Review: Sea Legs Puppet Theatre

We are a bit late reviewing this as, well…. Winter in this house is just so difficult… but it’s important to me that we do this. So here it is, better late than never hey?

The children were absolutely desperate to have a birthday party, but it just wasn’t feasible; they are coping better with parties, but not with being centre of attention in groups. So I was trying to come up with a SEN/sensory friendly alternative. I came up with the idea that a story teller/puppet show would be a great alternative. A little bit of research and some questions asked in the correct direction, and Sea Legs Puppet Theatre was one of the companies shortlisted. A brief email exchange filled me with the confidence I needed to decide “yes, this is it!” So, it was decided that they would come to our gathering to perform “The Selfish Giant”.

Rob was very approachable from the outset and was understanding and accepting of the needs any of the children may have. And very clear about what we could expect on the day, 2 hours to setup, 45 minute show, 15 minutes to meet the puppets afterwards and then up to an hour for take down. He brought along some rugs, and had already suggested we setup some chairs for the adults. We brought along a load of scatter cushions too for added comfort.

The set was really quite spectacular, the puppets were exceedingly intricate and the show was very well thought out. Everyone loved it, adults and children alike. Since the party, we have had so many comments over how different, but great, it was to attend a birthday celebration where even the adults were able to be involved, entertained and happy to go back and repeat the experience. 25 3-14 year olds, all of whom were fully engaged for the entirety of the performance. They were all very excited to have the opportunity to meet the puppets at the end. All the children have since expressed how they loved it (all of them), and several have asked when the next show is. Which is entirely a possibility for the coming year.

Review: Our pre-holiday adventure in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire – the hotels

Prior to a recent midweek break to Center Parcs Sherwood Forest, we went on an adventure in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, which meant we stayed in a few hotels. So here’s a bit about our experiences at each of those.

Premier Inn Derby East.

The first night of our adventure was at the Premier Inn Derby East. The approach to the hotel was a bit dodgy as the roadworks were a bit confusing. But once we got through it all, it was ok. Parking was fairly easy (plenty of space, late on Friday night). Check in was very quick and the staff friendly. We got sorted quickly, and got the kids to bed (having arrived close to 10pm. Once we sorted the kids, I quickly nipped to the bar for a reasonably priced bottle of wine so that me and Bruce could watch a bit of TV and drink a bit of wine and feel that the holiday had started (wine and/or TV doesn’t normally happen so wine, TV and a chill in bed… mega luxury hehehe). When I got back to the room Bruce was just about ready for bed, I quicly got in my PJs and we were away. But as Bruce sat on the bed it flew forward… it was quite weird… he pushed it back and then sat down again. At which point the back of the bed completely collapsed on the and I went sliding and Bruce ende up in a pile on the floor (I had saved my glass of wine in hand though… have no fear). I went out to the reception who were very apologetic and moved us instantly to a new room.

As far as the hotel and its facilities are concerned. If you are familiar with the brand, it was the same standard as you’d expect. If you are not, Premier Inn is a budget/comfort brand, where you get the basics covered: bed, linens, towels, a private bathroom/shower room and a medium sized TV with standard free channels. Comfort, clean and practical. It’s not luxury by any means, but it does the job and you know the standards you can expect once you have been to one.

Novotel Nottingham Derby

One the second day (Saturday) of our pre-holiday adventure we stayed at the Novotel Nottingham Derby This was our second hotel on our weekend adventure. The hotel was one we (Bruce and I) had stayed in previously on the way to our honeymoon. So the kids were excited, they have heard tales of all of our adventures prior to their arrival and they so desperately want us to take them to revisit everything.

As a Novotel hotel, like with the Premier Inn, certain standards can be expected. Only, unlike the Premier Inn, the Novotel affords a tad more luxury and added comfort. The rooms are very comfortable, clean and modern with added extras such as a medium to large screen TV, a selection of teas and coffees and some luxury toiletries. The private bathroom and toilet are separate from one another, keeping cleaning and toileting separate from one another (and also keeping that age old “Muuuuuuum! I need a poo!” chant when you are mid shampoo at bay). And the parking and check in were very straightforward.

