Bluestone Resort Wales – A Review

If you’re a regular reader or follow me on any social media, you’ll know that a couple of weeks ago, we were lucky enough to spend the week as a family in the beautiful countryside of Pembrokeshire, West Wales. I couldn’t believe it when Bluestone National Park Resort asked me if I’d like to bring the family to visit. Ben and I lived in Swansea from 2009-2011 and Wales (and the Welsh), hold a very special place in my heart. In fact I didn’t realise how special, until I blubbed going over the bridge. What am I like? I’ve wanted to take Oscar to Wales since he was born, and despite looking into it a couple of times, we’d just never found anywhere we thought could work for him and for us. I won’t lie to you when I say I was a little nervous. Oscar’s Autism means he can be unpredictable and Pembrokeshire was a long way to go for him to react badly (4.5 hours from our home in Surrey), but I can’t explain just how well everything went. It was as if Bluestone sprinkled a little bit of Welsh magic over all of us.

So we arrived on Monday after a straightforward journey, made all the easier by the iPad and a couple of Thomas and Friends films. Believe me when I say you get no badges for getting your children to their destination by singing and reading with them, when neither of these things work and a iPad strapped to the back of the headrest does. Check in starts at 4.30pm, which allowed Oscar to go to preschool in the morning and for us to arrive in time for check-in to be in full flow, which meant queuing in the car.

TOP TOP #1: If you can arrive earlier in the day, do. Although you can’t get in to your accommodation until 4.30, you can check in and use the park’s facilities, meaning you avoid the queues when everyone else arrives. This may be particularly useful if you have children who don’t deal well with queues.

Everyone arriving at the same time means some queing

Everyone arriving at the same time means some queuing to get into the park

Despite the short time queuing, the iPad did sterling work until we were able to get into our accommodation with no fuss and a warm welcome. And when we did we were so impressed. All accommodation at Bluestone is self catering lodges ranging from studios to those that sleep 14 people. As we had originally planned to go with friends, who then couldn’t join us, we had one of the gorgeous Grassholm Lodges, which sleep 8 people in three twin and one double room. This all came with three bathrooms, one of which was a wet room and one an ensuite. Having so much space was a luxury in itself, especially as we’re used to a two bedroom terrace cottage!

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Just one of the twin bedrooms. The boy already making his mark!

I was probably most excited about having a decent size kitchen for a change!

I was probably most excited about having a decent size kitchen for a change!

The kitchen really was incredibly thoughtfully equipped (I cooked dinner for Oscar every night and for Ben and I twice with no bother) and we both noted how all the electronics were such good makes. It’s the little things no? It’s worth mentioning that the lodges do not come with washing machines and there’s no laundry on site, so be sure to bring enough clothes for the duration.

TOP TIP #2 Kitchens have everything you’d expect in a modern luxury lodge, including a dishwasher. Bluestone kindly provide a welcome pack of kitchen essentials including dishcloths, tea towels and 3 dishwasher tablets. You can also buy packets of three tablets in the park shop for 1. I really wish I’d realised this before, so I wouldn’t have fretted about taking cloths and washing up liquid and would have packed a few of my own dishwasher tabs.

A helpful welcome in the kitchen

A helpful welcome in the kitchen

The lodge was so light and airy and the temptation was to just stay in, enjoying the space, but there was so much else to do on the park. On the first night (and subsequent evenings) Oscar was thrilled to make great use of the park’s pub garden and adventure playground. As I’m sure Ben was!

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So spacious and airy. Wonderful!

A quick evening tipple at the Knights Tafern

A quick evening tipple at the Knights Tafern

The Treehouse, withy all its bridge and tunnels was a great hit with Oscar. Not sure Ben enjoyed it quite as much!

The Treehouse, with all its bridges and tunnels was a great hit with Oscar. Not sure Ben enjoyed it quite as much!

