When we decided to go back to Moonfleet Manor this September, I was not only really looking forward to it (we had such a great time when we went two years ago) but I was super interested to see how the hotel would cope with us as an SEN family. Could they accommodate the needs Oscar, as an autistic child has, and give us as parents (and adults) a decent break too?
I started to get a feeling that they just might, even before we arrived. Weeks before our stay I phoned the hotel to book Oscar into the onsite creche, sessions of which are included in the room price. I spoke to the Ofsted registered creche manager and explained about Oscar’s Autism and asked whether they would be able to cope if he came to spend time with them. She couldn’t have been any clearer that he would be welcomed with open arms, and explained they regularly have guests with disabilities including those on the Spectrum. Without prompting she asked whether we would like them to assign a member of creche staff to be Oscar’s one to one during his sessions. I was blown away by this as it was exactly what he needed, but was something I’d never thought they’d be able to provide. They continued to outdo themselves when, several days later, they emailed me a picture of the staff member who would be his one to one, so I could prepare Oscar beforehand. Again, above and beyond and highly appreciated.
I tried to prepare Oscar as best I could for the upcoming holiday, by talking about the hotel, showing him videos from Moonfleet’s website and making him a visual board which we stuck to the lounge door for a week beforehand. He looked at it every time he went past and was soon telling me he needed to go swimming. By the time we left he was pretty excited I think.
The journey to Weymouth, in Dorset was easy (and made all the easier by Thomas the Tank Engine films on the iPad!). We arrived too early to get access to our room, but the staff happily checked us in and gave us our room name so we could order lunch. Oscar had a little wander round the gorgeous hotel lounges, looking at the vintage pieces on the walls, before finding the garden. We thought he’d be drawn to the trampoline, having been sat in the car for two hours, and he might have been had he not seen the giant sandpit. He happily installed himself and his trains in the sand, leaving us to have a coffee and a biscuit, bought out to us in the garden. Aaaaaand relax. The fact that the sandpit was in a gated enclosure was a nice touch and the huge garden itself was fairly secure, although this did rely heavily on other guests closing the gate to the car park, which not all did.
At 3pm, we took him to his first creche session. We had booked him in for four sessions over the two days so were hopeful that would give us (and particularly me 😉 ) some time and space to be alone. We were introduced to his one to one, Tara, who we chatted to about Oscar’s likes and dislikes etc. She asked some really relevant questions that kind of took me aback a little, until she told me she was also the mother of a SEN child herself and spoke Makaton at home. As any SEN parent knows, our children take a special kind of patience and knowing Tara had real life experience of this gave me even more confidence in his time at the creche. As I expected he would, Oscar ran straight in, excited to play with all the new toys (including of course the trains and track) and we were free for two hours.
We checked into our room without Oscar, which allowed us both to lay out his things ready for him (making the unfamiliar a bit more friendly) but also to look round our accommodation. I was thrilled with the room. We had a Deluxe Two Bed Family room and couldn’t get over the space this afforded the three of us. As well as our huge (ridiculously comfy) bed and the generously proportioned bathroom (with bath, shower and double sinks), the room also had two twin beds, which were cleverly separated from the main room, giving the feel of two rooms. And each room had its own window, meaning that although this was a large space it didn’t feel too dark. Plus, what a view!
This was a wonderful and unexpected touch as we were worried how Oscar would cope with sleeping in the same room as us. As it happened he had a generously proportioned ‘room’ all to himself, with twin beds, it’s own storage and own TV. This room could have slept up to three, with a camping style bed being included at the foot of the twin beds. This had been made up despite us not needing it, and blow me, if Oscar didn’t insist on sleeping in it (very well I might add!) both nights! Funny child 😉
When we bought Oscar up to the room after his creche session (and our relaxed Cream Tea in the lounge in our favourite chairs in the bay window!) he ran around giggling, jumping on the beds and then proceeded to get his trains out and play with them on the coffee table in the living room area. It was so nice to have that extra room and it gave him the space to regulate himself in peace after busy sessions in the creche/pool/garden etc.
One of the things we loved about Moonfleet last time was their ability to feed all age ranges so thoughtfully. Despite Oscar being a rather anxious eater, we knew there would probably be a few things he would eat on the menu and we were right. However, we hadn’t considered how difficult the dining room might be for him. The first night he managed it, just about. Although he didn’t get upset, there was just waaaaay too much going on for him to concentrate on eating. Or sitting. Add to that a new(ish) food and it just all got a bit much and we left before things spiralled. The next night, after a busy day in the creche and the pool, we just figured he’d be more comfortable and eat more if we ordered room service. It couldn’t have been easier and they bought up his naan bread pizza and fries with the requested squash in minutes. It was a genius plan and I was just so grateful that it’s a service the hotel are happy to provide. It made such a difference and he ate the whole meal. It was also another time we were so grateful for the extra space the room provided.
Breakfast was equally good with a menu to chose from or a running buffet of cooked breakfast items, along with the usual cereals, pastries etc. Again Oscar struggled a little with the dining room, although being tempted with Nutella on toast and the pastry basket was enough to get him to eat something and give us time to do the same. However, not before he insisted 8am was time for the sand pit! And who were we to argue? It was after all his holiday too!
