Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Best UK Theme Parks for Families

With the Easter holidays nearly upon us, and them also being the traditional season opener for all the UK’s major theme parks, I’m timing a review of all my favourites.

I know they won’t all suit all parties, so I’ve split them in to the best for little ones, for those after bigger thrills, and for when your family has a mix of all types, like ours.

Hope you find our experiences useful for choosing where to visit this year.

Best for little ones

Thomas Land at Drayton Manor Park & Zoo

This one is a toss up between Legoland Windsor and Drayton Manor Park & Zoo.

It’s a close call, and while I’d happily recommend either to parents of little ones, I’d go for Drayton Manor as being my favourite.

We’ve had some great trips to both, but Drayton Manor wins due to its variety, its compactness, its ease and the change of pace available.

They really did steal a march on some of their rivals by setting up Thomas Land several years ago, and this year sees it undergo a transformation and significant expansion.

At Easter it opens with a brand new Sodor Airport, a Flynn the Fire Engine ride as well as the new Captain’s Sea Adventure.

This adds a gentle water ride element to Thomas Land, ride types popular with toddlers at other parks.

Taking a ride on the Thomas the Tank Engine train is always popular, and a gateway to a more relaxing element of the park, taking in lunch or a snack by the playground before perhaps enjoying an hour or two in the park's zoo.

If you have a mixed party, there is also a lot to do at Drayton Manor.  There’s the high octane rides like Shockwave and Pandemonium. But there’s also stuff in between like the Ben 10 Rollercoaster.

They also do great deals if you can take your toddlers to the park outside of school holidays.   It’s quieter and cheaper, and a good gentle introduction for small children to theme parks.

Best for bigger kids

The Alton Towers Resort

This one is a little bit more straightforward, and I’d plumb straight for The Alton Towers Resort.

My son has been measuring his own height for the past two years, just to see if he’s broken through the 1.4m ride height requirement for all the larger rides at Alton Towers.

Perversely, as well as a seemingly annual investment in the next big ride, Alton Towers has also made a significant effort in improving the experience for families and smaller children too.

We’ve always had a good time there, popping from one zone to the next, trying to adopt a route and order to taking all the rides in that avoids the masses.  The ride time boards are a great help with this.

It is a big park, and the Skyride is an excellent way to get around the park.  Mind for the little ones, they don’t need to go very far as the new CBeebies Land and brand new Octonauts Rollercoaster Adventure is right at the entrance to the park.

Look out for deals at the Alton Towers hotels and water park too.  We had a fantastic weekend stay at one of their themed Pirate Weekends.

Best for all the family

Blackpool Pleasure Beach

We are now a real mixed family, especially when it comes to theme parks.

My wife doesn’t really enjoy any ride that goes more than a few feet off the ground, or over a few miles per hour.  I’m happy to have a blast on any ride, and we have a 10 year-old boy who is somewhere in between.

Add to that we often go to theme parks with friends, so always have a mix of heights, ages and thrill tolerances.  And of all the parks, Blackpool Pleasure Beach seems to be the best place to cater for us all, together.

There’s some real classic and heritage rides at the Pleasure Beach, like Alice in Wonderland and The Ghost Train.  There’s the ‘inbetween’ rides like the Avalanche and Steeplechase.  The Big One is still an imposing sight and landmark, and for little ones Nickelodeon Land is a compact area well populated with rides little ones love.

As a family unit it’s probably the park we spend most time all together on rides.
We are generally together when we visit other theme parks, but perhaps taking turns to go on the rides and to stay with the bags.  At Blackpool we all tend to go on the rides together, with it being an exception rather than the norm when we don’t.

We’ve had some epic days at the Pleasure Beach, and if memory serves me correctly, they have the longest opening hours, so you can really space your day out, or pop off to return later in the day.

Keep your eyes peeled for deals on Pleasure Beach wristbands.  Cheap passes to the park are also available for family members not wanting to go on the rides, a practice that seems to have stopped at most of the other theme parks.

My tips for visiting these theme parks

I have written more in depth reviews of all these parks previously, and have included tips for getting the most out of your visit.

Hope you have a great time visiting them with your families.

Tips for visiting Drayton Manor

Tips for visiting Alton Towers

Tips for visiting Blackpool Pleasure Beach


Friday, 20 March 2015

Well done Walsall FC, we're off to Wembley!!!

I am a very proud Walsall Football Club supporter.

I’ve supported them since my early teens.

It was love at first sight.

Not because they were brilliant, far from it.  But because the experience of physically watching football matches, and watching The Saddlers in particular was so much fun.

Standing on the terraces, joining in with the singing, the celebrations and the sarcastic jeers had me hooked.

Up The Saddlers

I sold the idea to other friends, even going to midweek reserve team games and as I grew up a little, my dad then started to come with me to watch.

