Alternative Things To Do This Easter: The Manchester Duck Race

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The long weekend is nearly upon us! And I don’t know how you feel but I’m pretty darned excited about that fact; I had a very glorious time with my two last weekend but for this one I will be child-free for a whole five days. FIVE DAYS, PEOPLE. I would say that this time is going to give me the perfect opportunity to relax, sleep in, catch up on work and watch the whole of Breaking Bad again but we all know this is never going to happen.

Unfortunately when the children spend any length of time away from me I am so overwhelmed by it all I usually end up going wild with plans: trips to London, meals out with friends, daily gym trips. I wind up hungover, tired and possibly with sore thighs (new trainer at the gym, you know?). I need a weekend away from the kids to get over my weekend away from the kids. I have never been busier but then again what keeps me busy keeps me happy. Try spending an ‘evening off’ on your own without your children and I promise you’ll wind up crying into your Instagram feed, drinking a bottle of wine and watching 500 Days Of Summer/Beyonce videos with possible added Spotify karaoke.

It’s a ball.

Anyway, this weekend I have a feast of adult-only entertainment planned (NOT LIKE THAT), starting with a hen do on Saturday and a Euro minibreak that will include travelling through an actual airport without the following items: babywipes, spare vests, nappies, tranquillisers. It’s going to be so grown-up, so quiet, so very lovely. I’ll obviously miss Elfie and Hux more than I can even describe but despite that I plan on eating all the food, drinking all the wine and soaking in all the culture. I’m no Nun, I can’t steer clear of those bars, OK?

Easter has always been one of my favourite holidays – it’s when the sun first appears and we remember what Pimms tastes like – so I’ve been taking a look at what you might like to get up to closer to home. And if you’re based in northern England (or even if you’re not… take a look at some great hotel options in Manchester from Hotel Direct for those who fancy a weekend away) I’ve found the perfect solution! The Manchester Duck Race.

You may smirk but let me tell you, I spent many a happy weekend in my old town racing ducks.

Proper old-school family fun this will be, including a bouncy castle, giant slide and teacup ride. Each duck entry is just £1 and goes towards the valuable work the charity Brainwave does, improving children’s mobility, communication skills and learning potential through a range of educational and physical therapies. The big race starts at 2pm and anyone can enter the family race with as many or as few ducks as you’d like. The first five ducks across the line win a prize.

So go on, spill all: what are you doing this Easter weekend? Euro tripping or duck racing, I want to know!

Thanks to Hotel Direct for supporting More Than  Toast – see more about my disclosure policy here

 

What Does Travelling with Kids Teach Us?

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image courtesy of nokhoog_buchachon / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Going on vacation with your kids is a wonderful way to get to know them better and bond as a family. This being said, there are many people who fear family holidays because travelling with kids can lead to additional stress situations and therefore choose to stay at home rather than embark on what is likely to be a fun adventure for everyone involved. Believe me when I say that travelling together as family can be a beautiful experience that will teach you a lot. And here is a quick look at some of the, in my opinion, most important things that we quickly learn from travelling with kids.

The importance of comfortable accommodation
One of the first things that we tend to discover when travelling with kids is the importance of safe and comfortable accommodation. When travelling on a budget many people tend to play down the importance of these factors, but with the kids in tow the size of your room, proximity to restaurants etc. as well as hotel facilities suddenly become imperative to the comfort and enjoyment of the entire vacation. Online booking sites can be very helpful as they often give you the possibility to choose your accommodation by location and to read reviews posted by previous visitors (among them also families). So if you would like to visit for example Prague, you should have a look at websites that have all these characteristics like venere.com and check all important details (price, location and child-friendly features).

The importance of organisation
Although it may sound a little cliché, organisation really is key to the success of any family vacation. Negative experiences of travelling with kids rapidly teach us that carefully planning details such as how to travel, where to stay, which attractions to visit, where to eat out etc. makes a big difference to the overall enjoyment of the whole family.

