Christmas at Bluestone National Park on a budget

Bluestone National ParkChristmas at Bluestone National Park on a budget

Make yourself a cuppa, pour a glass of wine and get comfy. I take reviews seriously. I feel that if I have a voice that someone might listen to, I need to make sure its the most informative and helpful voice it can be. I’ve included lots of information to help you make the most of a stay at Bluestone National Park Resort, so it’s a long one but I hope that you may feel encouraged to book after reading our thoughts.

I can not tell you how I felt when I received the email. It was a December Friday at 1pm and I was knee-deep in plastic whilst reorganising the mountain of toys that my son had acquired over the almost 4 years of his life.

Would we be able to visit Bluestone National Park in Wales on the following Monday and stay for 4 nights. Would we?! Erm, yes!
Unfortunately, due to the short notice, neither my Mum nor Sister were able to come with us and I was nervous of such a long drive on my own as I didn’t want to end up in a lot of pain and unable to care for my son when we got there. Thankfully, my friend and her son were free so we got packing.

We set off on Monday morning and had a 7 hour drive with 2 stops and it was dark and raining when we got there. I didn’t fancy parking up and getting the boys out of the car for 10 minutes whist we checked in and they went wild with pent up energy or melted down with tiredness when we had to get them back in the car to go to the Lodge and thankfully, we didn’t have to as they have a fantastic ‘Drive through’ check in. You simply drive up to one of the available windows and give your name and booking details and they handle the rest. We were given a map of the resort, activity timetable and restaurant opening times, electronic card keys for the Lodge, a card to display in the car and as I am disabled, I received an extra card to display in my car that meant I could keep my car on site. If you don’t already know, Bluestone is a car free resort. You need to either walk everywhere in the gorgeous countryside and clean air or you can take your bikes, hire bikes or hire a golf cart. You check in, unload and then park your car in a car park on the edge of the resort, unless, like me, you are disabled, and in this case you can keep your car with you at all times and use it to get to all parts of Bluestone.
Our check in only took about 10 minutes. If you arrive at the same time as a few other people, I can imagine that you might have a bit of a wait but it’s no different to checking in anywhere, you just wait in your car instead of a hotel lobby.

Arriving in the rain and dark provided us with a challenge – reading the signs that name the roads. They are quite low and small and both my friend and I found them hard to read with 20/20 vision. They could certainly do with some lights. We found it hard to judge the size of the site from the map and so coupled with being unable to see the road signs well, meant that we certainly could have found arriving a little easier.

However, when we stepped into our lodge, which for reference, was on Augustas Way, we were very impressed. It was warm and clean and very nicely presented. Our lodge was an ‘upside down living’ Ramsey lodge which meant that the bedrooms were downstairs and the living space and kitchen, were upstairs. The boys loved this and my son still talks about it and really wants to go back and live that way again! My son is a heavy sleeper and also, due to my health conditions and my friend being pregnant, we went to bed with the kids to catch up on sleep and this style of lodge wouldn’t cause us a problem but my friend’s son is easily woken and she felt that if she visited with her husband, they wouldn’t really be able to eat later or watch tv and use the upstairs space without the noise waking him up and so this style of lodge wouldn’t suit them. You definitely can hear creaking and footsteps and you’ll know what will and won’t wake your child. The upside is that with all the activities, the kids will be exhausted when they do go to bed!

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We hadn’t brought groceries with us other than breakfast things and so went straight to the Knights Taffern for tea. We again had a bit of an issue finding the Village. We thought it was further away from our street than it actually was and wasn’t signposted in any way from the road. From what we saw, all other buildings on the park had wooden cladding and the Village buildings were painted but a sign on the side of one of the buildings would be really helpful. We did a circuit of the park, parked up and found our way to the village centre. If you are able-bodied and able to wander and explore, you’ll probably have no issues but when it hurts to walk, you don’t want to park up at the wrong place and only find out you’re in the wrong place, when you’ve had a wander.

We had checked the arrival information and our evening meal choices were the Farmhouse Grill which we thought may not have had the most vegetarian options (we were wrong!), the Oak Tree Restaurant that was a little more up market and so we didn’t want to inflict two tired boys upon them or the Knights Taffern which we imagined to have a British Pub style menu and we were right. Fish and Chips, Sausage and Mash, Pie, Hunters Chicken and other yummy choices. The boys had Tomato pasta with a sauce that appeared to have come from a jar but it was very tasty and had chunks of tomato in. More like a Lloyd Grossman style sauce than a cheap jar. I had sausage and mash which was so tasty and my friend had a vegetarian tart/pastry. There was only one vegetarian choice except a Jacket potato for future reference.
We also ate there for lunch one day as our plans had changed. We had hoped for a different lunch menu but the choices were the same as evening. My friend and her son shared a jacket potato that they enjoyed. My son had the children’s fish and chips which was sadly more batter than fish but well cooked and good quality fish. Don’t get me wrong though, the Knights Taffern is a great pub and the food is good, honest and tasty.

