A first timers review of Center Parcs 

If you live in the UK, you’d have to be living under a rock to have not heard of Center Parcs. Located within forests across the UK, CP is a one stop holiday suitable for all generations. The only catch is relying on the UK weather. After much dillydallying about where to go on holiday this summer (read: leaving things to the last minute), we booked a mid-week stay at CP Elveden Forest.

On a sunny Monday in August, we loaded our two cars with bikes, suitcases and half our kitchen before heading up the M11 to Elveden Forest. Having never been to any of the other Center Parcs in the country – Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, Whinfell Forest in Cumbria, Longleat Forest in Wiltshire and Woburn Forest in Bedfordshire – we had nothing to judge it by. Some described it as a nicer version of Butlins. My cousin Latika and I bravely (yes, bravely!) took our boys to Butlins last summer and I can tell you, comparing Butlins to CP is like comparing £100 an ounce caviar to the stuff you get at Yo Sushi! From the moment we drove into CP, I was completely bowled over by the giant trees that seemed to touch the sky.

Once all the Monday check ins were complete, cars were relegated to the car park for the duration of our 4 day stay and what we were left with was open safe green space. Our lodge (which had its own sauna at the back) had 3 bedrooms, all ensuite, and an open plan kitchen, dining and living room. With multiple restaurants, a beautiful lake, an indoor tropical pool and sports centre (incase it rains), tree climbing, ziplining, laser combat, off road biking, wall climbing, a pottery barn and lots more, CP quite literally has something for everyone and enough activities to exhaust even the most energetic 5 year old! S who had only learnt to ride a bike without stabilisers 2 weeks prior mastered his riding skills as he quite literally flew around CP at every opportunity. I loved the village feel of the place – we took two bikes and hired 3 there, riding everywhere we wanted to go and locking up the bikes in the many cycle parks dotted around CP.

We had beautiful sunny weather for 3 out of 4 days and on the one day it rained, while all the adults chose to stay indoors, S was still adamant he wanted to ride his bike in the rain. As long as there’s fun to be had, nothing stops my 5 year old, even a bit of the typically wet British weather. We spent a lot of time at the Tropical Pool – I lost count of the number of times we went on the rapids which S absolutely loved! We went tree trekking, ziplining across the lake, wall climbing and boating. And while the grown-ups played laser combat, S was entertained in an Alice the Wonderland themed drop-off camp. Win:Win!

If I had to nit-pick, I’d suggest baskets on the bikes – trying to ride to the pool while balancing a bag slung on my shoulder was no easy task. Towels in the pool area would also be a nice touch.
Top tip – You can actually order take out from one of the many local restaurants. Although the food was good, we found very limited vegetarian options (my dad is a vegetarian). At Forresters Inn (one of the nicer bars/restaurants), there was only one vegetarian main option and at Bella Italia, a vegan pizza didn’t include vegan cheese, it was just a pizza without any cheese!! One night we took the car out to a local Indian restaurant and another night we ordered take out and went to pick it up (although they do deliver as well).
Fret not, if you run out of milk there is a supermarket on site (and a Starbucks!) There’s also a gift store and a couple of clothing stores in The Sports Centre. I ventured in to have a look at some sweaters because in very uncharacteristic fashion, I relied on the BBC weather app and didn’t take a jacket or any sweaters for that matter. We live in the UK, always take a jacket and sweater!!

By the end of the 4 days, S had to be cajoled into the car to go home. With a slightly sore bottom from all the bike riding, a bruise on my leg from the wall climbing and adrenaline running through me from the ziplining, I went home thinking I’d definitely go back!

