A Lifestyle, Travel and Food Blog by Jessica – a Swedish “islander” and fisherman’s daughter who somehow ended up living outside London, England with her husband, three kids and dog. 🇸🇪🇬🇧 Jessica is passionate about writing, food, food, food, baking, food, (ahem), travel, the arts, education and Film & TV. Currently working on a collection of short stories. Most recently completed work on "Drive to Survive" for Netflix. Jessica has worked as an actress, teacher, voice-over artist, translator and producer, as well as working in Higher Education. Jessica supports the British Dyslexia Association.
“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”
We’ve all been reminiscing about the beautiful island of Rhodes, Greece and our amazing two weeks of holiday. Can we go back already?!
Our second week pretty much continued in the same vein as the first. Swimming and playing in the pool, eating gorgeous food and venturing out for adventures in the evenings. We visited *George’s shop (*when you know, you know) and bought some more bars of olive soap. We managed to defeat the mosquitos thanks to the super duper mosquito repellent machine, we visited Kolymbia town a couple of times, went to the beach…
Maggie did her second round of Stage Academy and loved it even more than the first time. We were so proud of her! Jackson loved Football academy and made lots of new friends. He grew really confident which was amazing to see.
Both Jackson and Maggie did swim academy and made steady progress. It was action packed!
The creche was fantastic and the staff were so kind and attentive. They were incredible. And by that I mean – they were incredible, the best Holiday Village staff I’ve ever encountered. Now, I can’t say Alfie loved the Creche, but he got used to it, loved the arty corner and even made friends.
Of all the “academies” the swim academy is probably a clear stand out for me. The kids really improved so quickly and so, if you can, go for the one on ones – worth every penny.
We love the whole Holiday Village concept; it really suits our children and makes for a relaxing (-ish) holiday . So what is a “Holiday Village“?
Well, in short – it’s holidays that put the kids in focus without compromising on any of the other stuff. (Food, location, rooms, staff etc). The HV concept is offered by First Choice (TUI). Everything is aimed for families, putting the children first by running kids clubs aimed at all ages – from babies up to 15 year olds and activities every day. A HV hotel typically offer the following:
Activities & Academies
Professional performances by staff trained in Musical Theatre
These are run by credited staff and are amazing! We’ve been to a three HV hotels and staff have consistently been fantastic. They put the kids in focus and are caring and professional
Different themes several times a day! The kids do things like arts and crafts, face painting, building rafts/dens, go exploring etc.
There is also a day and evening creche. Take ALL MY MONEY.
This hotel is fantastic but obviously the stand out feature is the swim up rooms. To not having to get up in the middle of the night to reserve a sun bed is everything. It’s like your own little slice of heaven – a private sun terrace with sun beds but with the added luxury of not having to cook, not having to entertain, unlimited access to drinks, ice cream, snacks and activities. Need I say more?
The one obvious drawback is the price. Going in the school holidays with three children was pricey and as many people have pointed out, you could go further afield for that sort of money.
Each to their own. For us it was worth every penny and we’d return in a heartbeat.
This hotel will be a hard one to beat in terms of awesomeness.
We booked our Atlantica HV Rhodes holiday over a year ago as we wanted to make sure we could bag one of the very few rooms that can accommodate a family of five.
The 31 July couldn’t come fast enough.
Our plane was originally meant to leave Luton airport at 8.15am. (A surprisingly sensible time for a First Choice/TUI flight!)
Check in and getting through the airport at Luton was a breeze – even with it being the school holiday and the copious number of people.
Unfortunately we were held on the tarmac for 40 minutes as Traffic control in Rhodes said they had “no space” for our aircraft. Our pilot chuckled and said, “That’s Greece for you, get used to it”.
Once in the air all was good. The kids behaved so well, (honestly, they were fantastic), we had lovely snacks and drinks and all in all it was a pretty non eventful flight.
When we arrived in Rhodes we were, once again, held on the tarmac. Since the Rhodes Traffic control had asked us to wait back in London, we had now missed “our slot” to land. (Which made zero sense as they were the once who asked us to wait in the first place!!)
