girl standing by splash park at legoland

Our Year of Advenutres with Merlin Annual Pass

For Christmas 2016 we asked family for a contribution towards the cost of an Merlin Annual Pass as a family so that we could enjoy a whole year of days out. We had been to some Merlin attractions previously but there were also plenty that we hadn’t been to, or even heard of before we got the passes.

We bought the passes in the January sale, which works out quite a bit cheaper so worth waiting til then if you can. Once you buy the passes you have up 6 months to activate them and then your 12 months starts from that date. We chose to go for the premium passes, which were a bit more expensive but meant there were no restrictions on when we could use them unlike the standard passes, they also included parking which can be quite costly at each attraction.

Our passes cost us £322 in total for the three of us which is a lot to pay out at once therefore, we were determined that we were going to make the most of them. I certainly think we managed to get good value out of our passes over the 12 months these are the trips that we went on.

Our Round Up of Trips

We have all really enjoyed our year of adventures with Merlin Annual Passes and if you are going to make the most of them, then I think they are actually really good value for money and encouraged us to visit new places together. Mini was 4 when we had our passes and there was definitely plenty of things suitable for her, although she is a bit of a daredevil and was happy to go on as many big rides as she could at the theme parks we visited.

We have decided not to renew our passes this year, as we feel that if we did it would be quite repetitive and we would like to visit some different attractions. That being said we would definitely look at getting passes again maybe next year or in a few years time, maybe by then Mini will be big enough to come on Nemesis with me at Alton Towers.

Our Top Tips for using Merlin Annual Passes

  1. Visit attractions on school training days as they are likely to be a lot quieter and you will be able to go on a lot more rides throughout your day. We visited Chessington World of Adventures on Mini’s school training day and hardly queued for any of the rides.
  2. Plan trips away where there are more than one attraction and turn it into a holiday or weekend away. Manchester, Blackpool, London and Weymouth all have multiple Merlin attractions.
  3. Don’t forget that you can get 20% off food and drink at Merlin attractions by showing your annual pass.
  4. You can collect pop badges to go onto your lanyard with your annual pass. If you go up to any Merlin member of staff with an existing pop badge and ask to swap, they will do this, Mini had lots of fun hunting down staff with badges that she didn’t yet have.
  5. Check out the Merlin Annual Pass website for a full list of discounts and special offers that you can make use of with your passes. We didn’t find that a lot of these were very well known or advertised such as discounts at some motorway service stations and special discounts on Champagne flights at the London Eye.
  6. Keep an eye on the Merlin Annual Pass Facebook and Twitter accounts for details of special events just for passholders.
  7. With an annual pass you can just turn up at any Merlin attraction however, there are some attractions that you can pre-book a timed slot to guarantee entry at a specific time. The slots are normally only £1 to book and worth it if you are visiting during a particular busy time such as weekends or school holidays.

Christmas fun at Warwick Castle: Story time with Santa

The first weekend of December hit and I was excited to get into the Christmas spirit with some family fun. We decided to use our Merlin Annual Passes to visit Warwick Castle, we’d visited earlier in the year to see the jousting and were looking forward to the Castle looking festive and wintery.

As soon as we arrived we headed straight to the Great Hall to meet an elf to get our tickets to see Santa. This is included in the ticket price but a time slot is needed to be booked, we were there at 10.45am and the next available slot was 1pm so definitely a good idea to get your ticket as soon as you arrive.

First we decided to explore the Great Hall and the indoors of the castle. It was hard not to admire the huge Christmas tree in the hall which was beautifully decorated. We then looked around the rest of the rooms in the Castle which had been suitably dressed for the Christmas season.

We then made our way outside to the Princess Tower to collect another timed ticket for an interactive show for later that afternoon.  Next Mini wanted to explore the Kingsmaker exhibition, which takes you down beneath the Castle to experience different roles from knights to Castle maids. We had fun dressing up in the costumes available and pretend fighting.

