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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Disneyland at Christmas

If you are thinking of going at all, you simply have to, but Christmas time is just incredible. We’ve been saying for ages that we wanted to go away for Christmas so that we didn’t have to do anything at home on Christmas Day. No mess, no plates to wash up, no hundreds of presents! It was great.

Oh my lord. We’ve been away for Christmas this year, and not just to anywhere, but to the place where magic really happens – DISNEYLAND PARIS.
If you are thinking of going at all, you simply have to, but Christmas time is just incredible. We’ve been saying for ages that we wanted to go away for Christmas so that we didn’t have to do anything at home on Christmas Day. No mess, no plates to wash up, no hundreds of presents! It was great.

The Highlights:

  • Christmas dinner with the princesses
  • Olivia’s face on the parachute ride
  • Meeting Mickey Mouse and Père Noël
  • All you can eat breakfast
  • Our Disney Christmas tree

The Not-So-Highlights:

  • It was bitterly, bitterly cold
  • We all came down with colds
  • The meal plans are a bit more confusing now
  • Being tricked into getting on Space Mountain
As a family, we DO Disney. This is our third time going together (Jamie has gone an additional 3 times with Kiera, and Kiera went another time with her mum… that makes 7 times for her now!!!!) so we weren’t newbies to the whole thing, but since the last time we went in January 2016, things have changed quite a bit!

What to Book…

We always book our Disney holidays directly through Disneyland Paris, but there are 2 things especially that we make sure are on our bookings!
1. Meal Plan
 
Since we went in 2016, Disney have completely changed their meal plans. Instead of half board or full board, they now have multiple options for half board and full board meal plans. Normally, we book a full board meal plan because it saves so much time and money. You just book your meal at your hotel in the evening, or in one of the parks for lunch, and it’s all already paid for. The cost of the restaurants in the park for a 3 person buffet is about 95 euros so you don’t want to be shelling out for that every day!
They’ve also now got rid of the Pause Gourmande/Teatime Treat vouchers from the half board meal plan. We managed fairly well on the half board standard meal plan this time, but in future I will always still go for full board – the trouble is that when we booked, this was unavailable.
We did have a bit of a problem over Christmas Eve being told that we couldn’t use our vouchers at the hotel for dinner because they were doing a special Christmas Eve dinner that we had to pay for. Needless to say, I obviously wasn’t too happy with that but we managed to get a late lunch/early dinner in the park and so had a cheap meal deal in our hotel room for supper.
2. Character Dining
Jamie had done the lunch with the princesses once with Kiera, and our Christmas dinner this year was lunch with the princesses. From what Jamie told me about the last time he did that character dining, I wasn’t expecting it to be that great, but actually, it was incredible and I’m so glad we did it!
We had already done breakfast with the characters the last time we took Kiera and that was really great, but seeing as you already get an all you can eat buffet for breakfast and you can meet those characters every morning at the hotel, it didn’t feel like it was worth as much as the lunch with the princesses. It was still brilliant – Pluto came and “ate” Kiera’s sausages and we got some amazing photos, and there were loads of characters coming between the tables.
At lunch with the princesses, Olivia met 4 princesses (Cinderella, Ariel, Belle and Sleeping Beauty) after having already met Snow White in the Princess Pavilion, and also met the two mice from Cinderella, Suzy and Perla. The characters were brilliant, Ariel was especially good and the mice made a huge fuss of Olivia, pretending to sew her dress for her like they do for Cinderella! It was truly magical for Olivia, and her face lit up as soon as she walked in and saw “Cinder-e

lly”.

Aside from the characters, you also get a 3 course meal which was really good, and even though we didn’t technically have a meal plan for Olivia as she is under 3, she had the same meal as Kiera and was very happy with it!

What to See and Who to Meet…

1. Princess Pavilion
 
The waiting times for meeting the characters is always long, but at least on one day, make sure you go to the Princess Pavilion. It opens at 10am and the notice board outside tells you which Princess is inside to meet. Olivia waited about an hour to see Snow White, but with Kiera I remember we waited about 90 minutes to see Cinderella and we were quite unimpressed with the whole thing (Kiera was made up about it). This time we were better prepared – Jamie took Kiera on the bigger rides while I waited to meet Snow White, Olivia had her own autograph book to draw in so that we kept the Princess one intact, and she also made friends with another little girl and was playing with her in the queue.
Snow White was absolutely fantastic with Olivia (even if Olivia did tell her that her favourite princess was Anna), and Olivia was starstruck and went all shy, but we got some amazing photos! Waiting times are always a bummer, but inside the Princess Pavilion there are loads of things to look at – castles and items from the fairytales line the walls and so does the magic mirror from Snow White! It’s a really great experience.
 