Anyway. 45 minutes later and we were allowed to disembark.
My goodness. Stepping off that plane and hitting that wall of heat. You know the one mean? It hits you like a sledgehammer.
Thumbs down. My beautiful, beloved Betsey Johnson flowery suitcase got totally destroyed.
Thumbs up: Even with a two hour delay, the taxi driver was waiting for us at arrivals. He was a lovely chap who told us all about the local history and what not to miss as we left Rhodes Town for Kolymbia and the Atlantica Hotel. Originally from the mainland, he travels to Rhodes in the summer to work as a taxi driver. He said that this was pretty common as tourism still makes up most of the Greece economy. (“The most important economic industries are tourism and merchant shipping”*
Checking in at the hotel was super easy and within 10 minutes we were in our room.
And even though it’s a bit on the small side, it’s lovely and comfortable. The fact that it fits us all is an achievement in itself.
The main bedroom is split into two sections by a partition wall that works well. There’s a big bathroom with shower and bathtub and obviously the pièce de résistance – our own swim up pool entrance.
Every other holiday we’ve been to with the kids have meant one of us getting up at the crack of dawn to reserve sun beds and it’s just doesn’t feel like a proper holiday. Faffing with the alarm, getting all the towels out and then lying around until you can go for breakfast.
We have our very own piece of sunny heaven. We don’t have to set an alarm, there is no rush. Our sun beds are out there for us to use at any time. We can have a lie in every day.
I honestly can’t tell you enough how wonderful this is.
I’m kidding, we have THREE KIDS – what the heck is a LIE IN?!
The kids have done lots of fun activities. Maggie has had swimming lessons and took part in Stage Academy with a show at the end of the first week.
Jackson has been doing Football academy.
Both of them have joined in several kids activities.
Alfie’s been into the crèche, and although a bit hesitant at first – he now enjoys it.
Maggie and Jackson made friends with some lovely Irish/Scottish girls on the first day and luckily for Brooks and I, their parents are lovely and so we all hang out.
It’s so nice when they make friends and it’s all very relaxed and well, easier somehow.
One drawback has been the mosquitos. They have been relentless and Alfie and I have been bitten alive. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
Brooks and I went to George’s shop next door and bought everything. Like, any kind of mosquito fighting cream, spray plugin imaginable.
Alfie’s bites are so bad, the staff at the crèche suggested we call a doctor as they suspected it was chicken pox.
(It wasn’t. The doctor arrived. He confirmed they’re mosquito bites and prescribed a cream and antihistamine. £130 later. Ahem. But better safe than sorry right?)
The first week has flown by. This week we’re planning to head down to the beach and hopefully do some shopping too.
I’ve said it before – Center Parcs is a Parents Paradise. Everything is set up with little ones in mind. I mean, everything.
I ain’t going to lie though – it’s expensive. One week at Center Parcs easily equals a week’s holiday in the sun somewhere abroad. Coming to, and in some degree, staying at Center Parcs is expensive.
But I guess this is where you’ll have to ponder the pros and cons and decide what’s important for you.
We stayed for a week during the Easter Holidays. We had to queue to check in this time but it was generally smooth and straightforward. It was tricky to find a parking space as it was absolutely rammed but we got there in the end.
The park itself is lovely and the perfect size. Big enough to not feel on top of other people, but you can easily get everywhere on foot.
We stayed in an Executive Dog friendly lodge in the Oak area, close to the Aqua Sana.
We loved our lodge. It was clean and fresh and it had all the amenities you could think of. Bring extra washing up liquid and dishwasher tablets though! They don’t give you enough initially. Also, if you’re staying a week, and is a coffee lover like us, then I suggest you bring some spare coffee pods for the Nespresso machine.
Our lodge was adapted for dogs but you’d never really know – it was really super clean and didn’t smell of dog at all.
We had a two bed lodge this time and it felt very spacious. Each room had an ensuite; one with a shower and one with a jacuzzi bath. The two older kids shared a room and loved it!
