Travelling to London to watch The Lion King | Harry's first trip to London

*This is a collaborative post. Please see my disclosure policy for details

First of all, I will apologise for the quality of the photographs in this post. They were taken in 2012 and probably on a Blackberry and have been downloaded from Facebook so they're definitely not the best. I still love them though and they hold really happy memories for me. 

Today I am re-living the memory of taking Harry to see The Lion King in London for his 6th birthday. It's a little crazy to think that this was almost 5 years ago now as I still remember it like it was yesterday. It's been a little tradition of ours that we travel to London with our children when they are 6. I think this is the perfect age to take them for the first time (at least when you are making the journey from they North East). On this particular trip we just took Harry along as a special treat - I did not fancy braving London with a 6, 2 and 1 year old.

We decided to book The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre as it was one of Harry's favourite films at the time. Tickets were a pretty penny and it was just shy of £300 for the three of us. Yikes! It was 100% worth it though as it's still very much a special memory for us all. 

Back then, Jamie's Italian was a big deal and we didn't have any branches in the North so we headed to Jamie's in Covent Garden for a pre-theatre dinner. I still remember that Harry ordered chicken lollipops and a salad shaker and this kind of children's menu was very innovative at the time. I also remember the carafe of house wine I ordered for myself. Happy days! After dinner we walked through Covent Garden to the theatre and Harry loved all of the street theatre. One of the performers was a Mr Bean impersonator and he was actually really good. Harry didn't take much convincing that he was the real deal and was absolutely over the moon to shake his hand. 

We stepped into the Lyceum theatre and there was a real buzz. We purchased an over-priced programme and took our seats in the 4th row. The atmosphere was honestly electric and I had not felt anything like it before. 

The show begins in a really special way. I won't ruin it for you but as 'The Circle of Life' is played by the live orchestra and you see the animals for the first time, it's actually really emotional. I think even more so for a parent watching with their own child. I don't cry often but I must admit to shedding a few tears during the opening scenes. 

The Lion King really did not disappoint and if you get a chance to watch the show, I would highly recommend. The music, choreography, costumes,'s all just the best and a real immersive theatre experience. I would go and watch the show again in a heartbeat (with or without kids). forward to 2017 and the reason behind this post. Regular readers will know that we are huge Disney On Ice fans and I am super excited that The Lion King is going to feature in this year's show. In previous years I haven't taken Harry to watch the show as I've always thought he's probably a little too old and too cool now to be going to something like this but at age 11 years, he's going to come along with us this time and it's all thanks to The Lion King. We really can't wait to join Simba and friends in the African Pride Lands and re-live the precious memories Steve and I share with Harry. 

Of course, it's not all about The Lion King, this year's Disney On Ice presents Passport to Adventure will also feature stories and cast from The Little Mermaid (Heidi is super excited about this), Frozen and Peter Pan. You can find out more and buy tickets here. 

We have visited London on many occasions with H, H and J now but that first trip with Harry will always hold a special place in my heart. We visited Borough Market, joined a tour of Buckingham Palace (and paid £4 for hot chocolate in the palace gardens) and went a little wild in Hamleys too.
Have you taken your children to watch a show in London?


What's on in the North East for children & families | 1st & 2nd July 2017

We are spoilt for choice with things to do in the North East this weekend. I honestly can't believe it's July! There's lots going on from duck races to festivals and a fab free cycling event too.

Before you read on, I have one final plea! You may have noticed that I've been shortlisted for a National Award. Eeek! Voting closes on Sunday evening at 11:45pm and every vote counts. If you've enjoyed reading North East Family Fun this year, I'd really appreciate your support. It takes 30 seconds. Simply enter your name & email address then scroll to category 9 and select North East Family Fun then submit. Thank you - it really means a lot.  Vote here:

What's on in the North East this weekend? 

HSBC UK City Ride Newcastle | Sunday 2 July | Exhibition Park

This FREE event looks like lots of fun for the whole family. Meet at the hub in Exhibition Park and enjoy the chance to cycle through Newcastle City Centre in a safe environment. There will be lots of entertainment en-route including a 'toot your horn' zone and various challenges. All ages and abilities are welcome. You can find out more and sign your family up for free here. 

intu Summer Party | Saturday 1 & Sunday 2 July | intu Metrocentre & intu Eldon Square

Expect a jam-packed weekend of FREE fun at both intu centre's this weekend. Everyone is invited to this big summer party across the weekend and there's lots going on from brass bands to sand sculpting, crazy golf, face painting crafts and competitions. Check out intu Metrocentre's schedule here and intu Eldon Square's schedule here.

