Thursday, 14 August 2014

Sundown Adventureland, Retford, Nottinghamshire

To us, Sundown Adventureland is one of the best kids days out around. It is a little over an hour away from our home and we try and visit at least once a year. We were invited to return to check out the new features including the Angry Birds play area, so it would have been rude not to!

Sundown Adventureland was our very first review on this blog, so we have kind of come full circle. To be honest, not much has changed since then, apart from a couple of new bits and some welcome upgrading of existing facilities. It's still the same old Sundown that we love - great value, good fun, and a fantastic theme park for under 10s.

The first thing to say about Sundown is that I think you should get there early. We got there at 11am, didn't get to do everything, and still left at the park's closing time of 6pm. We were there for seven hours and it absolutely flew by. 

Sundown Adventureland is a kids theme park with small rides, attractions, things to poke, and themed play areas. It's a bit of a mish-mash, with themes The Wild West, fairy tales, a farm, and now Angry Birds. There is also Robin Hood, and monkeys, and also Christmas stuff for the park's winter season. There is a lot to see and do, so I shall tell you in (numerous) photos.

When we arrived, Honey Bear was in the Market Square. Honey and Sunny are the park's mascots and they come out a couple of times a day for meet and greets. 

Sundown Adventureland Nottinghamshire

First we headed to the animal playground, which is suitable for children aged five and under. There are spinny things, swings, and slides all on an animal theme. Right next door are the toilets (with baby changing), a small indoor play area for tots, and a cafe/kiosk for drinks and ice-creams.

Sundown Adventureland Nottingham

Then it started to rain a little so we went to find the Santa Sleigh ride. This is perfect for the park's Christmas season when Santa comes to visit, but is open all year round for a bit of random winter delight. It is my three-year olds' favourite ride - you walk through first and look at some wonderful scenes of woodland creatures, and then you get in a carriage (up to four people) and visit Santa in his winter home, and see Mrs Claus, Rudolph, and dancing snowmen. We went on this twice in a row, and didn't have to queue either time.

Then it's the infamous Monkey Mischief - an interactive walk-through of monkeys and jungle animals. There is a soundtrack of monkey songs, and lots of buttons to press. Watch out for the crocodiles!

Sundown Adventureland Monkey Mischief

By now, we were getting a bit hungry so we headed off to Crash Landings - a huge indoor play area with a fast-food bar. We had a bit of a play and got some nuggets, burgers, and chips for lunch. The food isn't gourmet by any means, but it is cooked fresh, came out quick, and wasn't extortionately priced. It can get very busy though and you may have to fight for a table at times. I wholeheartedly recommend taking a picnic if that's more your thing as there are plenty of places (including a covered picnic area) to sit and eat. I also noticed more places to sit around the park this year, which is a welcome improvement.

After lunch, we went to test out the new Angry Birds play area, with its bouncing/flying pigs ride, and the spinning eggs (tea-cup) ride. All good fun. The new Angry Birds play area has frames, slides, swings, and an interactive game pad, all on the Angry Birds theme. It is very good and suitable for a wide age range. My ten-year old loved it as much as the three-year olds. Again, minimal queues for the rides, and all included in the entry price.

Angry Birds at Sundown Adventureland

Sunny Down Farm and the Tractor Ride are a popular part of Sundown Adventureland. The farm is animatronic animals, and you can press buttons to make them sing and move. The dancing chickens are especially fun. 

Sunny Down Farm at Sundown Adventureland

The tractor ride is on a similar theme, with four to a tractor, and was the biggest queue of the day at all of five minutes.

Tractor Ride at Sundown Adventureland

Next door to Sunny Down Farm is one of our favourite parts - Story Book Village. This is a collection of miniature houses for various fairy tales, such as The Three Little Pigs, and Jack and the Beanstalk. Lots of buttons to press and things to fiddle with, perfect for little people. I had to drag the twins out of the little pigs house so we could move on. 

Story Book Village at Sundown Adventureland

So, we moved on to other areas of the park. The pirate area is lots of fun. There is a new area with bridges to explore, which leads over to the huge pirate ship. The bridges go over the top of the very fun Jolly Pirate Boat Ride, where you sit in barrels and go round a water-course. Beware, you may get very wet! You do have to accompany children on this ride, so there's no getting out of it. Just make sure your non-waterproof items are safe. 

Jolly Pirate Boat Ride at Sundown Adventureland

Lollipoppet Castle is very popular with my children. There's not a lot to do, but there is a lot to look at. Explore the castle and find out how sweets are really made - with elves obviously! Find out what it's like to be small and sit on Polo mints. Smells galore. Look out for the cheeky King's bottom! 

