Our National Holidays Coach Trip with Kids | The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

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I booked a National Holidays coach trip with the kids as a treat to end our Easter Holidays. Steve was working that weekend (and he uses our car for work) and the coach trip looked like a hassle-free way for us all to have some fun. I booked the Cadbury World and West Midland Safari deal which included entry to both venues, transport, accommodation, dinner and breakfast.

Our National Holidays Coach Trip with Kids | The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

I had very high hopes for our National Holidays weekend away. I have actually travelled with the company a fair few times but the last time was around 10 years ago now and it's always been as part of a girls city break rather than visiting a specific attraction. I left with mixed feelings though and I think there were more bad points than good points. I will say that the following post is based on my experience from a single trip away. I have been reassured by lots of others that there are definitely 'good' trips and 'bad' trips to take. So if you fancy trying this, please don't let my one experience put you off and do still book it as you may have a better experience. At least my post will leave you more prepared than I was!

The Good 

Hotel - Our hotel was 'allocate on arrival' so we didn't actually know where we were going to end up. We lucked out when we pulled into a Radisson and were given interconnecting rooms. Everything from the bedrooms to the evening meal and breakfast were spot on and I absolutely cannot fault the hotel at all. I expected a lot worse. The hotel was definitely an area where we felt National Holidays over-delivered.

Value - I only paid £79 per adult and £69 per child. There's no getting away from the fact that this offers fantastic value ( includes travel, accommodation, 3 course dinner, breakfast and entry to Cadbury World and West Midland Safari Park). If you book in advance you can spread the cost so handy if you're on a budget.

Hassle free - The trip was completely hassle-free for me. I didn't need to worry about where to park, directions, finding somewhere for dinner....it was refreshing to have it all taken care of for me.

Lots of leg room 

Good for single parents/those who don't drive - I am often stuck without a car at the weekend and I love how easy and well-organised these trips are for those who don't drive.

Unlimited luggage  - There's no worrying about packing too much. You can take as much or little as you need. The only restriction is that a single case must not weigh more than 20kg.

The Bad

Uncomfortable coach - I'm no stranger to travelling by coach and even travelled all the way to Spain with Siesta Holidays a few years ago. Siesta coaches are in a different league though and the National Holidays coach felt tired and dated and I was left with a very numb bum during our journey home.

Limited facilities - I was very surprised by the lack of facilities. I'd have expected plug sockets, phone chargers, WiFi, tea and coffee facilities, even a TV. There was nothing of the sort though and it really felt more like a bus than a coach. It was very cheaply designed too as if the person in front of you put their chair back, it left your tray at a dodgy angle meaning you couldn't actually use it, where as on other planes and coaches, this hasn't been an issue.

Service stops - we stopped at Ferrybridge services on both the outbound and inbound journey. Not a place I would personally pick and the dining options are pretty much limited to Greggs or Burger King.

Bumpy ride - We were seated at the back of the coach which I would not recommend. It was very bumpy and not a comfortable ride.

Early morning pick up - This might not be an issue for some but having to be in town for 7am on a Saturday morning for our pick-up was a killer for me!

Unfriendly drivers - I'm sure they're not all like this but our driver wasn't the friendliest of the bunch. He just watched on as passengers with disabilities struggled to get off the bus without offering his hand to help them which wasn't the best customer service.

You're stuck in the hotel - Every time I've travelled with National Holidays, I've been stuck in a hotel in the middle of nowhere which was also the case here. It was fine for us as a family as we just had dinner and watched TV but if you have older kids or are travelling with friends/your partner, getting into the city centre for the night may be costly.

Limited rooms if you're a larger family - The Cadbury World trip is one of the only trips that offers interconnecting rooms for 4 people, most of the other trips offer either triple or twin rooms only so may not be suitable for families with multiple children who can't be left alone.

Seatbelts and broken seats - Some of the seats on our bus were broken so constantly in the recline position. This can't have been comfortable and the boy in the row in front of us claimed he didn't have a seatbelt for his seat. The seatbelts provided are only lap belts and again, I'm surprised they aren't full seatbelts and by the lack of standards (I know it's not the law but I still think a proper seatbelt would be best practice).

Safari could have been better - Below was our view for the safari. The driver stopped when he spotted an animal and everyone stood up to see it at the front of the coach meaning our views from the back were often very restricted and we only caught glimpses of some animals as we drove past. I'd also much rather try the safari in my own vehicle where you can stop and see the animals and feed them at your own time rather than when your driver dictates.

