Review: A semi private bus tour of Santorini

We booked an island tour (semi private – which means that potentially up to 10 other people could book to come with us 4) to cover most of the major sights of the island. We paid and gave our information over. And were told they would meet us at the hotel at midday. As it turns out, for us, no one else did book so it was completely private.

We were picked up at the hotel, and promptly taken to the Prophet Elias Monastery, the highest point of the island. This had some quite panoramic views including a view over the runway which excited the children as they watched a plane moving down to the runway and eventually taking off. Unfortunately, as it was a Sunday, the Monastery itself was closed, but we could still take in the views from where we were.

Prophet Elias Monestary

After making our way back to our private carriage taken to Perissa beach (filled with black volcanic sands). It’s quite a long beach at the area we were on was filled with cabanas in sections, with each section being maintained by an individual establishment. I did not catch the name of the café looking after the section we chose, but we managed to get a front row cabana for 13euros, for as long as we stayed. We purchased some beer and some water, and when Logan and Caitlin were cold from the sea, they had – wait for it – chocolate ice cream.

Beach Feet

Perissa beach

The water was really clear, and the cool (not cold) temperature was very welcome in the early afternoon heat. It does go from very shallow to fairly deep quite quickly though. So, in the case of children, or at least younger ones, you need to be a bit “aware”. But it was a nice clean beach and if going to the island and you enjoy a good swim in the sea, I’d definitely recommend it.

Chapel at Red Beach

Chapel at Red Beach 2

Red Beach

We were then driven across to the Red Beach, but it was a sun trap with no shade, and it was quite a trek down, so we stayed there for pictures only. We didn’t really fancy too much walking in the heat, with Caitlin’s legs. So instead we asked to go to the pre-historic excavations of Akrotiri, which are situated just out of the car park for the Red Beach. They tried to sell us a tour guide for 99euros, by telling us there was no information inside – lies, there are boards with information everywhere. It was a mix of interesting, eerie and awe-inspiring. To think how forward in civilisation, they were all those centuries ago, in comparison to how civilisation was for us not all that long ago.

Akrotiri_excavations

Akrotiri_excavations_2

Afterwards we headed up to Santo wines. We had a wine tasting there and took in the view for a while. We, stupidly (or ambitiously, I haven’t decided yet) decided to go for a 12-wine-flight, knowing we’d have less than an hour… but it was definitely worth doing. Just to have some shade and chill time for a while. It was fun. And eye opening. I REALLY cannot drink dessert wine. And though I don’t really enjoy red wine, I apparently can truly sink it back if it has port-like undertones and I’m in a hot place.

Santo_wines

Santo_wines_2

However, it also showed us, that Logan is still having some issues around alcohol; alcohol features in his past, and so we knew he’d had some issues with it. He has seen me drink in the past – I just don’t drink very often so it must’ve been long ago enough to be out of his head. But he sees Bruce have a bottle of ale, or a glass of whisky regularly enough to know it’s ok when he drinks – nothing bad happens. However, he flipped out at the sight of the wine in front of me (it was quite an overwhelming sight in all honesty), but the freak out was only directed at me. So, we explained “Mumma has paid to try these wines. I will not drink all of them all up, but I will just have a taste of each one”. That didn’t entirely pacify him, but did go somewhat into the compromise where he could handle the situation.

Afterwards, as we were heading up to Oia, for the sunset, we decided to find somewhere to eat (word of warning – book somewhere in advance, it’s difficult). We found a nice little restaurant called Oia Gefsis. The food was really good, the server was awesome and they have a sunset terrace you can eat on (we ate down on the patio as we hadn’t booked) but Bruce was allowed to pop up to the bar to take a photo of the sunset. It was a friendly and welcoming place to go, with an almost Italian feel to the menu.

