SEN Family on Holiday at Moonfleet Manor

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?

Moonfleet Manor in Weymouth

Moonfleet Manor in Weymouth

Preparation

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.

Oscar's Moonfleet Manor Holiday visual board

Oscar’s Moonfleet Manor Holiday visual board

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.

boy in sandpit

Oscar adored the giant sand pit at Moonfleet Manor

The sandpit at Moonfleet Manor was in a gated enclosure, great for small children or those who need a little more secuirty

The sandpit at Moonfleet Manor was in a gated enclosure, great for small children or those who need a little more security. Plus, look at that view!

Coffee cup

When someone brings you coffee and a cookie almost as soon as you arrive, you know its going to be a good holiday!

Creche

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.

Room

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!

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The lounge area of the room. Behind those doors was a real surprise!

Double sinks! As the room could sleep a family of up to five I'm sure this detail would be most appreciated.

Double sinks! As the room could sleep a family of up to five I’m sure this detail would be most appreciated.

Moonfleet Fleet

View from our room at Moonfleet Manor. Across the gardens and down to the Fleet.

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 😉

beds

Oscar’s room was separated from us, which gave him his own space and a choice of beds!

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.

We booked our cream tea before we arrived. Happiness in a scone. PS this jam cream combo is THE only way ;)

We booked our cream tea before we arrived. Happiness in a scone. PS this jam cream combo is THE only way 😉

Food

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.

He loved the naan bread pizza at Moonfleet Manor, but struggled with the dining room

He loved the naan bread pizza at Moonfleet Manor, but struggled with the dining room

Deciding to order him room service was an inspired plan. Oscar was thrilled it arrived with a 'hat'. I told him not to get used to it ;)

Deciding to order him room service was an inspired plan. Oscar was thrilled when it arrived with a ‘hat’. I told him not to get used to it 😉

He ate much more in our room and was much more comfortable.

He ate much more in our room and was much more comfortable.

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!

Prebreakfast sand pit action.

Prebreakfast sand pit action.

There were healthyier options thank pain au chocolat and chocolate muffins on offer for breakfast at Moonfleet Manor, but I wasnt going to argue. It was his holiday too after all!

There were healthier options than pain au chocolat and chocolate muffins on offer for breakfast at Moonfleet Manor, but I wasn’t going to argue. It was his holiday too after all!

Baby Listening

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!

Evenings

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!

Wine and nibbles before dinner. I can highly recommend the the Preignes le Vieux Viognier

Wine and nibbles before dinner. I can highly recommend a bottle of the the Preignes le Vieux Viognier!

My winning dinner

My winning dinner

Although Ben was adamant his choice was the winner

Although Ben was adamant his choice was the winner. He was wrong though!

Spa

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.

Heated bootees in the Moonfleet Manor Spa! Stylish!

Heated bootees in the Moonfleet Manor Spa! Stylish!

I love a good pedi!

I love a good pedi!

While Ben went to have his treatments in the afternoon I had a nap!

While Ben went to have his treatments in the afternoon I had a nap! A nap! Imagine that!

Pool

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.

pool

I was unable to take my own photos in the pool and this is an old one taken before this year’s renovation. Those pillars are no longer there.

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!

The Verandah

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!

The Verandah. More fun than you could shake a stick at in one enormous room. Perfect for wet days!

The Verandah. More fun than you could shake a stick at in one enormous room. Perfect for wet days! Includes giant clambering beanbag bunny!

Oscar and daddy having a go at the highrope

Oscar and daddy having a go at the slackline

The boy's first game of air hockey. He thought it was hilarious every time he let a goal in!

The boy’s first game of air hockey. He thought it was hilarious every time he let a goal in!

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!

Impressions

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.

Evening explore

Evening explore

Boats on the Fleet

Boats on the Fleet

The field of horses next to the garden were a great hit with Oscar!

The field of horses next to the garden were a great hit with Oscar!

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.

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A beautiful day begins at Moonfleet Manor.