The park is built around a central ‘village’, which has a grocery store, bakery/coffee shop, off license, gift shop, pub, various restaurants and a Spa. Ben and I are both big spa fans (hey, who isn’t?!) so we knew we wanted to try out Bluestone’s WellSpa, but we knew we wanted to go together. I’m sure the ability to share childcare was the reason we saw quite a few extended family groups around the park. Although we didn’t go in a group, Bluestone is totally set up for this kind of holiday, with large lodges and even interconnected ones! So because we were ‘sans grandma’, we booked Oscar into the Mini Adventure session. This was a three hour creche session for 0-3 year olds held in the Adventure Centre (they also run similar age appropriate activities for 4-7 year old and 8-12 year olds). I booked the session in advance and explained about Oscar’s Autism. The staff weren’t phased in the slightest, and assured me that they’d looked after autistic children before. I was also reassured to hear the creche was in a locked room, with a maximum of 6 children, with two members of staff. The worst that could happen is that he’d hate it and wouldn’t stay (or they’d have to call us to come get him, which they promised to do). Three hours and no call later, we picked up a very happy little boy, who’d done crafting, baking and played with trains. Best 24 I spent all holiday!

The Mini Adventure session was Space themed. Oscar had an amazing time!

The Mini Adventure session was Space themed. Oscar had an amazing time making his Alien!

While the boy was aliening it up, Ben and I made full use of the time to check out the Spa. The treatment list was extensive, but we chose to just relax together in the Thermal Suite. I loved the Brick Sauna and Ben liked the Herbal Steam Room and we both loved the heated outdoor plunge pool. What a treat!

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I was rather taken with the changing rooms!

The chill out area had a very apt name. Pronounced cutch for those of you not down with the Welsh language.

The chill out area had a very apt name. Pronounced “kutch” for those not down with the Welsh language.

Time together as a couple can be rare, but we loved that Bluestone gave us the opportunity to make the most of it. We loved the creche and we also booked a babysitter for the Wednesday night, through the park’s very friendly and helpful customer service team. Oscar sleeps well anyway, but I’ve never seen him go down so easily as I did on holiday. This meant by the time the babysitter arrived, he was fast off and we could enjoy our meal out. We chose the recently updated Oak Tree Restaurant, which mixes Italian inspiration with Welsh produce. The sharing plate starter we had with baked Perl Wen Cheese was a revelation! So good in fact I forgot to get a picture of it!

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So good it’s gone!

The Oak Tree was one of several places to eat on the park. The choice was appreciated and we ate in many of them over the week with prices being reasonable across the board (not something you always find when you’re a captive audience. This was also the case in the Village Stores with a great range of groceries available at everyday prices). Although we bought a lot of food with us, having done a shop the day before we arrived, we also ate out several times. The food we had all over the park was good and I particularly enjoy my flame roast mackerel, down in the woodland restaurant Camp Smokey. Such a unique venue, it’s nestled deep in the middle of the woods and all food is cooked over open fires, just like a real All American cookout! Had Oscar not had the only melt down of the week as we sat down to eat, we so would have be finishing our meal by toasting our own marshmallows! It was such a shame it didn’t work for him as the food was delicious. But one melt down all week? I’ll take that!

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Camp Smokey, for the full outdoor camp fire eating experience

Our best eating experience of the week, had to be in the Wild Wood Cafe. We had been for a walk on the nature trail, after Oscar had woken that morning and still in his pyjamas declared he wanted to go for a walk by telling us ‘shoes’ and ‘buggy’. It was a beautiful day so we headed to the Nature Trail followed by a walk round the lake.

TOP TIP #3 The nature trail is beautiful and I highly recommend it. However be aware that it’s not a gentle stroll. Anyone with mobility issues would struggle and while we coped with our trusty 3 wheel Out n About 360, a lesser buggy (particularly the fold up umbrella style) would not make it. Slings or walking might be best.

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On the trail

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This was the easy bit!

After a super morning’s walk we headed over to the Adventure Centre, a building the size of a small leisure centre bursting at the seams with fun. We spent some time in the main room, playing on the bouncy castle, with the lego and in the soft play area but mainly having a good old explore. We also spent some time that afternoon in the Circus Room, an entire room devoted to the joy of Under 5s. They use the room for paid for Toddler Sensory sessions, but on the day we visited it was free to use all day. The boy found his new favourite toy in the ride on roller coaster – he’d have taken it home with him if he could!

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Jump!

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Lego Zone. Cool wall, but its missing something…

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Yeah that’s better

The AMAZING Circus Room. Soft Play and Sensory for the Under 5s. and we had the place to ourselves!

The AMAZING Circus Room. Soft Play and Sensory for the Under 5s. and we had the place to ourselves!

