Top 10 toddler-friendly breaks: An Irish mum's insider tips!
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Babies have basic needs, while older kids can entertain themselves. But what are the best places to take toddlers on holidays? Chrissie Russell, mother of Tom (2), shares her tips.
1. Peppa Pig World
Where: Paultons Family Theme Park, Hampshire, England
Why: What toddler wouldn’t want to fly Miss Rabbit’s helicopter and drive Daddy Pig’s car? This compact park is perfectly sized for little legs (though you can hire strollers), nearly all the gentle rides have no height restrictions (note that George’s dinosaur ride is over 0.85m, however) and there’s a ‘muddy puddle’ wet play area. Pack a change of clothes!
Best for: A weekend away with a two-year-old.
Details: Admission (adult or child over one metre) £31.75/€34.30 (or £27.25/€29.40 if you book in advance online) Kids under 1m go free (peppapigworld.co.uk). Book a break through Paultons Breaks (paultonsbreaks.com) and you’ll get the second day free.
Insider Tip: Don’t want to miss out on the fun yourself? The Tot Swap service means both parents can venture onto the ‘big’ rides in the rest of the park without queuing twice.
2. Thomas Land
Where: Drayton Manor Theme Park, Staffordshire, England
Why: A mammoth recent expansion means fans of Sodor’s steamies can now fight fires in Flynn, sail in Captain and take a spin on Toby’s Tram Express as well as enjoying the classics like chuffing on Thomas. There’s a wide range of ‘thrill’ levels — older tots will love the (surprisingly fast) Troublesome Trucks rollercoaster, while very little ones will adore seeing their favourite engines poking out of Tidmouth sheds.
Best for: A stop-off on a longer holiday, and families with a car. The Peak district is just up the road or, if you fancy a theme park extravaganza, Cbeebies Land is only 50 miles away.
Details: Book online up to midnight before you visit for adult: £25/€27 (compared to £39/€42 on the day) child (4-11): £20/€21.60, child (2-3): £7/€7.60. Under 2s: free. There’s also a Rainy Day Guarantee and a Stay & Play package. draytonmannor.co.uk.
Insider Tip: Beware! The exit from Winston’s Whistle Stop Tours takes a surprise detour through a vast toy shop.
3. CBEEBIES Land (and Hotel)
Where: Staffordshire, England
Why: The newly opened hotel takes ‘child-friendly’ to new heights with toddler steps at check-in, a tunnel to the gift shop, rooms with built-in toys and toddler height peepholes, and Bing Bunny wandering around reception. Cbeebies Land itself is nestled in a less manic corner of Alton Towers and not only has a good variety of rides (from gently sailing round the Night Garden to the more thrilling sky-acrobatics of the Go Jetters Vroomster), but also an educational slant which should appease those prone to the ‘what are they getting from this?’ guilts.
Best for: A really special birthday treat. Children with special needs will love the sensory décor and the Something Special features.
Details: Adults: Book online and it’s £32/€34.60 (or £54/€58.30 on the gate). Under 3s: Free. The hotel is pricey (from £197/€213 B&B for a room that sleeps a family of four), but guests get into the park an hour earlier than the hordes. See altontowers.com/cbeebies-land.
Insider Tip: Head for the calming waters of The Sea Life centre in nearby Mutiny Bay to chill out over-stimulated tots (and frazzled parents).
Where: Windsor, England
Why: Don’t rule out LegoLand simply because your child hasn’t hit the tiny-bricks stage — about a third of the park is toddler friendly. Duplo Valley is where you’ll spend most of your time, but the Spinning Spider in Land of the Vikings is also worth a look if your child is adventurous.
Best for: Three- to seven-year-olds, but beware… rides have a range of height restrictions and varying rules on how many adults can go with how many children.
Details: Adults: £60/€65 on the gate or £45/€49 if you book online seven days in advance. Children under 3: Free. Check online for 2 for 1 vouchers and Kids Go Free deals before booking (legoland.co.uk).
Insider Tip:Queues tend to ease up after lunch so focus on the queue-free play park stuff (like the splash park — bring swim togs) earlier on before hitting the big rides, and download the app for real-time waiting times and restrictions.
5. Cruise with P&O
Where: Britannia, Europe itineraries
Why: Sailings depart from Southampton (just over an hour’s flight from Dublin and home to Peppa Pig World), food to suit every palette, The Reef — P&O’s largest dedicated supervised kids area (a lovely safe, light-filled space with activities like pirate hat making), a night nursery… I could go on. Unlike many cruise lines, P&O allows kids to use some pools wearing swim nappies, and there’s a dedicated toddler splash area. Stops include beach days in Alicante and visiting the fab aquarium at Barcelona, so no need to brave lengthy bus tours.
