Review: A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire

For the third year running, we were invited by Hampshire’s Top Attractions to visit Hants for a short break. Having never really holidayed in the county prior to a few years ago, it’s now somewhere we instantly think of when it comes to family staycations.

As Toddler L has just turned three, the emphasis of this holiday was different to anything we’ve done before with her. As opposed to previous Hampshire holidays (here and here) where we’ve visited Winchester Science Centre, Peppa Pig World, Blue Reef Aquarium, Marwell Zoo and headed over to the Isle of Wight, this was more of a ‘doing’ holiday. Still very much toddler-friendly, but definitely more active.

So, below you’ll find my review of our latest jolly to Hampshire. Here, we did cycling and canoeing with New Forest Activities, ten pin bowling and Glo-Golf at Riverside Bowl and visited The Hawk Conservancy to check out the birds. Our accommodation was Holiday Inn Winchester and Marwell Hotel. Here’s how we got on:

 

Activities

New Forest Activities

Our weekend started with a trip to Beaulieu. We weren’t there for the car museum though, oh no. Instead, we had two other modes of transport that had been lined up for us for the day. We parked the car in a central car park, then made the short walk to the New Forest Activities office for around 10.30am.

It’d been arranged for us to have a full day bike hire (£18 adult, £10 under 12’s) so that we could explore the New Forest, then we’d be heading out on a canoe mid-way through the day. We signed the relevant waivers, were given a bag including a map and puncture repair kit (like I’d know what to do!), then were shown to our bikes.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire new forest activities family on bikes

As we had a three-year old with us, we had the choice of a child bike seat or a trailer. We decided to go with the seat, so the fella attached it to my bike and showed us how to get her in properly. We’d looked at the map and decided we were going to cycle down to Bucklers Hard, with a stop off at Bailey’s Hard for the canoeing.

Apart from a few metres down the high street, the route consisted of gravel tracks and woodland paths which was great with a kid. We didn’t know whether we’d found the right path to start with, so were reassured when we found a sign pointing to Bucklers Hard.

Having never cycled with a toddler on a bike before, it took a bit of time to get used to the weight and movement, but I picked it up pretty quickly. It was great having her on the back of the bike and she thoroughly enjoyed being able to talk – and poke – me.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire new forest activities dad and toddler on bike

After 15ish minutes of cycling, we arrived at our first stop for family canoeing (£22 adults, £17 children) at 12pm. Despite not the most gruelling of bike rides, our lack of fitness – and the fact the missus was pregnant – meant that we were both feeling it a bit. We parked our bikes up and waited for everyone else to arrive.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire new forest activities canoeing building

After reading and signing another waiver, we were gathered around and given a few minutes overview of the session. We were told that we’d be heading out for 90 minutes on a Venture canoe and would be exploring the privately owned Beaulieu River. We then each put on a life jacket, were given a paddle and taken down to the river a short walk away.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire new forest activities mum and toddler waiting to canoe

On arriving at the lake, we were given a bit more information – namely around how to get the canoe into the water and the route we’d take. We then all got into our separate canoes and began sliding down the bank into the river.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire new forest activities mum and toddler in canoe

Once in the river, the instructors then showed us how to do some basic manoeuvres, such as the correct way of paddling and how to do a 360 degree turn. After this, we began to head up river in the direction of Beaulieu along with the other 10 or so canoes. There was a bit of a current going against us, but it wasn’t too challenging to make progress.

We discovered that our main issue was where we were sitting though – I was at the back, whilst Toddler L and Hay were in the middle. This meant that – despite her best efforts – Toddler L was in the way a bit. As such, she got ‘promoted’ to the front and we were given a blue barrel as a weight to balance the canoe.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire new forest activities in canoe on water

It was a really nice – but tiring – ride on the water. We got talking to a few of the guides who were friendly, knowledgeable and added to the experience. They also came to our rescue once or twice when the current managed to take us in the wrong direction.

Going along the river was really peaceful. There was barely any noise, plenty of nice scenery to look at and it was a fun thing to do as a family. We even spotted some jelly fish, which I had no idea lived in rivers.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire new forest activities paddling in canoe

After maybe an hour of canoeing, it was decided that we’d all turn around and head back, making use of the current. We then played a game where one of the instructors tipped a load of balls into the water, then we all had to collect them.

I wasn’t quite sure how a three-year old would cope in the canoe, but she absolutely loved it. She loved having her own paddle and spent the entire 90 minutes with it in the water helping / hindering. It was a fun thing to do as a family and we’d definitely do it again.