Oscar's favourite part of the week I think!

Oscar’s favourite part of the week I think!

When it came time to think about lunch we decided to try the Adventure Centre’s own restaurant, the Wild Wood Cafe. Oscar’s historically been good at eating out, but since he’s been too big for a high chair he struggles to sit and not want to get down for long enough. Add to the fact that this was all new to him, I had no high hopes for this lunch. However, I didn’t bargain on the wonderful atmosphere of the Wild Wood Cafe. As the name may suggest it’s made up to look like an enchanted wood. The lights are dimmed and the seating design really imaginative. Lunch in a bird’s nest anyone? We took Oscar in and let him have a run round exploring everything. As everyone else in there was also a parent of a small child no one batted an eyelid! The room was presided over by an enormous tree and Oscar was very taken with the throne. Yes they have a throne, which is used in the regular interactive dinner shows! They sound like awesome fun, just not for Oscar yet. Anyway after a look around he came and sat down, waited for his dinner and ate it whilst sitting the whole time! I make a big deal of this as it’s the first time he’s ever done this since outgrowing the highchair. The food was delicious (Ben was so impressed at how good his Steak Baguette was) and if you’re visiting with small children I urge you to take them at least once. It’s one of my favourite memories from the week 🙂

Have dinner in an Enchanted Forest

Have dinner in an Enchanted Forest

It sure enchanted my boy. Here he is, sitting and eating!

It sure enchanted my boy. Here he is, sitting and eating! Notice the throne in the background!

When I asked Ben what his favourite memory of the trip was, he said without a doubt the peace. Bluestone is set in 500 acres of beautiful Welsh National Park and the fact that cars are parked away from the lodges once they’re unloaded meant the pace of life on the park was a relaxed one. You can hire golf buggies to use during your stay. We decided not to this time, however if we’d been with a bigger group or anyone with mobility issues these would have been a life saver, as the park itself is rather hilly. The wildlife was everywhere and tame as you like, which thrilled Oscar as his new words that week were ‘bird’ and ‘animal’!

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View from our bedroom window the day we arrived

Ducks on the lake

Ducks on the lake

Our love of the Welsh countryside meant that we couldn’t go all that way and not explore the surrounding area, just a little. There were so many things to see and do close to Bluestone, but living in a landlocked county meant I desperately wanted to go to the beach. On recommendation from a friend back home, we broke with tradition and eschewed the popular Tenby, heading instead for Barafundle Bay, 30 minutes drive away. Now I wouldn’t recommend this beach for everyone. It’s sheltered and quiet, yes, but that’s partly because it’s only accessible via a half mile walk across the cliff tops and then down a long steep stone stair case.

TOP TIP #4 The guides say this beach is not accessible by buggies and to some extent they are right. However, if you really, really wanted to you could take your buggy most of the way and stash it in the bushes at the top of the steps, as we saw one couple do that day.

Oscar’s never really been to the beach and choosing Barafundle Bay was something of a risk. Not being able to take the buggy, being half a mile of difficult terrain away from the car, we could absolutely have chosen another location. But we would absolutely have missed out on the most amazing experience. Oscar walked/ran excitedly just ahead of us almost the whole way there. I think he appreciated the freedom, but not once did he make a dash for it (to be fair we were on high alert and had he shown any signs of bolting we would have scooped him up and high tailed it back to the car.) We thoroughly enjoyed the walk there and when we arrived? Well! No wonder it’s been voted Best Picnic Spot in the UK and in the Top 12 Beaches in the World before now.

With the wind at his heels! And in his hair!

With the wind at his heels! And in his hair!

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Me and my guy

Woah.

The BEAUTIFUL Barafundle Bay

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The steps down to the bay

No trip to the beach would be complete without a castle!

No trip to the beach would be complete without a castle!

What a day! And we totally chose the best day of the week for the weather too. The day we came to leave was dreary and reflected completely the way we were feeling. So sad to say goodbye to such a wonderful place. Although we had to check out at 10am, we were able to use the facilities until 3pm. This being the case we packed up the car with everything but our swim things and headed over to the Blue Lagoon. It’s everything you’d expect of a pleasure pool and had a great toddler/baby area. At least I thought it was great. Oscar enjoyed it but was tempted by the big pool soon enough. He’s quite confident in the water, but can’t swim and would not wear any kind of flotation device, which meant it was a very tiring experience for me. He LOVED the wave machine and the fountains and even went down the lazy river with me, but in the end I had to call time on the swimming. I just couldn’t keep up with him! I think if he’d been older he would have been in there every day. As it was I’m glad we tried it, but I’m not sorry we only went the once.

