Showing posts with label North Wales. Show all posts
Showing posts with label North Wales. Show all posts

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Enjoying a Family Meal at Hickory's Smokehouse - A Review

My family and I regularly enjoy visiting family friendly restaurants and having a lovely meal together, but over the last couple of years we have found ourselves visiting the same places and quite frequently ordering the same meals. Therefore, when an opportunity recently arose to visit Hickory's Smokehouse, we were excited about the prospect of trying something both new and different. After carrying out a little research prior to our visit, I was shocked that we had never visited before and couldn't wait to find out more.

Hickory's aim to create an authentic family friendly dining experience based on the restaurants and bars of the Southern States, as well as providing a welcoming hospitality service that makes you feel appreciated as a guest. They offer a range of quirky extras including popcorn on arrival, the ability to have a campfire and toast marshmallows at your table, as well as milkshake masterclasses for children.

Hickory's Smokehouse have restaurants in numerous locations including Burton Green, Castle Bromwich, Chester, Gresty Green, Rhos-on-Sea, Southport, Wall Heath, West Kirby and Worcester. We are very fortunate to have several of them nearby, but for our first Hickory's experience we chose to attend the Southport venue and we couldn't have been happier with our choice.

On arrival we were greeted by a lovely member of staff who showed us to our table. On the way he pointed out where the cinema room was for the children, along with providing us with directions to the toilets. He advised that someone would be along shortly to take our drinks order, so we began to have a look through the extensive choice of beverages available. The drinks menu featured plenty of options to ensure that there was something for all tastes and it didn't take my family long to make their decisions - MILKSHAKES!

My husband and our three children Emma, Ben and Riley all chose the Strawberry Dream from the Shakehouse Selection, which consisted of Strawberry, White Chocolate and Marshmallow. My kids were invited over to the bar area to take part in a milkshake masterclass where they had the opportunity to create it themselves, which I thought was a really brilliant idea that encourages children to get involved and be creative. My youngest son Riley absolutely loves pretend play and often imagines creating his own milkshakes in this play kitchen, so to be able to do this for real was fantastic and he definitely enjoyed the moment. He is usually extremely shy, but the young man helping with the preparation was great with my children and they all excitedly made their masterpieces!

Despite the milkshakes being an extremely popular choice, I wanted to try something a little different instead, so I opted for the Raspberry & Mint Lemonade and I am so glad I did. I can honestly say that this was one of the most refreshing and tasty drinks that I have ever tasted and as well as being a thirst quencher it also complemented my food really well. Other drinks that feature on the menu included Healthy Blend Smoothies consisting of fresh fruit and vegetables, a range of All American Sodas & Iced Teas, a choice of tap, bottled and canned beers, numerous wines and all of this was in addition to some Southern Classic Cocktails which all sounded absolutely amazing. You are quite literally spoilt for choice!

After taking our drinks order, the waitress allowed us some further time to look over the menu. We were not rushed at all and it was great reading through all the options that were available. All of the starters sounded delicious which made it really difficult to choose only one. We therefore all agreed to order something different and then just help ourselves to a bit of each dish and share. This worked really well and it was great to see my children so keen to sample each item of food. From the children's menu we ordered Tortilla Chips with a cheesy dip and two portions of Popcorn Chicken with BBQ sauce. From the main appetizer menu we ordered the Burnt End Popcorn Bites (chunks of smoked beef brisket in a crispy cajun rub) and Barbecue Pulled Pork Smokehouse Nachos (nachos topped with bbq pulled pork, sour cream, avocado mayo, jalapenos & melted cheese). All of the dishes came really well presented and we were immediately impressed.

In between each course my children made the most of the cinema room. I absolutely LOVED this idea and think that the person who came up with this concept is a genius, as it meant that my children were sat in a relaxed and safe environment enjoying a movie, whilst my husband and I could enjoy each others company. It really was the best of both worlds in that we could have an amazing family meal together, but also have moments where we could have a conversation as a couple.

After an ideal rest time between courses, our mains were brought to the table. We had ordered:

  • Barbecue Hand Pulled Pork - Pulled and topped with barbecue pit beans, fries and house slaw (14 hour smoked).
  • Ribeye Steak 255g with skin-on-fries and peppercorn sauce
  • 2 x Grilled Chicken Burgers with fries
  • Mini Hickory's Burger with fries

All of these were well presented and in an eccentric way which was much more fun and interesting than traditional plates. My pulled pork and barbecue pit beans were in a mess tin, the fries in a cup with a pot of house slaw on the side and then these had all been neatly placed on a wooden chopping board.

My children's burgers also came on wooden trays placed within baskets, which I thought was great as it prevented any food slipping off the side when cutting. They also had their own cutlery and a kids activity pack which Riley enjoyed completing in between his burger bites.

Both Ben and Emma enjoyed the Grilled Chicken Burger which they both said was delicious. It is very rare for Ben to finish his meal when dining out, but on this occasion he ate every last bit, which speaks volumes in itself. They both felt that the portion size was just right and the chicken was cooked to perfection as well as being 'super tasty'.

My husband said that the rib eye steak was cooked exactly how he likes it and that the peppercorn sauce was not too overpowering. The knife cut through the steak with ease and it was tasty and flavoursome. He had mentioned to a member of staff earlier in our visit that he had not tried ribs before, so was kindly provided with a delicious sample that he ate alongside his main meal.

