Samantha Rickelton blog about family travels and days out and feature restaurant reviews and family life alongside a popular guide. An award winning travel and food blog based in the North East. Featuring family days out, holidays, restaurant reviews and lifestyle posts.
Blackpool is the kind of place you love or hate. It can be tacky and is a little rough around the edges but if you stick to the sea front, there is absolutely loads going on for families. I've visited with the children a handful of times now and our most recent trip was over Easter when we decided to make use of our Merlin Annual passes, spend an evening at Coral Island and soak up some traditional seaside fun. We already have a return trip planned for July - can't wait!
Where to stay and park in Blackpool
If your main visit to Blackpool is to use your Merlin Annual Pass, I'd recommend staying in the centre if possible. It's much more convenient being able to walk everywhere. We stayed at the Woodland Hotel which is just a short 5-minute walk from the Tower and in a quiet area. Our room was very basic but clean and a bargain at £47 for 5 of us. Rooms include free overnight parking, free Wifi, are en-suite and include towels/toiletries/tea and coffee making facilities.
The Woodland Hotel
If you're looking for something a little fancier, our favourite hotel in Blackpool is The Big Blue next to the Pleasure Beach. This hotel is lovely with spacious rooms (sleeping 5) and some have games consoles in them too. Breakfast is decent and it's an easy 2-mile walk into town along the prom (should take 40 minutes-ish to get to the tower) or you can catch a tram/drive in less than 10 minutes.
The Big Blue Blackpool
Premier Inn also offers a number of hotels in Blackpool. We have stayed in the Premier Inn Bispham before which offers free parking and is a short tram ride along the seafront into town. I'd recommend this one if you can find a good deal as the location is nice and quiet but it isn't long before you're in the action.
Don't have a Merlin Annual Pass? Check out the 'BIG Ticket' deal instead. This allows you to visit multiple Blackpool attractions at a discounted price.
It's also good to know that if you're a Merlin Annual Passholder, you can buy discounted Big Tickets for up to 5 friends per ticket visiting at the same time as you. Use this link to book if you're a pass holder and want to use this deal.
Parking in Blackpool can be expensive (I heard that the Pleasure Beach car park is now £18 per day). I'd look at either staying on the outskirts (with free parking) and getting the tram into town or looking for hotels or B&Bs which offer free or discounted parking. We parked in Bonny Street Car Park during our last trip which is £16 for 48 hours. This car park is super central (next to Coral Island and behind the Sealife Centre) so worth paying a little more for I think.
How To Spend 48 Hours in Blackpool - Day One
10am - Visit Blackpool Tower Box Office and pick up circus tickets
Circus tickets are included with your Merlin Annual Pass. You can pay £5 per ticket to reserve them in advance (give them a call) but if you are there for 48 hours, I don't think this is necessary as there are usually multiple shows (check times online before your visit). Simply hand over your annual pass at the box office and you'll be given 5 circus tickets. Tickets are un-reserved but you can pay a small upgrade fee (£6.95 front row or £4.95 second row) to reserve a seat on the day and you'll receive a complimentary snack or drink too. Again, I don't think this is worth paying as every seat gives you an OK view and you can take your own snacks or drinks into the circus. It's worth getting your tickets as soon as the box office opens as they can sell out sometimes and pass holders are not guaranteed entry.
Once you have your circus tickets, cross over to the Comedy Carpet and pick out your favourite jokes then have a quick walk along the beach before walking along to Sealife Blackpool.
10:45am - Visit Sealife Blackpool
You simply need to show your annual pass at the entrance which is scanned and you gain entry to the Sealife centre. It's pretty small but still worth a look. It will take around an hour to get around if you're reading most of the signs. The Stingray pool and Shark Tunnel were our favourite areas. There are various animal talks throughout the day and usually trails you can join in with too.
11:45am - Early Lunch at Sealife Blackpool Sealife
Pack a picnic to bring along to Sealife Blackpool. There's a seating area towards the end of the attraction (next to the gift shop) where you're permitted to bring your own food. It's undercover, there's lots of info to read to keep you entertained (as well as a 4D Beluga Whale pod) and there's a coffee machine if you forget to bring a flask. After lunch, walk along to Blackpool Tower Circus. Doors open at 12:15pm for the 1pm show (again - times may vary, check the showtimes on the date you're planning your visit).
12:30pm - Blackpool Tower Circus
Seating is unallocated (unless you've paid extra to sit in the first two rows) but staff will always try and sit you together. We arrived 30 minutes before the show and there were plenty of seats available. It was only when there were 10 minutes to go that staff needed to start helping people to sit together. There is no bad view here but I think it's best to sit on the side next to the circus entrance for the best seats. Bags are searched on entry (no sharp objects or glass allowed) and what I love about the circus is that you can take your own snacks and drinks in. I'd definitely recommend doing this to save some pennies. We took some just and popcorn with us.
As you wait for the circus to begin, the ringmaster tries his best to fleece you out of as much £ as possible. £2 for your face painted like a clown, £2 to buy a paper flag, £4 for circus games, flashing lights for sale, programmes for sale..... it's relentless. Either take some spending £ with you or explain to the kids beforehand how much £ they can spend.
The circus is in two parts and we just found it to be average if I'm honest. If you've seen a circus before, this one won't wow you and we were even a little bored in parts. BUT if you're visiting with a Merlin Pass, it's still worth seeing as there are funny parts and a couple of special moments too.
3pm - Pop into the Blackpool Tower Ballroom for a drink
Admission to the Ballroom is included with your annual pass. You can pre-book afternoon tea but there's also a bar and it's a nice place to sit and have a drink, especially if there's some dancing taking place. Don't forget to show your pass for 20% off drinks at the bar.