As our trip was so last-minute, we decided to try to do it on a budget. We had two evening meals and one lunch in the resort restaurants. On our last night, we ate at the Farmhouse Grill and we loved it. The decor is so nice, they have a mixture of booth and table seating and also a little play area with Wendy houses, tables and chairs and a few toys that were very well utilised. The food was good and there were more vegetarian options for my friend. The boys both ate massive burgers after a long day swimming and loved them.

I think it would be good if you were given a copy of each restaurants menu with the opening times on arrival as with young children, you don’t always have the time to wander from one restaurant to another to see what the menu is like as they are hungry and tired and it would make planning your stay, easier. The menu’s are available on the website though so you could print them off yourself before you go. I do wish we had done this and booked into the Oak Tree Restaurant at some point during our stay but there’s always next time!

For the rest of our stay, we ate in our lodge. We googled a Tesco in Pembroke Dock and our sat nav took us there in about 20 minutes. We timed it specifically to give the boys the best chance of a nap and it worked. It was an easy route to follow and the Tesco was well stocked although it wasn’t a massive store.

However, another tip for checking the website or reviews in advance is because the village shop on site was very well stocked and not badly priced. We really didn’t need to go to Tesco at all. As well as the little supermarket, they have a gift shop and were selling a beautiful range of winter knits, gloves, hats, jumpers, you name it alongside well priced souvenirs and toys.

One thing that should be on the arrival information is that in the village, there is a vending machine for Welsh milk, cheese and butter! Yup, you read right, a vending machine! So if, like us, your journey takes longer than expected and you arrive at night, you can get some essentials whether the shops are open or not. We thought it was ingenious. It’s in the alley way in between the shops if you need it.

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The lodge had everything that we needed except for baking trays. I’m not sure if it was just our lodge but if you are planning to self cater, you might want to bring some with you. They had casserole pots, pans, ovenware dishes etc and plenty of crockery however, the coffee cups are very small. I was really disappointed as my need for caffeine is great on a morning and so would bring a mug or two from home if we are ever invited back. The range of utensils is very good and the essential (at least for me) corkscrew and bottle opener was there!

You are given an arrival pack with cloths, a spare bin bag and dishwasher tablets and a tiny bottle of washing up liquid. it’s a nice gesture but you would need to bring your own as well. It would have been nice if there was a cleaning spray of some sorts so that you could wipe all the surfaces down and help look after the lodge so again, I’d bring my own. It really was easy to self cater and keep our costs down at Bluestone.

Prior to arriving, we had been on the website to look at the kids activities and saw lots of great outdoors nature / creepy crawly hunts and the like and so had packed full waterproof’s and wellies but sadly, these were just summer activities. I can understand why and think it would be great if seasonal changes were mentioned on-line. We were given a timetable of available activities on arrival though.

As it was Christmas, they had some magical, special events on such as The Kingdom of the Elves which was an experience with activities including cookie decorating and interacting with the story whilst in the amazingly decorated and designed rooms that you travelled through, guided by fabulous elves. You also received rosy cheeks and a camouflage apron so that you weren’t spotted whilst in the Kingdom.

They also were showing a Cinderella Pantomime which was fantastic. The cast was brilliant, the kids were mesmerised and loved joining in and there were plenty of jokes and innuendos for the adults that went over the children’s heads!

Another Christmas activity was Story time with Santa. The children met santa, listened to him tell a story, were given a Christmas dinner and received a gift.

Most holiday bookings included entry to The Kingdom of the Elves (£26 without) but there was an extra charge for Cinderella (£10 per ticket) and I believe lunch and story with Santa was approximately £16pp. Due to the short notice and proximity to Christmas, we couldn’t afford to do everything and so didn’t try the story time but everyone that I spoke to that had been, enjoyed it.

All the outdoor activities were replaced by lots of crafts at a small fee. There were also free activities including Carol Singing, an Interactive Christmas Light show and story time in the Village tent.

You can book your place or tickets with the Village Central Concierge either over the phone or in person, in the Village square and the staff are very helpful. We met a very helpful lady called Laura who was excellent and rang people for extra information on our behalf.

We made the most of the free activities at the resort and there are many.

Number one, The Adventure Centre.

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The Adventure Centre is absolutely fantastic. When you see it from the outside for the first time, it does look a little underwhelming – it’s housed within a big industrial hanger and the entrance isn’t well signposted however, the inside could not more the opposite.

As it was Christmas and also where the Kingdom of the Elves was housed, it was decorated beautifully. Lots of red and green swathes of material covering the walls and ceilings, sparkly lights and a beautiful array of reasonably priced souvenirs. There is also a reception desk in the entrance, from which you can book tickets to events, your place on an activity and make restaurant reservations – very handy if you find yourself in there all day with excited children.