The importance of a family-friendly destination
When planning a vacation with the kids the choice of destination really is crucial. It is important to do some research before making your decision in order to establish whether or not your desired destination is child-friendly. For example, European cities such as Rome or Prague are a good choice as behaving like a toddler tends to be more widely accepted. The kids will pick up on this vibe and will most likely be better behaved as a result.

The importance of not fearing flights
Many parents tremble with fear at the thought of a flight with young children. However, something that we quickly learn when travelling with kids is that airports are often easier to navigate than train stations, and that as long as you carefully choose the times of your flights and pack the appropriate toys and games for your kids, air travel can be the most stress-free travel option. You can also find some really useful advices about flying with kids here.

The importance of realistic expectations
When travelling with kids we tend to learn early on that we must set off on our family vacation with realistic expectations. It’s no good trying to do too much during your trip or hoping to do exactly the same activities as you did before the kids came along. At times, allow your children to set the pace and decide where they would like to go and before you know it, you’ll soon be admitting that a trip to the zoo tends to be far more fun than a visit to the museum!

There are so many important life lessons that we can learn from travelling with kids that these family vacations quickly become invaluable learning curves enabling us to better spend quality time with our nearest and dearest.

This article was written by Mary, a mommy of two and travel blogger.

24 Hours In London: The Cavendish London

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Even though I no longer live in London I would definitely say it is my spiritual home. Something about the place is so energising: the atmosphere, the culture, the food, the tourists, the traffic. I love it all and every time I make the thirty minute train journey into the city I feel excited at the prospect of spending a few hours in my favourite place.

But a few hours never seems to be enough; luckily I have a good few friends who let me crash in their beds when I’m in town on a girl’s night, and you can always get a good value hotel room via Hotel Tonight (I love The Threadneedles) or at The Hoxton. And a couple of weeks ago I added a new hotel to my list of favourite places in London to lay my head: The Cavendish London.

London Skyline

The Cavendish London is a 4 star boutique hotel in on of the most gorgeous areas of London, St James, just off Piccadilly. I visited on one of the first super sunny days of the year and it was just glorious; the sun was bouncing off the stone buildings, the sky was blue and though it was still pretty chilly there were bare arms and smiley faces every way you turned. I’d just indulged in one of my favourite activities, a hair cut with the ever-amazing Sam at Ena Salon (he knows how to make you feel spoiled, ladies), and strolling through such a beautiful London meant I was walking on air by the time I got to my hotel. You’ll find it easily as I did tucked in on a little side street just behind Fortnum’s: such a fantastic spot for anyone wanting to explore the finer parts of London.

I checked in and made my way up to my room. Just check out the view I was greeted with! I don’t mean the view of myself in the mirror, I’m talking that breathtaking London vista up there. Totally stunning.

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I never know what to do when I find myself in a hotel room. A place where you are ALONE, with a TV, a huge bed for SLEEP, magazines that you can READ. The potential for alone-time fun is incredible. So I did what I always seem to do which is order a Caesar salad and bowl of chips on room service, don my bathrobe and eat my lunch snuggled into the big fluffy hotel pillows. Blissful.

Caesar salad and chips is always my go-to room service choice and this one was top-notch. The chicken was perfectly chargrilled and though I don’t normally go for chunky chips these ones were wonderful. And anchovies, mmm, anchovies.

Bed at The Cavendish London

Desk at The Cavendish, London

Room Service at The Cavendish, LondonNot wanting to be totally lazy and explore the local area (and OK, cos I’d left my contact lens solution at home), I took a wander up Piccadilly to Piccadilly Circus. Up here you’ll find some shops and a LOT of tourists (and also a huge store dedicated to Nespresso? Who knew). I picked up a little bottle of wine from Whole Foods (fave supermarket in the whole world, sorry Waitrose) with plans to enjoy it in the bath later and just took an hour to walk aimlessly. This part of London is so different to what I’m used to, it’s a feast for the senses with its bright lights, smells wafting over from Chinatown and busy streets. It was fun but I was happy to retreat to the sanctuary of my room at The Cavendish London.

