My Top 5 Holiday Highlights <br> {Lanzarote} <br/>

In April 2016 we took our first trip abroad as a family of three. We spent hours and hours scouring the internet in order to find the perfect location for us. Somewhere warm but not too hot. A flight that wasn’t too long. Somewhere that offered us beautiful beaches, a place to relax but also enough things to keep us entertained. In the end we settled on Lanzarote, I’d been before as teenager and absolutely loved it. I couldn’t wait to go back with my little family!

Jasmine had just turned two-years-old (literally, the day before we flew out to Lanzarote). Needless to say, the three-and-a-bit hour flights were, ahem, ‘interesting’. Travelling with a toddler was never going to be completely stress-free but it couldn’t have been that bad because we’re now planning our next trip abroad… and this time with two littles in tow!

I never did get around to writing about our trip (did I mention I was pregnant with E at the time? And totally bloomin’ exhausted!) so I thought I’d indulge in some reminiscing and share my 5 holiday highlights from our time in Lanzarote…

1.The food

We decided to pay the extra and go all all-inclusive on our trip and I am so, so glad we did. Mooching around restaurants and perusing menus is lovely when you’re a couple but when kids are involved, meal times are more like a military operation! Knowing exactly what times and where we could eat each day made our lives so much easier. Being able to walk into the restaurant, pick up a plate and serve yourself from the buffet was one of the best things about being on holiday (that and not having to do the washing up afterwards). There were loads of delicious foods to choose from each day, cuisine from all over the world… and plenty of pasta to keep our fussy toddler happy.

2. The weather

Lanzarote has year-round sunshine which is one of the reasons we were drawn to it (considering we were holidaying in early April). The weather did not disappoint – we had blue skies for the most part (the first day or so was a little cloudier) and the temperature was just right for us. Warm enough to be able to enjoy the (unheated) outdoor pools and beaches but not so hot that we were frying!  It helps that you get a lovely island breeze to cool you down!

3. The swimming pools

Prior to our trip, we’d done a fair bit of swimming with Jasmine at our local leisure centre. But there’s something very special about outdoor pools and being able to play in them all. day. long. The confidence that Jasmine gained in the water on our holiday was unreal. Seeing her giggle whilst jumping into the pool (nearly always catching myself or her daddy off-guard) will be one of my favourite memories from our holiday to Lanzarote.

4. The beaches

Not only did we splash around in the pools but we also took a dip in the sea! Lanzarote boasts a selection of gorgeous beaches and we had several within walking distance. Jasmine was a little unsure of the waves so opted to spend several hours making sandcastles on beach. All whilst ordering me back and forth to the water’s edge to collect water for her in her bucket!

5. The sea aquarium

During our stay on the island, we discovered that we were staying a short walk away from the Lanzarote Aquarium. It’s only a small venue (and entry is a little pricey) but is still well worth a visit, particularly if you have a toddler. We were particularly impressed with the sting ray tank!

We stayed in the Costa Teguise resort and I highly recommend it as a location for a family holiday. Why not plan and book your Lanzarote trip using the Holiday Gems website.

Have you been to Lanzarote before?

Do you have any family holidays booked for 2018? I’d love to hear where you’re heading!

Jenna xx

This is a collaborative post.

A Girls’ Weekend at Center Parcs: What to Pack

Almost every year for the past 5 years (except from the one where I was heavily pregnant) my friends and I have gone away to Center Parcs for a girlie weekend. We usually go in March and have now been to quite a few of the different Center Parcs around the country. This year we are returning to Elveden Forest (in Suffolk) for the the second time.

A Girls' Weekend at Center Parcs: What to Pack

I’m quite nervous as this will be the longest time I’ve spent away from my darling daughter. At the same time, I am desperate for a weekend away with my friends (who all live a 3 hour drive away from me and I don’t get to see very often).

As I feel like somewhat of a Center Parcs veteran, I thought I’d share with you what I’m packing for my weekend away. The essentials, the ‘luxury items’ and the boring (but useful) stuff. I’m only packing for myself obviously (hurrah!) but I figured this may help anyone else planning a girlie break at Center Parcs who perhaps hasn’t been before.

I should warn you at this point that I’m somewhat of an ‘over-packer’ but I’m a firm believer that ‘It’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared’. Oh and I also hate paying for over-priced items at the on-site supermarket. ;)

A Girls’ weekend at Center Parcs: What to pack

The essentials:

Clothes (duh!) – underwear, socks, sportswear, PJs and swimwear, a warm jumper and a rain mac. 

Trainers (and depending on the time of year, wellies!)

Money/Cash card

Hair bobbles: This is something I quite often forget to pack but they’re essential if you have long hair and your planning to do any of the activities.