When you first walk into the main room, there is a definite wow factor. On your left is a crazy golf course that was surprisingly, free! I couldn’t believe it. There are lots of clubs and balls and we didn’t have to wait for a game once.

The adventure climbing equipment is really nice and gentle on your senses. It’s all wooden and there are interconnecting walkways and towers with huge winding slides, rope nets, ramps, balance tight ropes and more. My son was able to manage all of it at just under 4yrs old but he is tall for his age (108cm at the time) and confident. His friend who is smaller and less confident found the wooden equipment a little more daunting and declined to play on it. Neither of them were brave enough to try the slides and it would have been nice to see a couple of lower slides but it was nice to see some challenging equipment for older and taller children.
They do have a more traditional padded, bright and smaller area for toddlers with a smaller slide and ball pool area that both boys enjoyed but it is very small.

Elsewhere in the room, they have a full size bouncy castle which is again, free, a Lego wall and tables, a small area with amusements (grabbing machines, air hockey and racing games) but they are nicely hidden away and not in your face so we weren’t pestered for money all the time.

They have a number of tricycles dotted around for the little ones too.

For adults, there are a some picnic tables and about 10 sofa’s, right next to the crazy golf and toddler soft play area, seats have been built into the columns that support the wooden structure and there are heating lights dotted around because as you can imagine, it’s a little chilly in such a large area in winter.

My son loved it in here. Had it not been for the swimming pool, he wouldn’t have wanted to go anywhere else or do anything else than be in the Adventure Zone. When he’s older and taller (6yrs and 110cm) more activities open up to them.
There is a brilliant climbing wall and tower, a high swing of sorts that we didn’t see in action and also a high wire obstacle course that looked fantastic. I enquired and it was £7 for a turn. I felt this was a little steep. Had it been £4 or £5, I would have been inclined to allow a child to have 3 or 4 goes, over the period of a week but at £7 a go, I would probably only allow them to do it once or maybe twice. It did look fantastic fun though.

Also on the upper level is the Wildwood Cafe which serves hot drinks and cakes that you can take into the main play area and also soft drinks, alcoholic drinks, sandwiches, snacks, meals and a great breakfast selection. The cafe is also nicely themed with multi level seating, a big friendly tree and other decorations.

As before with the cafe’s and restaurants, do your research before you go. We didn’t and assumed that it was a cafe that served hot drinks and snacks for when you visited the adventure zone and didn’t realise that it was a cafe restaurant in its own right.
It would be nice to see menu’s in the play area though as if you are a single parent and there on your own like I was at times when my friend and her son went to explore other parts of the resort, you can’t always just leave them too it and go and find the information. The adventure zone is so big and has so many wooden pillars and activities that it is very hard to keep track of your children. Not a problem for me as I’m quite confident to let my son roam and know that as long as I tell him where I am, he will come and find me but just so you know in advance.

One thing that I thing should be changed as a matter of urgency if it doesn’t break fire regulations, is the doors to and from the adventure zone. They are simple push doors and children that like to wander would be easily able to leave on their own accord. The corridor leads to the toilets and then more doors to the reception entrance area. My son, a few months ago would have had no qualms about going for an explore in the toilets and beyond and due to size of the play area, it would have taken a long time to locate a missing child as there are so many tunnels and towers for them to hide in. It would be nice to see the magnetic system that you see in other indoor play centres, where there is a button, high up on the wall that you have to press in order to enter and exit, out of reach of little hands.

Also, as someone who struggles to manage a lot of stairs, there needs to be a sign to let you know that you can access the cafe via a lift which is near the entrance and reception area. That’s why I didn’t know what food was on offer in the Wildwood cafe for a few days as I did’t venture up there due to the stairs. This would be handy for people with prams too.

Also upstairs is the circus room. There is a timetable of activities that you need to book in order to take part but they also have times that it is free for general play. It’s a really nice space for babies and toddlers. My son loved it but was just a bit too boisterous.

The next activity that we tried and indeed experienced every day, was the Blue Lagoon Swimming complex. My son was in HEAVEN!

Lets start at the beginning. When you first arrive, you need to go to the desk in the swimming reception area, give your details and you will be issued with a card ticket with a barcode that you need to use to enter and exit the complex. There are lifts and stairs to take you down to the changing and swimming level. There’s also a well stocked shop with swimming costumes, swim toys and more.

The changing rooms are split into Male, Female and Mixed. The mixed area has lots of smaller cubicles and larger family cubicles and rooms. The showers are either near the entrance to the pool or single sex ones were through the toilets. They have the giant air and heat lamp driers that you can stand in for £1 and also free hair dryers. The lockers use £1 coins that are refunded and they also have some nifty digital ones too.