After lunch it was time to visit Santa. At our time slot, we were invited in to see Mrs Claus within the state rooms of Warwick Castle. It was lovely to see the children sitting captivated as Mrs Claus read them a poem and talked to them about the importance of being kind and considerate of others.

We were then invited into another room where we were joined with Santa Claus, I must say his outfit was very authentic looking. Santa read the children a story and led them in a song of Jingle Bells. Children were then able to have their photo taken with Santa individually, which was charged extra afterwards. Mini wasn’t that fussed about a photo, she was more interested in passing on her present requests.

Whispering what she’d like Santa to bring her

The whole experience lasted around 15 minutes and was definitely a take on the more traditional side of Christmas. The children all did seem to enjoy it, although, I cant help but feel that the Santa was a little bit odd and didn’t really seem to engage with the children that well. The children didn’t receive a gift either which I felt was a little disappointing.

From seeing Santa it was time to head to the Princess Tower. This is a lovely interactive show where children get the chance of saving a trapped Prince from a painting. The show is fun, the however it is virtually the same story, with a minimal winter twist, that we’d on an earlier visit. It would have been nice to see a different story, still fun though all the same.

After both of the shows we then had plenty of time to explore the Castle grounds, and climb the towers. Luckily it was a clear day and we had great views from the top. We even stopped by the falconry show for a short while to watch the display.

We had fun exploring the horrible histories maze before deciding it was time to head home and warm up after our wintery adventures at Warwick Castle.

father and daughter next to a lego village at legoland

Our top 5 tips to enjoy a trip to Legoland Windsor

Our Top 5 Tips to enjoy a trip to Legoland Windsor

Mini recently started full time school and we wanted to plan a family trip for her for mid-September, one as a reward for hopefully settling in well and two, to show her that we still do and always will make time for family fun together.

We had been to Legoland Windsor a few years ago but Mini was 2.5 at the time and was limited as to how much she could go on. Now she is very nearly 5 and very adventurous and wanted to go on all the big rides, there was only one that she wasn’t tall enough for.

We had a great trip, we decided to make a weekend out of it and stayed overnight to get two days use out of the park, taking advantage of our Merlin Annual Passes. Legoland Windsor really is one of those family days out where there is something for all of the family, from those that want to wander around and enjoy the Lego constructions, to those thrill seekers and those wanting to experience some of the more gentle rides.

We managed to fit lots in during our weekend, Mini really enjoyed the Ninjago ride and came off talking about wanting to train as a Ninja. Mr Mack liked the Lego Star Wars exhibition, even I had to admit it was pretty impressive. My favourite part was going on The Dragon rollercoaster, remembering how Mini had wanted to go on last time but was far too small, so enjoying that we could now share the experience together.

I have rounded up my top 5 tips to get the most out of Legoland Windsor for anyone looking at making a trip in the future.

Our 5 Top tips

1.      Make the most of the many attractions and parts of the park that you don’t have to queue for. Even on busy days there is still plenty to do to keep everyone occupied. Obviously one of the main areas to visit is the Mini Village to see all of the places around the world made out of Lego. We enjoyed having a wonder around and pointing out all the intricate details in the models. There are also shows throughout the day, some at the lake, including some stunt shows and some held in the theatre in the Mini Village.

There is also the 4D cinema that runs various shows throughout the day. Mini also loved playing on the adventure play areas around the park, the biggest of which is the pirate themed one, I think she would have happily played here for most of the day if we’d have let her. There is also a great play area in the Duplo land. Of course, there are also plenty of areas to get stuck in and do some Lego building.

2.      If you can, make a little trip out of your visit and stay overnight. As we had Merlin Annual Passes we could return the next day at no extra cost. It took the pressure off having to fit everything into one day as we knew we could go back the next day. I think if you buy tickets they have special offers available if you do wish to return.

