North East Family Fun

A family of 5 with a zest for life, love of good food & passion for travel

A festive staycation in Newcastle with Malmaison

*This is a collaborative post

My birthday falls in December and Steve and I normally celebrate with a special weekend away somewhere. Quite often we'll stay in the North East and other times we'll venture further afield. This year there seemed to be so many new places I fancied trying in Newcastle that we decided to stay close to home in our favourite city. Newcastle has recently been named as the world's top travel destination by Rough Guides and I can certainly see why. I could never ever get bored of Newcastle and can't recommend taking a little staycation by the Tyne enough.

My festive staycation started with a trip to Hadrian's Tipi. I'd been dying to visit and had tried and failed on two occasions as it's always so busy! It seems that mid-week lunchtime is the perfect time to pop in and although we still couldn't find a seat, there were plenty of spots around the fire pits. Hadrian's Tipi is pretty expensive (£10 for 2 mulled wines - they are £3 each at the Christmas Market across the road) but worth it for a little treat. Drinking mulled wine in a tipi with twinkling lights to the backdrop of Christmas music and firepits feels very festive indeed. I'd recommend popping in if it's not too busy. 

I'd missed out on the Botanist's Winter Wonderland roof terrace launch so we decided to head along there next. I was surprised to discover we practically had the place to ourselves! It is chilly up on the roof but there are covered areas and blankets to snuggle up in. The views and twinkly lights make it worth braving the cold for. I could sit and watch the people below for hours. 

We walked down towards the Quayside to Tiger Hornsby for festive cocktails next where it appears I forgot to take any photographs! They had around 6 festive tipples to choose from and the setting is beautiful. This bar was nice and quiet in the early afternoon and I'd recommend for people like me who enjoy a decent drink with a seat! They were playing Home Alone on their big screen and apparently often screen free festive films in the afternoons. Tiger Hornsby is super cosy and a lovely place to sit down and relax with a nice drink.  

Onto the Malmaison.......

Time was getting on and we decided we should probably check into our hotel for the evening before getting to carried away with Christmas cocktails. Newcastle Malmaison is perfectly located on the NewcastleGateshead Quayside and is right next to the iconic Millennium bridge. 

We've stayed at the Newcastle Malmaison on a couple of occasions now and I'm always super impressed with the value their rooms provide. It's always worth checking out various special offers with Newcastle Malmaison throughout the year. At the moment you can enjoy a stay for two with dinner and wine from just £89 per couple which is a bargain! When you take into consideration the cost of taxis, dinner and drinks, it's almost rude not to stay over! There are also deals to book a room from just £49 and I love the Date Night Special which offers Champagne, dinner, bed and breakfast and is perfect for a special occasion. 

Rooms include complimentary toiletries, a very tempting (paid for) mini bar, Sky TV, the most comfortable beds we've ever slept on, power showers,  magazines, spa access and more.

Our room was so comfortable we almost didn't want to leave but our dinner reservation tempted us downstairs into the hotel Brasserie. A quick change and we were ready for the evening. 

The Mal Brasserie is fancy without feeling stuffy. The sommelier was actually younger than us and very approachable and friendly. He recommended starting the evening with a glass of Mal Champagne which seemed like a perfect idea to us. If you're lucky, there are a few seats in the restaurant offering perfect views of the River Tyne and bridges below.

We were staying at the hotel on a DBB deal which allows you to choose 3 courses from the Prix Fixe Menu or use a £25 allowance against the a la carte. As it was December, the Prix Fixe Menu featured festive options so we both decided to opt for this one.

I started with Roquefort and Mulled Pear Salad - deliciously light but packed with flavour. I loved it.

Then onto a traditional turkey dinner. I'm not exagerrating when I say the Mal's Christmas Dinner is the best I've ever eaten. The turkey was moist and succulent and served with both bread and cranberry sauce, the vegetables were beautifully caramalised and the roast potatoes were simply perfect. Add the delicious gravy and I just couldn't fault this dish at all. It even trumped the Turkey Dinner I enjoyed at Jesmond Dene House a few nights later.

I could barely squeeze in dessert but opted for a Sticky Toffee Pudding with caramel sauce and pecans. This pudding was nice and light but I was so full up I sadly couldn't finish it all. Our sommelier recommended a dessert wine to accompany our dish and I have to say it's not something we'd normally order. We went with it though and were really pleased we did. It felt like a real treat.