The Ugly 

The toilet - I can't even go there about the toilet. I didn't personally use it but heard some horror stories and it wasn't cleaned during our entire trip.

Sickness - Kids were hyped up on sugar (my own included). This paired with a bumpy bus ride and only one minging toilet on board was not the best. Kids were being sick left, right and centre into carrier bags which were then held at arm's length in the aisle for all to see. Nice!! Heidi wasn't exempt from this and was sick into a bag next to me just before the safari started so I did the whole trip sitting with a sick bag on my knee. Lovely eh!

Other people - Some of the people on our bus really needed to pipe down! There was swearing, vaping, screeching, blocking the aisles with bags, fighting in the aisles, fist fights in seats, rubbish thrown all over the bus, bottles thrown at windows, egg sandwiches being eaten...... The journey home seemed to take FOREVER (we left at 2:30pm and arrived home at 9pm with just one stop) and it was probably the worst journey of my entire life.

My own children - after their phone battery had died, my kids had the pleasure of sitting next to each other for the rest of the journey home where they could annoy each other to their heart's content with nowhere to go. I love nothing more than playing referee in public!

Limited time in attractions - I've written separate posts about our trip to Cadbury World (see here) and West Midland Safari Park (see here). We definitely did not have enough time to explore Cadbury World and although we did see and do a lot at West Midland Safari Park, I did feel that our day was cut short leaving at 2:30pm. I'd have loved to have stayed until closing but I get this will mean a later drop-off time.

So overall, it definitely was a mixed bag. I've left it a couple of weeks before writing this post as I wanted time to reflect. I stepped off the coach a broken woman and took 2 full days to recover from the ordeal (not even exaggerating). I said I'd never doing it again but on reflection, I probably would. I'd just stick to closer places such as Edinburgh Zoo or Scarbough, York or Leeds next time so the journey home wouldn't drag out and we'd have longer to spend enjoying ourselves. I definitely don't feel like I could face a long trip down to London with National Holidays that's for sure.

What do you think? Have you tried a National Holidays trip with kids? Would you be tempted to try one? 

Disclosure : We paid for our own trip 

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Our National Holidays Coach Trip with Kids | The Good, the Bad & the Ugly


Cherryburn (near Prudhoe) | A National Trust Hidden Gem & a Sun Trap that's Perfect for Picnics

I can't believe it has been 5 years since our last visit to Cherryburn. We were well overdue a visit so with the promise of sunshine, we decided to make Cherryburn our destination for our first summer picnic.

Cherryburn (near Prudhoe) | A National Trust Hidden Gem & a Sun Trap that's Perfect for Picnics

We picked up some picnic supplies from our local Aldi en-route. I know people say this all of the time but how cheap is Aldi?? We managed to buy lunch for 5 (with leftovers), drinks, suncream and a packet of baby wipes (picnic essential!) for £12. Amazing!

Cherryburn is around a 30 minute drive from our home in Northumberland. It's just outside of Prudhoe and would be a nice day out to combine with nearby Prudhoe Castle. Cherryburn is a National Trust property and there's a small admission fee (free for members) although to be honest we've never had to show our cards to access the gardens only as there's never any staff on the gate. Find out more about opening hours and admission charges here.

Our first stop was the farmyard. There used to be chickens here but we didn't spot any on this visit and there's a circular paddock walk which was unfortunately closed. Thankfully there were some alpacas though and they were so funny to watch.

Cherryburn has their own beehives so we wandered over to have a nosey before setting down in the sunshine on the front lawn.

There was a basket of outdoor games for families to help themselves to with balls, skipping ropes, wheelbarrows and tractors all being popular. We settled with a game of frisbee in the sunshine. Happy days! The kids were happy and we were happy. At 12 noon there was only us and one other family there, it was so peaceful and tranquil and I'd definitely recommend Cherryburn as a place to get away from it all. The garden is a real suntrap too and we all wished we'd put our shorts on!

There's a teeny cafe inside of Cherryburn house serving scones, hot and cold drinks plus ice creams. The staff here were all super friendly and we couldn't resist a couple of bottles of traditional lemonade to go with our picnic. There's seating outside in the farmyard courtyard and the staff will bring your drinks out to you when ready.

After a nice and relaxing picnic, we decided to pack up and check out the nature trail. How cute is this badger gate!