On arriving back at the activity centre, we dropped off our bits, picked up our bikes and started the second leg of our journey towards Bucklers Hard. We were pretty hungry now, so thought that this would be the best place to grab some food. In retrospect, we probably should have grabbed some bits for a picnic, but hadn’t thought that far ahead.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire new forest activities woodland path

Bucklers Hard was another 1.5 miles down the river – our leisurely cycle and a couple of stop offs meant that it was around half an hour before we reached the old shipbuilding village. Rather than cycle up a hill as per the signs, we dismounted and walked into the village alongside the river.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire bucklers hard

The idyllic village makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time, with the Georgian houses, small harbour and lack of cars. There was a pub, but it was pretty busy, so we instead headed to the top of the hill to the Captain’s Cabin Tea Rooms where we had sandwiches and scones. Very la di da.

After this, it was back on our bikes. We could have continued further and explored more, but was conscious about pushing a pregnant missus too much. To be honest, I was relieved myself having had to carry an extra 30+ lbs in the form of a toddler. We got back to the office around 4pm, dropped off the bikes and got in the car a little worse for wear.

It’d been great to do something a bit more active with Toddler L and we’ll definitely consider the likes of bike hiring and canoeing on future holidays.

Riverside Bowl

On early Saturday evening, we headed over to Andover to Riverside Bowl. Here, we were going to have a game of ten pin bowling followed by a game of Glo-Golf. From the outside, the venue looked unassuming – so much so that it took a couple of drive bys before we spotted it.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire riverside bowl entrance

On entering – and walking up the three flights of stairs – we noticed a definite American vibe which got stronger as we went through the main door upstairs. Here, we saw a few arcade games, pool and snooker tables and an American-style diner. We walked passed the entrance to Glo-Golf and to the reception desk where we were greeted.

Our time at Riverside Bowl started with bowling (£6 adult, £4.95 child). Shoe hire is included in the price, but the smallest size they have is a 10, meaning Toddler L was allowed to wear her own shoes. In addition, they entered our names themselves on the scoreboard, which made a change to last time I went bowling when it was all manually done yourself. We then got settled in on one of the eight lanes.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire riverside bowl toddler bowling

This was Toddler L’s first experience of bowling and she seemed to enjoy it. With our assistance, she’d move the bowling ramp and line it up, then select which ball she wanted and help carry it to the ramp. She’d then give it a big push and watch as it (slowly) rolled down the lane. They also put the push rails up for us which helped Toddler L (and the missus).

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire riverside bowl toddler sad when bowling

Being three-years old, and a little tired from the adventures of the day, she was a little moody when it wasn’t her go. She’d sit on one of the chairs with her bottom lip out asking if it was her turn yet. When it was, she’d jump straight up with a gleeful look on her face which lasted until she’d had her two bowls and was forced to sit back down again. Kids, eh!

She did well though – I won with 113, the missus was second with 83, and Toddler L was just behind with 81. Although we’d probably wait until she was a little older before going again, it was great to take her bowling – something that I have plenty of fond memories playing with my family as a kid.

After we’d finished bowling, it was time for Glo-Golf (£5 adult, £4 child). We picked up our clubs and balls from reception, then went through the appropriately named door, unaware of the neon-fuelled wonders that lay ahead.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire riverside bowl glo-golf

Inside, we found a nine-hole mini golf course like nothing I’ve seen before. The room was dark, but everything else – carpet, walls, balls and the course – glowed in the dark. I’ve never taken LSD – let alone whilst playing crazy golf – but I now have an idea of what it would feel like. It was pretty cool (the room, not drugs).

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire riverside bowl Glo-Golf inside

The course took you on a trip (again, not drugs) around the world – each hole was designed to represent a different country. This included the likes of Holland, France, Australia, USA and UK. A nice little feature was that every hole played music when the ball went through the obstacle – Toddler L enjoyed having a good dance to this.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire riverside bowl Glo-Golf inside 1

The indoor golf was fun and the fact that it was so ‘glowy’ gave it a different twist to your regular crazy golf. Although she’s played mini golf multiple times, she’s not really got the skills yet. She enjoys attempting to hit the ball, but would often just pick it up, put it right next to the hole, then tap it in. It’s therefore no surprise that I disqualified her and she finished last.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire riverside bowl Glo-Golf inside 2

I was definitely impressed with Riverside Bowl. The fact that it not only has bowling, but also Glo-Golf, pool, snooker, arcade games and a diner, means that it’s a place you can go to with the kids for a few hours and do multiple things. Great if you’re looking to kill a few hours on a wet day.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire riverside bowl diner seats

Hawk Conservancy Trust

Late Sunday morning saw us visit the Hawk Conservancy Trust in Andover as we made our way back home. Designed to care for and protect birds of prey, the 22-acre site houses over 150 birds including owls, eagles, vultures, kites and falcons.