After enjoying our starters and mains, it was simply impossible for me to squeeze in a dessert, however my husband and children still had a little space and therefore eagerly cast their eyes over the menu. My husband selected The American Classic Waffles with maple syrup and frozen custard ice cream, Emma chose Homemade Waffles with Strawberries and Cream, Ben opted for the Homemade Waffles with Maple Syrup and requested no ice cream, and Riley ordered a cookie minus the milk. Two of my children had asked for very slight variations to their desserts and both of these requests were accommodated with no fuss at all.

Just like the rest of our meals, the desserts came beautifully presented and my family were all delighted with their choices when they arrived. My husband had been intrigued by the Frozen Custard Ice Cream and was unsure how this would taste, but said it was amazing and very different to anything he had tried before. It was also something that he would definitely like to have again in the future.

Overall we had an exceptional dining experience, with friendly staff, delicious food and excellent service. The extensive menu ensured that all our tastes were catered for and the staff were also very knowledgeable about the dishes and the restaurant brand itself. If we had any questions these were answered without hesitation and despite being busy, the staff were always very attentive and didn't seem rushed. Our meals were cooked to perfection and the whole family loved the cinema room as this allowed my husband and I to be able to have a conversation and enjoy some time together, whilst the kids enjoyed nibbling on popcorn and watching a film in between their meals. All of my children very quickly declared it their new favourite restaurant and there is no doubt that we shall be returning to Hickory's Smokehouse again very soon. Would we recommend Hickory's Smokehouse for family dining? Absolutely!

As well as an extensive breakfast, lunch and main menu, Hickory's have now also introduced some Smokin' Deals which are available every Monday to Thursday from 5pm and the current line-up includes:

Monday: Fajita Margarita £10.99 - A sizzling skillet of peppers, onions and your choice of Cajun chicken or chargrilled Cajun vegetables with warm tortillas and a signature margarita.

Tuesday: Bottomless Ribs £18.99 - Unlimited servings of baby-back ribs glazed with a choice of barbecue or bourbon sauce, served with fries and slaw.

Wednesday: Steak & Shake £10.99 - Flame grilled prime 8oz rump steak with peppercorn sauce and fries, finished off with a milkshake of the day. (There will be two choices available every Wednesday).

Thursday: Barbecue Blowout £15.99 - A Hickory's Platter consisting of pulled pork, bbq beans, smoked sausage, chicken wings, Kansas rib fingers and southern fried chicken, served with fries and slaw.

If you would like to find out more about Hickory's Smokehouse then you can visit their website or social media pages on the following channels:

Twitter: @hickorys_
Instagram: @hickoryssmokehouse

*Disclaimer - We were invited to Hickory's as guests and received our food and drinks complimentary for the purpose of writing a review. Opinions are my own unless otherwise stated and this review is an honest reflection of our visit. Menu items/smokin' deals correct at time of our visit but are subject to change.

Monday, 16 April 2018

A Family Day Out at Greenwood Forest Park, North Wales

The last time we visited Greenwood Forest Park was back in February 2017, where upon arrival we were met with quite possibly some of the heaviest rain we had ever experienced. Not to be defeated though, we stayed and enjoyed some of the attractions they had on offer and still had an incredible time despite the bad weather. We promised the children that we would definitely return though on a sunnier day so that they could experience some of the other outdoor activities that were available and we managed to return last week just after the Easter holidays.

The park has gained new ownership in the form of Continuum Attractions since our last visit and so we were keen to see what changes (if any) they had made to Greenwood Forest Park, which was already a well established and much-loved environmentally friendly North Wales attraction.

As per our previous visit the attraction was well signposted from the main road and very easy to find. There is a large main car park, in addition to an overflow car park opposite that provides plenty of spaces. The first change we noticed was the new bright and colourful logo, which we all agreed looked fantastic.

As we made our way to the admission booths, we came across an absolutely stunning peacock that was roaming freely by the entrance. My children thought it was so beautiful and also found it really funny when it began to follow us.

Once we arrived at the main gates, we noticed a large blackboard sign that displayed all the events that were taking place that day along with details of where and when we could find them. We took a photograph of this so that we could refer to it throughout the day and watch one of the shows in the Forest Theatre. You can also view the daily schedule of events on their website here: What's On
Having this information online is a really great idea, as it means you can plan your day and see exactly what events are available prior to your visit. You simply select the date you are visiting on the calendar and the event list will pop up. It also states whether the event or special activity is included or if there is an extra charge, so again this helps with planning if you are visiting on a budget.

There were two admission booths, which meant that the queue to get in reduced very quickly. I noticed that there were different admission rates that vary, depending on whether it is low, mid or high season. During quieter periods some of the activities are unavailable or operate on a rotational basis and so the price for low and mid season costs less in order to reflect this. I think that this is a great idea and means that you are getting good value for money all year round, regardless of whether you visit during the quiet February half term or the peak time of the summer holidays. As we were visiting during the Easter holidays, this classed as peak time and so the entry price for an adult was £15.95 and for children aged 3-15 it was £15.40. Under 3's can enter free of charge, which I think is excellent as there is still plenty to do for the little ones.

Once inside the park, my children quickly demanded that we went straight over to the Green Dragon Rollercoaster, as this had been closed on our previous visit a year earlier. This ride is actually very unique, as it is the world's only people powered rollercoaster. This environmentally friendly ride begins by you walking up a hill to the entrance of the ride, where you then enter a lift. The power that is then exerted by the lift descending, causes the rollercoaster and platform to lift up towards the top of the track. When you then exit the lift, it is another walk back to the top, to take your seats.