 

 

 

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.

You can find out more about Moonfleet Manor and the Luxury Family Hotel chain on their websites.

 

 

 

Family Favourite Attractions in Sydney

When I was a child, we studied a new topic every term, basing our learning around one central theme. My absolute, and to this day, favourite topic we ever studied was Australia. Everything I learnt about the country fascinated me and captured my imagination. It helped that a close family friend had grown up there and could give me a real glimpse into this land of colour and light and vibrancy. And of course like every child in the late ’80s I was obsessed with Australian soap operas. I swore back then, that one day I would make it across the world, to the country I had fallen in love with from afar.

Sixteen years on and I still haven’t made it. But my desire to go hasn’t left me. I can’t watch programmes such as ‘Wanted Down Under’ because I get so very jealous! And now I have friends living in Sydney I see the country I fell in love with as a child, through a mother’s eyes. I can see why families love Sydney. Its majestic golden beaches, beautiful architecture, exciting bushland and a diverse food culture are all huge draws to families, both for holidays and migration. It’s no wonder that land for sale in Sydney is a growing market, with people migrating from all around the world.

I would love to go and while first on my list to visit would of course be Sydney Harbour, the white sails, and the Sydney Opera House, I am amazed at how much else there is to experience in the city. If you plan to visit (or migrate) there soon, here are some of the less traditional, yet family favourite activities in Sydney.

  • Art Galleries. See the beautiful culture of Sydney, and Australia, with a visit to the Art Gallery of NSW, which is located next to Sydney’s Domain. It is considered Australia’s most detailed and comprehensive public gallery. Located on the appropriately-named Art Gallery Road, it’s open every day and visitors are provided with a mostly free look at a staggering array of art in every form. It consists of five different levels and covers everything from Aboriginal Art, the European period, Colonial and Asian masters and much more.
  • Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. The Australian version of the perennial London favourite, recently opened and has proved to be a rip-roaring success with its amazingly lifelike showcase of celebrities, historical faces and media figures. Encounter the likes of Hugh Jackman, Audrey Hepburn, The Dalai Lama, and even E.T. Just like the UK version you can’t help but notice how much detail goes into each model.
  • Quarantine Station. Known as “Q” Station by the locals, the station serves as a venue that merges the historical with the paranormal. It offers various ghost tours, leaving visitors with a chill running down their spine! Don’t worry though, they also have more family friendly options for the children. You can also explore the history of Quarantine Station with its passenger’s stories and of course, the historic building itself. If you or your family appreciate history, then this is real a treat.
  • Chinese Garden of Friendship. If you’re looking for a slice of serenity, right in the heart of Sydney, then the Chinese Garden of Friendship is a wonderful choice. With landscaping, greenery, and distinctly Asian-style architecture, the Garden are a beautiful place to explore on any day. An impressive array of horticultural displays can be found there, and the ponds are teeming with fish life ” particularly when the Koi are being fed. The blend of plant life and water features make for a peaceful atmosphere just a short walk from Darling Harbour where you can relax, and enjoy a cup of coffee from its charming café.

Of course these are just a few examples of the diversity of Sydney’s attractions. Life in this capital is both luxurious and exciting. I can quite understand why families choose to purchase land for sale in Sydney. It allows them to live a new life full of fun and daily new experiences.

And one day I will visit, fulfilling a promise I made to a 10 year old obsessed with Kylie!

 

This is a collaborative post.

 

KidRated’s Top 10 for Half Term

It’s half term. Another week in which to find things to do and hope your kids don’t massacre one another with boredom have a great time. If you’re in or near enough to London for day trips, this is always an option for boredom busting. I’ve never been brave enough to take Oscar up to the big smoke yet, but I can’t wait until I am. We went to our local science museum in Winchester recently and he loved it, so I can only imagine how much he’d enjoy the National Science Museum when we’re both ready.

But if you are there already, taking the children up to London for the day can make amazing memories. And you don’t have to just visit the usual suspects. My buddy Simon over at KidRated, has been doing some research and has come up with this amazing list of things to do with children, in and around London, this half term.