Sunrise from The Cavendish, London

There are rarely many things I find more satisfying than a nap in a hotel bed, so nap I did followed by a happy half hour gazing out of my window at the view with my Whole Foods glass of wine in hand. Soul food, that was. Then it was time for dinner after a long soak in a bath. This day… it just gets better and better, right?

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I’d invited my gorgeous friend Caoimhe to dine with me and was so excited to catch up with her. We began our evening with cocktails in the bar and gossip about boys before moving on to the restaurant. IMG_1342The food was one of the things I was most looking forward to at The Cavendish; their in-house restaurant Petrichor has 2 AA rosettes and after checking out their menu online I was really excited to dine there. It’s one floor up in the hotel so you get a really unique birds-eye view of the streets below which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a quiet, luxurious restaurant that would be suited to a romantic date or anniversary dinner. Or a catch up with one of your favourite Irish babes :)

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I plumped for the Scottish Scallop started which came with breaded frogs legs and was every bit as delicious as it looked. The scallops were cooked to perfection and though I’ve only had frogs legs once before these really hit the spot. Delicious.

Caoimhe went for the Trio of Quail: breast, egg and confit leg croquette. Just YUM. 

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Next up were the mains and though I chose well with  my Suffolk Chicken Roulade (the pan-fried lettuce was to die for and I loved the earthy taste of the king oyster mushroom and truffle hollandaise) I have to admit, I had total food envy. Caoimhe’s plate was a work of art; her beef fillet came with smoked potato puree, ox cheek croquette, duck liver pate and a potato ring. WOW.

IMG_1351 IMG_1349Puddings were up next and again these were big old plates of loveliness. My star anise creme brulee was a lovely end to a beautiful meal and Caoimhe’s Chocolate brownie could have been eaten three times over.

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With stuffed bellies we headed off round the corner to Quaglino’s for a little sip of Prosecco and an old-fashioned flirt with some bartenders. We must have done something right because they kept appearing at our table with shots of delicious alcohol: this one below was rhubarb pavlova and coming with a teeny tiny meringue it literally tasted like pudding in a glass. We were impressed. And slightly drunk. See: LEGS. My mother will be horrified.

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When we ran out of gossip I wobbled back round the corner to my bed at The Cavendish, excited about the TEN HOURS sleep I was about to have. There’s always time for a mirror selfie in a lift full of reflections, though…

IMG_5675The next morning I woke up feeling refreshed and energised hungover and starving. Luckily on my return to the hotel I’d had the wherewithal to crazily scribble a room service breakfast order and leave it on my door for morning. So I had a slug of water, took a picture of the London sunrise and waited for my feast to arrive at 8.30.

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Yep, apparently when I’m a bit tiddly I want ALL THE BACON. The breakfast was divine and tasted just as good as it looked, especially when enjoyed in bed with a massive cup of tea and Sunday morning breakfast TV. If you decide to brave leaving your room for breakfast though it’s worth noting you can until 12pm: it winds me up no end when you wake up at 10.15am on a Sunday morning in a hotel and realise you’ve missed breakfast and I wish more hotels were flexible with their times like this.

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A little post-breakkie snooze and I was ready to start the day. I had to be back home for the kids fairly early so after I checked out of my St James’s bolthole I took a little browse through Fortnum and Mason and hopped on the tube home.

All in all, a thoroughly wonderful way to spend 24 hours in the capital. I may not have gone sightseeing, taken in any museums or visited any great monuments… but I returned home feeling like I’d spent a whole day pampering and pleasing no-one but myself and that was worth its weight in gold. The memories of that wonderful alone time will last and last :)

The Cavendish London: I’ll be back!

I was a guest of The Cavendish London – thank you so much for having me! 

 

 

 

 

Aruba Wanderlust

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In the last few weeks I’ve been experiencing what can only be called a pretty serious case of wanderlust. I don’t know if it’s the miserable state of the weather we’ve been experiencing – my neighbour’s garden is currently completely exposed to mine thanks to those spectacular winds we had a couple of weeks ago and there’s a countrywide shortage of fence panels – or the fact I haven’t been out of the country for a little while. But I want, no, NEED some sunshine. These toes are desperate to feel sand between them, my face needs to feel the sun on it! We’re getting desperate over here.

