Coleshill WWII Operational Base

Address: Coleshill, near Swindon, Wiltshire, SN6 7PT

Price Band: FREE!

Website: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/the-buscot-and-coleshill-estates/whats-on

We were lucky enough a few months ago to visit the replica World War II Operational Base at Coleshill which is owned by the National Trust.  As my 9 year old stepdaughter has got quite an interest in history I was keen to take up the opportunity to visit somewhere that really brings history to life.

The replica bunker was built by a team of volunteers and National Trust staff to show people what life was like for Churchill’s last line of defence, the Auxiliers. The bunker is only open on certain days and to view it you have a guided tour by one of the knowledgeable volunteers.

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We arrived and parked in the village car park which was literally metres from the bunker. We spent some time looking at the display of World War II items and reading about how the bunker was built whilst waiting for our tour to begin.  You don’t need to book a time slot for this.  Just turn up and join the next tour to start.

The gentleman doing our tour was very friendly and clearly knew his stuff. His knowledge and the way he conducted the tour kept everyone captivated,even the children who were part of the group.  His stories of how the bunker was built, as well as how it would have been used, were fascinating.  We took a short walks through the woods and passed a replica ‘observation post’ along the way.  This is where a soldier would have been positioned to watch for enemies approaching and had a telephone line through to the operational base so the soldier could warn the rest of the group.

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When we reached the opening to the bunker we were met by a steep ladder going down into a dark narrow hole and I was a little unsure as to how we were actually going to fit down there but we all managed it, even our 3 year Cody (who thought it  was completely awesome getting to climb down the ladder himself!).

The operational base was lit by candles and the tour guide’s torch. We stood in the main ‘living’ area of the base as our guide told us what life would have been like living in here and explained the layout of the bunker.  There was a toilet in a small room, shelves for food storage and weapons by the entrance, then the larger living area which housed a table and bunk beds.

We exited the bunker through the emergency escape tunnel which leads out on to the track where we first started the tour.  It is amazing how the entrance to the tunnel is concealed by a false wall which matches the rest of the wall and is completely invisible if you walk along the path when it is closed.  This of course was very important for keeping the operational base’s location secret.

After visiting the operational base we headed up the road to the replica radio post which is cleverly disguised as a chicken coop.  In here there would have been a soldier based to send and receive radio messages.

I really love places like this where children can experience first hand what it would have been like for soldiers in the operational base.  It gives a much deeper understanding than simply reading about it in a book and they remember what they have learned because the trip really stood out as something different to anything they had done before.

Down the road there is the Coleshill Mill which is often open on the same days as the Operational Base so you could visit this as well while you are in the area. There are some lovely grounds for walking and exploring as well.

The Operational Base can only be visited during special open days so please check the National Trust website using the link at the top of this page to check dates/times.  If you have mobility issues or small babies I wouldn’t recommend trying to get down into the Operational Base but you could still explore the rest of the area.  If you want to bring history to life with your kids then this place is perfect.  We had a great time and better still it was free of charge whether you are National Trust members or not.  Of course donations are welcome and help with the upkeep of the displays and base.  There is lots more information on the history of the Coleshill Estate here: http:/www.coleshillhouse.com/ghq-coleshill.php

Disclaimer: The National Trust and Coleshill Estate had no involvement in this review. All photos, words and opinions are that of my own 🙂

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Legoland hotel

Legoland Hotel Junior Builders Week

Address: Winkfield Road, Windsor, SL4 4AY

Price Band:£££

Website: http://www.legolandholidays.co.uk/legoland-windsor-events/february-half-term.html

Over the last couple of years we have enjoyed a trip to the Legoland Hotel for Junior Builders Week. This is a fab opportunity to stay at the hotel and experience it in all its Lego glory without the price tag that it usually carries. Junior Builders Week is held during February half term and has a different theme each year. The theme park itself is closed so you do not have access to any of the rides. However,there are always lots of activities going on in the hotel centred around that years theme plus you have access to the hotel swimming pool. Last year’s theme was pirates so there was a treasure hunt around the hotel, Lego pirate flag building competition, etc. In 2015 it was a Lego Movie theme. One of the activities that year was to build a huge Lego mosaic of minifigure characters which is now on display in the hotel play area. Lois is pictured pointing to the part which she contributed to the mosaic.

For 2017 the theme is Ninjago which I’m sure will be hugely popular.

Now about the whole Legoland Hotel experience.  The car park is directly opposite the hotel and is free for guests.  You walk under a large smoke breathing dragon to enter the hotel into an incredible foyer filled with Lego models and so many things to see.

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It’s quite breathtaking when you walk in as there is literally so much to see and take in all at once.  It is bright, full of colour and has so many intricate little details, this is a Lego fan’s idea of paradise!  My absolute favourite is the minifigure wall behind the reception desk.  It literally has thousands of minifigures on there and if you are lucky enough the receptionist’s may let you take a closer look during quieter periods.  There is also a brick pit in the reception area where children can make their own models and they have a challenge each day for them to take part in.