4pm - Visit the Blackpool Tower Dungeon (suitable for ages 8+)
We had so much fun at Blackpool Tower Dungeons. Anyone can visit but it is advised for over 8s. We had a 4yo in our group who ended up having to leave as it was too scary for her. Nobody will touch you in the dungeons but you will be plunged into darkness, characters will jump out at you and give you a scare, there are gruesome tales to listen to and some special effects too. As you walk through the dungeons you meet various characters from British history - we loved the plague doctor the best. There's a little bit of audience participation too. If your kids like horrible histories and aren't scared *too* easily, they'll love it. There is a drop ride at the end but this is only suitable for those who are over 1.4m tall but you can skip this if you wish. We did and still had a fab time. Your tour should last around 90 minutes and ends in a rather spooky pub.
5:30pm - Check into hotel
After a busy day exploring Blackpool, now is a good time to check into your hotel and freshen up for the evening ahead.
7pm - Night at Coral Island / Kids Eat Free (ad)
The Blackpool Tower Circus has occasional showings in the evenings but apart from that, the Merlin attractions are mostly closed. We popped over to Coral Island during our most recent visit and LOVED it. There is so much to do here from traditional arcade games to ghost trains, VR gaming and even digital bingo. Kids eat free all of the time at all of the restaurants in Coral Island so if you're on a budget, it's a good place to visit for a bite to eat. Our 3-course evening meal for 5 of us set us back £44 (excluding drinks) which we thought was pretty decent. You can read more about our trip to Coral Island here.
How To Spend 48 Hours in Blackpool - Day Two
10am - Visit Madame Tussauds
Madame Tussauds is our favourite Merlin attraction in Blackpool. It is SO less crowded than the one in London and there's loads of fun included. As well as posing with the stars of Doctor Who, X Factor, I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, Marvel and more, there's a laser maze to try, climbing wall challenge and thr opportunity to sing on the karaoke with Olly Murs - all included with entry. You can also have a pint in Coronation Street (chargeable) and if you're over 8, make your own wax hand too. With a Merlin Annual Pass you get 20% off most retail, food and drink purchases so make sure you show your card at both the pub and waxworks for your discount. We ended up making three wax hands for £16 which was excellent value and an excellent momento of our day. During our trip, there was a free trail taking place and the kids received a free Madame Tussauds medal at the end which was a nice touch.
11:45am - Visit the top of the Tower
You can't come all the way to Blackpool and not visit the top of the tower. Again, you don't need to book tickets, simply show your pass on arrival. Your visit starts with an interactive 4D experience where you fly across the sky. The show builds up the anticipation of your visit and is very nostalgic. The trip up in the lift is super exciting and the views are just incredible. If you're brave enough, you can stand on the glass floor too! Eeek!
1pm - Lunch in Harry Ramsdens
Merlin Annual Passholders receive 20% discount at Harry Ramsdens in Blackpool Tower and you can't go to the seaside without fish and chips! Regular cod and chips will set you back £8.50 with your discount.
2pm - Jungle Jims Softplay
If you have kids in your party, Jungle Jims Softplay will burn off some of their excess energy before your journey home. Admission is included with your annual pass but it can get super busy in here so be warned! Don't forget, pass holders receive 20% off food and drinks at most Merlin attractions so show your pass if you're buying coffee.
If you have time before you leave for home, I'd take a walk along the beach and the piers. Blackpool beach is lovely and clean.
Extend Your Stay?
There's loads to do in Blackpool and you could easily spend a whole week here. If you wish to extend your stay and add on a non-Merlin attraction or two, I can highly recommend the Pleasure Beach package at The Big Blue Blackpool and the Sandcastle Water Park comes highly recommended. Blackpool Zoo is also worth the drive out of town for - we visited in 2015 and really enjoyed our time there. Blackpool Illuminations run from 30 August to 3 November in 2019 and I think everyone should see the illuminations at least once.
Disclosure - I have worked with some of the businesses in this post in the past but they have not asked or paid to be included in this post.
I don't book a birthday party for H, H and J every year but over the years we have tried a few different options between us so today I thought I would do a little round-up and share some of our favourite party experiences for tweens and hopefully give you a few ideas. Let me know your ideas in the comments too. 1 - Glitz & Glam Glamping Slumber Party You may remember, Heidi enjoyed the most wonderful Unicorn Sleepover party courtesy of Glamping Slumber Parties this year, well they also offer a fantastic 'Glitz & Glam' package for ages 11+. I highly recommend Hayley and her team - they have the very highest standards and provide absolutely everything you need for a fantastic sleepover party.
Credit - Glamping Slumber Parties
The Glitz & Glam package includes:
Tepee & Mattress hire with pink and gold glitz throws, make-up themed cushions, gorgeous rugs, rose gold fairy lamps
Each guest will receive a luxurious sleep mask, make-up bag, nail polish, lip gloss and candy floss shower gel to take home and keep
The option to add extras such as spa robe hire or non-alcoholic pink fizz
Earlier this year, we had the chance to experience a birthday party at Lush intu Eldon Square. Parties start at just £15 per person (with £5 redeemable in store) which I think is fantastic value. Parties can include games, bath bomb making, product testing, pampering sessions and more. The staff are fantastic and really take care of everything (although one adult does need to stay and supervise). You can find out more about the parties on offer and Lush and how to book here: https://www.northeastfamilyfun.co.uk/2019/02/lush-newcastle-childrens-birthday-party.html
3 - VR Gaming
Harry and his friends are obsessed with VR gaming and headsets. They have dropped in price a fair bit over the last few years but they are still pretty expensive. We used to visit Pirate Escape in Whitley Bay and use their VR Games Room but they seem to have closed this part of their business down. A quick google and I found a flight simulator / VR experience centre in Brunswick Industrial Estate. The centre runs a variety of VR experiences including a 30 minute Star Wars experience for just £10 pp. They also offer tailored birthday parties for 10 children. You can find out more and book online here: https://www.flightsimcentre.com/product-category/virtual-reality/
4 - VIP Cinema Trip
Going to the cinema with a few friends is a pretty standard way to celebrate a birthday and something that my children always enjoy. These days, there are lots of ways you can pimp up the experience and make it that little bit more special. Cineworld in the Gate offers Screen X, 4DX and Super Screen experiences or how about a trip to the brand new Everyman Cinema on Grey Street where you can order food and drinks straight from your plush seating area. I'm sure their build your own sundaes will be a hit with tweens. Finally, if you're looking for something a little more intimate, you can privately hire Jam Jar Cinema and host your own screening for £195. You're allowed to bring your own food and drinks into the foyer area beforehand - something like takeaway pizzas, McDonalds or a buffet from Evan's Bistro up the road would work really well.