2. Meet the Characters at the Hotel
 
Every morning, your Disney hotel will have a character waiting for you to take pictures with. On Christmas Day, we had Père Noël at Breakfast with us and Olivia went straight over to see him! It was an amazing moment for her to meet Father Christmas and get that extra signature in her autograph book.
Even without needing to go at Christmas time, the characters will be there waiting and if your little ones want to meet characters like Mickey Mouse, you are far better off meeting them at the hotel rather than waiting the 90 minutes to Meet Mickey Mouse in the Disneyland Park.
The official photographers are there too and they asked Olivia to go back to give Mickey Mouse a kiss!
 
 
 
3. Meet the Characters in the Parks 
 
All of the characters in the Walt Disney Studios Park now have to be reserved in advance on the Lineberty App – Minnie Mouse is over there, as are the Toy Story Characters, and, Spiderman.
Olivia really wanted to meet Spiderman and we weren’t familiar with this app until we tried to meet Pluto and were told we needed a reservation! Upon closer inspection it seems like a good idea – you can get into a virtual queue to meet the character of your choice, then spend minimal time actually queuing up and get your photos and autographs done ready for you to go straight back to the rides.
Spiderman was great, and I wish we could have done Minnie Mouse too except her queue was full up when we tried to get a space, and also I didn’t see any way of knowing if it was Minnie or one of the other characters! Either way, these are definitely easier to meet and greet than in the Disneyland Park where you physically queue up for as long as it takes.
4. The Parade
 
We only managed to gatecrash the parade on this trip, which was a shame as Olivia wanted to see Anna, Elsa and Rapunzel, who all feature in the parade. The trouble was the timing as she was pretty much asleep at that time every day we were there! I don’t think there is a way you can actually meet those other characters, so if you have Frozen or Tangled fans, try to get a good spot near the ground so you can see Rapunzel (Anna and Elsa are on a big float so you can’t miss them!)
 
5. The Illuminations
 
We didn’t get to see these at all this time due to Olivia needing sleep and feeling a bit rotten, and also, the cold would have been even worse at 10pm when the Fireworks started. However we have seen them before and absolutely loved them! The whole castle is lit up and projected onto, it’s truly magnificent and I’m more than a little gutted that we couldn’t stay to see them on this trip.
6. Christmas Shows
 
One of the other advantages to going to Disneyland at Christmas time is that you get a bunch of extra Christmas shows put on! Most of them are on stages outside, however one was indoors in the nice warm Videopolis near Space Mountain and the Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast ride. Olivia loved watching Mickey and Minnie Mouse and it’s great because you get a seat and a chance to warm up a bit before going and braving the cold again! Plus, French hot chocolate is yummy and there’s a food spot right inside where you can use your magic passes/food vouchers!!!
Would we do it all again?
ABSOLUTELY YES.
I never want another Christmas at home – think of how much of the rubbish we have skipped out on by being away! The girls knew that they were only getting little presents as Disneyland was their Christmas present, and we had no dinner to cook (we don’t eat Turkey anyway!)
Okay, so maybe we won’t do it every year, but it was really nice to get away over Christmas and Disneyland was simply incredible over Christmas time. 100% recommend!
Have you taken your family away over Christmas? Will you be doing it again?

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Travelling with a toddler… How bad can it be?

When I’m out in the car with my daughter for a bit longer than she has the patience for being stuck in a car seat for, then I’ll get the high pitched screaming alarm or a frustrated hissy fit. She doesn’t hold on to her toys in the car for longer than five seconds before hurling them somewhere. With that in mind, she does pretty well to keep herself entertained most of the time on our car journeys, but it doesn’t stop me feeling a little anxious if I’m stuck out for longer than I intended, especially after I had a particularly bad car drive on the motorway… I will admit I haven’t really ventured away too far from home with Imogen and I do try to stick to some sort of daily routine. So when we decided to go abroad, I was left thinking how on earth we would cope with a toddler on a plane trip.

It seems silly now in hindsight of our holiday that I was a bit worried, but it’s because toddlers are so unpredictable, as you all know!

Perhaps you’re waiting to go away somewhere or you’re unsure of how you would cope… Please don’t let it put you off!