Oia

Afterwards, we made our way through the crush of people towards the car park and met our driver to take us back to our accommodation. It was a good experience, but, as others have said, you can enjoy the sunset from anywhere that has a view over the Caldera, Oia is a nice place to go, but I’d be more inclined to visit during the day and get the hell outta there before nightfall – but that’s just cause I don’t like having to deal with the kids being so squashed and panicky.

Review: The BA Experience

On the morning of our big trip to Santorini we headed over to Heathrow (Terinal 5), our flight was with BA (British Airways). We had booked assistance as the children both have different things they struggle with. I did try to talk over the phone to see what assistance we could get, but they wouldn’t discuss, just told me to speak to staff at the assistance desk on arrival. So that’s what I did. They completely denied that assistance exists. But eventually stamped our tickets for fast track through security, though did mention the soft play directly to the kids – worst idea ever. They can’t deal with that stuff when they are anxious, but now they had been told about it, so as it was still quite early, we headed straight over in the hopes they could have a quiet 10 minutes in there. They did. I was already quite miffed going into it, because BA had changed their on-board food policy – we booked with them due to the complimentary food and drink service, so we would be comfortable in the knowledge the kids would have ample snacks/drinks. No notification, no compensation. Just a change – totally ethical, right? Nope.

But there was a lady at the boarding gate, who’s name I now forget, who I spoke to about the children’s difficulties. She invited us to come on through and board first, and offered apologies about how we’d been treated. Feeling slightly better we boarded, to have the rebuilt confidence taken away – the on-board snack service which could only accept electronic payment, was unable to take card payments as it wasn’t working, so tried to get the system working. 90 minutes into the flight, they gave up and processed all payments manually, on paper. It took ages, so many people got nothing until quite close to the end of our 4-hour flight.

Overall though, the flight wasn’t too bad, a bit of turbulence, and for a small airport, Arrivals was quite efficient. We got through passport control, baggage collection and exited the building rather swiftly, where our transfer was waiting.

Then there was the return journey. Santorini airport is way too small to deal with the demands that are being placed upon it. It needs expansion and an organisation shake up. In the interim, I honestly advise that it’d be far less hassle and far more enjoyable to get the ferry to Athens and fly back from there. They weren’t very organised and put people through security before they were ready to take passport control, sent everyone to the boarding gate and then made everyone clear out of the boarding gate so they could then do passport control, meaning we had to all leave at once in a mad rush and linger in a crowd where people were coming through security.

When I mentioned to the passport control officer that the way they had done it was completely inappropriate (Logan by this time was in full swing panic attack mode) – pointed to Logan and said “it’s upsetting children” She started shouting at me. I said I was just giving feedback, she continued shouting… I walked into the boarding area, she followed me, still screaming in my face in front of all the other passengers. I told her “you are shouting at an adult in front of a child and making the situation worse. I was just feeding the situation back to you. You are still shouting.”

Again, the boarding team were great – having witnessed the ordeal (and seen other passengers offering up seats/offering biscuits) they put us through boarding first. But then there was an issue with the plan (on landing an electrical fault had flashed up so they had to reboot the plane). It meant we were stuck on the bus on the runway in afternoon heat for about 30 minutes. But eventually we got on the plane and our journey home commenced. This was a much more enjoyable service, with the on-board facilities working as they should have been.

Overall, I have had far better experiences flying with easyJet, but I am in no hurry to get back on a plane in all honesty.

Review: Sheraton Skyline Heathrow

We struggled to get into the car park (it’s a fast road and it was busy, and the entrance kinda sneaks up). But once we’d worked out where it was, managed to turn around and come back again it was all good. Check in was fairly easy, and comprehensive, and our room was ready and waiting.

Sheraton_room

The room was surprisingly spacious, very clean and very comfortable. And despite being in a room which was road and runway facing, we heard little to no outside noise. The bathroom was well stocked with all that we’d need, there was a mini bar which was more expensive than the actual bar itself and a reasonable amount of tea/coffee waiting for us, as well as 2 complimentary bottles of water. The room information also showed a list of available conveniences that would make the stay more comfortable, which were complimentary and request only. Things such as a toothbrush, razor or even a nappy.