The nature area is small but kept my three entertained as they ran amongst the trees,  built dens, played on the stepping stones and checked out the bug hotel.

We ended our trip to Cherryburn with ice creams in the farmyard overlooking the alpacas with gorgeous views of the countryside. Perfect!

We spent 2.5 hours at Cherryburn and I said to Steve if we'd had more time I'd have brought a book and just let the kids run off and play for the full afternoon. It's just a small site and there's no play park but there's still a fair bit to see and do. You can also visit Cherryburn House which is interesting to look around but as the sun was shining so beautifully, we wanted to make the most of it and didn't visit indoors on this occasion. There are trail sheets and wildlife spotting sheets at the house reception.

Next time the sun's shining and you fancy a National Trust day out, I'd highly recommend visiting Cherryburn. A trip here makes a refreshing change from it's bigger sisters of Gibside, Cragside and Wallington.


Haven Holiday Parks near Scarborough - Which One is Best for Your Family Break?

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I have a long history with the Haven Holiday parks near Scarborough and North Yorkshire is a fantastic place for a family day out. Located just a few miles from the popular seaside town of Scarborough, Primrose Valley, Blue Dolphin and Reighton Sands have always offered a fantastic value family holiday for us with lots to do both on and off-site. With a wide range of accommodation options available for all budgets, there really is something for everyone. 

A bit of history..........

We used to visit almost every summer when I was a child and I have fond memories of entering talent competitions, playing party games and I even won a trophy in the 'Little Miss Haven' competition after I declared that I wanted to be Stephen Gately's microphone when I grew up. Because I trusted the Haven brand so much and it was super familiar to me, Primrose Valley was the place I took my first ever holiday without grown-ups (at age 17 which I am pretty sure goes against their guidelines). We had the best time and I think a caravan holiday like this with your friends really is a rite of passage. 

Haven Holiday with the girls (aged 17)
Then again, we chose Blue Dolphin as a girls getaway when I was pregnant with Harry and at that stage of life where I was contemplating if baby carriers are worth it - kind of one last trip before our lives were going to change forever. If you split the cost of a caravan between 5-6 people, it actually works out very cheaply. 

Haven Holiday when pregnant with Harry
Then it turned full circle and we chose a Haven Holiday park for our first ever family camping trip when Harry and Heidi were little (and Jack was a little twinkle in my eye) and enjoyed numerous holidays with the children at the parks when they were younger. Harry, Heidi and Jack used to be obsessed with 'Rory the Tiger's House' and I'm pretty sure they're going to take their own children when they are older and create memories of their own too. I think I may have visited a Scarborough Haven Holiday Park around 20 times across my life and I thought it might be nice to compare the three as it's often difficult to decide which one to stay at. We haven't stayed with Haven in a few years as I personally think they are much better suited to families with children under the age of 8. 

I love that once you've paid for your Haven break, so much of what's on offer is included from (unsupervised) kids clubs to nature clubs, evening shows, live singers, swimming pools, sports pitches and more. Whether you pick and all-action park or something a little quieter, if you're on a budget, Haven will always provide good value for money I think (there are paid-for activities available too).

Primrose Valley 

Primrose Valley is built on top of a cliff (don't worry - it's safe) and is a huge all-singing, all-dancing park. This one is a good option if you have older children and you'd like access to lots of activities to keep them entertained. The site is big so you'll likely need baby carrier, sling or pushchair to walk around and your accommodation might be quite a distance from where all the action is. Primrose Valley has it's own swimming pool and activities and also a lake where you can hire a pedalo, build rafts, canoe or simply feed the ducks. There are so many sport activities on offer that it's impossible to list them all - from a climbing wall to archery tuition, bike hire, crazy golf and an aerial adventure. There's honestly so much to do - the park even has its own funfair! You will have to pay an additional fee for most activities so make sure you take this into account when budgeting.

There are plenty of free activities to enjoy too with a fantastic day and evening entertainment programme, well appointed outdoor play areas, swimming, nature classes, mini-sports, sports courts, sensory mornings, wrestling, pantomimes and showtime all included in the price of your break plus there is direct beach access too (it's a bit of a steep walk but there is sometimes a free land train).

Food: There are lots of dining options from a Papa Johns pizza takeaway and fish and chips to Millie's Cookies, Starbucks, pubs restaurants and cafes. There's also a mini supermarket on site but I'd always recommend visiting an off-site supermarket if you're planning on cooking a lot. There are a fair few in the vicinity with more choice and cheaper prices.

