The Last Minute Holidaymaker

Or what not to forget when you’re going away. Here’s some top tips:

1. If, like us, you’re going to Australia you can get your vistors visa for FREE now. You used to have to pay. Mine came through 30 minutes after applying from here. Don’t fall for the trap of paying for one when they cost nothing. Places like STA Travel charge you £20!

2. We collected two Travelex Prepay visa cards today from the branch near Shaun’s work. This will make things much easier. We can also change our PIN numbers at any Visa ATM which is handy as I don’t want to remember something new this late in the day.

3. We also realised our Nationwide Flex Account could be upgraded to a Flex Account Plus which gives us Worldwide Holiday Insurance as well as free ATM withdrawals throughout the world. We don’t have our new cards just yet so Travelex will cover things if our cards stop working while we’re away and the new ones haven’t arrived. The Flex Account Plus costs £10 a month, but also includes things like Breakdown Cover and phone insurance which we can amend our existing policies to reduce costs. Not allowing enough time for your new cards to arrive MAY be a problem….

4. Online check-in. Up to 48 hours before our flight we can check-in online. This is a big bonus – we’ve confirmed ourselves and chosen our seats, as closely as possible to the exits (thanks to our 50 minute stop in Singapore), meals are ordered so we just have check-in left. Some flights we’ve taken don’t offer it.

Purple Parking logo

5. Purple Parking. We’re lucky enough to be reviewing Purple Parking’s Meet and Greet service, so will report back once we’re home. I like that we can drop the car at the terminal, and that it is there to be picked up when we return – it feels nice and simple with no shuttle buses involved.

6. Keeping H entertained. We’ve put party bag sticker books into her YUUbag so we’re ready – this is the one thing we’ve been really organised with.

7. Overseas phone tariffs. Our networks suck! I’m with EE and Shaun is with Vodafone and both have rubbish tariffs in Australia. Only 3 seem to be any good, where you can use your own allowance overseas. I’m considering unlocking my phone and buying a SIM while I’m out there as it will be less hassle. 100MB of data for 7 days for £20. I think I’ll be looking for free Wifi! (or 500MB for 7 days for £40 – shocking).

8. Wifi on the plane. Of course I’m going to try it – if it doesn’t cost much. Also, we can connect our iPods/iPads to our in-flight entertainment system – that might be essential for H!

9.  Top tip from my friend Louise – if for some reason one of our suitcases should go astray, we should pack a few of each others clothes in each case. This would never have occurred to me had she not said – makes perfect sense anyway!

10. Make sure your suitcases still close….!

Haven Littlesea

We’ve just got back from our third Haven break this year, and this time we opted for the camp at Haven Littlesea near Weymouth. Yep, back to Dorset – after our last trip there was cut short with H’s illness, we felt like we still had a lot to explore around the area, and for me it would be revisiting places I haven’t been for almost three decades.

Haven Littlesea faces onto Chesil Beach, so you have a small patch of water where bathing is prohibited. If you’ve seen Chesil Beach you’ll understand how impressive it is, but views of the sea are not something you’re going to get here! Or at least from our caravan, anyway.

Haven Littlesea From Portland

We knew how chilly nights could get after our Devon Cliffs break in May, so when we found an option for a caravan with heating in each room and paid a bit extra for a Prestige Caravan. We weren’t disappointed – it was new, clean although had a horrid stink. We soon worked out it was due to the bin provided – it would appear previous tenants of the space didn’t bother with bin bags, leading to rubbish caked to the bottom of the bin – a quick clean and things were fine.

We had two bedrooms and loads of space – the caravan was heated with double glazing – which looking at the Haven site seems to be something all newer models offer.

The Haven Littlesea site was good – although with this being the final week of the season I felt some of the food we’d had at the Mash and Barrel could have been better – we ate out most nights instead or bought food and cooked it at the caravan.

The FunStars entertainment was fantastic – led by Stuart they were brilliant – H found him hilarious and was happy to sit with the other kids and join in with the games, which meant we could relax and sit away from the stage and enjoy the fact she was happy and not needing us to have fun too! She particularly enjoyed dancing to the Rock N Roll Bingo theme….

Haven Littlesea

Would we go back to Haven Littlesea? Yes. The staff were friendly, the entertainment complex wasn’t far to walk to and there was the obligatory soft play section which H enjoyed. Starbucks was on hand for stronger coffee as well.