Advertisements

Brighton Beach 🌞

When you live in the UK, you take advantage of every sunny day you get! A couple of weeks ago we had some glorious weather so decided to head down to Brighton Beach one Sunday. I’ve been to Brighton once before – years ago and by train – I expected it to take about 90 minutes from North London (it took 2 ½ hours). I thought it would be crazy busy and parking would be a problem but it wasn’t too bad. Rather than drive around looking for a spot, we parked at the High Street car park (approx. £8 for up to 4 hours) and it was about a 5-7 minute walk down to the beach.
We walked along the pier taking in all the sights before ending up at Palm Court Restaurant for lunch. Beware of the sea gulls!! A lady made the mistake of leaving her food unattended for 10 seconds – before she knew it the hovering birds swept down and grabbed her fish and chips – ruthless! Although Palm Court is right in the heart of the pier, I can’t say I was totally impressed by it. My mum and I ordered the classic fish and chips. There was far too much batter on the fish and the chips were not hot or crispy. My dad had the vegetarian lasagne which was quite stodgy. The only saving grace was S’s kids meal which he seemed to enjoy (chicken nuggets, chips and beans). Our order also took quite a while to arrive (our neighbours ordered after us and were half way through their meal before ours arrived) and we had to ask for condiments at least 3 times. Apart from the fact that we got to sit in the glorious sunshine right on the pier, the meal wasn’t particularly memorable.

Walking along the pier you end up at a fun fair / arcade. Look out for the various height restrictions so you know what your kids can go on. We bought S an unlimited band – £10 for all the kiddie rides he could go on. We started with the carousel. As he is between 0.90 and 1.20 meters, I had to go on with him but I wasn’t charged. We went on the helter skelter together and again I wasn’t charged. That was my favourite as it sits right on the edge of the pier so glance down and around and all you see if the gorgeous blue sea. He then went on the tea cup ride, the mini transports ride, the inflatable slide and the trampolines. Next on his agenda was rock throwing on the beach. It’s funny how a lot of the times we’re trying to create fun experiences for our children when they are actually happiest doing the simple things. Brighton Beach is a pebble (read rock) beach. Not super comfortable to sit on but it provides the best rock throwing opportunities. S stood at the edge of the water seeing how far he could throw rocks for about 30 minutes. We finally got up, walked across to Starbucks for some coffee before we headed back home.

Although it was a great day out, I’m going to look for a nice sandy beach not far from London for the next time we have a bit of a heat wave…although living in the UK, I could be waiting all summer! 😉

Fun Facts! 👆

Ashridge Estate (National Trust)

We’re having some glorious spring weather here in London (that obviously also includes a few days of non stop rain) and we’re absolutely loving it! Last weekend was a scorcher (26 degrees on Sunday…Yes I know, I know, my definition of a scorcher is quite tame) and a mum on a fb group I’m on recommended Ashridge Estate in Berkhamsted.

We were up early on Sunday and by 10am we left home on our way up to Hertfordshire. It took us about 50 minutes from NW London, straight up the M1. Clearly lots of people had similar intentions because at 11am it was already quite crowded. 


Of course the weather helps, but even then, it’s a stunning estate and we hadn’t even seen the best bit yet. The fellow mum who recommended it suggested we go soon so we get to see the most beautiful bluebell fields. These pictures don’t do it justice.


There’s several paths you can take, depending on how long you’re willing to walk. Although we took S’s scooter, I wouldn’t recommend it because the ground is quite uneven and he went flying off it a couple of times. Also he’s usually a pretty strong walker (we walked for hours in Rome and Istanbul) but I think the scooter (and the heat) tired him out a lot faster.

If you’re close enough to London, I hope this post and these pictures tempt you to go, you won’t regret it.

The National History Museum, London 

We woke up this morning and after a bit of lazing around, came down for breakfast and watched Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures. S sat totally enraptured and kept talking about the T-Rex. So in the spur of the moment I asked him if he’d like to see some dinosaurs and off to The National History Museum we went.

I feel so blessed to live in a city that offers so much…for me and my child. Although S is still young, we’ve travelled quite a bit and done a lot of touristy things in and around London. He may not remember it all but it definitely tickles his curiosity.

We drove through Hyde Park and straight down Museum Road where we were lucky to get a spot on a yellow line right beside the museum.