The excellent food continued into the evening and due Moonfleet Manor’s wonderful baby listening service, we were able to thoroughly enjoy it! Each night we kept Oscar’s bedtime routine the same as home, meaning when he got into this new bed he was ready for sleep. We called down to the reception to turn the baby listening service on and left him, with fingers crossed. And bless him if he wasn’t out like a light both nights! It was just so nice to have that time, sans child, to eat a delicious meal together, all the while knowing he was safe and monitored. We did see the receptionist come and find several families over the course of the two evenings. The majority of our fellow guests had young toddlers and babies, so that didn’t surprise me, but it did comfort me to know someone was actually listening!
Our evenings, just the two of us, were wonderful. So relaxed and so much fun. It really did feel like ‘going out’ for dinner both nights. We dressed up, although you totally didn’t need to. We started the evening with drinks and nibbles in the lounge, where we were bought the menu to order from. We were then called to our table when our food was imminent. And the food itself was delicious. We played a game of who won each course both nights and disagreed over the outcome of most, as everything was so good. Plus Ben had goats cheese and who can ever win with goats cheese!
Our opportunity to relax while Oscar was looked after in the creche continued in the onsite spa. Both Ben and I booked treatments for our second day. I had a body wrap and a pedicure and Ben a facial and massage. The fact that the hotel has a fully functioning spa onsite, would be a draw for any stressed out parent. We made our appointments at opposite ends of the day so neither one of us would be left to look after the boy alone.
As it happened my nap was disturbed half way through as Oscar had managed to wet every pair of trousers I had taken down to the creche for him (toilet training is a new and ongoing process for us). I took some more down to him, however once he saw me it became apparent he didn’t want to stay. I didn’t mind and chose instead to take him to the pool next door.
Moonfleet Manor has a three small pools onsite, a baby pool, a small learning pool and a larger swimming pool. While it may not be as fancy looking as some other spa hotel pools I’ve seen, it certainly worked for us.
Having not been swimming for a long time I wasn’t sure how Oscar would react. I needn’t have worried. He was most interested in the swimming lessons taking place in the learning pool (all babies or young children) and happily snaffled a couple of pool noodles to play with from the teacher. I still don’t know where he found a pair of Peppa Pig armbands, but find them he did. Once he put them on there was literally no stopping him. We were in the pool for two hours and in the end I had to practically drag him out, he was having so much fun. So much in fact that we decided not to put him into the creche the morning of our departure and instead both took him to the pool. He just loved being in the water so much! I am definitely going to have to look into one to one swimming lessons for him.
As the pool wasn’t too large I could relax about him getting lost and it never got busy enough to be too much for him. The only thing that could have been better for me were the changing rooms. The facilities were unisex and yet there were very few cubicles. On days busy with guests or swimming students this would mean you could end up changing in front of the opposite sex. Not ideal to say the least. However, there were decent baby changing facilities, free lockers, towels and toilets within the changing rooms. I would recommend changing into your swimwear in your room, meaning you only have to use the facilities at one end of your swim. Unless, unlike me, you have no body image issues!
One of Moonfleet Manor’s other assets is it’s enormous, and I mean enormous, play barn The Verandah. As we were only there for two days, we barely had time to fit it in, but did pop in for a quick run around before departing the hotel. Anything to let him burn off a bit of energy before getting in the car! He LOVED it, just as much as last time, and we actually ended up having this giant space, filled with soft play, trampolines, climbing equipment, football pitch, piano, ride on toys and air hockey tables to ourselves!
Again the room was fairly secure and was a great place for Oscar to get some vestibular and propreoceptive sensory feedback! It also had a nice array of comfy seats for the adults, not that we got to use them!
Moonfleet Manor remains a beautiful place to go. The amount of facilities available to all ages are more than you’d find at most other holiday resorts let alone other hotels and I’m so glad we went. Oscar’s issues with the dining room did make me realise how differently we manage food and it’s consumption at home. I came away feeling like self catering would have been much easier. For him and for us in terms of his behaviour. However, he’s since started school and is slowly learning to eat in a room with lots of others, which makes me think actually this wouldn’t be an issue again. But if it is for you I would highly recommend the room service option!
The staff couldn’t have been more friendly or helpful. Not once were ever made to feel we were any different to any other family. When, during his first session in the creche, Oscar needed a change of clothes. The hotel manager came to find us and once we’d grabbed the clothes insisted he take them over himself so we could resume our sitting/schlomping in the chairs by the window! A gesture that was most appreciated. Those two hours sure do fly by!
All the facilities aside, my favourite thing about Moonfleet Manor is it’s location. The views from the hotel and gardens down to the Fleet and Chesil Beach were just what I needed after a very stressful summer. Peaceful and calming, they breathed new life into all of us as a family.
Just like when we visited with a toddler, we came to Moonfleet Manor with our autistic son, looking for a chance to rest. We did just that.
We would like to thank Moonfleet Manor for supporting us on our visit to their hotel. We paid for our room and treatments ourselves, however were gifted a complimentary room upgrade for this review.
As always all opinions are honest and my own.