Lollipoppet Castle at Sundown Adventureland

If you're a fan of all things Wild West, then take a visit to Shotgun City. Here you will find a western street with a saloon (animatronic sing-along shows are several times a day), an indoor soft play area with a cafe and toilets, the Rocky Mountain Train Ride, a bank with exploding vault, and a shooting gallery - again, all included in the price. There is also a very nice ice-cream shop. 

Shotgun City at Sundown Adventureland

A short walk away to the Fort Apache play area, with a zip wire, slides, and lots of climbing fun. And some welcome benches for the grown-ups!

Fort Apache play area at Sundown Adventureland

And then back to the Market Square for more prodding and poking, and possibly a chance to meet with Honey and Sunny again. Make sure you pay a visit to the Pet Shop, and if you want a souvenir of your visit, the gift shop is next door. 

The Market Square at Sundown Adventureland

There is also a Robin Hood ride near to Sunny Down Farm, which is good fun, and several other things we didn't even get chance to do, like the play area in Smuggler's Cove, the pedal carts, and Captain Sandy's Play Cove. But we just didn't have time to do everything.

What I like about Sundown Adventureland is the value. I don't always talk about value when reviewing somewhere as I think it's a very subjective thing, but I think £12 per person (aged two and above) for seven hours of non-stop fun is awesome. For under 10s, it's much better value than somewhere like Alton Towers where you can spend more time queuing and walking about than anything else. You don't pay for anything apart from food & drink and shop purchases once you're in, so you're not constantly shelling out for extras. 

Sundown Adventureland has been criticised in the past for being a bit tired, and not having as many facilities as bigger theme parks, but it's the informal, friendlier atmosphere that I like. There has also been a noted improvement in park maintenance with better toilets, more benches, and more litter bins than on previous visits. The staff are very friendly, and helpful, and there are plenty of them around. Don't expect pushchair or wheelchair hire, or lots of choice when it comes to food - but there are the expected toilets, baby changing, and first aid facilities, and you can do the short walk back to your car if you need any extra essentials. Just ask for a hand stamp for re-entry. 

I recommend Sundown Adventureland for anyone aged up to ten, although my ten-year old does still enjoy going and probably will for a couple of years yet. While it's best if it's sunny, there is still things to do in rainy weather - just take a rain coat.

For more information and to book tickets, please visit their website at

Disclosure - We were given free tickets to come and visit and to give our honest opinion

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Feature: Visiting Rio do Janeiro with TAM

We love the UK and its fantastic offering of things to do but sometimes I yearn for somewhere a bit sunnier and brighter. I’ve been asked to look at the range of destinations in South America which you can get to with Brazil’s biggest airline TAM and I have to say a trip there is looking very tempting. But where would I go? TAM flies to several destinations from London, including Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, and Lima, all of which would be fantastic to explore. I think I would start with Rio!

You can’t fail to have noticed Rio this year with the football World Cup, and Rio is also to host the next Olympic Games in 2016, being the first South American city to do so. Rio de Janeiro has not been the capital of Brazil for over 50 years but it’s probably its best known city, and most recognisable. From the beaches and famous carnivals, to Monte Cristo with its wonderful views and the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, to the cable cars up Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio is famous the world over.

What you need to know for a trip to Rio De Janeiro….

  • Unlike most of the rest of South America, Brazilians speak Portuguese, not Spanish, a legacy of its founding by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century.
  • Rio De Janeiro have their winter when we have our summer, so it’s hottest from November to April, and cooler from May to October. They also have a rainy season from December to March.
  • Rio de Janeiro is a hugely popular tourist destination and has the second highest hotel room rate in the world, with only New York City being more expensive. Rio attracts nearly 3 million tourists a year!
  • Rio is a popular city for film-making and there is a major annual film festival.
  • Brazil’s currency is the Real, which is written as R$. There are currently R$3.8 to £1 GBP.

Top things to do in Rio De Janeiro

  • Visit a football stadium and watch a game! Brazil is a top footballing nation – having won the World Cup five times! – and Rio is host to seven football teams, including the high-flying Botafogo. If you like football, Rio de Janeiro is paradise.
  • Sit on Copacabana beach. I challenge you to do it without singing THE song.
  • Ride a bike around the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas – a lake encircled by a 7km cycle path.
  • Take a train to the top of Monte Cristo and look down on Rio next to Christ the Redeemer.
  • Visit the Museu Naval, Rio’s museum of naval history.
  • Watch a samba show. There are lots of shows available, and you can eat a meal and have a drink while experiencing Brazilian dance culture.
  • Visit the Botanical Gardens - a 140 hectare park containing over 6000 species, with monuments of historical significance.

