S and I were very lucky to be invited to spend a weekend at Hoburne Park in Christchurch, to review their facilities and see how family friendly we thought they were.
I had never taken S away before; in fact, since she came home from hospital she'd only spent one night away from here, at New Year when we decamped to a friend's house to avoid the noise. To say we were looking forward to it would be a massive understatement. And I have to say, Hoburne did not disappoint!
When I went into Reception to book in, the man on the desk was really helpful. He gave me tons of information, including directions to get to two off-site shops as well as the beach. We were also given leaflets for the Oceanarium at Bournemouth and Paultons Park; you can buy discounted tickets to these attractions from reception.
The facilities at Hoburne Park include:
- Indoor and Outdoor Pool
- Playing Field
- Nature Trail
- Tennis Court
- Crazy Golf
- Entertainment for children and adults
- Bar including Snack Bar
- Soft Play
This particular park offers only static caravans to rent, with no option for camping or bring a touring caravan. That wasn't a problem for us though, since I abhor camping and don't drive.
There are three levels of caravan: Bronze, Silver and Gold. We were in a Gold one:
The last time I stayed in a static caravan like this was quite a while ago, and I was more than pleasantly surprised by the standard. The main bedroom had an ensuite toilet, and the "crockery and cutlery" included chopping boards, baking trays lined with tin foil and even wine glasses!
I've worked in the hospitality industry before, and struggled to get hotel rooms clean and shiny. I was shocked to discover that not only was our caravan clean; there was no trace of anyone having been in it previously. The only thing that suggested this was not a brand new caravan was the shower, which had a fair amount of limescale and wasn't the best I've ever had. But honestly, I've had worse showers in my time. It was warm and wet and S seemed to enjoy her shower too so I can't complain on that front.
|Ready for Fun!|
We live in a flat without a garden, so it was lovely to be able to sit outside on the decking. We opened the patio doors and the main door, and S happily ran around in big circles: out through one door, around the side of the decking, back in the other door. A friend had given her a toy buggy before we left, and she never tired of just running around and around with it. We ate every meal at our picnic table, and spent a fair amount of time sitting on the decking reading. The park was blissfully quiet, and the way the caravans are set out meant we weren't sitting 5 feet from the person in the next caravan on their own decking; the caravans we were in are staggered and at angles so that you have privacy on your decking - which is good, since S ended up out there in her PJs a lot of the time!
|S enjoying herself on the patio decking of our static caravan|
The beds were comfortable, as was the sofa; there was plenty of bedding available. The bed in the main bedroom was made up already, and bedding for the two smaller rooms was provided in a sealed pack, which was a nice touch. Another nice touch was the small package of coffee, tea and sugar left on the table for us, and another with spare bin bags, washing up liquid and a cloth!
|Enjoying our patio decking!|
There were two slight problems we found with the caravan while we were there. The first was that the electric fire seemed a little dangerous for wandering hands. It was fairy high up, so not a problem for crawling babies - bit it was also very shiny, and S loved to look at her reflection in the back of it. It wasn't a problem for us because we were blessed with lovely weather and didn't have to use it - but I wouldn't want to chance having it switched on while she was about.
The second issue we had was that S found it pretty easy to escape! The locks on the inside of the doors were simple turning mechanisms that could be used without a key. She figured that out fairly quickly, and once she'd done that, she also figured out how to open the gate on the decking and was off down the steps and across the park! For the rest of the weekend I was very careful about leaving her alone in the living room or letting her out of my sight on the decking! If I'd been there on my own with her, I don't think I could have showered in the mornings for fear that she'd get up and wander off while I was in the bathroom. Luckily my sister came with us so we took it in turns to watch her.
On our first night at the park we went to the on-site restaurant - purely for research purposes, you understand! The staff were very friendly and mine and my sister's food was lovely. S was provided with crayons and a colour-in menu when we arrived, and she had a Fruit Shoot which was great. Her food was not fantastic though, to be honest. She had a cottage pie, which came out in a ceramic dish that seemed to have come straight from an oven and was so hot even I couldn't lift it off the plate away from her! She didn't seem bothered though, and busied herself with eating her peas. And then my peas. She didn't even bother with the main meal!
|Colouring in the menu at the restaurant|
On the Sunday we went back to the restaurant as we'd been told they did a carvery for Sunday lunch. We were disappointed to find they were fully booked, and we should have reserved a table - something we hadn't been aware of at the time. The food looked and smelled amazing though, and I suppose the fact it's so busy speaks volumes!
One thing they could do to improve the restaurant for families would be to provide child-sized cutlery. S struggled with a massive fork, and her mother is a bit ditsy and forgot to bring any small forks with her.
While we were there, there was a problem with the heating of the indoor pool. There was a sign in reception apologising that the indoor pool would be a little colder than usual - it was actually pretty freezing! There was one of those mushroom water feature things that pours water, but it didn't come on while we were in the pool. We didn't stay in there long though, as S kept saying "it's cold!"
|View of the outdoor pool from the adventure playground|
The outdoor pool was beautiful; a lovely large size so that it wasn't crowded, and not so deep that a child couldn't stand up at either end. There was a smaller, shallow pool that joined on to the main pool, which was handy for us. There were lots of tables, chairs and sun loungers on the concrete around the edge of the pool and I can imagine that in the middle of the Summer Holidays it's filled with people. S spent ages in this pool with my sister and I, and we all had a fantastic time.