We had booked in on a half board basis, but the restaurant was closed to the public due to two conventions running whilst we were there. This didn’t stop them from honouring the half board – in fact it was slightly more fun, the one convention was in a private function room, the other was small, and so were sat around a cluster of tables at the bottom end of the restaurant, but they came to dinner as we were finishing up with our mains, so we really had an entire restaurant to ourselves for the majority of our meal. (Which of course for Caitlin and Logan was magical).

Our waitress was very helpful, and very friendly. The children adored her, and she couldn’t have done more for us. We had 3 courses included for our evening meal, which can be seen in the below gallery. Breakfast, which was a buffet was equally enjoyable, but slightly distracted by Caitlin (and her crazy, but entertaining, morning shenanigans, we got no photos).But it was all (evening and morning) very well presented, and very yummy.

Travelodge Markham Moor A1

On the final night before our actual holiday we stayed at the Travelodge Retford Markham Moor A1 Northbound. It was a little confusing to work out how to get to the car park (the answer to that is through the garage on the A1, turning immediately left to go to the Subway that is situated nxt to the hotel, and using that car park). But once we had worked that out, it was fairly straightforward. We checked in fine. The woman at reception wanted to make sure we had everything we needed and to make us aware that we had no options to get dinner at the hotel as aside from the Subway and garage and a small vending machine there was literally nowhere to get food from. We assured her we had arrived with sufficient snacks and drinks to accommodate us for the night and we able to check into our room.

Again, as a chain hotel, there is a certain standard that is met from these hotels, although I always tend to find Travelodge a little dated; though that could just be their colour and finish choices vs my preferences. Although I have to say, it was very clean and comfortable. And although it was situated directly on the A1, the grassy bank and trees directly outside of the ground floor rooms did afford a sort of noise protection, meaning that we were not really disturbed from road noise.

You can check out our pre holiday adventure trip to the Attenborough Nature Reserve here, and also all about our actual holiday at Center Parcs Sherwood Forest here.

Review: Center Parcs, Sherwood Forest

In this household we have 3 birthdays in as many weeks over the Winter period, with my birthday being in the middle. The only way I can manage to have an “ok” day for my birthday (as in one not entirely filled with tantrums or meltdowns, or even just excessively destructive behaviours) is to be on holiday. 2017 we did Disneyland Paris, but with the work and house purchase involved in 2018, something closer to home was in order. So, after much deliberation, we chose to go to Center Parcs Sherwood Forest, during the Winter Wonderland celebrations.

We arranged to stay in an Executive 3 bed lodge with private sauna and whirlpool bath, to pay for a specific lodge number No. 27 Maple Area (chose because of its almost direct access to the path along to the beach and lake area and Village Square. Meaning that we wouldn’t need to use Caitlin’s wheelchair as much. But also because we’d have the luxuries of the sauna and whirlpool bath at the accommodation if everything went to pot. We also paid for early check in so that we could avoid the rush (despite being able to be on site early, cars cannot be taken down to accommodation until check in time – and sitting in traffic in a one way system site is definitely worth paying to avoid with SEN children).

The accommodation was clean with a lovely welcome message from our designated cleaner for the week, Amy. And on the table, there were 2 bags, each containing a soft toy (Nutmeg and Clove) the deer from their Winter Wonderland story (we didn’t get the story or read it to the children as there seemed to be some implications about Nutmeg being responsible for his younger sister, Clove, but that’s a message we are definitely trying to not promote due to their history – children aren’t responsible for children, only adults are). They were super excited that they had a bedroom each and their own shower room each too. The lodge was well equipped with everything we could need from utensils through to coffee maker.

Winter Wonderland

There was evidence of Christmas pretty much anywhere you went on site in terms of decoration and lighting. However, the areas around the lake and central village, and from Guest Services down to the village were the main general areas lit up. The children thought it was amazing. Any lights at all are amazing, but the way they were placed lighting up the trees and the forest were particularly appealing to them. But the Winter Wonderland strip down from the Village Square to Santa’s Grotto was where the magic was. Everything lit up, loads of little cabins with different Christmas related themes all the way down. Decorations everywhere. And a certain degree of interactivity (sensors/buttons to make certain parts of the display work). Logan particularly loved the singing reindeer, Caitlin particularly loved the Christmas-y cabins.