The Blue Lagoon Pool

The Blue Lagoon Pool

To be honest though there’s little we did more than once. The playground maybe, or getting ice creams from the Bakery. We were there Monday to Friday and we only got to sniff what Bluestone is about. But what we saw made us all happier than I could have imagined. The facilities were exactly what we needed as a family and the staff unremittingly helpful, friendly and good humoured (even the guy cutting the lawn on the ride on mower gave Oscar a big smile and a thumbs up when he saw him watching!) We couldn’t have asked for anything more. Would we go back. Yes. Definitely. Wales will always have a special place in my heart and Bluestone is a great place to visit what was once our adopted home.

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Heaven

We would like to say a massive thank you to Bluestone National Park Resort for generously providing us with accommodation in return for this review.

I was not paid to write this review and as always opinions are my own.

Please check out www.bluestonewales.com for more information.

You can also find Bluestone on Twitter and Facebook

 

 

 

Toddler on holiday at Moonfleet Manor

I’m sorry for the radio silence over the past week. When we decided to go away for a couple of days, I chose to take a weeks holiday from everything, including blogging and Slimming World. I have to admit I missed writing terribly. The whole time I was away, I was making mental notes on how to describe our trip. I’ll write more about how I found the break from Slimming World on Friday (after I’ve weighed in eeek!), but for now I want to tell you about our trip to Moonfleet Manor.

You may remember, a few weeks ago, I talked about holidays and more specifically holidaying with my toddler. If you missed that one you can read it here. Anywho the crux of the post was that we decided to take a leap of faith and try out a very different holiday for us. One that we hoped to speak to all our needs.

Which is how we found ourselves zooming down the A3, towards Weymouth, last Tuesday morning.

We had chosen (on recommendation of a friend) to try out one of the chain of Luxury Family Hotels. They have eight properties dotted around England, all of which look like grown up country hotels, but which place equal importance on the needs of all their guests, whatever their age. We chose to go to Moonfleet Manor in Weymouth partly because of personal recommendation (thank you again Michelle) and partly because it was no more than 2.5 hours away. We often travel to see family in Devon, which at 4.5/5 hours really is pushing the boy’s (and our) limits of how long he can stay in the car, so 2 hours sounded just right. As it turn out the journey there and back passed without incident and we timed our departure to mean he slept for most of the way for both trips. Bonus!

We arrived before check in, but were made to feel welcome straight away, being shown into the garden and supplied with lunch. And this set the tone for the rest of the stay. The staff couldn’t be more helpful and no request was too much. When we realised we’d left Oscar’s bottles at home for night time milk, we tentatively asked reception if they had any we could borrow. They did and bought him a bottle of warmed milk, up to our room, within minutes. Had we remembered his bottles (and marked them with his name) they would have also taken them away to be cleaned and (if we still needed them to be) sterilised.

Our room was a double, described as a “compact room, with a double bed and room for one cot/single bed”. We were pleasantly surprised with the amount of space this ‘compact’ room came with. We requested a proper wooden cot for Oscar (yup we still have the bars up at home) yet there was plenty of room for all of us. The room was well equipped, with a bath (important if your bedtime routine includes one as Oscar’s does), a TV & DVD player (again great if TV is part of your bedtime routine – we planned to use our iPhones, but the Wi-Fi signal was patchy. I would definitely take DVDs of any faves if we were to visit again) and the most amazing view from the balcony. Which was another little detail we loved. The balcony was a beautiful, and solid, five foot high twisted willow barrier. It meant we could happily leave the patio doors open with no worries of him falling/climbing/flashing the neighbours. Perfect.

Super view from the super safe balcony

Super view from the super safe balcony

The attention to detail continued in the dining room. All the tables were generously spaced apart, with highchairs provided. As soon as we sat down for high tea (Oscar usually eats at 5 so we stuck to this while away, although we could have chosen to eat later at 6) a bowl of carrots, cucumber, pita and humous were bought out to stave off any hunger grumps until dinner arrived. The children’s menu had something for every taste (from baby purees to Naan bread pizzas) and age (with toddler and older child size portions). The boy is a big fan of carbonara, so we thought we’d give the mac’n’cheese a whirl, to much success. We chose to take our own bag of toys and colouring books to every meal time, but we really needn’t have bothered as the dining room had their own supply.

