18 April 2019

What we thought of the Paradise Wildlife Park

During February half-term we were invited to review Paradise Wildlife Park, a family-run animal park in Broxbourne in Hertfordshire. It's quite unique, with a compact zoo, a huge play park for kids and a dinosaur park, with animatronic dinosaurs. Our daughter had been to Paradise Wildlife Park with her school a year before and was very excited to return - she had had an amazing time there. 

And amazing time we had again. We came after midday as I thought having a half a day would be more than enough, but there were so many things to do and see, we could have been there the entire day. 

mum and daughter at paradise wildlife park entrance


What attractions does Paradise Wildlife Park have?

In the rather compact zoo, there were plenty of animals to see and we spent several hours there. In many cases you could get quite up close and personal with them, such as in the Australian enclosure where wallabies roamed free. There were many family favourite animals, such as meerkats, otters, penguins and of course the big cats - lions, tigers and snow leopards. The white tiger, who unfortunately was out on a holiday when we visited, is one of the stars of the zoo and well worth a visit to see it. 

There was a huge outdoors play park for the kids to run around in and blow steam out. There were lots of structures to climb in, such as a pirate ship, fire engine and a tree house and slides. There was everything you would have in a big park - just on a grander and more outrageous scale. My daughter was ecstatic. In case of bad weather there is also an indoors soft play area, although we didn't have a chance to try this out. 

In addition there were also the animatronic dinosaur park, a crazy golf area, and a small train, none of which we had time to experience. I've heard good things about the dinosaurs though, apparently kids really love seeing them!


















What is Paradise Wildlife Park like for families?

Accessibility at Paradise Wildlife Park was superb. We had a pram with us, but we were able to go and view all the attractions, including the tree top views of the big cats. At the play park there were specially adapted play equipment for children with mobility issues, so you could go on with your wheelchair. I thought it was fantastic that all kids are included in the fun, and families with babies will find it easy to move around the area too. 

There were a few eateries around the Park, and lots of snack booths. If you bring a picnic, there were lots of picnic tables dotted all across the Park, which was fantastic. Plenty of places to eat in, whether you bring your food in or not. We ate our picnic lunch underneath a tree, checking out the Red Panda climbing in it - such a fun experience. There are some small indoor picnic areas too, and the Speedway Museum if you need to eat indoors. 

I think the Paradise Wildlife Park was fantastic for families - there were lots of and a good variety of animals to see, animatronic dinosaurs to see as well, a huge play park which is great for kids, indoor play area for bad weather, a train, and so on.  Bathrooms are clean and roomy, and easily located. It felt like everything to do with kids had been thought through.










What was out favourite animal experience?

We loved seeing the animals - our favourite experiences were with the big cats. We got to see the lions feeding, which was quite a sight. The snow leopard was very adorable, and the tree top views of the big cats were great. 

There were great viewing points for many animals, including the meerkats, where kids could crawl into this structure inside their pen and see them quite close up. Otters were absolutely adorable too, and we spent a long time watching their antics, digging and playing. We spent a good deal of time seeing the monkeys in their houses and also a wide variety of bugs and other creepy crawlies. We didn't feed any of the animals around the park, but you can buy a bag of animal food for £1 - I think farm animals could be fed at least.









How did we find Paradise Wildlife Park  overall?

Overall we thought the Paradise Wildlife Park was great. So much to do and see, I was a bit annoyed we had reserved just half a day for visiting. We could easily have spent the entire day there and not get bored for one moment! One thing to pay attention to - the dinosaur park and the train close a bit early, so don't be like us and miss out because you leave them to the end of the day! 

Overall I thought it was a fantastic place for families with kids in different age ranges. There were plenty of things for the younger kids to do and a fantastic play structures for them to run around in, and older kids would likely really enjoy the talks and feeds and dinosaurs. All the facilities for families were there, including good bathrooms and picnic areas, and animals were well cared for. Some enclosures looked a bit small (like the penguins) but there are works undergoing to improve the animal facilities. 

We had a great time and would love to go back - this time we would pack a lunch, go straight in the morning and plan to spend the whole day exploring all the areas!