Make up 

Deodorant 

Toothpaste/toothbrush

Hairbrush/comb

Make up/face wipes

Shower gel + shampoo and conditioner 

Towels: Bath towels are supplied (in Comfort Plus lodges) but you’ll need to take your own towels for swimming.

Phone + charger

Camera + charger: you’ll be making great memories with your pals so remember your camera!

Rucksack: If you’re normally a handbag kinda gal, you’ll be better off ditching it in favour of a rucksack. It’s extremely hard to cycle with handbag over your arm. Just ask my friend, Sam! ;)

A torch: Whilst most of the paths are well lit, you are in a forest so once it get dark, it’s useful to have a torch to hand.

A bike seat cover: If you’re hiring a bike from Center Parcs then it’s well worth investing a few pounds on a bike seat cover. The first year that we went, we found the bike seats incredibly uncomfortable. We ended up trying to put together makeshift bike seat covers using tea towels, plastic bags and cellotape. It looked as ridiculous as it sounds.

Squash: As well as a bottle of squash for the lodge, I’m also taking a couple of small bottles of concentrated squash to take out and about with me. I’m not a fan of fizzy drinks and I find water a bit bland!

Re-usable water bottle: talking of drinks, buying them all of the time can get expensive so take a bottle with you – fill it up at your villa and pop it in your rucksack for when you’re out and about.

Hairdryers/straighteners: Hairdryers are provided in most CP accommodation (check online) but I always prefer to use my own.

The luxury items:

DVDs: Our accommodation has a TV/DVD player. For us, it’s been a bit of a tradition that every Center Parcs break, we have one ‘movie night’ in our lodge where we watch a film with pizza, snacks and drinks. Usually, we each take a film and then decide which one to watch together on the night. This year I’m taking ‘If I stay’ – no idea if it’s any good or not but from the synopsis, it sounded sufficiently chick-flicky.

Bubble bath: I very rarely have a bath at home (that isn’t shared with my toddler). I always think there’s something else I should be doing. As much as I enjoy being active at Center Parcs, it’s also a rare mummy break for me so I fully intend to make the most of it. I’ve packed some Radox and I’m looking forward to a nice hot soak in the tub – without a manky bath toy in sight.

Face mask: – See above! ;)

Tea bags/Coffee/Hot chocolate: I’m not a coffee or tea drinker (I know!) but I am partial to a hot chocolate. If the weather remains the same as it has been lately, then I suspect it will be cold and wet during our stay at Center Parcs. It’ll be a nice treat to get back to our lodge and have a post-swimming/cycling hot choccy! The other girls will no doubt be bringing a stash of their favourite tea bags/coffee granules.

Treats: Chocolates are a must and no girls’ weekend away would be complete without them!

Booze: Neither myself nor my friends are particularly big drinkers (we are off to Center Parcs not Ibiza, after all) but we do like the odd cocktail. I’m packing some ‘skinny’ strawberry daiquiri (because I’m a Slimming World bore!)

Book(s): Whether you’re staying at Center Parcs with family or friends – it’s nice to have some downtime in between all of the active stuff.

The boring stuff:

Hand wash: From memory, I don’t think this is supplied. I’m taking a couple of bars of antibacterial soap for the bathroom and kitchen.

Hand wipes

Loo roll: If I remember rightly, you are provided with a roll or two to ‘get you going’ but you’ll probably need more if there’s a few of you staying in a lodge together.

Dish towels: Again, you are provided with one or two but it’s useful to take a few extra. :)

Kitchen towels and antibacterial spray: *CLEAN FREAK ALERT*

Paracetamols: The last thing you want is for your weekend away to be spoiled by a headache or period pains. I always keep a packet of painkillers in my rucksack, just in case.

Pocket packs of tissues 

A re-usable shopping bag: particularly useful if you’re planning on using the Parc Market and want to avoid paying 5p per carrier bag.

A pound coin: for your swimming pool locker.

First aid kit: always be prepared!

I hope this is useful for anybody heading to Center Parcs for a girls’ weekend. You will be sure to have a great time – we always do and that’s why we go back, year after year. :)

What would be your ‘essential item(s)’ for a girls’ weekend away?

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A Family Holiday Guide to Cuba

Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean, famed for its beautiful beaches, rich culture and vibrant capital. With plenty of attractions, there’s something for the whole family to enjoy. Here’s our guide on what to expect and what not to miss out on.

Beaches

With more than 300 beautiful beaches to choose from, you’ll be spoilt for choice. This diverse ecological landscape is home to some of the finest beaches in the Caribbean. You’ll find beaches of all shapes and colors, from ones lined with swaying palm trees, to ones with dramatic limestone cliffs. The golden sands of Varadero Beach is one of the most popular, stretching over 20km. With calm waters and a gentle sloping shore, it’s the perfect spot for small children to build sandcastles. For adults, the year round climate ensures the sea remains crystal clear, making it perfect for exploring the reef on a diving excursion or snorkeling from the shore. 