Sheraton Bathroom

We had dinner in the sports bar and grill. The staff were friendly and prompt with service, well dressed and accommodating to the children. The food took long enough that you knew it’d been sat waiting for someone to order it, but without making you wonder what the hold up was. And it was worth that little wait because it really was delicious.

We then went into the Skyline bar (by the pool) where we had a night cap (and the children were treated to a mocktail each). It was a nice experience. And I could see how, staying there not as bed pre-flight, it could be an enjoyable pool to be in with the children with its nooks and crannies.

Sheraton Skyline

Reviews from our Cornish Break 2017

Perranporth Beach

Perranporth Beach
I have so much time for this beach, having visited it several times over the years.

We like it because there is good access to the beach from the car park on the promenade, town centre. Which was reasonably priced (I think the most we paid was about £5 for 6 hours). Within the car park itself is a toilet block, which was always very busy, and quite sandy. But for a beach, wasn’t in too bad a state.

From the car park facing the beach there is a drop down, so you can go along to the left and down an access ramp, or across to the right, on a little bridge over a stream and down onto the beach. There are a few shops and facilities (like surfboard lessons) but we didn’t go for any of that.

We literally setup close to the stream, but on the main beach, in easy reach of the car park. We pitched our gazebo up and the kids could come and go between us and the stream as they pleased; the stream runs through the town, down the beach and into the sea.

The water is clear, the sand is golden and clean and the beach is well taken care of (the usual stray bits of litter from the people who are “entitled” to be cleaned up behind of, but generally very clean.

The beach is life guarded in the summer season and is dog friendly. And there are cliff walks. We have only ever walked towards Newquay on the south west coastal path as far as the Haven caravan park, but even that short distance allows for some spectacular views over the sea and beach.

Perran View Holiday Park

We booked through Hoseasons, during a special “January Sale” event (low deposit, discounted break). And booked a 3 bed silver house (pet friendly). And they dealt with my initial enquiries about there being a disabled guest etc.
But before arrival I also had questions about our arrival day (mainly about Grandad wanting to ensure there would be somewhere near a bar with a TV where he could park up and watch the important cup-match for his football team). The gentleman that answered the phone call was very happy to assist with my enquiries and very knowledgeable.

On the day of arrival, having been rained off the beach, we called to see if it was ok to arrive on site ahead of check in time. When we got there, they informed us (as we were hungry) we could purchase snacks in the shop, and eat them in the bar area (all they ask is that drinks being consumed are purchased at the bar – not the shop). They then checked whether our accommodation had been cleaned, and told us they were more than happy for us to access it early, but it wasn’t quite ready, however, if we remained close by in the bar, they would get us as soon as it was. Within 45 minutes we were in.

The accommodation was far from 5 star, but that’s not what we paid for, nor did we expect it. The furnishings and décor were tired, but we couldn’t deny that it was clean. There were ample facilities (microwave, fridge with small freezer area, pans, pots and utensils, crockery, cutlery and glasses) in the kitchen. There was an open plan living/dining area with a doorway to a twin bed at the back by the staircase, which lead up to the bathroom, a double and a twin. The furniture was mismatched, but sturdy.

The grounds were immaculate and the staff all very friendly and welcoming. The music wasn’t too in your face at night time as the volume was always kept at a reasonable level, the bar was reasonably priced and the children could stay in the same room for the whole evening (there was no adult only entertainment). Kids bingo was on offer every night as was adults bingo, alongside kid’s club and evening shows.

During the day, the children took part in the character breakfast (a paid even, around £3/4 per child to include a bowl of cereal and a drink, with a bowl they could take home and a meeting with one of the characters). The water session (which was water zorbing/surfing/jet skis/aqua jet) the session was free but, basically, they were not guaranteed to get to go on all activities. Still, I think most children got to try at least 2, if not 3 activities.