You enter the pool area and it stretches out in front of you with a gentle slope into the water, as if you were on a beach. There is a poolside cafe on your right that had pre packed sandwiches and snacks, served meals such as fish and chips and hot and cold drinks – perfect for spectators. I had imagined that you would be able to sit and have a drink or snack in your swim suit and then continue with your swim but in December, it was far from a tropical environment and very cold when out of the water. Saying that, it didn’t impact on our time there but smaller children may not have been able to spend as much time there as we were able.

There are a few slides and chutes but unfortunately our children were too small to try them.
There is a splash area, designed like a shipwreck but we found it too cold, and a toddler pool that was brilliant. It has an area designed to look like rock pools that waterfall into each other and the children can paddle in and climb through them as well as interactive fountains and things with levers that when pumped, sprayed out water. It was very shallow, about ankle depth so perfect for babies to sit in or toddlers to toddle.

The main pool is great though. The glass domed roof is lovely and helps to create a fun atmosphere. As it was Christmas, they were playing Christmas music as well.
It’s nice to sit in the shallows and swim in the deep end but there is also a lazy river that you can float through which takes you outside and warning klaxons sound to let you know that the waves are about to start.
This was my son’s favourite part of all! In the deep end, you rise and fall with the giant waves but in the shallows, they break like the beach. Little man loved running and jumping over them and sitting down, letting them bash him around and shove him back and forth. We went swimming everyday and his joy was never once broken. Please beware though. My friend is also pregnant. She stayed in the shallows when the waves were on but she found them to be very strong and she struggled to sit upright with compromised core strength whilst ensuring her less confident son was able to stand. On another occasion, she sat on the wave seat which is built into the wall but again, found that the waves were too strong and she was pushed along the seat and into other people who were sat. From then on, she and her son went into the toddler pool when the waves began.

We went swimming at tea time one day and had a different experience all together. As it was dark, the pool looked completely different and they were playing pop music. They had a massive inflatable obstacle course in the deep end. Unfortunately, you can’t do it at the same time as your children but they are allowed to have a go on the course even if they can’t swim without swimming aids. How we got around it was to queue up, when it was time, I went down the slide that took you to the obstacle course first. On one side of the course, there was a lifeguard in the water and so I jumped off the course, into the water on the other side and then my son followed me down the slide. I shadowed him whilst he had a go and he bossed it! He fell off half way though once and I caught him but all the other times, he made it to the end! He was so proud of himself and I was so happy that he was allowed to try.

Another thing to be aware of in the pool is to that the lazy river current runs across the pool. Children or weak swimmers can be carried into the lazy river by it and will soon find themselves out of their depth. My son is very independent and was determined to hop his way through the deeper water until he needed me to hold him and the lifeguards immediately were on edge, watching him to make sure that he was ok. They were very attentive and good at their jobs.

If you don’t hire a golf cart on the resort but find the walk to the pool a little far with all your bags and equipment, there is an electric bus that can ferry you around the whole park.

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Back to the Village. There is an adventure playground in the middle of it that our boys loved. If you can’t follow them on the playground, adventurous children could (and ours did) escape under the fence and leave the playground area so keep an eye if they are not very good at coming back! There is a very shallow stream that runs through the playground so just to make you aware if you have little tots that head that way on their own.

There was also a tent on the village green that was where the owl story time and carol singing was held and the interactive Christmas lights show was on the green, in front of the Knights Tafferen and was fantastic.

My friend and her son went for a walk around the lake one morning which took about 10-15 minutes and was suitable for scooters and prams and saw the beginning of lots of other trails and information about bugs and wildlife.

We packed quite a lot into our stay at Bluestone. Somethings, like Steep Ravine, an outdoor adrenaline packed high wire activity and the neighbouring restaurant Camp Smokey, were obviously closed and so we weren’t able to check them out but I imagine they are great. They also have a Spa that there was no chance I would be able to visit but I have heard from others that it is lovely.

I was overall, very impressed with the resort and would love to return. My son enjoyed it so much that yesterday, like other days, he asked if we could go back to the “upside down house in Wales”. I said that I would love to take him but that we needed to save our pennies. He told me that “when we go to a shop and I ask you to buy me something like a digger, I want you to say no Mummy, so that we can save”. My heart swelled with love and pride right there and then.

Our stay on film

 

Thank for reading      

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If you were to book the same accommodation (Ramsey Lodge with 1 double and 1 twin) and visit on the same week as we did in 2015, (Monday 12th December 2016 – Friday 16th December 2016) the cost would be £279 including free tickets to the Kingdom of the ElvesRamsey Lodge.
You can book today for just 35% or pay in full.

 

We were invited to visit Bluestone National Park Resort in return for an honest review. As usual, all thoughts are my own and on this occasion, some of my friends.

 

 

 

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