Rio de Janeiro is definitely on my bucket list. If it’s on yours too, then check out the flights from London with TAM and check out this handy guide to Brazil.

Disclosure – this is a sponsored post

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Wind in the Willows at York Theatre Royal, York

Yesterday we went to see York Theatre Royal's own production of The Wind in the Willows

The play tells the story of Mole, Ratty, Mr Toad, and Mrs Badger (yes, Badger is a Mrs in this production), and their woodland and riverbank acquaintances. It is people dressed as animals. The music is provided on stage by Mrs Otter, Mr Rabbit, and Mr Fox, and there are hedgehogs, rabbits, and weasels played by junior cast members. 

Credit: York Theatre Royal

The play takes the form of a re-telling of how Toad Hall got into its current state, and Mole and the gang go through the boating, carting, and motor car adventures and escapades that got Mr Toad into so much trouble, and Toad Hall into a ruin of its former glory. 

It needs some imagination as props are used to tell the story, such as a rotating plank for the boat, and a wheeled sofa for a motor car (poop poop!) and younger children might have a hard time working out what is going on. For older fans familiar or not with The Wind in the Willows, it is a fun, imaginative play with brilliant character actors, wonderful costumes, and a whimsical set.

Credit: York Theatre Royal

Before the performance and during the interval, we were allowed on stage, and backstage. The backstage area has been set up to depict the homes of Mole, Ratty, and Mrs Badger, and you can have a snoop around their cosy homes, and sit in their chairs, or in Ratty's rowing boat. It really helps bring the story to life for younger fans. 

On the stage at York Theatre Royal

In Ratty's rowing boat

During the performance, the characters come out and interact with the audience. York Theatre Royal is an old, intimate venue, and the full venue is used to effect. Expect Mole to pop up behind you, or the rabbits to take a run past. The cricket match during the interval was a lot of fun. 

The play is funny, but there's nothing that's unsuitable for children particularly. I highly recommend this performance for fans of The Wind in the Willows, and for children aged from around 6 upwards.

My six-year old says....
"My favourite part was when the animals started singing Christmas carols. At the interval we went back stage and looked in the little cottages. The main characters were Mrs Badger, Moley, Ratty, Mr Toad, Chief Weasel, and the animals."

For tickets, please visit York Theatre Royal's website

Running time - 105 mins + a 20 minute interval

Disclosure - we were given press tickets to be able to review this performance

Monday, 28 July 2014

Burton Agnes Hall, Burton Agnes, East Yorkshire

Burton Agnes Hall East Yorkshire

Burton Agnes Hall is a stately home and gardens not far from Bridlington in East Yorkshire. They run a number of events through the year, and on Sunday, we decided to go along to their Pirate and Princess Picnic Day. 

It was a very nice day, and very hot. It was also very busy. It opened at 11am. We got there at 11.20am and the main car park was filling up quickly. It cost us £19 to get in - two adults, two children, two under fives (who were free) - and I think this was pretty good value.

For this we got access to the grounds - the main house would have been £3 extra each so we gave it a miss - and all Pirate and Princess Picnic activities, which included bouncy castles, a magic show, balloon modelling, princess make-overs, and make-your-own princess crown or pirate mask. There was also an activity sheet with a treasure hunt. You found five clues dotted around the grounds, answered the questions, and found the hidden word. You exchanged your completed sheet for a small prize at the gift shop on your way out. 

Burton Agnes Hall is beautiful. It dates from Elizabethan times and has been with the same family for over 400 years. 

We didn't try the hall itself on this occasion (having three year olds in our group, stately home viewing is much too risky!) but the grounds were beautiful. There are lawned, formal gardens, and wild flower gardens. For the children there is a woodland walk, a hedge maze, and giant garden games.

All of these were rammed with children on Sunday and we couldn't get a game completed without a random princess or pirate bombing in and stealing a piece, much to my eldest child's chagrin. 

Burton Agnes Hall East Yorkshire

We spent over four hours here on Sunday and there was a lot to do. It probably wouldn't take that long on a normal visit, but for the pirate and princess event was about right. 