Ouseburn Festival Saturday 1 & Sunday 2 July | Ouseburn

Head down to Ouseburn this weekend for lots of family fun with their annual family festival. Expect live music and comedy, arts and crafts, children's activities, stalls, a festival parade and of course, the annual Cluny rubber duck race. Find out more here. 

Whitehouse Farm's 20th Birthday | Saturday 1 & Sunday 2 July | Whitehouse Farm

Join Whitehouse Farm and celebrate their birthday - the first 20 people will be admitted free of charge (opens 9:30am), regular admission for everyone else will be discounted by 20%, there will be free party bags and face painting, sheep shearing, party games, magic Steve, Bat Super Hero, birthday cake and more. Find out more here. 

Proms in the Park | Sunday 2 July | South Marine Park, South Shields

Pack a picnic and head down to this FREE evening of Classical entertainment in beautiful surroundings. From 7pm-9pm. Find out more here.

South Shields Summer Parade | Saturday 1 July | Bents Park

This year's parade celebrates storytelling and will leave South Shields Town Hall at 1pm. Expect to see everything from Peter Pan to Gingerbread houses in this huge event with over 2000 people taking part. The parade will end in Bent's Park with a special party including live music and a beer tent. Find out more here.  

Chilli Festival | 30 June - 2 July | Seaton Sluice

The Chilli Festival is returning with a brand new venue (opposite Glocester Lodge Farm in Seaton Sluice) and is going to be bigger and better than before with on-site camping and day tickets available.There's live music from the likes of Heaven 17, comedy, entertainment, street food, food stalls, cabaret, bars and a kids zone. Find out more and buy tickets here.

Turma! Hadrian's Cavalry Charge in Carlisle | Saturday 1 & Sunday 2 July | Carlisle

Carlisle isn't technically the North East but it is only around a 80 minute drive and this event is not to be missed. The Turma is set to be one of the UK's largest Roman re-enactments with 30 Cavalrymen and their horses taking part. As well as the thrilling 90 minute performance, there's lots of fun for kids in the Roman village including Chariot rides, a chance to meet the horses, Roman Army school, photo ops and more. Find out more and book tickets here.

Wallsend Festival | Saturday 1 & Sunday 2 July | Wallsend 

Wallsend will be transformed this weekend as the town celebrates it's annual festival. Expect fairground rides, live music, performances, street food, stalls, vintage cars, climbing walls, archery and more. Find out more here. 

Teddy Bear's Picnic | Sunday 2 July | Kirkley Hall

For just £5 pp you can join in with Kirkley Hall's Teddy Bear's Picnic with a teddy bear show, story time, lawn games and crafts. You can enjoy free admission to the zoo with your ticket too. Find out more and book here. 

Let me know what you're up to or if there are any other events I haven't mentioned and if you've found this post useful, please consider voting for North East Family Fun in category 9 of the BiB awards here. This is the last time I'll mention it I promise! Have a good weekend. 


Does Jesmond Dene House still offer the best Afternoon Tea in Newcastle? | New menu review

*This is a collaborative post. Please see my Disclosure Policy for details.

I've often mentioned that Jesmond Dene House is my favourite hotel in Newcastle. I think I've stayed here around 5-6 times now and I'm forever recommending it as a place to stay or enjoy Afternoon Tea. Most people in the know will say that JDH serves up the best Afternoon Tea in Newcastle and I have to say, I agree. I've enjoyed Afternoon Tea here on many occasions and the standard of service, ambience, presentation and quality is always second to none. I was therefore a little worried to hear that their menu had changed. Why change something that is already perfect? 

There's no getting away from the fact that Afternoon Tea at Jesmond Dene House is one of the more expensive teas in the region - the £25 price tag is the same as 5* Rockliffe Hall and if you'd like to include a glass of Champagne, you'll be charged £37.50 per person. Yes this is expensive but Jesmond Dene House isn't exactly the kind of place you book on a whim or just call into - Afternoon Tea requires pre-booking and to me, it's exactly the kind of place to book if you are looking for a long catch up with a friend, are celebrating a special occasion or simply fancy a treat. You aren't just paying for the delicious food, you are paying for the service, ambience and location too.

Steve and I were served the new Champagne Afternoon Tea in the Conservatory. After a week-long heat wave we had been hoping to sit out on the terrace but thanks to a couple of thunderstorms this just wasn't meant to be this time. The conservatory is light and airy and feels very 'grown up'. If you have children with you or are looking for something a little more relaxed, the lounge area is perfect and we enjoyed Afternoon Tea with Jack in this area a few years ago. Finally, for something more formal, I'd definitely go with the main restaurant.