The Park

The park was lovely. So much nature, so much beauty. And one very big draw to places like this, due majorly to the children’s lack of danger awareness is that it’s car free (apart from arrival and departure of course). The beach area is a really lovely space for parents and children anytime of year – the park is available, the shallow water at the edge of the beach, the sand, the beauty. It’s great. And with the music over the loudspeakers, if your children are anything like these two, the park will get minimal use because actually they’ll be too busy dancing in sand! (Not even joking, I have some crazy children, but tbf they didn’t arrive to us this way, it’s all my influence so… I can’t really comment). The pathways around the park are largely accessible, and it’s quite easy to get around (exception being when the Village Square gets busy, and that’s less to do with the layout and more to do with people and their ignorance). The wildlife

The pool

The pool was amazing, a huge tropical greenhouse effectively, complete with wave pool, outdoor pool, a wide variety of different types flumes, and and outdoor jacuzzi’s, a baby pool and a slightly older child pool, wild water rapids (if you have experienced flumes and lazy rivers, and like both, it’s kind of a cross between the two) cafe and seating areas and not forgetting the cabanas, which I’ll talk about below. Both building and water temperature was kept quite warm meaning that the babies and slightly colder feeling older ones amongst us are kept comfortable The pool was mid upgrade though, so areas were closed off during our visit, you can see about their update plans here.

After a day of chilling out, and eating food for my birthday, we had hired a cabana at the pool for 5:15 to 8:15. This is a cheaper time slot due to it being an off peak swimming time so instead of being around £50 for 3 hours, it was around £30. But it’s definitely worth splashing out at least once on it, especially if you are going as a group and perhaps have some adults who won’t be swimming who could use it as somewhere comfortable to be based whilst others are swimming for example, mums with young babies who don’t want to be in the pool. You get towels and a chiller with a variiety of about complimentary 8 soft drinks in, a large screen TV and lots ample comfy seating. Oh, and not forgetting the giant rubber ring and inflatable pool ball. We didn’t get masses off use sitting around in the cabana but we did use it, and the towels and definitely enjoyed having a sanctuary to take a break in mid swim. Our top tip would be, if you are getting one… head to the pool an hour or so before you will want the cabana, so you can then enjoy the pool area and then take a break at your cabana when it’s ready.

Foooooooooooood (Cause. Um. Food).

Whilst we did a bit of self catering, it was a holiday for a relax and respite (wherever it could be found) so naturally, a lot of eating out took place, especially on my actual birthday day – there was no way I was cooking a darn thing then. The eateries are all high street chains, which is something that I do feel is the slight let down – I do love a place that has its own independent restaurants with locally sourced produce. However, that doesn’t stop us from being able to enjoy what is on offer.

Dexter’s Kitchen
On our arrival day, after check in, we went to the pool… and then we were a bit hungry when we got out. Dexter’s Kitchen was reasonably priced, and allowed us to have a light meal (salad instead of chips) as we had eaten quite heavily over the weekend of adventuring so didn’t need a great deal. Although, the children saw the dessert tray on the menu and absolutely had to try it. The food was freshly cooked/prepared, without much of a wait. I wouldn’t go out of my way to call the food amazing – for fast food, it was pretty average, but definitely not bad.

The Pancake House
We had arranged to go to the pancake ahead of time, the children were particularly excited by the idea that their main course could be pancakes (they couldn’t quite get their head around the idea of a savoury pancake). However, once seated and given their options they were very keen on the options in front of them; Caitlin especially had very, very definite ideas about what she wanted – as in, something that was on the menu… but with cheese, which our waitress really went out of her way to accommodate – having seen there was only a small amount of cheese cooked in with it, she went and got her a kids sundae pot and filled it with more cheese, just to be sure she had enough. The food was definitely “different” to what we would normally have, and I can’t rate it in terms of how good it was, because it’s not comparable to other places we frequent. But I would say, it was definitely loved by all, and we had no complaints about any of our food. And definitely none about service. The waitress again, very attentive, even ensured that the children were given a little gingerbread man each when our coffees arrived. Plus points for having fruit kebabs on the dessert menu, these two love fruit for pudding but get bored with having fruit salad on repeat. They like a bit of variety.

