Pinewood Pods at Port Lympne Zoo

On the morning of Sunday the 13th October, we headed to Port Lympne where we were going to spend the next couple of days. Port Lympne Hotel & Reserve is about a 25 minute drive from our home, the perfect sort of distance away for a short break! Here is my review of how our stay went!

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The Accommodation- Our Pod at the Pinewood Pods facility was lovely. It had the room to sleep four, although in doing so- leaving the pod is definitely made a little more difficult. The bedding and towels were clean. The beds were comfortable and we had more than enough tea and coffee bits and bobs to get us through our stay. The Pods are located right next to the Lion and Tiger enclosures and hearing the Lions, especially Daddy Lion ‘Milo’ throughout the night was magical. The Lions have three beautiful cubs that were born about five months ago, staying so close to them was definitely very special!

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The facilities- Despite the Pod being well cleaned, the toilet and shower block was pretty dirty, not only did it not look clean, but it didn’t smell clean either. We checked out the facilities right after check in, so they were not dirty from use- if anything they should have been cleaned and ready for new guests. The extractor fan was thick with dust. The floors had a fine layer of watered down mud. The pedals on the sanitary bins did not work. The access to the toilet and shower block had steps, meaning that even if you were to stay at the accessibility friendly pod, you wouldn’t necessarily have an access friendly stay.

The Staff – The staff at Port Lympne generally seemed very helpful and genuinely happy to be there. The Safari drivers were fantastic and very knowledgeable. The restaurant and shop staff doted on my daughter and were full of praise for her manners.

The Pinewood Restaurant – When staying at the Pod we decided to bring our own bits and bobs for breakfast- juice, croissants and long life milk for F. I am very glad we did, because a basic dinner of hot dogs and chips for three of us, set us back over £35. I cannot imagine how much we would have spent if we’d had to buy all of our meals, snacks and refreshments there- but based on the prices for four meals at the Pinewood Café alone, we’d be looking at around £140 alone.

The Animals- I wholeheartedly believe that Port Lympne is one of the greatest zoos in the country for conservation efforts. This can be seen in their successful attempts at breeding endangered animals such as Lions, Gorillas and Rhinos. The work they have done to reintroduce animals that have been on the brink of extinction is nothing short of amazing- especially in regards to Silverback Gorillas, over 50 of these beautiful and endangered animals have been sent to wild Congo over the years where they are safe and thriving, all thanks to Port Lympne’s conservation and breeding success. The animals all appear happy, healthy and well cared for. The keepers and staff clearly adore the animals that they work with and see on a daily basis.

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The Safari- The Safari as an experience was excellent. Being able to see the animals wander free, without bars or the conventional confines of an enclosure was fantastic. F wanted to go on it three times and still didn’t tire of the whole experience! Some facts given to us by the three different safari drivers varied, for example “We only have one male giraffe here, if we have more than one, they may swing their necks to fight and this can cause a massive amount of damage, injury and distress to the animals and their enclosures” compared to “We have 4(?) females and 3 males in the giraffe house and surrounding enclosure” .. and “African hunting dogs have a success rate of up to 90% unlike other comparable but larger carnivores like tigers or lions who have a success rate of 20 to 40%” compared to “African hunting dogs have a success rate of up to 90% unlike other comparable but larger carnivores like tigers or lions who have a success rate of 30 to 50%” Leaving us wondering what exactly was true and accurate and what wasn’t. We were also quizzed by one driver on F’s age, when other drivers let babies less then six months on board- the inconsistency in safety information was definitely confusing! I also feel that maybe, like with rides at a theme park, it could be beneficial to warn people about how bumpy the safari is, so they can make an informed decision to ride- especially in case they are pregnant, suffer from back / neck complaints, arthritis, complex pain syndromes or heart conditions.

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Accessibility- Some types of accommodation include a Golf Buggy to use at your leisure throughout the park along a Buggy route, our accommodation unfortunately did not include this. We enquired to see if we could maybe hire a Buggy for the duration of our stay but sadly the reserve only ever has enough buggies to cater for users of higher end accommodation. I feel that if additional buggies could be made available, it could really benefit Port Lympne’s guests with additional mobility needs- the park is particularly hilly and access to manual wheelchairs is a nice option, but putting their use to practice seems almost impossible in a park where even pushing a three year old in their stroller was a struggle.