The week we stayed also included a “character birthday” Kenny the Badger got even older. So to celebrate this there was a barbeque and fun day – they got out zorb-ball equipment – intended for the children to play football, but it just turned into a bit of a run at each other, crash and roll blood bath. There was also a bouncy castle and music being played out on the green. Although there was a small charge for the barbeque, the rest of the day’s activities were free.

Also on the site was adventure golf (free to play), the swimming pool (free for guests, open at certain times – clearly advertised – with a small pool and a jacuzzi sized baby/toddler pool and changing area), and a “green” with sports area and small park. There was a little arcade and a small food kiosk that would sell hot food in the evening (this was outside catering). The shop was run by the bar/reception staff, and though we didn’t use it, we were aware that there was a launderette marked on the map.

St Agnes Hotel

During our annual trip to Cornwall, it was apparent we needed to go for a Sunday Lunch; Nanny and Grandad lose the plot if they don’t get their roast on a Sunday. We tried to look for one with good reviews close to our accommodation – we all tend to over-indulge with a roast, it’s all just so nice we can’t waste a speck. After a bit of a hunt, I found the St Agnes hotel and booked us in, before we even left home. The person on the phone was very friendly, she was happy to answer all my questions (we have a few awkward intolerances in this house) and it was all great.

On the day parked in the free car park (they take donations for the upkeep, but there’s no minimum charge as such) at the top of the hill on… And we walked down through the village for our little explore. We were doing our Treasure Trail hunt. After a good hour and a half of walking around (there were 2 people with mobility problems) we had done roughly half of the trail. And so, we got thirsty… by this time we were at the church, directly opposite the Hotel and so we were like “meh – there’s 30 minutes until our reservation – let’s just go and have a drink and wait for them to be ready.”

We had our drinks in the little stage area at the back of the pub, where Grandad was excited to see that they had some Chelsea Football stand seating on display – we think this was the highlight of his holiday. The pub itself was decorated in the kind of trendy-rustic look that is all the rage with the more upmarket, popular restaurant-pubs right now, and was clean and welcoming. The staff were very friendly and accommodating, despite being in the tail end of a very busy breakfast. They even offered to bring the drinks to our table instead of us waiting until the hot drinks were ready.

As soon as the lunch setup had been done, we were informed which table was ours and that we could go over as soon as we were ready. They had 2 sizes of adult roast, plus a child’s roast. There was a good selection of meats and the veg was freshly prepped (not frozen). Nut roast was available for the vegetarians amongst us (me – and Caitlin struggles with chewing meat so she opts for vegetarian out and about, quite often). Also, as I am really fussy, and love to have my roast soaked in veggie gravy and mint sauce, the male front of house (who I can only presume was the owner) got the kitchen to find out some mint sauce, despite lamb not being on the menu. Quite literally nothing was too much trouble.

The food was delicious, I couldn’t stop until it was all eaten. And then we were presented with the dessert menu, which was very VERY tempting, based on what we had just eaten. However, despite having only the small adult roast, there was no room for pudding. Thoroughly stuffed doesn’t cover it’ it really was difficult to walk back up to the car.

I wouldn’t hesitate to include a return visit to this establishment if we had plans to visit St Agnes in the future.

Apologies, no photos as I wasn’t thinking that far ahead at the time. I was thinking with my belly!!!

Land’s End and The Minack

Having heard of The Minack Theatre, I had always wanted reason to visit. So ahead of our trip I checked out the details and found that they were having storyteller for a few days, whilst we were there.

So we phoned down, in advance, to check whether we’d be able to sit in a quiet area – assuming it’d be packed, and were reassured we’d be allowed to get entry fairly early and if we sat near the top would have no issues as it’s an interactive performance where most children gather at the front. The issue we have is that Logan can get very anxious and have tantrums when it gets too busy. And Caitlin gets very anxious when noise levels get too loud (even the cinema can be testing at times).

