With our Christmas decorations stored up in the attic and our wilted tree waiting outside to be picked up, I’m eager to move on and start making plans for 2017! I’ll be honest, I always find January a pretty miserable month. I do however love this quieter time of year for looking back on our 2016 travel highlights and starting to fill our new wall calendar with lots of fun adventures for the next 12 months.
2016 was a memorable and busy year for us, full of many firsts… Our first family cruise, first water sports holiday and first time using child care whilst on holiday. (Why we have never used kids clubs whilst on holiday before baffles me!)
Our boys will be six and three this spring and we are finding that we are able to enjoy a wider range of holidays and attractions. If you are looking for family holiday and day out inspiration for your young family you may find some of our travel reviews from 2016 useful. Happy holiday planning!
Our 2016 travel highlights – Adventures abroad
In May we travelled with Mark Warner Holidays to Lakitira Resort in Greece. This was our first ever family package holiday. We normally arrange everything independently and particularly enjoy road trips which allow us to stay in a few different places in one trip. I was therefore a little apprehensive that we would become restless staying in one resort for ten days.
With two pools and a range of both land based and water based sports included in the cost of our holiday we didn’t have time to feel restless and enjoyed one of our best ever family holidays.
For the first time since having kids Richard and I returned home feeling recharged and recuperated, due to both boys being in kids clubs for a few hours every afternoon. We also enjoyed our date nights, whilst Harry our youngest slept in the night nursery and Charlie enjoyed movie nights at evening kids club with his new buddies.
I raved about our holiday with Mark Warner and shared our top tips, including saving money when booking a Mark Warner Holiday, in the articles below –
In October we enjoyed our first family cruise. To be honest I’m not sure how it happened. One minute I was planning a fortnight camping trip around Cornwall and next I had booked a 11 night Canaries and Mediterranean cruise, for the four of us plus Richards parents!
Here are a few of our highlights I shared on Instagram…
This pretty much sums up how I felt during our family cruise with @pandocruises ❤️❤️ Apart from the occasional toddler tantrums (obviously!) it was a carefree and relaxing holiday. My youngest more than made up for his tantrums too, by happily going to sleep at evening nursery every night, allowing hubby and I to enjoy our evening meal and after dinner dance show in peace! 🍷🍾 (We rarely go out for date nights so 11 nights in a row was an absolute treat!) #cruise #cruiseship #familytravel #pocruises
Back home after an incredible 12 days onboard @pandocruises Ventura. We sailed from Southampton and stopped in Vigo, Madeira, La Palma, Tenerife and Lisbon. Although my husband and I met at sea and each worked for P&O Cruises for three years this was our first family cruise, (although it will certainly not be our last!!) I was amazed at how many officers we knew still working at sea from when we left nearly 10 years ago including Captain , Ents Mgr and my old fellow colleague, Shore Excursions Mgr. #cruise #cruiseship #cruiseshipcrew #ventura #pocruises
Cruising is not as expensive as many people think. By the time you factor in the cost of your accommodation, three meals a day, entertainment during the day (sports tournaments, port lectures etc), evening entertainment (West End style shows, cabaret acts, family game shows, etc) and complimentary kids clubs, cruising for families can offer great value for money.
Cruises cater really well for families too with buffets open around the clock, (great for picky toddlers who like to graze 24/7 or teenagers with huge appetites), age specific kids clubs with evening nursery for youngsters/fun evening clubs for older kids and family friendly shore excursions. We can thoroughly recommend keeping an eye out for cruise special offers, including onboard credit and kids cruise for free.
One of my boys favourite things to do when onboard @pandocruises Ventura was to take a walk around deck 7, the promenade deck. (This used to be my favourite way to unwind when I worked at sea too with a baseball cap and sunglasses on so passengers didn't stop me to ask about shore excursions!) Not all ships have prom decks, some allocate this space to passenger cabins or communal spaces but I personally love ships that have a deck to walk around to take in the sea air and reflect on the day. My boys were so excited to spot dolphins jumping through the ships waves during our cruise and they were fortunate to see a whale pop up to the surface too! 🐬 🐳 #cruise #cruiseship #oceanview
I have a few more posts to publish featuring our cruise however, if cruising with your kids is something you are considering for 2017 you will find these posts very useful!
