Family travel with flair

Review: Barbury Shooting School for kids

Tweet I come from Texas, so really I’m supposed to know all about guns. But since I won that riflery award at summer camp age 12, my shooting prowess has largely been on the wane. Don’t get me wrong — I love shooting (I did say I’m from Texas, right?), but the opportunities to practice don’t come along that often. When my 16-year-old stepson received a voucher from his grandparents for a clay pigeon shooting day, my husband and I decided to register our 11-year-old daughter too and, while we were at it, have a private lesson for the two of us. Or rather a private lesson for me and a bit of easy shooting for him. The day out was at Barbary Shooting School in Wiltshire, just on the way to granny’s. The school is top-notch and runs loads of activities, from “have a go” days for taster sessions, ladies gun club meetings, multi-activity parties, children’s parties, and individual and group lessons. Here’s what we thought of it:   What: Our 11- and 16-year-old went on one of the Young Clayshots Day. The group of children — there were upwards of 20 that day, which one of the staff described as the biggest they’d ever had — were divided into smaller groups then taken to various stations of Barbury’s grounds. In one area just next to the lodge/club house, they took turns learning how to shoot air rifles at neon-coloured water balloons tacked onto a board. In another they did archery — using seriously engineered bows and with some of the children standing remarkably close to the target. They they got instruction shooting “birds” (clays catapulted into the air) and “rabbits” (clays that roll along the ground). All the children were complete novices or just about. (Barbury also run children’s clayshots days for more intermediate shooters.) Kid appeal: “It was very easy to learn how to shoot and you felt safe. The instructors were very clear,” my daughter said, describing her experience a few weeks later. On the day she was more effusive, talking in detail how she did the best in her group in the air rifle shoot-out, hitting a metal crow to beat out the last boy standing. The 16-year-old beamed after getting a nearly perfect score shooting clays. Thanks to the attentive instructor, who stood next to each shooter in turn and gave shot-by-shot advice — along with an occasional hand in guiding the gun — every child hit at least one and we were...

Milestone Hotel: Family luxury in Kensington

TweetI’ve added a giveaway of some of The Milestone Hotel’s luxurious Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet travel toiletries (bath essence, body lotion, soap, shower gel, shampoo) and Fine Milk Chocolate. Read the post and leave a comment. It’s soooo easy. Go on, then. a Rafflecopter giveaway I’ve heard of dream hotels, but this is ridiculous. After visiting the sumptuous Milestone Hotel in Kensington, touring the richly designed rooms and eating its delectable high tea, I actually dreamed about it.     I was wandering the hotel, slipping into unoccupied rooms and discovering arresting views, gorgeous artwork, and furnishings that make you want to pledge your undying love. At the end, a friend presented me with a box of strange and lovely items, inspired by the woman who owned the hotel, each a treasure that I examined with delicacy. With the real Milestone, the owner Bea Tollman is the glamorous presence everywhere. She’s selected the furniture for each of the individually decorated rooms, she’s chosen the gorgeous and interesting art on the walls (forget what you know about hotel room art; you’ll want to stage a heist to smuggle it out) and she (or at least her people) hosts families in high style.       In addition to making my list of mouthwatering hotels, the Milestone’s just won TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice awards, which named it the best hotel in the UK. Other kudos include Travel+Leisure’s World’s Best 500 Hotels and a Condé Nast Traveller Readers’ Choice Award. I’m always looking for family-friendly hotels to recommend to American friends that embody “Britishness”. You come all this way as a Yank, and it’s nice to check into a hotel with an air of the Empire about it.       Of course, to many Brits, a “traditional hotel” evokes images of threadbare floral carpet, indifferent service and grey roast beef, wheeled at intervals round a staid dining room. Dire. Well, banish the thought. The Milestone Hotel captures the best of British style and quirkiness, with service to suit a queen. Here, the top 6 reasons I’d recommend a stay at the Milestone: 1. A fabulous location in Kensington The Milestone recently hosted BritMums family travel bloggers, where we got the grand tour. The location couldn’t be better. It’s on Kensington High Street and its glut of shops, while just across the road is Kensington Gardens, which beckons with easy outings to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, Kensington Palace, the Serpentine and the wonderful Diana Memorial Playground. 2. A real family welcome Lots of hotels...