The five car coaster can carry 20 people per ride and sets off along a 250 metre track. Reaching speeds of upto 25mph, it is so much fun and an ideal rollercoaster for young children. Once the ride comes to a stop, you alight at the bottom of the hill and the process begins again with the next group of passengers.

If you look carefully in the picture below, you can see the rear of the rollercoaster being lifted up through the woodland as the lift descends.

After the excitement of the rollercoaster, we noticed that there was only a small queue for the archery, so we all made our way over to this sheltered area for some bow and arrow fun. Both Emma and Ben have tried archery many times before, but this was only Riley's second time, having previously attempted it only once before on our previous visit. With the help of his dad and also the instructor, he managed to get two arrows on the board and was extremely pleased with himself. I really liked the fact that this was a covered area, as it meant that this activity can be enjoyed in all weather conditions.

Next we decided to climb up to Snowdon View which is a large wooden platform, that on a sunny day boasts magnificent views of the highest mountain in Wales. Unfortunately as you can see from the photo below, it was a bit too cloudy during our visit, however it did mean that we could see something very exciting in the distance, in the form of the Solar Splash!

Of course no sooner had my children spotted this, we were met with requests to go over to it immediately. Somehow I managed to convince them all to enjoy the other activities that were nearby first, before we took a walk over. Luckily they didn't need much persuasion, once they saw the Treetop Towers and disappeared off into the woodland playground.

This play area is huge and features a combination of timber towers, tube slides and netted walkways. There is also plenty of seating and picnic benches available in this area, so it is the ideal place for parents to have a rest or enjoy a drink whilst the children play. Riley decided that this playground was still a little too big for him and so he went to the adjacent Tunnel Warren instead, which has been designed on a smaller scale for the under 7's. Again this features lots to enjoy with tunnels, slides and rope bridges. There is bench style seating all around this play area, but if you have children in both parks, then you can sit on the picnic benches that are located in the middle and that gives you a good view of both play areas.

My children's favourite activity on this side of the park though, had to be the Great Green Run which is an awesome 70 metre sledge run, that is also the longest in North Wales. You simply pick up your sledge from the bottom of the track, carry it up to the starting point at the top of the hill and then ride at speed down the sledge run. Occasionally they spray water onto the run, which helps the sledges to run a little smoother and pick up some speed. To ensure that smaller children don't miss out on the fun, they have also created a smaller version right next to it, called the Little Green Run and Riley absolutely loved this! I will be uploading a video very soon that shows this fantastic activity, so be sure to check back to this page shortly!

We decided to make a stop at the cafe on our way over to the Solar Splash and we purchased some drinks and snacks. We had eaten a large cooked breakfast on our way to the attraction so none of us were hungry enough for lunch, however we did have a read through the menu and felt that there was plenty of choice for families, all at reasonable prices. The menu had a nice selection on offer, which varied from filled baguettes and jacket potatoes to burgers and snacks.

The children also made use of the large indoor soft play area that is within the cafe whilst my husband and I enjoyed a coffee together. We sat in the attached conservatory area which was nice and warm with plenty of seating and tables. Everywhere seemed very clean and well maintained and we enjoyed a few moments peace whilst the children burnt off some more energy.  When they returned to the table, Ben quickly spotted a dragon mascot walking around outside and so we grabbed a quick photo!

As keen as the children were to get to the Solar Splash area, we couldn't help but stop at the Magic Chair along the way. This clever trickery helps provide you with some fun photos with no photoshopping involved and the chair shrunk Emma much smaller than her five year old brother. Can you figure out how this is done?

The moment then came that Emma and Ben had been waiting for as we arrived at the Solar Splash. Believed to be the first solar powered ride of its kind in the UK, it features a large spiral water slide, along with two fast chutes that stand at the top of a 12 metre high tower. Both Riley and I decided that we were not brave enough to try this, so we stayed firmly at ground level whilst watching Ben, Emma and their Dad climb the stairs to the top. Ben opted to go in a two seater boat with his dad down the yellow spiral slide, whilst Emma chose to be a single rider on one of the open chutes. They definitely travelled with some speed and Emma went on this several times, she loved it so much. There are age and height restrictions on this and some of the other rides, so it is best to check these on the website before visiting. Details of all the rides can be found here: Activities

As we continued our walk around the attraction, we came across a new activity called Woodland Rovers, which is situated where the Donkey Rides used to be. These are a great idea and give children the opportunity to experience what it is like to drive their very own vehicle. There is an additional charge of £2 per child to try this, but my son thought it was fantastic to get the chance to practice his driving skills and manoeuvre around the course, so we didn't mind paying this small fee.

Situated near the Woodland Rovers, was also the Giant Jumper which is like a large bouncy pillow that children can jump up and down on together. Greenwood Forest Park have had the really good idea of offering specific toddler times for this activity too, so that little ones can enjoy a good bounce without the worry of being knocked into by larger children.

Next to this was the Moonkarts, which all of my children remembered from our previous visit. Riley is still a little too small to pedal around the course by himself, but they have two seater passenger karts, so Emma happily volunteered to take him around the track.

The Barefoot Trail was just slightly further down from the Moonkarts, which offers a barefoot sensory experience through different terrains including sand, bark and water. There are plenty of taps on standby for cleaning up afterwards, however we were so cold that I didn't want to even entertain the thought of taking my nice warm socks off, so we chose to give this activity a miss.

