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!

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Hampton Court Palace – The Magic Garden and The Maze 

I wasn’t kidding when I said I intended on seeing the best sights in (and around) London, making the most of my  3 day week. Last Friday was a beautiful day so we decided to head out to Hampton Court. We took the tube to Waterloo and then South West trains to Hampton Court via Surbiton. A quick walk from the Station and you step into grounds that would fit into a Phillipa Gregory novel easily. At first glance Hampton Court Palace is quite majestic. This beautiful Tudor Palace was built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. It was never meant to be a Royal Palace but when he left in 1529, King Henry took it over. In his efforts to impress people with his grandeur and wealth, he spent what would be millions now to expand it, employing Europe’s most gifted craftsmen and gardeners. It might be almost 500 years since it was built but Hampton Court Palace (unlike the outside of Buckingham Palace) is quite simply stunning.


Last year saw the opening of The Magic Garden on the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. I’d read quite about it but we didn’t have a chance to go. Friday was the ideal day. We didn’t go into the Palace…Let’s be honest, it would be lost on our 5/6 year olds so instead bought tickets for The Magic Garden and The Maze. If you don’t intend on going into the Palace and it’s quite a warm day, don’t queue up at the main ticket kiosk. Instead make your way to The Magic Garden and buy your tickets from there instead. 


It lives up to its name…the kids had a blast!


Almost two hours later we made our way to the maze. The kids were super excited by the maze and enjoyed navigating the many corridors. At one point we thought we’d found our way out but alas it was the middle of the maze.


Right outside the exit there’s a patch of grass for the adults to rest their weary legs and hidden in what appears to be a huge bush is one of the best trees to climb.


We finally ended our day walking through the rose garden and picking up some amazing real ice cream (made with clotted cream!!)


If you’re thinking of visiting this summer, The Magic Garden is open until October. Remember to take sun cream, a spare change of clothes (there are fountains and a mini lake, as S describes it, in the sandpit) and lots of snacks (the cafés there are limited).

Don’t forget to take a picture under this beautiful arch on your way out.


It cost us £9.20 each return from Waterloo to Hampton Court on Southwest trains. If you to manage get a direct train it’s approx. 35 minutes (we had to stop at Surbiton both ways). Hampton Court Palace is very family friendly and makes for a great day out. It’s got our stamp of approval.

Summer 2017 Bucket List 

The great British Summer…There’s absolutely no guarantee of hot weather but you can always have a good time. From this week going forward I’ll be working 3 days a week (rather than 5) and I intend on making the most of August, exploring  many of the wonderful sights/attractions the UK has to offer. Here’s my bucket list for Summer 2017:

Mayfield Lavender Fields – If you’re on Instagram you can’t escape these gorgeous lavender fields. They are Insta perfect and something I definitely want to see. A little over an hour from London, in Surrey, it’s pretty easy to get to.

Hampton Court Palace – The Magic Garden looks amazing and super child friendly.

Parkside Fruit Picking – I feel like S is finally old enough to appreciate and enjoy fruit picking. My cousins have been doing it for years and now he can join them 🙂

Warwick Castle – Which child wouldn’t like to dress up as a knight and feel like part of a castle? S has the costume and Warwick has the castle. And during the summer, kids can watch Horrible Histories live on stage in the truly unique Wicked Warwick Show!

Go Ape (Alexandre Palace) – Go Apes newest venue at Ally Pally now has Tree Tops Junior. S is a bit of a monkey and I think he’d absolutely love walking high up and ziplining through trees.

Snozoneuk – While our summers aren’t always hot, our winters aren’t extreme either which means S hasn’t seen proper snow yet. At Snozone, you can feel like you’re in The Alps while only being an hour up the M1 from London.

Camber Sands – Back in May we visited Brighton Beach and while that was cool, a sandy beach will always beat a pebble beach. Fingers crossed we have one more heat wave before school starts in September and we will be down at Camber Sands in a jiffy.

Emirates Cable Cars – For the gorgeous views of London and the thrill of riding high up suspended in the air.

Of course this is a limited list…London and the surrounding counties have to much to offer. I’d love to hear what adventures you’re having this summer…

London in the Springtime 

You know Spring has arrived when the gorgeous Cherry Blossoms come out and boy have they arrived!!


