to was the glass floor and it didn’t disappoint! Being 42 metres above the river gave you the most amazing perspective. Oscar was well away and was speeding across trying to spot people and look for his favourite cars. Frankie was a little more coy to begin with – as was I, but I was actually pleasantly suprised that my usual fear wasn’t that great and I got to really enjoy the moment.

Next up was the descent through the South Tower. As we made our was down we got to learn a little about the people who worked inside Tower Bridge and inside the stunning Bascle Chambers if you look closly enough you will spot some statues of these workers. A little futher down there were tools and uniforms of the staff on display that Oscar was particuarly taken with.

As we came out of the South Tower I thought this was the end of our trip and I was pleasantly surprised that we acually needed to follow the blue line along to the engine rooms. the blue line was made to commemorate the people of Tower Bridge and it was lovely to take this all in as we walked.

I wasnt really to excited about going into the engine rooms as I had a preconceived idea it would just be full of machinery and not too interesting. This was quashed as soon as we arrived. The boys made a bee line for the interactive exhibit that showed you the workings of the engines and then much to my amazement we found the most beautiful looking steam engines. Painted in the most vivid green and red, thet really were a sight to behold.

From here there was more things for the boys to get thier hands on and the loved finding out facts about the people who had made histrry on the bridge with their crazy acts, such as the brave Albert Gunter who jumped the open bridge to save a double decker bus full of people!

The Tower Bridge experience exceeded our expectations and Oscar has even been back at school writng about this as his favoruite experience of the holidays. Now we need to try an book again to see the bridge lifting whilst we are on there!

Happy Hour At Ping Pong

[PRESS VISIT] This summer was all about making up for the lost time of lockdown and trying to fit in as much fun as we could. A lot of our time was spent with us being tourists in our own city and exploring parts of London we haven’t been too – and this included a new resturant for us – Ping Pong.

Ping Ping offers delicious Dim Sum and carefully crafted cocktails at a whole host of different locations across London. We were visiting the Tate Modern so decided on the South Bank branch for our visit and were welcomed with a smile and shown to our table.

There are no menus per se, instead you have a list of all the foods and drinks avaliable and then us it as a tick sheet for the items you want. I had completely over ordered to begin with but the friendly waiter was on hand to help me rejig a few things and we were then good to go.

We were there for Ping Pong’s happy hour which runs from 3-6pm Monday to Friday and offers a huge range of their Dim Sum and cocktails for half the price.

There really was something to please everyone and the boys loved the opportunity to sample things they haven’t tried before…and of course it would have been rude not to have tried a cocktail or two!

The soft and delicate prawn and chive dumplings were to die for, as were the turmeric and Chinese vegetable dumplings. The children worked their way through plate fulls of crispy duck spring rolls and enjoyed popping edamame beans covered in celery salt. We washed all this down with lychee and iced teas for the boys and Ping Pong signature cocktails for me.

We couldn’t have faulted our first trip at all. Helpful staff, beautiful surroundings and fabuolous food and drink in a relaxed atmosphere…what more could you want!

Not A Holiday Without A Trip To Hever Castle

I actually can’t remember when we last had a hoilday without a trip to Hever Castle. Our love for it never falters and I would find it hard to tell you what season there I love the most…well actually that’s a little lie as it has to be Christmas. With that said though whatever time of year you visit you are in for a treat and for us the other day was no different.

As I’m sure you have noticed the weather this summer hasn’t exactly been the best, but there is always something to see and do at Hever. We headed straight for the playground as this is always one of the boys favourite areas. Frankie is reaching the age where is sometimes gets a little bored of playgrounds now, but we spent a huge amount of time in here with the boys playing chase and making new friends in a huge game of hide and seek.

Next up we plotted up by the water to feed the ducks and have something delicious from the BBQ. Hever is perfect for picnicing and we normally do a mixtutre of both. Taking snacks and drinks to keep us going and then treating ourselves to something nice – which always includes an ice-cream!

We didn’t go inside the castle on this visit as the children were keen to stay outside, but it is definetly a must if you are planning a visit. Instead we ignored the weather and went straight to the water maze. For me this is such a pretty feature to the already stunning grounds, and something I have never seen anywhere else quite like it.

There are still covid restrictions on this attraction, but the queue was short and we still had a heap of fun.

We sadly missed the times for the falconary exebitions that run twice a day, but we spent the rest of the day enjoying all the little hidden walks around the grounds whilst the boys tried to spot as many naked statues as they could – something else they never seem to get bored off and mananged to meet one of the birds of prey on our way round.

We had yet another fantastic day and can’t wait until our next trip.

Flipping Out At Flipout

[PRESS TRIP] With over twenty years or parenting I sometimes reach the summer holidays and feel that I have exhausted every single day out there is. Of course we have some firm favourites we never tire of and can happily revisit time and time again, but were always on the hunt for new and exciting places and we definitely came across this the other day at Flipout – Croydon.

Flipout is Croydon’s largest Indoor Super Centre and is home to a whole host of amazing activities from mini golf to laser quest, five a side football to bumper cars, synthetic ice skating to ninja tag as well as the most amazing bounce area…I’m sure there is something I’ve missed!

The centre is based at the bottom of Centrale and Whitgift Shopping Centre and you can get discounted parking upon validating your ticket, which makes it super easy to get too as well as affordable too.

We arrived for the first session of the day and were greeted with smiles and very knowledgeable staff that told us everything we needed before we got on with the play. The sessions last for three hours and from what we saw it is best to book an early slot as it fills up towards the end of the day and it becomes harder to find a base to plot up at.

For the first part of the day I went around with the children, taking part in the fun with them, and I loved that it has all been designed so the adults could have some fun too, but I was also perfectly happy to sit back, relax and enjoy a coffee whilst they had some independent play. Flipout spans two floors and although it is a pretty big space, eveything is easy to navigate and there is always someone on hand to help out.

Some of the areas you needed to queue for but aside from the bumper cars we didn’t wait for more than a few minutes for anything, and we were able to visit our favourite areas time and time again. I loved the fact there were fast pace activities such as the laser tag mixed with calmer pursuits such as mini golf and ice skating so there was something for everyone.

After working up an appetite we headed to the cafe that stocks a small range of hot food and snacks. My pizza loving crew filled themselves up with delicious pizza slices that were at a good price and even had an offer running of ‘buy three get one free’. They washed all this down with a slushie, which again was great valve as you had the option to buy unlimited refills.

The three hours literally flew by and it was announced that they had had, ‘the best day ever’ and I have to admit I had a lot of fun too!

Anyone from aged four right through to adults would love Flipout and it’s one of the only places I visited that would keep my entire gang happy – and that’s no mean feat with a family spanning a range of ages. We had no moaning or groaning and in fact the only words muttered as we left were – ‘when are we coming back’ so you can’t get better than that!