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Monday, 21 April 2014

Review of the Davy Crochett Ranch - Disneyland Paris

We spent 4 days (5 nights) at the Davy Crochett Ranch in Disneyland Paris.  We went in February with the colder weather, rain and darker nights.

You need your own car if you are staying here but it is an easy 10 - 15 minute drive (maximum) to the parks. When you stay at the Davy Crochett Ranch you get a pass to the Disneyland Paris car park.  If you need fuel, there is a petrol station as you leave the park to top up.


The Ranches are really static caravans custom made to look like a wooden ranch.  The theme continues inside with wooden floors and walls and forest theme curtains, seat covers etc.  The ranches can sleep up to 6 which is ideal for the larger family.

We stayed in a premium ranch which had two bedrooms, one with 3 beds for the children and an adjacent shower room and toilet and a double bedroom at the other end of the cabin with an ensuite shower/toilet. The children's room is able to take 4 beds but there wouldn't be much room to move - having said that you don't go to Disney to sit in your room do you?!  The standard cabins only have one bedroom and shower room with a sofa bed in the living area.

In the premium cabins there is a hob (but no oven) and a dishwasher, a kettle and a coffee maker.  There is also a fridge and an outdoor barbecue which we didn't use at it was February!  Would be lovely in the summer.

There is a safe but ours was locked when we got there and we didn't get around to sorting it out.

Sheets and towels were provided as were some small mickey mouse toiletries - a nice touch I thought!

Given it was February, I was concerned if we would be warm enough - no worries there.  It was toastie warm - thankfully!  It was also clean although I did notice dust under the beds when I was checking for escaped socks before we left.  This doesn't bother me but may be an issue for others.

As we had driven we were able to take a few grocery items; small packs of cereal, tea bags, washing up liquid, a couple of tins of tuna, some mayo, fruit and biscuits. I also took some clingfilm and a tea towel.  This saved us wasting time on shopping as well as saving money on lunches and snacks.


We had the free half board option and so had vouchers to get breakfast and a main meal.  There is a restaurant on site but it doesn't serve breakfast.  This is provided from small wooden huts near each cluster of ranches.  You get the choice of cereal or a croissant per person (we already had cereal so took advantage of the croissants as in France....!), butter, jam and nutella, milk, orange juice in tins, apple puree, tea and coffee and a small baguette per person.

We kept the baguettes to make up for lunch (tuna for the adults, nutella for the children) and took the cans of orange juice as well.  All allowed through the bag search into the parks so don't worry.

There were a selection of places to eat with the vouchers.  We ate at Annette's diner on one occasion and at the restaurant at the ranch on the other evenings.  Pre-booking wasn't necessary when we stayed but is generally recommended by the resort and would probably be important in the busier season (you can do this up to 3 months in advance).

The Davy Crochett ranch tavern was a self-serve hot and cold buffet and we found that there was a good selection of food with choices to suit everyone in our family (including chicken nuggets and chips).  There was also a variety of desserts and fresh fruit as well as a salad bar.  It will be slightly different to food at home as you are in France but we were happy with the choice provided.  You were also able to choose a drink to have with your meal with the half board vouchers.

Other facilities

There is an indoor pool next to the restaurant which looked nice.  It is open until 10pm but we didn't use it as we'd been so busy in the day.  Children must be accompanied.  The 'complex' also includes a small shop selling necessities (pricey I believe but this is no different to any on site shop) and Disney merchandise and a small tavern.

This area was a bit of a trek from the furthest ranches if you are tired after a long park day but there is a car park if you feel you need to drive!

There is a small petting barn with a few farm animals for the younger children - again we didn't visit this as we were out all day.  I think they also do pony rides.

There are also teepees dotted around the site for children to play in in line with the wild west theme.

Disney characters

I'm not sure if there is a set time for Disney characters to visit the restaurant or if it is advertised anywhere. We bumped into the lesser known Disney Robin Hood (a fox) as we left the restaurant which the children enjoyed but that was completely by chance and we didn't see any others on other evenings but we were outside of peak season when Character visits are reduced I believe.  If it is important to you then it would be worth checking it out in advance.

I haven't stayed in any other Disney accommodation and reviews suggest that this is less Disney than the others but to be honest after a day at the parks we were ready to rest our senses for a little while.  For us living accommodation as well as bedrooms was a great asset, the facility to have breakfast without queuing and the ability to make packed lunches was ideal.  As mentioned above the option of a barbecue would also be a great end to the day.