Mum blogger video review: Four Seasons Park Lane

Tweet We recently visited the Four Seasons Park Lane, bordering Hyde Park and Green Park, for an overnight stay away from the kids. It’s a city hotel, which usually means more compact facilities and an urban feel. Here, the lobby is sumptuous, the spa has prime position on a high floor with wraparound views, and the bartenders dispense cocktails with hospitality and warmth imported from their native Italy. Plus there’s that little thing about the Rolls Royce Ghosts for tooling around London, if that’s your kind of thing. Read my full review Here are some nice pictures on another blog featuring the hotel’s cocktails...

Blogger review of the Athenaeum Pudding Parlour, London

TweetI first became aware of just how delicious dessert can be was a couple of years ago in Savannah, Georgia, when a friend took me to Lulu’s Chocolate Bar. In the moodily lit room sat girls dolled up glamorous/retro, guys ordering chocolate martinis and jazz oozing through the space. The entire vibe was yummy. (You can see some gorgeous pictures of Lulu’s here.) I’ve longed for a similar spot here in London, and now – thanks to Janis from Really Kid Friendly and Laura from London-Baby.com – I’ve found it: the Athenaeum’s Pudding Parlour. Janis and Laura organised a London bloggers meet-up there earlier this week. Foodie bloggers like Claire from Crumbs, Sarah from Maison Cupcake, and Laura from How to Cook Good Food. I also caught up with WestLondonMum, South of the River Mum, Not a Notting Hill Mum, Cari Rosen, Working London Mummy, Maggy from Red Ted Art and Uju from Babes About Town. My review of the Pudding Parlour The parlour is just off reception and is furnished with deep-dish sofas and comfy chairs. In the middle of the space is a dramatically lit table of desserts. For the Christmas season the hotel was featuring a gorgeous Christmas pudding, mini rhubarb crumbles, rhubarb jelly with a pistachio biscotti, bread-and-butter pudding, and lemon meringue pie, among other delicacies. Edd Kimber aka The Boy Who Bakes and Winner of The Great British Bake Off 2010, contributed a pudding of the month recipe: traditional homemade mince pies. (These had a bit too much pastry for me – I prefer the open-faced version.) The real winner was a chocolate mousse type pudding that was served in a tiny bowl made of chocolate. Claire of Crumbs declared the bowl delicious. I had the champagne jelly, a pale yellow serving in a shot glass with a bright red raspberry at the bottom – light and subtle with a tart finish when you reached the berry.   The experience is a refreshing change from the usual wallet-emptying experience of socialising around the Green Park/Park Lane quarter. You get one trip to the dessert table for £10, or pay £15 to have puddings with an accompanying pudding wine. Several groups of women sat around the room, drinking Champagne and tasting all the versions. While the setting and the menu might fit more readily into the image of a girls night out, I did see a pair of gentlemen at one of the tables. The appeal of chocolate-y puddings, it appears, doesn’t discriminate. The Pudding...

Review: Holidaying in an Airstream on Isle of Wight

TweetDestination: Vintage Vacations, near Ryde, Isle of Wight, 07802 758113 Great for: holidaying with other families, having a chill-out getaway Pack: Football, cricket sets, badminton sets, croquet sets, and the novel you’ve been meaning to read Don’t forget: Your wellies, just in case The one problem with writing about travel: you find someplace really cool you want to tell the world about…and then you can’t get a reservation or a table next time you want to visit. I’ve already booked my Airstream caravan at Vintage Vacations on Isle of Wight for next year, so it’s safe for me to spread the word. For two years I kept trying to snag one of the refurbished classic silver American motorhomes that Helen and Frazer rent, only be told they were booked solid. (The caravans are stationary, located on a sprawling farmer’s field near Ryde.) We got our act together for a visit earlier this year and spent an amazing four days in an Overlander, along with some friends in the Airstream next door and the kids playing in the Doris, a tiny vintage English caravan parked just in front of them. This Isle of Wight treasure isn’t a big secret: it’s been written up in newspapers and magazines. What is new are the upgrades they seem to make every year – adding new caravans and improving the site on which they sit. The Airstreams themselves are kitschy and comfortable. The beds have real mattresses and the showers are surprisingly useable, despite their diminuitive size. Yet this isn’t full-on glamping. The upgrades are in various stages of finish, their caravans’ kitchens are stocked with mismatched implements and homey tea towels. It all adds to the sepia-toned experience. You sit out on the brightly painted picnic tables, sipping coffee or a glass of wine, while in the field the children play cricket or build dens or set a trap an animal with a folding chair and a net shopping bag. (At least, that’s what ours did.) At night you roast marshmallows and tell jokes around the brazier or cookout on one of the site’s barbecues. Nearby there are all the usual Isle of Wight family attractions: touring Osborne House with its amazing playground, climbing with Good Leaf tree climbing, visiting Cowes, and sand-castling on the beaches. But ultimately, we spent most of our time lounging around the campsite, playing games, reading books and chatting. You know, just like in the good ol’ days. Resources We took the ferry with Wightlink (0871 376 1000...

