Fun and Free: Top activities included in your Butlin's Break

This year we were lucky enough to be selected as a Butlin's Ambassador. We have always loved Butlin's and have been visiting since our children were very young. One of the things I love the most (and the part I am always telling my friends) is that so much is included in the price you pay which makes it very easy to budget and not have to worry about saving too much spending money. Here are a few of our favourite activities which are all included in your Butlin's break:-

Traditional Fairground and tots fairground

It is amazing as a parent to be able to tell your child they can have as many turns on the dodgems and teacups as they like - no money or tokens change hands, you simply need to join the queue and take a seat. You can ride the indoor and outdoor rides as often as you like and all day long FOR FREE.

Splash Waterworld

The swimming pools at Butlin's are more like waterparks - think lazy rivers, flumes, bubbles pools and toddler areas - always lots to explore and at no additional cost.

Indoor and outdoor play areas

There are free indoor soft play areas where you can sit and watch little ones with a nice cup of coffee and outdoor parks and play areas on every resort. We loved the little tikes zone for our youngest too - a mini indoor carpark full of little tikes cars and scooters. Our eldest enjoyed the free computers and games consoles available in the games room at The Wave Hotel when we stayed at Bognor Regis.

Thanks Daddy Space for this photo

Character shows

Everyone loves The Skyline Gang and their loveable dog rainbow - they put on a show a few times a week. There are also all of your favourite characters - Fireman Sam, Thomas and friends, Angelina Ballerina and Titan the Robot were all enjoyed by our family. Shows are often repeated throughout the week so you don't need to miss out.

Family Shows

There are so many shows at Butlin's that the whole family can enjoy. We particularly loved watching the wrestling (the atmosphere is fab) and pantomime. During October half term we watched Mister Maker and Dick and Dom who were hilarious and watched a few tribute bands in the evening (including One Direction much to my daughter's delight). Diversity and Steven Mulhern are just some of the top acts appearing at Butlin's this year - again, all included in the cost of your break.


All Butlin's resorts are have direct beach access. Sometimes the Butlin's experience can be a bit full on so when you need to relax, a quick walk on the beach does you the world of good.

Arts and Crafts

There are arts and crafts activities included on every Butlin's break - you often don't need to book and can just turn up. Details of timings will be in the 'what's on guide' you receive on arrival.

Thanks Spirited Puddle Jumper for this photo - Read their full Butlin's Review here

Seasonal Fun

We've spent Halloween at Butlin's and the resort transforms - there are pumpkins everyewhere, spooky puppet shows to watch, halloween balls to attend and scary trails to take part in. Butlin's resorts change their schedule and decorations according to the season and I would love to visit over Christmas one year.

 Football coaching

There is free football coaching for al ages at Butlin's, a great way to burn off some energy in the afternoon.

Thanks Spirited Puddle Jumper for this photo - Check out their full Butlin's Review here

This is just a teeny tiny selection of the fun that's included in your Butlin's break - you can find out more here. There is always so much going on that you could never complain you were bored - there are new activities and shows to watch at every hour throughout the day and evening and as a parent it is a huge relief knowing you won't have to get your purse out every five minutes to pay for them all.

The List

WIN a Baltic Arts and Craft Goodie Bag

This February half term, CBBC's The Art Ninja will be visiting the Baltic and running some special Ninja-art style workshops. Unfortunately the workshops sold out very quickly however the good news is, you still have the chance to meet the Art Ninja himself as he introduces a special screening of Art Ninja at the Baltic on 14th February.

You also have the chance to get your hands on a Baltic Arts and Craft Goodie Bag worth £50 to keep your little ones entertained.

To enter, you simply need to sign up to the Family Explorer Newsletter and look out for the competition link in your first newsletter (competition runs until 20th February).

The weekly Family Explorers newsletter contains exclusive offers, venue news and great day out suggestions for families in the North East. Plus read unbiased reviews from other families. The e-newsletter is free and they won’t pass your details on to anyone else.

Good luck!

