Thursday 20 October 2011

The State Rooms, Buckingham Palace, London

Buckingham Palace opens to the public over the summer months while the Queen is on holiday. This summer Kate's wedding dress was on show and as Charlotte was so thrilled to watch the Royal Wedding on tv and all the excitement that went with it, we left Daddy at home and went with Grandma to see "the dress".
Its wise to book your tickets in advance, either online or over the phone, where you book a time slot for your visit. Ours was just after lunch so to burn off some energy from sitting on the bus we first went to the kids play area in St James Park and watched the soldiers practicing a performance outside The Guards Museum.
We then went to queue for Buckingham Palace, the queue looked really long but it didn't take too long to get to the front. You are put into holding pens and then go through the airport type scanners before picking up your audio tour. It's well thought out with an audio tour for kids, which we all opted for. Only snag, there were no little headphones, and half way around Charlotte did get a little fed up of them always falling off.
The kids commentary was similar to the adult version, but with a little girl and boy talking. Charlotte followed it really well and quickly worked out how to move onto the next section when we moved rooms. She picked up a lot of what they were saying, she now knows what the P stand for on the throne chairs, and that there is a picture of Queen Charlotte. There was a clip of Buckingham Palace on the tv one night and she was telling Daddy where she had stood.
Its fascinating walking round the rooms, and learning what they get used for. Charlotte liked to spot any secret doors (there are a few) and walking up and down the grand staircases. The statues of Victoria and Albert she knew because of the statues we have in Abingdon.
About 3/4 of the way round was Kate's dress, here we could have a sit down to watch a video of how it was made and then to see the dress, shoes and tiara in detail, and amazing it was. You then come out the back of Buckingham Palace, hand in your headsets and walk round part of the gardens.
Charlotte asked a member of staff in there were any corgis, but sadly they all went on holiday with the Queen.
We had an excellent time, it took about 2 hours to go round, a lot of walking for little feet but she did really well. Pushchairs aren't allowed inside so these have to be check-in and collected after, but they say they can loan baby carriers and hip seats. Also toilets and baby change are only at the exit, none at the entrance and aside from restaurants close-by the closest public ones are in the parks or Victoria.
Buckingham Palace will open again in 2012 from 1 August - 30 September with a special exhibition of Diamonds: a Jubilee Celebration

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Legoland, Windsor

We had been promising Charlotte a trip to Legoland for some time. She was so excited she almost burst on the way there with excitement.
Outside there were staff giving out sword balloons which keeps little ones entertained while you are standing in shock at the admission prices.

We headed for duplo land first via a couple of rides on the way, the puppet show at duplo land is always good to watch. Completely forgot that there is a water play area and we had forgotten costumes and towels, seems everyone else had forgotten this too.
Charlotte is just under that magic 1m height for the bigger rides so there were a few things we couldn't go on, but everything else she loved. We came off one ride to go rush straight onto another, and sometimes go on it twice. The new ride this year was Atlantis, an underwater adventure and it was excellent, but seemed to be over all to quickly.
We love the parent rivalry at the fire academy, racing your fire engine to the burning house to put the fire out and then back again.
The best bit for Charlotte was getting her driving licence at the L-drivers school, this is a mini-version of the driving school for 3-5 year olds. She loved it and was so pleased with herself.
The bit we enjoyed as a family was the pirates of skeleton bay stunt show. Real goodie badie show with all the boos, hisses and hes behind you bits with some excellent stunts.
The mini-land I thought was starting to look a bit tired, as legoland opened in 1996 I'm assuming some if it is original so I'm not surprised. But some bits do get updated, Charlotte easily spotted Will and Kate on the balcony of Buckingham Place.
We took our own food, so can't comment on the quality of food or prices. Being out of season quite a few of the food places were closed down.
Everywhere is pushchair accessible, with bays to leave pushchairs if you are going on the ride. All the toilets were clean with nice low basins for the kids and large cubicles.
As I said earlier we did go out of season, on a week day so queues were almost non-existent. This was a real bonus. Even with not having to queue we only just managed to do everything in a day. Legoland have realised this and next year the Legoland Hotel is opening. We saw it being built and it looks great.
Charlotte enjoyed the day so much, and keeps on asking to go again. But the admission price is shocking, considering she is too little to go on some of the rides but still has to pay child price and now you have to pay to park. Being end of season things were looking tired and some bits weren't working on the fairy tale brook, but we all left with a big smile on our face and slept very well that night from all the walking.