To feed my current holiday obsession I’ve been maniacally searching for last minute breaks on the the First Choice website. But because I need heat, warmth, sunshine and all that good stuff I’ve been looking further afield than Europe. That’s right, I need some Caribbean in my life! So with the help of Trip Advisor I’ve decided on Aruba as my imaginary soon-to-be holiday destination of choice. I love Trip Advisor, it’s like going on holiday without leaving the sofa. Kind of.

So how do I love Aruba? Let me count the ways…

Palm Beach, Aruba

 

First there’s Palm Beach. A high-rise, high glamour resort in the north-west of Aruba, this has been named one of the world’s best beaches by Conde Nast Traveller – good enough for me. It has 5 kilometres of white sands, clear blue seas, yet all the amenities you could ever want: hotels, malls, casinos. It’s like Vegas by the sea! Palm Beach is the island’s top destination and it’s as family-friendly as they come with bowling, water rise, a butterfly farm and even an ostrich farm, too! You will never be bored on Palm Beach.

Next up is Druif Beach. Do you get the feeling I like beaches? Yep. A lot. Druif Beach is a much quieter, slower-paced resort on the west coast of Aruba and it’s your quintessential Caribbean beach. Stretching as far as the eye can see, there’s a glorious 11km of white sandy beaches, with so much space it neverseems to get busy. I like the fact I won’t be struggling for sunbathing space here!

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Aruba is only 30km x 10km so it’s great to explore on a push bike. The northern coast is rugged, a whole different experience to the rest of the island. And the capital of Oranjestad is never far away with its Dutch colonial architecture, pastel-coloured houses and beautiful boutiques. And when it’s time to eat the fancy French restaurants go head-to-head with rustic places serve up traditional Caribbean fare.

Where to stay when in Aruba? My eye is on the Divi Aruba on secluded Druif beach. The main pool is right on the beach and there’s a sea-front bar as well as a restaurant with gorgeous sea views. It’s small enough to feel intimate yet you can use the bars, restaurants and pools of the next door Tamarjn Aruba so you will be totally spoilt for choice! It’s all inclusive too, so you need not worry about any money when you’re there.

Where are you going on holiday this year? Hypothetical or not, give me some wanderlust inspiration!

Thank you to First Choice for giving me things other than diets and children to write about :) Check out my disclosure page for more info. 

Image sources – All taken from Flickr’s Creative Commons

Palm Beach : http://flic.kr/p/7B8rux

Druif Beach: http://flic.kr/p/bW8S25

Divi Aruba – http://flic.kr/p/dc4fBH

When You’re Let Loose In London For 24 Hours

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Since I split from my husband I have relied on my friends more than I ever had before. When I was married my husband was my best friend and I definitely neglected my female relationships in favour of this relationship. One of the best things about splitting up has been re-discovering the connection I have with my lady friends and I couldn’t be happier with the brilliant examples of womankind I am surrounded by.

Unfortunately one of the best friends I have is all the way in New York. Kirsty is the one I went to when things with my marriage went tits up and Skyping her is the first thing I want to do when I have a terrible date or rubbish day.  When we’re together we always have an absolutely wonderful time and I can hand on heart say that I know I want her to be in my life forever. I never laugh more than when I’m with Kirsty.

We met in one of the first weeks I lived in London, having dinner with a mutual friend. Because I was the country mouse transplanted to the big city Kirsty took me under her wing, introduced me to people and showed me the ways of the London world. I remember meeting her for dinner for the first time at Mildred’s in Soho and she’d just finished scouring Primark; she had a brilliant on-the-side eBay business selling on 99p glasses for a tenner and was frantic because everywhere had sold out and she had orders stacking up. I remember feeling wide-eyed and in awe at this exuberant, confident chatty woman who took me to dinner and talked my ear off.

She has remained my friend ever since, even helped me get a job at the place she worked, and though slightly less frantic and chatty these days (I like to tell her like a good stilton, she’s matured with age and is very cheesy) she is still one of those people whose spirit lifts you up just by spending time with them.