One of the highlights of our cruise was our call into Madeira. We took a cable car ride up the hillside and travelled down in a toboggan basket! Our tips for enjoying a day on the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira can be found here – How to make the most of a cruise ship call into Madeira
We loved this view overlooking the town of Funchal. If you look closely you will see our floating home for the fortnight, @pandocruises #Ventura! A cable car ride up to the hillside town of Monte is an absolute must for all visitors to Madeira. We booked it onboard as a half day shore excursion including toboggan ride and wine tasting 🍷It takes about 15 minutes to reach the top on a lift similar to a ski lift. The whole time my eldest son asked none stop questions about how the cable car works (which luckily his daddy was able to answer 😂) whilst I took 100's of photos of the spectacular views! #ourtraveltimes #madeira #inspiringtravelpics
Our second port of call during our Canaries and Med cruise with @pandocruises was into #Madeira. I have always been a huge fan of this stunning island and I was keen to let my boys experience the famous toboggan ride! I had actually forgotten how quickly the wicker baskets travel down the two mile road being stopped only by the rubber-soled boots of the toboggan drivers! I spent the whole ten minute experience screaming, my youngest went really quiet and held on tight to me and his fav teddy, whilst my husband and eldest son laughed all the way down the hill! It was great fun and you have to give it a go if you are ever in Madeira! I have photos of us mid way down but I look like a mad women so they are not being shared on here 😂 #inspiringtravelpics #tobogganing #funchal #shoreexcursion #cruise #ftb100 #familytravelmoment
My view from onboard @pandocruises Ventura, as we were leaving the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira. We enjoyed an incredible day ashore on a tour we booked via the shore excursions department. Check out the link in bio for the five unmissable experiences for any visitor to Madeira, including tasting the local wine & a thrilling two mile hillside descent in a wicker basket! 🍷😳🛳 #madeira #madeiraisland #cruise #cruiseship
In Tenerife we visited the world’s number one best attraction – Siam Park, the Water Kingdom which my two water babies absolutely loved and have pestered to return to ever since! If you are planning a trip to Tenerife this year we can definitely recommend spending at least a day, (ideally two!) here – A splashtastic day at Siam Park, The Water Kingdom, Tenerife
A few weeks ago we were floating around the lazy river at the Water Kingdom @siampark in Tenerife. Very different to this weeks rushing around doing last minute Christmas shopping! 😂🎄 We were kindly invited to review the attraction by @pandocruises (If you would like to read our review the link is in bio). Spoiler alert – We loved it! Not that you have to take our word for it as the water park has been voted the worlds best attraction for 2016 by @tripadvisor readers! #tenerife #siamparktenerife #shoreexcursions
Click here to read more of our adventures abroad
Our 2016 travel highlights – UK adventures
Closer to home we enjoyed many adventures in Gloucestershire, including a fun weekend staying in a family friendly cottage in the Forest of Dean. It was a full on weekend which involved reviewing four of the most popular family attractions in the area – Tried & tested family attractions in the Forest of Dean!
This weekend we had the pleasure of staying in an idyllic cottage located on the edge of the #forestofdean. The owners of Parish Mill Cottage had thought of absolutely everything needed to make a family stay relaxing, fun and convenient… Highchair, plug safety sockets, lots of popular kids DVDs, books, toys it was fab and I highly recommend it! The views overlooking the valleys from the private seven acre grounds were also stunning! Full review over on our blog and in the bio 😊 #deanwye #gloucestershire #cottage
Our final stop during this weekends tour around the #forestofdean was the #deanheritagecentre to walk ferrets (yes you read that correctly!) and walk along the #gruffalotrail We couldn't resist a family photo on this huge bench left over from the recent Room on a Broom trail! #deanwye #gloucestershire
Our visit to the nearby Cotswold Lavender was also a memorable occasion and one I would definitely recommend for this summer. You need to be on the ball though as the attraction is only open to the public for a couple of months from June. More details can be found here.
One of our travel resolutions for 2016 was to attend a festival as a family. We used to love festivals before having kids and wanted to share the experience with our boys. The highlights of our summer were attending the family friendly Wychwood Festival, Geronimo Festival and our weekend camping at Livestock Festival.
All three festivals had kid zones with circus skills, fair ground rides, arts, crafts and live shows which our boys thoroughly enjoyed. Richard and I were happy to watch live music acts, soak up the festival atmosphere and drink cider in the sunshine!
Charlie and Harry are huge Thomas the Tank Engine and CBeebies fans and so we were understandably delighted when invited to visit CBeebies Land at Alton Towers and Thomas Land at Drayton Manor Theme Park. If you are considering visiting either of these attractions this year you may find our reviews and top tips useful…
It would be impossible for me to include all the attractions and events we visited/attended in 2016 as it was a busy year and you would get bored with me waffling on! However, two events that are definitely worth me mentioning are the Royal International Air Tattoo and the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta.