We took a picnic - as per the title - and there was plenty of places to sit and eat, although wet weather would have caused a problem because there wasn't an abundance of picnic tables. There was a courtyard cafe which looked reasonable enough but we didn't try it this time. The ice-cream from the van was lovely but it was possibly the world's slowest moving queue ever. 

We had a fab time at the Pirate and Princess picnic and will look out for future events at Burton Agnes Hall. 

Hints and tips - 

There are lots of steps to negotiate and though plenty of people had taken prams and pushchairs, quite a lot of the paths are gravel and could be hard work. 

There is a little walk from the main car park to the main house. It's safe on the whole but you have to cross a public country lane to get to the car park so be careful. 

There are water hazards and stinging plants to contend with but on the whole, the grounds are well looked after.

There are baby changing and disabled toilets as well as the usual, but there are only one set, which are in the main courtyard. This was a problem on Sunday when there was literally hundreds of young children in attendance, but will be more than enough for a regular day. As far as I could see, there are no more toilets available. 

There is a small play park behind the courtyard, and a nice gift shop tucked away, so visits are optional. 

For more information, please visit their website at Burton Agnes Hall East Yorkshire

What's Happened? What's Happening?

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Review: Nikon Coolpix S32 - Waterproof, shockproof digital camera

We were sent a new camera a few weeks ago and are really very impressed.

If you're into DSLR cameras, and know stuff like the difference between types of lenses, then this isn't for you. However, if you want a reliable point-and-shoot with some nice features, that is pretty kid-proof, then it's worth a look!

Nikon Coolpix S32 Review

The Nikon Coolpix S32 is an ideal camera for travel - it's waterproof (you can submerge it to 10m for underwater pics), is shockproof (from 1.5m), light, small, and re-chargeable. It is 13.2 megapixels. It has Nikkor 3x Optical Zoom. 

The item comes with a rechargeable LiOn battery, a USB lead, and a plug. There is also a wrist strap and a cleaning brush. It does not come with a memory card, which you will need to make it work. I have a 4GB HDMI memory card which will hold around 500 photos. 

Nikon Coolpix S32 Review

The features are all accessed through the on-screen menu using four buttons. There are no fiddly dials, and the buttons can be used for pre-exposure and post-editing.

Nikon Coolpix S32 Review

The photo quality is reasonable for the price of the camera. If you want super-dooper quality then buy a DSLR. The camera has a lot of features.

It can...

  • take video clips with sound
  • take photos of fireworks, or at night-time
  • you can turn the flash on or off as required (or set to auto flash)
  • take photos in cartoon, diorama, neon, bubble, mirror styles
  • can be set to take a black-and-white photo picking out a colour of your choice
  • take a series of photos one after another in succession
  • do self-timed photos

Here are a few photos I've taken using the camera

The above photo was taken using the 'backlight' setting. It's not perfect as you can see as it makes it a bit blurry, but with the light coming through the trees to the dark ground level area, it was a lot better than the photos I was getting through the standard mode. In this mode, the camera saves a 'standard' mode photo and a 'backlight' one, so you have two to choose from. Good for fluctuating light levels.

This photo was taken in diorama mode. It creates a focus through the middle and blurs the top and bottom. Good for landscapes.

At Disneyland Paris I used the 'series of pictures' setting a lot. This is where you hold the exposure button down and it takes a two or three photos a second. Helpful when your subject is moving. 

The Nikon Coolpix S32 has some nice design features where you can add frames and graphics to your photos as you take them. Great fun for children. I have no problem with letting even my youngest children use the camera as it is so robust and easy to use.

The above photo was taken using the 'highlight colours' feature. You can choose from one of twelve colours to highlight. In this shot I choose blue as there were a lot of bluebells about. It didn't find the bluebells but did find the denim jacket of my eldest.

And this is a video clip taken with the video button - the camera has an exposure button for video as well as photos - you don't have to fiddle with knobs and buttons should you feel the need to video something instead. The memory card holds up to 25 minutes of video.

Battery life

The battery life is quite good. I can do around 200 photos before it starts to run out of power. Of course, you can save power by not editing or playing back the photos if you don't need to. It charges up pretty quickly through a standard three-pin plug. The recharge lead doubles as the upload/USB lead so you only need the one. Infinitely better than having to carry spares, or having to find a gift shop with powerful enough batteries for your camera. 


Overall, as a family camera it is excellent value. They retail for less than £90 at the moment though you will need to supply your own HDMI memory card. It takes reasonable quality photos and is great for travel, and is fairly kid-proof.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

My Foursquare "achievements".

"Congrats! You just unlocked the Newbie badge."