5 - Battlezone Laser
Harry has attended a few parties at Battlezone Laser and hosted a few of his own there over the years. Again, its a place where everything is taken care of. Parties are available from £12pp and include a pre-mission safety briefing, laser weapon hire and ammo, supervised missions (by CRB-checked staff) and camouflage overall hire. Parents and grown-ups are welcome to join the party too or they can just sit back and watch in the parent viewing area (which is my preference). Food is also available to add on from just an additional £1 per child. Find out more and book online here.
Credit - Battlezone laser
Have you tried any of these or do any take your fancy? Let me know if you have any other suggestions too.
Disclosure: We have paid for this trip ourselves with the exception of our accommodation at Duinrell which has been provided by Eurocamp. This post contains affiliate links.
We're spending May Half Term exploring Holland with the kids. We're trying to do the trip on a bit of a budget. I'll be sharing daily tips and what we've been up to over on my Facebook page and Instagram stories across half term so if you're interested, please make sure you're following along. Travel Plans with DFDS Seaways As a family of 5, trying to find cheap flights over Half Term AND a Bank Holiday Weekend was an absolute nightmare, especially from Newcastle. When I checked last autumn (10 months ish before our trip), they were going to set us back around £1200 including luggage and budget car hire and when I checked this week, that price had gone up to over £2000. Yikes!
We'd travelled with DFDS Seaways a few years ago to try their Amsterdam Zoo day trip and had a brilliant time, plus the kids are forever asking when we can go back on the ferry. Then when a reader mentioned that DFDS usually run an autumn promotion where you can spread the cost and receive a little bit of a discount (15% in our case), it was a done deal. I ended up paying just under £500 for the 5 of us in a 5 berth cabin including our car for the return overnight ferry from Newcastle-Amsterdam. I LOVE that there are no restrictions with luggage allowance and will be taking advantage of this by packing things like the kids' scooters and our big cool bags etc.... I was able to pay an £80 deposit on booking and spread the rest of the balance (which was due in March).
5 berth sea view cabin
I dithered over what to do about food for ages. The on-board buffet is lovely but there's no denying it's also expensive. It was going to work out to be around £110 each way for us to dine (including drinks) which was an extra £220 on our booking. Not ideal when you're on a budget and I knew that Heidi would stick with pasta and ice cream so wouldn't get the best value (although the boys would fill their boots). I checked with DFDS Seaways and you are allowed to take your own food on board so long as you eat it in your cabin and don't bring any alcohol on board. So our plan is to have a big lunch and then take a picnic on board and lots of snacks for the journey. I reckon 2 picnics will set us back £30 maximum so that's a huge saving of £190. A few people had mentioned that sometimes DFDS email you with heavily discounted dining deals just before your trip but I had no such luck - I am guessing they are probably busy with it being school holidays so don't need to run such a promotion.
Buffet on board
On the recommendation of readers, I did book breakfast on board for the outbound journey. I remember from past experience that there's a lot of waiting around as the ship docks and the last thing we want during our first experience of driving in the Netherlands is hangry kids! Breakfast is pricey at just under £40 for the 5 of us but in this case, I think it is worth it. You can see a breakdown of what we paid below and you can find out more, check the latest prices and deals and book a trip with DFDS Seaways online here.
Preparing for driving in Holland
Steve has driven in America and France but it's always been with a hire car. He's a little nervous about driving our own left-hand drive car on the continent but we've had lots of reassurances that it's absolutely fine and pretty straightforward. The main thing to watch out for is cyclists. At time of writing, the UK is still part of the EU and our current car insurance covers us for driving in the EU so we didn't need to worry about that. There are no tolls in the Netherlands to worry about either. The main things to consider were that we needed:
A valid UK driving licence
A GB Sticker on the back of our car OR Euro-plates (number plates with a circle of 12 stars on a blue background). We have both just to be sure
I'm excited about taking our own car abroad as it means I don't have to be so strict with packing and luggage allowance. Weather in the Netherlands is very similar to the UK so during May Half Term we could experience glorious sunshine or a week of rain (I'm hoping for the first). I love that I can pack for all weathers without worrying about the weight of our cases or space.
Duinrell, Beekes Bergen and Efteling
Our original plan was to do a bit of a tour of the Netherlands and stay at Duinrell, Beekes Bergen and Efteling. However, Beekes Bergen was holding a rock festival on the only dates we could stay so we had to scrap that idea. We're spending 6 nights at Duinrell and 1 night at Efteling.
Duinrell - Duinrell is a theme park and waterpark around a 40 minute drive from port. Guests have unlimited access to the theme park free of charge as part of their stay and can pay a small fee (I think it's 4 euro) to access the waterpark. In the evenings there's a bowling alley, bar with entertainment and you have access to the play parks and trampolines at Duinrell (free of charge). It's also a short walk into the town of Wassanger where there are lots of lovely restaurants. There are a number of options for day trips in the surrounding villages and towns including places like Gouda or you can park and ride to Amsterdam. We are heading to The Hague which is only 20 minutes away by bus straight from Duinrell. You can find out more, check prices and book Duinrell here.