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We enjoyed our stay and really recommend going if you can find a similar experience at the off peak reduced rate. For the full £200 to be worth spending, the toilet and shower facilities need to at least be clean. As a whole, I feel that if I had paid the full £200 for a nights stay, I would have been disappointed, solely based on how dirty the toilet and shower facilities were. However, as I paid the off peak price of £100, I was very pleased with the value of money for two days park access for two adults and a child, a nights stay in a lovely little pod and unlimited rides on the safari- Realistically I would have been happy to pay up to £150 without extras for this experience! I have been visiting Port Lympne for just under 25 years and have never been disappointed- visiting the animals makes learning about them and their habitats super fun and interactive. I grew up visiting this zoo and I am pleased to be doing the same with my daughter as she grows!

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A great day for dinosaur lovers – York Maze review…

Olivia and I have just returned home from a lovely long weekend visiting our family in Yorkshire.

Living in army quarters roughly 200 miles away, and being ridiculously busy with work all the time, means I don’t get to see them as often as I would like, but we did manage a solid 4 days of visiting! As it doesn’t happen very often, we ended up being very, very busy and visiting lots of different places (so expect to see a couple of reviews in the next few weeks!) It became a little mini holiday for us which was really lovely, and I had some precious quality time with Olivia, too.

One of the places we went to was York Maze. We spent about 4 hours there in total as there was so much to do, but some little legs got the better of us. Never have I done so many piggy backs before this weekend! I will probably regret ever demonstrating what a piggy back is, I am sure…

What is York Maze?

It’s a fantastic, fun-filled day out that caters to the entire family. Although I only went with Olivia, who is 3, we could easily have had just as much fun if 9 year old Kiera was with us too.

It isn’t just a maze, but they mazes (plural) are of course the main attractions. Over the years, the maze has been shaped into a number of different characters/features from films/television, including Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Harry Potter. This year, the main maze was Lion King themed. You have 6 checkpoints to get to and answer some themed questions to get the magic word for the end of the maze. Olivia enjoyed shouting the secret word very loudly so that everyone could hear her!

On top of the main maze, there is also a separate Jurassic Park themed maze with 8 dinosaurs inside. Olivia insisted on stroking them all… but on the up side she was also able to name all but one! The spinosaurus evaded us, but there was a helpful list on the way back out naming them all so that you can see if you got them right!

The Jurassic Park maze is much smaller, but the classic theme tune can be heard throughout, and it’s great fun finding the dinosaurs. For my little dino lover, this was perfect!

Is it just a maze?

No, there are so many activities at York Maze aside from just the mazes, which is how we ended up spending so much time there.

As well as the maze, they have a sweetcorn themed obstacle course (which Olivia and I smashed) and meet and greets with the animals. You can hold a snake or a creepy crawly and the owls and reptiles are out for you to meet, too.

Is there much for little ones to do?

Yes! Olivia loved jumping on the popcorn pillow which had split sessions for little ones to jump together without the big kids. That worked really well and was much nicer for the children (and parents) not to worry about any big kids hurting the smaller ones by accident.

What can the big kids do?

There’s a lot of things for the bigger children to get stuck into, too! As well as all of the other activities, there’s a rock climbing wall and an adventure play park that’s suitable for big and little children.

The quiz in the main maze is probably more geared towards older children too, although Olivia still managed to have lots of fun!

Have you ever been to York Maze? Let us know what theme the maze was and whether you enjoyed it!

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10 things to do with the kids in North Hampshire and Surrey

  1. Gruffalo Trail at Alice Holt Forest
  2. Ceramics Cafe Farnham
  3. Gravity Force Trampolining
  4. 360 Play Farnborough
  5. Coral Reef Bracknell
  6. Aldershot Lido
  7. Birdworld
  8. Hampton Court Palace
  9. Chessington World of Adventures
  10. Farnborough Vue

1. Gruffalo Trail at Alice Holt Forest

Alice Holt Forest is situated in the South Downs National Park which spans a vast area covering Hampshire and Surrey. Alice Holt itself is local to Farnham, a mere 15 minute drive from the centre of Aldershot, and is FREE OF CHARGE! That’s right! You can spend the entire day there and the only money you will spend is for parking and petrol.

Alice Holt boasts a fantastic wooden play area, bike hire and trails, walking trails (including the infamous Gruffalo Trail), and GoApe! for the older kids. We have been many times to Alice Holt and never grow tired of it!

2. Ceramics Cafe in Farnham

Whether you have little babies doing handprints on plates or older children, a quiet afternoon of pottery painting is a great way to spend time with the family.

Ceramics Cafe in Farnham is situated less than a 5 minute walk from a large car park (next to Sainsbury’s) and is in the centre of Farnham, which is a beautiful place to visit in itself. There is a £2 session fee on top of anything you paint, and the pottery prices are very reasonable. The staff are always on hand to help, and they will happily cater for parties too!