The first thing you notice is just how beautiful the building is and I know my boy will be a little culture vulture when he turned to me and said “That’s a beautiful building mama”. Yes S, it really is!

   
 
Like most museums in London, The National History Museum is free to enter although they do ask you to donate what you can. Given how amazing it is, I think the suggested £5 is well worth it.

As soon as you enter you’re greeted by an enormous dinosaur skeleton. The sheer size of it in what is an architectural dream is something to see.

  
We walked through the museum looking for the other dinosaurs and took a detour through the the area covering the human body. Although I didn’t get a chance to read it all, the information they provided on the human body was mind blowing. There is a lot to learn about how we develop as well as our perceptions and thoughts. When S is older, he would most definitely benefit from coming back, it’s a great learning resource.

   
 
We finally found the dinosaurs and the peice de la resistance, The T-Rex!!

  
They have done *such* an amazing job with this, I did wander for a split second if it was real 😉 S of course totally thought it was and spent a good 10 minutes just taking it all in. I didn’t take a video because it was too dark but the dinosaur moves, opens his mouth, stamps his feet and gazes into your eyes like he’s trying to befriend you.

Following on from the T-Rex we saw some smaller dinosaurs outside who also looked pretty life like although not quite as amazing as their older counterpart. They too moved and gazed!

  
We ended our visit in the museum shop, as you do, where S got a mini T-Rex that opens and shuts his mouth with the press of a button.

We were only there for an hour but given S’s attention span and age, it was more than enough. I have a feeling we’ll be going back often just to visit Mr. T-Rex!

The museum is really easy to get to by public transport as well and is in the same vicinity as the science museum (which is on our list of places to visit).

Bekonscot Model Village and Railway 

Gosh we’re really getting a lot done this half term. With cloudy (but not rainy) weather forecast for today, we decided to head out to Bekonscot Model Village. It’s been on my bucket list of places to take S but somehow we’ve never gotten around to it.

We left home just after 10am and 50 minutes later we parked in the church opposite the model village. Getting there was super easy on the A40 and then the M40 (coming back was even faster).

It cost £10 for adults and £6 for children or £2& for a family ticket (2 adults and 2 children). All profits go to charity. As you enter there’s an opportunity to take a short train ride for £1. Given that I often take S on the tube and it’s not a novelty, we skipped this.

  
The actual model village is a lot smaller than I thought it was going to be but the attention to detail is phenomenonal!! S was super excited walking around, pointing out *everything* he could see and totally fascinated by the trains making their way around the village on tracks.

   
 
All the trains and tracks are live and there’s an actual conductor who controls them and makes sure everything runs smoothly.

   
Miniature guards inside the Castle with a football match depicted in the background.

 
Most of the rides had a moving element to them so it felt like a mini real life fair ground.

  
There was even a mini coal mine with a man standing at the window waving to everyone.

It didn’t take us long to get around the village, 20 minutes maybe. This is partly due to the fact that S is young. Older kids were given a booklet/quiz at the entrance which they used as a guide walking around giving them an opportunity to learn as they explored.

We finally ended up at the playground where S ran around for a bit. Although we had no rain, it was really cold so we headed into the Tea Room to warm up.

  
It was packed! Many families had brought their own picnics but there was also hot food and sandwiches, muffins, drinks and snacks sold in the Tea Room.

Nothing really took our fancy so we left and drove 5-10 minutes down the road to Beaconsfield Service Centre. It’s pretty great as far as service centres go. There’s Marks and Spencer Food, Patisserie Valerie, Starbucks, Nandos, McDonald’s, a couple of sandwich places and a Mexican counter.

We were really lucky because when we came out after lunch, it was raining! Grateful it stayed dry for our visit, we headed home.

I expected it to be a lot more crowded, given that it’s half term, but thankfully it wasn’t. S loved it and I’m sure we’ll go back when he’s a little older.