(I did note that they do Mother's Day deals, where mums go free on Mother's Day so am keeping that in mind for future years...)



You might also like: London with toddlers: London ZSL Zoo and What is London Zoo Land of the Lions like



5 April 2019

How to make a fun non-chocolate Easter Egg hunt?

I find Easter time is just filled with chocolate. I didn't think you'd ever hear these words out of my mouth, but it's too much chocolate. So I decided that for our Easter egg hunt, there would be none. It would be totally chocolate-free. Here are my tips on what to include and how to make a non-chocolate Easter egg hunt a success - and links to products would might like to try (affiliate). I've previously done also non-chocolate Easter baskets so check my ideas here!

My original worry was that my daughter would be disappointed with not having chocolate eggs, but this could not have been further from the truth. When we first did this for our then four year old, I asked her what did she think of the Easter Bunny not bringing chocolate. She said the toys were much more fun and that it was "The best Easter ever!". You might want to try this too if you find you already have too much chocolate (from well-meaning friends and family) or if there are allergies in your house - or if you just fancy a change!


empty chick easter eggs


What you need are empty plastic Easter eggs and lots of tiny items to fill them with. Before you go out shopping a little pro tip here - check what you already have back home. Kids have so many tiny little toys and kiddy jewellery forgotten at the bottom of their drawers... I found this was a great chance to re-introduce some of those forgotten little toys and get a bit of joy out of them before they end up in the bin.

Anyway, for the other stuff you might like here are my tips. 

You need:

Empty Easter eggs - I bought mine from Paperchase and this year they have slightly different eggs. You can find similar ones on Amazon too. I prefer the eggs to be decorated somehow and have cute patters - to look like little chicks for example. If you are not fussed though, most supermarkets stock plain plastic re-fillable eggs, which are quite affordable! These help in keeping the items dry and easier to find.

I've also liked wooden Easter Egg hunt signs - they stay good for years so you can reuse them again and again. 

Remember to save the plastic eggs as you can reuse them the following year for another Easter egg hunt!

Stickers - Kids love stickers right? These are handy as you can buy a multipack of stickers and divide them across eggs, or a few sheets and cut them into smaller sheets. Bunny stickers and easter stickers work well.

Hairclips and other accessories - If you've got girls these are great things to include in the Easter Egg hunt. Cute and practical. I included a variety of bunny themed hair accessories, and you can often find Easter themed accessories around Easter too.


Links to products if you are from USEaster chick eggsGolden Easter eggs;  Wooden Easter egg hunt sign kitEaster foam stickersEaster sticker sheetsBunny hair ties and Bunny hair clips


easter egg fillings stickers hair clips toys


Small decorations - At Easter time you can find these tiny little fluffy chicks and bunnies that are used as decorations and in crafts. They are great to include as they are small and very cute, so kids love them.

Keychains - I found primary school kids have this thing about keychains. It seems to be very trendy now to decorate your bag with different kinds of keychains, so these Easter themed ones and bunnies were a great success.

Healthy snacks - Why not include some tasty snacks for the kids? Raisins, dried fruits, fruit rolls etc. My kid especially loves Bear Nibbles, much to the chagrin of my wallet.


Links to products if you are from US: Easter mini chicksBunny key chainBear Nibbles


easter egg hunt non chocolate ideas


Right, I'm not gonna kid you as this will be more expensive an Egg hunt than if you just bought little chocolate eggs... But you can bring down the costs by buying stickers and those small craft decorations, both are cheap and plentiful and you can divide one pack across several eggs! You could also hoover around the kids rooms to find any old discarded tat they love but have forgotten at the bottom of their drawers - you know there are plenty of those things - and re-introduce them!

And if you are thinking of Easter baskets for your kids, check my ideas for non-chocolate Easter baskets!


What else would you include in a non-chocolate Easter Egg hunt?

Top tips and ideas on how to stage a non-chocolate Easter Egg hunt for kids - ideas and links for products to buy kids would love to get.





