all inclusive holidays

Quite often people look at me like I’m mad when we say we’re taking the kids abroad for our holiday. We’ve done so ever since our eldest was three years old and yes, it’s not always a barrel of laughs when you’ve got a tired toddler but we always take the hassle out of it by opting to go all-inclusive when booking our holiday package.

We’re off to the Canary Islands in a few weeks time over the Easter break and I can’t wait. Booking was pretty simple and with all-inclusive we’re safe in the knowledge that their aren’t any hidden extras; luggage allowance, flights and transfers are all included. We like the Canary Islands as the weathers pretty reliable throughout the year and the flight time isn’t too gruelling when you have multiple kids in tow.

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We’re staying at a hotel we’ve stayed at previously which makes me even more excited as I know how fantastic the food, drink and snack options are throughout the day. I don’t know about your kids but mine graze constantly. They could be hungry 10 mins after we’ve left the breakfast table and will be crying out for a drink after just 5 minutes of swimming. Knowing we can help ourselves to food and drink throughout the day means we’re not dipping into our pockets or needing to carry cash around the hotel which is a big weight off our minds. It can soon add up if you’re paying out for each and every drink and snack or equally, you feel bad having to say no when you’re supposed to be having fun. It’s also this pregnant woman’s idea of paradise!

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Although we do like to get out of the hotel and see other parts of the town or island we’re staying on there really isn’t any need. The older two kids are usually wrapped up in kids clubs or day time activities on the complex and Elsie has been known to spend time in nursery so Matt and I can truly relax – even if it is just for an hour or two. A holiday wouldn’t be a holiday without a little down time!

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When you look at the value for money you’re getting by going all-inclusive it really is a no-brainer. We barely take any cash with us when we go – just a little bit of spending money for the kids and perhaps a few souvenirs. We’re already planning our 2018 break and the first must have on our list is that it must be all-inclusive. After all the bigger the kids the bigger the appetites!

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butlins minehead review

Earlier in 2016 we were delighted to be chosen as Butlins Ambassadors. Neither Matt nor I have ever been to Butlins and, for some reason, we both assumed it wouldn’t really be our kind of holiday. When the kids found out we were visiting for February half term they were absolutely thrilled; they’d seen the adverts on TV and were counting down how many sleeps we had left!

We stayed at Butlins Minehead for three nights from Friday-Monday. It’s a fairly short drive from where we live in Gloucestershire which was ideal with three small people in tow. The weather upon arrival, and for the whole weekend, was pretty glorious!

Instead of describing our trip in a chronological order I’ll break it down into the key areas to ensure you get a clear picture of our break and to try and stop myself rambling!

Check-in & Accommodation
We arrived at Butlins Minehead around 3:15pm and were immediately directed to the West Lakes Village Reception at the back of the resort. Our booking included a stay in one of the West Lake Village chalets and we were excited to see what they were like in real life as they looked stunning online.

We parked the car and headed into Reception to check-in. We were greeted by a very friendly lady who provided us with our chalet key, resort information also explained that the kids could hire scooters for the entire weekend or just for a few hours – what a great idea on such a large complex. Scooter hire is available up to the age of 6 (approximately).

We drove to our parking space outside our chalet – there was plenty of parking, specifically for the West Lake Village residents, and walking distance to each chalet was minimal. The first thing that struck us was how peaceful it seemed, we hadn’t seen another soul and you couldn’t hear anything other than the occasional duck quacking. We entered the accommodation and were immediately blown away by how clean it was – it looked pristine, as if we were the first people to ever stay there. The chalet had three bedrooms; a double, a twin and a bunk bed. The lounge and kitchen are adjoined and opened on to a sizeable balcony over the lake. The sun was shining and it was just stunning.

butlins minehead review

The cot was already set up for Elsie which meant one thing less for us to worry about. There were also two small packs of toiletries in the bathrooms, a clean tea towel, mini washing up liquid and three dishwasher tablets. The kitchen was well equipped with a microwave, dishwasher, fridge/freezer and kettle with complimentary tea and coffee. You can see a tour of our chalet on my You Tube channel.

butlins minehead review

The maid came in daily to make the beds, clean the floors, refresh any towels which were dirty and tidy up – they even did any washing up left by the sink. It was lovely to come home to a clean chalet each day.

butlins minehead review

butlins bathroom

Food
Our holiday came with a premium dining package which meant we had the choice of two buffet restaurants on site for morning and evening meals; The Deck and The Yacht Club.