There’s an outside area with table and chairs and a BBQ.
The kitchen area was great. Really clean and it had pretty much everything you need for cooking for the family. There is a wine cooler which is a bonus. The freezer is TINY, like a freezer compartment – keep that in mind if you’re bringing food from home.
Not that you need to bring lots of food. I would say bring food for the first night (unless you’re planning to eat out every night) and then top up from the local Parc Market if necessary. It’s a great little shop and has a great variety of products.
What To Do
Honestly, Centre Parcs Woburn has so much to offer. There are loads of outside activities. Boating on the lake, riding your bike everywhere (though it’s quite hilly!), feeding the ducks in the lake, crazy golf, go for a play in the numerous play areas or just go for a walk – you are spoilt for choice!
We brought our bikes and it really worked well for us. Yes, it’s hilly, but our older kids really enjoyed the experience. We learned our lesson from last year and had bought a bike trailer for Maggie and Alife to chill in. (You can find some really nice second hand ones on eBay)
You can pay to do activities too. Jackson, Kiri and Brooks headed to the Falconry Centre for an hour with the big birds. It was an amazing experience; the bird handler really took the time to explain and show how to handle the birds.
We did Aqua jetting again as well as Archery, Climbing, Pottery, Ballet Class, Teddy Bear Making, Maggie and I met the gorgeous Owls.
But the main focus was the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. The kids, and grown-ups loved it here.
There are different zones or splash areas depending on your age and something to suit everyone. The big boys loved the Rapids in particular and the wave pool.
Maggie and Alfie loved the smaller splash area and grew more and more confident in the water each day.
I’ve said it before – there isn’t an actual pool for swimming which is a real shame.
We learned our lesson from last year and so we hired a Cabana to stay in. It’s pricey, but definitely worth it for a welcomed break in the day – particularly if you have a baby or toddler. (Or just need a nap in the middle of the day!) There’s a fan, cold drinks (you get a mini fridge), comfy chairs and a TV. It’s like your very own little beach hut.
In terms of food and drink there’s a Starbucks and Monty’s serving pizza, hot dogs and burger. Not gourmet food but absolutely fine and kids were very happy.
We (okay me and my friend Sarah) fell in love with Leon’s and we had a take away pretty much every day. Loved everything about it. The food is right up our street. We didn’t dine out this stay because, you know, three kids. We used the Parc Market more and cooked at home every night.
The Star performer overall again was Aqua Sana Spa. WORTH. EVERY. DAMN. PENNY. You leave the place feeling really refreshed and rejuvenated. Bliss.
There are these comfy sofas on the sunlit roof terrace overlooking Center Parcs and initially we thought “maybe a bit boring” but no. We snuggled in lapping up the rays and woke up 40 minutes later. I had a lovely manicure too – what a treat!
Wonderful staff, wonderful Spa area – just perfect.
I felt so relaxed. Like I’ve not felt that relaxed in a long time – so happy and content. Of course there were some hiccups, but in general it was all pretty awesome.
We’ll be back.
For us, not having to take the kids anywhere abroad on an airplane was a big bonus.
It’s only a 40 minute drive from our house. Anything that saves travel time is a blessing in this house
We could bring Buddy the dog
There are LOADS of child and toddler activities. All three of our kids would be catered for.
It’s safe and fairly contained. We could let the kids out and play and they were free (within reason obvs) to run around on their own.
We travelled with friends who stayed in the lodge opposite us. This made such a difference as kids and adults alike always had mates to hang out with and we could all split up at times to do different activities.
The Tropical Swimming was a HUGE hit with our kids. We went here every day. It’s also free. (Yay)
No cars are allowed in the village so the kids got to practice their bike riding skills in a safe environment. Having our bikes also meant we all got some exercise every day riding up those steep hills!
The lodges were immaculately cleaned every day.
Staff are generally incredibly lovely and accommodating.
The Aqua Sana Spa is outstanding. You’ll leave floating on clouds.
There are loads of restaurants and take away places to choose from – or make food at home!
