Coach Trip …. with National Express

What seems like a really relaxing way to spend a Saturday afternoon with a 4 year old and a 2 year old?? How about travelling across the country to spend the day at Chester Zoo?!

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It seemed like a good idea at the time, but with an early start leading to grumpy grown-ups and a new mode of transport leading to overexcited children, it could have been a loooooong day! However, once we all got settled, we had a really comfortable and enjoyable journey to Chester.

So, what did we like about the journey:

Booster Seats – This got a big thumbs up from the little ones, even causing an argument over them!! You cannot book them prior to travel, but the coach going to Chester had 2 available and the one coming back had 1 available and they were very comfortable – apparently!!

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They ended up sat next to each other to compare booster seats

Power sockets – Each pair of seats has a power socket to share between them and so using your phone/tablet is much easier to do. It has a 3 pin plug as opposed to a USB port, so make sure you bring your plug as well as wire!!

Seats – The seats were surprisingly comfortable and not what I was expecting at all. As you can see, they are leather and have a decent amount of legroom.  Each seat has a seatbelt (legally, you must wear the seatbelt) which makes the journey feel even safer.

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Friendly drivers – On the commentary, the driver going to Chester Zoo seemed genuinely excited to be taking a lot of passengers there and he even talked about some of the animals you could see when approaching the coach stop!! We had a folding pushchair with us, and the drivers insisted on putting the luggage into the coach hold – all you have to do is fold it down and they do the rest.

Last and most importantly,

You can sit and interact with your child – Especially being a single parent, when going by car on a  long journey, it is difficult to talk to and interact with your child sat in the back seat. However, as you are sat together on the coach, you can spend some quality time with your little one, have fun, chat, play games and, most importantly, make memories.

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You can’t do this whilst driving!!

All in all, it was a very long and tiring day in the sun and it certainly meant that the little ones had a good night’s sleep!! One thing that would have been really difficult was if we had to change coaches on the way home, but fortunately, due to the number of routes National Express operate, it is more likely than not, there is a direct service to the place you want to go.

Would we go again by National Express? Absolutely, especially when it gives you the chance to explore the country at a reasonable price.

Full Disclaimer: We were offered free travel for the purposes of this post, although no influence has been made to alter the content of the post.


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Bradford Ice Arena

One of my main weaknesses is my lack of co-ordination and balance (I’m 6ft 1in tall and not exactly slim!!) As a result, going ice skating isn’t something that I would normally do, especially given our last visit,  which you can read about here.

However, the lure of Frozen and a kiddie-friend get-together meant that ice skating was going to happen. However, with a new girlfriend (you can read about me dating here) who was eager to get on the ice (or eager to get away from me for an hour!) we joined the rest of the Kiddie Crew for a trip on the ice.

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Not sure the shades were needed!!

Truth be told, I didn’t go on the ice, which meant that I was in peak blogging mode and seeing what would be good for a blog post!! From the outside, Bradford Ice Arena doesn’t look that appealing as it is a few floors up a 1970’s city centre office block and as the lift was broken, taking a pushchair up takes some effort. As the building is quite old, some of the interior is a bit aged, but this is made up by helpful and friendly staff.

We went to the Family Session, which is akin to a beginners session and as the weather outside wasn’t great, the place was very busy and there was a big queue to get in. As a result, arrive in plenty of time!!

You need to get your skates on after entering the arena and there is often a queue for that as well, so maybe arrive 30 minutes before the session. At worse, you are sat around watching the session before you.  There are loads of seats (they host ice hockey games there) so no problems on that front!

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The ice is over THERE!!!!

You can hire a penguin or snowman skating aid for a small charge, but they are issued on a first come first served basis and you only have them for an hour (and they enforce that!). To be honest, after an hour, either you’ll have enough confidence to get rid of the aid, or you’ll have given up!!  For more advanced skaters, there are Disco sessions and General skating sessions, but for little ones, the Family sessions are ideal.

