Saturday, 7 January 2017

Our Visit to Bluestone National Park Resort - Part One!

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, then you will have noticed that my family and I have been at the fabulous Bluestone National Park Resort this past week. I literally cannot believe how much we have managed to cram into just five days, and definitely far too much to write about in only one blog post.

I have therefore decided to split my review over two posts with Part One covering everything about the booking process, the website, the build up to our stay, our journey, the check in process and the first impressions of both the park and our lodge.

Part Two will then cover everything you need to know about the facilities, the restaurants, the Blue Lagoon, the Adventure Centre, the activities available and also about local attractions and recommendations on where to visit nearby. If you have any particular questions though, or think I might have missed something then please don't hesitate to get in touch and I will be happy to help out with any queries you may have. So without further ado...................................

What is Bluestone National Park Resort?

Bluestone is a beautiful holiday resort set within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. It has 345 luxury lodges set amongst 500 acres of spectacular countryside. It is marketed as an all year round short break holiday destination, where fun can be enjoyed in all weather conditions offering guests the chance to enjoy a relaxing break, or an adventure packed fun activity holiday. As Bluestone offers so much, it is suitable for families, couples or groups of adults and caters for all ages, with over 100 activities to enjoy.

Booking our Family Holiday to Bluestone

Bluestone have an excellent user friendly website that is jam packed full of information, so you can be sure of making an informed choice before booking your holiday. There are separate sections on the accommodation, the resort, and the experience as well as local information which all help you to fully understand what Bluestone can offer to you and your family. I always fully research any destination that we are heading to on holiday using tripadvisor, blogs and the resorts own information and so it was great to have a website where I could find out literally everything including activities price lists and menu's for the restaurants which help with planning the spending money budget.

Although I booked our break through the marketing department, I did do a trial run to check their booking system out and was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was. I simply entered the number of guests and it pre selected what bedroom sized lodge I would need. It then gave me several options of a weekend, mid week break, or a full week break. Once you have chosen your duration and the dates you would like to stay, you are then presented with the prices of each accommodation that is available. One thing I really like about this, is that it also displays the prices for the week before and after, so you can see if there is a better deal (if your dates are flexible). I think that this is particularly great if you aren't limited to school holidays and are travelling with toddlers or as a group of adults so you can select the best price for your stay.

Once you have chosen your preferred accommodation and holiday dates, you simply fill in your details, and pay either the deposit or full balance to secure your booking. Shortly after booking you will receive an email with your booking confirmation number, which you will need to keep a record of in order to log in to the manage my booking area, where you can have lots of fun checking out all the activities and extras that are available during your stay and pre book everything prior to your arrival.

In between booking and arrival I received 8 emails encouraging me to log on and plan our stay. This averaged out at one a week which I felt was a reasonable amount to receive and I certainly didn't mind receiving regular reminders to get activities booked and confirmed. As you can imagine Bluestone is a very popular holiday destination and so activities get booked up very quickly. The manage my booking tool means that you can check availability, book activities, reserve a golf buggy or bikes, or even pre book a table at your preferred restaurant, so I actually appreciated these reminders to encourage me to log on and get things done.

Managing our booking

I loved being able to log on to the Manage My Booking area whenever I liked to check what activities were available during our stay. Payment has to be made in full at the time of booking the activity and so being on a budget, I booked activities on three separate occasions rather than all in one go. The booking system was very easy to use, and it would also tell you how many spaces were left when availability began to run low. I found that logging in regularly was a big benefit as I noticed new activities and experiences had been added since the first time I logged on and so I am glad that I kept checking otherwise I might have missed something that was of interest.

As well as activities you can also pre book a golf buggy for getting around the park, make reservations for dinner (there is a £5 per person deposit for this), order some groceries to have ready in the lodge for you when you arrive, or book a spa treatment. 

My only minor grumble here is that when pre booking restaurants you can view the menu on offer and we were very pleased with the menu that it showed here for the Farmhouse Grill, offering nice meals for regular family restaurant prices. However just before I went to make a reservation, I noticed that the menu displayed in the main restaurant section of the website was different with meals costing an average of £3 more per dish. I sent the reservations team an email to query this and was disappointed to find out that the menu displayed in the manage my booking area was in fact an old menu that was incorrect. I was reassured that this would be updated to prevent confusion for future customers. Unfortunately the correct menu was not to our taste or budget and so we decided against making a reservation in the end, instead opting to purchase a chippy tea for our first night, from the onsite Chippy van. I was glad that we made this decision in the end, as none of us were as hungry as we thought we would be, and it also meant that we weren't stuck to a specific time to eat, and we could grab our food once we had unpacked and were ready to relax.

