Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Our Week At Bluestone

A couple of weeks ago, we were invited to Bluestone in Wales to spend 5 days trying out their "Free range family holidays" with the boys.

We'd been to Bluestone once before back when Tyne, our eldest, was a baby so I was intrigued to see how much had changed in the last 4 years and what the boys would make of it now.

Before our arrival, we received an email informing us that we could now book our activities for our stay - to do this you just log on to the website with your booking details, and have a look through what's happening while you're there.

I gather you need to be quite quick with this as unfortunately by the time I had a look, a few of the activities we would have chosen, such as the panning for gold activity, were already completely sold out for the week. But on the upside, at least I knew this before we arrived so I just didn't mention it to the boys and they were none the wiser which saved any tantrums during the holiday at least!

There was still a nice selection of activities left available so we booked the boys in for a messy play session, a character show and we also pre-booked a lunch at Camp Smokey too as I had read that this can book up quite fast. Other options included booking ranger sessions, a huge selection of sporting and outdoor activities such as clay pigeon shooting, archery and zip-lining etc, and there was also the option to book a few different dinner shows throughout the week which we decided against as I'm quite a fussy eater and prefer to self cater.

So with our activities booked, we headed off on the Monday for the 4 hour journey to Pembrokeshire. The trip took a little longer than planned but we arrived at around dinner time, and the check in was totally empty at this point with everybody else presumably already checked in.

The first thing you notice about Bluestone is what a stunning setting it is. The rolling hills and beautiful blue skies were really something to behold, and as we were blessed with amazing weather all week it really did make for the perfect spot for a bit of rest and relaxation - even with 3 little boys in tow!

We did unfortunately have a bit of a problem with the lodge we were originally allocated, but to give Bluestone their due, when we reported the problems it was dealt with very efficiently.
The manager came out to inspect the lodge, agreed that it wasn't in a suitable condition and provided us with a new one which was a million times better.

The new lodge was, I believe, a Gateholm style one which is what is known as "Upside down living" - with the living room and kitchen being on the top floor, and the bedrooms on the bottom. 

This worked much better for us as all of the bedrooms were together, and the lodge was also much more spacious and much fresher...I could easily have spent much longer there quite comfortably, and it really did have every amenity you could possibly need on holiday including an iron and ironing board, and a hairdryer.

There was also a picnic bench outside each lodge, which provided a lovely spot for the boys to have breakfast and lunch each day. As the site has a No Cars policy, it also meant that we could allow the boys to run about and have much more freedom to play than usual which was really nice - and they really did love that freedom! Their favourite thing to do was to kick about the rugby ball we bought in the on-site shop, and just RUN as fast as their little legs would carry them.

We had originally intended to spend a fair bit of time off the site, planning to visit Tenby and some other nearby areas, but we found that there was always so much to do at Bluestone itself that we didn't really want to leave!

We had activities planned in for most days during our stay, and the boys were such huge fans of the indoor adventure centre (which is home to a bouncy castle, arcade games, free mini golf, and a huge wooden play area as well as a smaller toddler play area and activities such as rock climbing) and the village park that they just didn't want to go anywhere else. 

There is also a circus zone area in the indoor adventure centre which the boys really enjoyed - this area is specifically for under 5's, and has soft play and tumble tots style equipment to play on.

Our routine tended to involve going to the adventure centre every morning where Jon & I would indulge in a cup of coffee on the comfy sofas while the boys entertained themselves which was absolute BLISS, and then later in the day after an organised activity session we'd head to the village park where - again - Jon & I would sit with a coffee while the boys played happily for hours, making friends with the other children.

It was probably the most relaxed I'd felt for ages, and of all the holiday places we've visited - it was certainly one of the few that allowed us to sit back a little and watch the boys enjoy themselves without needing to worry too much as they were always safe, in sight and happy.

As for the activities that we paid for, these went down a storm with the boys! The character show at the village hall was really good - we chose the Huwie Hedgehog show but there are 3 or 4 other characters throughout the week too. 
 The show was hosted by Summer the fairy and Tiny Tim the elf, both of whom were great with the kids and Tyne in particular took a real shine to Summer. The shows were really interactive too, with the audience encouraged to get involved at numerous points - there were opportunities to have meet & greets with the characters afterwards too which my boys always love to do.
 The village hall itself was a lovely little space full of greenery and fairy lights, very magical!