Adding a glass of Champagne to your Afternoon Tea really does enhance the experience and if you're celebrating, I'd definitely recommend this option as it adds to the sense of occasion.

The only choice you need to make from the menu is which drink you'd like. I went for medium roast coffee (which was refreshed half way through) and Steve ordered his favourite Darjeeling tea. I created a short video featuring our experience which you can watch below:

Starting with the savoury tier, we enjoyed smoked mackerel and egg plus chicken, avocado and rocket sandwiches, asparagus and salmon quiche plus sausages rolls. I must say I raised my eyebrows at the mention of sausage rolls - not exactly in keeping with the traditional surroundings and an authentic experience. This sausage roll really had the wow factor though, served warm and fresh from the over it was pretty much the best sausage roll I've ever tried and actually a very welcome addition. The bread used in our sandwiches was lovely and soft (often I find it can be a little stay) and the pastry in the quiche was perfectly cooked. This is what you are paying for at Jesmond Dene House - perfection.

Onto the scone course and you are served a total of three mini scones alongside butter, clotted cream and two types of homemade jam. The scones are nice and delicate and not too stodgy so you don't feel too greedy eating all three. The cheeses scone was definitely my favourite.

Now onto the final tier and I have to say, it was almost too pretty to eat! The tier features:

  • A Strawberry & Elderflower Macaron
  • Raspberry & Coconut Sundae
  • Lemon Cheesecake
  • Chocolate, Orange & Almond Truffle

I have mentioned in Afternoon Tea reviews in the past that I get annoyed when my cakes get covered in sandwich and scone crumbs as you are usually only provided with one plate. They've thought of everything at JDH and each treat is presented on it's own miniature plate so this isn't a problem.

All of the miniture cakes were divine but the chocolate orange truffle was to die for and easily the best dish of the day for me. It was so rich and chocolatey and definitely a real treat.

Afternoon Tea at Jesmond Dene House is a leisurely affair and a real experience. You're never rushed and even when you're finished you can enjoy more drinks or perhaps enjoy a stroll in the hotel's beautiful gardens. My advice would be not to book Afternoon Tea if you only have an hour or so but to make sure you have a full afternoon free to really make the most of the experience.

Afternoon Tea is available from 12noon - 4pm Monday-Saturday and from 3pm-5pm Sunday. Pre-booking is essential. Afternoon Tea is priced at £25 per person with the option to add NovelTea, a special cocktail, Prosecco or Champagne at an additional cost. A discretionary 10% service charge is added to all food and beverages.

Read more:


When are children ready for their first LEGO set?

*This is a paid collaborative post. Please see my disclosure policy for details

LEGO is one of those toys that really does stand the test of time. It has won countless awards and is one of the few toys that can tear my three away from their iPads and Laptops for any real length of time. We have a big box of LEGO bricks, boards and figures that usually lives at the top of the stairs between the kids' bedrooms and H, H and J will regularly play their own games together. 

I remember playing with a lot of LEGO when I was younger too and my favourite thing to do would be to build houses with different coloured walls. I don't think there were such things as LEGO sets back in the 80s, or if there were I don't recall. I was always just happy with plain bricks. Times have changed now and you can order a huge selection of LEGO sets from various retailers including Tesco Direct. There are so many different LEGO sets to choose from including LEGO Marvel Superheroes, LEGO Star Wars, LEGO Disney Princess, LEGO Minecraft and more. The choice is incredible now and children today are very lucky indeed. 

We bought Harry his first proper LEGO set for Christmas when he was aged 6. At this point his siblings were aged 3 and 1. We ignored the age guidelines and went straight in with a Millennium Falcon. This cost us well over £100 and was a definite error of judgement to buy him a set like this at such a young age (for the record, this set is recommended for ages 9-14 years). Steve ended up building most of it himself and as it was 'played with' between a 6, 3 and 1 year old, it ended up being damaged and in need of repairs on several occasions before Steve ended up getting tired of constantly fixing it so gave up. This experience kind of put us off buying LEGO sets and we haven't bought any since.

The lovely folk at Tesco asked us if we'd like to try out a couple of LEGO sets and I was genuinely intrigued as to how the experience would differ now that my children were aged 10, 8 and 6. We were sent the LEGO City Jungle Explorers Mobile Lab (RRP £39.99) and the LEGO Friends Heartlake Hospital (RRP £84.99). Both sets are aimed at children aged 7-12 years. 