Noticing that it was nearly time for Smarty Marty's show over in the Forest Theatre, we made our way back to the other side of the park via the Crocodile Maze. This activity tested my children's problem solving skills as we had to find the correct route. I particularly liked the fact that it was designed to be both pram and wheelchair friendly.

Our last activity of the day was enjoying some comedy and magic with Smarty Marty in the theatre. There was plenty of seating for all the guests and the show was packed full of fun and laughs. There were lots of opportunities for audience participation too, with several children from the audience being invited up to enjoy some plate spinning! This was a really nice end to our day and we will definitely be returning again in the future.

Overall Greenwood Forest Park is a wonderful day out for all fun loving families with a sense of adventure. There is plenty to see and do for guests of all ages and the majority of activities are suitable for all weather conditions. Despite spending a full day here, we ran out of time to try the Den Building, Jungle Boats and the Enchanted Barn, so a return visit is definitely on the cards for the summer. If I was to make any suggestions based on our visit, it would simply be to add the option to purchase a 2nd day ticket at a discounted price. I found that there was so much to do, it would be nice to spread it over two days and I know if we were camping or staying in the area, we would definitely take advantage of a two day ticket. The park is extremely environmentally friendly, well maintained and spotlessly clean throughout, making it an absolutely lovely place to be. It is easy to see why this attraction has won the Family Attraction of the Year Award with The North Wales Chronicle for the 7th year running, as they really do provide a fantastic experience and great day out for all the family.

Attraction Details

Attraction: Greenwood Forest Park
Address: Greenwood Forest Park, Y Felinheli, Gwynedd
Sat Nav Postcode: LL55 3AD
Accessible by public transport: Yes, please see here for further details.

Opening times: Open daily 10am til 5:30pm during the main season which for this year is 17th March 2018 til Sunday 4th November 2018. Please see this page for further details: Prices & Opening Times

Entry price: Admission costs vary dependent on age/season/group size. Discounts are also available for booking online. Full details can be found here: Prices & Opening Times

Twitter: @GreenwoodFP

Disclaimer: We were provided with complimentary tickets for the purpose of writing an honest review of our experience. All thoughts, opinions and photographs are my own unless otherwise stated. Attraction information is correct at time of writing, but is of course subject to change, so I would always recommend visiting the attractions own website to obtain the most up to date information.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Crash & Splash at Surf Snowdonia - A Review

Living in North Wales definitely comes with a host of benefits, such as beautiful countryside, breathtaking mountain views, numerous parks and coastal walks, in addition to some amazing family friendly attractions. Surf Snowdonia Adventure Parc is one of those fantastic attractions and we were delighted to be invited to try out one of their family crash and splash sessions, in their lagoon, last weekend.

Surf Snowdonia is a world-first inland surf lagoon that offers visitors the chance to experience their 300 metre long surf lagoon amongst the stunning Snowdonia scenery. The lagoon can create a powerful wave over several starting points (beginners, intermediate & advanced) which then eases slowly as it arrives at the shore. There is freesurfing available for those who are already capable surfers, in addition to lessons, courses and camps that are suitable for children from the age of 5.

As well as offering some wonderful surfing, there is also much more to enjoy on site. There is the Crash & Splash Lagoon, The Soft Play Shack, Surf Side Deli, Surf Side Cafe Bar and also, some on site glamping. This makes it the perfect venue to enjoy a day out or family weekend away, that will be fun packed from start to finish.

The attraction is situated in Dolgarrog, which is only 7 miles from the main A55 dual carriageaway that runs along the North Wales coast. It is also conveniently situated between Conwy and Betws-y-Coed which are also, lovely places to visit, if you are looking to extend your day even further. We found that Surf Snowdonia was well signposted from the main road and we were able to follow the signs easily, without needing to depend on the Sat Nav.

As we arrived, we could see the attraction from the main road and the kids began to get really excited as we drove past the Crash and Splash lagoon on the way to the car park. There was ample parking available which was also free of charge, so even if you don't fancy a surf, it is an ideal place to pop by and enjoy a coffee whilst overlooking the lagoon. We made our way to the entrance, where we then booked ourselves in at the reception area with a lovely gentleman called Ollie. He explained where everything was, how to get to the changing rooms and showed me where Riley could enjoy the soft play area. We were made to feel very welcome and this gave a great first impression.

As Riley was too young to participate, both Riley and I made our way over to the cafe and Soft Play Shack, whilst Mr F, Emma and Ben went and got changed into their wetsuits. On the way to the cafe we couldn't help but notice some other guests surfing. Therefore, we went and sat on a picnic bench for a short while and spent some time just watching the surf lagoon and observing what a clever design it was. A new wave would be created every couple of minutes, using the special machine which ran down the centre of the lagoon and it was really good fun to watch.

After some time outside we headed into the cafe and Soft Play Shack where Riley was able to burn off lots of energy, whilst I enjoyed a lovely cappucino. This was a fantastic facility that featured plenty for Riley to play on and enjoy. There were numerous slides, ball pits, climbing challenges and space to simply run around in so Riley absolutely loved it! There was a large window that directly overlooked the Crash and Splash Lagoon, so we were able to see when the rest of the family came out to enjoy their session. We stayed in the cafe for around half an hour, but as the weather was nice and sunny, we moved outside once the session began and sat on one of the picnic benches to watch the fun taking place.