There are two Legoland Hotels on site but they were out of our budget for this trip, maybe as a special treat in the future. We booked to stay at the Premier Inn in Slough, which was 4 miles away from Legoland and cost us just £41 for a family room for the night

3.      Do the bigger rides first. We found that the rides that seemed to always have the biggest queues over the two days were the Ninjago ride, Driving School, The Dragon and Laser Raiders. If you want to do either of these get there early and make these your first visits of the day. That is quite difficult as you have to be disciplined and not stop at the many other rides and attractions that you have to walk past to get to them.

4.      Take swimming stuff. There is a great water play area, if you are visiting at a time of year that is warm enough to use it. There is one area for toddlers and little ones and a separate area for older children with slides. I don’t think the area is that well advertised on the website and we had been caught out on a previous visit a few years ago and hadn’t brought any spare clothes. This time we brought Mini’s costume and a warm jumper for after she’d been in the water. She really enjoyed playing and it was one area of the park that didn’t include queuing.

girl standing by splash park at legoland

5.      Pick your time to visit. If you can don’t go on a weekend, it does get busy. If you have school aged children consider going on a school training day to get reduced queueing times and to be able to get round more of the attractions. If you have little ones who aren’t at school yet, definitely consider taking a day off and go in the week. If you aren’t able to make a week day trip, it seems that Sundays tend to be less busy than Saturdays for some reason.

If you do go on a busy day consider either leaving early or staying in one of the cafes for something to eat to let the queue from the car park go down. On the Saturday we left at park closing time and it took us over an hour to leave the car park, it just became a gridlocked nightmare, with no explanation as to what the issue was

I hope you found my tips useful and I’d love to hear if you have any other tips to share about Legoland Windsor.

You Baby Me Mummy

Country Kids

Our motorhome adventures in Weymouth

Although I have nothing at all against those who love the camping experience, I know that it’s never going to be something that I get excited about, I’m definitely a home comforts kind of girl. However, this year wanting to save some money, we decided to borrow my parents motorhome for some long weekends away to break me in gently to the outdoors life.

We booked the Friday off work and set off early on our adventures, having had the motorhome the night before to pack our things in. Praise goes to my parents who have it nicely stocked up with pretty much everything we could need, we thought the paper plates were a good trick to avoid much washing up. Dad also gave Mr Mack a quick tour of how things work and a quick driving lesson as he hadn’t driven it before.

We had chosen to stay in Weymouth to make use of our Merlin Annual Passes as there is a Sealife Centre and the Jurassic Skyline Tower there, both included on the pass. We’ve had lots of fun using our passes this year, we used them around London and also visited Chessington World of Adventures.

Friday

We set off nice and early to try to make the most of the day and all was going well until, around about Bristol area (60 miles from home), Mr Mack shouts into the back to ask if I’d picked up the food from the kitchen, oops! We’d both managed to forget the packed lunch we’d made along with all the food I’d packed for the weekend including breakfast things, snacks and treats. Team Mack -1 point!

After a pitstop on the motorway we continued into Weymouth and parked up, Mr Mack getting used to manoeuvring the motorhome around a bit by this point. Most of the car parks we used over the weekend had suitable spaces for the motorhome and if you are in the area for the week you can buy a parking pass online to use in all the council car parks which would be worth investing in.

We headed towards the seafront and walked along the beach to get to the Jurassic Skyline, which is a tower at the end of the pier with a pod that goes up to the top and rotates around 360degrees giving you amazing views of the coastline. Luckily it was a beautifully clear day and we could see really far.

We then walked back along the seafront for a play on the beach and a paddle in the sea, which was actually a good temperate for paddling in. The beach was really clean with lovely soft sand and plenty of things to do including fair rides, water sports and a lovely traditional Punch and Judy show which Mini loved watching.

We then headed to Pebble Bank Campsite for the night, after a quick dash around Aldi to replace the food we’d forgotten. I had booked 2 nights on an electric hook up pitch however on the journey I was contacted to say there had been a computer error and there wasn’t an electric pitch available for the first night, only the second night. It wasn’t ideal but we had to make the best of it as we knew all other campsites in the area would be booked up at this time of year. Also when we arrived onto the electric pitch they’d allocated us for the second night on Saturday there was somebody in it and I had to go to speak to Reception to sort this out, which was another bit of a faff. We found the campsite very clean and in a beautiful location over looking Chesil Beach however I was disappointed at how they responded to us being messed about and didn’t even offer us a free drink in the bar.