First Mac'n'Cheese

First Mac’n’Cheese

Food for the grown ups was just as well thought out. The menu changed one starter and two main courses every night, meaning you always had the choice of something different. The first night I tried Salt Cod and went completely off plan the second night with delicious Pork Belly. The dining room in the evening was a very different place to the day time, with candles on every table and no young children, largely thanks to the baby listening service available in every room. We (read I) was a little anxious at leaving Oscar the first night. Would he settle? We kept his routine as much the same as possible then put him in the cot. I read him a story, explained I’d just be downstairs and left him, to minimal grumping. I must admit I did jump up like a meerkat every time the receptionist walked through the lounge for the first hour (and actually went to check in with her before we went into dinner. She showed me the bank of phones all plugged into the baby listening service, not one of them making a noise!) but I needn’t have worried. He settled brilliantly and although I did see reception come find a couple once during the evening it wasn’t us!

Time for ourselves was one of the most attractive features of Moonfleet, as not only do they have a baby listening service, they also have a creche, which we booked him into (for two hours a day) when made our reservation. I was so excited to drop Oscar off on the Tuesday afternoon and he ran in without a second glance back. However, I know my son and to be honest should have known that leaving him with strangers for the first time ever, on the day we bought him to a place he’d never been was a BIG ask. He managed an hour before having a complete spontaneous melt down. The staff realised this wasn’t a momentary outburst and, quite rightly, rang reception who came and found us in the lounge. Retrospectively I am really proud he managed that hour at all, but at the time I was convinced that the creche would no longer be an option for us. But we followed his lead and took him again on the Wednesday. We planned to only leave him for an hour, but when Ben went to pick him up, he was so busy having a whale of a time we left him for the full two hours.

I’m so glad we didn’t give up on the creche as it gave us the time to do things just for us. Things like read, sit quietly and avail ourselves of the spa facilities. The spa staff were just as friendly as everyone else ( I spent a very pleasant hour chatting to the lovely Chloe while she did a super French pedicure on me). One of my favourite memories was Wednesday afternoon. Oscar was in the creche, Ben was in the Spa and I was alone. I found a comfy armchair, ordered a cheeky glass of Prosecco and read a paper. It just felt so decadent.

Decadence

Decadence

What else can I say? I could go on for days. I could talk about the indoor playroom, as big as a barn full to the brim with fun. I could mention the swimming pools or the cinema room or Snoopy the hotel dog, but you can read all about those on the website. For me the thing the trip gave us was time. Together and apart. Oscar is by nature a curious chap. He needs to know exactly where he is and what’s going on to feel comfortable. He’s also a runner and constantly tries my blood pressure by running away from me. I knew taking him away could potentially be very stressful. And the first day had it’s moments. But, I don’t know, after his nap on the second day he seemed to wake up with a new attitude. One of ‘OK I’m here and I like it’. He stopped running off, he lead the way to the garden or to our room and held my hand if we needed to walk across the car park. Seriously, it was like watching him grow up before my eyes. He was so much more relaxed. And you and I know that happy bambinos mean happy parents.

Time well spent

Time well spent

Would we go back? Definitely. For longer and out of season. Two nights was great, but we were just getting settled and then had to leave. More nights would also give Oscar the time he needs to adjust. Going out of the school holidays (while we can) would not only make it a cheaper proposition, but would also change the age of the younger guests. More babies and toddlers and less tweens. Not that the age seemed to bother Oscar – he adored the ‘big boys’ and followed them round the garden copying their antics!

Would we try another Luxury Family Hotel? In a heartbeat.

A relaxed, happy heartbeat.

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Crank up the Cliff, we’re going on a holiday….

 

We haven’t been on holiday since before I fell pregnant with the boy – it’s been a frigging long time and it’s starting to get me down. Having family in Devon is great as we can go and visit them and it feels like “going away” but deep down I think we all know it’s not really the same thing. A holiday comes with no obligations and a trip to the city where all your family and friends live does not. I’m not complaining, it’s just the way it is.