Lunch was not included although there are plenty of establishments on site to buy food.

butlins minehead food

Finnigans chippy was a great spot for lunch!

After we’d settled into our chalet and found our bearings on site we headed for the restaurants. We chose to eat in The Yacht Club the first evening and I have to say I was a little underwhelmed. Although we had the choice of where to sit we inadvertently sat under a large, loud air conditioning unit which made it difficult to hold a conversation over dinner. The decor was lacking and certainly didn’t feel premium upon first impressions.

The table was clean and laid up ready for diners, there were plenty of high chairs available but sadly, after asking for a pouch of food for Elsie the best they could offer me was one aged for babies 4+ months. Well, Elsie was almost nine months and so I popped to the other restaurant just next door and was able to get a pouch nearer her age range. We ended up making do with suitable finger/soft food from the buffet for the remainder of the trip. The facilities for those travelling with babies however are, on the whole, good.  A microwave, disposable bibs and plastic cutlery and crockery are all available freely.

butlins minehead review

Matt and I both had fish and chips and I would say it was average at best. Matt did make a comment along the lines of “how many days have those chips been sat there?” as they were a little shrivelled and cold but the fish was lovely and chunky with a crispy batter. The kids were happy with the never-ending ice-cream and the puddings looked pretty good although I was far too full to try any. Whilst Matt and I finished our meal the two older kids played outside the restaurant on the climbing frame which as viewable from our table.

Breakfast was much more along the lines of what I had hoped for. We chose to eat in The Deck Restaurant and it was decorated in a more modern style and the buffet selection was larger. The breakfast was one of the highlights of our break – it was delicious. The hot selection was of great quality and there was plenty of fresh fruit, pastries, cereal and yogurt – I’ve never seen the kids eat so much breakfast!

I have to say the remainder of the meals from The Deck restaurant were lovely; there were themed nights such as Indian and Italian as well as an ice cream station on the last night which was basically a kids dream; a whole array of sprinkles and sauces and you can visit as many times as you like!

butlins minehead review

butlins minehead review

So, what is there to do?

Well, just about everything you can think of! The fairground was a firm favourite with us – the kids loved being able to go on rides time and time again with only a few minutes wait for each. There are height restrictions for most of the rides so an adult will need to accompany the younger guests but, to be honest, I think Matt enjoyed the rides just as much as the kids!

butlins minehead review

We also spent a good deal of time playing in the arcades; we all enjoyed a go on the 2p machines and it was exciting for the kids to exchange the tickets we had won at the end of our stay.

As the weather was so fantastic we made good use of the outdoor facilities including hiring a family bike and using the adventure playgrounds. One of the playgrounds was a particular favourite as it was located so close to the pub – everyone’s happy!

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Of course, you can’t come to Butlins and not visit the Splash water world! Now, I’m not the biggest fan of indoor pools they take me right back to my school days but I was pleasantly surprised. There were plenty of changing rooms available although I’d have like to of seen more family changing rooms as it was a little difficult trying to get five people dried and dressed when split between three changing rooms! There are high chairs and change mats available for babies which helped us be a little more hands free to help Logan and Flo get dried and dressed.

The pool area itself was clean and large. The kids had a blast and loved floating around the lazy river. Elsie was able to go almost everywhere in her swim ring which made for a lovely, inclusive family experience.

During the evenings we were able to relax whilst the kids watched one of the many shows put on by the fantastic entertainment teams. The first night we watched The Wizard of Oz, the next evening was a show produced by Justin Fletcher and the final evening was an adaption of Dick Whittington. The kids were engrossed in all the shows and sat right at the front. With the redcoats keeping an eye on them we felt comfortable sitting a little further back and enjoying a drink.

butlins minehead reviewOn Sunday morning we found our seats in the Skyline Pavillion to watch the Teletubbies show. Once again the kids sat at the front and Elsie sat with us – she was absolutely loving it and even did her first ever wave at the Teletubbies! It was the cutest thing!