I contemplated a festive cocktail in the Mal bar which was nice and lively but in all honesty, I was so full of food and drink that I needed a lie down. We retired to our room and enjoyed a restful night's sleep. Considering it's location, we weren't bothered by any noise in the slightest - they must have invested in decent insulation! 

We woke the following morning as fresh as a daisy. We decided to go for continental breakfast in bed as had plans to dine out for lunch later in the day. I was expecting a couple of croissants in a grab and go bag.....not this fantastic selection that really surprised us. 

Wow breakfast really exceeded our expectations and paired with a late check out and morning TV was the perfect way to relax before braving the crowds of Newcastle to finish our Christmas shopping. 

My festive weekend in Newcastle could not have been more perfect. I honestly love our city and can't think of a better place to spend my birthday. If you'd like to watch more of what we got up to, check out my Vlogmas video below:

I've linked this post to #CityTripping - check it out here

10 Family-Friendly New Year's Eve Parties & Events across North East England 2017/18

What to do on New Year's Eve if you have kids? It's a question I'm asked a lot so I decided to do a little research and answer it. Here are 10 family-friendly events happening across North East England on 31 December that will help you to see the New Year in with style. Let me know what you're up to in the comments:

1 - New Years Eve Family Event - Village Hotel Newcastle 

Expect kids party games, a buffet and disco at this family-friendly party at the Village Hotel which runs from 7pm until 2am.  Find out more & book here

2 - Pantomime

If you're looking for a family night out with lots of laughs, why not plan an early evening trip to the panto? Theatre Royal, Northern Stage, The Customs House, Whitley Bay Playhouse, Gala Theatre, Tyne Theatre & Opera House and Sunderland Empire all have seats available on New Year's Eve.

3 - Hebburn Sports Club Mini New Year's Eve Party 

This special mini party takes place from 2:30pm - 5:30pm. Wristbands are just £2.50 per child and the fun will include a mini disco and fireworks.  Find out more & book here

4 - Family NY Eve Party at Beamish Hall 

Join Beamish Hall in their Winter Gardens for a family-friendly party from 6:30pm - 00:30am. Expect a three-course meal for grown-ups plus a party buffet for kids followed by party games, face painting, balloon modelling and a disco. Find out more & book here or call 01207 233 733 for details.

5 - New Years Eve Family Party in Traders Restaurant, Holiday Inn Washington 

Get together with family and friends to see in the New Year with this family-friendly event. Expect a buffet, children's entertainment and disco from 6pm. Find out more & book here or call 0191 418 9419

6 - Family New Year's Eve Party at Evan's Bistro, Whitley Bay

Join Evan's Bistro for their FREE family buffet and get together with a cash bar serving drinks throughout the evening.  Find out more here

7 - New Year's Eve Skating at Life Science Centre

Pre-book a New Year's Eve outdoor ice skating session at Life Science Centre before 5:45pm. Find out more and book online here. 

8 - New Year's Eve Family Party at AMF Bowling

With a glass of bubbly on arrival, unlimited bowling, unlimited nachos and a drink to see in the New Year, AMF Bowling looks like a fantastic option for families with older kids.  Find out more & book here

9 - Family New Year's Eve Party at Blue Flames

The annual New Year's Eve Family Party at Blue Flames is back. There'll be a disco, buffet, bouncy castle and more from 7pm until late. Find out more & book here

10 - New Year Family Fun at Alnwick Garden 

Alnwick Garden are hosting a family party in their pavilion from 5pm - 8pm which sounds perfect for little ones who may not make it to midnight. Tickets include mini golf, ice skating, entry to Alnwick Garden, food and drink stalls, street entertainment and more. Find our more & book here.

Let me know what you're up to this New Year - I hope I've provided some inspiration if you've been a little stuck for ideas. 

How would you spend the money you save by switching energy tariffs?

*This is a paid collaboration

If you were given £200 to spend on whatever your heart desired, what would you buy? This was the question posed to me by E.ON recently. Lots of options entered my head - new clothes, a new camera lens, a weekend away, a spa day.....with £200 to spend, there are so many options available! 

The Ofgem national average UK household could save up to £200 by switching energy suppliers so I decided to put this to the test and compared gas and electricity tariffs with E.ON to my current supplier. This online tariff comparison tool is super straightforward to use and you don't need to sign up for anything to find out how much you'd save. It turns out I'd save £120 per year by switching to E.ON which is not to be sniffed at! 

