We’d done Centerparcs on a number of occasions – in fact child number 4 was conceived at Longleat – and we wondered if we’d go full circle and she’d be born there too when we returned for the husband’s 40th with friends and family 36 weeks later. The husband very helpfully pointed out that the animal keepers at the next door safari park would have lots of experience of delivering babies whilst I was looking for the nearest hospital just in case. We looked at Centerparcs for February 2015 half term and the prices were extortionate – so we thought we’d try other options.
One friend has raved about Bluestone in Pembrokeshire, Wales for years – but I have to confess to thinking she might not be completely independent as she’s Welsh!! However, a number of other friends have visited in the last 12 months and have all said how great it is (and are all English!) – so we thought we’d give it a go as it was less than half the price of Centerparcs for this particular week.
We booked 2 lodges next to each other and headed off with my sister and her family, my parents, us 6 and our wonderful nanny.
Interesting (not actually that interesting really) fact for people travelling to South Wales from Birmingham – the husband went M5 / M4 – I went M5 / M50 / M4 – and after both stopping at services once, we bumped into each other (not literally – that would have taken some explaining to the insurance company) at Cardiff Gate on the M4.
We had paid extra for early check in at 1pm rather than the standard 4pm. Unfortunately housekeeping didn’t have one of our lodges on the early list. So we all camped out in one and had lunch there whilst the other lodge was prepared. I called guest services – and they said they would refund the extra cost I’d paid. Within 2 hours I’d had a handwritten note apologising, confirming the refund and delivering 2 bottles of wine – now that’s what I call customer service!!
The lodges are great! They don’t have the add on luxuries of some of the swish ones at Centerparcs (no games room or hot tub or sauna) but are really well appointed and have all the kitchen utensils etc you could need (although the frying pans aren’t non stick – so that made pancake day ‘fun’!!) My guess is they fall somewhere between the luxury end and standard end of Centerparcs (not that I’ve ever stayed in anything but swanky at Longleat or Sherwood Forest!!)
The views from our lodge were amazing. There was a real feeling of space between lodges – you definitely didn’t feel on top of each other.
We’d also paid for a Welcome Hamper to be delivered – and a cake for our son whose birthday was during our stay. Apart from being delivered to the wrong lodge (our own fault for having 2 I guess!) it was great.
The activities were brilliant. Some of the party did Sky Wires, more of us did Woodland Warriors and then Catapault. The staff were friendly and fun.
My particular favourite was Woodland Warriors – basically laser quest through the woods.
In fact I loved it so much I am no longer going to be an accountant, I’m going to be an assassin!!! (And as a friend on Facebook pointed out – probably most assassins are self employed – so at least I’d be able to do my own tax return…….)
We also ‘enjoyed’ the Adventure Centre on one of our wet days – when it was very busy. There is a softplay for the littlies, and then an adventure playground type wooden structure that you’d expect outside. There are some arcade games, mini golf, a bouncy castle – and then The Big Four – The Swing, The Drop, The Wall and The Skytrail. My eldest daughter and her 14 year old cousin did all 4 and loved them – the only complaint would be the seeming lack of instructors meant they had to wait quite a long time (literally 30 minutes even though they were first in the queue) to go on them. But it was a wet day, and the middle of the day – so peak busy time I guess.
My 10 year old decided he wanted to do the Sky Trail again – but no one else would do it with him – so despite being scared of heights, I volunteered – there were loads of little kids doing it, surely it couldn’t be that frightening?!? WHAT AN ERROR OF JUDGEMENT!!! It was PETRIFYING.
My arms are now black and blue with bruises from clinging to a cargo net for dear life. I stood crying on one platform (although my husband thinks this was a ruse to get a hunky instructor to come and rescue me!) and then it took me about 10 minutes to psyche myself up for the final zipwire (which was about 20 feet – and nothing compared to what the others had done on the Skywires the previous day!).
Given the weight limit on the course, the only member of our party who could have rescued me at the zipwire was our 3 year old – so I had to suck it up and be brave – but I will NEVER do it again!! (I should point out at this point that the kids loved it, and don’t have a bruise on them – it’s just not the right thing for an overweight, height-phobic, 40 year old to do!!)
The pool area is a little dated – and could do with a good paint to get rid of some of the rust (but this is obviously a problem with chlorinated water – even the water park at the 5 star hotel we went to in Dubai at New Year had rust issues!!) I was also surprised that the general public were also allowed in as well as Bluestone guests. The pool itself is not huge – and there is a bit of a void for children from about 3 years up to 110cm tall (when they can go on the rapids / slides) – so I can imagine some youngsters getting a bit bored. Sometimes when it was very busy we had problems finding a changing room / locker / queuing for slides. The fact that lots of lockers were out of order didn’t help. My only photo of the pool area is of our youngest having a strop in there – in fact it was suggested by a Facebook friend that we could have an A-Z of places that she’s stropped – so here are a few just from this trip!!
The shop is quite small and certain things aren’t easy to buy (dishwasher tablets being an example, you can only get them in packs of 3) but there is an amazing array of beer and wine – so the husband was happy!! It’s not cheap (£46.25 for a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne – good job we brought a crate with us!!)
We also stumbled upon (literally – there had been prosecco involved!) a vending machine selling mlik / butter etc – how ingenious! (From a distance we thought it sold wine – not that we needed any more anyway!!)
You can hire golf carts here to get around the park. They seat 4 adults and 2 kids – so couldn’t fit all of our party – but were very useful for running around the little people and OAPs. (Mum will take exception to this as she walked everywhere!) The only negative is the lack of charging points – there was only one in front of our group of about 12 lodges – and people would ‘bagsy’ them overnight meaning no one else could charge – so on one occasion we had to take it down to a charging point in the village itself to be juiced up.
We used the takeaway service on the first night and it was excellent – the pizzas were HUGE (we saved the leftovers and they fed us all for lunch the next day!) On the Wednesday evening we went to Smokey Joe’s Shindig down at Camp Smokey! This was great fun – and involved dancing on the tables, and eating fab BBQ food. We all really enjoyed it – and the brown team were the best (** this is the face paint, we weren’t all just minging **)
The only other venue we ate at on site was when my sister and I and our husbands went to the fine dining option ‘Carreg Las’. I had been told by someone it has the air of a business convention building – and it does. No real atmosphere at all – and quite purple, so we were expecting Lenny Henry to pop up at any time!! But what it lacked in atmosphere it made up for in customer service and great food and wine.
Bluestone also benefits from the nearby beautiful countryside and coastline. We took advantage of a sunny afternoon to head of to Tenby beach, half an hour away.
I am not a massive fan of the beach in summertime (sand gets everywhere) but even I quite like it when fully welly-booted up!
Although my 13 year old nephew did strip down to his pants…………
So in summary, we had a fantastic few days away. I would say that Bluestone is the much cheaper, more laidback, less frantic, more relaxed, Welsh cousin of Centerparcs. It’s definitely on our list to revisit.
Note – this is not a sponsored post, we paid for our trip and everything we did whilst we were there – I just like to overshare!!