If we’d have had another day we could have taken the kids bowling, go karting or on the zip wire. There were also lots of indoor activities such as crafting or learning to play the drums but as the weather was so great we made the most of it! There really is plenty to do come rain or shine!

butlins minehead review

Service & facilities

There really isn’t any need to leave Butlins during your stay. The site has numerous food outlets and shops to buy everyday essentials and the swimming pool stocks all the things you might need for yourself or the kids e.g. swim nappies, swimming costumes and float aids. There are cash machines on site if required which charge £1.25 per withdrawal, however, I do believe that cash back is available on site if you spend over £5.

In terms of facilities for babies I was really impressed. Baby food is readily available in the restaurants and we also found a microwave, bottle warmer and more baby food available in Bar Rosso in the Skyline Pavillion. Butlins really have tried to make it as easy for parents as possible.

We don’t tend to need baby change facilities as much nowadays as Elsie is getting a little older but I did stick my head in the baby change room in the ladies toilets located at the theatre and the facilities were spotless! I completely forgot to ask Matt to see if the gents had one too.

butlins minehead review

The staff we came into contact with her certainly a credit to Butlins. They were friendly, helpful and in good supply! There was always someone to help you out if you were lost, or keep your kids entertained whilst you waited for a show to start. One member of staff which really made us smile was the restaurant greeter at The Deck and Yacht Club – we didn’t catch his name but he made the kids laugh every morning. The staff in the restaurant itself made an effort to chat and keep the tables clear.

The buffets in the restaurants were always clean and tidy and everything felt hygienic and as clean as I would expect it to be.

Overall experience

Matt and I both agreed that Butlins far exceeded our expectations; from the accommodation to the facilities and food. There’s no denying that we all laughed from beginning to end and were completely exhausted when the time came to check out but this wouldn’t be a real review if I didn’t mention the few items which I felt could have been improved upon.

A few things I’d like to see improved are; the quality of the decor and atmosphere in The Yacht Club (it needs to feel premium if people are paying extra for it), the quantity of family changing facilities in the Splash centre and a mirror provided in the en-suite bathroom of the chalet.

In an ideal world Butlins could introduce some kind of cashless system whereby extra meals or purchases on site are charged back to your room.

I’d like to say a massive thank you to Butlins for choosing us ambassadors. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Butlins Minehead – it was the total opposite to what we expected and provided us with much needed family time. I’d recommend it in an instant and would love to see how Bognor Regis and Skegness compare!

If you’ve been to Butlins let me know what you thought in the comments below!

 

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city breaks for kids

I think there’s a common misconception that city breaks are just for adults; when in actual fact that couldn’t be further from the truth. In my opinion holidays are all about experiences and making memories. Doing and seeing things you might not otherwise have the chance to do. Many of my favourite childhood memories stem from holidays abroad exploring exciting places.

I always thought having children restricted where I could travel to and what we could do on holiday. But in reality the world is your oyster, if you want it to be. With access to some of the worlds most iconic cities on our doorsteps there really isn’t any excuse to feel confined.

Just because you’re visiting a city doesn’t mean you can’t do traditional holiday activities such as visiting the beach. Take some time out from sightseeing on one of Miami or Cape Towns many beaches. Cape Town has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and, if you’re lucky, you might even spot a penguin or two paddling in the shallow water. Going on safari and visiting Cape Town has always been on my bucket list and I’d love to share it with my family.

I’ve never been but my sister lives in New York and it sounds like an amazing place to take the kids. What do kids love best of all? Going to the park, and what could be better than a trip to Central Park; one of the worlds most iconic parks. Take a trip to Central Park Zoo, hire bicycles or if you’re visiting at Christmas take to the ice with a spot of ice skating. The possibilities are endless – you just have to think like a kid!

We can’t talk about exploring exciting places without mentioning the Far East. It’s always been on my bucket list and, once I’m done having kids, I plan on escaping out to the likes of Singapore or Bangkok. The culture is so far removed from our own that I think it would be a real eye opener. The lights, technology and skyline alone would blow my sons mind for sure! Florence would be in her element; Hello Kitty and other cute animated characters as far as the eye can see no doubt!