The Surf Snowdonia Crash and Splash sessions are basically the chance to enjoy a water assault course that is full of challenges and plenty of splashes. Features include a large inflatable course that involves climbing, jumping, balancing and running, as well as a climbing wall, monkey bars, spinning balls and a rope bridge. The obstacle course is great for kids and family groups, in addition to being a fun activity to try with friends or work colleagues.

You need to wear a wetsuit, which you can hire from Surf Snowdonia for a charge of £5 per person. Alternatively you are welcome to bring and use your own wetsuit, to save the additional cost. You are also required to wear a buoyancy aid and helmet, but both of these are provided and included in the activity cost. All participants also receive a full briefing to ensure that everyone is comfortable with the health and safety aspect of the activity.

There were plenty of opportunities to work as a team and it was nice to see people helping one another along the way. Ben stopped on a couple of occasions to help another child back on to the course who had fell into the water, as well as pulling his sister up several times.

We attended the family splash and crash course which is a slightly extended version than the usual Crash and Splash sessions. This is because the normal Crash and Splash also includes The Blob which is a giant air filled cushion that launches you into the air, then sends you splashing back down into the water. The Blob is only suitable for children over the age of 12 and so it is important to make sure you book on the correct session to avoid any disappointment. The Family Crash and Splash is suitable for children from the age of 5, making it perfect for our family.

The assault course was so much fun and it was great being able to watch Emma and Ben try their hardest to complete the course without falling in. Ben is very agile and fast, so after a few attempts, he was able to complete the inflatable part of the course without splashing into the water. The course is well thought out and features a mixture of easy and hard elements which are designed to test your balance, speed and agility. There was plenty of room around the course for spectators and it was great to see so many people laughing and enjoying themselves. Watching the participants tackle the Crash and Splash assault course, certainly provided a lot of giggles.

Emma and Ben both said that they found the instructors very friendly and helpful. They were always on hand to assist when one of the children fell into the water and would help them get back on to the inflatable when needed. Mr F said that the water was very cold on first entry, but that you soon got used to it once you had fallen in a couple of times. It also helped that it was such a sunny day, as they could warm up quite quickly when out of the water.

Overall, we were very impressed from start to finish. The staff were fun, friendly and helpful, which is always a great sign of a good attraction. It is always nice to feel valued as visitors and Surf Snowdonia certainly made us feel welcome and made sure we had a great day out. The facilities are all very impressive and there is plenty to see and do. Although we only live 50 minutes away, we would definitely stay here for a weekend in one of their glamping pods and make the most of all that Surf Snowdonia offers. The restaurant offered a wide range of dishes that all looked delicious, whilst the cafe offered some fabulous looking cakes and sandwiches. The Crash and Splash session was well thought out and provided great family fun at a very reasonable price. We will definitely be back!

Important Information

Address: Surf Snowdonia, Conway Road, Dolgarrog, Conwy, LL32 8QE

Opening Times: The Wavegarden Surf Lagoon is open from 10am until sunset. The park itself is open from 8am for breakfast through to last orders in the bar at 11pm, 7 days a week. PLEASE NOTE: The Lagoon will be CLOSED for maintenance between the 4th-15th September 2017.

Prices: Costs can vary, dependent on activity and whether it is peak/off peak times. For the most up to date information, all the prices can be found here: Surf Snowdonia Prices

Booking: It is possible to turn up on the day, have a look round and book activities whilst there, BUT Surf Snowdonia is very popular and so the attraction recommends that you pre-book any activities or sessions to avoid disappointment.

Website: For the most up to date information then please visit the Surf Snowdonia website here:

Alternatively you can find them on social media on the following channels -

Twitter: @surfsnowdonia
Instagram: @surfsnowdonia
Facebook: SurfSnowdonia

Disclaimer: We were provided with a complimentary Family Crash & Splash session for the purpose of providing and honest review of our experience. Photographs and opinions are my own unless otherwise stated. Details provided correct at time of writing, but may change in the future, so I would also recommend visiting the attractions own website to obtain the most up to date information.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Alice in Wonderland at Storyhouse Chester - A Review

My family and I were invited to one of the opening productions of Alice in Wonderland this weekend that is being held at the brand new modern venue Storyhouse based in Chester.

A welcome addition to the city centre, Storyhouse features an 800 seat auditorium, a 200 seat studio theatre, cinema, library, restaurant and two bars. It is based within the old 1930's Odeon building which has been extensively restored into a spectacular new arts venue for Chester. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect inside, but was pleasantly surprised by the modern and trendy design throughout the building and absolutely loved the concept and idea of it all. It offers a fantastic community space and will be somewhere that we definitely return to as a family in the near future.

In terms of location it is really easy to find being located near the Grosvenor Shopping Centre and Chester Cathedral. There is plenty of parking available in several nearby car parks, however we chose to use the park and ride facility which cost us £3 to park at Sealand Road and for a return ticket on the bus, costing us less that it would have done to have parked in the city centre. The buses run approximately every 15 mins and Storyhouse was located literally just across the road from the bus stop that we arrived at. The outside of the building is very eye-catching with a modern edge and the large glass panelled windows are immediately noticeable. When we entered the venue, there was a noticeable buzz about the place with many guests who all seemed excited about the new venue and the facilities it offers.

Suprisingly there is no box office here, with the venue opting for the use of modern technology to provide ticketing and listing options at touch screen points within the building. Alternatively you can book online as we did and then either print your tickets at home, or simply show them your ticket on your mobile phone. We chose the latter option and had no issue accessing the theatre or finding our seats. Whilst some people may prefer to have a go to point such as a box office, we actually liked the simple technology factor and found that there were ample amounts of staff within the building who could assist if need be, so there are still 'humans' that can help you should the technology provide any difficulties.