In case you don't recognise this, this is from Foursquare - the app and site where you can record your travels near or far, checking in wherever you go and leaving tips for other Foursquare users.

Foursquare has become a bit of an obsession now. I try and check in to as many places as I can (mobile phone coverage allowing) and have unlocked a few badges, including the adventurer badge, and the shutterbug badge.

Here's a few that I would have unlocked if Foursquare made them available.....

Congrats! You unlocked The Losing Your Child at the Zoo badge.

Yes. Yes, I did. London Zoo to be precise. For about fifteen minutes. It was ok. She had one of those wristband ID tags on, and had the sense to go to the cafe and ask a member of staff for help, as instructed. Didn't stop me having heart failure though.

London Zoo human turtle
Aw look. She's so cherubic, and not AT ALL prone to going missing.

Congrats! You earned the Walk of Shame badge.

Yep. Major twin toddler meltdown as I dare to suggest we get back in the pushchair to go home whilst at a local museum. It was noisy, and the museum was fairly busy. Embarrassing.

Congrats! You earned the Downright Liar badge.

*proud face* If I'm struggling to get the toddlers to co-operate so we can get out of the door at a reasonable time, I tell them we're going to Peppa Pig World. We so aren't. But it works.

Well done! You earned the Inappropriate Art award.

You go to an art gallery and your child sees some life art. It's art right? It's not too bad, just a painting of a middle aged lady with her bajinglies out. In fact, it's just one picture among over 200. Your child has barely paid any attention to it, right? Wrong.  A couple of days later, when their teacher asks what they did at the weekend, they will draw it, bajinglies and all. In school. Well done indeed.

Congrats! You achieved the Mentally Scarring your Child For Life award.

I did. At Hornsea Mere, a local wildlife spot. Anyway, to cut a long story short, two of my children are not really as keen on ducks and geese as they were before. Or swans. Inconsiderate, feathered losers.

Hornsea March 2013 003
Geese. The epitome of evil.

Well done, you! You unlocked the Farted on by a Horse badge.

Do. Not. Ask.

And the one I want to achieve.....

Congrats! You unlocked the Getting to The Pub On Your Own badge.

I wish.

If you are a fellow Foursquare addict, you can be my friend here.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Tree Top Junior, Go Ape! at Dalby Forest, North Yorkshire

This weekend, we decided that a nice country walk is for wimps, and we headed up to Dalby Forest instead to try out the Tree Top Junior course at Go Ape!

Go Ape! is a tree-top experience with zip wires, rope bridges, and swings, and the Tree Top Junior course is the kid-friendly version. It is recommended for 6 to 12 year olds and their accompanying adults. There is a minimum height restriction, so please check their website before booking. 

Go Ape! Dalby Forest is located not far from the southern entrance, and is opposite the main visitor centre. Parking is free, although there is a £7 entry charge per car to Dalby Forest itself. The loos are in the visitor centre, so make sure you abuse the facilities before you go to Go Ape! 

You book a time slot, turn up, and you're away. You can just show up and see what's available but it is very popular and you're risking not getting to play at all. 

Right, that's the technicalities out of the way! What did we actually think?

'We' were me, two ten-year olds, and a six-year old and we all thought it was super fun and a great experience.

Your harness is attached by an instructor to the central wire and you climb the stairs and follow the wire around the course. The clamp doesn't leave the wire between you joining at ground level and the bottom of the zip wire. It's all very clever stuff. 

You go across bridges made of wood, rope, and net, or balance on planks. There are about six bridges between trees, set at least ten metres up in the air, then you get to the zip wire. It was a bit scary the first time but once you're off, it's brilliant!

If you don't like it, you can bail out here. If you love it (like we did) you go back to the beginning and take the second, more challenging route. This is around another six bridges, slightly wobblier and a bit higher. Then back to the zip wire and off again. 

I think the six-year to twelve-year recommendation is about right. I wouldn't like to take anyone younger on, and as the course is set for children, it's not comfortable for anyone much taller. Some of it is quite tricky, and you need a degree of physical fitness. 

You can go back round again for a few more goes. After an hour, we'd had our turn, so we returned our harnesses and received our Go Ape! king of the jungle certificates and badges. Winners!

Who's a clever monkey?

Have a look at our video.....

Tickets cost from £17 per person (adults and children are the same price). There are 13 locations across the UK where the Tree Top junior course is available. You can find out more and book your tickets by clicking on the graphic below.

Have fun!

Disclosure - We were given free tickets to test out the Tree Top Junior adventure, and the above graphic is affiliate


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