We’ve been through some genuine highs and lows.  Following Walsall all over the country.

The night we drew nil-nil away at Gigg Lane with Bury to all but clinch promotion will live with me forever.

As will Dean Keates’ last minute screamer at Swindon that wrestled the League Two Championship crown from Hartlepool United.

That was even topped by being in the Air Balloon pub afterwards, and the team coach noticing the Walsall fans had taken it over for the day, and them then turning around to join us fans in our celebrations.

Truly magical stuff.

And I thought we may never top it.

Then Max started coming to Walsall games.

Boy + Pie + Football = Aces

Max's superpowers

I’ve written about his super powers before, there’s even a chapter dedicated to them in my book, but they still continue to astound me.

The first one he has is to make everything more fun than it has ever been.  And as he’s taken to coming to Walsall games with me (and his granddad) the experience that I’ve always loved, has got even better.

I explained to him recently, that I’ve never enjoyed going to the football more.

Regardless of the results and performances, sitting with him, and my dad, always makes for an enjoyable afternoon.

Which is one of the reasons why I’m passionately involved with the Football League’s work in encouraging family excellence.

Then there’s his second super power.  Where everything he seems to come into contact with him performs beyond their previous performances.

Like when he came to watch me play hockey for the first time, and I rattled in two corking goals in one game, despite only ever scoring a handful of goals in the hundreds of games I’d played before.

And now, as he’s chosen to come and support Walsall, in his very first season as a full-blooded attending supporter, they make it to Wembley for the first time in their 127-year history!


Well done Walsall Football Club

On Sunday we will take on big spending Bristol City in the final of the Johnston’s Paint Trophy.  They are the highest ranked team in the competition so it would be no mean feat to come away winners.

The playing and coaching staff of Walsall must indeed be congratulated on their immense efforts to even get to the final.  Defying the odds at almost every round to get there.

However my biggest praise is reserved for the club itself, and how they’ve handled getting to the final.

They’ve done a tremendous job of engaging with the fan base and wider community and the normal loyal 3,500 home crowd has been swelled to nearly 30,000 supporters for Wembley.

Which actually formed part of my initial fears.  I was always confident of getting tickets to the final, but wanted to share the experience with the friends I usually go to away games with rather than with anonymous fans only coming along to this game.

I’m delighted to type that that is going to happen.  I have some fabulous friends I’ve made through supporting Walsall – something Max recognised himself at our last home game – and they braved the cold and the queues to ensure we would be sat, or stood singing, together.

The club did a fantastic job facilitating us and many other fans, and it was clearly a tremendous collective effort.

Players recognised this too, even making hot drinks for the hard-working ticket office staff.

The town has really got behind the club, even turning the its famous concrete Hippo into a Walsall Fan to mark the event.

Wish us luck

Whatever the result on Sunday, we are confident of making a decent account of ourselves.

The team, and the fans.

It will be a trip, that myself, my dad, and Max will probably remember forever.

Up The Saddlers!


Tuesday, 17 March 2015

My Child’s First School Residential Trip

In any normal set of circumstances, as the parent of a ten year-old boy, I’d pay good money for a little peace and quiet.

You get used to the noise, but occasionally it can get a little too much, and you really notice it when it isn’t there.

Blissful silence.

However with my son currently on his first school residential trip, the house has become instantly eerie.

And I don’t like it.

Passing on my anxieties

I told Max I’d miss him while he was away.

It’s a tough call and balance of making a child feel loved and always wanted, but not burdening them with worrying about leaving us to our own devices.

And it could be years before you realise any mistake or consequence of something you thought little of at the time, or were only intending to be a loving and reassuring action.

Max also seemed genuine in his claim that he would miss us too, but I’m hopeful that he’ll have such a great time on his outdoor activities that he’ll forget all about that.

Keeping busy

My lovely wife, and I, have already allocated the two ‘free’ work nights that this trip gives us.

As much as we love having Max at home, there are things we just don’t contemplate doing midweek with him here.

And no, filthy mind, not that.

We are instead making terrible use of our nights of relative freedom by going out late night shopping and catching up on some work tasks that are always more difficult when we have hands-on parenting responsibility.

Who'll get the most sleep?

I’m also hopeful of some decent nights' sleep, rather than the usual one-eye-open-earlier-that-necessary-get-up protocol usually in place.

This is where I think I’ll struggle to stick to the plan.

My anxiety of having the boy away, will most likely make my sleep even worse than usual, not better.

Phantom child noises may be re-occuring.

I may even end up getting less sleep than usual.

I’m also sure Max will get fewer hours rest than he’s used to, but I’m confident this will be down to having a laugh with his dormitory chums.  Infinitely much more fun than what will be keeping me up.

That’s if I’ve packed everything he needed.

And now I’m just off to add that little gem to my list of growing anxieties.


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