In relation to staff I must say that every person we encountered was really courteous and helpful. We were unsure which way to go to get to the theatre and our lost faces must have been obvious as before we could ask for help, someone came over to us and offered their assistance. I thought that this was great as it shows that staff were alert and looking for guests to help as opposed to just waiting to be found. I also witnessed one member of staff assist a lady with children at the ticket machine and then guide her all the way to the theatre. Excellent customer service!

Whilst walking through the lower level we made our way through the library which offered a fantastic wide range of books. There was also plenty of seating with coffee tables so that you could grab a drink whilst reading. Being such a busy place it doesn't really offer the quietness of a traditional library, however I don't think this would put me off visiting for a read of a book and it would be an ideal area to grab a coffee if I had arrived early for a show. There was also some fun technology points which were basically giant computer screens on the wall and Emma and Ben enjoyed writing and drawing in different colours.

On entry to the theatre we found it to be a lovely space and the seats in the circle area were all well tiered so that children will always be able to see the stage regardless of how tall the person in front of them is. The lighting was just right to be able to find your seats with ease and they were very comfortable. Our seats were in the Circle on Row B which offered an excellent view of the stage, I would have preferred slightly more leg room but for a two hour show it was more than adequate. If I had been able to select specific seats then I would have chosen the centre of Row A in the circle which in my opinion offers the best view.

The production of Alice in Wonderland features an array of talent, with numerous cast members taking on multi-roles throughout the show. In what seemed like a slightly slow start to begin with, the show soon gathered pace and we were transported with Alice into the magical world of mystery, confusion and madness, that was Wonderland. The adaptation allowed some philosophical thinking for adults, an easy to follow story for children, along with some family friendly humour in parts. It offered a creative interpretation into the well known and much loved story of Alice in Wonderland and was very enjoyable to watch.

The acting was fantastic, as were the musical interludes that the cast provided on a range of instruments with the added fun addition of kazoos! Some scenes were particularly more enjoyable than others and my children had two stand out favourites which both took place in the first half. The first was a very hectic part of the show that featured 'The Duchess' whose lunges and squats around the stage created a lot of giggles as well as gasps when she completed a standing split. The second was the tea party scene, which had a nice comedy element as well as wonderful props. Alex Mugnaioni was brilliant as The Mad Hatter and played the character superbly.

The show lasted just under 2 hours in total and although I had chosen not to bring my son Riley (age 4) with us, there were plenty of children that were toddler age (and even babies) that seemed captivated by the show for the full length of time. The first half was slightly longer than the second and the interval allowed enough time for toilet breaks or to purchase snacks and drinks. A lady did come out on the floor by the stage to also sell ice creams, which had the usual inflated price tag of £2.50 a tub, however they were delicious and I was pleased to see that they were supporting other local businesses in selling Cheshire Ice Cream.

Overall we had a really enjoyable time at Storyhouse. The building was fantastic, staff were helpful, and the production was wonderful. We cannot wait to see what the future holds for this venue.

Listing details:

The team behind Stig of the Dump, The Wind in the Willows and The Secret Garden bring you a heartfelt, joyful production of Lewis Carroll's much-loved classic tale. With a host of colourful characters we know and love (and a few new ones to meet!) leading the adventure around a surreal world, it's the perfect opportunity to fall down the rabbit-hole with Storyhouse this summer.

Venue - Storyhouse, Hunter St, Chester, CH1 2AR

Dates - 19th May to 20th August 2017 with various show times and ticket prices.

For more information or to book tickets please visit

Their social media pages can be found at:

Twitter: @StoryhouseLive
Instagram: @StoryhouseLive

Disclaimer: We were provided with complimentary tickets to provide an honest review of the venue and production. All opinions and photographs are my own unless otherwise stated.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

An Outdoor Adventure at Greenwood Forest Park

During the February Half Term, we visited some fantastic attractions, the majority of which have been indoors, and so we were keen to get out and about, and enjoy an outdoor adventure as well. We were therefore delighted to have the opportunity to visit the wonderful Greenwood Forest Park located near Caernarfon in North Wales.

We have visited Greenwood Forest Park in the past, approximately 3-4 years ago, and so we were keen to see what changes had taken place and whether it was still as great as we remembered. On our last visit the children were much younger, and Riley was a baby, so the kids didn't have much recollection of their last time here, which made it all the more exciting for them.

The attraction is well signposted from the A55 expressway and easy to find. The last couple of minutes of the journey is down a country lane, but there are plenty of passing spots for when you meet oncoming traffic, so this is nothing to worry about. There are two car parks which both offer free parking, one being located across the road from the attraction which is the largest of the two, and the other one is nearer to the entrance which is where you can find disabled parking, coach parking, and some spaces for cars. Due to the attraction being quiet at the time we visited, we parked in the nearer car park with ease.

A short walk finds you at the entrance to the attraction, where there are some ticket booths to pay for entry. Admission prices vary dependent on whether it is low, mid or high season, however all prices offer extremely good value for money, as there is plenty to see and do. I would recommend checking the current season on their website, as during low season some attractions may not be available or will operate on a rotation system, and so if you want to check what is available before travelling, then their website provides you with all the information you need as well as a list of any daily events or shows that are taking place. (Please note that the park is not fully open until 18th March).