The Supermarket onsite is great and has pretty much everything you need. You can also leave the site and head to Tesco’s down the road.
The wine cooler.
It IS expensive. And everything on site is expensive. Captive market and all that. It’s just what it is.
Staff are very young. I felt like the place was run by teenagers. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just a bit odd. Some lacked experiences generally.
It’s very steep and hilly – not ideal for little ones on bikes
They really need to invest in a proper pool area for swimming
The freezer and fridge are tiny, especially if you’re a large family of five. Bring a lot of cupboard ingredients and top up during the week
They were really slow at service – prepare to wait in queue for your food.
I know. Why would you voluntarily put yourself, and your whole family, in a tent for the weekend?
Not only that – but you’d bring all your friends along too! (though good thing obviously!) And a dog!
We’ve been going camping since Jackson was in Reception with a few of his school friends and we always have a blast. It’s a firm favourite of ours and we always look forward to it every year.
The kids play and parents get to chill, drink wine, eat and catch up.
We normally have a BBQ and make s’mores, (also firm favourite!) and we all and chip in and share food and snacks. It’s beautiful.
It’s completely stripped back, with all our focus firmly on our kids.
We have a fantastic bell tent that we bought from Soulpad a few years back. I can’t recommend this tent enough. It comfortably fits us all (2 adults, 3 kids and a dog), all our gear and food. It’s relatively cool in the day time and warm at night. Check out the website – I promise it’s worth every penny.
This year we decided to head to Swiss Farm in Henley and boy – it was fabulous. It’s a great camp site! I completely understand the hype now. Staff are so helpful and nice from the get go at reception. We stayed in a deluxe pitch (with electrical point, park bench and water point close by) and it was well worth the extra. We had so much space! The site is very well looked after too – everything is super clean and accessible. The showers and toilets were fantastic, and easy to find. Again, really fresh and super clean.
We loved the pool area. We were lucky (?) to travel here during the heat wave so the water was a welcomed break. I don’t know how well I would have coped inside the tent when the sun was blazing down on us. Buddy the dog could come to the restaurant next door to the pool and this was a life saver. It meant one of us could sit and have a coffee with the dog whilst the rest of the gang went for a swim. But it also meant that he could come with us when we went for a beautiful cooked breakfast in the morning!
The only gripe was that people were putting towels out in the morning session to save sun loungers in the pool area. I mean… Really?
Some of the families left their towels on the sun loungers, then kept popping out for lunch and later dinner – making those sun loungers out of action in between… Anyway. I was desperate to get an umbrella for the baby and my porcelain skinned children! Next year I will bring my own umbrella.
We had dinner in the restaurant twice and it was really nice. I can really recommend a visit here if fancy a break away from the usual camping food. Order the fish and chips – it’s amazing! Followed by any of the breakfast dishes. You’ll thank me later!
The staff are so friendly and service minded. Always smiling. They can’t do enough for you. Our food order got mixed up twice, but they were quick to rectify the problem.
Livermore Top Tips:
Bring your own pool umbrella. No joke.
They’re meant to operate a “one session per day system” whereby you can use the pool for one particular 2 1/2 hour session only, but this wasn’t in place when we where there so the pool was rammed. I reckon head for the early slot if you fancy a swim with little ones.
Head into Henley if you fancy a change of scenery. It’s gorgeous.
Check the calendar before you head here. There was some sort of music festival in Henley when we stayed and the music was SO LOUD. We didn’t sleep.
There is so much for the kids to do here. Playgrounds, swings, walks through the woods, the pool. You’ll be spoiled for choice
The flight home from our holiday was…. interesting. A wee bit challenging.
Okay.I’m just going to say it – it was pretty awful.
Alfie had picked up a cold on our last day (but, of course) and so he was feeling a bit under the weather. And he’d started teething again. Hello Molars!
And then we had the delightful flight delay at Tenerife airport (thanks TUI) for no apparent reason, which every parent dreads anyway.
I could feel that Alfie was getting anxious before we’d even got to sit down in our seats.It then transpires that Alfie was only allowed to sit on the left hand side of the plane. (Whaaa?)