We decided that we would build the sets as a family and all five of us got involved at some point. The LEGO City Set was built in one evening by Steve, Harry and Jack and the LEGO Friends set took a little longer with myself, Heidi and Steve all chipping in across four nights. The sets are clearly split into sections and I like that you can complete one bag at a time so you don't have to set a lot of time aside to build a set all in one evening - it can be an ongoing project. The instructions are super easy to follow and very much step-by-step. There wasn't any point that any of us were stumped at what to do next. 

The sets are recommended for ages 7-12 which I think is perfect. Harry (10) and Heidi (8) could easily follow the instructions and build without supervision. Jack (6) would not be able to do the whole set by himself but was definitely able to follow the instructions and join in with the build. 

In my whole 33 years of life, I have never built a LEGO set like this and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. It was nice working as a team and following instructions and you really did feel as if you'd accomplished something at the end of it all too. Building LEGO is a methodical way is surprisingly relaxing plus good for self esteem and confidence - who knew? 

I built this! 

What I love most about these LEGO sets is the incredible attention to detail. The doors to the hospital are sliding just like in real life, there are magazines in the waiting room, there's a skeleton in the X-ray department and even the equipment trolley has it's own LEGO stethoscope. I have been impressed.

Once built, the sets are fairly robust and we've had a couple of minor repairs to do to the hospital (which Heidi has managed herself) and there have been no repairs to report with the Jungle vehicle yet. H, H and J have played with their LEGO sets every evening this week from finishing school until bed time. They have definitely been a real hit. They have inspired lots of imaginative play including games where a hospital has landed in a jungle and where a Venus Fly Trap has been biting human hands and they need an X-ray. Although the LEGO sets aren't from the same group, they can definitely be played with together. LEGO is not gender specific either and Jack has enjoyed playing with LEGO friends and vice versa. My only concern is with the hospital there are lots of small accessories (a thermometer for example) and I do worry that these will end up lost over time.

So in answer to my original question, I think LEGO have their recommended ages spot on and you should not ignore the age advice printed on the boxes like we did with the Millennium Falcon. I would also be mindful of younger siblings and wait until they are old enough to join in without destroying anything like a toddler might if you can help it. 

These sets have provided us with a nice way to spend time together (with less arguments than a board game) and I think you get double the enjoyment - both in building the set and then playing with it too. We will definitely be buying more sets in the future and the kids already have their eyes on a few Minecraft sets which I've always been hesitant about ordering before but now I know how they work, I will definitely purchase without giving it a second thought in the future. 

Have you bought any LEGO sets recently? I'd love to know if you have any LEGO recommendations for us. 

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When are children ready for their first LEGO set? We review LEGO City Jungle Explorers Mobile Lab and LEGO Friends Heartlake Hospital for ages 7-12 years.


Why South Shields is the perfect location for a group get together or picnic this summer

You might not realise this but there are over 500 bloggers in the North East! The community spirit is fantastic and a lot of us are now the best of friends. I run North East Bloggers and PRs with Mrs MonkeyFeet - it's a Facebook group where we post blogging opportunities, ask questions, share best practice and support each other. If you are reading this and live in the North East and work in marketing/PR or are a blogger/vlogger, feel free to request to join the group here. 

Why South Shields is the perfect location for a group get together or picnic this summer

Every year we organise a North East blogger picnic which is a lovely chance for us to get together without any pressures of attending a blogger event and to bring our kids and families along too. In 2015 we all popped down to Jesmond Dene and 2016 saw us bloggers descend on Saltwell Park in Gateshead. I like to try and vary the locations every year so this summer, we decided that South Shields would be our venue of choice and if I'm honest, I think it was our best picnic yet! South Shields really is a fab location for group get togethers and in fact we spotted a couple of other large groups during our day out so we're definitely not the only ones who think this. 

First of all, parking is just £4 all day in the main car park joined onto Ocean Beach Pleasure Park. We always park here and have always managed to find a space, even on hot summer days when it's busier than normal. This is a premium car park so I imagine others are actually cheaper. There are also regular buses and South Shields has it's own Metro Station too so it's fab for non-drivers. Oh you can even get the Shields ferry across from North Shields too. There aren't many places in the North East that are so well-served by public transport. 