There are a good number of friendly marshals on the ice and they are very good in looking after little ones who fall on the ice.

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For an adult and a 4 year old with a penguin aid, it cost £14, which seems like good value for almost 2 hours of fun, especially as it was so much better than last time!!


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Finding a Work/Life/Me balance

I’m writing this blog post in bed on my phone on a Sunday evening just after putting Heidi to bed. In truth, I should be going to sleep because I’m tired. However, after attending a Q&A held by Honest Mum (who can be found here) and The Rainbow Factory (who can be found here), I felt inspired to write…

I’m tired

I am physically and mentally tired… it is very difficult to be a single parent. It is very difficult to have a high pressured job. It is very difficult to keep up communications with your ex for the sake of your child. It is very difficult to start a new relationship. And I am trying to do all of these!!

And this isn’t a “Look how bad my life is” post (I have money, I am healthy and have a roof over my head – life could be worse). This is a self reflection on how I can make things better for myself and Heidi and hopefully give some ideas how you can do the same.

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What we should all be aiming for,,,

Priorities

Being an accountant and previously the main bread winner in a nuclear family, I’ve felt the responsibility to make sure money comes in. Sadly, money is important and I have made sacrifices to get better jobs. Should I keep on doing this? I don’t feel as though I have any option, so I might be spending more time in the car travelling to/from work than at home in the near future.

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This is how I feel most days!

Being Myself

Four years ago, my life fell apart after separation and my life was work and Heidi. That was it. This blog was the first step of me becoming me again. The next step was dating. However, it is so difficult. It is so tiring.

At times I want to curl into a ball and rest. However, I want to be my own person. I need to be my own person. It is a slow process and I sometimes feel guilty for going out without Heidi. However, a happy daddy will be a better parent for Heidi.

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I felt guilty for going to London without Heidi…

Going Forward

So how am I going to make things better? Here are a few things I’ve come up with…

– Be Organised. I’m pretty organised as it is, but there are still times when I don’t know where I’m meant to be in the morning or what time I’m finishing work. That’s not good!

– Say no! This might mean saying no to date night, no to people at work, no to blogging opportunities. I need to learn to say no and be confident to say no.

– Look after myself. Doing my first ever boot camp session this weekend has hopefully given me inspiration to better look after my body a bit better! I could do to lose a couple of pounds!

I’d love to hear your comments on how you manage all the pressures of real life and hopefully other readers will be able to use some of them in the future!!


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Dolphin Cove, Montego Bay

Ok, I’ll get straight to the point with this one

If you ever get the chance to swim with dolphins, do it. Do whatever it takes to do it.

Yes, you may not enjoy it, but you can say that you have done it. This was the highlight of our holiday and is the one thing that Heidi always mentions when she is asked about her holiday.

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We booked the visit, including transport, directly with Dolphin Cove and it felt a bit safer and more official doing it that way. The journey took about 40 minutes from Montego Bay and the driver was excellent in making us feel safe on some very unsafe roads. Our guide for the day told us lots about the local areas we passed through.

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Because Heidi is only 4 and not a brilliant swimmer, we booked the Encounter Experience which involved stroking, dancing, singing and generally playing with the dolphins. Each person got a couple of minutes as a time with the dolphins doing each activity and as there were 6 in our group, it was quite fast paced, but not at all rushed. I didn’t feel like we had done a “cheap” option.

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Even though we had lifejackets given to us, I felt that it was best to hold Heidi throughout, so she could have the security of knowing she was safe, so she could enjoy it more, as the water was about 4 ft high. However, at no point did any of us feel unsafe.

The dolphin handlers were amazing and were particularly good with Heidi, especially as she was the only child in our group and took time afterwards so she could feed the dolphins a few more fish!

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The attraction also has a stingray enclosure, a camel, donkey and ostriches (the shark attraction was closed) but let’s be honest, it’s all about the dolphins!