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There is a small shop in the foyer selling Lego merchandise, including a couple of things which are exclusive to Legoland.  As part of the hotel stay package deal all of the children receive a Lego polybag set in their accommodation and usually a small box set as well to take part in the builders workshop activity which takes place during your stay.  These are the ones we received in 2016 as part of the pirate theme.  To find the polybag in the bedroom the children have to solve a number of puzzles to get the safe code.  Great fun!

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There are a variety of different themed bedrooms to choose from at the hotel.  In 2015 we stayed in an ‘Kingdom’ themed room. For 2016 as it was a pirate themed week we opted for the ‘Pirate’ themed bedroom.  Like the other Merlin hotels we have stayed in the bedrooms are always decorated to a high standard and are very comfortable.  The children’s area has bunk beds with a 3rd trundle bed underneath to accommodate up to 3 children.  They get their own TV and a puzzle game built into the wall.  The adult’s area has a large kingsize bed, dressing table, TV and armchair.  There is also an ensuite and wardrobe/storage space separating the 2 sleeping areas plus a kettle and selection of hot drinks to help yourself to.  The pictures below show the ‘Kingdom’ themed bedroom.

The activities which take place during your stay vary depending on the theme of the week but there is usually a builders workshop on your first day.  This is where everyone gathers in the main entertainment area at the centre of the hotel and builds their free Lego set with the help of staff members.  This can get extremely crowded so be warned if you want a seat get there early.

Another activity they always have is character meet and greets.  A variety of Lego characters wander round the hotel at different times for the children to meet and have photos with.  Generally there is one in reception during check in time (around 3pm), during the evening entertainment and outside the Bricks restaurant at breakfast time.  Again the characters tend to match the theme of the week although there are some generic ones too.  Of course Lego t-shirts, and fancy dress are always encouraged.

The evening entertainment consists of party games and childrens disco followed by a bedtime story.  In 2016 for the pirate themed week they held a pirate fancy dress competition which was judged by Captain Blackbeard himself.  The only downside we found was that the entertainment finishes around 9pm which we felt was quite early.

Your evening meal is not included in the package deal for your stay but you can book a table at the Bricks Restaurant in the hotel or go somewhere off site.  We always go to Bricks as its easier and the food is generally good.  It is a buffet style restaurant where you pay a fixed price and help yourself to whatever you like. There is a good variety from meat and veg to pasta dishes and curry plus a special kids counter with all their favourites.  Make sure you try the brick chips which are a firm favourite of ours.  Your breakfast (which is included in the package) is also buffet style in the Bricks restaurant.  For breakfast you can have traditional English cooked breakfast or continental pastries, yoghurts, cereal, fruit, etc.

On the 2nd day of your stay there are more activities to take part in around the hotel as well as access to the on-site swimming pool which has a very cool pirate ship slide in the kids area.  There is also an outdoor play area for the kids to run around and burn off some energy plus the main entertainment area by the Bricks restaurant has large Lego bricks for building with and several Xbox’s to play Lego games on.

The organised activities vary depending on the theme of the week but we have done a Lego flag building competition, giant mosaic builders and pirate treasure hunt around the hotel.

Once completed they received either a certificate or an exclusive pop badge depending on the activity.  Kids love collecting the pop badges and you can get them from all Merlin venues.  The staff will swap with you too if you see one you like.  Get yourselves a lanyard to keep them on and don’t forget to take it with you whenever you visit a Merlin attraction.  We have a large collection of them now so the kids have a lanyard each to wear.  We also have a Lego luggage tag attached to each one so if they ever get lost they know to go to a member of staff and show the the contact details on the luggage tag.  Not only a cool collectors thing to wear but great for safety too!

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So if you have any Lego fans in the family I highly recommend booking a trip to the Legoland Hotel during Junior Builders Week (February half term).  Its great fun and a great way to experience the fab themed hotel without the price tag it comes with during the theme park season.  Just remember you CANNOT access the theme park during this week so it is hotel access and activities only.  Pack your swim kits and your camera and enjoy!

Merlin and Legoland have had no involvement in this review and all photos, words and opinions are that of my own 🙂

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Alton towers

Santa Sleepover At Alton Towers

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Address: Farley Lane, Alton, Stoke-On-Trent, ST10 4DB

Price Band: £££

Website: https://www.altontowers.com/

We have just returned home from absolutely the most magical Christmassy weekend ever!!  From start to finish we have had such a fabulous time that we couldn’t even choose a ‘highlight’ of the weekend because it was all so good!  Be prepared – this blog is a long one full of gorgeous festive photos and Christmas loveliness!

We arrived at the Alton Towers Resort after a long 2.5 hour journey and woke Lois and Cody just in time to drive past the big banners for CBeebies Land.  They hadn’t had a clue where we were going so you can imagine their excitement!  When we parked and walked into the hotel they couldn’t believe their ears when they realised we were also staying the night.  Best surprise ever!  We booked in and found that our room was already available for us (we didn’t expect to be able to check in until the afternoon) so of course we took our key cards and headed straight upstairs to explore. (P.S. how lush is this welcome desk?! Love all the old trunks and suitcases!).

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Our Room.