I was seated on the right, with the other kids. Brooks was sat across the aisle on the left.
We find that it’s better for all the kids to be sat together and the other adult across the row and we sort of tag team.
Jackson always helps with Alfie, and Maggie to be fair, and it seems to work well. And he settles better with mummy at the moment.
But I digress.
Luckily, the kind lady and her son next to Brooks agreed to swap seats.
But Alfie was already wriggling and as the plane took off, so did he. He screamed for a good 10 minutes. And I mean – he screamed like only a teething/ear-aching baby can.
Then he fell asleep for an hour and seemed a bit perkier but then the screaming started again as we started our descent into Gatwick.
I tried everything. Feeding him, cuddling him, distracting him. Nothing worked. Thinking about his cold, it must have been his ears.
Normally, you would get a few passive aggressive sighs and angry stares from other passengers – but not this time.
There was so much kindness. So much understanding. Honestly, I was surprised and really touched by how wonderful our fellow passengers were. It must have been a tricky flight for them too, but rather than huffing and puffing, they showed their solidarity.
One older lady passed me a fan to try and cool him off, another woman in the row behind us put her hand on my shoulder, smiled and said: “We’ve all been there honey. Don’t worry”.
As soon as we touched down in London Alfie stopped crying and we made it home, tired but happy.
Travelling with kids is challenging, no matter how many kids you have. Parentingis hard.
Feeling the support from our fellow passengers on the plane made the trip bearable and definitely reignited my faith in humanity again.
As the saying goes:
“Be kind; you never know what someone else is going through.”
Our oldest is a seasoned traveller after years of commuting between Sweden and U.K.For him, flying has become second nature and he doesn’t bat an eyelid nowadays. He always behaves in an exemplary manner.
I’m joking obviously.
He’s a child.
They will always try and throw you a curve ball or eight. You know, to keep you on you your toes.
I remember the first time I went on a plane. I was eight years old and we were flying to London, our first holiday as a family.
Travelling anywhere with my family was always a challenge.You see, my parents are complete polar opposites.
Mum worries about EVERYTHING and has to be at the airport at least four hours before take off. She’ll have her bags packed at least a week in advance.
My dad, on the other hand, well, he is never in a hurry and would probably arrive five minutes before boarding if he got his way.
Let’s just say this is a recipe for disaster/interesting family time.
I got the travelling bug right away.
I loved watching all the people rushing round to different destinations, the cabin crew – so sleek and professional, and feeling the plane take off into the clouds for the first time, watching Arlanda disappear
Nowadays, the novelty of flying has worn off somewhat.
I’ve flown with many airlines to all kinds of destinations – both for work and leisure.
I’ve had good trips and awful trips. I’ve been on long flights and short flights. I’ve missed flights and slept on an airport floor.(Yes, really).
Although I’ve had so many experiences with airplane travel,some things are a constant.
I’m sure most of you will know these things already, but here’s a list of a few things we’ve picked up along the way.
Livermore’s Top Tips:
People will always rush to board the plane. It doesn’t matter whether you fly short or long haul, budget or premium – we all want to get on that flight prontissimo.You either join them or sit down and wait in protest.Or you book first class and sail by the queue – up to you and your budget.We’ll all end up on the same plane after all.
Boarding sequence is a weird one but generally speaking, if you have seats at the front or the very back you’ll either be boarding first and off first – or on first, off last. (Again, unless you fly Business or First Class)
Buy your snacks and food before flying. It’ll be nicer and cheaper.Everyone does it so don’t worry about what’s etiquette.
Having said that, recently we’ve had some very meals with SAS and Tui respectively. I think airlines are upping their game!
Prepare for the unexpected. When we flew to Tenerife the cabin crew suddenly announced that we would be landing in Agadir, Morocco to drop off some crew. (I’m not kidding!) Bring extra nappies, babymilk, wipes, spare clothes and board games.
Invest in a good power bank. An iPad is your best friend on long flights. You want it fully charged!
I’ve said it before – headphone splitters. They will save many fights – err, I mean flights, in the future.