Duinrell - Credit Eurocamp
Duinrell - Credit Eurocamp
Beekes Bergen - Beekes Bergen is a safari park and if you stay for more than 3 nights, you have free access to both the safari park and attraction park where there is loads to see and do including playgrounds, trampolines, rides, mini golf, go karts, water rides and of course lots of animals too. It looks brilliant and I'm gutted we couldn't stay. Beekes Bergen is around a 1-hour drive from port and very close to Efteling. You can find out more, check prices and book Beekes Bergen here.
Beekes Bergen - Credit Eurocamp
Beekes Bergen - Credit Eurocamp
Beekes Bergen - Credit Eurocamp
Efteling - Efteling is often cited as one of the best theme parks in the world and said to be where Disney World gets its inspiration. It's huge and very immersive and everyone who has been says it's AMAZING. It is a little pricey staying here and we paid around £300 for one night in an on-site house which includes unlimited theme park access for the duration of our stay (so 2 days). There are lots of added extras such as talking bins and a storyteller is said to visit the accommodation at night and read kids a story. I'm so excited! Efteling is just over a one hour drive from port. Actually, when you price something similar in the UK (eg the Alton Towers Hotel during school holidays), Efteling looks like a bargain. You can find out more, check prices and book Efteling here.
Efteling Cottages - Credit Efteling
Efteling Rides - Credit Efteling
Visiting Amsterdam or The Hague with Kids
Last time we visited Amsterdam, we spent the whole day at Artis Zoo (which is brilliant). It's pretty easy to get to Amsterdam from Duinrell - you park your car at the Ajax stadium park and ride (around 20 minutes away) and then it's a short train ride into the city. I would love to do this but the problem is, there is SO much I want to see and do in Amsterdam and I couldn't narrow it down to just one day. I have decided not to visit Amsterdam on this occasion but we'll return for a proper city break with the kids soon - watch this space.
Amsterdam - Credit Pixabay
I'd never really considered visiting The Hague with the kids but lots of people have recommended and said it's a brilliant place to visit with children. Plus it is super easy to get to - just a 20 minute bus journey direct from Duinrell. Scheveningen is a large beach with a pier, sealife centre, restaurants, zip wires, fairground rides and more. It looks brill and we'll be heading there first. There's also the Maduradaum which is a Dutch 'mini-land' and supposed to be fab for kids and I can't wait to see some of the architecture and landmarks such as the UN court of justice.
I am so excited to take this trip. I am hoping to give Harry and Heidi some freedom and once we've got our bearings, will let them explore the theme park by themselves for a few hours each day while we go on the smaller rides with Jack. I hope the weather is nice but if it's not the best, I like that there are plenty of indoor options such as the water park, bowling or attractions at The Hague. Eating out is a big part of our holidays and we'll probably dine out in Waasenger or The Hague each night but we'll be enjoying breakfast and lunch in our lodge - there is a big Jumbo supermarket and Aldi within a 5 minute drive of the park. I haven't driven abroad yet but as we don't need an international driving license to drive in Holland (yet), I am tempted to be brave and give it a little go. We will see!
Don't forget, you can follow our trip along via Instagram Stories here and I'll post daily updates on my Facebook page here. We leave on 25 May and will be in Holland for the week. To any would-be burglars, my brother lives at my house to look after our Guinea Pigs when we are away, so don't get any ideas (plus we literally have nothing to steal as I spend all of our money on travel).
Let me know if you fancy this trip or if you have any questions.
I sometimes feel like Spain gets a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to discussing holiday plans but it is probably our favourite place to visit in the world. I love the laid back vibe, the wonderful cities, beautiful beaches, friendly people and of course the tapas and sangria. This post shares some of our favourite places and recommendations for places to visit in Spain with kids. Let me know in the comments if you have anywhere to add.
We're a big fan of staying on holiday parks and if you're looking for a site with absolutely loads to entertain kids, I can highly recommend Sanguli near Salou. There are four fantastic pools, kids clubs, a beach club, evening entertainment and more plus it's super easy to get to Barcelona or walk into Salou in the evening to watch the free fountain show.
Over the years, our holidays have gradually changed. When the kids were toddlers and I needed a lot of pairs of eyes, we favoured big family holidays - usually a package deal where everything was taken care of or a big villa/apartments with the grandparents coming along for the journey too.
Fast forward a few years and now that H, H and J are older and more independent, I really feel like the world is our oyster. They're brilliant travellers and long journey times and exploring on our own no longer feels daunting. With the whole world to choose from though, picking a family holiday destination with tweens can be overwhelming. There is SO much choice out there and it can be difficult to know where to start.
I've recently discovered 101 Family Holidays - a leading UK travel website founded by Sunday Times writers Mark Hodson and David Wickers. If like me, you're always planning your next trip away, it's a brilliant resource to get you started and find some inspiration. Key features I love about 101 Family Holidays include:
You can filter holiday destinations by the time of year
You can filter holiday recommendation by age of children
There's a section dedicated to educational trips
There's a section with holidays for families with three children or more (hurrah)
There's an area of the site dedicated to single parent holidays
101 Family Holidays is so much more in-depth than a regular travel website and with 10 years of trusted ideas from industry experts and lots of personal travel tips included, it really is a brilliant resource.
As the name suggests, there are over 101 holiday types to choose from and there's everything from luxury cruises to dog-friendly cottages, lodges, waterpark holidays and more. I've hand-picked 10 suggestions from the site which I think will be ideal for holidays with tweens. Let me know if any of these take your fancy:
UK Holidays with Tweens Sands Resort Cornwall - We stayed with Sands Resort Cornwall earlier this year and their facilities for tweens were second-to-none. With complimentary wetsuit hire (you're right by Newquay beach), zip wires and an outdoor pool on-site, complimentary childcare and film nights (which the kids really enjoyed) and flexible dining options for families, I honestly think Sands Resort Cornwall is one of the best hotels we've ever stayed at. Nothing is too much trouble and I'll always remember snuggling up with hot chocolates in the bar and taking in the glorious sea views after a family swim. Happy days.