In terms of communication, I had several queries prior to our stay, and every email that I sent was replied to in a friendly manner within 24 hours. This highlighted great customer service for me, and every question I asked was always answered thoroughly and provided me with the information I had requested.

Our Journey

We live in North Wales and so we had a choice of routes that we could take to venture to South West Wales. After looking through our options we decided to go via Wrexham and Oswestry and head down the A483 and A40. This gave us an estimated journey time of 3 hours 45 minutes, which was slightly longer than the other routes but it meant that we were able to avoid B roads and any single track lanes which was a big plus point for me. 

Having never travelled to South Wales before I was unsure of where we would be able to stop for a bite to eat, but I knew that there was a Premier Inn hotel on the way out of Oswestry, so we decided to stop for breakfast en route at their Table Table restaurant where we enjoyed a full cooked breakfast for 5 for only £17.98 and it was absolutely delicious too!

Once back on the road we came across several slow moving vehicles and tractors, as to be expected on country roads, and so after taking into consideration the delays and the stop for breakfast, the total journey down took us 5 hours and we arrived shortly after 2pm. The resort itself was very easy to find, and was well signposted from the main roads around Carmarthen.

Our Arrival

On arrival we immediately joined a queue of cars waiting to get into the resort. I had read that check in wasn't until 4:30pm and so I had expected to simply park up and have an explore around the resort, however to access the main long stay car park and to be able to use the facililites you can actually check in as soon as you arrive, you just can't access your accommodation til 4:30pm which makes great sense as it prevents the queues being far too long and everyone rushing to check in at the same time. There were about 5 cars in front of us and we waited approximately 10 minutes before it was our turn. The check in process was very simple and you don't even need to get out of your car, with a very easy drive through system where your welcome pack, passes and a map are all provided to you. It literally took a few minutes and then we were free to park up and enjoy the facilities until our accommodation was ready. 

Getting Around

Bluestone is a car free resort, and so you are only permitted to take your vehicle on site to unload your vehicle on arrival day, and again on to reload on your departure day. If you are a blue badge holder then you are permitted to drive on site throughout your stay, and park in the disabled spaces provided or by your lodge. There is disabled parking available in the village area, and by the Blue Lagoon.

The best and most inexpensive way to get around is by walking, we were situated about a ten minute up hill walk away from the adventure centre and The Blue Lagoon and really enjoyed the exercise and the views, however as it is on an incline, my youngest son did get tired legs, so we opted to use the free bus that is provided on several occasions aswel. This runs every half an hour and so once we had got used the timings and surroundings we generally chose to catch the bus up the hill to places, and then walk back down.

The most fun way to get around the park however is by hiring a golf buggy which costs £85 for 5 days. I enjoyed walking though and think that the golf buggy is more of a fun thing to do rather than a necessity. However had we been placed at the furthest end of the park, then it would have been something we would have considered. We were just very fortunate that where our lodge was located it wasn't too far a walk to all the facilities.

First Impressions

The lady who had checked us in was very welcoming and friendly which gave us a great first impression and made us very eager to start our Bluestone holiday. We found a parking space with ease, and met up with my parents who had arrived a couple of hours earlier. We then followed the sign posts to the Adventure Centre so that we could have a sit down, enjoy a coffee and let the kids burn off all their stored up energy from the car journey. 

Although I had seen plenty of pictures beforehand, the Adventure Centre was much larger than I had expected. The first thing that caught my children's attention was the climbing wall and the high ropes activity course that hung from the rooftop. We had a quick look in the arcade, then my two eldest children aged 9 & 10 ran off to the big adventure play area, whilst my youngest enjoyed the under 6's soft play. In addition to this was a lego area, a bouncy castle and a crazy golf course, all of which were free of charge which was great, and I was pleased to find that there were plenty of complimentary activities as well as the payable ones. After half an hour of play we headed up to the Wild Wood Cafe and purchased some drinks to enjoy, and the cappuchino was absolute perfection!

Within the rest of the building was also a Circus play area for toddlers, ample toilet facilities, and some studio rooms which were used for some of the activities. At the entrance there was also a shop that sold a wide selection of soft toys, and also a reception area where you could make bookings, amend existing ones, or simply wait for an instructor to take you to your activity.

As it got nearer to 4pm we decided to take a walk down to the Village and find our lodge. We knew we couldn't get in the actual accommodation until 4:30pm but we wanted to see where it was and what it looked like. My dad is a blue badge holder and so he was able to take his vehicle on site as disabled guests are permitted to park their vehicles by their lodge and so whilst my parents drove down, we took a nice leisurely walk and enjoyed some of the views that the park offered.