Natural Wonders

Once you’ve relaxed under the Caribbean sun, it’s time to enjoy one of the many adventurous activities on offer. The Varahicacos Ecological Reserve in Varadero is excellent for a family hike. There’s plenty of trails to choose from and you can explore hidden caves, which come complete with ancient paintings. The Bahía de Naranjo Nature Park is also great for long walks and is home to a tourist favorite; a dolphinarium. This is sits within the sea and the dolphins are free to leave at any time. You’ll also spot sea lions and can watch as the animals leap into the air and do tricks.

Culture

Cuba has no shortage of historical sights, or traditional events which visitors will find to be both fascinating and enjoyable. In the capital, Havana be sure to visit the largest square, known as Revolutions Square. At its center you’ll find an impressive monument dedicated to national hero, Jose Marti. Visitors can take a lift to the top for a stunning, panoramic view of bustling capital. There’s also a museum where you can learn more about the country’s history. A visit to the Old Havana is also a fascinating day out. Take a stroll through the winding streets and you’ll fall in love with its old world charm. There’s also plenty of nice cafés to enjoy a traditional Cuban feast. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to the Catedral de San Cristobal – one of the oldest of its kind in the Americas.

With an endless amount of activities to be enjoyed, we’ve barely scratched the surface. From its lively annual carnival to the friendly locals and delicious cuisine, it’s all waiting to be explored on your next family holiday.

Images by neiljsBud Ellison and Jaume Escofet used under the Creative Commons license. 

This is a guest post.

Tom Haleforth is a life-long travel addict, and has spent the last 10 years travelling in and around Central and South America and the Caribbean. When he’s not travelling, he is writing about it. He lives and works in London.

These four walls and itchy feet

I’ve never had such contradictory thoughts running through my head as the ones I’ve been having just lately. I am so desperately seeking adventure. I want to explore new places and re-visit old ones. I have incredibly itchy feet. I’ve been staring at photos from some of my old photo albums, the pictures I took when I used to live in France. A dusty collection of photographs that are full of mountains, rivers and beautiful quaint French towns. During that time, I never knew what I was doing or where I was going from one day to the next. I loved that. Every day was an adventure.

Recently, I’ve found myself wishing to be anywhere else other than where I am right now.

fourwalls

Please don’t for one second take this mean that I am unhappy or that I want to runaway from my little family. I am happy and I want to runway with them. I’ve always been an ‘on the move’ kinda girl, never stayed in one place for too long. I get bored easily and crave new places and new faces. Obviously this desire was much easier to fulfill in my teens and early twenties, pre-motherhood – I could go where I wanted, do what I wanted and had no one to answer to. I’m estranged from my father and my mother lived on the other side of the world. I got used to fending for myself.

So what is contradictory about all of this? Well, despite my wanderlust. Most days? I dread leaving the house. I feel an ache in the pit of my stomach every time I think about leaving the front door, even if it’s just to pop down to the shop for milk and bread. I’ve gone from being somebody who was more than happy to travel to New Zealand all by herself to a quivering wreck at the thought of nipping down to Tesco.

It doesn’t really help that whenever we go out, Jasmine is like a ticking time bomb, ready to explode into an angry pile of flailing limbs at any given second. She has tantrums several times a day and as much as I’d like to be the mum who just smiles knowingly at other parents who pass me by, a quick roll of the eyes as I say “Kids, eh?”. I’m not that mum, not yet. Instead my cheeks burn a bright red and I stare at the ground because I’m convinced everyone thinks I suck at this parenting gig, even though I know that’s not the case. Nobody’s thinking that. Except me.

Deep down I know it’s nothing do with Jasmine’s mood swings, she’s not the reason I don’t want to leave the house. It’s an excuse perhaps, but not the reason. I still haven’t really identified what the reason is. I’m completely and utterly confused by all of this. It’s like two parts of my brain are fighting against each other – one part craves adventure and the other seeks comfort and safety and it’s clear which one is currently winning the battle. It forces me to stay here, in these four walls. Protected, in my castle.

Most days it’s OK, we keep busy – Jasmine and I will play outside in the garden or we spend time dancing in the kitchen. But it gets to the end of the week and I realise I’ve not had a single face-to-face conversation with another adult (aside from my husband) all week. And I can only pretend to myself for so long, that I’m OK with that. I’m bored of routine, I’m tired of being lonely (you know what I mean by that, and if you don’t, I’m really glad you’ve never experienced this feeling). I’m fed up of this self-imprisonment.