I screen shot all the booking emails (parking, tickets, airplane lounges, car hire etc, etc) and the inside of the passport and then save into an album on my phone. That way I have all the info I need at hand in case the hard copies go awol and I don’t need to sift through numerous emails.
Most airline check ins can also be done really easily via an app.
Team tag your luggage. If you’re like the majority of the population then you most likely own a black, red or navy suitcase.(Unless you’re like me and love pink and purple coloured bags!)
We bring a refillable bottle and take through security. You can fill them up on the other side for free!
Another thing we do is to have a case for all our cables/chargers. That way, they’re all in one place and easy to access on the plane or once you’re at your destination.
Moose are absolutely huge. It’s extremely humbling when you happen to see one up close and personal. Moose weigh up to about 700 Kg and they’re about 2 meters tall. They are MASSIVE.
They truly are the Kings of the Scandinavian Woods. (And North America!)
Growing up in the Swedish countryside, surrounded by woods, I’ve always had respect for these gentle giants. You did not want to meet one at night driving your car. The impact is the same as hitting a train at full speed.
Once when I was about 17, I was in the kitchen making a cup of tea when I suddenly got that horrible feeling… My hair at the back of my neck stood up and my blood froze.
I had that feeling like someone was watching me. I turned to the window and there it was. A huge dark shadow, staring right at me.
It was early autumn and it had already started getting darker in the evenings so initially I couldn’t really make out what the shadow was. Trust me when I say that I was PETRIFIED.
However, I soon realised it was a huge Moose cow. And she was in our garden. Eating our apples.
Having Moose appear in your garden does happen on occasion so I wasn’t too bothered by that.
But something was odd… She was acting erratically.
Eating the apples but sort of dropping them and slobbering all over place. She couldn’t walk straight.
She looked… drunk.
We called the farmer next door and he informed us that yes – she was indeed drunk. She had eaten all the over ripe apple off our trees and she was wasted.
We had no choice but to wait her out. She ate some more apples and eventually wobbled back to whence she came. I thought of offering her a strong cup of coffee, *jordgubbssaft and a couple of paracetamol to help with the hangover but decided against it.
I promise you. You’ve not lived until you’ve seen a drunk Moose.
Moose are really abundant in that part of Sweden so there are lots of Moose road signs around. Growing up, the word was that the German tourists used to steal the “Beware, Moose!” signs of the road. I’m not sure if there’s any truth in this but they sure do love a Moose Safari.
And who can blame them?!
I was delightfully surprised by how much I enjoyed this outing to Virum Älgsafari.
We arrived early and I’m very happy that we did because we didn’t have to queue for the ride.
We jumped in one of the carriages, ready to meet the Moose.
The Rangers talked through the safety rules and explained not to get out of the carriage, stay seated and calm.
The Moose were all out in the paddock and they moved up to greet the tractor. They were absolutely huge up close. We’d all been given vegetables and greens to give the Moose.
The Rangers said that the Moose will give you a kiss if you lean out with a treat. There was no way in hell I was going to do this. But then when my 6 year nephew did it without hesitation I couldn’t really NOT try.
So that’s how it happened.
I kissed a Moose and I liked it.
I received a slobbery kiss from Albin the Moose and I can confirm that it was pleasant and not at all scary.
Our kids loved the ride and the whole outing in general. We had lunch near the playground and seeing the massive queues waiting for the next Safari I was really glad we’d been on the first ride.
There’s a cafe and a shop onsite too that sell the normal tourist paraphernalia. And a lot of Moose road signs – presumably for the German tourists.
Livermore’s Top Tips:
Arrive early. Make sure you get on the first ride of the day. You can’t pre-book and the Safari gets really busy.
Bring hand gel
Bring a packed lunch. The cafe is lovely, but as with most things in Sweden, a bit pricey
There’s only one customer toilet by the cafe and shop and so the queue was very long. There are toilets outside by the first barn on your left as your enter the Moose Park.
Try the Zip Wire.
* Yes. It does work. (I swear by this hangover cure.)