We were very impressed as we made our way down to the Village which was a lovely quaint little area where the shops, restaurants, village hall, marquee and studio accommodation are located. It really is a beautiful setting, and we were fortunate to be able to see it all still lit with the Christmas decorations that hadn't yet been taken down. The lights were beautiful and twinkling and the Spa had been decorated with a beautiful huge light up bow.

I had a quick look in the Newton's Village store, which offered a wide range of food and drink, all at reasonable prices. I will be honest and say that I had expected the prices in the shop to be over inflated as with most other resorts, but was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the prices were in fact very similar to our local convenience store at home.

A short distance away from the village is the beautiful lake, we admired this from a distance as it had already began to get dark and so we thought it would be nice to take a walk around it the following day, but it looked lovely as darkness fell, and we were slightly jealous of the views that some of the lake side accommodation had.

However, we were really pleased to find that our lodge (12 Forest View) was literally a stones throw away from the village area, and was adjacent to the disabled parking area for the village which meant that it was perfectly located for my dad. It also meant that we were only a short distance from the bus stop, the park, the village, and the restaurants, and I particularly liked the fact that my dad was able to get from the lodge to the village with the use of his walking stick which also helped maintain independence and be less reliant on his vehicle which was something that we had worried about beforehand. 

The Lodge

We couldn't wait to get into our accommodation as soon as it turned 4:30pm and it's always exciting when you are staying somewhere new and you aren't quite sure what to expect. Resorts are known for using the best possible pictures of their accommodation which sadly doesn't always live up to your expectations, but we definitely didn't need to worry about this at Bluestone. Our lodge was absolutely stunning and perfect for our needs. We stayed in a Dinas Lodge which can accommodate up to 8 people and there was ample space for everyone. 

The layout of the lodge has two bedrooms at either end consisting of a double, a twin and a shower room, so a total of 4 bedrooms and 2 shower rooms. This meant that everyone in our group had their own space and I think this is a great idea for large families sharing, or two separate groups of friends together. It was all one level so there was no worry about needing to use the stairs consistently, and I really appreciated just how much space there was for my children to play.

The first thing I noticed was the large dining table which I loved! We have stayed in so many places that sleep 8 but then only have a dining table that can seat 4, but Bluestone had definitely thought this through and the dining table had plenty of room and seats to fit everyone. The kitchen was well equipped with everything we could think of, and we were surprised to find not only one under counter fridge freezer but two! This worked out really well for us, as being a large group we had lots of food and drink with us and so we used one fridge for drinks and the other for food which was great. 

Each of the bedrooms offered ample storage space, however the wardrobes only had around six hangers in each, so I would suggest taking some of your own if you have a lot of items you need to hang. I ended up folding most of the children's clothing and using the drawers, then used the hangers for blouses and shirts. There were also bedside cabinets in each bedroom with plugs just behind them so ideal for charging any devices.

A high chair and travel cot were also provided free of charge, and although we no longer use these items, they would have been a huge benefit to us a couple of years ago, as we used to end up having to take a trailer with us every time we went on holiday just to accommodate baby items such as these. I therefore wanted to give it a mention as I think this is a big plus point for families and a nice addition to have in the lodge. I also believe that stair gates are provided in the two storey lodges which again is a great extra to have included.

Our lodge had two shower rooms, although we became aware of an issue with one of them shortly after our arrival. We informed maintenance and they came out within half an hour of us reporting the problem. Unfortunately the tiles in the bathroom would need to be removed in order to fix it and so it wasn't something that they could do whilst we were there despite their best efforts, however with us having another shower we could use, it certainly wasn't a major problem for us. I was very impressed that the maintenance team were so quick in coming out to us and not only that, but they were also extremely friendly, polite and willing to help in any way they could. 

Once we had unpacked and settled in, we accessed The Chippy menu on the internet and wrote down our order. My husband walked over to place our order and came back approximately 20 minutes later. The food was great and I really enjoyed my jumbo fish cake.We were missing two sausages for the children, so my husband did have to pop back over to get these but again it wasn't a major issue and we enjoyed having our first Chippy Tea at Bluestone in the comfort of our Dinas Lodge. We had thoroughly enjoyed our first day at Bluestone, with great first impressions and we couldn't wait to explore the following day and visit the Blue Lagoon water park. Just before we went to bed after a busy first day, my husband and I took a quick walk through the village to see the lights again, whilst my mum, dad and the kids settled down for the evening. What a lovely start to our holiday!

Related posts: Our Visit to Bluestone National Park Resort - Part Two!

*Disclaimer - We were provided with complimentary accommodation for the purpose of providing an honest review of the resort. All activities, food, and items purchased on site were at our own expense. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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