A couple of tips which might help if you go…

  • Take a full change of clothes as the last thing you want is to wear your swimming clothes on the coach on the way back to the hotel
  • Budget for buying photos if this is your first time of swimming with the dolphins. The photos are amazing, as I’m sure you can tell, and if you go into the day knowing you’ll buy them, then you won’t have an awkward decision to make.

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This is our first time swimming with them and hopefully, if money allows, we can do it again. If any businesses want to give us a free dolphin swimming session, I won’t say no!!!


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Rumpelstiltskin – Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield

The national performance by the balletLORENT theatre company made its way to the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield to showcase their latest production – an adaptation of the fairytale of Rumpelstiltskin.

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It’s difficult to write a review of a performance without giving away any particular surprises, especially when the story is well known, so here are a few reasons why you should go to see the performance:

  • It is a professional production. The narrator is from the Game of Thrones, the Artistic Director has an MBE and the composer has worked on Doctor Who – they know what they are doing and it shows in a very polished performance.
  • You don’t have to take the kids! Whilst it is a fairytale storyline, if you’re child free, you will enjoy it just as much as those who take children along!
  • It is just long enough for the kids. The first half is 30 minutes long and the second half is 40 minutes long, with a 20 minute interval. Heidi (aged 4) struggled with the last 5 minutes, but the length was just right.
  • The sheep!! Not wanting to give any surprises, but the acting by the sheep was amazing. I am sure that a few of the audience thought that they were real!!

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The performance is aimed for children 7+ and that feels right as there are a few dark moments in the first half. With Heidi being 4, she struggled in the last 5 minutes of the show (the sugar rush had worn off!), but really understood the storyline, so it depends on the maturity of your child.

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Whilst this is a national production, if you’re going to see it at the Lawrence Batley Theatre and have never been, there is a multi-story car park quite close and as the theatre isn’t huge, it means that the seats generally have good views (and decent legroom!)

Full disclosure: I was provided free tickets for the purposes of this review, but the views are my own and have not been influenced or edited.


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Club Mobay – Montego Bay

As you may know, I went to Montego Bay, Jamaica, with my 4 year old daughter, as a single parent. (You can read my open letter to Heidi here)

One of things that made me feel better about the travelling experience was the Club Mobay service both on arrival and departure that we had booked. As they are both different, I thought that I would break them down…

Arrivals

A Club Mobay member of staff meets you as you get into the terminal and escorts you through the entire passport/customs process through to where your transport is.

You do save plenty of time going through passport control as the queues can be long, as you get the next available passport control officer, and getting through baggage reclaim and customs is generally a breeze anyway. The best bit is where they direct you to where you need to go once you clear customs – in a strange airport in a new country, having that helping hand to make sure you’re in the right place really does help.

You can make use of the arrivals lounge if your transport isn’t ready and there are drinks and snacks (and lovely cold towels!) and we did find that by saving time through passport control, you did end up waiting for other people who were going to be on your coach to the hotel, so you don’t really save much time in total.

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Very tired after a long day of travelling!!

However, you are looked after from start to end and it is a very friendly welcome into Jamaica.

Departures

The Departures service is a bit less personal as there is no meet and greet service. You get a separate lane through passport control and security, which is useful and you get a lounge with food and drinks before your flight. If you are going to have a meal before your flight, it might work out cheaper to do this option.

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Jamaican Beef Patties

As the food is a complimentary buffet, then you can eat as much or as little as you want and there is a kids play room which is a good touch (not all airports have them!)

One thing I would recommend is to arrange for an earlier drop off at the airport. The check-in process was long when we departed and as a result, we didn’t have that much time in the lounge. As a result, I would make sure you get to the airport earlier to make best use of the service!!

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Buffet Service

All in all, it is a wonderful little service that is offered and one that I am sure that we would use again. It is perfect for families as it just takes a little bit of the stress out of travelling!!


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