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Enough Kirsty loving, she’s going to have an unbearable ego when she gets round to reading this. LOVE YOU DARLING.

Anyway, because of the nature of Kirsty living on the other side of the planet it can be difficult for us to get together.  She has fleeting visits to the country every few months and this time I had her for a whole 24 hours. To say I was excited is an understatement, and even more so because we’d planned to jampack that whole time with FUN!

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We started at Chuan, the spa at The Langham, at 10 am. The order of the day: body scrubs, back massages and mini facials. I had a foot massage that sent me to sleep (woke myself up snoring like the classy bird I am) and then onto the spa for a dip in the pool, jacuzzi and sauna. I do mean a literal dip: that thing was freezing so we promptly retreated to the bubbles of the jacuzzi and the serenity of the heated beds. Lovely.

Now, I like the changing room at my gym. It’s always clean, the shower is super-powered and the hairdryers are excellent. But the one at Chuan spa was simply out of this world. The shower had about 12 heads and a million knobs, there were not only hairdryers but hair straighteners and every sort of beauty product was there available for you to use. Oh, and slippers. You know times are good when there are hundreds of pairs of slippers at your disposal.

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Relaxed, we went from the spa to Soho house for a lunch of calimari, caesar salad, chips and some other things that I don’t remember. That’ll be the Prosecco. Of which there were lots… yay! I told you, there’s nothing I like more than sitting down to drink a bottle of something chilled and fizzy with a really interesting person and Kirsty, you’re no exception.

Kirsty had a conference call to make so we headed back to our hotel three sheets to the wind. I don’t know about you but I find I get my best work done this way, and she seemed to be more hilarious than normal during her call. I of course spent the time flashing my bra at her, retrieving champagne and offering my own terribly important insights into her terribly important business. The dream team, that’s us.

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We were put up by the marvellous people at Novotel at their Novotel Waterloo hotel. We had a room that was really generously sized by London standards; big enough for a huge bed and a desk that came in very handy for all the proper bizness that Kirsty was carrying out. We stayed on their shopping package, which meant we were greeted with glasses of Champagne (Taittenger too, very lovely) and a goodie bag for a trip to the shops. We had Westfield VIP vouchers (discounts, yo!), treats for our feet for when all that walking got too much, water and a brilliant breakfast in the hotel restaurant.

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The hotel bar was absolutely beautiful and we enjoyed a second glass of champagne while we waited for our cab. My favourite thing might have been this London skyline rug, though. Absolutely brilliant.

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The hotel was really well placed for where we wanted to go; we hopped in an Uber (best taxi service ever: if you want to try it this weekend use the promo code ‘sh99c‘ and you’ll get a £20 credit to your account, as will I, whee!) and on a whim headed to Heron Tower. We did the touristy thing and gawped at all the sights on our way passed: The Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Tower Bridge. Ace. There’s nothing I love more than being a tourist in lovely old London.

I’ve never been up Heron tower before, heights aren’t my thing, but on such a girly night out a fancy bar seemed to be the way to go. Let me tell you, that lift up to SushiSamba is a total headfark. I ended up clutching on to Kirsty’s arm, whimpering on the floor, not really sure what to do. My ears popped twice. In short, it was pretty awful but the view was just about worth it. Check this out:

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That doesn’t go any way to demonstrate just how stunning it was. Truly beautiful, a trip up the Heron Tower is definitely one for the ‘to do’ list. Fear of heights or not, I’ll definitely be back. The food at SushiSamba was incredible; we hadn’t booked and were seated at the bar, feasting on tuna sashimi, rock shrimp tempura and cucumber cocktails. It was pricey but worth it and the restaurant itself was beautifully decadent.

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Feeling full we decided to head over to Shoreditch House, where most of our early friendship was cultivated over espresso martinis and stories about BOYS. Not much has changed really (though this time more tequila was involved and it was me rather than her telling stories of BOYS) and the evening was spent being borderline annoying to our fellow revellers (crashing the British Fashion Council’s Christmas parties was one of the better ideas we’ve had, I feel). We ended the night in reindeer antlers, crawling into bed back at the Novotel at about 4am. It was an awesome awesome night and I haven’t smiled, danced and laughed that much in a long time.