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting, table and food

3. Gravity Force Trampolining

This fantastic trampoline park in Camberley is where we have spent many a weekend morning!

Gravity Force have a brilliant timetable which caters for all ages, with dedicated sessions for younger jumpers and a family jump session which makes it much easier to have fun with all of the family. We love it there so much that we’ve been annual pass holders since last summer, for the very good price of £8 per month. This park also hosts Gravity Fit sessions and they have a holiday club for older children!

4. 360 Play in Farnborough

This is more than just a soft play… This is an M&S soft play… KIDDING OF COURSE!

But this soft play is really something else. It is absolutely huge for a start, and there are loads of different areas and activities for the children to do. The staff are very safety and security conscious and you have a photo ID card so that they know exactly who is in the building in case of any emergencies or lost kiddies! (Not that we have ever had to seek assistance for this, thank lord!)

360 Play is a hidden gem in Farnborough, just past the Sainsbury’s in the town centre. They have a carousel, a dressing up area, a huge soft play structure for the big kids, and smaller soft plays for toddlers and babies. They have also begun Gymfinity clubs there which are gymnastics and ninja classes for children of all ages – we are trialling those very soon and can’t wait to bring you a review!

5. Coral Reef Waterworld in Bracknell

This one is a bit further afield, but definitely worth the travel! Coral Reef is an amazing indoor water world famous for it’s slides. Again there are lots of different areas in the pool for children of different ages. They often have a professional photographer there too to capture pictures of your babies’ first swims!

Just up the M3 and probably a half an hour / 45 minute drive from Aldershot, this is a brilliant day out for the family. Booking in advance is usually recommended as it can get quite busy, but equally if you arrive for when it opens you won’t end up queuing for too long either.

6. Aldershot Lido

Following on from the swimming theme – Aldershot Lido is a great local day out and a fantastic way to cool off in the summer sun! It’s also relatively close to Aldershot Park so you can combine the fun!

Tickets are half price after 3pm if you don’t get there until later in the day.

7. Birdworld in Farnham

You will drive past Birdworld on the way to Alice Holt Forest – it takes about 10 minutes in the car to get there from Aldershot town centre.

Birdworld often have special exhibits and events on during school holidays, and military families may be able to secure a discount on entry! Speak to your local welfare service if this is you. You also have the opportunity to feed the penguins which is just amazing!

8. Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace is a bit further afield, based in Moseley, but a truly wonderful day out with the family. The Palace itself is magnificent, and the gardens are an extra something special!

Hampton Court Palace’s Magic Garden is a wonderful area for the children, and the Palace itself hosts lots of extra events such as music festivals and outdoor cinemas throughout the summer months!

If you are a member of the Historic Royal Palaces Society you can visit Hampton Court Palace (and the other 5 palaces that are included in that membership) for free, but otherwise tickets are free for under 5s and roughly £10 for children up to 15 and £20 for adults. There is also car parking nearby (just across the road from the main entrance), and the whole palace is quite accessible if you’re having to lug a buggy around with you!

9. Chessington World of Adventures

Again a bit further afield, but where we are we are lucky to be living on the doorstep of this and other incredible theme parks! I would say that without any horrendous traffic we live roughly half an hour away from Chessington, which of course boasts a children’s theme park, a SeaLife centre AND a zoo!

It’s no wonder that many of the families living in Aldershot invest in Merlin passes while we live so close to Chessington and other Merlin attractions. Chessington however is the best one for young families as the rides accommodate a range of age groups. Our tall 9 year old and our only just 3 year old love going to Chessington, and the SeaLife centre and zoo are frequented during the day! The penguins are a particularly great attraction. You can also feed the giraffes and the elephants if you get there at the right time!

10. Farnborough Vue

If the weather isn’t good enough for a full on outdoor day trip, the Vue cinema in Farnborough is a really good way to spend a few hours with the kids without feeling like you’re stuck at home. Farnborough Vue offers any film at any time for £4.99 per person, so even if you’re a big family, you can have a cinema experience without breaking the bank!

This year is set to be a brilliant one for Disney films with Dumbo and Aladdin, Lion King, and Toy Story 4 having already been released, and Frozen 2 due to come out later in the year as well!

Are you local to Aldershot? Would you add any other attractions to the list? Let us know if you have been to any of these listed here!

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The Trampolining Trend and Why it’s Actually Amazing!

If there’s one thing little 2 year old Olivia loves, it’s trampolines.