Sands Resort Cornwall
Canal Boat Holiday - We actually booked a boating holiday a few years ago but sadly we had to cancel (as it was trumped by Florida). Harry, Heidi and Jack still regularly ask if we can re-book and I think it may be on the cards at some point over the next few years. I love the idea of a trip with Waterways Holidays and I bet it would be a wonderful chance for us all to work together as a team and learn some new skills.
Canal Boat Holiday
Escape to Northumberland - Despite living in Northumberland, we book at least one break here every year. We're such a busy family and our Northumberland holidays always offer a chance to relax and unwind together. Nothing beats staying in a cottage in Northumberland with a proper log fire, some cracking country pubs and of course, some of the best beaches in the world. If you're looking for a chilled holiday with tweens, I highly recommend Northumberland.
European Holidays with Tweens Resorts with Water Parks - My three love a good water park and now that they're pretty good swimmers, it's great for me too as they keep them entertained for hours and I get a chance to read. Of course us parents get dragged along for the slides sometimes still and riding extreme slides with your kids is actually brilliant fun. We've booked a resort with a water park attached this half term and Jet 2 Holidays have a fantastic range of options on their site too.
Atlantis Toboggan Waterpark, Vendee
A Ski Trip - Skiing in France is not something I've ever fancied myself but the kids are dying to go. I think the après-ski life is more for me! What I love about family ski holidays is that most come with ski schools for kids. Combining family time with learning a new skill sounds like a fab option for February Half Term.
Family Ski Trip
Blue Lagoon, Iceland - I've always fancied a trip to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland and think it would be a brilliant place to visit with tweens. Relaxing in the hot springs would mean our iPhones are a million miles away and would definitely offer a proper chance for us all to unwind.
Blue Lagoon Iceland
Luxury Holidays with Tweens
A Riad in Marrakech - Steve and I spent a long weekend in Marrakech a few years ago and had the absolute best time. We stayed in a 5* resort but visited a few riads for dinner/spas/cookery classes and there is just nothing in the world like them. Riads just have some kind of magical quality and we always said if we took the kids back, we'd stay in a Riad in Marrakech next time.
A Family Cruise - A few of my friends have been on cruises and all absolutely rave about them and I do agree that they're a brilliant way to see the world. Imagine waking up at a different port every morning. I really fancy and all-inclusive Family Cruise around the Meditteranean. I'd love to take the kids to Greece and back to Italy and I think a cruise is a brilliant way to see multiple destinations in one trip. I just need to find a ship with 5 birth cabins - let me know if you have any recommendations.
Family Safari - I think most people will have a Family Safari on their bucket list. Now that my children are older, I think they'd be able to handle the early mornings and long days a lot better now and although we've taken part in attraction-type safaris before, I bet nothing beats seeing the big five in the wild.
Luxury Caribbean Water Park - Steve and I met a couple during our second honeymoon to Mexico and they absolutely raved about Beaches Holidays for families. Their Pirate Island Waterpark has definitely caught my eye and if money was no object, I'd be there in a shot. With the Caribbean's only surf simulator, watersports, water slides, lazy rivers and dedicated pre-teen programme including pizza making, reggae lessons, glass bottom boat rides and more, Pirate Island sounds like the kind of place you'll never want to leave.
What do you think? I'd love to hear your suggestions for the best holidays with tweens, don't forget to check out 101 Family Holidays if you're in need of some more inspiration.
St Michael's Mount reminds me of our own Holy Island. Like it's Northumberland counterpart, the island is cut off from the mainland twice per day, is full of history and there's a bit of a climb up to the island's castle. Holy Island is one of my favourite places in the world and I knew that I had to visit St Michael's Mount during our trip to Cornwall and see how the two compared.
We visited on a breezy overcast day in February Half Term. The Castle is not open all of the time during winter so always check opening (and tide) times via their website before you set off. Luckily for us, they do open their doors during the school holidays. The island is free to visit for all and unlike Holy Island, is just a short walk along the causeway. If you'd like to visit the Castle, there is a charge or it's free for National Trust members like us.
I loved that as soon as you stepped onto the island, somebody greets you and points out where you can visit and points of interest. There are free island tours throughout the day which did sound good. We actually stood around waiting for one to start for 10 minutes though and nobody showed up so that was a bit of a waste of time. It is said that 35 people still live on the island and I'd have loved to have learned more about their life here.
The island is beautiful. It does feel a touch more commercialised than Holy Island and is a lot smaller but is still magical. There are a couple of gift shops, an island cafe and bistro and a nice harbour to walk around. One thing I love about St Michael's Mount is that when the tide comes in, you can catch an amphibious vehicle back to the mainland for a couple of £. This does sound like fun and we did plan to do this but then I over-estimated how long we'd be on the island and after we'd seen everything we still had 2 hours before the first boat was going to leave so we decided to save this for our next visit. If I was to visit again, I'd advise walking across just before the tide comes in, exploring the island and then catching the boat back.
To somebody who isn't the fittest, the climb up to the castle did look a little daunting. We showed our National Trust cards and started the climb hoping we'd make it to the top. I didn't need to worry though as the climb was fine and not too strenuous at all. I think you might struggle with a pushchair in parts (as it is a little rocky) so I'd advise a sling or baby carrier if you're visiting with little ones. There are plenty of places to stop and admire the view if you need a little breather.
We finally made it to the castle door and there were cheers all round. Although the climb wasn't too difficult, we did feel accomplished. A lovely guide greeted us at the entrance and encouraged the children to look out for their favourite object in the castle and they'd be rewarded at the end.