Disney Dream cruises: good for family – and adult – fun

Tweet All cruise ships are big but on the new Disney Dream ship (1,250 staterooms, 14 decks) if you want a break from the children as they play on deck 5, you can have a drink in Hong Kong. Or New York or Paris, depending on the day. A panaromic LCD screen at The Skyline bar (deck 4 aft) provides the vista; the knowledgeable young bartender pours the cocktails. Among the other 4 bars and nightclub in “The District” area for over-18s are a champagne bar (the you-are-inside-the-flute bubble effects go live in February), a lounge with pianist and torch singer, and a disco with flashing floor lights (eat your heart out, Tony Manero). At the other end of the age range and ship is the Oceaneer Club for kids up to age 10 (with playscapes, themed rooms, organised activities and an innovative interactive PlayFloor – more on that later) and Vibe, a teens-only area with groovy furniture, TV and games and a teens-only sundeck. There are family musical theatre shows and casual restaurants as well as a spa, an adults-only pool – with swim-up bar of course – and high-end French and Continental dining. To a “Disney virgin” like me (am I even allowed to say those two words together?), it’s a surprise that a cruise originated by the Mouse – the company’s first ship to launch in 10 years – is as adept at amusing adults as it is the kids. “It’s gotta be a great fun vacation but let’s not treat the family as a single unit,” is how Tom Stagg, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resort, describes the philosophy. Yet the ship’s real trick is that it feels friendly, cohesive and enjoyable no matter which demographic you fall under at any particular time. Your parent self doesn’t have to exist on another planet from your adult self. Just, perhaps, on a different deck. That’s easier than ever on the Dream. It’s vastly larger than the company’s other ships – two decks taller and 1,900 beds bigger. (This review comes after of a press trip* on the ship’s chistening voyage.) Playing Goofy Golf on deck Sunbathing, schmoozing and cocktails at the over-18s pool A view of Hong Kong at the Skyline bar Private dining room in Palo Starck Louis Ghost chairs in Pink Kids play on the PlayFloor in the Oceaneer Lab (Diana Zalucky, photographer) A lounge in teen area Vibe Waterbikes at Castaway Cay Andy’s Room in the Oceaneer Club   Expect the kids...

‘Tangled’ and the challenge for Disney heroines

Tweet(Press screening – see note below*) This is going to be a week of Disney posts, as I’m in Orlando, being hosted by Disney for the christening of its new cruise ship the Disney Dream. More about that in upcoming posts. For now I want to write about the latest Disney film Tangled. We were invited to a screening in London, but actually the kids had seen the film a couple of weeks earlier in our hotel in Santa Fe over Christmas – where they watched it three times. Disney animated films, under the helm of John Lasseter who also oversees all the brilliant Pixar films, has been going back to its roots and focusing on the quality of hand-drawn animation. You can’t fault the look of the movie. We saw it in both 2D and 3D and it looks fantastic, with beautiful “sets”, great action and exciting set pieces. The songs by the baddie Mother Gothel were the highlight of the movie for me. But is the Disney-style heroine still endure? I know when my daughter was 4, 5 and even 6 she loved Disney. She had all the costumes for playing dress-up and debates could be heard with her friends on who was the best princess from the machine that Disney Princesses have become. But at age 7, my daughter is over these little cuties. Her favourite character in the film isn’t Rapunzel but Pascal (pictured), the little chameleon sidekick. She loves his cheeky humour and his cute size. Now she’s debating the merits of Pascal versus the film’s funny, opinionated horse character with her brother. The problem is the Disney heroines. They are all spunky and they’ve become more self-sufficient in recent times (Rapunzel has taught herself a kind of hair-incorporating martial arts reminiscent of the drum scene from House of Flying Daggers), but mostly these ladies all seem about the same. Spunky. self-sufficient but still tantalised mainly by love. Pretty in a very certain way – small noses, tiny frames, huge eyes. (They all also still hover in age around 18 years, which is amusing – still the perfect age to get married according to the studio, I guess.) Of course, lots of Disney classics are based on longstanding fairy tales. I realise also that this type of story is, in a sense, the Disney trademark. But I think this one-track story template – however well-executed and entertaining and high quality – gives Disney films a built-in obsolescence with kids. My 12-year-old enjoyed watching it...

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