There was just one problem with the outdoor pool: although there were several doors between the indoor and outdoor pools, they were fire doors only and not to be used. The door to get back into the club house (through which you walk to get back to the rest of the park) was also a fire door. On our first morning there, I had to open it for a couple of freezing young girls who had been shut out. I should imagine this isn't a problem in the middle of the Summer season; it's probably propped open and has a constant stream of people going through it. When the park is quieter though, it's a bit of a nuisance.
|Me enjoying the adventure playground|
We took S to the adventure playground on Sunday morning to have a look around. As you can see from the picture, there are lots of parental vertigo-inducing bridges and ladders and suchlike for the older children. There are also things for the smaller children though; some swings, a smaller slide and a see-saw.
S absolutely loved her time at the adventure playground; not only on the swings, small slide and see-saw but also clambering about on the big kids' equipment. The park was fairly quiet while we were there, so we were lucky enough to have the whole playground to ourselves. I can imagine it being absolutely swarming with children in the busy Summer season though! It just looks so exciting as you pass it!
The only problem with the adventure playground is that it's looking a bit shabby and could do with a bit of an update. The wood chip flooring has been worn away, no doubt by numerous kids running through it and grumpy parents getting bits of it stuck in their shoes! The equipment itself could do with a lick of paint also, but neither of these things detracts from the fact it's a great playground with lots to do. It's very close to the outdoor pool as well, so if you had older children you could happily chill out on a sun lounger while your kids happily scream and shout their way around the playground!
I was impressed by the fact there entertainment for children every day: an hour for under-fives at 10, and then older children later. We took S to the under-fives' entertainment but unfortunately she was the only one there. Parents have to be in the vicinity while their child plays, so it's not childcare but if there are lots of kids there I should imagine they'll all play nicely together. The entertainment is held on the "dancefloor" of the main bar area, which has loads of tables and chairs so parents can get a coffee and maybe read the paper or something while their children are entertained.
Even though S was the only one there, both of the entertainers sat on the floor and played with her - first with loads of Mega Bloks and then with some drawing. After a little while a couple of older boys came in, who the entertainers knew by name and seemed to have a good rapport with. We saw them later playing football outside together.
Sammy Seahorse also made a brief appearance while S was playing, but she seemed a bit put out by his presence, so he high-fived a couple of the children and left again.
We didn't play crazy golf while were were at Hoburne - firstly because I don't think S is old enough to be interested, and secondly because I am rubbish at crazy golf and it frustrates me to the point of breaking things! The course looked like great fun though (unless you are scared of clowns, obviously). Again, it could probably do with a lick of paint here and there - but that's not something that would put people off enjoying it. It's also very good value for money at around £1 each.
The children's soft play area is inside the club house, and has a slide, padded mats on the floor and some of the usual large plastic-covered pieces of foam for children to launch themselves over. When we went in there at around 10am, it was a bit dirty with some spilled crisps on the floor, which to me falls under "irritating but to be expected in a soft play area." S played happily on the slide for a while with a little girl whose father was in the arcade next door. I'm pleased to say that when we wandered past about an hour later, the crisps had been cleaned up and it was good as new. The soft play area was probably a little small; I can see it being really over-populated on a rainy afternoon, but it was kept clean and the children seemed to love it.
We had a brief look in the sauna and steam room, but with a toddler in tow could not make a full investigation. They seemed like your average sauna and steam room, and were reasonably clean.
The playing field: at first we thought the playing field was the small patch of grass between the outdoor pool and the adventure playground. On further inspection though, we discovered a massive field on the other side of the park. There is a path around the edge of the field, whose grass is well kept. Best of all, there are signs asking dog walkers to please keep their dogs on leads at all times and to walk them only around the edge of the park. That might sound a bit mean towards dogs, but as the mother of a toddler, it's a rare thing to find a large expanse of grass on which you can allow your child to run freely, without worrying about dog mess.
Although there is no shop on site, the bar in the club house sells snacks, ice creams and souvenirs as well as coffees and cold drinks.
When we arrived at the park, we were given a map to show us how to get to our caravan. There are a couple of side gates to get out of the park, in order to get to a local shop or to the beach. These were marked on the map for us, which was useful.
Over all, the park is kept very clean. The grass is cut regularly, and I didn't see a single stray piece of litter while we were there. We did get a bit lost on our first adventure trying to find the beach, and several times on our way back from places - but I think perhaps that says more about us than the park or the directions supplied to us!
|Well-kept and clean|
From a parent's point of view, it would be handy to have some sort of designated space on the roads for people to walk on, as not all roads had pavements. Most cars were fine about passing us as we wandered down to the club house, but a couple did seem to want to turn it into some sort of game of human skittles.
All of the staff we encountered were extremely friendly and happy to help. When we first arrived at the caravan a member of staff actually appeared from nowhere beside us, smiling and asking if we were ok.
The park could not be better situated. Although there is no shop on site, it's a very short walk to a convenience store around the corner, and there's a big Sainsbury's superstore about fifteen minutes' walk away. The best part of the location though, was that the park is a ten-minute walk from my favourite beach, Mudeford. It involves crossing a main road, but once you've crossed it, it's a lovely walk down a quiet residential road to get to the seafront.
We really loved being this close to the beach; it was lovely to be able to just pop down there for a stroll in the evening. And, of course, if you're going to the beach then you need an ice cream:
This was where the shower and the on-site launderette both came in handy!
Note: We were invited to spend a weekend at Hoburne Park on behalf of Approved Family Friendly, in order to gauge how family friendly they are. All words and opinions are my own.