When we visited in February the parks were only open 10am -  7pm so we headed over as soon as they opened and spent the days there.  If we had visited when the park was opened until later we may have taken advantage of the pool and the farm area more.  However, we came for the Disney experience not pools and farm parks so I wasn't too concerned!

I'm happy to answer any other questions you might have about the Davy Crochett Ranches if you want to know more  - submit a comment in the box and I'll reply as soon as I can.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Top tips for visiting Disneyland Paris

This year Santa bought us a 4 night stay at the Davy Crochett lodge within the Disneyland Paris resort. Thank you Santa!!

Our trip was in February, when the prices are much lower and a free half board meal package was included. It was very good value compared to peak season prices but did mean going during term time.

The benefits of travelling out of season was the lack of queues and more affordable prices, the down side was that not all the rides were operating when we were there.  The opening hours were also shorter in February- (10 am - 7pm) but to be honest as we didn't have to queue much and the age of the children we were happy to go back for dinner at that time.

The Disney website has brochures so that you can see what is / isn't running when you are planning to visit. Probably worth checking first to avoid disappointment.

11 Top Tips for visiting Disneyland Paris
  • They say no food but you can take a small picnic into the parks (we took baguettes, crisps, fruit and drinks for 5 people in a ruck sack with no problems) - apparently the no food rules are to stop the french visitors taking large family picnic baskets into the park;
  • There is a McDonalds in the Disney village, next to the parks - go straight down the main thoroughfare and turn right. The prices seemed equivalent to the usual McDonalds prices compared to the very expensive prices in the themed restaurants.  The Disney village sounds exciting but is really just a stretch of shops and eateries (unless I missed something!);
  • It is worth buying Disney clothing / dressing up outfits before you go or taking outfits you already have if the children are going to want to dress up.  Mickey ears were on sale for 20 euros when we went or spend less than £1.50 on amazon.  Admittedly the quality won't be as good - but we don't wear Mickey ears that often at home so felt it was worth comprising quality for cost in this instance.  Same for autograph books if your child wants to queue for character signatures.

  • Use the fast passes (they are only available on some of the more popular rides) - you can only use on one ride at a time but it does mean that you can go and do other things and come back at a set time to get on popular rides with a much shorter queue;
  • The Stunt show in the Walt Disney Studios park is great - but if you are visiting for more than one day go on the more popular rides when everyone else has gone to watch it!  (Disclaimer - The short video at the end of the stunt show was taken by my 9 year old son so is somewhat shaky - also don't watch if you don't want to see the end!!).


  • If you are planning to eat in the disney themed restaurants then you will need to book ahead to guarantee a table during peak season.  If you are staying in Disney accommodation you can do this at reception - otherwise there are places at the entrances to the parks where you can book. Alternatively, you can book by telephone up to 3 months before your visit.  The number to ring is 00 33 1 60 30 40 50.
  • You can't book for Annette's Diner (50s style diner with some (not all) waiters on roller skates) at the entrance to the parks but we went when the parade was on and it was very quiet but filled up as soon as the parade finished.
The Frozen float in the parade
  • Make sure your child waves at the characters in the parade as they will often wave back which brought a huge smile to my 5 year old's face.
  • To get the best view of the show at the end you need to stand in front of the castle - your view is less good from the side (so get there early);
  •  The Disney parks are not about white knuckle rides - it is the attention to detail that makes the rides so good.  There are some bigger rides but most are for a wider audience.  140cm was the tallest height restriction but there are plenty of rides for those smaller visitors.
  • A lot of the rides and attractions are under cover as are the queuing areas but if the weather is likely to be changeable it is still worth taking a waterproof as there is plenty of park to walk around!

All in all we had a fantastic time and found that Disneyland Paris was a great introduction to the wonders of Disney without having to travel to the USA.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Walking with kids - Moors Valley Country Park, Ringwood, Dorset

Moors Valley Country Park, Ringwood is a short drive from the New Forest and well worth the journey from Hampshire into Dorset if you have children.

Although there are walks available through the forest (20 miles of way marked trails apparently), if you are accompanied by children that really isn't an option as the woodland play trail is a must!  Technically you wouldn't call this a walk as an adult you will spend time strolling / stopping as you progress around the forest.  Children, however, will not stop moving!

This really is absolutely fantastic!!  As you progress through the forest you happen on different wooden activity spaces hidden among the trees, each based on a different theme.  So for example, there is a nests area with large wooden nests joined together with wooden walkways, a spider area with rope and wooden webs, a wild west space with huge wooden teepees, a termite zone and a huge hollow wooden snake to name a few.

I can't do this justice with words so hope the photos help illustrate what is on offer.  (Click on the photos to open a larger photo gallery).