Think of when you need to leave for the airport and then add extra time! You just know that with kids, that something is going to happen… a last minute stinky nappy or a refusal to get ready. I never get out of the door on time anymore anyway, so despite feeling super prepared we didn’t leave home until later than our plan to.

On the motorway we were diverted off course due to road works and the sat nav took us through town after town. Watching the time ticking by, I’m not going to lie, I thought we weren’t going to be leaving the country at all, but in an attempt to keep my partner calm I kept saying just drive safe, it will be fine. At the end of the day, it’s not worth putting our lives at risk to catch a flight. Imogen slept the whole car journey and I’m glad we picked an early flight for this reason. At least she wasn’t adding to our stress.

Once we got to the airport there was no time to shop, we were racing through the airport and got to the boarding gate with 20 minutes to spare before it shut! We could finally sit and relax we thought. Imogen had other plans though, she wanted to run around. She most definitely did not want to sit nicely Mummy! So we had squealing and tantrums. At this point I noticed some panic stricken faces from people knowing that they were about to share a flight with a screaming toddler. This was one of the things I was a bit worried about but I thought ah yes, I’ll get her bottle ready for the flight. The milk will make everything better…

… Then it dawned on me that I hadn’t picked up the cartons of milk from the bag check. Eeek!

We were keeping Imogen as entertained and calm as possible, with my partner’s brilliant idea to download some Peppa Pig from Netflix onto his phone before we left home. This helped while the flight was delayed for almost an hour on the runway before take off.

Imogen was a bit squawky by this point on the flight and wanted to get off my lap to run around but the whole experience for her was new, exciting and strange! There was very little we could do, other than try to keep her occupied with the toys we’d packed for the flight, (one of them being a new toy that we thought she would be excited about), and once we could, we bought some snacks from the on flight drinks trolley. There were other babies and toddlers on the flight and they all did really well. Yes there was a bit of noise but if other people have a problem with that then I’m sure it’s nothing that a pair of earphones wouldn’t help with. Don’t let this worry you. Kids have as much right to travel as anyone else!

We found out once we reached our holiday destination that our relatives with a small child had to wait hours for a delayed flight the day before. I suddenly felt that our experience could have been a lot worse!

We had a lovely week with family and we were all feeling pretty sombre about the holiday ending.

When we were headed back to the airport we were stuck in traffic and I think the constant stopping and starting was what caused Imogen to be very sick all over herself. I was cleaning her up and once we got to the airport I was able to change her into fresh clothes. So I think in future I will remember to keep a spare change in our cabin bag.

We then had a forgotten Toot Toot dog set off the scanner for our hand luggage, which caused us a bit of delay but at least it gave the staff a few giggles! We again got to the boarding gate with very little time to spare… 10 minutes this time! But the strange thing is, we were so much more relaxed. When we were queueing to board the plane we were told our cabin bags would have to go into the hold! So on the flight back we didn’t have all the toys and entertainment that we had on the trip there. This time though we had the trusty milk and Imogen fell asleep for the whole flight home.

When we returned to the car, thinking all had gone pretty well and feeling eager to get home, we found our car had a flat tyre in the airport car park! We wouldn’t be home for another 5 hours! Instead of worrying though, we took it in our stride and managed to get it sorted, despite having no phone, (the battery died) and being somewhere unknown.

What I learned from our trip was that we coped. We could have spent ages planning for the trip and things still wouldn’t have gone to plan. What happened though wasn’t really so bad! I’m so glad we went abroad with Imogen and now I know I won’t worry so much about travelling again. Perhaps we’ll go further away next time. Maybe I will try doing longer car journeys or a train trip on my own? I feel far more confident for next time.

Top tips for mums planning a wedding and honeymoon

Weddings take so much planning as they are. When you factor in children things can get messy. Here are some tips to help your day run smoothly.  #Wedding #Bride #FlowerGirl #KidsAtWeddings #WeddingPlanning #Babies #Toddler

Wedding

Last Tuesday I tied the knot and became a wife! Crazy, I know. At the ripe old age of 22, I have taken myself securely off the market… Sorry, lads.

The day was absolutely wonderful, and I am amazed with how well my darling 17 month old daughter coped with all the late nights and lack of sleep. However, having her around did make certain pre-wedding things slightly more stressful, so if you can learn from my experiences, I hope it makes it much easier for anyone else in the same boat!