 

HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast is a ship, permanently moored on the Thames and run by the Imperial War Museum. It’s a firm favourite with kids and over half-term week, they’ll be teaching children how ‘dazzle’ camouflage was used to keep the ship safe during WW2!

Kids Will Love: The nine decks to explore

Adults Will Love: Kids go free and there’s a great cafe.

 

Thorpe Park Fright Nights

Teenagers should visit Thorpe Park this half term if they want to be seriously scared because Fright Nights are back. The horrors include riding Colossus in the dark and, exploring the new circus themed Big Top scare maze.

Kids Will Love: Anything that scares them witless.

Adults Will Love: Dropping them off.

13+ and over.

 

Brick or Treat at Legoland Windsor

The fantastic plastic park promises a whole host of ‘spook-tacular’ activities, plus their usual 55 rides, live shows and attractions. It all kicks of on the 17th October and runs until 2nd November.

Kids Will Love: The New Heartlake City attraction

Parents Will Love: The fireworks.

 

The Shard

A half-term visit to London’s highest landmark is well worth the trip as kids go free. Timed access to the Viewing Gallery means it never really feels busy and overcrowded, and kids rate it highly!

Kids Will Love: The express lifts, the friendly guides and the digital time travelling telescopes.

Adults Will Love: The view and the bar!

26th October – 1st November

the-shard-7

 

Bletchley Park

Packed with exhibits, both historical and interactive, you can easily spend the day here and many people do. The huts in which the code-breakers worked have been lovingly recreated and other highlights include authentic Enigma devices, a restored Bombe machine and a dedicated exhibit to the great Alan Turing.

Kids Will Love: The snazzy iPod guides.

Adults will love: The costumes and props from The Imitation Game still infused with essence of Cumberbatch.

Under-12s go free,

 

London RIB

We doubt there’s a kid in NW10 who doesn’t love the London RIB Voyages. With their distinctive red ‘Rocket’ boats, it’s one of our best-reviewed attractions. Warm coats are provided and don’t forget to take your camera because the sights look amazing from the Thames.

Kids Will Love: The funny guides and super speeds.

Adults will love: The 80s/90s soundtrack on the boats.

london-rib-voyages-breakthebarrier2-154c67fced59555559fb2f084ca88fe9

 

Tower Bridge

The Tower Bridge Exhibition was always great, but since it installed the glass walkway it’s become a must-see. There are maps, films, interactive exhibits and of course the best views in London – both up and down the Thames. Don’t forget the bridge opens, so time your visit right and you’ll catch that as well.

Kids Will Love: The glass walkway of course!

Adults Will Love: The Victorian engine rooms at the foot of the bridge. Two experiences for the price of one!

 

RATATOUILLE and FROZEN at The Royal Albert Hall

Visit the Royal Albert Hall for a winning combination of animation and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This half term they’re screening Frozen & Ratatouille. The former is the musical that has driven parent insane and the latter is the animated classic about a cooking rat. Both are true stories apparently…

Kids Will Love: That song

Adults Will Love: That song ending and seeing films in such sumptuous surroundings.

Booking required

 

Dark Arts at Warner Bros Studio Tour (The Making of Harry Potter)

Halloween is the perfect time to make the Potterhead pilgrimage to Watford. Kids will be able to test their duelling skills against Death Eaters and explore a carriage on The Hogwarts Express

Kids Will Love: The Great Hall, which will be decorated with apples, pumpkins and cauldrons of lollipops.

Adults Will Love: The incredible animatronics and handy transport links!

Booking required

WhatsOn_DarkArts

 

And of course there’s always the CINEMA

Handy if it rains and even better if you’re hungover, you can’t beat the cinema.

Younger kids and first-timers, check out Maya The Bee. An animated adventure about a cute bee and her friend, Willy.