We ate at The Fat Badger onsite, which was great food at reasonable prices with a fantastic view looking straight out to sea, my G&T went down rather nicely after a long day of travelling and exploring.

Heading to bed, Mini was excited to be sleeping in her “den” bed above the cab and set it up with her teddies for the night. As we had no electricity we pretty much had to go to sleep the same time as Mini but it was 9pm by this time and we were all exhausted and drifted off quickly.

Saturday

Mini slept til 7.30am which is practically a major lie in for her, woo hoo, the sea air must have worked its’ magic. After breakfast we headed out to the Sealife Centre, which is situated in Lodmoor Park, which we didn’t get chance to explore this time but certainly looks worth checking out if you’re in the area. We’ve used our Merlin Annual Passes to go to a few different Sealife Centre’s this year and we all agreed that Weymouth is by far the best we’ve been to. It was well laid out and spread out so it never felt too busy or crowded. There was a great splash park, which we didn’t use but looked like lots of fun. We loved the Octopus, the Turtles, the Penguins and the Seals. Mini also loved stroking Starfish in the rockpool area. She then had great fun playing on the brand new Caribbean Cove play area, whilst we dived into the Costa. The play area was fantastic and included a sandpit, loads of slides and plenty of things to climb on.

 

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Looking for crabs in the rock pool at the Sealife Centre

 

We then moved the motorhome to park nearer to the town for the rest of the day and set off in search of lunch, the obligatory holiday Fish and Chips. We walked along the harbour, which was absolutely beautiful, lined with boats and lots of hustle and bustle of people sitting outside enjoying the sunshine. We got takeaway lunch from Bennetts chippy which was totally delicious, although huge portions, too full to squeeze in the deep friend crème eggs they had on offer. We sat on the harbourside and watched the town bridge rise to let the taller boats through.

After lunch we took a slow walk back towards the beach for a pedalo ride to burn our lunch off. Things were going great until I dropped my backpack into the sea whilst trying to get my phone out to take a photo, queue some ferocious back peddling to retrieve it and thankfully no damage as my bag was mostly waterproof.

We then took a slow walk back along the beach, with our feet in the water, towards the pier as we had promised Mini she could have a go at crabbing as she’d seen people doing it off the pier on our walk earlier. Armed with a bucket, net and some bait she waited patiently and was so very excited with her catch of 6 crabs. She proudly pointed them out to passers by and named them after her friends in nursery.

We popped back to the motorhome to freshen up and headed back out to town for some dinner although Mini persuaded us to stop for a few rides at the fun fair on the way. We chose to eat at The Anchor in the harbour after passing it earlier in the day. We managed to find a table with an open window over looking the harbour, it’s always nice to eat with a view and the food was good too.

After clocking up nearly 13,000 steps we headed back to the campsite and quickly settled into bed for the night, although I was tempted to strangle the very yappy dog in the tent next to us at one point as he was still barking away at 10.30pm.

Sunday

Another 7.30am lie in woo hoo! We were lucky all weekend with the weather but Sunday morning was a particularly blue sky and it was lovely to eat breakfast and admire the beautiful view.

 

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A beautiful view to wake up too

 

After packing up we headed out to Chesil Beach, which is a very thin strip of land leading the Portland. The road to Portland has an amazing vista of being able to see the sea in both directions. The beach is a pebble beach and Mini enjoyed the noises she could make marching along.

 

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Enjoying the view from Chesil Beach

 

 

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Contemplating world domination…

 

We then headed towards Portland Bill, a working lighthouse at the very most westerly tip of Portland. I’ve always found lighthouses intriguing and somewhat romantic and this one was no exception. Unfortunately Mini didn’t meet the 1.1m threshold to climb up but we agreed we’d come back again when she’s big enough. Instead we had fun exploring and climbing the rocks along the cliff edge, searching for fossils and enjoying the breath-taking views out to sea.