We’re so lucky to live in an area surrounded by cherry blossom trees so we get to watch them bloom on our daily walk to the bus stop.

So with the Easter Holidays upon us, schools out and the skies are blue, here is my list of the best London (and the surrounding areas) have to offer this Spring!

1. Duck Tours – have a look on Groupon before you go to their website, they very often have deals on there. Make sure you read the terms and conditions!

2. The Big Bus Tour – See all the best sights of London over one or two days. I personally love a Bus Tour, especially if you’re only in the city a few days and want to make the most of your time.

3. Battersea Park Children’s Zoo – We haven’t been yet but it’s on my list of places of visit this summer. We are however members of London Zoo and S loves it.

4. Southbank – My favourite part of London! The Art of Brick: DC Super Heroes opened on the 1st of March. We went to the original Art of Brick and was amazed by it so this is definitely on our list for when we’re back in 2 weeks time.

5. The Tate Modern is running a “live exhibition“, something I think both adults and children alike will be fascinated by. Don’t forget to take a spare change of clothes, just in case your kids refuse to come out! 😉

If you don’t mind venturing out then I highly recommend Belmont Farm, Bekonscot Model Village, Windsor Castle and Legoland

If the weather turns (let’s be realistic, it’s London) then there’s Sea Life and the London Aquarium, The National History Museum, The Transport Museum or the good ol’ cinema. VUE usually run Kids mornings over the holidays where movies are £2.50 a ticket (kids and adults alike).

And of course if the beautiful weather sticks around, there are always the gorgeous London Parks – Regents Park, Hyde Park, Hampstead Heath and Richmond Park are my favourites. Email education@royalparksfoundation.org to find out more about what’s going on in the parks over the next few weeks.

Happy  Spring! 🌸🌸🌸

A weekend in Paris 

If there’s one thing I believe, it’s that travel teaches children much more than only school ever will. Heck I don’t just believe it for children, I believe it for everyone. And armed with that belief, it’s been my mission to start ticking off places to visit every year. Last year S visited Rome, Istanbul, Dubai, Tenerife and Lagos (3 of them completely new destinations). With me working full time now, this year has been left pretty open.
I was always going to take a few days off during half term to spend time with S (catch up with friends) but in January I decided to book a weekend getaway to Paris as well. We don’t live too far from St. Pancras so decided the Eurostar would much a much more efficient in terms of our time. I booked for us to leave on the 7:55 train on Friday morning and return on the 18:13 train on Sunday evening, making the most of our days in Paris.

Getting there

I initially tried to book package deal through http://www.lastminute.com which I would advise against! It was only after 2-3 phone calls to them when I remembered a similar issue I faced last year. I truly believe that we’re being conned into believing their fares are lower than everyone else’s when in fact you go to book and find yourself unable to do so. After umpteen calls to their call centre, talking to people who have no answers and will not deviate from their script, they finally agree to book your holiday but of course by then they want to charge you £75 more because your booking is not guaranteed and no longer available! Someone, anyone…please remind me not to attempt to book with them again. A quick look at their twitter and you’ll see just how many people write to them on an hourly basis with issues with their bookings. Anyway, I finally booked the train through the Eurostar website and booked our hotel through http://www.booking.com I would recommend you first try http://www.trivago.com which compares several hotel booking websites and tells you which one has the best rate for the room you’re looking for. Tips for the Eurostar – grab your coffee, food and drinks from one of the many shops at St. Pancras as the café on the train is quite overpriced. I understand they are introducing a new fleet of trains but these haven’t rolled out yet. We were on an old train with no working WI-FI and no sockets at each seat. Thankfully the toilets were clean!

Where to stay

My cousin and her family live in Paris and we wanted to be close to her but also close enough to all the sites of Paris. We ended up staying at a hotel from the Accor Group – Mercure La Defense. The hotel is rated as a 4* but I’m not sure I would give it a 4 star. The rooms are a decent enough size and we were lucky we had a view of the Eiffel Tower as well as the La Defence district (business district, tall glass buildings, etc.) but the bathroom was pretty small. When I first opened the door, I saw the sink and tub in front of me and wondered where the toilet was. It was squeezed in behind the door. There were also no amenities in the bathroom except some packaged bars of soap near the sink and a squeezable bath gel/shampoo hooked on the wall in the tub. On the Saturday I realised my international adaptor wasn’t working and asked the hotel if they had one. Luckily they did and said I could use it but had to pay a 20 EURO deposit. I was fine with this but requested them to deliver it to the room and I’d give them the money as S was asleep and I couldn’t go down to the lobby. All I got was a “Sorry, we can’t help you.” I expected more from a 4* hotel.