So anyway yeah, Oscar has never had a proper holiday. This is mainly down to lack of funds if truth be told. But it also has something to do with not really knowing how to holiday as a family/with children. Before Oscar, we were massive fans of the Greek Islands having visited five different ones over the past 10 years. When he was a baby, and buoyed by a complete naivety of the situation, I was adamant I wanted to take him there, right now! Maybe it would have worked when he was a dot of a thing, but the more I get to know him and the more I wise up to what he’s all about, the more I know a proper beach holiday is going to have to wait. Not really for any other reason than he’s a runner. He would NEVER sit on a beach and build sandcastles, at least not yet. At all times one or the other of us would be having to run after him. I’m sure he’d think it was a great lark, but he’d put up with constantly being dragged back, about as long as I would put up with running after him. We’d come back more knackered than when we went away!

This being the case I think Ben would be just as happy to not take a holiday, or at a push take a ‘staycation’, a holiday at home. Only that’s all I do. I’m here all the time. It would be like me suggesting we spend a week in Ben’s office in Camberley, taking day trips out to the Co-Op or to look at Sandhurst barracks down the road. He sees these things every day – it wouldn’t be a holiday for him. And as I spend my whole life in my house or around the local area, staying here wouldn’t be a holiday for me either. If they say a change is as good as a rest, then that wouldn’t be it.

So I got to thinking, maybe the answer would be to consider the unconsiderable (at least it was two years ago) – holidaying in the UK. My childless self would have just gasped and slapped me. What is the point? It’s more expensive and the weathers shit, right? OK, so yes it can prove just as expensive as flying to another country (which is bonkers if you ask me) and the weather can be wholly unpredictable. But look at last summer. And this summer’s not shaping up to be half as bad either. It can work. And kids don’t care where they go do they? I didn’t.

I spent the first 12 years of my life in the West Midlands. In that time a holiday to us was a week in the UK, usually somewhere like Bournemouth, Devon or Cornwall. And I loved it. I still remember the thrill of staying somewhere new. And the butterflies I’d get when the sea would come into view, competing with my brother to be the first to shout “I can see the sea!”. We spent hours playing on various UK beaches, my favourite at the time being Boscombe Beach. I remember it’s ramp down to the sand, the concrete hot under your bare feet, the pier we never went down, but occasionally sheltered under if the weather suddenly changed and the excitement of queuing for an ice cream or gathering to watching a (frankly macabre) Punch and Judy show.

The last time I worse a bikini! My brother and me on Boscombe Beach circa 1985

The last time I wore a bikini! My brother and me on Boscombe Beach circa 1985

I’ve no idea how my parents felt about the whole experience but I loved it and it gave me precious memories to carry with me for life. But I was older. And I was a very different child to the boy. What can we do, that Oscar will enjoy, will work for who he is, but that wont leave us with black rings under our eyes cursing the money we’ve spent? You might think we’re over analysing the whole thing and there might be parents reading this who are screaming hey just do it – go with the flow, enjoy it. But I know my guys (the big one and the little one) and if it’s not going to work for both of them, in some way, then what on earth is the point?

Last week we were introduced to the idea of a UK hotel break, but one that is super child focussed. Our friend Michelle and her hubby and two toddler girls went to Moonfleet Manor in Weymouth, part of the Luxury Family Hotels chain. She came back saying she hadn’t relaxed so much since the girls were born, thanks to the absolute focus the hotel places on enjoyment for all the family. I had to check it out and they really do seem to understand toddlers, and more to the point the parents of toddlers, completely. Part of the deal is a creche, run for four hours a day to allow everyone in the family to spend some time doing what they enjoy most. It really didn’t take me long to sell it to Ben. We’re going for a mini break in August and Oscar’s already booked into the creche for two hours each day. I hope to use the spa, absolutely I do, but I think I’m just looking forward to sitting. In peace, without feeling like I should be doing something. And with the baby listening service provided as part of the deal it’ll be nice for Ben and I to spend some quality time together. You know, just being grown ups.

Maybe one day we’ll be able to do two weeks in the Med, enjoying the beach and the local food and all that jazz. For now, I’ll take a hotel in Dorset that is going to help me care for my son and give me the break I’ve been craving, every time.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

 

 

 

 

Diary of an Imperfect Mum