Our guide to Twitter Networking Hours

I have always loved taking part in our local networking hours - #NorthEastHour (Mondays 8-9pm and Tuesdays 2-3pm), #NEFollowers (Thursdays 2-3pm) and #NECoastHour (Tuesdays 8-9pm) are all favourites of mine.

The benefits a local networking hour has to a blogger or business are as follows:-
  • Increase in Twitter Followers
  • Increase in business
  • Increase in website hits (my blog is normally viewed 600-1000 times during or just after #NorthEastHour)
  • You may discover a business of interest to you
  • A quick, easy and free way to promote your own services or posts
  • Interacting with and supporting the local community
Twitter can be daunting but networking hours are generally a very friendly place to be and everyone helps each other out. If you are stuck, you can find me @NEfamilyfun - just send me a quick tweet and I'll help you out.

Step by Step Guide

1 - Log into twitter at the beginning of the allocated hour. Look out for tweets in your feed using the relevant hashtag (lets just say #NorthEastHour)

2 - If you spot any tweets using the hashtag that are of interest to you or your customers (or they could be a potential customer of yours) try and reply, say hello or simply retweet. Interaction is the key.

3 - In your search bar, search for '#NorthEastHour' (or relevant hashtag). This will bring up everybody who is taking part. Scan the list for people of interest and interact.

4 - Don't forget to tweet yourself - a good mix of promoting your own business, images and general chat works well. I like to tweet once every 5 minutes. Don't forget to use the hashtag! 

5 - Mark any tweets of interest to yourself as a 'favourite' (click the little star underneath the tweet). Twitter remembers these tweets and will put them in a nice list for you to re-visit at the end of the hour. To find the list, click on 'favourites'.

6 - At the end of the hour revisit your notifications - if anyone retweeted one of your tweets or marked them as a favourite, make sure you thank them and give them a follow. If anyone has followed you during the hour it's always nice to follow them back and maybe send them a little DM (direct message) thanking them for a follow with a short sentence about what your business can offer.

To send somebody a DM, you both need to be following each other. You simply click the sun shape on their profile and select 'send a direct message'.

Make sure you re-visit the tweets you have marked as a favourite too and take any appropriate action.


1- Shorten links

You are only allowed 140 characters per tweet - links can take up a huge proportion of this. I like to use to shorten links. This is completely free of charge and bitly remembers your previous links. You can customise them too which I always do as it looks a lot more professional than a lot of random numbers and letters. Here I have shortened to 

2 - Schedule tweets

There are lots of programmes around that allow you to schedule tweets - I like to schedule my own tweets prior to networking hours (one every 5 minutes) so I am free to interact with other tweeters and tweet images without worrying about my own tweets. I like to use twuffer which is free and easy. Make sure you remember to include the relevant hashtag in your scheduled tweets and you can use your shortened links too.

Twitter networking hours have been invaluable to me - I have increased my followers, increased my blog views and I have received countless opportunities due to taking part. I would highly recommend you give them a go, the key is not to be shy and to interact and support fellow businesses. The rest will follow.

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Taking your kids to The Sausage Emporium

I am always wary of taking our children to restaurants that don't have a children's menu. I always wonder if they'll have to order an adult portion (which they'll leave most of) and we'll end up spending a fortune. I LOVE The Sausage Emporium though and knew my children would too so a few quick emails put my mind at rest - they could provide smaller portions of anything on menu. Great!

Set inside a railway arch on Westgate Road not far from Central station, The Sausage Emporium embraces all things sausage! Sausages are made on-site with a unique blend of spices - you really can taste when a sausage has been made from scratch and the ones at The Sausage Emporium are some of the best I've had. There are vegetarian and Gluten Free options too.

We were greeted by Hannah who is the pampered dog-in-residence. Our children immediately fell in love and were more than happy watching her scamper around the restaurant floor and perform various tricks. Who needs colouring packs when you have a super cute dog to entertain your kids?