31 March 2019

The tastiest pie I've had in a long time - an easy recipe

Last weekend we went to a traditional farmer's market in our town and stumbled upon a pie seller. A pie labelled as "Kiwi pie" caught our eye and long story short, it was so delicious I had to try recreate again at home. 

So, despite the name, this Kiwi pie does not contain fruits, birds or New Zealanders (as was asked by our five year old...). It is a traditional New Zealand recipe, using minced beef and cheddar. The beef is cooked and then layered with cheddar in the pie and oh my wasn't it just delicious when you got little bombs of cheese with your juicy savoury meat. 

I'm always keen to try healthy recipes and get my fussy kid eating something good for her. With beef being naturally rich in protein and containing iron, helping reduce tiredness and fatigue, and this dish going beautifully with green beans and mash, I was happy this fit the bill! The pie was so delicious I even got her to eat her beans (as apparently the taste of the beef pie covered the taste of the beans ha ha). To add a bit more of vegetables into the meal I also added sweet potato to the pie, although this is not in the traditional recipe.

So without further ado, here is the recipe.


new zealand meat cheese pie


Ingredients:

Splash of vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
500g of minced beef
small sweet potato, cubed
3tbs flour
500ml beef stock
1tbs Marmite (or Vegemite,or Worchester sauce)
2tbs tomato puree
black pepper
mixed herbs
salt to taste (with extra mature cheese not much needed!)

150g mature or extra mature cheddar cheese, cubed

Shortcrust pastry (two ready-rolled ones or one on 500g)
Egg to brush

Method:

Use a large saucepan, heat up vegetable oil and fry the onion for about 3 minutes until soft and golden. Add garlic and fry about 1 minute. Add the minced beef, fry until brown, and break up any large chunks. Add sweet potato and flour, and mix into the beef. Add stock, Marmite, and tomato puree, with salt, black pepper and mixed herbs to taste, turn down the heat and let simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Take off heat, and cool down in the fridge for 1-2 hours until cold. Grease up a pie dish (I used a 18cm spring form tin) and line with one short-crust pastry sheet, leaving extra pastry hand off the sides. Mix the cheese cubes in the beef, and ladle in the pie. Add the other short-crust pastry sheet on top, crimp up the edges, and brush with a whisked egg.

Bake immediately, 10 minutes in 220 Celsius (200 fan oven), and then turn down to 180 Celsius (160 fan oven) and bake further 1 hour.

Take out and let rest for about 15 minutes, and enjoy with green beans and mash!


pie with greens


I love trying new recipes, especially from lands afar, and this was a real winner in the taste department! If it is good enough to convince my five year old to eat her greens, well, it's going in my good books. I hope you enjoy it too - and like I mentioned it is perfect with some green beans or peas and mashed potatoes.

What kind of pies are your favourite ones?

This "Kiwi" traditional beef mince-cheddar pie from New Zealand is seriously tasty - and easy to make too. A big family favourite that kids will love too!


This post is an entry to for the #MeatMatters Challenge, sponsored by Simply Beef and Lamb. Learn more about the benefits of cooking and eating beef and lamb along with recipe ideas and inspiration here!


You might also like: Toad-in-the-hole with a healthy twist and Asian-inspired beef wrap




15 March 2019

Our experience at Shrek's Adventure - the good and the bad

Ever seen the film Shrek? Did you know you can visit Far Far Away land right in the centre of London? I love exploring new places in London and recently we were invited to visit and review Shrek's Adventure - an immersive walk-through experience based in the world of Shrek - and check out their new How to Train Your Dragon installation. We went there with a five year old, a baby, and two adults so this review includes a variety of perspectives. 

Now, I'm not going to spoil the experience for you by telling exactly what happens. That would not be fun, would it! But, broadly speaking the whole experience is about an hour and a half. The experience starts with a small intro and a "magical flying 4D bus". The audience gets drawn into the story and it becomes an immersive experience with story lines and actors leading the audience from room to room. Each room gives you part of the story, leading to a grand finale.