There really isn’t any need to restrict where you plan to travel when you have kids, no more than you would when travelling as a couple anyway (unless you plan on scaling Everest of course). Kids minds are like little sponges pre-adolescence and they really do gain from varied and rich experiences. Both myself and my husband spent a lot of time abroad as youngsters and it’s a love of travel and exploration that’d we love to pass on to our kids and city breaks are a fantastic way to do it!

city breaks with kids

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It’s only the 5th January yet I can feel myself longing for some foreign travel, family time, a change of scenery and, dare I say it, some sun! The cold weather of January always catches me out. Ice should be for December. Come January I’m ready to see blossom on the trees and the beginnings of Daffodils poking through.

It’s not very often we don’t have any kind of holiday or weekend away planned. We love to travel and we love to have something to look forward to, who doesn’t right?  This year, our adventures start in February albeit we aren’t travelling too far.

During 2016 I became a Butlins ambassador and we’ve finally managed to plan a short break in the February half term at the Minehead resort. I’ve never been to Butlins and I’m excited to see what it’s like versus my expectations. I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’ve always been a little dubious about what I’d find at Butlins but I think I’m going to be pleasantly surprised. We’re staying in a three bedroomed lakeside chalet – they look stunning on the website and from existing reviews they sound like they’re as good as the pictures portray.  As part of my Butlins ambassadorship I will be blogging and vlogging our stay so if you’re thinking of visiting anytime soon stay tuned for our honest experiences.

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Eight weeks later we’ll be jetting off to the Canary Islands, more specifically Fuerteventura. We’ve booked the same hotel we stayed at two years ago as we were so impressed with it and it’s location was ideal for us – walking distance to a beautifully clean and safe beach, playgrounds and plenty of local shops and bars.  Travelling as a family of five will be….interesting to say the least.  The packing invariably falls to me and so I feel I may need to come up with some actual packing lists for each person just to keep myself on track.  Packing for five people for a ten night break will quickly get confusing….that’s at least forty pairs of underwear plus a gazillion nappies!

caleta de fuste, barcelo

No sooner have we unpacked our cases we’ll be repacking them to head to Alton Towers during Whit week. We’ve booked a two night break to celebrate all the kids birthdays; Elsie’s in May, Logan’s in June and Florence’s in July! Soon to be two birthday celebrations in July!!

We visited Alton Towers in March 2016 and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was about 31 weeks pregnant last time we went and I’ll be about the same this time too.  Funny how things workout.

We’re staying in the Moon Voyager Room of the Alton Towers hotel which wasn’t our first choice but the enchanted lodges were astronomical prices!  I think we paid around £600 for the two nights, which isn’t cheap by any means, however the woodland lodges were well over £700.  You have to draw a line somewhere! But, when we considered what we spent out for a birthday party for Florence last year and what you get for your £600 I think it’s a pretty fair price.

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In terms of planned travel, that’s all we have booked up. BUT….I doubt that’s all we’ll do! We’d usually do a couple of days out during August and we’ve got a couple of passes for National Trust properties so we shall probably be making use of these when the holidays run out! However, with baby due in July it might throw a small spanner in the travel plans or a while!

It’s usually around summer that we start thinking about Christmas and this year we really regretted not booking something up.  We’ve been to Cornwall for the last two New Years but this year, sadly, Matt needed to work. It soon dawned on us, however, that Florence doesn’t start school until a week after most people so it would have been an ideal time to snap up a bargain and travel to the sun!

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It’s already been well over a month since we returned from Crete.  I had the best of intentions to get a post up as soon as we returned so I wouldn’t forget a single detail but, as it tends to do, life got well and truly in the way! Florence started school a few days after we returned, some of our best friends got married and Elsie decided 4am was a good time to start the day!

The holiday came out of nowhere really, we found ourselves with a little extra free time before Florence started school and we thought we should really make the most of the cheaper deals once the schools had gone back after the summer break. We’ve stayed at the Sensatori resort in Egypt previously and it was stunning and I’d seen a few photos of Sensatori Crete online and read some good reviews so we booked it up. Sensatori resorts are renowned for being family friendly as well as a little luxurious and this holiday certainly didn’t disappoint.