Monday 10 October 2011

Half Term Activities

Wondering how to entertain the kids during half term, well BBOWT again have a great selection of things to do. A quick look and there are family fun days at Sutton Courtenay, Live 'N' Deadly DSI nr Henley or Discovery Day at Tring.
All sounds very exciting and something to entertain all ages. For more information have a look at their calendar:

Sunday 9 October 2011

Center Parcs, Longleat

With the very up and down British weather this summer we were struggling to think of where to go on holiday, the option we came up with was Center Parcs as no matter what the weather there is always something to do.
We aren't new to Center Parcs, having been to Sherwood Forest a few years ago and Evelden Forest before that. Sherwood we didn't enjoy so much, it looked tired and was so busy all the time, Evelden we loved but its a long way to travel. Having not been to Longleat since we were young we opted for there.
Top tip of the first day was going to the swimming pool at about 2pm, you will almost have the pool to yourself for a few hours whilst everyone else is unpacking their car. Charlotte was throwing herself down the slides and flumes, and the kiddie flume was excellent. We had huge tantrums when it came to getting out of the pool, it was always 10 more goes.
We went for a comfort plus lodge, and it was comfortable enough for our 4 night stay. The few problems we did have were resolved very quickly by housekeeping (previous occupants had taken all the remote batteries, few dead light bulbs).
We weren't sure how Charlotte would take to being put into the kids club, so never used that but we did quite a few activities. Forest Rangers walk was excellent and she came back so excited to tell me she had touched beetle poo and armed with some bird seed went and fed the birds on our little patio. Tatty Bumpkin Yoga was a huge hit she got so carried away being a frog she did a back flip much to her surprise. We hired a pedalo and went round the lake. We did glow in the dark bowling (amazingly Charlotte won, are we to blame a possibly wonky bowling alley, dodgy balls or her amazing beginners luck). Crazy golf on the last day was fun as it was really quiet. Teddy Bears picnic will be in Charlotte's memory for quite a while, meeting Rupert the Bear was the best thing and she got so many cuddles she wouldn't let go (she was also the only child who didn't cry at seeing a life size Rupert appear).
The play parks were excellent, so much to keep them entertained.
The only downfall to Longleat is the hill, and its a big one. We hired bikes and often had to push them back up the hill but its a quicker way to get round than walking. There are lovely boardwalks and steps to get up and down the hill but its still a tough job. We did do a large circular ride one afternoon and it is a huge site, this is where we preferred Evelden as the scale was smaller.
We only ate out one night and the food was excellent. There are a few chain restaurants that you would recognise but we opted for something you wouldn't usually find on your local high street, Ortega Tapas. It was excellent, really enjoyed it and wanted more.
We all loved our few days and were sad to be leaving, every day Charlotte said we aren't going to our real home today are we, I love my pretend home.
Most people moan about the cost of things at center parcs, and you don't know how much activities and bike hire will be until you have booked your holiday. We thought it reasonable priced for most things, we did take all our own food for the week so only needed the ParcMarc for milk. Staff were all so friendly and chatty, very good customer service.
We did spend our week comparing it to Evelden and at the end of the week neither came out as the strong winner both were good for different reasons and I would return to both.
Note: we did go out of season, so those going during school holidays may have different views.