1. Don’t attempt dress fittings with clingy children…

For my final fitting before the big day, myself and 3 bridesmaids all had to get to the bridal shop for final tweaks and adjustments. You would think that, in this situation, there are enough bridesmaids to go around to entertain the little one while mummy had her fitting. Except 2 of them were 50 minutes late, with no explanation. This is more of a choose reliable bridesmaids tip than a parenting one, but the struggle that occurred while I was in my dress and the baby was screaming for a cuddle (overtired, as usual) was awful and made even the seamstress upset! Both myself and Olivia could have been saved a lot of tears if she had simply been left with Daddy for the day.

2. Try not to upset their routine too much…

After a week of being away from home, Olivia was more than happy to go to her own bed, with her teddy and her nightlight, and went to sleep straight away with no fussing at all. You know how, when you stay in a hotel too long and you can’t wait to get home and sleep in your own bed? Well, it seems like babies feel that too. To avoid spending too long away from home, plan the wedding locally! I think the whole saga would have been far more manageable for us if we had a local wedding and were in our own place right up until the wedding day, with Olivia only spending the honeymoon (4 nights) in a different bed outside of her normal routine.

3. Have clear childcare plans for the wedding night…

You may think this goes without saying, but maybe not for those without kids. If you’re relying on bridesmaids/friends rather than a childminder or babysitter, make sure they know exactly what will need doing. My anxiety was triggered a lot on the wedding day and night, purely through not knowing who was looking after Olivia when, and from having to save her from falling down the stairs multiple times. It also took one of our lovely (fellow parent) guests to swoop in and offer to change her nappy for us, a small act of kindness that saved me deserting the wedding party and wiping a bare bottom in my wedding dress!

4. Have entertainment ready for the morning of the wedding…

Hectic as it is anyway, it’s even more hectic in a small space with a baby running around and 7 bridesmaids. Mum-in-law was quick to the rescue by plonking the little ones in a bath together with bath crayons and bubbles, keeping them entertained for a significant portion of the morning! And, of course, bath time means bedtime! So little Olivia slept for a couple of hours afterwards, leaving us to get ready in peace!

5. Do take your baby to the wedding rehearsal…

I think that Olivia going to the rehearsal with us made her far happier on the day of the wedding. She knew what was where, and we only had one mishap with her attempting an escape route up to the altar! Other than that, she was perfectly behaved, and mainly stayed in the child-friendly area of the church filled with toys!

Honeymoon

My first tip here is not to take the kids with you – we learned that the hard way! But in all seriousness, if, like us, you want to share your holiday as a family, here are some tips and tricks to make the journey as hassle-free as possible!

1. Pay to take your buggy in the hold luggage, or plan to take one with you…

We made the mistake of assuming Olivia would be perfectly fine to walk about everywhere, not factoring in her exhaustion from all of the late nights she had in preparation for the wedding! As soon as we got to Barcelona, we realised that it wasn’t going to work without a buggy. Happy as she is to walk around, the need for sleep caught up with her and Back Pack Baby in Barcelona were saviours in our hour of need!

2. No amount of snacks is enough for the plane…

I bought 5 packets of Heinz baby biscuits, and 3 packets of Olivia’s favourite fruity bear paw prints. Almost all of that was gone on the outward journey, but luckily she found a hobby in opening and shutting the window blind on the plane, sat on Kiera’s lap. The way back was less easy going, due to having 2 grumpy, whiney children. Olivia managed to get about half an hour of sleep on the plane before her ears began popping in her sleep and obviously making her uncomfortable. Once she woke up and had her remaining snacks, she was her normal self, covered in chocolate and kicking to be free from restraint.

3. Have a nappy plan…

After we had to make an unscheduled nappy change in the early hours of this morning, when Olivia decided it would be super fun to pull hers off and wee on the bed (TWICE), we were left nappy-less by the time we boarded the plane. Of course, Olivia being Olivia, she decided that mid-flight was the best time to poo, and so we had a mad dash through passport control to find a pack of nappies that were definitely too small but had to make do until we could get anywhere else! Wherever you’re going, look up baby supplies before you go, and make sure you’re familiar with sizes. I had no idea where to start and thus we were stuck in this predicament!!!

FINAL TIP:

Enjoy it! Even if you may have some horrific moments, try to cherish the good ones and make lasting memories. Not everything goes as planned, but what I’ve realised is
that I’m lucky to have my new husband, who is particularly talented at turning rubbish times into great ones. I love him and our little family, and we all enjoyed our little trip to Barcelona, even if it was a bit hectic!

That’s it from me today! Share your experiences below!

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The ladybirds' adventures