I know a dog running about your feet may not be everyone's cup of tea - if this is the case I would advise booking a table upstairs (Hannah tends to stay downstairs). She is honestly no bother though and will leave you when you are eating. If you want her to leave you alone, just let a member of staff know and they will take her away from you without a problem.

We ordered our drinks and Harry was excited to see Ginger Beer on the menu (we only ever let him drink 'pop' when we eat out). Hubby ordered a pint of Wylam Gold, I had wine and Heidi and Jack stuck with orange juice. Thumbs up for removing our wine glasses straight away and automatically providing straws for the children's drinks.

The chef/owner is warm, friendly and welcoming and always happy to chat with his customers. He advised us which sausage had the least spice and explained as they were quite large it was probably best to cook two sausages and share them between the three of us. Sounds good to me (and it would save us money). Our children could order roast potatoes, mashed potatoes or new potato fries - they went for traditional bangers and mash!

I ordered my favourite dish - Wylam ale sausages, vegetables and roast potatoes served with a teapot full of gracy. Wylam ale sausages are full of flavour and I could recommend you give them a go.

We were sitting right next to the open kitchen and the chef called me over to check the portion sizes were ok for the children - a nice touch! The staff could overhear our children moaning they were starving and took the time to show them the special squeaky toy on the service counter and explained when you hear it squeak - that means your food is ready.

The sausage and mash went down a treat - even Heidi who normally isn't the world's biggest sausage fan finished hers with no complaints. Their mashed potato was lovely and creamy and I predict made with lots of real butter and cream!

Hubby ordered his favourite dish - black pudding sausages with brown ale fried bread and a jar of smokey beans. Delicious.

For dessert I ordered a melt in the middle chocolate souffle, Harry ordered a slice of blueberry cheesecake and hubby ordered an apple and pear tarte tatin. The little ones ordered ice cream.

Everything was delicious, well cooked and the portions were huge - especially hubby's tarte tatin. 

Our total bill was £55 for 2 adults (dining from restaurant week menu) and 3 children. For 2 courses each including alcoholic drinks I think this provided very good value. It's fair to say I'm still a little bit in love with The Sausage Emporium - it is probably the restaurant I recommend to people the most. I love the food, love the ambience and love the staff. Go visit for yourself! You won't be disappointed.

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Breakfast at Tyneside Bar Cafe

Regular readers will know that we are always looking for places in Newcastle that serve a fabulous breakfast. It is a little weekly routine of ours to visit The Grainger Market and stock up on groceries followed by trying somewhere new for a child-free breakfast and some decent coffee. Chloe from New Girl in Toon recommended the Tyneside Bar Cafe (read her fabulous post featuring weekend brunch here) and as soon as we stepped inside I cannot believe I hadn't paid the bar-cafe a visit any earlier.

Conveniently located just 30 seconds away from Grey's Monument, The Tyneside Bar Cafe has a definite arty feel to it, but not in a way that is pretentious or makes you feel like you're not part of something - in fact the opposite is true. There were people from all walks of life enjoying coffee and a paper and the eclectic crowd only added to the relaxed and interesting ambience.

Although a door and a wall separate you from the main cinema you are still very much reminded that the bar cafe is part of the Tyneside cinema. Large red curtains surround one area of the bar which is sometimes used for live performances and free cinema screenings (check out events listings here), you will hear independent movie soundtracks being played in the background and the walls are adorned with cinema screening times and events coming up. I love sitting in a place where there is so much to look at to feed the mind a little.

The breakfast menu is small but features favourites such as crispy bacon sandwiches, freshly baked pastries and even egg and soldiers. We ordered at the bar and our eyes could not help but be drawn to the specials boards. Grilled mackrel, cured beetroot and watercress salad, homemade soup of the day and house BBQ sausage with red root slaw and fries all sound amazing! We have made a mental note to return for lunch with our youngest son soon (they have a kids menu too).

The coffee is organic and fairtrade and provided by a local firm in Durham. Tea is provided by Ringtons (they serve a good selection of fruit and herbal teas too). If I ever find myself in town by myself I imagine it would be lovely to sit in the bar cafe to enjoy a quality cup of coffee with a few bar snacks.  