Finally, my Haven Essentials list of things you should always take with you when staying there.

Towels – hand, bath, teatowels, paper ones too
Bath mat. You will need one – those bathroom floors are slippy
Cleaning cloths
Washing up liquid
Bin bags (large big black ones)
Soap for washing hands
Toilet rolls

Everything else you can buy from the Spar on-site.

The big question now is will we get to a Haven site next year? Ideally next summer we’ll be heading to Australia to visit the in-laws, but with tickets for the three of us at £3,000 it’s going to be tight!

A Starting School Holiday Break

We’ve booked another Haven holiday…

Last night I booked a holiday for us and our friends – another Haven holiday. After lots of shopping around it came in at our budget – around £350 for the six of us for a Friday to Monday stay right before the girls start school. (well not right before, a week or so maybe)

We know Haven – we’ve been to Devon Cliffs twice, and last year also went to Hafan-y-Mor in August too. This time we’re booked into Seaview in Dorset – and already I can see we’re close to Corfe Castle (which I’ve always fancied visiting), and I’d love to get a trip to Mottisfont too where there’s a Winnie the Pooh exhibition.

Pecorama view

So knowing what we have on-site for entertainment, can anyone recommend anything nearby that we should know about? Lyme Regis is just up the road (Alice’s Bear Shop!) and we went to Pecorama last year – so somewhere which is new would be great.

Help please!

A Devon Cliffs Haven Break

Devon Cliffs has been our holiday destination two years in a row – so I decided we should do a review. It’s long!

Devon Cliffs is Haven’s Flagship park, and somewhere we’re familiar with. We booked way up front with a deal via a newspaper as we had done the previous year and chose to go back to – we knew there was a lot more to go and see. The break came in at around £120 total, for accommodation, linen and passes for a Monday to Friday break.

An added bonus is that the excellent Rachel and family live up the road in Exeter, so we extended our stay by a couple of days – more of which to follow as we did a LOT!

So, we returned to Devon Cliffs. I phoned in a request with them to stay in a similar area to last year as we found it quiet – when we stayed at Hafan-y-mor in North Wales we were next to the entertainment complex and its horrendous soundproofing (I can’t use earplugs as I have tinnitus so had to make do with the noise and the people leaving afterwards). We were pleased as we ended up being allocated the same ‘little house’ as last year, in Rowan Meadow. You’re about three caravans length-wise from the cliffs and the sea and on a sunny day you’re facing the sun in the mornings which makes the cold start much more bearable.

Devon Cliffs May 2013

Three mornings at Devon Cliffs

On getting back to our caravan nothing had changed – other than this year you have to take your own towels (bedding is supplied as an extra, made up on arrival) – that was fine, though I’m now looking for microfibre towels to take should we go again as they dry quicker than regular ones – drying space is a bit lacking! (you get a rack and there is a laundrette in the main area)

This wasn’t a major issue as our caravan was our base for getting around the area, however the weather had other ideas – we knew the Tuesday would be pretty bad with rain, so decided to try out the facilities at Devon Cliffs – so went swimming. We didn’t try anything else as it was outdoors although you can pay up-front to use them. In the pool H wasn’t keen on the big slide though loved the smaller pool play area. It isn’t deep and H wasn’t out of her depth. There are no floatables to borrow so we bought H a float for about £7 at the pool reception. There’s plenty of staff cleaning the floors and keeping them as clean as possible, and as far as the swimming goes we had fun – it was too cold for us to go to the outdoor pools.

Afterwards we had lunch at the Mash & Barrel – the main pub area (think along the lines of Wetherspoons) – where our waiter asked Shaun if he’d like ‘crisps or chips’ with our sandwiches. Shaun opted for chips… and this is where things got a bit confusing. When the food arrived we had crisps AND chips. As I’d asked Shaun to get a portion for us to share we didn’t complain, but it’s worth making sure the person serving you knows exactly what you want. The vegetarian burger there is great and I was happy with it.

Sandy Beach at Devon Cliffs 2013

Unlike previous times, we only ate at Devon Cliffs twice – once on our first evening there and once on the rainy day. One plus with the food area is a soft play section, though I spotted a piece of string/rope across the lower area which worried me. I mentioned it to a member of staff as I felt it could be dangerous, and nobody had been to check when we left. This could be me being overcautious, and they do recommend your child is supervised at all times. There wasn’t anyone policing the entrance and a lot of older kids were on there which was a bit annoying as they were well over the maximum height.