Our bedroom was AMAZING.  We had booked a ‘Moon Voyage’ themed room for the night.  The decor throughout the room has an outer space theme to it but mixed with a time travel feel as well and lots of futuristic inventors features. There is a door which makes it interjoinable (is that even a word?!) with the room next door so if you are going as a group or a large family you can book two rooms that have direct access to each other – fab idea!  We particularly loved the portal in the kids area which lights up and is touch sensitive to your fingertips.  The kids area has bunk beds (with individual reading lights) and a TV with Xbox to play on!  This kept the little monkeys quiet while we were getting changed to go out for dinner.

The ‘grown-ups’ area has a lovely king size bed with bedside tables and lamps, 2 armchairs, coffee table and large TV.  We were also joined by ‘Beartrice’ the bear who lives in the room.

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There is a wardrobe area with plenty of hangers and several shelves as well as an iron and ironing board in case you need it.  One of the shelves contains a serving tray with kettle, mugs, tea, coffee, milk and biscuits plus there is a mini fridge in one of the cupboards.  This is the first Merlin hotel we have stayed in with a mini fridge in the room and was perfect for keeping our bottles of water cool (had we known we’d have taken a few ‘adult’ beverages along too 😉 ).  One of the drawers contains a hairdryer. Unfortunately we discovered that ours didn’t work (10 minutes before our dinner reservation with me stood there with soaking wet hair – AARRGHH!!).  A quick phone call to reception though and housekeeping brought us another one up.

The en-suite bathroom is fully ‘themed’ out too.  We particularly loved the picture of Sir Algenon sat on the toilet on the back of the door.  It certainly got a few whispered giggles from the kids when they found it!  There are plenty of towels plus soap, body wash and shampoo provided in the bathroom so no need to take any along.  This is standard in all the Merlin hotels we have visited (Legoland and Chessington).  The shower was very powerful and easy to operate.

CBeebies Land

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We went to the car park where there was a shuttle bus service taking guests to the theme park entrance.  On arrival we headed straight to CBeebies Land which of course was very exciting indeed.  We were greeted by the familiar voices of Andy and all the other CBeebies presenters welcoming us to the park.  Cody was desperate to go on Iggle Piggle’s boat ride so that was our first stop.  We queued for about 15 minutes singing along to the theme tune then boarded our boat. It was a lovely gentle ride with running commentary on board as we passed the various characters.  I have to admit – I loved it!  When Lilian was little she was obsessed with In The Night Garden so we know it inside out and I loved our little trip down memory lane.

Our next ride was Postman Pat’s Parcel Post.  The kids both sat in the front and ‘drove’ the van around Greendale, selecting the correct parcel on the driver’s panel to give each character as we passed them.  I liked this added touch as it made the ride interactive rather than just a sit and ride round the track one that you often see.

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The Get Set Go Treetop Adventure was a particular favourite of ours. You can sit up to 3 people in a pod that goes round a track which I believe is 4 metres high above Cbeebies Land. We listened to Andy from Cbeebies on the way round talking about the bugs and giving us a tour. Its a lovely gentle ride with fab views over the park and any age can ride.

There were lots of other rides and things to explore in CBeebies Land including the Octonauts rollercoaster, Justin’s House Pie Factory, etc.  We loved the squares dotted along the pavement that had the handprints of various CBeebies stars including Mr Bloom, Nina, Mr Tumble, etc done in a Hollywood star style.  Fab idea.

Although most of the theme park was closed for the winter there were a few things in Mutiny Bay and Cloud Cuckoo Land which were open including several rides, the sea life centre and the Ice Age 4D cinema (which was fab!).  I would definitely like to go back in the summer months to explore the rest of the park as well.

Pantomime

After a fun few hours in the theme park we headed back to the hotel and went to see the pantomime of Aladdin.  It had some lovely sets, fab costumes and the actors did really well.  There were loads of bean bags at the front for kids to sit on which I thought was a great idea.  The show was full of good humour and lots of songs. We really enjoyed it.

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Santa’s Grotto

After the pantomime we hopped back on the shuttle bus to the theme park and went to visit Santa in his grotto.  We had booked a specific time slot however, due to the panto over-running, we arrived late and in a bit of a panic.  It wasn’t a problem though and our guide elf Crackers introduced himself and led us through the enchanted wood to Santa’s log cabin.  I am so glad we opted for a time slot when it was dark as the pathways and log cabin looked beautiful all lit up and it created such a magical atmosphere.  Inside the cabin itself the decor was beautiful with a gorgeous tree in one corner, writing desk , armchair and cosy furnishings.  Santa was lovely and talked to the kids about what they would like for Xmas and asked them to leave him a mince pie out on Xmas Eve (just don’t tell Mrs Claus!).  They then chose a gift each from his box to take home.