Huck’s American Bar and Grill
With Huck’s we paid for the “Early Dining Experience” which would cover our dinner, minus extra drinks and any required desserts. For the children this would include bottomless soft drinks and access immediately to the children’s buffet area where they can choose what they want from a varied selection of commonly accepted “children’s foods” like nuggets and hot dogs. The biggest hit with Logan and Caitlin was the fruit cups. Which they kept going back up for. For adult it means a single drink (including some selected alcoholic beverages) a sharing platter to start (nachos, jalapeño fritters and bbq wings) and all followed up with a choice of main from a set menu. It was average sort of american grill food, but it was most certainly not small portions. Bruce and I took the approach to share some Mexican dishes off the menu as we were already in the business of sharing anyhow, and we honestly were glad it was a flat walk back to the lodge… although rolling downhill would have also worked hehe.

There was a kids play area that was free for the kids to use, it was a bit of an indoor wooden den/park. The kids enjoyed running around it, it certainly broke up what could have been a mundane experience of waiting for us to finish our mountain of food. I didn’t get any photos of that as it was covered in children when we arrived and we are obviously very conscious of security issues with public photos.

Cafe Rouge
For breakfast on my actual birthday, it was always planned that we would not eat at the lodge, that instead every meal would be prepared by someone else. So. Breakfast was at Cafe Rouge. The boys did the traditional breakfast thing. Caitlin is very much a pastry and fruit kind of girl so she had a pain au chocolat and a fresh fruit salad and I had my fave avocado, tomatoes and sourdough. Everyone loved breakfast. It was highly rated.

Bella Italia
The big birthday lunch was Bella Italia. We pulled the stops out for this one. Nothing was boundaried for the children They had a 3 course kids menu with a variety of options available to them. And us adults had free reign over anything on the menu. Everything came out in a reasonable time (it wasn’t fast food by any means, but if food like this came out quick I would be worried about how fresh it was, that being said we weren’t kept waiting too long). The kids could have a trip to the ice cream cart for their pudding instead of a traditionally served pudding, which involved an ice cream of their choice with a sweet topping of their choice. The topping did not make it back to the table (or all of the ice cream for that matter) for a photograph.

The restaurant building is actually connected to the swimming pool, and our table was next to the window above the main pool area, which got the kids even more excited about the impending cabana experience. The waitress was very attentive, and didn’t even judge that, as birthday girl, I felt that my dilemma between two puddings (strawberry panacotta or tiramisu) could be solved by just having two puddings! hehehe The only thing that could be remotely complained about at was the lack of knowledge of what a babycino was (my daughter was literally served a cappucino in an espresso mug (effectively a reverse macchiato – switching the coffee to milk ratios). The look on her face as she went to neck it was priceless. Aside from that there were no complaints, everything was awesome.

Getting better: it’s hard.

When you are ill or suffering from post illness chronic fatigue, it is vital that you rest. But it’s really hard because somethings in life don’t just stop when you are ill. You still have to get on with things, and when you are primary carer to 2 complex children the days are very much arduous like a full time, demanding job. So “rest” isn’t really rest. You have to be continuously on your toes.

However, I am slowly getting up and about a bit more. Trying to push myself to get out of the house for an hour or two here and there. But I get tired very, very quickly. And because the children are seeing my health waver up and down, it’s been made all the more difficult; when they see me not being strong their anxiety and therefore hyper-vigilance rises. In turn, out comes the emotional behaviour.

Anyhow. When we haven’t been out and when I have been sofa bound, I have been trying to distract the children by getting them doing bits and bobs. They have been taking massive pride in being able to help with chores. They have been asking to do academic worksheets. They have done crafts, cooking and letter writing. A particular favourite was making slime (as per these instructions). And most of it has been achieved at a distance.