The furnished castle is in fantastic condition and a complete joy to walk around. It kind of reminded me of a smaller version of Bamburgh Castle. Legend says that the castle was built by a giant known as Cormoran and I have to say this seems very likely as what a feat of engineering it is!
The views from the castle along the Cornish coast and out to sea are spectacular. You feel as if you are on top of the world.
After our self-guided castle tour, the children were asked to share their favourite castle object and received a medal in return. I'm kind of jealous and wouldn't have minded one myself. What a lovely reminder of our day here and all completely free.
Castle climbing is hard work so we made our way back down to the island and popped into the Sail Loft bistro. It was super busy in here but we managed to find a table. The chef here is a keen forgager and tries to keep things local - Steve and I enjoyed some local seafood and cheeses and the kids ordered little packed lunches. Considering the quality, the food here was very good value and I'd recommend popping by. Alternatively, there are some picnic tables on the island if you'd like to bring your own snacks and there's a cafe too.
After lunch, we did wait around for the island tour as mentioned above but that didn't happen so we decided to walk back over to the mainland instead. I think we spend around 4 hours on the island altogether which is the perfect amount of time to set aside. In the warmer months, you can visit the gardens too which look beautiful.
To my surprise, parking on the mainland across from St Michael's Mount is completely free in winter. I think there's a small fee from mid-March. The car park is large, right by the beach and there are public loos and this fantastic play park next door. I bet it's lovely to visit here in summer. H, H and J loved burning off some of their energy at the park before we headed back to the car for the next leg of our journey.
I obviously haven't visited all of the National Trust sites in Cornwall but St Michael's Mount really stands out for us and we really enjoyed our morning here. If you're National Trust members and take a picnic, it is a free day out with lots to fill in your time. I'll definitely not forget those castle views in a hurry and I'm so pleased we included a trip here in our mini-tour of Cornwall.
This is an advertisement feature (we attended press night). Image Credit: Robert Day
Harry turns 13 soon and has asked if he can start coming along to more grown-up theatre productions. This was music to my ears and I'm delighted to have a new theatre buddy. Harry is very academic but also seems to have a real passion for theatre. He's always writing scripts for his own plays, creating little movies and has taken part in drama workshops at school as part of his extra-curricular activities. It's often tough trying to grab one on one time with the kids, especially as they grow older and into teenagers so I'm pleased that going to the theatre together is going to be our new thing.
Our first review in this new 'Theatre with Teens' series is Noughts and Crosses which is playing at Northern Stage until 11 May. Northern Stage is one of our favourite theatres and always the place where you'll find the more modern/alternative theatrical shows playing. Tickets are usually available from £10 for most shows at Northern Stage and although I'm often invited along to press nights, I'll often buy my own tickets at this bargain price too. There are a few shows coming up at Northern Stage for older children and teens this year - take a peek at what's on here.
Back to Noughts and Crosses. Aimed at ages 13+ and based on the best-selling novel (affiliate), it felt like the perfect way to introduce Harry into a more grown-up style of show rather than the children's theatre and pantos he is used to. We'd both not read the book and were not familiar with the story but I'd read a few reviews online from teachers saying they use this text with year 7 and 8 students so I had high hopes.
Noughts and Crosses is told from the point of view of two teenagers. Set in a dystopian future and segregated society, the story raises issues around racial and social divides, love, revolution and what it's like to grow up in a divided world. As a parent, these are all issues I strongly feel we should be talking to our children and teens about and as we took our seats in Stage 1, I hoped the performance would inspire some interesting conversation between us in the interval and during our bus journey home.
Noughts and Crosses - Parent Review (by Sam)
"Noughts and Crosses is a brilliant production to watch with your teens. It is thought-provoking and borderline uncomfortable at times but raises some important issues about the cycle of politics and life and how we can or can't bring about change in the world.
The story portrays life in a dystopian world where whites are the underclass and experience the discrimination and prejudice that is ingrained in society. Twisting the world around like this really does put our current society in the spotlight and although the play features bullying, terrorism and death, I left feeling like we could make a change through our own children and it weirdly gives you hope for the future and reminds you of the kind of society you don't want to live in yet how easily and quickly our society could regress rather than progress.
The staging and set were very simple but effective and I particularly thought the news scenes were cleverly done. There were moments when we were all on the edge of our seats as the story unfolded in front of us and it definitely kept us guessing what would happen next.
I left feeling that I had a better understanding of how and why terrorism happens in the world and as I chatted to Harry about this in the interval he reminded me that there still is always a choice and you always have a choice whether to set a bomb off or not and I suppose he's right. This issue of choice runs right through the play.
Noughts and Crosses deserves its 13+ rating due to violence, adult themes of terrorism and the death penalty, swearing and references to sex. None of this was overly embarrassing or too much for us though and we've watched much worse on TV together.
Harry really enjoyed tonight's performance as did I and it was lovely to do something a little more grown up together just the two of us. The performance ended with a standing ovation which in my opinion, was very much deserved.
As I checked into the theatre on Facebook, my friend commented that they are currently making the Noughts and Crosses books into a TV series with Stormzy. My advice would definitely be to see the play first. I have a feeling the key messages of love, friendship, power, prejudice, community and oppression are going to stay with Harry and I for a while."
Noughts and Crosses - Teen Review (by Harry)
"I thought Noughts and Crosses was very tense and I never knew what was going to happen next. I wouldn't have chosen that ending as it felt like there was no solution but maybe that was the point. It was interesting to see how somebody who is trying to be good can turn bad so quickly in such a short space of time.
I like the lighting, visuals and sound and thought that together, they emphasised what was going on.