We had lunch at The Lobster Pot restaurant next to the lighthouse, we realised how lucky we had been to have eaten all of or meals over the weekend with sea views. The food was really good, Mr Mack particularly enjoyed his Portland Crab sandwich and the cream tea that we shared was delicious too.

 

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Portland Bill lighthouse

 

We had another quick explore along the rocks after lunch and Mr Mack decided to climb up a large rock looking out to sea, which Mini was sad to hear she was too small to follow him up, although I have no doubt she’d have made it up, I’m not sure my nerves would’ve remained intact.

Sadly it was time to head home but we all agreed we’d had a fantastic few days and had packed lots in to our short break away. I know we didn’t exactly rough it, but I was still proud how well we’d coped and I really enjoyed our break away and am already looking forward to the next one.

Country Kids

Shrek Adventure

London with Children: Bank Holiday Adventures

London with Children

Earlier in the year I was emailed about the Travelodge sale which included London so decided to book up so that we could use our Merlin passes on the London attractions. This year we’ve had lots of adventures using the passes, we’ve visited Chessington World of Adventures and made use of them on holiday in Weymouth.

The thought of visiting London with Children can seem daunting however there are so many exciting things to see and explore, lots of them are free too!

We stayed in the Travelodge Euston which was a bargain £45 for a family room and was really convenient to drop off our bags as soon as we arrived on Sunday morning and leave them there until just before our train home on Monday evening.

London with Children -Day One

We travelled with Virgin and also got lucky with tickets on the big seat sale meaning all 3 of us travelled to London and back for a total of £16, taking advantage of the fact Mini is still free until she’s 5. The only down side is that you can’t book seats for kids as they don’t pay and I did have her on my lap for a while, with not too much bottom wiggling!

We took our Hudl and took advantage of the free Beam app on the train for her to watch some kids shows, which was pretty successful in keeping her quiet. Apart from when she speaks with her headphones on and practically shouts, which is pretty funny to watch.

After dropping the bags off we headed to The Science Museum, which is a fantastic attraction and even better for free. Highlights were the garden in the basement for children to explore texture and do some water play, the space displays with the planets and astronauts and the interactive screens. london with children

The downside of the trip was that Mini got too enthralled in looking at the exhibits that she ended up standing in a big wet puddle! I just wanted the floor to swallow me up there and then! We had no spare clothes on us at all and were at the mercy of Kensington to find something. In the end we had to hop (or drip!!!) onto the tube for one stop and dived into the nearest Marks and Spencer for new leggings and pants!

Due to our detour we didn’t get time to explore the Natural History Museum (another free Museum!) very much but we just had enough time to check out the Dinosaur exhibition, Mini was 100% convinced the animatronic T Rex was real! We will definitely plan to come back and spend more time here.

london with children

Mommy don’t be scared this ones just old bones!

For dinner we’d booked at Bella Italia just round from the museums, we used a Groupon voucher, I do love a bargain! All of the walking must’ve made us very hungry. Mini wolfed down breadsticks, garlic bread,  most of her own whole pepperoni pizza and ice cream, with 2 glasses of juice.

I was really impressed with the kids meals and would definitely eat there again as a family. I rewarded myself for dealing with #wetpantsgate with a rather scrummy cookie dough pudding and ice cream. By the time we’d made it back to the hotel we’d clocked up 15,000 steps for the day and collapsed into bed for a good night sleep in a really comfy bed.

London with Children -Day Two

Monday morning we set off in search of Deliciously Ella’s cafe, The Mae Deli for breakfast as I’d followed the cafe for a while and wanted to try it out. We arrived a little early and ended up doing a few rounds of the block waiting for it to open. We were still a bit early but I think the poor waitress took pity on Mini peering through the window looking like she hadn’t eaten for weeks.