The Evening

Our sleepover package included a 3 course Christmas carvery meal in the Secret Garden Restaurant at the hotel.  Now I have to admit this is where the standard of things slipped slightly and we felt a little disappointed, although not enough to be a big issue.  You are supposed to order your starters and drinks on arrival from a waiter, then help yourself to the buffet style carvery, then order your desserts from a waiter. After waiting quite some time though it became apparent that we weren’t going to be served as it was just so busy and we were so hungry we decided just to go straight for the carvery.  The food was lovely, really good quality meat sliced from the joint in front of you (turkey, beef or honey glazed ham) plus lots of different vegetables to choose from.  The kids buffet options included roast chicken, sausages, mash potato, chips, peas, beans, macaroni cheese, etc so plenty to keep everyone happy.  You could eat as much as you liked and it was all delicious.  After 3 attempts we managed to order some drinks and then our desserts which were also lovely.  I was so hungry and busy stuffing my face I forgot to take any food pics apart from my dessert (rubbish blogger – sorry!).

The entertainment after our meal was a group of 3 singers and a guitarist called ‘The Fabulous Scott Family’ who sang all the best Christmas songs such as ‘Walking In A Winter Wonderland’ and they were absolutely brilliant.  The atmosphere in the place was so festive and lovely it really gave you that warm fuzzy feeling inside (you know what I mean?!).  If you head over to my facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/mumof2point5/) I will post a video on there so you can see for yourselves. Don’t forget to like my page while you’re there!

Day 2

After a very comfortable nights sleep in our lovely hotel bed we awoke to find letters under the door from Santa.  The kids had written him a letter each the day before and posted it in the special letter box in reception.  It was very exciting to read their replies and I thought it was a lovely little extra touch which we weren’t expecting.

We filled ourselves up at the buffet style breakfast which had everything from cereals and fruit to continental and full english.  You just helped yourself to whatever you wanted. We then did a little souvenir shopping in the hotel shop and explored.  The hotel was so beautiful with all the Christmas decorations up and all the staff were incredibly friendly.  It definitely got a 10/10 from us.

We headed over to the adventure golf course and played a fun 18 holes.  Of course Cody didn’t really understand how to play so we mostly let him do his own thing but somehow by sheer fluke he scored a hole in one on the very first hole!! I wish I’d got it on video as his celebration was hilarious.  We were all gobsmacked!  The holes were each themed around a ride in the theme park and each start board had a map of the hole and information about the ride it was representing. It was so cleverly done!  We had a fab time and I would highly recommend paying a little extra to do this.

Finally we headed over to the Splash Landings Waterpark and donned our swimsuits.   Now I kid you not, this place is every child’s dream!  It literally is awesome!  The waterpark is a huge indoor resort with loads of different pools, flumes, lazy river, water jungle gym, etc.  You can easily spend all day in here and not get bored.  There are even pools outside with flumes for all ages to ride.  We particularly loved the ‘Bubbly wubbly’ pool ouside which was almost a jacuzzi style pool.  It was so surreal being outside on a freezing cold day in November just in our swimsuits.  I did feel a bit sorry for the lifeguard though who was just a little cold!  There are loads and loads of seats and tables around the pool and a cafe serving drinks and food.  So if you feel a little peckish, no need to get dressed, just sit and eat on poolside! Love it!  Sadly I was a rubbish blogger again at this point as I was too busy having fun to take photos apart from this one taken through a window on the way out.  This pic shows only half of it!

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All in all we had the most amazing time at the Alton Towers resort and I would very highly recommend doing the Santa Sleepover weekend if you can.  It was definitely great value for money and we would do it again in a heartbeat.  We’ve done the Chessington and Legoland hotels before but this one definitely tops the leader board.

Thank you Alton Towers for an amazing experience – I promise you we will be back!

Disclaimer: Alton Towers and Merlin have had no involvement in this review and all words, opinions and photos are that of my own 🙂

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Jurassic skyline

Jurassic Skyline

Address: Festival Pier, Weymouth, DT4 8DX

Price Band: ££

Website: Jurassic Skyline

On the beautiful seafront at Weymouth you cannot fail to miss the huge tower on the pier known as the Jurassic Skyline.  This huge tower has a glass gondola around it which takes passengers 53m (174ft) up in the air and turns 360º not once but twice to allow amazing views over Weymouth and the jurassic coastline.  To put its height into perspective, the Tower Of London is just 90ft high, making the Jurassic Skyline tower almost twice as high!!

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We visited the Jurassic Skyline after our trip to Weymouth Sea Life Centre as our ticket included both attractions.  The ride is suitable for all ages and has one set price for all (under 3s go free) if you are purchasing a tower only ticket.  You need to allow approximately 30 minutes to queue and ride the tower.  It moves very slowly but can be a little scary for those afraid of heights – whatever you do DON’T LOOK DOWN!!!

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The views from the top are beautiful. As you go round there is an audio tour playing over the speakers giving you landmarks to look for.  Do take your camera as on a clear day you can see as far as 26 km (16 miles)!  Its a fab way to view the Weymouth seafront and over to Portland.

We took all 3 kids on with us and they loved it.  There was so much to spot and its such a unique experience, they really enjoyed it.  As it isn’t too long they don’t have time to get bored either.  The timing was just right.