The tickets were reasonably priced (£5 for adults and £0.50 for children), and parking is free. Though the drive down gets narrower and narrower, with few passing places the closer you get. Even without the draw of a performance it is, most definitely, worth a visit to look around. It is breathtakingly beautiful and an experience that cannot be put into words.

Then there was the story itself. We chose the performance of The Two Wizards, by storyteller John Brolly. A story about two grumpy wizards who cause chaos with their feud against one another… causing the survival of the local village to be threatened.

Approached in a very fun, light hearted and interactive way. It was enjoyable to watch at a distance, so I can only imagine that fun being heightened for those that can manage to be “down on the ground” and being more interactive. That said, sitting at a distance didn’t stop the three children we were with from shouting, cheering, clapping and singing along.

Adults, and children alike, left smiling and happy. The theatre has small speakers all the way up to ensure everyone can hear, but at a comfortable (and not overpowering) level. So, we could hear everything, and due to the way the theatre is arranged, see everything clearly, despite being near the very top. All the while, hearing the background noise of the crashy sea, feeling the sea breeze (actually quite gusty that day), smell the salt in the air. It’s a unique and amazing experience.

After a trip to the Minack, on a high, we decided to take the additional 5-minute drive across to Land’s End. We were not prepared for what we were going to see. When you think of Cornwall, you think “such a beautiful place, it doesn’t need any gimmicks to attract people” or, you do if you have my kind of perception. And yet, that’s exactly what Land’s End has become. Not a tourist spot that calls people in for it’s “first and last” of everything… but a place that has turned to mainstream theatre. Quite literally with the introduction of Shaun the Sheep and Arthurs Quest 4D experiences and now you can’t even stand and have your photo taken by the iconic sign without paying them loads of money.

However, the area was clean and tidy and the views were magnificent. And it was definitely worth being able to say that we had visited.

A walk in Newquay

We parked in Atlantic Road Car park, which is a little out of the centre of Newquay, but in a good location to walk along the ridge above Fistral beach, and consequently down on to the beach. After some time walking across the sand and jumping waves we headed up by the Headland Hotel and followed the coastal path around to Towan Beach where we stopped for lunch on the balcony at the Walkabout Bar.

The walk was quite ambitious with 2 people with walking difficulties (Nanny and Caitlin), but we took it at our pace and enjoyed it. I’d say it’s not wheelchair/buggy friendly as in certain places there are some quite steep steps. But the views were truly spectacular. And well worth the effort we put in.

Treasure Trails

Treasure Trails

We have done a couple of these, this is a bit of fun for the family… it’s a bit like geocaching, but with a twist. Each trail has a theme for example, a spy mission or a murder mystery. With a background story on the inner page, and the clues spread out with walking instructions, and on the rear cover objects/people that relate to the answers to the clues.

This is understood better by my mature members, so for the younger participants, they need a but of leading, as some of the information is quite cryptic. But it can most definitely be made into a fun family event. To make it more fun, if it’s a murder mystery trail – well that’s all we have done so far – we each choose a character on the back to be “us” so the plot line thickens and adds even more suspense.

So far we have done 3 trails, which I will speak about below. And I shall amend this post to add any further ones here.

Edge of the Forest

Murder Mystery trail which was part drive, part walk. By this I mean it was set across 3 locations in the Forest of Dean (Clearwell, St Braivels & Symonds Yat), which you walked around, but required driving between locations.

We found this trail to be realtively easy-going, and actually as it was set across the three locations enabled us to have shorter chunks of time “trailing” with the kids. I think this made it a little more accessible; we had 3 kids with us aged 9, 8 and 5, so attention span, walking lots etc. can be a big ask. But we managed to complete this one quite easily (though there was a clue at Symonds Yat which we found quite tricky – the one about the name hidden on the well). It came to us eventually, but we had to rely on a photo we had taken and look later; we could have used one of our text clues, but Bruce is stubborn so no… we aren’t allowed assistance like that “it’s cheating”.