Our food arrived in good time and we were served by one of the politest people I have ever met. He was lovely (as were all of the staff we encountered) and really made the effort to ensure we had everything we needed. 

Crispy Bacon Sandwich with HP Brown Sauce - £4.75

Avocado and Chilli on Toast with a poached egg £5.50

Our food was absolutely perfect! My bacon sandwich was true to it's word - delicious and crispy and Steve's poached egg on toast was beautiful (as you can see by the pictures). The Tyneside Bar Cafe is a place we'll definitely be re-visiting sooner rather than later. Breakfast is served 8am-11:30am Monday-Friday and a weekend brunch menu is served from 9am on a Saturday and 10am on a Sunday.

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The Gruffalo's Child trail - Hamsterley Forest, Durham

I do not know of any family who doesn't love The Gruffalo. When we heard he was making an appearance in some deep dark woods (aka Hamsterley Forest in Durham) near us, we all couldn't wait to visit.

After parking our car we picked up our trail packs from the Forest cafe - lovely forest bags in which to collect pinecones, leaves, twigs and other forest treasures. A Gruffalo nature spotters sheet, activity leaflet and pencil are also included. These only cost £2 and are definitely worth it.

The trail is extremely well signposted (just look for The Gruffalo signs) and took us about 90 minutes to complete including a good play in the play area approximately half way along the trail. Start at the Forest Cafe.

Every so often you will come across a special 'Gruffalo activity sign'. These were lots of fun and even the grown ups joined in - we ended up barking like a fox, spinning around like a seed and hunting for slug slime - lots of fun and definitely kept us entertained.

You also have to keep your eyes peeled for characters from The Gruffalo and make a note of the letter they are holding to make a word at the end of the trail.

Hamsterley forest is gorgeous, dog friendly and accessible for buggies and prams - the whole family can come along and nobody needs to stay at home.

We were very excited when we spotted The Gruffalo himself - he is very realistic and does indeed have a poisonous wart at the end of his nose and purple prickles all over his back!

We stopped half way through the trail to play at the adventure play area - if you have very small children who aren't good walkers I would maybe suggest this is where your trail ends. There are picnic tables for grown ups and our children loved the play equipment.

While Harry and Heidi were playing, Jack and daddy plodged over the river onto an island and I took the opportunity to practice my close up photography skills taking pictures of some of the 'forest treasure' our children had found.

Then it was time to continue our walk along the trail - taking part in more Gruffalo activity boards and ticking off more finds on our spotters sheet.

I don't know why but I expected the trail to run in a circle and we would finish at the start - it didn't! Make sure you pick up a map from the visitor centre or, as we did, walk back the way you came to the start.

By this point, our eight year old did start whining that he was cold, hungry and thirsty - In hindsight I probably should have packed us some drinks and snacks. Not to worry though, we were soon back in the warmth of the cafe where we ordered picnic boxes for the children and cake and hot chocolates for the grown ups. Food was very reasonably priced and I loved how there was a separate room for those dining with dogs!

Hints and Tips

  • The Gruffalo's Child trail continues until 28th February 
  • Make sure you wear wellies and wrap up warm
  • The cafe is open 11am-4pm on weekends only
  • The toilet block is undergoing refurbishment (hopefully open by February half term) so the only toilets available are portable toilets in the car park
  • The information point where you can collect leaflets and maps is open daily 9am-5pm
  • Car parking is charged at £3 per car per day, entry to the forest and trail is FREE
  • Gruffalo activity bags are available to purchase for £2 from the cafe
We had a fantastic afternoon and loved the first part of the trail, the gruffalo sculpture and the adventure playground. I was not overly impressed with the trail after the adventure playground though, especially as you have to double back on yourself to get back to the car. If you have children who tire easy, maybe give this section a miss and end your trail at the playground. If they love walking though (and spotting cows) certainly give this section a go too. Either way, Hamsterley Forest is certainly worth a visit. 

Postcode:- DL13 3NL

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