Monday, 29 July 2013

Review: Haven Holiday Park, Doniford Bay

I'm toying with a new section for the blog, reviewing family 'stuff' we have/use/experience. It might be awful or I might get bored of it, but bear with me while I muck around and experiment. 

Let's start off this one by saying that caravans are COOL, mmkay. I love them, always have. There are many happy memories of family holidays in caravans in Wales, Clacton-on-Sea, Skeg-Vegas and now Somerset. Last year I tried to persuade my husband of their virtues, but he looked horrified at the suggestion we try such a getaway and later confessed that his only experience of caravan holidays was a certain episode of Father Ted:

Nevertheless, in April this year we found ourselves in a pickle with our house (you don't want me to go there, trust me) and needed a break. We found a 4 night stay for the following week at the Haven caravan site in Doniford Bay, near Watchet, Somerset for £124 and booked it (husband feeling very brave at this point). After looking at all the different types of caravan available (they range from Standard to Deluxe through to Prestige!) we settled on "Deluxe Plus" as it seemed to suit our requirements and budget best. Dvd player, check. Three bedrooms, check. Oven, fridge-freezer, microwave, shower, kettle. Done. The park looked small enough that regardless of where the caravan was located, we wouldn't be too far a walk from the entertainment area or the beach. Sorted. 

Excitement tempered with apprehension best describes our mood on the journey down. We were desperate for a seaside break but more than a little nervous about what the park would be like and who we might encounter whilst staying there. Graham Norton "riverdancing" round our kitchen/lounge for 4 days did not sound terribly relaxing. My husband has a limited tolerance for naff cabaret style entertainment and I hadn't really dared to explain what Rory the Tiger is or the potential scope for parents being dragged onto the dance floor to "Agadoo" at the evening disco. 

First impressions of the park were good. It was clean, green, spacious, right by the sea and very easy to find. The reception area was well sign-posted and the staff who booked us in were smiley and friendly. We discovered, to our delight, that we had received a free upgrade to a Prestige caravan complete with 'un vue de la mer'. We travelled over to our van to inspect our home for the next few days - WOW! It was gorgeous! Much posher than our house, in fact. 

Our view. There is the sea right in the background. Honest.
The family settle in with a game of Monopoly

The journey had taken longer than expected (Milton Keynes to Watchet isn't that far as the seagull flies, but the majority of the journey is country lanes) so we decided to chill for the first evening and went for a gentle stroll down to the beach before picking up fish 'n' chips from the onsite cafe. 

The beach was a little disappointing. Haven markets Doniford Bay as a "sandy shingle beach". Sandy. We found no sand. Lots of muddy rocks though! It wasn't what I'd call a pebble beach either. Just sort of... muddy and rocky. You couldn't spend an afternoon sunbathing there or splooshing around in the surf. Certainly no sandcastles! 

Munchkins at the beach

Our supper was very tasty, though. We managed to feed all 6 of us for around £20 (not counting the ketchup I picked up at the onsite Spar shop, which was a further £2.50!), so it really wasn't bad value at all. 

Having decided that the local beach wasn't going to do for sandcastling, we drove along to Minehead, which is about 20 minutes away by car. We picked up a picnic at the local Tesco and spent the day on the beach. I did find out from a lady in the local nik-nak shop that the sand had been shipped in a few years previously specifically to make the beach more appealing to tourists! It worked, and we had a wonderful time. Minehead is a lovely little town with all the predictable seaside amenities - amusement arcades, ice cream cafes, a multitude of shops selling buckets, spades and assorted beach paraphernalia. 


Sandcastles are cool.

We decided to be brave that evening and check out the entertainment in the Live Lounge back at the holiday park. Braced for an absolutely disastrous cheesefest of unforgivable proportions, I reminded the husband that regardless of how hellish he found it, the children would love running about, dancing to terrible music and mixing with the other overexcited children. I wasn't wrong... well, not about the kids. They loved it. I was very wrong about my husband hating it. I think he maybe enjoyed it even more than I did! That's saying something, given my weakness for cheesey music and penchant for a bit of dodgy dancing (Agadoo, anyone?). There was a moment I wish I had caught on film of him on the dance floor, bopping along to Gangnam Style at the behest of our son. 