I think if you are in Weymouth (especially if you visit the Sea Life centre and get a joint ticket) it is well worth a visit.  There weren’t any toilets there as far as I could see and there isn’t any need to eat there due to the short period of time you would spend there.  Along the seafront you will find plenty of restaurants and cafes though.  Pay and display parking is on the pier next to the tower.  It can get busy but there are always people coming and going so it doesn’t take long to get a space.  There isn’t space for pushchairs on the gondola but you can leave them at the bottom and pick it up as you leave.  As you exit the ride there is an opportunity to have your photo taken against a green screen and all sorts of backgrounds applied (such as looking like you are sat on top of the actual gondola!) which makes a nice souvenir.

Disclaimer: No-one from Jurassic Skyline or its parent companies was involved in this review. All photos, words and opinions are that of my own 🙂

Also In The Area:  Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park

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Funky Teapot

The Funky Teapot

Address: Grove Street, Oxfordshire, OX12 7Ab

Price Band: £-£££

Website:  www.thefunkyteapot.co.uk

Our 3 children were lucky enough to be given a voucher for The Funky Teapot pottery studio in Wantage, Oxfordshire for Easter, so last week we made use of it on a cold wet day when we wanted an indoor activity to do.  Like all kids, mine love making things but I hate having to deal with all the mess, so this was a perfect solution!

We arrived on Monday morning and were straight away in awe of the lovely display window in the street.  It is full of gorgeous creations and gift inspiration.  We were greeted by a friendly member of staff who showed us round and the children chose what they wanted to paint.  We opted for a Christmas decoration each which can be hung on the Christmas tree and treasured for years to come.  There is a huge assortment of things to paint ranging from £2 upwards.  Items include money boxes, ornaments, plates, vases, etc.  I was really impressed by the variety and there were so many ideas of how to paint them in the display cases.  Lots of great keepsake ideas for babies using their hand and foot prints as well as family plates and grandparent gifts.

After choosing our ornaments we were seated at a table and shown how to use the paints.  The member of staff gave helpful advice on which colours work well for each character but the children had free reign to choose whatever colours they liked and they set to work.

One thing I really like about the studio is the size of it and how bright it is.  There are tables set up ready for painting and as it’s all on street level you can easily take pushchairs, etc in there.  It is lovely and light in there so you can clearly see all the details on your item as you paint it.  Once the children had finished painting the member of staff dried their ornaments using a drying machine.

With the ornaments now dry the children were given a special pencil to use to write their names on the back and the year (lets face it, without that in 10 years time when they are still being hung on the tree we’ll all be bickering over when they made them and how old they were!).  We were told the ornaments would then be glazed and put in the kiln and fired for 24 hours at a temperature of 1000ºC!!!!

As the firing process takes some time the staff recommend collecting your item/s the following week.  If you have something you need done urgently though just ask them and they may be able to get it ready for you quicker.  We went back to collect ours a week later and they look fab!  We cant wait to add some ribbon to them and get them hung on the Christmas tree.  I am sure they will be treasured for years to come and at only £5 each I think they are a brilliant keepsake as well as a lovely morning activity to enjoy and remember.  I really recommend this place, especially with kids as it’s so easy to get pushchairs in there if you want baby items but also such an enjoyable experience for anyone of any age.  They even do ladies nights, birthdays and hen parties!  Parking is in the Sainsburys car park literally just around the corner which is free. Its a 2 minute walk – if that!  This was the perfect rainy day activity and the kids cant wait to go again 🙂

Disclaimer: The staff at The Funky Teapot have had no involvement in this review and all photos, words and opinions are that of my own.

Also In The Area: Farmer Gows

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Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park

Address: Lodmoor Country Park, Preston Beach Road, Weymouth, DT4 7SX

Price Band: £££ (can use Tesco clubcard vouchers/Merlin pass)

Website: https://www2.visitsealife.com/weymouth/

In the Easter holidays we spent a few days down in Weymouth to celebrate my birthday and so of course we had to visit Weymouth’s top attraction, Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park.  This place is home to thousands of sea creatures from turtles to jellyfish, penguins to crocodiles, it literally has everything you can imagine and more that you have never even heard of!

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The park is set out into different zones. These include shipwreck, penguins, ray lagoon, turtle sanctuary and ocean tunnel, to name a few.  Follow the pathway around the site to make sure you don’t miss anything as there is lots to see and it is well spread out throughout the grounds (although fairly compact so not too much walking).  The children all get a trail book each to complete on their way round and there are often activities to take part in as well.  The zones with aquariums in are undercover but the rest of it is outdoors so we found it is best to visit on a dry day to really make the most of it. There is a play park and splash pool as well as a sensory garden to enjoy if you need a break to let off steam.  There are lots of benches and picnic tables around as well.

The aquariums are all fantastic. They are built in a way that everyone can see and feel close to the sea creatures without intruding and the variety of things to see is incredible.  Having the zones set out so they have different species in each one keeps it interesting and not quite so overwhelming.  We particularly liked the sea horses and jellyfish.

The ray lagoon is fantastic.  They are such graceful creatures and fascinating to watch.  There were some we had never seen before and their aquarium was beautiful.  As with all the zones there are lots of information boards around telling you about the different creatures in each habitat.  The one pictured below is called a Cownose Ray!

