Finding an affordable holiday for a big family can be difficult. As most packages and accommodation are based around a family of four, it’s no easy task to organise a break if you’ve got three or more children, are a parent or couple who holidays other families, are a blended family or if you simply have an extended travelling brood beyond the nuclear. With families coming in more shapes and sizes than ever, my partner and I headed to Bluestone National Park in Pembrokeshire, South Wales, with my brother, his wife and three kids – six, 10 and 13 – for a staycation that had it all.
By Susie Thorne
Wales is undeniably beautiful, and Pembrokeshire in particular is known for its rugged coastline and never ending emerald fields and rolling hills. Set amongst this scenic backdrop is Bluestone National Park, a holiday resort that’s spread across a huge park and beautiful forest. You feel truly away from it all in the Welsh countryside but conveniently close enough to the town of Haverford West and only two hours from the English side of the Severn Bridge.
Their cottages and wood cabin lodges can cater for party sizes from two (babymooners would love the quaint, pastel cottages) all the way up to the Dinas Bunkhouse which sleeps an impressive 14. We opted for a Grassholm lodge, a detached two-storey home-from-home with one double and three twin rooms. WIth large bedrooms, three bathrooms and a huge kitchen-diner and living area, we were never under each others feet.
The kitchen had all of the mod-cons you’d expect from self-catering accommodation. With so many mouths to feed, having a big oven and stove and all of the necessary utensils for a nice big cooked breakfast and evening meals was important.
The grounds of the resort are vast, and with such a beautiful setting you’ll spend most of your time outdoors. Accommodation comes with bike racks if you want to travel on two wheels and buggies are available to hire if you’d prefer not to walk (it was a 20-minute stroll from our lodge to the waterpark) but there was also a TV and three comfy couches for family movie time (with compulsory popcorn) after a long day out in nature exploring the resort.
You can park your car up to unload your belongings but you can’t keep it at your lodge, ensuring that the roads are car-free to be more environmentally friendly and to encourage a safer atmosphere for wildlife. There are dedicated car parks at the entrance to the resort to keep the car during your stay.
Anybody who’s been to Bluestone will be itching to tell you about the Blue Lagoon waterpark. The massive pool complex has a huge main pool – which gently transitions from toddler-friendly shallows to a proper deep end for swimming – as well as a fun splash pool, lazy river, jacuzzi, and four spiralling slides.
The main event is inside and kept at a comfortable temperature, but if you want to enjoy the West Wales weather, one of the slides has stop offs on your way down, meaning that you can pause your slide ride and nip into one of the side pools to sit and take a break outdoors. Alternatively, head out to one of the heated jet pools if you’re lucky enough to have kiddies that will sit still and enjoy it with you.
A favourite with my niece and nephews was the lazy river, with a gentle current to bob you along, and the main pool when the waves came on. Daredevils raced to the front where waves are strongest and biggest, whilst smaller children and less water-confident kids could stay back but still enjoy jumping the gentler waves.
The best part (other than being taken on the slides by my lovely holiday companions approximately 7326548 times) is that before between 9am and 12-midday, access is for residents only. You’ll get a pass when you arrive to scan yourselves in to Blue Lagoon each time, but day visitors who’ve come just to enjoy the waterpark will have to wait until after midday and only when there’s capacity. Scanning each person in means being able to track how many people are in the pool at any one time and there’s a cap, ensuring that it’s never overcrowded. You could easily spend the whole day splashing around and having a bite to eat at the indoor, poolside cafe.
There are plenty of hikes and cycles to enjoy – hire a bike or bring your own – but if you want to try something new, take your pick from a huge menu of activities. My 13-year old nephew braved the ziplines set up across the park’s ominously-named Steep Ravine in the forest. Not for the faint-hearted, even with with a minimum age of just eight, it’s best suited for older kids and adults. My other nephew, 10, tried his hand at archery on the Tournament Field, and my niece, six, contemplated channeling her inner monkey at the tree climbing activity but decided it was a bit too scary.
There’s plenty to choose from, plus there’s the Adventure Centre where you can either book some more indoor activities or enjoy some free playtime, including climbing frames, soft play and mini-golf (where I earned the prestigious ‘Auntie Susie The Tiger Woods of Mini Golf’ title).
There are a number of dining options in the park, but Smokey Joe’s Shindig at Camp Smokey is a really special experience. Pre-book your place at the hoe-down of the year and arrive with energy and unbridled enthusiasm. You’ll be put into a team by one of the welcoming staff members and given red or blue stripes on your cheeks to mark your allegiance. With live music and an infectious energy, your kiddies will be thrilled when they’re told that they can climb on the chairs and make as much noise as they want when they compete in a game of enthusiasm to see who gets their dinner first. Hot tip: head to the dancefloor and throw some shapes to get your team noticed. The food – you get a main and dessert – were both delicious and they can cater for any dietary requirements if you let them know beforehand.
To top an amazing night off, you’ll be able to grab yourself a marshmallow and stick to toast over the open (but safely contained) fire. It’s an unforgettable experience and I highly recommend that you include it into your trip if you can.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to steal away some grown-ups-only time (we were willing babysitters for my brother and his wife), there’s the lovely Well Spa Retreat with a thermal suite made up of a few different steam rooms and saunas and a hydrotherapy room. There’s a quiet outdoor area and a little cafe to get away from it all. You can pay to use the thermal suite and hydrotherapy pool for up to two hours, or you can book yourself in for a treatment and get access included.
The resort really does have everything you need onsite, including pubs, restaurants and a village with shops to grab milk, bread and extra toilet roll etc, but if you need to restock on popcorn or get the makings of a family meal, you can head into Haverfordwest where you’ll find plenty of supermarkets in under 20 minutes drive.
With over 40 incredible beaches and 186-miles of rugged coastal beauty, Pembrokeshire is a beautiful corner of the world to explore and Bluestone have a lot of local insights if you do wish to wander out and explore Pembrokeshire.