 Things to do in Paris

We arrived at Gare du Nord around midday on Friday. A quick trip through the city and we were on the West side of Paris in Courbevoie. We had lunch with my cousin and her family before heading back into the city. We took the train from La Defence to the Louvre and got off right in front of the museum. When I first looked at a map of the Paris Metro, I thought it would take us at least an hour to get across the city but Paris is a lot smaller than London and getting from the East to the West was quite quick.


It was a gorgeous day. We didn’t end up going into the museum but got a peep in through a massive glass window. We then walked out across the main courtyard and through a park in the city, down to the Champs Elysee. Paris, with it’s wide open streets and ample space is a joy to walk through.

On Saturday we decided to head to see the Eiffel Tower…but not before popping into one of the many bakeries for some freshly baked breakfast goodies.

You can see the Eiffel Tower from various points in the city but nothing prepares you for just how amazing it is up close. I hadn’t been to Paris in 14 years and was amazed by it all over again.


S really wanted to climb to the top so we queued up at one of the stairs entrances. You can in fact only walk up to the second level from where you take a lift to the top. When you arrive at the Eiffel Tower there’s a security check which took us about 20 minutes and then we spent 1hr 20 mins queuing at the entrance to start our ascent.


The whole experience took us approx 3 hours. We were planning on doing the river cruise right after but it was already close to 4 and S was pretty tired. 

I’d definitely recommend the river cruise though as it covers quite a few sights. The next time we’re in Paris, we’d do it without a doubt. We spent Sunday with family having lunch and exploring some parks before heading home Sunday evening. Paris makes for a great weekend getaway and S already asks to go back all the time. I think Paris stole his heart 💜💜

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.

A quick guide to Istanbul 

Earlier this year we were trying to plan a holiday to the States but somehow it didn’t happen. Instead we each picked a location we really wanted to see. I chose Rome and my mum chose Istanbul. I’d been last year but it was mainly for work so I was looking forward to a lot more touristy/family things this year.

Istanbul doesn’t disappoint. There is so much culture, lots of sites to see and surprisingly, quite a bit for children.

Public transport is super easy, you can get one Istanbulkart and everyone can use it (you don’t need individual cards because you only tap in once). While there are lots of taxi’s, they a) don’t always stop for you b) refuse to take you if your location doesn’t suit them c) insist on a high fare, rather than use the meter, especially if they know you’re desperate.

Things to see:

The blue mosque 

The Aya Sofia 


The stunning tulip display outside the Aya Sofia


The spice market

There’s also Topkapi Palace (but we didn’t make it there), Taksim Square (I didn’t see the big deal), the Grand Bazaar of course and don’t forget a cruise over the Bosphorus river.

Turkish food is amazing. Not so great for vegetarians but a delight for meat eaters.


We did however get a little tired of Turkish food after 3 days so we ventured to Taksim Square and went to Kitchenette which was amazing…I’d definitely recommend visiting it (they also have a branch at Atuturk airport).


My friend Louise lives with her partner in Istanbul and on the Saturday night she convinced us to give Turkish food another go at the famous Develi restaurant. It did not disappoint!


If you’re visiting with kids then head over to Istanbul Mall and check out mini Legoland and Jurassic World (more on this coming soon but here’s a sneak peek).


By day five we were all exhausted and ready to go home.


This cheeky monkey on the other hand was already planning his next vacation while devouring the Turkish Delight samples at the airport.

 

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 ❤️

Mazagan Beach Resort, Morocco

When you’re a child, planning a summer holiday was easy. Parents tended to pick the most child friend places/places they knew there child would enjoy and off they went. As a family, we’re all grown up now, but we still go on family holidays. It’s gotten a tad harder to please 4 adults (and 1 child who’s really just happy to go on an aeroplane).

This year we thought we’d go on a cruise because it has something to suit everyone. After much research, it was decided that we’d in fact rather go somewhere closer to home on this occasion. And so with only 2 weeks until the days we had booked off, we started looking into Morocco.