I really enjoyed my porridge bowl which I topped with granola, coconut and maple syrup. I decided to try something new and went for the Matcha latte, which I’m sorry just tasted a bit like vomit. I’m clearly not accustomed to the superfood palette, absolutely nothing wrong with the drink just not to my liking.

london with children
Mr Mack had avocado on toast and Mini picked beans on toast. This arrived on rye bread, no butter as it’s a vegan cafe and the beans were a mixture of beans in a thick sauce. It looked well presented but just not something I could convince her to eat, she had a nibble but really didn’t like the beans.

I then went to buy a second breakfast of jam on toast, which came again on rye bread which really was quite dry and hard and a very thick slathering of fruit compote. Again Mini struggled to eat any, despite my best pleading and begging. It wasn’t her fault the food really was quite different for her.  I think the menu may need rethinking for a children’s section to help them as a more gentle introduction to this type of food. We left feeling a little deflated and we ran into the bakery over the road. I grabbed Mini a fresh croissant which she happily scoffed straight from the paper bag, well at least I tried the healthy option first 🙄

En route to The Coca Cola London Eye, the first of our Merlin adventures of the day. As premium pass holders we were able to join the fast pass queue straight away and were in a pod within 15 minutes of arriving. For this we were grateful as the queue for standard tickets was getting pretty hefty!

 

 

 

 

The trip was just the right amount of time for a 4 year old to have a good look but not get too bored. She enjoyed looking at Big Ben, which Grandad had told her all about, and seeing Buckingham Palace, although she wasn’t pleased she wasn’t allowed to go and visit the Queen!

Next was a visit to Shrek Adventure, which was next door to the Eye and also included in our Merlin passes although we did pay £1 each to pre book a time slot. We weren’t really sure what to expect but all really enjoyed the experience.

It’s done really well and groups are timed so you go through the experience in a group of around 30 people on an adventure to escape Rumpilstiltskin and get back home again. Goodness knows how the actors keep the enthusiasm repeating themselves every 20 minutes and keeping on the perma grins! The experience lasted about an hour and although we did enjoy it I think it would be a little overpriced if we had paid full price,  but as it was included in the Merlin pass happy days!

london with children
After the debacle of the healthy breakfast we gave in to the Golden Arches for lunch and it was dirty but goooood!

Our final Merlin adventure of the day was the Sealife Centre London, which was also next door to Shrek. It was mega busy with a huge queue, which we got to skip thanks to the Merlin passes but even inside it was a little too busy for comfort and had to pretty much shuffle around the whole thing trying to fight to get a glimpse in the tanks.

Our favourite parts were the very adorable Penguins and the newly opened Jellyfish exhibition. Mini particularly enjoyed the Jellyfish tank where she could change the colour of the tank, the poor things must have thought they were in a 90s disco the amount of times she pressed the buttons!

The Penguins had just spotted it was feeding time!

The pink button was the overall winner!

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had time for a quick play on the play area in front of The Eye before heading back to Euston the catch our train, stopping on the way back to watch a few street performers which Mini was glued to and we had to practically drag her away from.

The train journey home went well and was a chance for us all to relax a little, when it’s just the two of you, you don’t always realise how much walking you do getting around London. Mini was a trooper and never moaned about the distances we’d covered over both days, wa I was pleasantly surprised but also very thankful for!

We really enjoyed the weekend and managed to pack so much in and can’t wait to come back again to explore some more of London. As a child London was also a special place of adventures to me as it’s where my Sister lived and I always remember my mom, brother and I coming to visit her on the train in the school holidays and getting to explore. I remember discovering the underground and being fascinated about how big the escalators are that seemed to go on underground forever and getting to visit all the floors in Hamleys.

Therefore it was a really special weekend to show some of those places and share these experiences with my little family and I’m sure there will be many more trips to come.

The journey home went smoothly and I changed Mini into her pyjamas on the train when I discovered a large spot on her leg which turned out to be the start of chicken Pox, but that’s another story, here’s just hoping she didn’t infect the whole of London on our travels….

I hope my post gives you lots of ideas of things to do in London with children, I’d love to hear about your ideas and top tips too.

london with children