Where to enjoy a group picnic in South Shields

We decided to set up camp on the large grassed area behind the two play parks in North Marine Park. This was an ideal spot for those of us with older kids and they could run off and play in the parks whilst us grown-ups sat and relaxed in the sun. North Marine Park has lots of very good facilities including public loos, a cafe and ice cream stall, lots of grass, two play parks, a boating lake and a mini train that travels around the park. It's a fab place for families and the folk of South Shields are very lucky indeed. 

Why South Shields is the perfect location for a group get together or picnic this summer

 You can take your own chairs and gazebos and even organise your own entertainment too (although obviously check licensing laws - generally if a performance takes place during the day time and is for less than 500 people, a license will not be required). There were quite a few children in the group so we organised a traditional puppet show via Pip's Puppets. Puppet shows can be organised from just over £80 and if there's a group of you, you can split the cost which makes it very inexpensive. The kids loved it and Jack especially loved being selected as a volunteer to catch the witch. 

Why South Shields is the perfect location for a group get together or picnic this summer

Ocean Beach Pleasure Park for Groups

The more tickets you buy at Ocean Beach, the bigger the saving you will make. You can buy 75 ride tickets for £22.50 (using a special voucher - see here for details). Ocean Beach provided us with a special deal in advance and I simply collected our tickets from the ticket box office and evenly distributed the tickets during our picnic. It was hassle free and super easy to organise. The smaller children's rides use up either 3/4 tickets and I think 25-50 tickets per family is the perfect amount of tickets to use during a group visit. Sprog on the Tyne has shared the best rides for toddlers here and Here Come the Hoopers recommend the Walter for those who enjoy a bit of a thrill. 

Why South Shields is the perfect location for a group get together or picnic this summer
Credit | Sprog on the Tyne

My three love the Dodgems and fun houses and had lots of fun using up their tickets. Ocean Beach is fab for groups as it's not massive like theme parks are so it's really easy to go off and do your own thing or enjoy rides with friends and organise a meeting point later in the day. 

Why South Shields is the perfect location for a group get together or picnic this summer

Traditional Seaside Fun at South Shields

Of course you can't visit South Shields without a little trip to the beach. Big groups can find a spot to set up camp whilst the kids make sandcastles. If you'd like to push the boat out, you can book a table at Colmans Seafood Temple where cod, chips, peas, bread and butter and a pot of tea will set you back an eye-watering £17.20 plus service. Or you save yourself some cash by sticking with your picnic and treating yourself to a fabulous ice cream from Scoop and Bean instead. There are over 36 flavours to choose from and you can pick up a fresh coffee from Tynemouth Coffee Co. too. How good does Katie Jane Online's Ice Cream look! 

Why South Shields is the perfect location for a group get together or picnic this summer
Credit | Katie Jane Online

Laserforce - A perfect game for groups 

Credit | Here Come the Hoopers

You will find Laserforce inside Quasar Amusements in Ocean Beach Pleasure Park. The experience is aimed at children and grown-ups aged 6+ and up to 20 people can play at once. It's very reasonably priced compared to similar attractions with games being priced from just £2.50 per person for students (find out more about pricing here). Our group of 11 decided on 2 games and as we visited during peak hours, this would have cost us £8 per person including membership which considering how much fun we had, I think is a pretty good deal. 

Credit | The Life Bath

You would never normally find myself putting myself forward for this sort of experience but you know, I didn't want to be a party pooper and did it for the kids. When our host casually mentioned that Darth Vadar was in there I almost chickened out. I am so pleased I didn't though as it was SO much fun! 

Credit | The Life Bath

Our first game was kind of like an orientation. We found out where the targets were and it was every man for himself. You wear special vests which become a target for other players to shoot you and score points. The room is filled with hiding places, bridges and bunkers and you really feel as if you're in the secret service or something. Our second game was slightly more competitive as we were divided into two teams and had to work together to try and score the most points.Yeah for Team Green who were the overall winners. I really expected to hate Laserforce but I can honestly say it's the best family fun the whole family have enjoyed together in a long time. Everyone from Jack aged 6 to Steve (aged almost 36) had a ball. We enjoyed it so much that we've decided to make it an annual bloggers trip.

We loved our big day out in South Shields and would definitely recommend it if you're loooking for a place to get together with friends and families this summer. Huge thanks to Nomipalony, Here Come the Hoopers, My Boys Club, New Girl in Toon, The Life Bath, Katie Meehan, Katie Jane Online, Monkey Feet Blog, Big Stevie Cool and Sprog on the Tyne for coming along and making it a day to remember and to Ocean Beach for helping with the organisation and providing us with so much fun. You can see more from our day in my video from the weekend below: 

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