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Of course no sea life centre is complete without an ocean tunnel.  The famous walk-through experience where you are in a glass tunnel with sea creatures swimming over your head.  The one at Weymouth is fab and has so much to see, although Cody wasn’t so sure and found it very scary having huge sharks swimming overhead!

After lots of time spent looking at the various aquariums we decided to head outside into the sunshine for a while and try out some of the rides in the Adventure Island zone.  These included a tug boat, seal ride, bouncer and the crocodile creek (mini log flume).  Rides were all included in the admission fee so the kids could ride as many times as they like.  The crocodile creek log flume was particularly good as it goes through a tunnel where real caiman crocodiles are in a glass enclosure for you to see.  Very cool!

Our final stop was to see the seals.  You can view them from above water level or below water level.  They come so close to the glass as they swim past, it was very exciting!  At certain times during the day you can see the seals being fed and listen to their keeper tell you all about them.  This happens in lots of other areas of the park too with various other species so its worth checking those out.

All in all we had a fab time at the Sea Life Park and you can easily spend an entire day there, especially if the weather is fine.  On the downside it is quite expensive for a family to visit as everyone aged 3 years and over pays the same price.  If you can plan your trip in advance it is best to book online to get a discounted rate or better still use your tesco clubcard vouchers to get in free (like we did!).  If you are Merlin pass members you can also get in free.  They have crazy golf on site at an additional charge if you want to have a round.  If you travel by car it is a pay and display car park which again isn’t cheap so make sure you factor that into your budget.  Your ticket does include a ride on the Jurassic Coastline tower further down the beach which we really enjoyed.  I will do a separate review on that one but it is well worth it if you have the time to go.

On the plus side you can take your own picnic with you and there are plenty of picnic tables around or there is a large cafe alongside the gift shop if you want to purchase food.  The Sea Life Park is next to a country park so you could visit that as well while you are there if you want to.  The park is fully wheelchair and buggy friendly so you can easily access all areas and it is suitable for all ages (children aged 0-2 years get in free).  There are changing facilities in the disabled toilets too and buggy park areas around the park.  Don’t forget when your children have completed their trail cards take them to the gift shop on your way out to get your free pop badge!

Disclaimer:  Weymouth Sea Life Park and Merlin have had no involvement in this review and all photos, words and opinions are that of my own 🙂

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Hawk Conservancy Trust

Address: Weyhill, Andover, Hampshire, SP11 8DY

Price Band: £££

Website: http://www.hawk-conservancy.org/

In October half term we were lucky enough to have a trip to the Hawk Conservancy Trust in Andover.  One of my fondest memories of my childhood was visiting this place with my grandparents and little sister when I was about 9 years old and so I was really looking forward to taking my own children there to see how it had changed.

The HCT is home to over 150 birds of prey and includes a hospital building which treats up to 200 birds of prey per year, so it is a very busy place.  They conduct lots of research, breeding programs and conservation work both in the UK and abroad so its a hugely important place and the passion of each and every member of staff we met is infectious.

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On arrival at the visitor centre we were given our wrist bands, information booklet (with map) and kids trail passports.  We were directed by the receptionist round to the vulture enclosure where the keeper talk and vulture feeding was about to begin.  Now I’m not going to lie – I’m not the biggest fan of vultures.  Lets face it – who is???!  I have to admit though that by the time we had listened to the keeper’s talk I had grown a lot fonder of them.  The guy clearly loved his birds and knew not only about the species and various breeds but the birds as individuals as well.  He introduced us to them all by name and told us about their personalities and their backgrounds and also how endangered they are in the wild.  It was really fascinating and his enthusiasm and knowledge captured everyone.  Big thumbs up to him (If you ever read this – I apologise that I didn’t get your name!).

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Our next stop was the World Of Birds Of Prey flying display in the Savannah arena.  Here we got to met a number of beautiful birds and again the enthusiasm of the staff was fantastic.  They really do love what they do and you can see so much passion in them.  Their knowledge of the birds was second to none and we loved seeing so much variety in the display.

After the display had finished we had a wander round the grounds and did the kid’s trail passports.  There are stamps around the grounds to find and golden eggs hidden in the trees with pictures of an animal and a number on them to match up in your passport.  Hand them in to reception on your way out and the kids got a lollipop each!

The grounds themselves are lovely to explore, especially at this time of year with the beautiful colours of the autumn leaves.  The bird’s enclosures are well kept and spacious with information boards in front of each one about the breed and the individual living there.  As well as birds there are also 2 donkeys and some ferrets in residence.  The donkeys were very cute and loved having a fuss.

Later in the afternoon we made our way to Reg’s Wildflower Meadow at the top of the grounds for the Valley of The Eagles flying demonstration.  Now at this point I have a confession to make. I missed most of the show. Yep, pretty much the whole thing. Why you ask?  Well lets just say its great fun when your 3 year old decides to play the ‘I need a wee’, ‘Actually no i dont’ game.  And so I spent most of the time back at the visitor centre in the toilets.  From what I did get to see though and from what Danny and the girl’s told me it was fantastic.  They have up to 14 birds out flying at one time which is a really incredible experience. The wingspan on some of them is absolutely huge!  There are certainly a few occasions when ducking is essential!