Actually, in all fairness, it’s not just her! Kiera loves it too and she’s about to turn 9. Heck, even I love it and I’m 23!

But there are soooooo many benefits. You might think that trampoline parks are like soft play hell x1000, but they’re actually pretty cool and if you haven’t tried taking the kids out to one, you most definitely should!

We, as a family, are a bit of an expert at trampoline parks. We seem to have tested out quite a few! There’s Airhop in Guildford, Gravity Force in Camberley, and Flip Out in Ashford (they also have locations in Southampton, Basingstoke, Portsmouth, Chatham, Nottingham and more, but Ashford is the only one we’ve sampled!) and I have actually recently bought an annual membership at Gravity Force for me and Olivia! £8 per month for unlimited jumping, excluding their Gravity Fit sessions, but that’s a bargain for me considering how often I take Olivia. It’s easy to make it a weekly thing every weekend and it never loses its charm!

So, why do we love them so much?

First of all, they are nothing like soft play. There are screaming kids, yes, but the kids tend to be slightly older and better behaved, even in the tots sessions! They have far more space to run around in and loads more variety in what they can do. While Olivia loves a soft play, she would always choose to go trampolining over that any day, and so would I!

Although there’s always a risk that someone will end up with bumps or bruises, there are designated ‘court monitors’ dotted about to minimise the risk of any children getting hurt. Unlike at a soft play, you haven’t got to crawl on your hands and knees through a tunnel that’s really only big enough for a 6 year old to track down your crying tot after someone else’s kid has pushed them over!

It’s not just the thrill for the kids that makes them so worthwhile though, there’s actually a huge health benefit to trampolining – it’s an hour of exercise that your children otherwise wouldn’t be getting. And let me tell you, 20 minutes of jumping around or running around after your kids would get you breathing heavy, too! Also, for the kids, it’s 100% fitness disguised as fun, so if you have children who hate anything sporty, I guarantee they would probably not apply that same disgust to trampolining!

I’m not sure about the other parks, but Gravity Force near us also do tailored Gravity Fit sessions which I am yet to try! There are loads of different kinds of fitness sessions, some of which are even suitable for older kids to join in.

I know, you’re thinking ‘why can’t I just get my own trampoline and let the kids run wild?’

You can, but we have our own trampoline in the garden and Olivia still would prefer to go to the trampoline park. They often have foam pits, dodgeball, basketball, and tons of other activities. Plus, outdoor trampolines don’t get used very often in the winter. The trampoline parks we go to are indoors, nice and warm, and again, have so much more space for the kids to run around in!

Not only that, but it’s an hour’s session to get you out of your god forsaken house. I get sick of being stuck indoors and when you have something like this close by, it’s a great idea to get everyone out of the house, away from electronics and loving life.

For us, we really see the benefit because of the age differences between our two girls. Kiera is 8 going on 9 and Olivia is almost 2 and a half, but yet this is somewhere we can take them both and they both love it so much. Yes, there are loads of places we could take both kids, but actually we end up having to split up into two families – me and Olivia, Jamie and Kiera – so that the kids can do things for their age groups.

Husband back home means Daddy Day Care is in session!

Trampolining really is great fun for both of them and Jamie and I can tag team so one of us can sit and have a break, or we can both get involved and have a huge dodgeball fight with both of the kids (mostly aiming at each other).

Do you take your children trampolining? We’d love to hear your experiences!

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What is there for toddlers at LEGOLAND Windsor Resort?

Recently as part of the army’s welfare service while my husband is deployed, we were invited on a free trip to LEGOLAND! So, of course, we went – who would pass that up?! – and we loved it! But with a two year old in tow, most of my day was spent trying to navigate the toddler friendly rides and attractions at LEGOLAND, which was no easy feat.

One thing I will say is that if you are planning on going with really little ones, don’t go in half term! It wasn’t excessively busy throughout the resort but it did make queue times pretty long!

Duplo Valley…

Duplo Train

This very short train ride is the perfect introduction to rides for your toddler! Olivia was itching to get on the Skyrider but couldn’t because of the height restriction, so the Duplo Train was the perfect substitute! You have to accompany your tot but this is a sure win for toddlers going to LEGOLAND!

Fairy Tale Brook

I didn’t get to go on this one in the end and I’m absolutely gutted! It’s a nice little boat ride perfect for all family members, as adults have to accompany guests under 1.3m and there’s no minimum heigh to ride! The ride takes you through a bunch of fairy tales and you get to see loads of fairy tale characters made out of Lego – it sounds really amazing! When we go back again we’ll definitely be taking Olivia on this one!

