Lapland here in the UK!

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I think we are now at the stage of my daughter no longer believing in Father Christmas or really close, she hasn’t said anything directly but I have a sneaking suspicion she may no longer believe.  She’s a rather bright kid, but also very honest so I think she may be a bit torn and has worked out that if she doesn’t believe that means one less present.

Earlier in the year, as I know time was against us I had a look around the net for trips to Lapland as I felt it would be our last time to experience the magic with her.  Unfortunately, it was simply too expensive for us so I shelved the idea.

So when, we were offered the opportunity to visit Lapland UK, apparently the next best thing but here in the UK, I jumped at the chance.  However, the first thing I did was have a look to make sure it wasn’t one of the Crap-lands, Blunder-lands or Rip-Off Lands that were in the news last year; with brawling Elves, Fag Smoking Santa and poorly treated Reindeer and Huskies.

The Real McCoy

I can assure you this is the real one.  All in all it was very well organised.  We travelled down to Whitmoor Forest, near Bracknell Forest from St Albans, Herts and it took less than an hour and only made one wrong turn, it could have been better sign posted from the M3.  There was ample parking and we arrived in plenty of time.

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After grabbing a much needed coffee, we signed in and got ready for our tour.  The Elves were great and kept in character throughout.  The overall decoration and ‘sets’ were beautiful and did transport you to a magical place.   The snowy tree lined paths really did make you feel like you were in a Winter Wonderland.

What to Expect

The whole experience takes approx 3.5 hours, to be honest I thought it was going to be less.  The tour starts in the Enchanted Forest where you meet a rather old Elf and Ekko and learn that Elves come from Pine Cones.

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You are then ushered into the Elves Toy Workshop where the children help out Father Christmas as he wasn’t anticipating so many good girls and boys and is short gifts this year.  Children set to stuffing bears and putting together wooden horses.  Then it’s off to Mother Christmas’ kitchen to make a Gingerbread houses and listen to a story.  You can probably guess which story it was….. ‘you can’t catch me, no one can’……

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At this point you get an opportunity to break away from the group and had about 90 minutes to ourselves before making our way to the big guy in a red suit, we grabbed some food in the restaurant and for this type of venue, it was decent and reasonably priced.  Did a spot of ice-skating, some of us were more wobbly than others, visited the Sweet Shop, stroked the huskies, visited the iron-mongers and posted a letter to Father Christmas.

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An Private Audience with Father Christmas

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The visit with Father Christmas at the end was very special, the fact he knew the children’s names, their interests and a recent event, may have persuaded these two 8 year olds to believe for one more year.  I may have taken a sneaky photo before being told off for doing so.

Things we liked:

  • Personalised invites from Santa prior to the event
  • Location and organisation
  • Beautiful scenery
  • Cheeky Elves
  • Insider knowledge from Santa
  • Good quality toy from Father Christmas albeit another soft toy.
  • Thank you cards from Father Christmas

Things that could be improved:

  •  I appreciate they have to get a huge number of people through each day and have to coordinate timings to keep the flow going, but did feel a bit like cattle at times and there was a fair amount of time spent waiting.
  • The skit by the older Elf and Ekko in the beginning could be improved as it seemed to go on for a bit and felt like it was purely to fill time.
  • As my mate said ‘Mother Christmas was a bit cr*p’.  This will secure her a place on the naughty list.
  • Allowing families to take their own photos with Santa, instead of being pressured to buy one of the commercially taken ones on the way out.
  • Like many other people who have commented on trip advisor, it’s expensive.  For the four of us to have gone it would have cost us approx £280 (£70 each) and in the run up to Christmas this is out of reach for most families.  Yes, it is cheap in comparison to the real Lapland, but does shut out a lot of families.
  • Introduction of a reduced family ticket.
  • For that price, a mince pie and glass of mulled wine for parents on arrival would be a nice touch.

However, overall we had a lovely day but probably wouldn’t pay that kind of money ourselves.

Thanks to Lapland UK for the once in a lifetime opportunity.