After giving it some thought, I decided I'd spend the £120 I'd save by switching energy suppliers on a family day out to a UK theme park next summer. After our holiday to Florida this summer, both Harry and Heidi were really taken with the thrilling rides and have yet to experience the white-knuckle rides that the UK has to offer too. They've been nagging me non-stop to visit another theme park and I think if I don't plan a big trip this summer I'll be in serious trouble! 

We all loved the river congos at Busch Gardens and would love to find a UK park with this kind of ride so we can relive the experience - we had SO many laughs on this ride and it's a memory we'll all treasure forever. I would love to hear if you have any recommendations for UK theme parks with thrilling rides that the whole family can join in with like this? I'm thinking it will probably be Alton Towers we visit but I'm open to ideas. 

Theme Parks are notoriously an expensive day out and definitely the kind of thing you keep as a treat rather than an everyday experience and I think £120 would just about cover our entry to a park at the beginning of the school holidays as an end of term treat and would be something the whole family would look forward to before Harry starts High School in September and will no doubt want to start doing this kind of thing with his mates rather than his family. 

If theme parks don't tickle your fancy, you can check out a few other suggestions by other UK bloggers here. I love that Lindsay would save the money for her wedding, Helena would buy a flight to Spain to visit her mum and Jen would treat her family to more trips to the cinema and regular fish and chips (yum). 

Family days out aren't usually cheap and I'm always looking for ways to make our money go further during day trips. Switching energy suppliers just didn't register as a way I could save money and have fun with the family too. I don't think you can put a price on memories with your children and days out are always going to be the place I choose to spend my spare or extra cash. 

Check how much money you could save by switching energy tariffs with E.On here and let me know in the comments what you'd spend the extra money on. 

This post was sponsored by E.ON, to help advertise their wide range of tariffs. Although I was paid for this advertisement, all views are my own


Tyne Theatre & Opera House Panto 2017 - Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs with Michelle Heaton | A Review

*Press Review

I'm sure I'm not the only person in the North East who was left feeling a little sad at the end of last year's panto when they announced that Newcastle Panto Company would not be returning to the Tyne Theatre in 2017. Watching Newcastle Panto Company at Tyne Theatre & Opera House year after year was always one of our family traditions and I was firmly in the camp of why change something that doesn't need to be fixed? It was time for a change though and Newcastle Panto Company now has a new home at Gateshead International Stadium and Enchanted Entertainment were brought in for 2017's pantomime at Tyne Theatre & Opera House where they promised big name stars with a brand new production. 

The big name stars turned out to be pretty good and I think Enchanted Entertainment delivered on their promise - Michelle Heaton plays the evil Queen, Britain's Got Talent Winner Matt Pagan from Collabro is the Prince, ITV Tyne Tees Rachel Sweeney plays the magic mirror and Britain's Got Talent finalist Danny Posthill is Dame Dotty Donut. It's certainly a talented cast! 

We took our seats in a packed theatre with open minds and were excited to watch the story unfold. 

This pantomime is definitely one that's aimed towards kids rather than grown-ups. There was far less innuendo or jokes for grown-ups than any of the other panto we've watched this year and the audience was mostly made up of families or groups of kids. That's not to say grown-ups won't enjoy it, it's still fun but you'll be laughing with your kids rather than above them.

There were lots of elements we loved in the show - Michelle Heaton was superb as the evil Queen and I was always willing her to be on stage in the next scene. I loved watching her perform and she's a natural on stage with excellent singing and dancing. The Liberty X number was the highlight of the whole production. Similarly, Matt Pagan's voice was superb and his solo numbers were top class. It was lovely to see local lads Charlie Richmond and Lewis Denny and they had a fantastic chemistry with the audience. The Seven Drawfs were also super endearing and you couldn't help but have a soft spot for them. There are a couple of songs from the Disney movie too which we all enjoyed.  

I don't know if it's because this was our 5th panto this year but Harry in particular found some of the jokes to be a little repetitive - the Ghostbusters scene has been part of the Whitley Bay panto for as long as we can remember and it was disappointing to see it repeated (and not as well) at Tyne Theatre and the classic 'If I were not a.......' song seemed a lot funnier at the Theatre Royal this year. Enchanted Entertainment promised a brand new production for Newcastle this year but to me, this wasn't the case at all and it did seem very 'samey'. I'm also not sure why they repeated the same scene with the ghosts in the forest twice - I don't think this was needed and it just felt like it was padding out the show rather than adding anything to it. I guess if this is the only panto you watch it won't be an issue but next year I'd love to see more unique content and for this panto to really set themselves apart from the others. 