For more experienced cinema goers check out Bill, a Shakespeare biopic by the Horrible Histories team. Paper Planes – a heartwarming film about a young Australian competing in the World Paper Plane Championships in Japan. And Pan, a new take on the J.M. Barrie classic.

Kids Will Love: All of them but especially Bill.

Parents Will Love: Bill.

 

KidRated is a website where all the reviews have been done by kids.

You can sign up for their Newsletter, follow them on Twitter, like them on Facebook or even K-Rate something yourself by uploading a review.

 

This is not a sponsored post, I just wanted to share some great ideas with you all.

Hope you have a great half term!

Mummascribbles

Our (Amazing) Summer Update

So we’re half way through the (pre)school holidays and I thought I’d update as to how it’s going. I won’t lie to you I was preeeety nervous as to how it would go. We don’t have a car and there are few clubs or activities going on locally that he’s a) old enough for b) likely to want to join in. Add to that the change in routine, well I was a touch concerned that we would be in for a world of pain.

As it happens, its been fine. In fact it’s been more than fine, it’s be great!

We’ve had a little over four weeks at home, but so far Oscar either hasn’t noticed or doesn’t care that we’re not going to preschool twice a week. Which is making things easier than I hoped. The weather’s been unpredictable to say the least, which makes going outside something of a lucky dip, but he’s thoroughly enjoyed playing in the garden when he can.

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Playing in the garden with friends

Other than that we’ve kept things pretty much the same as usual. We go to the Sure Start Centre on a Tuesday, our wonderful Home Start Volunteer comes on a Wednesday and we see his little buddy Cecily at least once a week. We’ve been to parks, met some animals, had play dates and visitors and parties to attend. It’s been pretty much the same as when he’s at preschool to be honest.

I think the biggest difference in routine has been for me. I don’t get my two, two hour sessions a week at the moment. And when you’ve gotten used to even such a small amount of time out, it’s hard to give that up. Thankfully our Home Start Volunteer or as I call her, in the nicest possible way, our ‘Rent a Gran’ (because she does things a grandma would if they were nearer) has been visiting long enough that I can now leave Oscar with her. So once a week, she’s been staying here with him while I head to my ‘office’ (read Dylan’s Milk Barn 😉 ) to work or write or just to take five. Gawd bless her! It’s making all the difference.

But in as much as everything has stayed the same, A LOT has changed in the last few weeks. Oscar’s language has EXPLODED! I’ve been nervous talking about it, lest it should disappear again (we’ve been burnt like that before), but I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m going to celebrate his achievements regardless. So what if it disappears? The fact is it’s here today. And boy oh boy is it here! Where do I start? Colours, shapes, numbers, nouns and more excitingly adjectives. The boy who had a handful of words in January can suddenly count up to 28. He can read numbers. Hell, this morning he spelt out S.H.O.E.S, pointing to letters in the word! Every single day he’s blowing my mind. He can tell me when he’s ‘hungry’, when he ‘need help’, when he’s done ‘poos’, when he’s ‘sad’ or even ‘happy’! He can ask for any number of toys, food items (his new favourite being sandwich!) and even hugs, which he does often. He sings songs, totally unprompted, most of which I can make out. Favourites are Wheels on the Bus, Old McDonald and The Farmer in the Dell. It’s less than a year ago that he would slap me, hard, if ever I sang. He’s also following instructions and answering questions in a way I’ve never seen before. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking sentences and discourse here. But holy moly it’s soooo much more than even a month ago.

What else? Oh yeah, he calls me Mummy! Not Mama, which I’ve called myself every day since he was born, and I would have imagined is easier to say, but Mummy. No idea where he got it from (Cecily mainly calls Bethany Mama), but boy oh boy does it make my heart smile every single time I hear it. Particularly when I’ve been out and come home to an excited ‘Mummy!’

Honestly so much has changed in the last four weeks, I can’t even begin to imagine what he’ll do next!

Sod the weather, this has been an amazing summer 🙂

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My happy, talking, developing, boy

 

A Cornish Mum

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.

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