Ski Lessons for Kids in the UK

Things to do during the school holidays near St Albans

During October Half-Term we had the opportunity to go to The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead, we’ve been skiing there before and we had a sledging party for my daughter’s 6th Birthday a couple of years ago.  As a Canadian I was impressed with the quality of snow, pretty close to the real stuff.

As we live in St Albans, the Snow Centre is normally less than 20 minutes  away by car.  Unfortunately, on this occasion, the main road in was closed due to an ‘incident’.  Luckily,  we were able to find our way around the incident and weren’t too late.  We were actually on time but left us with less time to get kitted up – skis, boots, poles and helmets were included in the lesson.  You can also hire clothing if you don’t have any of your own.

Ski Lessons in Hemel

This made it a bit stressful as I hate being late.  However, the staff were excellent helping us get organised and calmed me down, it took 3 trips to the ‘clothing department’ to get the correct size snow trousers and two to the ‘equipment section’ to get the right size boots, which was not a fault of the Snow Centre and my daughter did wait till she had her boots on to tell us the trousers were too big.  Grrr!

Being half-term it was rather busy but it was all very well organised and flowed, after check-in you were guided to an area to meet your instructor and get ready.  It did look chaotic but it really wasn’t.

Fun for all ages

We had an adults lift pass and a private lesson for our daughter.  My 67-year old mother was visiting from Canada at the time, so we had to decide which one of us got the lift pass.  Coincidently she taught me to ski as a child, my first skis were 110cm and we did toy with the idea of sending her.  However, in the end, as she was only going to be with us for a week and we hadn’t seen her in 15 months, we didn’t think we should risk an injury, so we sent my hubby in the end.

Ski Practice in the UK

It’s like riding a bike…….

The ski hill is split into two sections, those who are proficient can whizz up and down on the left and the group and individual lessons happen on the right.  So hubby went off to the left, while our daughter went off to the right for her lesson and we went upstairs to watch from the viewing platform.  It’s been awhile since my husband has been skiing and he said it didn’t dawn on him till he got to the top of the drag lift that he may not remember how.  Secretly, I was hoping for him to bail so I could get some good photos, sadly he didn’t.

Skiing Lessons for Kids near London

My daughter’s instructor was lovely and patient.  She had our daughter going up the learner slope in minutes, she used great analogies like pizza slices to introduce her to turning and the snow plough.  She did spend a lot of time on her bum but had a brilliant time and as soon as she came off the slope, she asked if we could come again.

How to teach kids to ski

Après Ski

We finished of our visit with a bit of Après Ski in the Lodge Bar, where you are transported to Austria with a great selection of authentic Austrian dishes or a few of your favourites.  The prices were reasonable, great view of the slopes and fantastic atmosphere.

Apres Ski at Hemel Snow Centre

Food at the Lodge, Hemel Snow Centre

I think if anyone is considering a ski holiday or looking for something to do during school holidays, I would definitely recommend a trip to the Hemel Snow Centre.  You can book lift passes and lessons online or follow them on Facebook for deals and news.

Now your chance to win!

Hemel Snow Centre Family Lift Pass

The lovely folks at the Hemel Snow Centre are offering my readers a chance to win A family lift pass, 2 adults and 2 children, any time in the next 12 months.

To enter simply use the Rafflecopter form below.  The full Terms and Conditions are at the bottom of the form, but in short it’s open to UK residents 18 years and older.  The winners would have to be at recreational standard, or the value can be put towards a lesson.  Competition closes on the 1st Dec 2015.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This competition is listed on Loquax, Prize Finder and Competition Hunter.


Summer Holiday Camps for Kids

Outdoor Holiday Activities for Kids near St Albans

I really didn’t think this one through.  On Sunday we arrived home after two weeks of camping; playing in the woods, tenting it and building fires.  So, when I checked my diary and realised I had booked my daughter in for a Bushcraft Survivor Course with Wild Child Activities first thing on Monday morning, I wasn’t sure how she was going to take it, but she absolutely loved it.  It probably helps that she is obsessed with Bear Grylls.