Accommodation: There is a range of caravans available from standard family holiday homes up to prestige and premier caravans with their own decking and luxury touches. Primrose Valley also has 35 pitches available for touring caravans, all with electric hook-up with 5* facilities.

Best for: Families who like lots of paid-for and free activities and like to keep busy on holiday.

Prices from: £85 per family for 4 nights (based on a family of 4 staying in April 2018 with a 50% off deal).

Blue Dolphin

Blue Dolphin is probably the park that I've visited most often. It seems to have the best of both worlds - plenty of activities but a little more chilled than Primrose Valley up the road. The park is again on a cliffside and offers both indoor and outdoor swimming pools. 

As well as the swimming pools, there's a sports dome (which used to hold fab roller discos back in the day) where families can try rock climbing, archery, fencing and more. The outdoor pool is open from May Half Term - 2 September and perfect for sunny days. There's lots of daytime activities too from bowling to bike hire and puppet shows. 

We love that Blue Dolphin has its own touring field that welcomes both vans and tents. We've camped here a fair few times over the years and it's a low-cost way to enjoy all that Haven has to offer if money is a little tight.

Food: With a fish and chip shop, Papa Johns, Burger King and pub on-site, there's plenty of choice.

Accommodation: Caravans range from standard to prestige with decking plus there's a camping and touring field.

Best for: Families who love swimming and sports and campers looking for a break with lots to keep the kids entertained.

Prices from: £79 per family (standard caravan) or camping available from £10 per family per night.

Reighton Sands

Reighton Sands is the quietest of the three parks with the least going on but there's still more than enough to keep you entertained. There are 5 miles of golden sand on your doorstep making this a perfect park for beach lovers.

As well as the fabulous beach, Reighton Sands has its own indoor pool with a fantastic outdoor lazy river (lazy river open May Half Term - 2 Sept subject to weather). Reighton Sands also has it's own 9 hole golf course and there's plenty of green space to play ball games. There's daytime and evening entertainment including nature clubs, show time and discos. Reighton Sands has it's own touring area for tourers which is quieter than the Blue Dolphin.

Food: On-site pub and fish and chip shop.

Accommodation: A range of caravans from standard to platinum with decking plus hard-standing touring pitches for tourers.

Best for: Families looking for a quieter holiday with access to activities when needed and beach lovers. Tourers who are looking for a quieter site with lots of entertainment options for kids.

Prices from: £79 per family (standard caravan) or tourers from £16 per family per night.

If you're planning a holiday to Scarborough this year, why not check out my other posts: 

Let me know which Scarborough park is your favourite.

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Haven Holiday Parks near Scarborough - Which One is Best for Your Family Break?


Why we were disappointed with our trip to Cadbury World

Before I planned a trip to Cadbury World, I'd read lots of mixed reviews. Nobody sang their praises, most people said it was ok and a few people really hated it. I wanted to experience Cadbury World for ourselves before making our own judgement and Jack especially was dying to visit a real chocolate factory. I booked a bus trip via National Holidays which in hindsight wasn't the best way to see Cadbury World (we were only given three hours to explore which on a peak visiting day in the Easter holidays wasn't long enough). We arrived at around 1pm and left at 4pm.

Admission to Cadbury World is timed and the tour starts with each group going through a series of rooms at timed intervals. I enjoyed this part as we learned all about the history of chocolate, how chocolate is made and the history of Cadburys. It was fairly interesting but it was mostly watching videos so may not be of great interest to younger children. My three enjoyed it though - especially as we were shaken in our seats like a cocoa bean.

One of the huge plus points for me is all of the chocolate you're given as you walk around - we were treated to a full-size crunchie, dairy milk and curly wurly bar plus a chocolate pot with sprinkles (everyone was given this - even us grown ups). These are perfect for keeping kids quiet in the queues or as they watch the videos. I'd recommend packing baby wipes and taking change for the water machines or taking bottles of water with you as chocolate eating is thirsty work! I bought this handy bag for £1 at the entrance which keeps all of the samples in one place.

The second part of Cadbury World was the chance to watch chocolate being made. We had to queue for around 30 minutes to get into this room but it was interesting to hear how temperature is everything and to watch the experts at work. We then had the chance to write our names in chocolate ourselves. After this part, there is a green screen where you can pay to have photos taken in various Cadbury scenarios. This wasn't for is though so we skipped it.