I wasn't keen on the panto dame either and if I'm honest, I missed Lottie and Dottie Stottie! For me, Dame Dotty Donut didn't really add anything to the show and I think the talented impressionist could have been used in other ways - the magic mirror perhaps? 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is full of music and the production is accompanied by a live orchestra which really makes the evening feel special. There are plenty of 'boos', 'he's behind yous' and of course, the bit that everyone loves where some lucky children will get up on stage and provide a couple of laughs that you wouldn't be able to write in the script. 

Snow White & The Seven Drawfs is what I'd call a good all-rounder. There's live music, all of the elements you'd like to see in a good panto, fantastic singing, big-name stars and I always think Tyne Theatre & Opera House is the most beautiful theatre in Newcastle. Michelle Heaton, Matt Pagan, Charlie Richmond and the Seven Dwarfs really were all a joy to watch and I loved it when they were all on stage. 

I don't think this production pushed themselves in terms of any 'wow' moments though and really think they need to start thinking about offering something unique and taking a couple of risks next year if they'd like to set themselves apart - there's some tough competition in Newcastle.............

Scores on the doors

Sam - 7/10
Steve - 8/10
Harry - 6/10
Heidi - 10/10
Jack - 10/10 

All you need to know
  • 4 x Pepsi, 1 x Capri Sun, 3 x bags of sweets & 1 x large bag of crisps = £11
  • Ice cream is available at the interval
  • Flashing toys available for £5
  • Tickets are priced from £14
  • Performance is 2.5 hours long including a 20 minute interval 

Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs continues until 31 December. Find out more and buy tickets online here.

Check out our other 2017 Panto Reviews here: 


What to do in Northern Spain - a guide for active families

*This is a collaborative post

Spain is a destination we’ve travelled to with our children more often than all others and definitely has a special place in our heart. Northern Spain is super easy to get to from the UK, especially as you can now take the ferry to Santander or Bilbao with Brittany Ferries but is still often overlooked in favour of the more well-known destinations along the South coast which is a shame. There is so much to do in Northern Spain, especially for active families who enjoy sport and outdoor pursuits and today I’m sharing a few ideas you may wish to try during your next holiday. 

1 - Water sports at Sardinero beach 

Sardinero beach in Santander is the perfect destination to try your hand at kite surfing, sailing or surfing. The perfect golden sand goes on for miles and the promenade is lined with pretty cafes where you can enjoy a spot of lunch. A private surf lesson with Escuela de Surf Sardinero will set you back around 50 euros per person and lessons are available from age 4 years+.

2 - Explore Altamira Cave 

Altamira cave is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for it’s rock art. The stunning cave has very limited access if you’re aged 16+, you can apply to visit the cave as a small group of 5 every Friday from 9:30am. Details are available here.

3 - Take a stroll through Dona Casilda Park

Dona Casilda Park is Bilbao’s largest green space and perfect for walking. Expect water fountains, live music, a play park, ducks and peacocks. 

4 - Take the Funicular to the top of Mount Artxanda in Bilbao 

The Funicular is an inexpensive (less than 2 euros each way) ride which will take you to the top of Mount Artxanda in Bilbao and will reward you with stunning views. 

5 - Bear watching Picos de Europa 

For something a little different, why not join a local guide and take the family Calabrian Brown Bear spotting in the Europa National Parks. Bears are best spotted at dawn or dusk when they are most active. As well as bears, you can spot golden eagles and peregrine falcons in their natural habitat in the mountains here. 

6 - Paddle Boarding in La Concha Bay

Teens will especially love this activity in San Sebastian. For around 12 euros per hour, you can hire a paddle board and explore the bay with complete freedom. 

7 - Snow park and Dog sledding in Formigal 

Formigal is a modern, purpose-built ski resort suited to all ages and abilities in Northern Spain. Families can choose from over 30 slopes, let loose in a snow park, enjoy dog sledding, try skidoo and more! 

Northern Spain really does have it all! Let me know if you’ve ever visited or if there are any activities mentioned that have particularly caught your eye. 