Brickville

This is a very nice little play area situated quite closely to the Splash Safari and Fairy Tale Brook, and it’s ideal for kids of all ages!

Splash Safari

Oh. My. Goodness.
My daughter spent THE WHOLE MORNING here. She absolutely loved it! It’s essentially a little water park in Duplo Valley with tons of cute animals spurting out water everywhere. It was honestly amazing and she had so much fun! I would say to bring a swimming costume – they have changing rooms next to the Splash Safari but as Olivia is only little I just stripped her down to her nappy and away she went!

Adventure Land…

Atlantis Submarine

This was another one that Olivia loved. The queue time was relatively short (less than 5 minutes one time and about 20 minutes the other time). I bribed her with strawberries to walk nicely in the queue and she did pretty well, but patience is not her strong point! Once we were in the submarine she was so excited to see the “poissons”! When I first saw the sign for a SeaLife centre I didn’t realise that we would be going into a submarine to see the fish! This was the PERFECT ride for little kids to get on and to enjoy themselves.

LEGO City…

Coastguard HQ

This one is suitable for everyone, as adults have to accompany guests under 1.3m and there is no minimum height to get into the boats! However I’m going to guess that toddlers aren’t the best people to be steering the boat around the waterways, so you’ll very much be in charge of the boat ride! And the LEGOLAND website warns that you will get wet on this one.

Balloon School

Unfortunately your tot cannot get their LEGOLAND driving licence just yet! BUT, they can indeed go to Balloon School as long as you accompany them, which is right around the corner from the driving school areas.

Kingdom of the Pharaohs…

Laser Raiders

This one is fine as long as you accompany your tot, however I’m not sure how successful it would be to get your toddlers on here! The laser game requires some precision and usually it’s better if your kids are a little bit older, but I’m sure toddlers would have just as much fun!

Heartlake City…

While none of the attractions in Heartlake City are any good for toddlers, there is a pretty amazing pirate show as well as a very lively and upbeat Lego Friends show that anyone can watch!

Miniland…

Pretty much does what it says on the tin… Miniland is just full of miniature Lego villages, all themed by country! My daughter was fascinated with them, and I was too!
The Lego boats floated through the rivers, and the sheer detail in the models was incredible – Olivia loved walking around and getting quite up close to the models to point out things she could see.

Imagination Centre…

Right at the beginning of the park there are a number of little build and play areas, including a Lego Reef and an Education Centre. The perfect spot to let the little ones have a go at creating some amazing Lego models.

So, that’s my list of everything at LEGOLAND Windsor Resort that your toddler can do! While the number of rides tailored towards younger kids isn’t spectacular, they have absolutely loads of outdoor play areas and other activities that everyone can get involved in, which is pretty unique for a theme park.
Would I go again?
Absolutely! We had such a wonderful day, and next time I hope that we’ll be able to go on even more now that I know which rides are suitable and where they all are!
Thanks for reading, let me know if there’s anything I’ve missed or if you’ve also been to LEGOLAND we would love to see your pictures too!

 

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Taking a toddler to SeaLife

Hi all!

Sometimes it’s nice to share photos of things we’ve been up to recently, and Olivia and I have been up to all sorts of antics this week!

Yesterday we had a very busy but amazing day, and I’m really starting to feel like I’m on top of the world now and actually in control. We’ve gotten into a lovely routine together, and although we both miss Jamie very much, we’re managing okay while he’s serving abroad.

So, what did we get up to yesterday?

We took a day trip to the SeaLife Aquarium in London! We managed a (mostly) successful train journey with only one tantrum – I call that a success – and for the majority of the time walking around the aquarium, Olivia was so happy and excited! There were a few screaming fits on the floor, but minimal and I could tell that she was getting quite tired.

I cannot even describe how amazed she was by the whole aquarium, but this photo does it some justice:

Seeing her so happy made the whole day worthwhile, and, of course, by the end of walking all around the aquarium she was so exhausted that I managed a hassle-free trip to uni to collect my White Book! I may have also enrolled her on the BPTC while I was there… She was asleep after all, so she couldn’t stop me!
The only stressful part of the day was attempting to keep hold of Olivia at the same time as pushing an empty buggy around! SeaLife doesn’t have a buggy park (which I was unaware of), and that meant it was a tad tricky trying to lug around a buggy, a bag and a baby all by myself! We will definitely have to go again when Jamie gets back from Afghanistan with the whole family!

Have you been to SeaLife? What have you been up to this weekend? We’d love to know so leave us a comment or submit your pics to us via email and we will share them on our instagram page!

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