IMG_4570It’s probably a good thing that Kirsty only comes over once every six months because it took me a solid 5 days to recover from our day of excess. Ugh, the curse of a hangover when you’re no longer 23.

But I really really really can’t wait to do it all again in six months time.

Top 5 tourist attractions in Sussex that are still in open in winter

This sponsored post is brought to you by the lovely mums at Haven holidays. Thank-you, Haven! Read more in my disclosure policy here.

My family is a boisterous lot. Honestly, we’d put that lot off Malcolm in the Middle to shame.

Well maybe we’re not that bad but I certainly feel like Lois sometimes when I’m trying to make myself heard over my three boys. I love them to pieces but if I don’t keep them occupied, there’s mayhem.

In my 10 years of being a mother I’ve found focusing that energy on an activity is the best way to keep my boys out of trouble – and a sure fire way to make sure they’re tired by bedtime. This autumn I felt like we all needed a getaway so I decided to take the whole family away on a weekend break to Church Farm Park in Sussex. But within a few hours of booking, I had a sudden realisation – would anything still be open in November?

I frantically turned to Google and started researching what would be open at this time of year – surely there would be something? I wanted to plan an action-packed trip that gets us out of the house – not stuck indoors because all the tourist attractions have closed for the winter.

So that was my mission – find fun things to do on Sussex holidays in November & December that the whole family would enjoy. Here’s what I managed to find but if I’ve missed anything, I’d be very grateful for your help.

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Picturedrome, Bognor Regis

We don’t normally take a television on holiday, but I usually grant my kids a trip to the cinema as a treat. This old-fashioned Picturedrome in Bognor Regis looks particularly special and the run-up to Christmas is a great time for new films. This old cinema was built in 1885 and is now a grade II listed building.

Taking them here will be my attempt to insert a bit of culture into the family. In all honesty the boys’ eyes will probably only move from the big screen to their bucket of popcorn but my husband and I will certainly enjoy a more ‘cultural’ cinema experience.

Drusillas Park

Take them away from the TV and their games consoles and my boys love exploring. That’s why I’d love to take them to Drusillas Park if the weather holds out. TripAdvisor tells me it’s one of the best small zoos in Europe and most families seem to spend around 4-6 hours there – the perfect length of time for a day out. My youngest son is a particular fan on monkeys and I hear they’ve got loads of different types there. They even run special events for guests to get involved!

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The Observatory Science Centre

However much we’d love to spend the day exploring the zoo, you can’t always guarantee the weather; that’s why I’ve found the Observatory Science Centre as a back-up in case we’d rather do something indoors.

A family friend of ours went here on their last trip to Sussex and said it’s fantastic for kids, with loads of interactive experiments for them to take part in. I think my boys will particularly like the space section and considering this seems to be a very hands-on place, they’ll love getting stuck into the activities.

Treasure Island

Treasure Island is one place I know my family would absolutely love if we visited in the summer, but the good news is the indoor activities are open all year round.

When the whole thing is open it’s a huge indoor and outdoor theme park, but since the outdoor bit shuts in September, we’ll be going there for the ‘Buccaneers Indoor Adventure’. This is a massive soft play area spanning two floors and while the kids run around and let off some steam, my husband and I can grab a snack in the ‘Hungry Pirate Café’.

Ghost Walk of the Lanes, Brighton

Finally, the Ghost Walk of the Lanes in Brighton is something my eldest son Liam (who’s 14) spotted when he was peering over my shoulder at my laptop. It’s definitely not suitable for the little ones but if Liam’s good I take him along. A few people on TripAdvisor have said they’ve taken their kids along and I think I might actually end up being more scared than Liam! Whatever happens I know he’ll be itching to get back home to tell his friends all the creepy stories he’s heard.

So there you have it – the top five tourist attractions I’ve found in Sussex that are still open in winter. I’m sure that’s not everything though so if any of you have been on Sussex holidays in the winter and know something good that I’ve missed, please let me know!