I would definitely recommend Noughts and Crosses to other kids my age as it makes you think about the world we live in and the future we want to choose for ourselves. I've added the books to my amazon wishlist now too."
Noughts and Crosses continues at Northern Stage until 11 May.
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Travelling long-haul with children of any age can be a little daunting so today I am sharing a few essentials which will help to ensure a smooth and hopefully stress-free trip. Let me know if you'd add any to the list.
1 - FOREO ISSA Mini 2 Sonic Toothbrush
Bigger smiles in a smaller brush. I love to see my tweens smiling with their pearly whites showing
One charge for ISSA mini 2, works up to 265 uses, thereby reducing the hassle of carrying too many charging items
ISSA mini 2 - travel friendly, with soft silicon bristles which cleanses effectively
The tweens have been using ISSA Mini 2 toothbrushes for a while now and I've been really impressed. These toothbrushes take up hardly any room in your hand luggage thanks to their compact design, have impressive cleaning power (using sonic pulse technology) and retain their charge for an epic 265 days so you can leave your charger at home.
Apart from the fact that it is travel-friendly, the silicon bristles of the toothbrush mean that it is gentle on the gums, and cleans through the deeper crevices of the mouth. The kids have been loving it, and don't mind brushing twice a day, which has helped me promote good Oral care habits even more.
Also, FOREO has recently opened their pop-up at Heathrow T4 (departure) - so to all my readers travelling this Spring, do check out and pick up something. The products are expensive but it is totally worth the investment.
2 - iPad
We've tried lots of different tablets in the past and definitely think it's worth spending a little more and investing in an iPad. In our experience, the battery life is better and the product lasts a lot longer than cheaper alternatives. Find out more and buy online here.
3 - SHAIK Suitcases
Now that my children are older, the days of scooting through airports on Trunki's are long gone. We bought these SHAIK Series Razzer Suitcases last year and have used them for a few trips now - they are ideal for families with older children. The cases offer 360 degree wheel rotation so are super easy to push (even for tweens), they come with a TSA lock and offer plenty of room. Plus I think they look pretty great too. Find out more and buy online here.
4 - USB Travel Charger
I can't imagine travelling without our USB stations now. As a family, a lot of tech accompanies us on holiday. We all have our own phones, tablets, laptops, cameras - the list is never-ending. Most hotel rooms only have a couple of plug sockets and in the past, we've forever been fighting over sockets to charge our devices. This USB Travel Charger is honestly a game changer. Suitable for worldwide travel, it can charge up to 4 devices at once - we have a couple. Find out more and buy online here.
5 - WaterWell Travel Filter Bottle
These bottles are a little pricey but worth the investment if you're travelling somewhere where drinking tap water is not recommended. These clever bottles filter out 99.9% of waterborne bacteria and parasites, are leak-proof and easy to carry. You can even use the bottles to collect water from wells, puddles and rivers which makes it ideal for family hikes too. Find out more and buy online here.
6 - Quick dry towels
We bought the kids these Simply Swim Large Microfibre Towels as part of their new swim kits last year and absolutely love them. They are super thin and lightweight so take up a lot less room in your case and the microfibre design dries 4x faster than conventional towels. I couldn't go back to 'normal' beach towels after trying these ones and would highly recommend. Find out more and buy online here.
7 - Go Pro
My three love nothing more than making their own videos using a Go Pro in the pool on holiday. We've had ours for around 4 years now and it's still going strong. Go Pros are also ideal for theme park visits, water parks and snorkelling too. If you're a family who loves adventure holidays, I'd definitely recommend investing in a Go Pro. Find out more and buy online here.
8 - Wireless Bluetooth Travel Headphones
I treated myself to these headphones last summer and Heidi usually ends up stealing them during our trips away so I'm going to invest in more pairs for the kids this year. I love these headphones as you can listen wire-free using Bluetooth (so no more tangled wires) and they fold up into their own carry case which can be hooked onto your backpack or bag. They're really comfy too and are noise-cancelling so perfect for by the pool or on the plane. Find out more and buy online here.
Let me know what your travel essentials for long haul travel with tweens are and if you like any of the ideas from my list.
The Seasider is an open-top bus (operated by Stagecoach) running along the North Tyneside coast between Whitley Bay and North Shields Ferry Terminal across weekends and school holidays from now until September. I love, love, love visiting the North Tyneside Coast but trying to get parked here on a sunny weekend can be an absolute nightmare (plus the area is known for its enthusiastic parking wardens - you have been warned) and as much as I love visiting the area, I try avoid on sunny days due to parking stress.
I like the idea of being able to park our car in Whitley Bay first thing (when its a lot quieter) and spend the full day exploring the North Tyneside Coastline without worrying about parking. It is just such a hassle-free way to explore the area. I have fond memories of taking the open top bus in Scarborough every year as a child and think the Seasider brings back some of this old-school nostalgia to the North East coastline.
The Seasider Tickets and Timetable
The Seasider is very reasonable indeed. A single ticket will set you back £2.50 or you can hop on and off as much as you like throughout the day for £4. Our family was only using the Seasider service on the day of our trip, so the best value ticket for us was the Seasider family ticket which is £8 (purchased directly from the driver) and allows a family (up to 2 adults and 3 children) to hop on and off as much as they like throughout the day. Buses are every 30 minutes and run between 09:57 and 16:23. Click here to check the current Seasider timetable
Other Ticket Types
Tyne & Wear Dayrider Plus Family : If you're travelling to the coast with kids from Newcastle City Centre (or other areas served by Stagecoach on this map), a Tyne and Wear dayrider plus family is just £9 and gives you unlimited travel on Stagecoach buses (including the Seasider) for up to 2 adults and 3 children for the day..