We did what any parent who wants to keep their child entertained does, and headed upstairs for the disco – the one for toddlers and young kids. H was shy about it the first night (as I stood there singing along to ‘Hands Up’ by Justin Fletcher and ‘Big Red Car’ by The Wiggles, oh indie cred, I’ve let you down horribly), but the second night in her sparkly Moshi Monsters t-shirt and she was ready to dance. She didn’t win any prizes (which were sweets) but had fun. The kids were led from the dancefloor a few times to ‘Follow the leader’ (as in, have your photo taken with one of the characters for £5ish) but we opted out – it was popular and the queues were big. This meant H had the dancefloor to herself for a bit anyway. The staff were all really enthusiastic and had fun – though a character was introduced on the stage and sung songs nobody knew which kind of lost the kids a bit (I thought). They all seemed to have fun, and there was a sweet shop to the side with illuminated toys and sugar for sale – which we managed to avoid.

On our second to last night at Devon Cliffs we went to the beach, building sandcastles and flying our kite. We had the whole beach to ourselves pretty much. Afterwards we headed up to the seafront bar for some food – bear in mind vegetarians, this place is big on fish! There’s decent veggie options and I settled for a large salad which was really filling. H tried her first prawn and enjoyed it, and Shaun found them tasty – so if you like your seafood skip the Mash & Barrel. This is also the bar which features on the ‘Echo Beach’ advert!

Sandy Beach at Devon Cliffs 2013

There’s one BIG thing which never happened last time we stayed at Devon Cliffs – the Royal Marines shooting range was used daily, next to the campsite. At first I thought there was some outdoor fireworks display, then it hit home. I then had to explain to H why they were firing things and making the noise as best I could… not a big problem, but one I didn’t realise existed before – so if you want to avoid that, request to be away from the cliffs.

So, going back to Devon Cliffs – was it a good idea? I’m happy with our stay – we all had a good sleep thanks to it being quiet – and we got to see more of the area. Would we go back again? Probably not – but only because we’ve probably exhausted the area close by – we’re thinking about Cornwall next year and going a bit further south (so will look at Haven sites as we know what we’re getting). We took minimal food and stocked up in the Spar which came in around £10 which I thought was very reasonable. I know we’re the kind of family who will use the on-site facilities but do leave the site for most of the day to do other things.

Could anything be improved? Possibly – I liked not having to take our own towels last year! The kids entertainment was good, and given H was confident enough to head down the front and dance with the other kids I was happy with that, though found the character entertainment songs quite loud (with my ears I’m sensitive to it) – I’m sure it’s well within limits but thought it’s worth mentioning. Some lower calorie options with meals would have been nice, although I put my blinkers on and just ate what I fancied (and only put on 1lb in the process – phew). We couldn’t find a check-out time for Devon Cliffs so I tweeted Haven for confirmation – it’s 10am, should anyone else find themselves googling it. It doesn’t say anywhere (the Haven Website wouldn’t work on my iPad, weirdly). Someone came to clean our caravan at 9.30, so they’re keen.

Devon Cliffs May 2013

What was good? I love that Devon Cliffs has child cutlery in the food areas and make sure your child has something to colour in (hats this year!). I love their kids food menu has choice at the heart of it, so you give your child more of a chance to pick what they want (even if it isn’t necessarily the most healthy…). I really liked how the pool was the right size, and older kids didn’t get in the way or barge the little ones out of the way. I loved we were in a quiet area at night, although it was freezing – we had three duvets on our bed! We would have ordered from Papa John’s again this year as I like the convenience of having it delivered to your caravan, but didn’t have the time. I bought three days of internet for £12 which meant back at the caravan I could look up things for the following day, buy tickets and so on – we didn’t have that as an option last year, so that was a HUGE thumbs up from me as it helped a lot – especially as my phone didn’t work (never has Everything Everywhere been such an inaccurate name for a service…!)

So yes, that’s us and Devon Cliffs 2013. We enjoyed our time there, wish the weather could have been a bit warmer but managed fine – AND H now likes having showers – result!

Forest Holidays – a Blackwood Forest Event

Earlier today Blackwood Forest, a new Forest Holidays site based near Winchester, had a blogger event. We were invited and I was pretty excited. We first heard of Forest Holidays after seeing an ad on tv recently – I googled and saw this one was opening soon and funnily enough H had been telling me how much she’d like to go on holiday in a treehouse… what appeals to me the most is the eco side of this place. The Forestry Commission are partners in the company, and the sites are built very much with the environment in mind.