During February Half Term the admission price was £8.95 for adults and £8.65 for children aged 3-15 with under 3's entering free of charge. Although the two main attractions of the Green Dragon Rollercoaster, and the Solar Splash were closed, this still represented excellent value for money and at the same price as a cinema ticket, it is a bargain for the outdoor fun that was on offer.

Unfortunately the weather was not on our side the day that we visited, with intermittent rain that was very heavy at times, however there was still lots to do, and as we had waterproofs and wellies with us, the rain was certainly not going to stop our fun. There was a large indoor play area within the cafe, and another undercover soft play area for little ones in the playbarn by the stilt walking area, and so we utilised both these places when the rain got too heavy.

As we first started walking through the park, we spotted the tracks for the Green Dragon Rollercoaster and could see the track circle looping round above the trees. This wasn't open during our visit, however I do remember riding on this a few years ago and how much fun it was. It is a really clever design in that the rollercoaster is people powered! The track is 250 metres long and can carry 20 people between it's 5 carts, it is fast, but not too fast, so suitable for younger children too, providing that they are above 97cm in height.

The first ride we made our way to was The Great Green Run which is a fantastic 70 metre sledge run that my children absolutely loved and wanted to go on again and again. You collect the sledges at the bottom of hill and make your way up the steps to the top, where you then set off on a fast downhill journey that is full of fun. Adults can join in too, so it is great to have something that us big kids can enjoy as well! At the side of the large Great Green Run, is a much smaller one on a gentle slope for younger children. My four year old son Riley was a bit nervous at first, but once he had gone down it once, he loved it, and we returned to this part of the park several times during our day. It was also nice to see that there was ample benches for parents or guardians to sit on whilst waiting and watching their children have fun. It is always nice to have somewhere to rest your legs for a few minutes.

After the Great Green Run we made our way up to the den building area. This is a great example of traditional outdoor play as lets face it, who doesn't like making a den? There is a large range of sticks that you can get together to make your own little hut and see if you can all fit in. It is also in a sheltered area and so even though it was raining, the weather didn't affect us too much at all. Adjacent to the den building area is also a wonderful look out point, where we could see the whole of the park. I would imagine that on a clear day that this also offers some wonderful views towards Snowdonia, but sadly the cloud was not going to allow us that amazing view during our visit. Whilst at the lookout point, my children quickly noticed the extremely large play area to the left of them, and so it wasn't long before we had worked our way back down the hill and to the amazing woodland park.

The play area is constructed out of wood, and is built into the hill and woodland. As you can see from my pictures it is absolutely huge and my children were in their element. The larger play area also has a sand pit at the bottom where you can sit and play, and again there were places for parents to sit and have a rest. The play area also features some fantastic long slides, and Emma and Ben enjoyed running up and sliding back down. As it was raining at the time, the play area was really quiet, so they loved the fact that they had this huge wooden adventure zone all to themselves.

Riley was a bit overwhelmed by the size of the larger play area, and so he opted for the smaller play area that is designed for younger children. This play area was lovely and bright with seating around the side. There was a range of tunnels, slides, and climbing areas, and he absolutely loved playing hide and seek in there whilst I ran around trying to find him. His laugh kept giving away his hiding place though!

In between the two play areas is a picnic area with ample picnic benches which must be lovely in the spring and summer months to enjoy some al fresco dining. There were plenty of bins for rubbish, and also some vending machines for drinks. More and more attractions nowadays seem to be preventing customers from taking their own food with them, and so it was nice to see that this is encouraged at Greenwood Forest Park, and throughout the day we came across numerous other picnic areas. If you don't fancy a picnic though, Greenwood Forest Park have several huts around the park selling snacks and drinks during peak times, as well as an indoor dining option called the Green Oak cafe if you fancy a hot bite to eat. The cafe is open both in the main season and in the winter.

As it got nearer to lunch time we experienced some really heavy rain, the kind that is so heavy it actually hurts, and so we moved indoors to the indoor soft play area for toddlers for Riley to play for a while, whilst Emma, Ben and Mr F, went and queued for the Archery which was also undercover. The Little Forest Playbarn was absolutely fantastic. It featured a wide range of soft play activities, as well as two sensory areas, a fun elephant ball machine, and a ball blower. The area was well padded and Riley enjoyed running around, collecting the balls and putting them in the elephants mouth and watching them come out the other end! He also enjoyed climbing and sliding within the play area, along with pressing all the animal sounds on one of the sensory walls. Like the earlier outdoor play area, there was a nice selection of seating as well as tables so it could also be used as an indoor picnic spot.

Once the rain had eased, we made our way up the small hill towards the Solar Splash ride. This was closed during our visit, however we had spotted it whilst in the den building area and wanted to take a closer look. It looked huge from a distance, and appearances weren't deceiving. This giant solar powered water slide looks amazing, and stands at 12 metres high and 60 metres in length. The Solar Splash features a spiral tube chute, along with two wave chutes which all look great fun and something we will definitely be hoping to try out in the summer.

Whilst I was admiring the Solar Splash, Emma and Ben decided to climb the Wild Web which is located just beside it. This is a 6 metre tall rope pyramid, which provides the challenge of being able to tackle the web and climb to the top. Both Emma and Ben managed to climb to the top of this relatively easily, however the biggest struggle was getting back down, which took them much longer, and was more of a challenge. They both really enjoyed this and ended up turning it into a race to get to the top and down again.