Summer Holiday Camps near St Albans

Wild Child Activities is based at Phasels Wood Activity Centre in Kings Langley (near Hemel Hempstead).  They do an exciting selection of Holiday Activities for kids 7+ including Archery, Animation, Fencing and Residential Camps for kids 8 and over.  I’m all up for getting kids outside. Upon dropping her off, I was rather impressed with the facilities.  The Centre is set in 95 acres of rolling meadowlands, woodlands and fields in Hertfordshire.  It’s only 20 minutes from St Albans, access is via Kings Langley and the return journey takes you along the A41.

I’ll leave the 7 year old to tell you more about it.

So how was it?

‘It was really good.’

What did you do?

Forest School for Kids

Water Filtration

‘We roasted marshmallows, made dens and then played games.  We had to try and clean water by ourselves.  We got a trouser leg and one big pot of clean water, they asked us to put mud in it and all stuff icky like leaves, we had a tipi thing and we tied the leg of the trouser to it, we then tied a knot in the bottom of the trouser leg and we poured the dirty water in it and clean water dropped out of the bottom of the leg.’


‘We played a game of Man Hunt which was different to normal.  Two teams go off and hide and then they have to try and spot each other without getting spotted first.  If you are spotted you lose.  It’s a good game.  We played 4 rounds.’

Den Building

‘We were given a piece of rope and a sheet, so then we had to try and make a den, we could use all the materials that were all around us in the woods but we were not allowed to pick things off the trees.’

How come there were so many adults?

‘Two teams always stick together, there are three adults.  Two of them go into the woods and one stays with each team and the third stays at the base camp getting the fire and everything else ready for when we came back.’

Would you do it again?

‘Yes, because I enjoyed it and I found it interesting.  My favourite bit was playing the games, because we got to go into all the parts of the wood except the boundary line.’

How many kids were there?

‘There were 10 children in the group.’

Did you meet some nice kids?

‘Yes, I was the youngest and the oldest person was 10 or 11.  I worked well with another little girl, we worked as a team when playing Man Hunt and Den Building.’

Residential Camps for Next Year

We will definitely be looking to book more sessions next year.  I’m particularly interested in the Residential Camps but she won’t be 8 years old for a few weeks.  The Residential Camps include two full days of outdoor adventures and Bushcraft Activities and an overnight stay in a Bell Tent Village.

Summer Camp for Kids

We had the opportunity to stay in a Bell Tent during our Camping Trip and fell in love with them.




Win a Trip of a Lifetime by Geocaching #mwgeotrail

I’m all up for an opportunity to win a FREE trip courtesy of Mountain Warehouse.  I love travelling and my daughter is turning into quite the intrepid traveller.  I have no idea where we would go if we won.  Anyhow, the task was simple really and involved one of our favourite activities Geocaching.  We had the Shaun the Sheep Trackable, and all we had to do was find a cache, take a photo, instagram it and leave the trackable for the next person.  I checked our Geocaching app and there were 3 in close vicinity to our house.  So we got kitted up and headed out.

Kids Waterproof Jacket and Shoes from Mountain Warehouse

Kids Walking Gear Courtesy of Mountain Warehouse

We absolutely love geocaching and hopefully this doesn’t put you off.  Part of the fun is that you are not always successful and it can be challenging.

The first one was only about 8oo meters from our house, we read the notes and it mentioned we would need a long pole to grab the cache so we took an umbrella, we closed in on it quickly with a bit of bush whacking involved, my daughter shouted ‘I found it’ and then proceeded to come out of the bushes with this.

Dangers of Geocaching

As you can imagine, I nearly had a heart attack.  It’s paraphernalia for taking Heroin – needles, swabs and citric acid.  Thankfully it had not been used and the needles were not open.  I rang the non-emergency police number and they had no one to come and collect it and our local police station was shut on the weekend so I couldn’t drop it off.  They gave me very bad advice and suggested I stick it in the closest bin, I did question the safety of the Bin Man.  Anyhow, for future reference pharmacies tend to have places to dispose of needles safely.

If at first you don’t succeed……

Geocaching with Kids St Albans

Anyhow that didn’t put us off so we headed for the next one which was only a few hundred meters away.  We had to climb over the railing on the wooden walk way, we hunted high and low, even crawling under the bridge, we even resorted to reading the notes but no clues, I did then check previous logs and it looks like this one may have gone on a walk about as others were not able to find it either.  We weren’t doing so well today.