Teepees and Tunnels

Access to the forest is free but you do pay for parking.  But with a day rate of around £8.50 this is a full day out guaranteed to bring a smile to your children's faces without breaking the bank.  Public transport is also an option.  There are toilets at the entrance and a shop with the usual tourist info leaflets and toys as well as a couple of refreshment outlets. (Take a picnic to keep it economical).  Two more traditional (but well thought out) play areas are at the entrance geared towards different age groups.

My youngest was 4 when we went here and was able to participate with help, but children 5 years + should be able to use this independently.

There is also a high ropes facility at the entrance which was very busy, cycle hire and a small steam train all charged at an additional  fee.  To be honest the forest activity trail is so good that there really is no need to spend extra.

Click here for the link to the Forestry Commission website for more information.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Twins - should I put them in seperate school classes?

September is here and my twins are starting Junior school.  It is a separate school from their previous infant school and I will no doubt wave them off with more nerves than they have.

 Their school career has been rather more complicated than I would have liked for a number of reasons including the fact that there is suspicion that my son may be dyslexic.  However, rewind the clock by a few years and the key question in my mind was 'should they be in the same class or separated?'.

First day at school - age 3 yrs

As with all twin conundrums there is no straight forward answer to this as I know that some of my friends have had no choice because of the school is small and only has one class.  Again, parental preference varies with some of my friends separating their twins at the start whilst others have left them together until secondary school.  The majority it seems do prefer to separate them though.

My twins started off in the same part-time nursery class as it wasn't practical to have one attend for the morning session and one for the afternoon session (which started half an hour later).  I also felt that by keeping them together it would reduce any anxiety of starting school (in hindsight I think this was more about easing my anxiety than theirs!).  The morning nursery class all then moved up together to become a reception class together.  It didn't seem fair to move one out of the class away from their friends so they stayed together.

Unfortunately, their new teacher seem to prefer lively little boys and thought my son could do no wrong (great for him!) but tended to overlook quiet little girls who weren't a management problem (not so great for his sister).

Sadly, this situation really knocked my daughter's confidence in her ability at school as she saw her brother start to read books with words first (ironic now given his reading problems - he memorised the words and fooled the teacher!).

He also received the 'Star of the Week' certificate weeks before his sister, despite the fact that she would be behaving beautifully whereas he has a problem with sitting still and concentrating!  From these actions my young daughter concluded that she wasn't clever and couldn't work out what she needed to do to get the good behaviour award.

I was able to address this second issue with the teacher at the parents afternoon and her initial response was that the children have to learn to accept these things.  I pointed out that this was a rather harsh lesson for a 4 year old and it was slightly different when it was your brother rather than a classmate.

A week later, a very excited little girl came home with the much longed for 'Star of the Week' certificate!

Whilst I believe that teachers are trained to treat each child as an individual, I do believe that there is a need to recognise the special relationship that twins will have within that approach and be sensitive to this. 

My twins are now in separate classes and this means that they can learn, play, develop and make mistakes without making (or having made) direct comparisons with their twin.  They are both much happier with this arrangement.

My twins are very different (she is a skippy, quiet, artistic girlie - he is a roaring, noisy boy) so they have always made their own friends and played separately.  However, for some parents it is also important to give their twins the space to make separate friends.

Other parents of twins are, however, happy to keep their children in the same class and have found that by celebrating each other's differences they have not experienced problems like we have.

Whatever you decide to do, I would encourage you to share any concerns with the school and the teacher(s) when you have them.  Do not assume that the teacher will understand the needs/relationship of twins and do not be afraid to make yourself heard.  

And don't forget to pack your tissues when you wave them off at the school gate!!!

Visit Norwich with children

We have just returned from a week camping in Norfolk and are packing the tent away for the season.

Whilst there we made a couple of trips into Norwich which is a small and child friendly city to visit.

My tips for a cheap, child friendly day when on a budget........

1.  Avoid city centre car parks and keeping an eye on the time - use the Park and Ride - £4 for return tickets for 2 adults and children under 16 years.

2.  Use the toilets at Norwich bus station if needed!

3.  Pack a picnic but perhaps stop off at the bakers for a sweet treat (there is a Sayers around the corner from the bus station).

4.  Visit the Plantation gardens (3 acres of secret walled gardens lovingly cared for by volunteers) for your picnic lunch.  £2 donation per adult, children under 16 free.  You also pass a playground in the council park on the way.
Photo Courtesy of Ell Brown, Flickr

5.  Wander through the lanes and the market stalls - grab a drink or an ice cream when spirits lag.

6.  Visit Norwich Cathedral - free, although you are encouraged to make a donation.  However, if you are there with young children your visit is likely to be brief - so it is up to you.