We then followed the walkway to Rabbit Village, where there were some gorgeous rabbits, all in large sheltered enclosures. They were all so beautiful and at 2:30pm every day you can have the chance to meet them and get up close with these lovely animals. Opposite Rabbit Village there was also a large aviary, that was home to some chirpy colourful budgies!

As it had began to rain heavy (again) we made our way back to the cafe, and decided to have a hot drink whilst waiting for the rain to pass. The cafe area is also home to a large indoor play area suitable for older children, and a smaller area for the younger children, enabling parents to relax with a drink, whilst knowing the children can play safe nearby. We had hot chocolates and cappuchinos which were both delicious, and the service was great. We opted to sit in the quieter conservatory area so that we could look outside, and we found this area to be very clean and comfortable. A member of staff regularly came round to check for any tables that needed clearing and so it was nice to see that this was kept on top of.

Luckily the heavy rain soon stopped, and the remainder of our day at Greenwood stayed dry. After we had finished our drinks and the children had enjoyed the soft play area, we made our way back past the Rabbit Village towards the Jungle Boats. This was lots of fun, and involved working together to make our way around the river using the over hanging ropes and one oar. We struggled at the beginning to get the hang of using the oar, as my daughter wasn't quite sure what to do, but it wasn't long before we were on our way and making our way through the Jungle forest. This is a great activity to do as a family and encourages you to work as a team to make your way around without getting stuck!

Next up was the Moon Karts, which are pedal powered karts that you can steer round the track. I loved the fact that some of these were two seaters, as it meant that Emma was able to ride round with Riley, who wouldn't have been able to have managed it on his own. The seats are adjustable and adults are welcome to ride on them too. It was funny watching everyone speed down the down hill part, to then realise that they then had to pedal back up on the opposite side. Certainly a great form of exercise!

Located near to the Moon Karts is the Barefoot Trail. Here you can remove your shoes and socks and experience walking barefoot over different terrains such as sand, straw and water. Don't worry about getting your feet dirty though, as taps are provided to give them a clean afterwards, so you can kick off your shoes and enjoy a fun sensory experience. Whilst your shoes are off (and once you've cleaned your feet of course) you can also head over to the Giant Jumper which is basically a huge bouncing pillow that you can jump up and down on. Due to the rain, this would have been extremely slippy, and so it was closed during our visit, but it looks great fun, and is something we will try on our next visit.

Once the children had ridden on the moon karts again, Riley wanted to return to the Play Barn area, as he had previously spotted some tractors located outside it. This is an extra payable ride as it is coin operated, but at only £1 it certainly doesn't break the bank, and lasts quite a while. Riley really enjoyed navigating himself around the other vehicles and the trees, and I was proud of how well he actually did. He certainly got the hang of it pretty quickly.

As you can see in the background, there was another large undercover picnic area here, and we were very impressed by just how much seating and picnic benches there were around the park. Whilst Riley had another go on the tractors, Emma gave stilt walking a go. She was a little unsteady at first, but stuck at it, and eventually managed to balance well enough to walk on them. I really liked the fact that in each area, there seemed to be something for all age groups, so instead of any children getting bored waiting for their siblings or friends, there is always something else to do nearby. Greenwood Forest Park have clearly put a lot of thought into the layout of the park, and I personally feels that this works really well.

After a bit more puddle jumping, Riley decided that he would like to have a go at archery, like Emma and Ben had done earlier. I thought that he may have been too young, but the friendly staff member working on the archery range, said that he could have a go with his assistance. Of course with the young man helping, Riley managed to fire a bow and hit the target, which gave him a huge confidence boost and made him feel very proud of himself. I was pleased that despite there being other people waiting in the queue, the employee took the time to help Riley and didn't rush him at all. It was also nice when everyone in the queue also joined in and cheered when he hit the target.

Emma on the other hand, has tried archery several times previously, so was quite happy to give it a go without any assistance, and did really well.

Just before we were about to leave, I remembered about a post on Twitter I had seen regarding a magic chair. I hadn't seen this on my way around the park, so we quickly pulled out our pocket size map and found where it was located. I am so pleased we did, as we had so much fun taking our photos and had a really good giggle. I had spent a bit of time trying to figure out how it is done and so I was amazed when I saw it and actually realised how easy it is. ( I won't spoil the secret of how you do it!) It really is a great optical illusion and there are no computers, or photo editing involved.

Prior to leaving we visited the shop, as the children had some pocket money left over from the weekend to spend, and I was very surprised to find such a wide range of pocket money priced items. The shop was full of items, gifts and toys to suit all budgets, and you can also find a cash machine in here too that offers free withdrawals which is always handy.

Overall, we had an absolutely fantastic time, and if you are looking for an outdoor adventure packed with lots of fun, then I literally cannot recommend this place highly enough. We had a brilliant time on what was a wet and rainy day, and so I cannot wait to see how much fun we have when we return in the summer. The entry prices offer excellent value for money, and there is something for everyone on the park, including adults, so there will definitely be no boredom setting in here. During peak season there are also a variety of shows on during the day featuring entertainers, clowns and magicians, so even if you don't fancy joining in on the adventurous side of things, there will still be something to keep you entertained. We will definitely be returning!

This attraction fully reopens on the 18th March so to keep up to date with the latest news, events or to obtain further information, please visit their website here: Greenwood Forest Park

Disclaimer: We were provided with complimentary admission for the purpose of providing an honest and impartial review. All opinions and photographs are my own. Entry prices and opening times when mentioned are correct at time of writing. These may be subject to change so would always recommend visiting the attraction's website prior to visiting.