Best for: Parents nervy about a first toddler holiday.
Details: A 14-night cruise taking in Spain, France and Italy costs from £1,184/ €1,279 per adult and £149/€160 per infant/child (up to 16 years). pocruises.com.
Insider Tip: Ask about borrowing a junior bed from the Reef.
6. W5 Interactive Discovery Centre
Where: The Odyssey Arena, Belfast
Why: This award-winning spot has a whopping 250+ interactive exhibits. Okay, the ‘science’ might be lost on the under 5s, but there’s plenty of pipes to batter, buttons to press, coloured bubbles to gaze at, not to mention pretend shops, a giant wooden railway, flying balls and great water play.
Details: Adult: €11.82, Child: €9.04, Family (2 adults, 2 children): €35.54. Children under 2: Free (w5online.co.uk). Book online to reserve your slot.
Best for: A fun day out (especially families whose kids are a range of ages).
Insider Tip:Make a beeline for the under 8s Discovery section on the second floor and don’t get way laid by the ground-floor’s Spacebase soft play area (which is only for over 3s and costs an extra £3.50).
7. Kenmare Bay Hotel & Resort
Where: Kenmare, Co Kerry
Why: An award-winning hotel with a choice of family bedrooms or self-catering cottages, there are lots of toddler-friendly little touches — like the play area in the Bay Restaurant (meaning mum and dad can enjoy dinner in peace). There’s a kids pool, outdoor playground, playroom and access to babysitting. It’s just minutes’ walk from pretty Kenmare Town and there’s loads to do in the area (pottery and crafts, a petting farm and an activity centre).
Best for: A relaxing staycation.
Details: B&B from €99 for a family of four. See kenmarebayhotel.com.
Insider Tip:The Kids Club is only for children aged 5-12 (and costs extra). You’ve to ask for a key to the drop-in playroom and stay to supervise.
8. Martinhal Beach Resort, Villa 92
Where: The Algarve, Portugal
Why: Tots To Travel has an epic list of awards to support its claim of ‘crafting perfect family holidays’. This five-bed villa is just over an hour’s drive from Faro (a direct flight from Dublin) and perfect for two families holidaying together. Child-friendly features abound (black-out shutters, childlocks, fenced and heated pools, onsite crèche and kids clubs, kids TV channels, a nearby beach…) but without compromising on grown-up luxury. There’s yoga, a deli and even a spa on-site too. Bliss!
Best for: Parents who want a luxury holiday without compromising on child safety and entertainment.
Details: From £496/€535 per night (totstotravel.co.uk). See also martinhal.com.
Insider Tip: Don’t waste suitcase space on baby monitors, bath toys, books and DVDs. All Tots To Travel villas have over 20 guaranteed toddler items (including a high chair, cot, changing mat, potty, bed guard and nightlight).
9. Tepee Valley Campsite
Best for: A unique camping holiday.
Why: Glamping and the whole ‘camping in comfort’ idea has been around for a while, but there’s something truly magical about this cosy, family-run campsite set in rolling farmland outside the small town of Markethill. The biggest dilemma will be whether to opt for a tepee, yurt or gypsy caravan?
Details: £140- £160/€151-€173 (peak season) for a two-night break and £55/€59 per night thereafter. discovernorthernireland.com.
Insider Tip: There’s no playground on-site but if you’re experiencing swings and slides withdrawal, check out the amazing new playground at nearby Gosford Forest. Also, a warning: Wi-Fi is limited.
10. Disneyland Paris
Where: Marne-le-Vallée, France
Why: One of the perks of having pre-school age kids is being able to go places like Disneyland off-peak when queues won’t be as hellish. Yes, it is too big for them (hire a stroller, and check out rides on YouTube first to have a game plan). No, they might not remember it. But it is magical and most toddler-friendly rides are handily grouped together in Fantasyland.
Best for: An off-peak moment of pure fantasy.
Details: Park admission from €42 (under 3s free). A two-night/three-day stay at Sequoia Lodge (it’s one of the closest hotels to the park) with park entry for a family of four travelling midweek in September costs €917 on disneylandparis.ie. Flights extra.
Insider Tip: It’s a myth that you can’t bring food into the park. You can — but not if it looks like a picnic. Steer clear of hampers and cooler bags and keep sarnies and snacks in backpacks.
NB: Prices subject to availability. Exchange rates correct going to press, but can change.