7.  Use the toilets at the Cathedral before moving on.

8.  Spot the boot cleaners built into the walls of the old buildings and explain to the children how the roads used to be.

9.  Visit Norwich castle an hour before closing time - it is £1 per person for anyone over 4 years old.  The castle is deceptive as it is a lot bigger inside than it looks.  However, an hour is long enough to get a flavour of the building and its history with young children and there are loads of interactive activities in the keep to engage them.  This was our favourite bargain activity of the day!

Norwich Castle  (Photo courtesy of Ben Clinch, Flickr)

Example of a cell from the time that the castle was used as a prison.   (Photo courtesy of Avail, Flickr)

10.  Back to the bus station (use toilets if needed!) - hassle free exit to your car.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Free entry to Britain's heritage in September

Well, it has been several months since I last posted a blog. 

The school holidays and work have taken much of my time and energy over the past 6 weeks which I'm sure many people will relate to.

I was intending to try and resurrect my blog in September, however, I have come across some information on FREE entry into a number of heritage sites across the UK that I wanted to share and thought no time like the present!!

This initiative has been organised by the key national heritage trusts and charities from across the UK as part of a European programme to celebrate our heritage and culture and the events have different names / websites for England, Wales, Scotland, N Ireland/Irish Republic and London. 

The weblink below takes you to a general site where you can select the country you wish to focus on.

Various heritage sites have chosen to open their doors to the public free of charge during September (the dates vary with some starting on 2 September) and there really does seem to be a wide range including churches, galleries, country houses, castles and civic building such as courts, police and fire stations.

Obviously, you may want to be selective if you have young children as there are places I wouldn't contemplate visiting with my troop but there is plenty to choose from.

Let me know if you visit anything.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

New baby - 10 things I wouldn't buy

My sister in law is expecting her first baby in November and like everyone wants to be be ready for the new arrival but still wants to be careful with her money.

As we were expecting twins and had double the expense we really thought about what we would use so that the items we did buy were of use.

I think it's hard to know what you need / don't need with your first born so I thought I'd try and come up with some ideas of things that I really didn't need or use......

1.  Baby bath - we bought a baby sponge instead - much easy to use.

2.  A changing table - we used a cot top changing mat or changing mats on the floor - no where for baby to fall!

3.  We bought cot beds instead of a cot - these last until they are around 5 or 6 as you can take the cot bars off and turn the cot into a small bed when the child is ready.

4.  Cot bumpers - they look very pretty but I  think the advice is not to have them on the cot when the baby is moving in case they suffocate so I've never really understood the point of them!!

5.  Top sheets and blankets - I'm a big fan of baby sleeping bags (i.e. grobags although I have found that the cheaper alternatives have been fine too).  With these your baby never gets cold, doesn't lose it's blankets or sheets in the night and can't get its legs stuck in the bars when he/she starts to roll.

6.  A moses basket - very sweet but you can live without.  I put the twins in one end of the cot bed when they were born and I borrowed a moses basket from a friend for my youngest.  I was so glad I didn't buy a moses basket for her as at 9lb 7 at birth she wasn't in it for long.

7.  Designer baby shoes - they are not walking - they don't need them!!  And indeed, exploring their feet as babies and feeling the floor when starting to walk is an important part of their development.  Save your money for decent shoes when they actually need them!

8.  New baby clothes - newborn vests, babygros and outfits go for pennies on ebay and many are in excellent condition as small babies a) grow quickly and don't wear things for long, b) generally don't get that messy and c) have often received more clothes than they can wear when they are born.  Check out your local NCT Nearly New sale as well as they often have loads of good quality babies outfits for low prices.  You don't have to be a member of NCT to go to these sales but if you are looking for small babies outfits it is helpful if you know the babies gender!

9.  Duffel coats for winter babies - they can't move in the thick fabric!!  I do however, love snow suits in the colder weather.  Look for ones with zips all the way day for easy access and then you can pop your little one in quickly and even in a sleepsuit in a matter of seconds and they are ready to face the weather!

10.  A changing bag - join Boots parenting club and get one for free!  (Check this offer is till on though).  OK - so lots of other people may have the same style but I found that it was a good design that met all my needs when out and about so didn't mind.

If you have any other thoughts of things that are not necessary when preparing for your first baby I'd love to hear your ideas and will pass them on to my sister-in-law who will be very pleased to spend money on the important things.