Blackwood Forest outdoors

Blackwood Forest has taken six years to complete – from the planning permission stages to where they are now. At the moment the treehouse cabins aren’t built (sob!), so we didn’t get to see them, but we did get to have a wander around the site – considering we were told it was a bit like a building site last week, it looks pretty good now! They’re two weeks from opening and there is one VERY important thing you need to know.

Don’t write the directions there while trying to entertain your child. You may miss the crucial sentence ‘leave the M3 at Junction 8’. Had I done this correctly we’d have turned up on time – and on turning around and looking for Junction 8, it doesn’t exist!! Northbound has a Junction 9 though (which I don’t think southbound does).

We found the site easily enough once we got on the A303 – if you view Larkwhistle Farm Road in Google Maps then the site is just off there.

Blackwood Forest Silver Birch Cabin

We headed to the Forest Retreat (large restaurant and shop area) to settle in and get ready to go to one of the cabins for a nosey around. We had a look in a three bedroom Silver Birch cabin, and were impressed by how warm they are – they have under-floor heating. The hot tub wasn’t installed but is in a good place and it felt private – most of the cabins back onto woodland. Next to the hot tub in the entrance from the kitchen is an outdoor dining area which seats up to 8 people, so plenty of space.

The kitchen was a good size, the lounge and tv area again spacious, and there’s good storage too. Our cabin also had two bathrooms – handy if there’s six of you staying there (one double room, two twin rooms).

Outside the ground was still quite new, and hadn’t turned back into the natural undergrowth you’d expect in a forest, though the trees were very green and leafy – it’s a beech forest (with one pine tree which we didn’t find!) – though they expect this to change by the time the site opens.

In each cabin you can preorder food for when you arrive, as well as booking treatments while you’re there (like a massage!), or even just someone to come and cook your evening meal. They’re also keen for you to get away from the site and discover local places – Winchester isn’t far away, and even Peppa Pig World isn’t that far if you were thinking of going there.

Bike hire is available and there are loads of tracks and trails you can take – there’s a park ranger or two who can take you on guided tours as well. After a quick lunch of some fabulous home-made pizza we headed out with the other preschoolers for a bug hunt. They’ve built a bug hotel so the kids were encouraged to pick up things they could add to it. On the tour they got to see some baby mice in a nest, as well as various bugs. Our ranger had a couple of bug inspector tubs where H got to have a look at a millipede (we bought one in the shop afterwards and she’s already been hard at work since we got home) – before putting it onto the hotel.

Blackwood Forest Outdoor Fun

Then there’s the play area – just the right size for smaller kids, it has a slide, two swings (not baby ones), and a climbing frame area, plus sliding pole. H loved this the most, although loved so many different things that when quizzed she had at least fifteen favourite things she’s done today! The play area is well fenced in, with a secure gate. There’s going to be an older kids play area built soon, and they have a deal in place with a local GoApe site as well as a few other places. There were older kids climbing trees with ropes and sliding down which looked like LOADS of fun – we didn’t get to try it obviously!

“How buggy-friendly is it?” I bet you’re wondering – we spotted a few buggies but most mums carried their babies – the roads are stones and might not be suitable for some buggies, though overall I can’t see it being a problem if you needed to use one.

Any bad points? Nothing I could see or think of, other than it’s quite pricey – but even then there are deals and I’m patient enough to save up and wait for a good deal, plus the cabins will be really warm in winter – obviously we didn’t stay over (now that would be nice!) but it felt like a lovely quiet area – and it really creeps up on you – as we drove up the road we wondered where on earth the forest was, until it kind of sprung up.

Our total journey time back was just under an hour and a half, and that’s to the Croydon/Sutton area. It’s the kind of place I could see us going to for a weekend family break to get away from London and have a bit of a rest.

Eventually it was time to leave – a fun day with loads of activities, the staff were really nice and friendly – you could tell the people who worked there were really enjoying what they do and where they were. Everyone on site was really friendly and eventually I couldn’t work out if they were staff or just regular customers like us! They went out of their way to help – it really is the kind of place you’d go back to because of how nice people are.

So yes – we’ll definitely be back – it’s great we have something like this which is so easy to get to, now to start saving!

We were invited to a blogger event, we paid all costs ourselves, all opinions are our own.