We flew out to Crete with Thomson on a Dreamliner.  Matt and I both love flying so we were chuffed to be on one of these snazzy aeroplanes – not least because Matt is well over 6ft and tends to struggle with leg room on a standard aeroplane. Dreamliner’s are a little speedier and so the the flight time was only about 3.5hrs. I can’t lie; we were both nervous about flying with a 3 month old baby but we needn’t have been as she was as good as gold. Elsie fell asleep during take off as she’d just guzzled a bottle and woke up about an hour later and was quite happy wondering around the aeroplane or just standing and having a nose on our laps.  The young couple sat across the aisle from us complimented both girls on their behaviour during the flight and also loved Florence’s window stickers and had never seen anything like them before.

We landed in Crete early afternoon and waited on the transfer bus for what seemed like forever. It was my first time in Crete and it seemed like such a barren place; buildings half finished, not much going on and homes fairly run down. I’d only ever really seen the popular tourist resorts on TV so it was a contrast to what I’d imagined. However, the sea was stunning en route to our hotel and shimmered in the sun. It was the most beautiful bright blue-green colour.

We arrived at the hotel around 2:30pm, just in time for lunch and, whilst waiting to be taken to the restaurant, I noticed Jacqueline Jossa (Lauren Branning, Eastenders), Dan Osboune and their family also waiting around. I thought that if this hotel is good enough for a soap star then it’s gotta be ok!

After lunch we were shown to our room.  It was in the closest block to the main restaurant and lobby which was handy with the kids and we’d also paid to upgrade our room to a swim up room.  Now, in our heads a swim up room has a channel of water, a bit like a lazy river, passing by so you can float around the resort.  However, what we actually got was a semi-private pool between us and three other rooms.  It was stunning but, you know when somethings just not quite as you’d pictured it to be?  The water in the pool was pretty cold so you really did need to wait until the sun had been shining for a few hours before braving it but that didn’t stop Florence and she was in there pre 9am most days! The room itself was huge and the kids beds were behind a set of sliding doors which was ideal as it meant Matt and I could stay up a little later without disturbing them too much. Having said that whenever we did stay up later in our room we usually sat on the balcony as we could hear the entertainment and people watch those stumbling back from the bar.

Before we left the UK we pre-booked (payable) afternoon sessions for Elsie in the nursery so we had a couple of hours a day to unwind.  Florence was really keen to see what the kids club was all about and so we took her along to a session and she loved it and ended up spending large parts of the day with them.  It was really good; they ran morning and afternoon sessions and then there was either a party or movie from 7:30pm-9:30pm and best of all it was all included in the price.  During our stay both girls had a sleepover in the nursery until about 11:30pm which meant Matt and I had a proper evening to ourselves to enjoy dinner and drinks in the adult only areas.

Speaking of which, the adults only area was always really busy but was well separated from the family zones.  The family zones were great – especially the spray ground. The water was shallow enough for kids to play in without too much worry and the equipment was all non slip and very clean.  My only little moan about the spray ground area is that the sun loungers were of a lower quality to those in the rest of the resort. Oh and one other thing….the floors are so slippery in some areas of the resort; especially around the main pool.  The staff tried their best to lay mats down wherever they could but we did see a few people take a tumble.

The bar service during the day was good. We were staying at Sensatori Crete on an all inclusive basis and so drinks were flowing all day long; the prosecco was good (and I should know) but the wine wasn’t up to much and could have been mistaken for Sarsons! There were loads of other drinks on offer for the kids too including milkshakes and slushies.

The resort itself was pristine and this was no more evident then in the buffet restaurant. We’ve had some bad experiences of buffet restaurants whilst on holiday but this one was lovely. Absolutely sparkling clean, well managed, plenty of staff and lots of useful signage. The food variety was good local dishes as well as the usual fare. Thankfully we managed to avoid the dessert table most nights but they looked incredible.  Had I let myself my 4lb weight gain over the week would have been more like 14lb!

I’ve done enough waffling now so I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking.  I also made a mini video of our stay to capture some of those moments I’d like to remember such as Florence and Elsie swimming.

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