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know what I need to do. I just know I needed to write this down to feel a little better about it all.

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The Twinkle Diaries

Tips for holidaying with your dog

“You must be mad!” – That is the kind of reaction I got from some of my family and friends when I told them that we were planning on taking our dog, Heidi, on holiday with us.

If you’ve read any of my posts about what a handful my pooch can be, you’d be forgiven for thinking the same. Alas, our ‘pet lady’ who would normally take care of Heidi and our guinea pigs whilst we are away on hols was already fully booked for the summer. We decided to brave it and go ahead and book a family holiday in South Devon, dog and all.

I can honestly say it was a fantastic break away and having our beloved furbaby with us only enhanced the trip. If you’ve ever thought about taking your dog on holiday with you but have been put off by the hassle of it, here’s some tips for holidaying with your dog, that might make you change your mind…

NB. Whilst some of this may apply to taking your dog abroad with you, I am talking specifically about holidaying in the UK as that is what we did on this occasion.

Tips for holidaying with your dog in the UK

Accommodation, planning and packing:

 Finding somewhere to stay

Your first task will be to find suitable dog-friendly accommodation in your chosen location. We wanted self-catering accommodation in Torquay and after a quick search I managed to find something that was perfect for us. A self-catering apartment just a few minutes walk away from the seafront and town centre, dog friendly and plenty of room for Jasmine’s cot. After a few e-mails back and fourth with the apartment owner we had booked our accommodation, a week’s stay for £235 (in the height of the summer holidays too) – absolute bargain!

weacceptpets and dogsinvited are both useful websites for finding dog-friendly accommodation in the UK.

Make a list

Before packing for our holiday I wrote a list for each member of the family including Heidi (because who doesn’t love writing lists?) This just made it easier for me to remember everything I needed to take for her, such as her bowls, bedding and leads etc. It also ensured I didn’t leave anything behind when it was time to pack up and come home.

Research, research, research!

Soon after booking our holiday, I set about putting together an information pack about the local area. The last thing I wanted was for us to get there and have nothing to do or nowhere to go. I found out which local attractions allowed dogs, which of the beaches were dog friendly all year-round, places to eat and also emergency contact details for the local vets. Armed with this information you will hopefully get a lot more out of your holiday rather than wasting precious time looking for things to do whilst you’re there.

Having said all that, we found Devon to be extremely dog-friendly and never had to go very far to find a pub, bar, chip shop, tea room or restaurant that welcomed our furry family member!

Travelling:

Car safety

Invest in a good well-fitting harness so that your dog is secure whilst you’re on the road. Also, be sure to keep an eye on the temperature inside the car, dogs can’t regulate their body temperature as well as humans and will easily overheat. 

 Take breaks

Stop regularly to allow your dog the opportunity to have a drink of water and a toilet break. Some of the bigger service stations even have large grassy areas specifically for walking dogs. Don’t forget your poop bags!

Getting around

Whilst we were on holiday I was surprised how easy it was to get around with a dog in toe. Pretty much anything goes and Heidi experienced travelling by both stream train and ferry! Don’t assume it’ll be free though, we got told off for not paying the £2 fare for Heidi’s steam train journey. Oopsie!

Whilst you’re there: 

Use local knowledge

If you’re staying in dog friendly accommodation then the property owner will be one of the best people to ask about places to visit. The lady who ran our apartment pointed out several local pubs where dogs were welcome – always useful information! ;)

Don’t be afraid to approach local dog owners too – most of the time they will be only too pleased to share their favourite dog walking haunts with you. dog-403699_1280

Don’t expect too much from your dog 

What I mean by this is, if for example, your dog’s daily walks usually involve a quick walk around the block don’t then expect your dog to be able to walk for hours and hours on holiday. We made this mistake on our first day and walked for about 10 miles and by the end of it poor Heidi was exhausted. We made sure to take lots of regular breaks in between walks for the rest of the holiday.

Have a plan B

To me, the only downside of taking Heidi on holiday with us is that it limited where we could go. Most indoor attractions were of bounds and thus we were really relying on the weather being good. Fortunately, whilst we were away we had fairly decent weather but we did still have one very wet morning, so out came my emergency stash of Disney DVDs. We opted for a snuggly movie morning until the sun came back out. Definitely pack something to keep you occupied indoors in case our rather unreliable British weather lets you down!

I would definitely consider taking Heidi with us on any future holidays as it really wasn’t much hassle at all. I hope that if you’ve thought about taking your dog with you on a UK break then this post will give you the push to do so. You won’t regret it!

Have you ever considered holidaying with your dog in the UK?

Or do you have any  other tips for holidaying with your dog?

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This post was first published on the 19th August 2014.