Both of these events take place annually in the summer and are great for kids, particularly for little wannabe pilots! RIAT offer great discounts if you book in advance, (kids are always free) and the entrance for the Bristol event is free for all ages. (I do however recommend that you book your car parking spot in advance as it is a very popular event).
Normally both boys are tucked up in bed by 7pm but we decided to stay for the Bristol Air Fiesta night glow which was absolutely fantastic! If you decide to attend the show this summer I recommend you stick around and check it out for yourself…
For more inspiration of places to entertain your children in the UK, check out our UK adventures.
Our 2016 travel highlights – Short breaks
We try to get away for several short breaks a year and normally like to discover somewhere new. However for the first time ever, we returned to an area we have visited before – Snowdonia, as we love the area so much!
In June we enjoyed a traditional seaside break with Away Resorts, at their caravan resort in Barmouth. Our boys adored exploring the beaches and looking for crabs and we spent a few hours playing in the good old-fashioned 2p slot machines!
If this sounds like the perfect holiday for your family check out our review and top tips – Reviewed; A family break at Barmouth Bay Holiday Park
Our blogging highlights of 2016
The first article was published on Travel Loving Family in July 2015. In the last 18 months my family and I have enjoyed some incredible opportunities and worked with some well-known travel brands as highlighted here, on our work with us page.
Our blog has grown significantly over the past 18 months. We now have 7,000+ followers and have featured on many websites, magazines and even been on air with our local radio station – BBC Radio Gloucestershire. (If anyone was listening to our interview you will know that Harry managed to smear banana all over the studio whilst I was busy chatting away… I’m not sure we’ll be invited back again!)
My favourite blogging opportunity of 2016 was discovering what Costa Barcelona has to offer for families with the Costa Barcelona tourist board and BritMums. Along with my fellow family travel bloggers – BritMums cofounders – Jennifer from Jenography and Susanna from A Modern Mother, Cathy from Mummy Travels and Maria from One Tiny Leap I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the best food, water sports, culture, attractions and beaches during our busy four days in the region.
I have finally recovered from our four day press trip to Costa Barcelona and found the time to publish my first article – a destination guide to visiting the region with kids. I hope the guide and photos will inspire other families to travel to Costa Barcelona for it truly has so much to offer – picturesque beaches, world class water sports facilities, incredible Catalan food, castles, lighthouses, mountains to hike and vineyards to explore! Link to destination guide is in my bio:) This photo was taken at the @watersportscentre_calella just before we went for a ride on a banana boat! #bmlcostabcn
If year round mild temperatures, world-class beaches, water sports and a short flight from the UK sound appealing for your next family holiday check out my articles below featuring Costa Barcelona.
In 2016 I attended two conferences to improve my blogging skills – Traverse in Cardiff and BritMums Live in London. If you are a blogger reading this and wondering whether it is worth investing the money to attend a blog conference I would say go for it! What have you got to lose? Not only did I learn a great deal from the workshops at both conferences, including how to use instagram (see below!), I also met some of the inspiring travel bloggers I have followed online in person.
I published an article featuring my 13 lessons learnt from attending Traverse 16 which may help you make up your mind about attending your first blogger conference. I also blogged about my Sunday Experience – White water rafting in Cardiff. One of the many features of the Traverse conference are the Sunday Experiences organised by the host city to give bloggers the chance to truly experience what the city has to offer.
My last, but certainly not least, blogging highlight of 2016 was being selected as a ‘world leading travel blogger’ by the World Travel Market in November. The bloggers networking event has opened up many opportunities for my family and I, which we are all incredibly excited about for 2017!
Today has been mainly spent resting my poor throat and feet from two days of non-stop talking and walking at the World Travel Market. My highlights were taking part in the exclusive travel bloggers speed networking event, which I was honoured to be invited to. I also loved spending two days in the company of my fellow family travel bloggers. The friendliest and most supportive group of people I have ever met😊 Thanks ladies! Roll on #Traverse17! #WorldTravelMarket #wtm2016 #wtmldn #wtm16 #travelblogger
So that’s it, our rather lengthy summary of our travel and blogging highlights of 2016. I hope our reviews and recommendations give you some travel ideas of your own for 2017!
Fellow bloggers if you have written a review of your travels and achievements in 2016 please do include your link in the comments below. I would love to read it!
To everyone who reads this blog, a HUGE thanks for your support it means a great deal to us. We wish you a happy and healthy New Year full of adventures!