Friday 7 October 2011

Wookey Hole, Wells, Somerset

We weren't planning on going to Wookey Hole, the website and leaflets made it look really tacky, I know its for the kids but sometimes it needs to appeal to the adults too as they are the ones spending the money. So we headed off to Cheddar Gorge to be greeted by the stupidest car park pay system so we about turned and headed to Wookey and we were so pleased we did.
It was out of season so very quiet, I imagine during summer it's a lot busier. We also went on a week day, if you go during the weekend during peak season you get to meet the Wookey Witch (as seen on x-factor the website says). It was quite a long walk from the pay point at the bottom to the entrance of the cave. Its a guided tour round and we got there just in time, otherwise would have had a 20min wait. The guide was really informative and gave an excellent tour.
The history and geology was really fascinating, even to the younger ones in the group pointing out the shapes of stones and how they are formed. The cave-aged cheese was really whiffy, strong stuff. You can taste, and buy some later in the shop.
After the tour you can wonder around a fairy garden and the valley of the dinosaurs, Charlotte was rather scared of the dinosaurs... and the HUGE King Kong.

There was an interesting paper making demonstration that over 5's could have a go at making, if they are too young your tour guide will assist in helping make some paper.
There were so many indoor things too which makes it a real all weather attraction, to name just a few things were a history of the cave museum, quite a few circus themed things and some excellent play areas.
We did eat in the restaurant but not that impressed by the food, there are plenty of pack lunch areas though.
Due to how many steps were in the caves pushchairs have to be folded down, the guide did assist in taking someones pushchair through a short cut so they didn't have to carry it.
We had a really excellent day, but it's very expensive we had to pay the same rate as those who visit during the summer holidays even though some things weren't running (wookey witch for example). We loved the look of the Wookey witch hotel complete with witches hat!!!

More information here

Haynes International Motor Museum, Somerset

This was more for the men in our party than the females, but we all had a pleasant few hours going round.
Coming from Abingdon, we always have a look out for MG's, and they had a hall dedicated to MG's and Morris which we were pleased to see, the story about Rover was their Birmingham factory not Cowley though. They also had a red room, and who doesn't love to see classic red sports cars and everything in between.
One for the kids was finding the cars from Back to the Future and also ghost busters (along with a button to press for the music).
Adults loved the display on the "advertising of motor cars", is your wife stuck at home all day with the children while you go off to work with the car... buy her a car!!! couldn't do that today.
All the cars had a really good detailed descriptions beside them, not just the boring petrol head stuff but what TV programmes it had appeared in (usually Top Gear), how long it had taken to restore, how often it races etc.

Quite a few bits to keep children amused whilst going round, and also an outdoor play area. Plenty of space for pushchairs and baby change facilities. There is also an on site cafe but we didn't go in. Their website can be found here

Monday 3 October 2011

Fleet Air Arm Museum, Somerset

We needed somewhere dry to visit when the great British weather took a turn for very wet during our holiday so we headed for Fleet Air Arm Museum.
The museum holds Europe's largest naval aviation collection across 4 halls and a gallery. It really was huge. As you enter there were some hands-on experiments related to flight, really great for explaining to children how aeroplanes fly and what rudders etc do. The next 2 halls had a bit about the history of flight, with some old aircraft and a interesting timeline on the wall, some recent aircraft you will possibly recognise if you're not big into planes (sea king for example) and then aircraft related to WW2 and the korean War. As adults we found the Kamikaze exhibition really interesting, this was a subject I knew nothing about, and with the story told from both sides made it all the more interesting.
Hall 3 was the most interesting for everyone in the group and really well displayed. You "take off" in a helicopter and "land" on board an aircraft carrier (this felt very real to Charlotte as she thought we had left Uncle and Auntie behind). The re-creation was so well done with take offs and landings happening from each end of the flight deck, we then went on board the ship to look round the operation rooms and cabins. The experience ended with an air-sea rescue which was very dramatic (especially for little ones).
The last hall held the first British built Concorde which you could go inside, it was used as a test plane in the 70's so was full of test equipment, all of which could now be run on a laptop! There were also other aircraft showing off the best of the best in British aircraft. There was also a sea king helicopter flight simulator (cost extra) which we enjoyed.
The museum was really popular with families and was easily accessible for pushchairs and baby change facilities, the entrance was on the first floor but there is an alternative ground floor entrance. There was also a cafe offering reasonable food.
Under 5's are free and we thought the price for adults at first was a little steep but there was so much to see it was almost value for money, and if you are local gift aid your ticket and you have free entry for a year.
This isn't the type of museum we would usually visit but we really enjoyed our day. Find out more on their website