Day Rover Family Ticket : If you fancy taking the Shields Ferry as part of your trip and/or need to use the Metro or a non-Stagecoach bus as part of your day but are only travelling within Tyne and Wear, I'd recommend the Day Rover Family Ticket which is £15.50 for up to 2 adults and 3 children (see here for details)
Explorer Family Ticket : If like me, you don't live in Tyne and Wear and need to use public transport to get to the North Tyneside Coast, an Explorer Ticket might work out to be the best for you. We've used this a few times now and it's ideal if you need to travel to North Tyneside from somewhere like Northumberland or Middlesbrough. You can use this ticket on most bus services, Metro, some trains, the Shields Ferry and more across the whole of the North East. Tickets are £20.60 for up to 2 adults and 3 children. Find out more here.
Under 16s and Concessions : If you hold a Tyne and Wear Concessionary Travel Pass you can use the Seasider service free of charge (weekends and public holidays) and Under 16s with a pop card can pay 60p for a single journey or £1.10 all day (which may work out cheaper than the family ticket if there's just one adult in your party).
Stagecoach have teamed up with some fabulous local businesses and you can gain some great discounts by simply showing your Seasider bus ticket. I'd definitely recommend using the discount for Tynemouth Priory, a beer at Storm Cellar (got to make the most of leaving the car at home) and fish and chips from Trenchers which are always spot on.
Our day started at Whitley Bay where we boarded the Seasider at Whitley Bay Metro Station after parking our car in the station car park (it's free to park here but always check each time you visit). It's chilly upstairs but that's where all the fun is. The views of the North Tyneside coastline were unrivalled and we loved spotting lots of dogs out for walks too.
We disembarked at Tynemouth and our first stop was Tynemouth market. The market is held in Tynemouth Station every Saturday and Sunday and is one of the best in the North East. There are food stalls, cakes, antiques, collectables, books, jewellery, art dealers, fruit and veg, toys, butchers, bakers, fishmongers.....all sorts really. It's such a fab place for a mooch. The kids' pocket money was burning a hole in their pocket and Jack and Heidi both chose new teddy bears (£5 each) from a lovely stallholder. Heidi's bear is all the way from Canada and Jack's Panda was handmade by the stallholder.
Then it was onto Tynemouth Priory. We're English Heritage members but if you're not, you can gain 25% discount with your Seasider ticket. I love Tynemouth Priory and it's a great place to stretch your legs. I ran around with Heidi and Jack while Steve and Harry read all the info signs and filled us in on their facts later. There's an underground bunker you can visit, you can walk the priory walls and there's a small visitor centre with dress up etc... too. The best thing is definitely the views though. There are picnic tables dotted about and you can enjoy a picnic with the most splendid backdrop.
The Seasider buses are every 30 minutes and ran pretty much on time on the day of our visit. It was easy to plan our day around the timetable. After the Priory we caught the bus to Cullercoats where we played in the park and visited Cullercoats Coffee to warm up a bit. The hot chocolates here are divine and pretty reasonable too. There are toys for kids but my three were fine tucking into their cakes and warm drinks.
Back on the bus and this time it was back to Whitley Bay where we enjoyed some traditional seaside fun including playing on the 2p arcades, gorgeous fish and chips from Trenchers in Spanish City (20% off if you show your bus ticket) and then ice creams all round from Di Meos.
As we walked back to the car, we walked past Storm Cellar (where you receive 25% off a pint with your bus ticket). We were super tempted to pop in but after 6 hours of sea air, we were more than ready for home and feel like a pint may have sent us to sleep. Next time though!
We had a lovely day exploring the North Tyneside Coast with Seasider. I loved being able to hop on and hop off at various stops rather than just staying in one area which is what we'd normally do if we had the car. It was a chilly day on the day of our visit but it still felt good to get outside and explore the coast - you don't need to wait for sunshine to have fun.
What did we think of the Seasider Open Top Bus Tour?
I love that the service is dog friendly, it is so much fun and offers fantastic views of the coast. It's also a pretty cheap day out and ideal if you're on a budget. I'd recommend to tourists visiting the North East and locals alike. My top tip would be to wrap up as it is chilly up top (and you must ride up top in my opinion). Equally, make sure you wear suncream if you're visiting in summer as you..
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Heidi is a girl of many sides. She loves playing outside, climbing, adventure and sport yet also loves to play with her soft toys, sit and complete an art and craft project or draw. I love that she has so many varied interests so when it came to picking a party theme for her 10th birthday, we were spoilt for choice. Like many 10-year-olds, she loves unicorns and we went all out with a Unicorn themed birthday for her. It's one we certainly won't forget in a while.
Heidi's friends also bought her some gorgeous unicorn gifts including this Unicorn soft toy. I don't know where it's from but its lush. She was spoilt!
Unicorn Sleepover Party
We decided to use Glamping Slumber Parties for Heidi's first ever sleepover party. There are 9 different party themes to choose from and Unicorn is one of them. I honestly can't recommend this company enough. They set everything up, clear it all away and provide everything you need. In their basic package (which is £35 per person) the party guests are even gifted little extras which they can keep including unicorn sleep masks, headbands, chocolates and toiletries. Apart from ordering pizza, I love that the whole thing was taken care of for me and completely hassle-free. You can find out more about Glamping Slumber Parties here but the pictures do the talking I think.
Unicorn Party Extras
You can pick up Unicorn party extras in most shops these days but I went with a cupcake stand, plates, cups and bunting from Home Bargains - it was all mega cheap and around £1 each. I also picked up some Unicorn doughnuts from there which were in their own little packet and great. Rather than a birthday cake I bought some Unicorn cupcakes from Sainsburys and Mr Kipling Unicorn Cake Bar Slices too.
Heidi and her friends adored Heidi's Unicorn-themed birthday and as a parent, it was all completely hassle free too. Sometimes I think picking a theme works really well as you don't end up going OTT buying lots of gifts.
Let me know if you've ever thrown a themed party and which ones have been your children's favourites.