What's on for kids & families in North East England | 9 & 10 December

Steve and I are heading to North Shields Christmas Market on Saturday - it's my favourite Christmas Market and definitely one of the best in our region then we're packing our bags and heading to Jesmond Dene House for the night where we're meeting some friends for a lovely Christmas meal.  On Sunday we're heading to Tyne Theatre & Opera House to watch Snow White - I am SO excited to watch Michelle Heaton as the evil Queen! Let me know what you're up to.

What's on for kids & families in North East England | 9 & 10 December

5 - 10 December | Enchanted Parks at Saltwell Park | Find out more here

9 December | Elf Yourself Animation Workshop at Gateshead Library | Find out more here

9 December | Family Christmas Wreath Making at Gosforth Central Park | Find out more here

9 December | Children's Christmas Party at The Linksill Centre | Find out more here

9 December | Mince Pie and Mulled Wine 2.5 mile Ranger-Led Coastal Walk | Find out more here

9 December | Rocking Robin Craft at Great North Museum | Find out more here

9 & 10 December | Seaton Sluice Singers at Seaton Delaval Hall | Find out more here

10 December | Christmas Carols at Walker Park | Find out more here

10 December | The Polar Express at Discovery Museum | Find out more here

10 December | The Muppet Christmas Carol at Tyneside Cinema | Find out more here

10 December | Santa Dash at Gibside | Find out more here

10 December | Make a Reindeer Gift Bag at Seaton Delaval Hall | Find out more here

Other ideas: 

Catch up with my Christmas Videos and Vlogmas

I'm publishing a short Christmas video every day from 1 - 20 December as part of Vlogmas. You can subscribe to my YouTube channel here and catch up with my previous videos below: 

Welcome to Vlogmas:

The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater Review:

Where are all the Tree Toppers? 

Love Actually vs Die Hard - the big debate

A quick walk around Manchester Christmas Markets 


5 Reasons I love bringing the grandparents on holiday

*This is a collaborative post

I've taken many holidays over the years with both Steve's parents and my own. It's something we used to do a lot when the children were younger and if you have the opportunity to do so, I really could not recommend doing this enough. 

Travelling with grandparents does have its downsides - it can be difficult deciding where to eat or the day's itinerary as everyone has different tastes, the older generation may also have different ideas of what a holiday means to them or mutter those dreaded lines 'well in my day', but generally, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Booking a multi-generational holiday can also take a little more planning and it's especially important to check everyone has decent single trip medical travel insurance and all the relevant documentation before travelling but for me, this extra planning always pays off. Deciding on a destination is usually easy as the older generation generally just go with the flow and are happy to go anywhere. We've mostly travelled to Spain with the kids' grandparents as it's super easy to get to and has a short flight time from the UK. Here are 5 reasons I love bringing the

1 - An extra pair of hands at the airport

Travelling with three kids under the age of 5 is tough - you normally have more than one pushchair, multiple suitcases and need to fully supervise the little ones at all times. Honestly, if we hadn't have travelled with our grandparents in the early days, I don't think we'd have made it at all! An extra pair of hands to push a pram, pick up your case from the luggage carousel or just keep an eye on the kids when you pop to the loo (or bar) just makes things so much easier.

2 - Babysitters

One of the things I miss most about holidays now is that there's no more nights out or fancy meals with the kids in tow. Grandparents are generally happy to babysit for one evening for us on holiday and it allows Steve and I some proper time off. The kids love it too as grandparents always spoil them. Did somebody say Sangria????

3 - They're always up early

Our parents are always up early and if you're staying in a villa or lodges that are next door to each other, this has the benefit of being able to send the kids over when they inevitably get up early too which allows us parents a kind of lie-in. You've got to take these opportunites when you can!

4 - Grandparents are fun

Grandparents are always way more fun than us parents - it's no surprise to me that 75% of families with younger children plan to take the grandparents on holiday with them. It's always the grandparents who are happy to get up on the dance floor, play games in the pool and I love making memories with all of our family together.

5 - It can work out cheaper

When the kids were younger, we booked holiday lodges in Spain that were on a buy one get one free offer if booked out of season and split the cost between us. Similarly, we booked a huge family villa that slept 13 people in Portugal when Harry was younger and it was a bargain at around £750 when split between us all. If you're looking for a self-catering holiday, it seems like the more people who travel together, the cheaper the cost of the holiday.

I'd love to hear if you take multi-generational holidays. Let me know if it's something you'd consider/have done before and how it worked out. 
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