At this point we had been at the Hawk Conservancy Trust for around 4 hours and I’m afraid to say that was our limit with a very grumpy 3 year old in tow so we headed home.  For the rest of the afternoon’s entertainment there was an opportunity for adults to handle and fly a hawk, ferret racing, woodland owls flying demonstration and wild heron and raptor feeding so you can easily spend the entire day there and I hope we will return at some point to do the bits we missed.

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On the whole we had a fantastic day out at the Hawk Conservancy Trust and I would highly recommend it, especially for families with children over 5.  Younger ones do enjoy it but we found it was hard for a 3 year old to sit through the flying displays without wanting to get up and run around (which I wouldn’t recommend with vultures, etc flying around!). You can easily spend the entire day there and the displays are all completely different and in different arenas so it doesn’t feel at all repetitive if you watch them all.  Price wise it isn’t the cheapest family day out, however, remember a large chunk of your admission is going towards important conservation work and the upkeep of these beautiful birds so its a well worthy cause.  There are plenty of picnic areas in the grounds if you want to take your own lunch or there is a lovely restaurant onsite.  The shop is full of beautiful wildlife themed gifts and you also have the opportunity to adopt one of the bird residents if you wish.  There are toilets and baby changing facilities in the restaurant and just outside the visitor centre and the whole site is buggy/wheelchair friendly with reserved wheelchair spaces at the front of each of the display arenas as well.

Disclaimer: The Hawk Conservancy Trust have had no involvement in this review and all photos, words and opinions are that of my own 🙂

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The Oxfordshire Museum

The Oxfordshire Museum

Address: Park Street, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, OX20 1SN

Price: FREE!

Website: https://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/cms/public-site/oxfordshire-museum

The Oxfordshire Museum is on the same site as the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock.  Admission is free so it’s a very popular place!  The museum is full of the history of Oxfordshire going as far back as Roman times.  It has lots of hands on things to do so the kids can really get involved in learning while having fun.

As well as history the museum has information about local wildlife and an innovation room with lots of science exhibits, some of which the children can have a go at.

There are several dressing up areas throughout the museum which are good fun. Lois and Cody particularly liked the rabbit costumes in the wildlife room!

The Roman room was particularly interesting. It had lots of artifacts found locally including a skeleton!  There was also a brass rubbing area where children can rub a Roman coin onto paper.  In the corner of the room is a touch screen with lots of additional information about the artifacts.

One thing I really like about this museum is that it has so many different themed rooms there is something to please everyone. It is bright and vibrant and the displays are interesting.  The hands on activities and dressing up are great fun for kids and really capture their imaginations.

On the downside, the museum is made up of lots of small rooms across 3 floors which can feel quite small and cramped, especially during busy periods. Navigating it with a buggy or wheelchair would be difficult although there is a stair lift to access each level for wheelchair users.  There is a small cafe onsite or picnic tables in the garden area outside if you wish to take your own.  You could probably spend around 1-2 hours looking round the museum and I would highly recommend visiting the Soldiers Of War Museum next door while you are there (see my blog post about that for more details: https://mumof2point5.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/soldiers-of-oxfordshire-museum/ ). There is parking out the front of the museum on the main street or a free public car park down the road.

Disclaimer: The Oxfordshire Museum have had no involvement in this review. All photos, words and opinions are that of my own.

Also In The Area:  Soldiers Of Oxfordshire Museum

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Soldiers of Oxfordshire museum

Soldiers Of Oxfordshire Museum

Address: Park Street, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, OX20 1SN

Price Band: £

Website: http://www.sofo.org.uk/

I stumbled across this place during a google search for museums on World War 1 (Lilian’s current topic at school).  We had never heard of it before but we decided to give it a try and see what it was like so yesterday, as it was half term, off we went.  I am so glad we did as this place is fantastic!!

As you walk in the door you are greeted by a large cannon in reception which fires every hour (not too loud), it’s a very impressive piece!  The receptionist was lovely and gave us a map of the museum and a clipboard with several different treasure hunts on for the kids to have a go at as they walked around the museum.

When we entered the main part of the museum the first thing we found was an assortment of dressing up clothes for the kids (and adults!) to try on.  There were various different army outfits and hats to try out which was great fun.

There are life sized models of soldiers in modern day army gear with information about the equipment they use, including a real modern day 12 hour ration pack and also a boat with a video of where and why it would be used.  Cody particularly enjoyed this and I liked the fact that it was something we hadn’t seen before.  There were bullet proof vests and other gear for the children to try on which were from modern day uniforms used in Afghanistan. We also found headset radios which you could try on and talk to each other through, just as soldiers would who were out in the field.  I was amazed how clearly we could hear each other!

Next we moved on to the dummy plane which we sat inside with more dressing up gear and headsets just like soldiers would wear in real life.  Over the headsets we were able to listen to a veteran soldier’s account of his time as a pilot flying in World War II.  There was a screen on the wall which showed video footage to go along with it.  It really gave us a feel for what it would  be like to be a soldier being flown out to war and due to wearing the headsets the children sat throughout the whole video and really listened to what the soldier said.   I thought this was a great way for children to learn as it captured their interest so much better than just reading the information or watching a video.