I don't know if it's the sea air, the holiday spirit or the infectious merriment of the entertainment staff but you just can't NOT enjoy all the singing, dancing and daft games they put on. The entertainers weren't in the least bit phased by the small audience and performed absolutely 100%.  The audience was divided into teams - yellow or blue, depending on whether your caravan number was even or odd - and games played throughout the evening earned each team points. Around 9:30pm the points were totalled up and the winning team (ours!) awarded 20% off at the bar. Excellent! We pottered home about an hour later, exhausted but in a brilliant mood.

Ethan showing off the flips flops and sticker he won

Unlike Haven holidays of my youth, you can now sign up for lots of activities on site. They vary from water sports, orienteering, club breakfasts and lunch, to archery, wall climbing and - our favourite - the bungee trampoline. The timetable of activities included a guide to age recommendations as well as prices. Some were free, others cost between £4 and £8 per child. We opted for archery (age 6+) for the boys and a ride on the bungee trampoline (age 3+) for each of the children. The archery class was super. Because we had travelled off-peak and the park was pretty quiet, there were no other children there. The instructor was still very much on form, chatted and joked with the boys and gave them lots of turns shooting the bow and arrow. He figured out their strengths and weaknesses and really helped them get to grips with it. 

The bungee trampoline was the hero of the holiday as far as the children were concerned. If you haven't tried one, you just have to. The squeals and giggles from the children are testament to how much fun it was, and as the contraption overlooked the sea, I can imagine the view they got up there was pretty amazing.

For the rest of the day, we played in the amusement arcade before going for a swim at the indoor pool. The arcade was very fun, very kid-oriented. Lots of 2p machines and games, a few 10p games. If you like loud noises, bright lights and squealing kids, this is the place for you! The pool was a little less enjoyable. It's smaller than we expected and the outdoor section was closed (this was the end of April so still not peak season though). There are no slides in the indoor part, but there is a shallow splash pool for babies. There are a few cubicles at the poolside for changing and a small number of tables if you want to sit and watch. We didn't spend long there... It just wasn't the sort of pool where you could really kick back and enjoy. I'm glad we tried it but I wouldn't make a huge effort to try again unless the outdoor bit was open and turns out to be much better. 

We had a quiet evening in sampling a couple of local ciders (just us, not for the kids!) and watched a spot of telly with the balcony doors open, taking in the sea breeze and sunset:

On Thursday, our final full day, we invited my mum and stepdad (who live locally) to join us for a picnic. We went back to the clifftop area by the sports section and settled down at one of the lovely picnic tables. There was a small playground nearby and lots of grassy area for the kids to run around. The weather was amazing, so we just spent the day taking in the sea air and relaxing. I can certainly say that Doniford Bay is one of the more peaceful caravan parks I have visited, though that may be in no small part due to the time of year and low number of guests!

We were sad to leave on Friday. The checkout process was painless enough. The only requirement was that we returned the keys to reception by 10am, so we packed up the car, washed and dried our dishes, gave the van a quick once over to tidy up and were on our way. All the way home, we talked about how much we wanted to stay longer and started planning our next trip back. 

That my husband - the British seaside caravan holiday virgin - would happily go to Doniford Bay again tells you what a super family holiday it is. It's not glamorous or brimming with culture. It is a brilliantly friendly family holiday, and if you go out of season it can be a great budget option too. Perhaps if the week had cost us more than £124, we wouldn't have been as pleased overall but for what it did cost us, the caravan was beautiful, the park was clean and quiet, the entertainment was first class and the food available on site was tasty and reasonably priced.

Caravans ARE cool. Got it?

1 comment:

  1. You explained the Haven experience very well. Well it is Britain's number 1 seaside Resort!! The kids love it!!