Southbank over half term (Feb 2016)

As much as we love to travel, we decided to stay put in London this half term. However, I am on a mission to make the most of the week off. With S being in full time school now, we don’t get a lot of time to do much else. His days are quite long and we save the weekends for some much needed chill out time.

A few weeks ago my friend Ritu and I decided we’d meet with the kids at Westfield but given the nice weather (no rain!) we decided to take them down to Southbank instead. We met at Waterloo Station at midday and walked on over.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before how much I love Southbank. It’s my favourite part of London. We walked passed an amazing array of street food on our way to the Southbank Centre but we’d already decided we’d take S and N to Giraffe for lunch.

The Southbank Centre are running a week of kids activities (The Imagine Children’s Festival) and lots of parents were making the most of the sunny weather.

   
 
Lunch at Giraffe was good as usual. We had to wait about 20 minutes for a table but given that we just showed up there, that wasn’t too bad. As we sat outside a waitress came to ask if we wanted anything to eat or drink while we waited so got some cappuccino’s for ourselves and chips for the kids. Once seated the waitress serving us was delightful. She made the kid’s day by giving them lots of coloured plastic giraffes.

  
After lunch we walked along the river, went on a carousel ride, popped into the playground, watched a magician and finally ended up in the Southbank Centre.

Although we didn’t explore the whole space, there were lots of children with their faces painted and as we were leaving, I glanced downstairs and spotted this awesome floor black board (wish I’d seen it earlier).

  
We stayed thinking there was a showing of Matilda 20 minutes later but instead we ended up watching a short 20 minute Nigerian Cartoon. I spent much of my life in Nigeria and even I struggled to understand it all.

Glancing at the timetable of events as we were leaving, I spotted a few things I think S might enjoy so we may pop back down there later in the week.

The other thing I spotted under the Hungerford bridge near the Southbank Centre was a small rollerskating tent named bump roller disco. S was totally fascinated by it and they had some 3 wheeler supports for less skilled skaters. I’m sure he’d manage it with one of those supports.

For a fun, activity filled afternoon with your kids this week, head on down to Southbank, you won’t be sorry!

Family Fever

Family days out – Windsor Castle

When I finally pulled my curtains open at 9:30 this morning, the sun streamed through! My immediate thought was “where can we go today”? I love making the most of the good English weather (by good I mean no rain) and Windsor Castle came to mind. It’s been on my list for awhile. 

We finally left home just after 12 and we were there in under an hour. I’ve never been to Windsor so I didn’t realise two things: 1. There is an amazing little village, right outside the Castle gates and 2. Just how big Windsor Castle is. 

We parked in a car park on the main Windsor Road approaching the Castle and because I didn’t know about the actual Windsor Village, we walked across the bridge and ended up going to the Weather Arms (one of Windsor’s oldest pubs) for lunch. It was very mediocre and the service was the same. I had the carvery, my mum had the sea bass fillet and S had fish fingers, chips and peas. The actual village is full of quaint restaurants/pubs as well as popular ones like Nandos, Pizza Express, Zizi’s and Starbucks.

   
 After a quick lunch we headed up to the Castle. Children under 5 go free and adults are £20 each (get your ticket stamped and it becomes valid for a year). 

The Castle is so grand (compared to Buckingham Palace), no wonder the Queen prefers spending her time there!

   
    
 
There were some activities for children but we missed them. Instead we walked around the grounds, saw the world’s largest doll house and through all the State rooms. They have audio guides in multiple languages which give you a brief history lesson  as you walk around. I didn’t take one of these as I was with S but my mum did so she was giving me little snippets as we went around.

   
 The doll’s house with miniature replicas of the different rooms in the Castle.

There were swords and other arms all over the walls as well as guards and horses.

   
 
And as for the State rooms, well GRAND doesn’t even begin to describe them.
   
    
    
 
Windsor Castle makes for a  great family day out. The Queen was actually around while we were there and was out walking her dogs but unfortunately we just missed seeing her. I can also officially say the guards at Windsor Castle are not as strict as the guards at Buckingham Palace! 
I’ll definitely return to Windsor Castle again with S as well as on my own so I can actually get the audio guide and immerse myself in hundreds of years is history.

