Sunday, 11 May 2014

Bluestone family fun...

So Scott, Evan and I have just returned from a lovely little family holiday at Bluestone. For those of you that have never heard of Bluestone, it is a National Park Resort set in the stunning Pembrokeshire countryside in West Wales. You can stay in a variety of different sized and different style holiday homes, from small little one bedroom houses right up to four bed homes. We stayed in a Skomer style three bedroom house, with a great open plan living, dining and kitchen area, which gave Evan the room to run around to his hearts content within eye shot of Scott and me. We had a huge family bathroom with a lovely deep bath and great shower and two further en-suites in the bedrooms upstairs. We even had a little cwtch area upstairs with a couple of leather bean bags and a TV for the little ones or big ones to chill out away from the living area downstairs. It really was a great space and a home that I would actually be more than happy to live in all year round!

We stayed from Monday to Friday which cost us £262, which I'm sure you will agree for five days and four nights is a great deal. We did however, take advantage of the early bird special deal which gave us 15% off if you booked before the end of January. It is also considerably cheaper in term time as with all holiday destinations, however Bluestone is still like for like a lot cheaper than your average Centre Park stay.

However,  a negative point for me is that you cannot check in to your home until 4.30pm and you have to check out by 10.30am. You are however allowed to arrive and leave at any time and use all of the facilities, but personally I think they should consider employing a bigger team of cleaners and allowing people to check in a little earlier and check out a little later.

Included in the price is the use of the indoor adventure centre, with a variety of activities for all ages, the blue lagoon which is a fantastic indoor pool area and the outdoor park area which is a beautiful hand built wooden park, which conveniently for the adults has a lovely cafe area called Millers situated just below the park, with indoor and outdoor seating area and serving a variety of freshly baked goodies and ice creams.

However, there are loads of additional activities that you can pay for throughout your stay which cater for all ages, from sensory style experiences and messy play for babies and toddlers, right up to archery, kayaking and zip wires for the older children.

As Evan is only two then clearly a lot of the activities are too old for him but I'm sure he will enjoy them on future visits. The main activities that Evan loved this year were the blue lagoon, the adventure centre and the park area. The blue lagoon has the usual wave machines and slides that you would expect, but it also has what is calls the lazy river, which is a current based part of the pool that starts inside and then carries you outside and around the parameter of the building and back in. As Evan is getting quite confident in the water with his armbands he really loved this experience, as the current allowed him to move along the water without any assistance from us, and it was just lovely to see how much he enjoyed the independence that this experience gave him. As my parents arrived on the Wednesday to stay with us, their arrival also allowed Scott and me to have a little fun on the slides, which took me right back to being a teenager again and were great fun.

As far as eating is concerned there is a great cafe area in the adventure centre called the wild wood cafe, which is set up in the style of a forest, sitting you amongst trees and toadstools and little tree houses. There are then a variety of restaurants to choose from along with a pub which also serves food, all of which as you would expect are extremely child friendly, and the staff throughout the week couldn't have been nicer or more accommodating. One of the restaurant areas called the Granary situated within the Yard restaurant even had a variety of toys and soft play big cushions at the back of the room for children to play and enjoy hanging out together once they had finished their food. I found this particularly great as on two of the evenings we sat drinking wine for well over an hour whilst watching Evan happily playing an interacting with other children in this play area, and as a mum who works full time and therefore doesn't get to see their child play with other children that often I really enjoyed watching Evan having fun with the other young children.

On our final night with grandparents offering to babysit, we took advantage and booked into the fine dining restaurant the Carreg Las. The food was on the whole of a high standard but the portions were a little on the small side for Scott and me. They also managed to over charge us by £21 pounds which was a little disappointing. Also parents or adults with no kids need to be aware that whilst Bluestone recommend no children after 7pm some parents may choose to ignore this, which was the case with us when a toddler was sat with its parents until 10pm, not being too much of a pain, but to be honest when I'm spending close to £100 on food and drink and deliberately looking for a bit of peace from my own child I don't particularly want to be sat by anyone else's!