After much more research, whatsapp messages going back and forth and lot’s of “I’m okay with anything”, it was decided. 2 days in Casablanca, 4 days at the Mazagan Beach Resort & 3 days in Marrakech. To be perfectly honest, there’s not that much to see in Casablanca. For me, the highlight of our trip was the 4 days at Mazagan Beach Resort. Set on the Northern coast of Africa, it has everything I’d look for in a family holiday. Good weather, a kids club, huge swimming pools, a beach, a selection of restaurants and bars. They also have a huge golf course (if that’s your thing) and a casino.

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For families, the great thing about MBR would be their clubs. There’s a baby club from age 6 months to 4 years. A kids clubs from 4 years to 7 years and another one for 7 year olds to 12 year olds. The baby club even factors in nap time. The kids club include activities like ping pong, swimming, tennis, arts and crafts and volleyball on the beach. Although we didn’t leave S at any of the clubs, I could see the other children having a really good time. We did avail of the baby sitting services and although the sitter just sat in a dark room while S slept, she was sweet enough to keep in touch with me on whatsapp and reassure me that he was still sleeping.

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MBR doesn’t forget the adults amongst all the fun child friendly activities. As part of the resort, you get access to their many activities, many of which are free. There’s archery, paint balling, horse riding, go karting and of course golf. To add to that, they have an amazing spa as well. I totally recommend the cabana massage. A one hour massage, in a cabana, sitting atop a cliff, overlooking the ocean. Amazeballs!!

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We stayed there on a bed & breakfast basis which gave us the opportunity to try the various restaurants at the resort. No Michelen stars are going to be handed out any time soon, but the food wasn’t bad. My favourite restaurants were the Pizzeria and the BBQ Beach restaurant. Sharing the same roof, on the beach, it must be something in the air. On one of the nights we dined at the restaurant that served multi cuisine, for the guests on an all-inclusive board, and the food selection was pretty good that night.

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There are direct flights on Royal Air Moroc and Easy Jet to Casablanca and the resort is about an hour’s drive from there. It’s just under 3 hours from London Heathrow which makes it pretty easy to get to. I reckon 5 days is enough but we did bump into a family who were there for 11 nights!! Blimey!

Sun, sea, sand, swimming pools and a bouncy castle, that’s all kids want really. Perfect for a family sun holiday!

Packing my Suitcase

The Shangri La, Cebu Mactan

Last summer my cousin Benita got married in Cebu, a beautiful island in the Philippines. I’d been to Cebu before but like any holiday, it’s a completely different experience with a baby/toddler. S was 2 years and 4 months when we visited last July. We stayed at the Shangri La Mactan resort which is pretty much the best one on the island (and only a 20 minute drive from the airport). Their facilities are second to none and having your own private beach is definitely a plus point.

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The pool

The people of the Philippines are renowned for being friendly and walking through the resort you’re constantly being greeted by members of staff with the biggest smile on their face. When I visited several years ago, I didn’t think much of the food but this is something they have most certainly worked on because there was a huge improvement. Breakfast at the Shang is fit for a king – there is everything from sushi and noodles to pastries, fruit and cereals. You can have broth any way you want it and eggs any way you want them – a food lovers heaven!

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The private beach

They have three pools. One is outside the Ocean Wing part of the resort and the other’s are a short walk away. The main pools have basketball rings at either end as well as slides and water fountains for the kids.

Sounds impressive? You haven’t heard anything yet! Before we headed to Cebu, I bought some sand toys for S but when we got to the beach, we came across this:

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And even better, there’s a member of staff there at all times just to hang out with the kids and build sand castles.

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As amazing as it all sounds for kids, they also have a lot for the parents as well. There’s jet skiing, snorkelling, banana boating, paragliding, underwater walking classes and lots more. And if it all gets a bit much down at the beach, parents can head up to play mini golf, go to the spa or to the gym while the children are entertained in an indoor soft play/arcade. Creative classes are also run hourly which children can attend for free.

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Although there are several eateries at the hotel, the prices can be on the higher end. One of the best things about Cebu is their seafood and I definitely recommend exploring the island and checking out their many amazing restaurants.

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If you’re looking for a relaxing beach holiday that takes some of the weight off travelling/holidaying with children then Cebu is a fab choice. It’s warm all year round, even during the rainy season which is June-September.