We joined the queue for the main Cadbury ride but noticed a sign that said 40 minutes from this point. My three aren't bothered about smaller rides anymore and didn't want to queue for a short (and non-thrill-seeking) ride so we left the queue after around 5 minutes and headed down to the chocolate sampling zone. Here we were treated to a chocolate pot and watched chocolate decorating live through the windows.

The last indoor zone was all about advertising. I loved seeing the famous gorilla and old crunchie advert on a surfboard but it was all lost on the kids who are too young to remember these. There's an interactive games area here which they enjoyed and actually wasn't too busy.

We skipped the gift shop entirely as I knew it would be expensive and as it was Easter, they weren't exactly short on chocolate. We did pop into the cafe for a drink though. It was pretty expensive if I'm honest (a hot chocolate was £4.95!).

The final part of Cadbury World is outside, we joined the queue for the 4D cinema experience but again, there was a notice saying the queue was 40 minutes long. It was a warm and sunny day and the 4D cinema is right by a park so the kids naturally did not want to queue. I was also really conscious of time, our bus was leaving in one hour and if we joined the queue, there was a chance we would be late. So again, we decided to skip this bit.

Just as we left the 4D cinema queue, they were closing the doors to the 3pm panto in the entertainment tent. There wasn't another showing until after our bus had left and I was frustrated that we'd missed this too. Some show timings as you enter the outdoor area would have been useful.

So we spent our final hour in the outdoor play area and visiting the Bournville experience which is all about the history of the town. I think these two attractions are free to visit for anyone and although good, it was frustrating that we'd missed out on a lot of the 'paid' activities.

We're pleased we visited Cadbury World. We now know how chocolate is made and it was really interesting to see how the Cadbury brand has evolved. I was frustrated with how busy it was though and when you pay to visit an attraction, it's annoying to have to spend most of your time queuing rather than enjoying the experience. We had to skip the 4D cinema, Easter panto and Cadbury ride due to the crowds and queuing which was annoying. The whole experience wasn't very personalised either. We felt like cattle being herded through the experience with standard monologues being repeated by staff time and time again, There was no injection of fun or enthusiasm and the whole experience was just very bland and commercialised. We visited West Midland Safari Park the following day and our experience was completely different with staff taking the time to chat and the whole day being a lot more chilled rather than busy, busy, busy like it was at Cadbury World. Engaged staff really do make the world of difference to the public when visiting an attraction.

I know our time was limited at Cadbury World but we had to queue A LOT. If we'd have spent the full day here we'd have queued for over three hours  - first to get inside, then for the first 'history of chocolate' section, then again to wait for the chocolate making zone, then again for the ride before a final queue for the 4D experience. There isn't really anything to entertain the kids during all of this queuing and I am betting most people will just queue because they kind of have no choice after paying. Queuing like this would not have been fun for the kids who would have ended up bored and started bickering or for myself who would have been stressed with bored kids in a long queue with nowhere else to take them and nothing to distract them with. Sort it out Cadbury!

I also feel like a lot of the exhibits weren't particularly child-friendly, especially for smaller kids who may not have the attention span to watch a film about the history of Cadbury. I'd love to see more up-to-date and interactive experiences for kids that were free-flowing, kind of like the last part of Legoland Discovery in Manchester.

Finally, I know this is probably kind of obvious and I am so naive for not realising this before but Cadbury World is actually just one big advertisement for their products and it kind of stings that we have to pay for that. I'd love to see them going back to their roots and giving something back to the community with free factory tours and a play area - that's all people want really. There is lots of propaganda about how great Cadburys are to work for, how innovative they are and how much they invest in their workforce. This might be the case but it left me rolling my eyes a little and there's certainly no mention of Cadburys in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For list. 

I'd struggle to recommend Cadbury World if I'm honest. I'd much rather spend the afternoon at the cinema and the park. If you are really keen to visit, I'd try and find out when the off-peak times are and visit then so the crowds and queues are minimal. A family ticket for the five of us would normally cost £61 if it wasn't booked as part of a bus tour. I can certainly think of better ways to spend this cash on a day out and would definitely advise looking for discounts before booking.

Have you visited Cadbury World? What did you think? 

Disclosure: We paid for our own day out.  

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Why we were disappointed with our trip to Cadbury World

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