You can choose to stay all inclusive or self catering, but for me its self catering all the way, as I like the option of eating out when I want but also just hanging out at home and cooking whenever I feel like it. We did a big shop before we went and took it with us, but there is a great little shop in the village area that has a great selection of almost everything you could possibly want or need. There is also a pretty good take away service which takes orders up until 9.45pm. We had the fish and chips on the Wednesday night, and whilst the fish was a little on the greasy side, it was still pretty tasty and a great sized portion for the money.

Whilst you can walk or cycle around the site, no cars are allowed to park on the main resort, and whilst you are allowed to park outside your property to unpack and pack up you then have to park it in the main car park on the edge of the resort. This is of course great when you have little ones charging around all over the place, but not so great when you want to go anywhere in the car and are staying over the other side of the resort, which can be up to a twenty minute walk, especially if you have little ones that don't move at a particularly fast pace.  This also means that when the weather is bad it can mean a fair old walk to the adventure centre and blue lagoon, which is what we found last year when we stayed.

Expecting a bit of rain and realising that we were staying a fair trek from the adventure centre and pool we decided on check in to hire a golf style buggy for £75 for the five days, although you do have to take it back by 10.30am on your last day. However, this was money well spent as not only did Evan think it was the best thing ever, especially when he sat on his dads lap and helped drive, but it was also a real advantage getting around the resort when the weather wasn't too great or when Evan was tired and not in the mood for walking. However, remember your buggy number or you may spend twenty minutes trying to load your pin number into the wrong buggy...oops!

As we have in the last few months been really enjoying our family bike rides, we decided to take our bikes this year, and whilst due to poor weather we only managed to fit in one bike ride I'm still glad we took them. There is a great cycle path which you can follow on the resort, or be a little more adventurous and continue off site through the beautiful countryside. I have to confess that some of the off road stoney hills took their toll on my 40 year old relatively unfit body, but it was still a lovely experience all the same and Evan loved racing through the trees and cycling through the puddles and mud. If you prefer not to take your bikes but fancy a bike ride during your stay you can hire them, along with cute little buggies that fit to the back of the bikes for the little ones.

For those wanting a little relaxing time there is also the Well Spa Retreat on site offering a variety of treatments at typical spa type prices, or you can just pay a fixed price to enjoy chilling out using the spa facilities which include a thermal sauna and steam area and an outdoor hydro pool. I haven't managed to take advantage of the spa on either of my two visits, but I have been informed by family and friends that it is a really great spa and a great spot to chill out. In fact Scott and I are seriously considering taking advantage of their two night spa deals and returning for our anniversary in June for a little child free fun and relaxation.

What is great about Bluestone is that whilst you could easily fill your days on the resort, there is an abundance of children friendly activities all within a twenty minute drive, including some world class beaches if you have good weather, Folly Farm which you can literally spend the whole day at, and was our chosen activity during the rubbish weather on Thursday. There is also a Dinosaur park and Anna Ryder Richardson's Zoo near Tenby, so there really is loads to see and do off site without having to go too far.

So all in all our second experience at Bluestone was thoroughly enjoyable, and if you are looking for a UK based family holiday in a truly beautiful part of the world then you really can't go far wrong giving Bluestone a visit. The downside for me as it was last year was the weather. Most of the week it was cold and Thursday was almost a right off as it rained heavily until tea time. Of course we all know the one thing that you can't guarantee in this lovely country of ours is the weather, but for me, I like being outdoors when I'm on holiday and I like feeling the warm sun on my body, as I am cooped up in an office from Monday to Friday most weeks of the year. We always have one family holiday a year abroad and I have always liked the idea of also having a UK based holiday that doesn't involve the stress of airport queue's and flights. However, the lack of good weather is seriously making me re-consider whether we should be bothering with a UK holiday, knowing that for some of your precious family time, the chances are you may have to spend some of it indoors, which for me is a real shame. Nonetheless I am pretty sure that I will be returning again in the not so distant future for another Bluestone fix for Team Tudor..!!

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