   
 
It was a happy Valentines Day indeed, spent in beautiful surroundings with people I love ❤️

Legoland Windsor

My friend R lives right by LEGOLAND is always telling me about it. I decided that this was the summer we were going to finally get out there and do all the outdoor stuff on our bucket list. S is now at that age where he doesn’t nap, he can entertain himself (and me) on long car rides, train rides and plane rides AND he loves the outdoors.

Back in May, I joined Sun Plus and was eligible for a family pass to LEGOLAND (for only £9.99). Woohoo! As R lives pretty close by and S and her daughter are the best of friends, we drove up on Tuesday afternoon, spent the night with her and headed out to LEGOLAND bright and early on Wednesday. Although we got there at 9:40, 20 minutes before the park opened, it was pretty crowded. R is now a LEGOLAND expert and was able to navigate us between the various “cities” to make the most of our day. Mummy efficiency at it’s best!

20150708_094802

20150708_095422

We took the train down and started with the basic rides – the boats, the car driving, the fire truck and the carousel and swings. Let me warn you, the fire truck looks really awesome, S loved it but all the work comes down to the parent on this one, especially if your little one is still only a toddler.

20150708_103127

20150708_103327

20150708_103428

Before we knew it, it was 11:45 and so we made our way to the pirate show. By 11:55, the stadium style seats were packed (for a 12:15 showing). A 15 minute pirate show with water, fire and some awesome stunts, the kids really enjoyed it and S is still talking about the “big fire” and the pirates.

20150708_121727

Sitting down for the show also gave us a chance to give the kids their lunch. Although there is a lot of food available at LEGOLAND, I’d been told it wasn’t so great and more than that, we didn’t want to waste time eating somewhere when we could be enjoying the rides (by “we” I mean the kids ofcourse ;-))

We headed over to the Pirates playground after the show which again S loved. It’s actually for kids age 5 upwards but he was still able to climb most of the frames.

20150708_140613

20150708_141349

I have to be honest, we wanted to get a lot of rides done but we weren’t too fussed if we didn’t get to go on the most popular ones. At 3 years old, both kids don’t have all the patience in the world and we opted to enjoy the day by avoiding the major queues. I think the longest we queued for any ride was 15 minutes (without Q Bot, which you can purchase to skip the queues). Next up was the Lego train which all 4 of us enjoyed!

20150708_142823

We finally headed over to the Duplo playground for younger kids, which happened to be right beside the splash zone. It looked amazing but the weather wasn’t great, it was very cloudy all day with mini downpours every so often. While at the Duplo playground, the clouds decided to part and the sun came out…what dya know?! But unfortunately the pump wasn’t working and so the splash zone was closed. As luck would have it, they opened it up 15 minutes later and it was still sunny. S absolutely loves the water and I think this was the highlight of his day!

20150708_144508

20150708_153815

I finally managed to get him out with the promise to go on the “Elf” submarine. S absolutely loves Ben & Holly, a children’s show which features a submarine as part of the “Elf rescue team”.

Although the submarine didn’t actually submerge in water, it felt like it did which was pretty cool. I have been on a real submarine in Barbados before and I have to say, the way they’ve created this for the kids to believe they are underwater looking at all the fish, sharks and sting rays is pretty impressive. Don’t miss it!

We finally walked towards the entrance, exhausted and happy! But not before passing by mini LEGOLAND. It’s no secret how much I love London and I loved seeing it as a miniature replica.

20150708_163329

20150708_163528

20150708_163546

If I’m not mistaken, you can collect discount coupons on Kellog’s brands of cereal to get Buy 1 Get One Free tickets at LEGOLAND this summer.

Legoland makes an absolutely fantastic day out. There is something for everyone and both S and N had an amazing time. It’ll definitely be on our list of places to visit next summer as well.