Shreks adventure entrance


What I loved about Shrek's Adventure

What I really enjoyed was how the actors interacted with the audience, and got some of the kids involved with little tasks. Mind you, as the group consists of about 20-30 people and there are only a few tasks, not all kids will be involved. I also enjoyed how all the rooms were decorated with so many little details, and how there was humour in the shows, both adult and kids humour. 

For me the highlights of the tour must have been the magical bus 4D ride and the mirror maze. The bus ride was fun, it was great to spot all the DreamWorks characters, and despite where you end up (I sat behind a very very tall man...) you get a great view of the action. The bus doesn't move (it was mainly visual), so I was able to sit on it with my baby on my lap. 

The mirror maze was also amazing, having only ever seen these kinds of things in films. It was great fun, although can feel claustrophobic if you are that way inclined.


meeting shrek at shreks adventure


What did kids think about Shrek's Adventure

We brought a baby and a five year old. I found my five year old was perfect age for it. Any younger and she would probably have found some parts of the experience a bit scary - there were witches and all. I think the experience is great for primary school aged kids, and tweens and teens would probably find it fun as well, but the whole make-believe storyline is geared towards younger kids. My five year old had a great time interacting with the story and the actors, even if she was a bit shy sometimes, and was lucky enough to be selected for one of the tasks.

My five year old said of Shrek's Adventure that it was "Very good, really really good", she enjoyed the story and the twists and turns and would like to go back again some day.

As for the baby, she loved it. The magical bus ride was almost a sensory experience for her, and she enjoyed watching the lights. She was also interested in seeing all the different rooms and changing decor and was mesmerised by the world.



meeting shrek at shreks adventure


Are there any accessibility or other concerns

You can't take a buggy, so that needs to be left in a buggy room. It was a bit tiring to walk around with a baby in arms, although there were places to sit every once in a while. You can bring a wheelchair, but some corridors may be quite narrow and difficult to move around in. The mirror maze can feel claustrophobic, and generally speaking the corridors are rooms can feel a bit small, so if you have serious issues with enclosed spaces this is probably not the attraction for you.

Also, as usual, the exit is through the gift shop so brace yourself and/or your wallet. I found it quite annoying as after a good fun time I had to be the bad cop again and drag my kid away from all the toys...


What's all this Dreamworks characters and How to Train Your Dragon bit all about?

Essentially, at the end of the tour you walk through a bunch of photo props and a couple of games. There are Kung-fu Panda props, Madagascar props and a small room propped as The Hidden World from How to Train Your Dragon. It's a fun little addition to the experience, but honestly, not that much of a big deal. We rushed through it, quickly having a look and taking a few photos. As I went on a launch day there were actors, but I think generally, the props are all there is. There may be some actors on special events and at school holidays, but during the normal week probably not. My five year old liked the games and thought The Hidden World looked amazing, but ran off pretty soon, me following her.



meeting dragons and vikings at shreks adventure


white toothless at shreks adventure

toothless at shreks adventure



Is it worth going to?

It's an expensive and a short experience, but certainly quite different from what you would usually see. If you have the money and kids around the best age group for it (5-12 years old) I think it is a fun and a different day out. It's sort of like going to the theatre, but being in it yourself too.

However, as it can be a bit of a short experience to bring a family to London just for, I'd recommend making it a whole day out at South Bank. Instead of buying just the tickets for Shrek's Adventure (online £30 per adult), consider making it a day in South Bank, and book one of the combined tickets. You could pay £63 per adult for Shrek's Adventure and four other close-by attractions - like London Eye, London Aquarium (see my review here), London Dungeons (best for teens and tweens) and BIG BUS Tours, and spend the whole day at South Bank before having a tour of London.