Try and try again!

We decided to have one last ditch attempt, there was another one within 500m and our dog needed a walk anyhow so we toddled off along the river.  When we popped out the other side, we knew it wasn’t going to be our lucky day, the site of the geo-cache had been completely dug up and was fenced off so we wouldn’t be able to get to it even if it was still there.

We still have Shaun the Sheep so will try again soon.



Things to do with Kids in Hampshire

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and The Spinnaker Tower

If you haven’t been to Portsmouth in awhile you really should!

I’ve only ever been to Portsmouth once before and that was to take a ferry to France, so really didn’t have any prior experience of it.  When we were planning on making an overnight trip a few weeks ago, I asked online about Portsmouth and places to eat, a few people were negative about the area.

I can’t tell you how wrong these people were, I’m guessing they haven’t visited for awhile.

Getting There

Pending traffic, the journey is less than 2 hours away from St Albans, Herts.  We decided for ease sake to use the Park and Ride system and from the moment we parked up we were extremely impressed.  Buses run regularly to the Harbour and take less than 12 minutes, whizzing passed all the traffic via the bus lanes and cost as little as £2 for a return journey.  Once you are at the harbour everything is in easy walking distance.

The Gunwharf Quays

We arrived a bit later than expected so food was first on the agenda.  We headed to the Gun Wharf Quays, which boasts 90 premium outlet stores and any a huge selection of restaurants, bars and cafe’s everything from Burger King to Jamie’s Kitchen to Loch Fyne.  We wanted something fairly quick so we opted for Wagamama’s.  The location and facility was impressive in itself, with commanding views of the Sea or Canal depending on where you choose to eat.

Gunwharf Quays

Gunwharf Quays Restaurants

Wagamama's at Gunwharf Quays


Spinnaker Tower

Our first stop was the Spinnaker Tower, all 360 feet of it, it’s Portsmouth’s Prominent Landmark and overlooks the Harbour, Gunwharf Keys and Historic Dockyards.  I’m terrified of heights but glad I persuaded myself to go up in the lift as the views were incredible, we had a clear day so could see for miles.  I wasn’t brave enough to stand on the glass floor, unlike my daughter, but did make it up to the 3rd Open Air Deck.

Spinnaker Tower Portsmouth Landmark

Viewing Deck 1 at Spinnaker Tower

Spinnaker Tower


Portsmouth Historical Dockyard

The reason we went to Portsmouth in the first place was my Husband, he has a love of anything nautical and when he was at University he was in the University Royal Navy Unit, a volunteer program which provides high-quality sea training.  He was very impressed with how much the area had changed and saw his old Patrol Boat.

A Great Day out for the Whole Family

The rest of the day was spent at Portsmouth’s Historical Dockyard.  We could have spent two days there. To humour our  6 year old daughter, we made a quick stop at Action Stations, an interactive play centre for kids but we were really there to see the ships.  She had a quick go at the climbing wall, experienced a Helicopter Simulator and engaged in some physical combat.

We then explored the HMS Warrior, (1860) Britain’s first iron-hulled armoured ship, The  HMS Victory, Best known for her role in the Battle of Trafalgar  and the Mary Rose Museum, where you can learn about the restoration of Henry VIII favourite Warship which was raised from the seabed in 1982 and get a glimpse into Maritime Life, some great interactive displays for kids.  Being able to physically walk through the first two really gave you a feel for what it must have been like to have lived aboard these great ships for months.  My daughter found the whole experience fascinating.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

HMS Victory Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

HMS Warrior in Portsmouth

Half a day really didn’t give it justice.  We could have spent 2-3 days there.  If you do decide to visit you can save up to 40% off by buying a family ticket, which covers 2 Adults and 3 kids from Amazon Local, plus it’s good for 12 months so you can go back again, which we definitely will be.  We also had tickets for the Royal Marines Museum, which would have been very interesting, but simply didn’t have time.  There was so much to see and do, we will definitely be going back.

If you’re planning a trip to the area check out the full list of Attractions in Hampshire .