As for the messy play session we did - this was good fun too and well organised. The lady who hosted it was really good fun and very engaging with the children, making sure to get everybody involved. She had a bit of a challenge with my littlest two who aren't usually keen to get messy, but she tried her absolute best and they did all have a lot of fun!
 The session included the chance to paint, make clay models, play with water and sand, and make slime cupcakes in the mud kitchen and it was all started off with a story about Shelby The Snail who came to visit the children during the session too - much to the delight of my boys!

My only complaint would be that the messy play session did feel a tad too expensive when paying for 3 children at £8 per child - I think the introduction of a Sibling discount price for those with more than 1 child to pay for would be very welcome.

As for other entertainment on offer, there was a musician playing in the pub one evening and a family quiz on another night but as we couldn't tear the boys away from the park - we didn't manage to make it to either of these!

A few people asked me on Instagram what the evening entertainment was like, and I do have to say that the musician and quiz were pretty much it although the pub on site was open for the normal pub hours.
 I do think perhaps the introduction of some more evening entertainment would be welcome as an option for those who want it, or even just considering keeping the adventure centre open later than 6pm as we would certainly have been keen to use it later in the evenings - even if just until around 8pm as once 6pm came around, it did feel like everything pretty much stopped on the site.

However, our visit did coincide with Bluestone's 10th Birthday celebrations for which they put on a lovely little Village Fete style event - there was a coconut shy, fruit bowling, face painting, balloon animals, a may pole and stalls doing tombolas as well as birthday cake being handed out - it was a lovely little event and the boys had so much fun!

I should also point out that there are a couple of dinner shows on offer too throughout the week, but as these worked out to be quite expensive for a family of 5 and I'm a particularly fussy eater we didn't try them.

We did get a takeaway from one of the on site restaurants on our last night though - I hadn't realised this was an option until I saw other people walking around with pizza boxes, so we treated ourselves to a couple of pizzas and some garlic bread for dinner.

I have to say, the quality of food was excellent - much higher than I'd anticipated and I was quite sorry I hadn't tried it earlier in the week or perhaps even dined in!

The tandoori chicken pizza topped with yoghurt sauce and crushed poppadom that Jon & I shared was a particular highlight, I would drive back to Wales just to eat another one - it was that delicious!

We also ate at Camp Smokey one lunch time.

It was well themed and clean inside, and the menu was good. 
 We had a great time toasting marshmallows on the campfire and making S'mores for dessert, and Camp Smokey really was in the most beautiful of settings - well worth a visit!

We also really enjoyed using the Blue Lagoon swimming pool, but obviously I don't have any photos of this to share with you as - as you'd expect - cameras aren't permitted inside.

The pool was excellent though, with a brilliant lazy river that takes you outside which all of us really loved! It also has waves every half hour or so, and some brilliant water slides as well as two shallow water sections which are ideal for smaller children - nippers cove in particular was really nice!
 The changing rooms were also quite clean, which is always a relief.

We did make a bit of a mistake with our time at Bluestone in that we tried to get by without the use of the Golf Buggies they hire out,  despite my health condition making it painful for me to do a lot of uphill walking, and despite the fact that we had forgotten to bring the pushchair for the boys which meant that they did a LOT of complaining and tantruming about all of the walking. 

It is quite a large site, and there is lots of uphill inclines to contend with - it did spoil our first few days quite a bit.

The reason we had avoided getting a golf buggy is that we quite simply couldn't afford to pay the £95 hire charge for the week - we just hadn't realised that the charge was quite so high and hadn't budgeted for it. 

However, on our last day we decided to get a buggy for 24 hours which cost us £35 - and honestly, it made SUCH a difference to our day! 
 That day was absolutely brilliant - we were able to zip around the site in no time, the boys absolutely loved the golf buggy and it became the highlight of our holiday!

I really wish we'd had one for the entire time as it would have made such a difference to our time there, and allowed to fit so much more in with so much less trouble - if we return to Bluestone (which the boys are desperate to do as they loved it!) then I will make sure that we budget for a Golf buggy!

All in all, we really enjoyed our time at Bluestone - particularly once we were put into the second lodge and when we'd hired the golf buggy - Jon & I both said it was a shame as we felt like we'd both started to really thoroughly enjoy it all on the last day and could have happily stayed another few days.

But at least we know for next time what sort of lodge will be best for us, and to make sure we get a buggy *(and not forget the pushchair!)

If you're interested in finding out more about Bluestone holidays, please visit www.bluestonewales.com

*Disclaimer: We were provided with our accommodation at Bluestone free of charge in return for an honest review. All meals and activities were paid for ourselves and we were not paid a fee to write this piece. All words and opinions are my own.

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