I had heard and read a lot about the Bluestone resort in Pembrokeshire, so when we decided to holiday in the UK this year I immediately suggested we try it. It really did not fail to impress. In fact, I am going to say it is better than its more well-known (and more expensive) rival Center Parcs.
It provided, for us, a clean place to stay, fun activities on-site and a beautiful landscape to explore. What more could you want?
We stayed in a Caldey lodge which was perfect for a family of four. It comes with a double room, a twin room, bathroom (shower only) and open plan kitchen living space. It was clean and well-equipped with children’s kitchenware provided. There was a TV and DVD player - nice touches we didn't really make use of as we had too much other stuff to fit into our week.
The free activities are mainly aimed at smaller children. My four-year-old and one-year-old would have happily stayed in the brand shiny new Serendome all day. This is a huge outdoor area covered by a giant Perspex dome. It houses a small playground, sand play area, water play section, and an “imagination garden” with soft building blocks. There's also a bar and some street food places meaning you didn’t have to leave to feed the kids tea. The macaroni cheese and garlic bread went down a treat with our kids.
Next door to the Serendome is the Adventure Centre. Admittedly, it's more tired-looking than its glossy neighbour. Luckily kids don’t care about that. Inside we found the usual soft play and a larger wooden structure for climbing and exploring. Upstairs - in what felt like a conference room - is the baby/toddler circus space which my one-year-old loved. He spent ages building bricks and tracks and knocking things down. Again, all this is free.
The swimming pool caters for everything apart from swimming. With a lazy river and the wave pool activated every 20 minutes, it's a popular attraction for both guests and day visitors. It has a separate, gated toddler splash pool and free swim nappies everywhere. They are super keen no one poos in the pool! (Although apparently, it did happen once whilst we were there - luckily after we'd had our swim!) There are loads of family changing rooms which means you aren’t standing around shivering in a towel waiting for one to come free. They have changing tables and some had toddler chairs that fasten to the wall to prevent them from unlocking the doors. Again, the pool is free for guests and was good to have access to, especially with the unpredictable welsh weather.
We did pay for a couple of activities, and you'll find plenty to choose from. Archery, kayaking, rock climbing, and a high ropes course are just some of the things on offer. We chose our activities from the more sedate “young family” list. We neglected our one-year-old mostly because he is at his happiest picking up stones, but there is a sensory session and a messy play session aimed at the very young and there are creche facilities. My four-year-old enjoyed making a mask one afternoon using leaves and flowers she had found outside. She also loved going on the Secret Village tour with Tiny Tim the hobbit who took us into a magical world looking for fairies. The entertainment staff were phenomenal working on different shows day in and day out, but still remembering the children’s names.
We are lucky that we have two children that like to go to bed. They don’t often stay up late which is fantastic until you go on holiday and you have to eat at 5 pm. Bluestone has thought of a solution to this: dinner shows - and we did two. The Wild Wood café had an interactive show during which the children were encouraged to follow the actors around whilst parents could sit and eat (and drink!) in relative peace. The food was ok. Don’t expect a gourmet meal. Just enjoy a glass of wine.
Our meal experience at Smokey Joe's shindig has to be the highlight of our whole holiday.
You'll find it at Camp Smokey which is down a steep ravine in the depths of the woodland. It was so much fun, with shouting and cheering and dancing on tables all encouraged. It was an evening of dancing, singing, and delicious food and everybody was in great spirits. If we were to go back, it would be the first thing we would book. It was brilliant.
Obviously, you also have the spectacular Pembrokeshire coastline on your doorstep and, unlike Center Parcs, it is easy to drive on and off-site. There is a village shop, coffee shop, pub and restaurant on-site too. Many people hired golf buggies to drive round, however, we found the site manageable on foot although it was steep in places when pushing a pushchair. Overall, it felt safe to let your children run free and explore.
The one downside to this holiday was the journey itself. It was a six-hour drive from the North-West and that was a slog. But, if you are willing to do the drive it is well worth it. I would have also liked the lodge to have had a bath and a washing machine. Trying to pack for changeable weather is hard enough as it is. Having no washing machine meant packing double the amount of clothes to cover all bases, especially as there are plenty of opportunities to get dirty. They also charge £30 for a better wi-fi connection which I felt was unnecessary. There is free wi-fi, but it isn’t strong enough to stream shows. We all look forward to the Netflix bingeing once the kids are in bed when on holiday so to charge extra for the privilege was a bit naughty in my opinion.
Despite those negatives, Bluestone caters for everyone and it kept my small ones entertained for the week. For me, it beats Center Parcs in terms of price, accessibility, and variety, and we would definitely head back there for another week.
Written by Becky Field
Becky is a freelance writer based in Stockport. She has a four-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son.