Next we moved on to the communication area of the museum.  Here we learned how to use morse code and flag signals to pass on messages.  There was also more dressing up to try on, this time normal clothing from the 1940s like the secret service would have worn.  We also had a go at operating a radio.  Wearing the clothes and being able to get hands on with things in the museum really captured the children’s interest and made it much more realistic for them (although the beeping from the morse code machine can start to drive you slightly insane!).

There are lots of other interesting artifacts around the museum including a flight ejector seat (with a very cool video of the tests that were carried out!), uniforms, medical equipment, a WWI plane propeller, storage trunks, replica bombs, etc,etc.There is also an area dedicated to the prisoner of war camps with photos and diary extracts describing what they like.  You could also listen to survivors on the phone handsets describing what they went through.  It was very interesting and well thought out.

One of the highlights of the museum for us was the replica trench.  This was actually built by a group of local army cadets and they have done a fab job.  As well as the trench there are speakers with sound effects playing so you can get a sense of what it would have really been like.  This was one of the children’s favourite parts of the museum.  What i particularly liked is that they could actually lay on the beds and try on the hats, etc so it was very hands on rather than something you were only allowed to look at.  Again I think this gives children a better understanding of history and they are much more likely to remember details about it as they have experienced it but in a safe replica environment.

There are long corridors all the way round the main room that are filled with more artifacts including a huge medal collection.  Next to them is a touch screen where you can look up more information about each medal and who it would have been awarded to.  There are also various uniforms and other items on display.  For little ones there is a little play den under the stairs with toys and bean bags.

There is a lovely little shop by reception with lots of gifts from cheap pocket money things to replica artifacts and books, etc for the war enthusiast. The whole museum is wheelchair/pushchair friendly and has lovely clean toilets with changing facilities. The building is only 2 years old and is immaculate.  It is located behind The Oxfordshire Museum (which is free to visit so worth doing both and making a day of it – see my other blog post for more details on that one https://mumof2point5.wordpress.com/2016/10/27/the-oxfordshire-museum/ ).  There is a lovely garden with picnic tables if you want to make a day of it or there is a small cafe located in the entrance to the other museum for hot drinks and snacks.

I would say the Soldiers of Oxfordshire museum takes about 3 hours to have a really good look round, longer if you read everything properly (not always easy with small folk around!).  You can extend this to a longer day with lunch in the garden and then a visit to the Oxfordshire Museum next door.  It is great for school aged children who can link things in with their history topics at school, but it is equally enjoyable for younger children and adults alike.  We were so impressed with how hands on and child friendly it is and for the price I think its a really worthwhile visit.  We highly recommend it 🙂

Disclaimer: Soldiers of Oxfordshire have had no input in this review and all photos, words and opinions are that of my own.

Also In The Area:  The Oxfordshire Museum

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Nature Discovery Centre

Address: Muddy Lane, Lower Way, Thatcham, Berkshire, RG19 3FU

Price band: FREE! (Donations welcome)

Website: http://www.bbowt.org.uk/nature-discovery-centre

The Nature Discovery Centre at Thatcham (near Newbury) is an absolute gem of a place.  Since discovering this place nearly 2 years ago we have been back to visit many times and always seen something different.  My kids absolutely love it!  And best of all – its free!!!

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So what is it?  Well essentially it is a nature reserve for wildlife with a variety of habitats including the lake, reedbeds and woodlands.  It has lots of different walks of various distances including our favourite one around the large lake and one which takes you to a bird hide.  Most of them we have found are buggy friendly.

The onsite visitor centre has a shop with various souvenirs, cafe and helpful information including maps of the walks.  It also has learning areas upstairs and downstairs where children can find out more about the wildlife living in the area.  The upstairs part can be accessed by stairs or a lift.  The toilets and hand washing facilities entrance are on the outside of the building.

The ducks, geese, swans, etc are all very used to visitors here and tend to be friendly, although do keep an eye on your sandwiches!  There are lots of different breeds to try and spot as you walk around.

As well as all the wildlife and lovely walks there are two fab adventure playgrounds.  One is aimed at younger children and the other aimed at older children.  Both have lots of benches for adults to sit and watch and there are also plenty of picnic benches around to have lunch if you want to take your own.  The larger adventure playground is one of my kid’s absolute favourites.  It is set out like an obstacle course where two people can race each other along and then up the final structure to the slide.  We have taken children aged 0-12 here and every one of them loved it.

We have been lucky enough to arrive on some days to find there are special events going on.  These have included mini beast handling, arts and crafts, and even a traveling show!  Its well worth checking on the website to see whats on when planning your visit.

The Nature Discovery Centre is well worth a visit for children (and adults) of any age and better still, parking and admission is free.  There are posts in the car park where you can put a donation if you wish and I would strongly encourage you to do so to help keep this wonderful place going.  I am sure you will love it there as much as we do!

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