Overall, it was a good way to see, and learn, about these three places, that we probably wouldn’t even consider going to if it wasn’t for something like this.

On a side note, turns out I was the murderer. Cue evil laughter…

Ross-on-Wye

The Ross-on-Wye trail was our first whole walking trail, all of the clues were in a circular walk and it takes a couple of hours to complete. Again, it is a murder mystery trail. Due to the length of the walk, around mid-way you are in the centre of town, and so we stopped for respite at the Globetrotter Café (a family-friendly, cash-only, world themed café with sandwiches, loose leafed teas, fresh coffee and scrumptious cupcakes). This got everyone’s energy and motivation back up and off we trotted. The instructions and clues were easy enough to follow. And having spent a lot of time in Ross-on-Wye, it was nice to see lots of little bits of historical information/buildings I hadn’t even noticed before.

St Agnes

We only managed to complete half of this before we got fat on a Sunday lunch and couldn’t finish the trail. The intention had been to go back and finish it on another day. But from what we could see and experienced it truly was quite a comprehensive walk of the sights of St Agnes. Which is a beautiful village.

Techniquest

Techniquest Blog_review_pic_techniquest_01 Cardiff Bay, Cardiff. http://www.techniquest.org

Before our children arrived, I have been to Techniquest several times as a child/young teen myself and with other children (friends and family). And I have to say, it’s consistent in capturing the audience. Child, and adult alike, are captivated by its play-based approach to science.

Yet, for all of its play focus of the main exhibition, there is so much to be learned. Even if you forget the additional educational shows. There is a bit of information about each interactive experiment, and many questions and suggestions to get you thinking as you play. It opens even the most educationally shy child to a world of possibility, which is something we struggle against (with our eldest) on a daily basis.

Then there are the shows in the planetarium and science theatre; different themes run at different times, which can all be checked on the website. There’s usually a show in the science theatre, where they offer a series of short and engaging experiments that fit the theme of their show. And then 2 shows in the planetarium – one suitable for the younger audience (under 7s) and one aimed at over 7s.

Whilst we were there, we attended the science theatre show (Switched on, which was an exploration of light) at no additional cost. And also the under 7s planetarium show (Space Hunters – a planetarium, show that had an interactive and fun story involving a treasure hunt in space to get the children involved and interested, before having a look at some constellations), which was about £1.50 each extra. There was also a group in, from the University I believe, educating children on healthy eating with some fun games and activities to show them about being hydrated, making healthy choices (low fat, low sugar) and gave them some information to bring home too.

The exhibition itself was very entertaining, and could easily form the basis of a very fun few hours out (or by utilising the wrist band to pop out and back in, going in the morning, popping out for a lunch and explore of the bay and then having a few more hours after lunch). Experiments range from things to do with light, to the physics of movement, to biology and human evolution. A popular section is always the water area, where the children can manoeuvre objects through a little stream, fill up various household objects to see which uses more water etc.

The entry fee wasn’t too bad we went as a family group of 5 (2 adults and 3 children) and the price was £25 for all of us. There is a small gift shop, as well as a coffee shop selling pre-packaged sandwiches, hot and cold drinks and snacks, 2 hot drinks, 5 sandwiches and 5 packets of crisps cost us £16. And there’s a car park directly opposite the back of the building (Mermaid Quay), 5 hours parking cost us £7, though if you are making a day of it, the Red Dragon centre is only a 5-minute walk away, and if you spend £5 (dinner/drinks/bowling/cinema) parking is free.

It’s somewhere we always come back to, and would always recommend to others for a bit of educational fun.

PS. I couldn’t add more than the initial picture as all of ours captured other people’s children too… difficult not to get photobombed in a place as busy as that.