For a cheaper day out, there are lots of free things to see at South Bank, such as street performers, skate boarders, and art installations, and it is a very nice walk with plenty of sightseeing opportunities. It takes about 30 minutes to walk to London Bridge from South Bank, and a nice day out with plenty of places to sit down for a meal.


floating hippo from madagascar movie

shreks adventure photo props



Top tips for Shrek's Adventure:

  • You will be walking and it is quite warm, so best leave your jackets at the cloak room (you may have to pay for it).
  • Buggies need to be left in the cloakroom, so people with babies will have to carry them. It can be a bit much, thankfully there are opportunities to sit down every once in a while. 
  • It is broadly accessible to wheelchairs, but some corridors and rooms are tight, so best check beforehand if a wheelchair can fit. I know I would have found some bits a challenge with a buggy. 
  • There are NO PHOTOS during the whole tour, which is actually quite nice. You will meet Shrek at the last stage and the actors are quite happy to take a quick photo of you with your own camera if you just ask. There is a bit of a rush and a queue though. 
  • You can choose to buy a souvenir photo book, which costs £25 (I think) and includes several photos during the tour, and the book is a fun activity book for kids too. If you want to official Shrek photos you have to pay additional £10. 
  • It's an expensive experience and a rather short one. Consider making it a whole day by purchasing a combined ticket to other nearby attractions, or visiting South Bank. 


Have you been to Shrek's Adventure and what did you think?

A review of Shrek's Adventure, an immersive experience in Central London - what ages is it good, and can you bring a baby? Also includes review of the How to Train Your Dragon area.





6 March 2019

My best Mother's Day gift ever from Red Letter Days

Now, don't get me wrong... I cherish the slightly too small plastic bead bracelets and the glitterific bookmarks that make their way home around every Mother's Day. I really do. But, if you were to ask me what I've always dreamt about getting for Mother's Day, it would be quite different - and involve no children ha ha.  

So, when Red Letter Days asked me to pick an experience to review as a Mother's Day gift, I knew exactly what I was looking for. Something pampering and luxurious, that would leave me feeling refreshed and relaxed, because let's face it, mothering is hard work and we mums need all the relaxation we can get. I decided to go for a Top to Toe Pamper Package (seriously, how amazing does that sound!), which included a facial, a full body massage and a foot massage. Pure bliss I tell you.


shop front


The Top to Toe Pamper Package I went for was done at Jivita Ayurveda, an organic well-being centre in Kensal Rise, that specialises in ayurvedic treatments. Not being all that familiar with what ayurvedic treatment style is, I had a chat with Anu, my masseuse and the owner, and she explained it is all about living with the seasons and natural day rhythm, and you use different oils depending on the treatment needs and also seasons. 

Once I got to Jivita Ayurveda, I had a quick chat with my masseuse about what I wanted to achieve from my session - for me it was relaxation, release in the tightness around my shoulders and radiant skin with less impurities. And then off we went to the small treatment room in the back, decorated in soothing black and grey colours. and I got ready for my first session. All the while calming music was playing on the background.


indoors wellbeing centre

spa products

jars

ayuverdic products


My pampering session was started with the full body massage. It was lovely and relaxing, and in the ayuverdic tradition, the oils used were specific winter oils, rather pleasant and neutral smell. I really enjoyed the long massage and especially the gentle start. Some of the more high pressure muscle work on my shoulders at the end was tough going and occasionally painful - getting rid of those nasty knots is difficult! After an hour of (mostly) bliss, we moved on to the facial. After the serious and painful business of blackhead removal the lovely relaxing facial started and my skin was thoroughly treated. A bit of a head massage topped it off. And while waiting for the facial treatment to do its magic, my therapist scrubbed and massaged my feet. Bliss.

So, I've gotta say, two and a bit hours of just pure pampering was exactly what the doctor ordered for this mum as I left there with a spring in my step!.


massage room

candle and statue

woman after a massage


For several days afterwards I felt like my shoulders carried a lot less tension - they felt like they were lower and not that hunched up anymore. My skin felt refreshed, and clear. My husband even commented the following day how glowing my skin looked. So yes, a wonderfully relaxing pampering package I would definitely recommend.

Having been thoroughly pampered, literally from top to toe has really been the best early Mother's Day gift ever and something I wouldn't mind repeating in the future! There were quite a lot of good pampering packages on Red Letter Days I also liked the look of, like the Spa Days and Spa breaks. Ah, maybe next year!

What has been your best Mother's Day gift?


You might also like: The day I made my own perfume and The best last minute gift from Red Letter Days



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