On arrival, we were handed a map and Toddler L was given an activity booklet with 10 or so different birds she had to find during our time there. With that, we decided to start having a wander to see what we could find. We noticed that there was a ‘meet an owl’ opportunity just starting, so we headed over to the relevant bit to get a photo. I think I was more keen than Toddler L.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire hawk conservancy trust meeting owl

This was the first proper bird we saw for a while. Although it’s focused on birds of prey, we found a few other kid-friendly things to do prior to looking at the birds. This included comparing the sprog’s wingspan to that of birds, getting her to stick her head into various cut outs and then doing a bit of pond dipping with a magnifying glass and container of pond water.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire hawk conservancy wingspan chart

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire hawk conservancy trust pond dipping

After this, we found a little play area which obviously had to be visited, explored and played with due to us being with a three-year old. Here, we found swings, a chain and tyre assault course, as well as a wooden structure with monkey bars and a slide.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire hawk conservancy play area

Then it was time for lunch. We headed to the aptly named Feathers Restaurant onsite, where we picked up a jacket potato, panini and kid’s meal deal for the sprog. The food was decent and reasonably priced, whilst the actual restaurant had both seating inside and out.

After eating, we saw that the Valley Of The Eagles show was going to start at 2pm, so we slowly made our way over there, checking out the various birds along the way. This also gave us the chance to spot the birds which were in Toddler L’s activity book and stamp them when we’d found them.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire hawk conservancy trust stamping book

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire hawk conservancy eagle close up

After walking passed a variety of impressive birds – and some donkeys – we reached the seating area for the display. Overlooking a wildflower meadow, a bloke introduced the show and told us a bit about what’d happen. We then watched on as a number of vultures flew across the audience repeatedly – we’re talking inches from our heads.

There was then a short medieval-themed display featuring a falcon, before a number of Black Kites took to the skies to show how they hunt. It finished with a Bald Eagle coming into land from a good few miles out in the distance. I’ve seen a number of bird displays at places like the zoo, but this was, without doubt, the best I’ve witnessed. It was a shame to have missed the Wings Of Africa display earlier in the day based on how good this one was.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire hawk conservancy trust valley of the eagles show

After the show had finished, Toddler L got the chance to go on a tractor ride around the meadow with a number of other kids. Once finished, we decided it was probably time to head off, which coincided quite nicely with the fact that it started to rain. We ended up spending longer there than I imagined, which just goes to show the wide variety of things there are to do.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire hawk conservancy trust tractor ride

 

Accommodation

Holiday Inn Winchester

On the Friday night, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Winchester. Although we hadn’t been here before, we knew where it was because it’s right next to Winchester Science Centre which we went to a couple of years ago (and would thoroughly recommend).

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire winchester holiday inn reception

First impressions of the hotel were great. It looked really new and modern, both from the outside and when entering into the spacious reception area. We were greeted warmly by the staff at reception, were able to check-in and even managed to bring our dinner reservation in the restaurant forward by 30 minutes.

Our room was on the first floor at the end of a corridor. We had a family room, which consisted of a double bed and a rollaway bed for Toddler L. The room looked nice – like the rest of the hotel, it was modern, clean and light. It also had all the amenities I’d expect, including hot drink making facilities, free Wi-Fi, flat screen TV with Freeview, hairdryer and toiletries – the only thing missing was a safe.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire winchester holiday inn hotel room

That evening, we headed down to the Morn Hill Brasserie for a complimentary dinner at the hotel. The restaurant looked modern and had a few separate areas, such as the bar and outside garden terrace. As it was a Friday evening, the restaurant was already quite busy, so I’d recommend that you definitely book in advance. Once we were shown to our table, Toddler L was given some crayons and something to colour in.

Hay and I had the choice of a three-course meal or £23.50 off the a la carte menu – we went with the former. As per Holiday Inn’s family-friendly stance, kids eat free at their hotels, so Toddler L was able to have three courses off the children’s menu. This is a great little promotion for families.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire winchester holiday inn restaurant selfie

I had a homemade chicken liver pate to start, whilst the missus had smoked salmon (although we’re pretty sure she ordered the soup!). I then had a smoked haddock and crayfish pie for the main course, as Hay went with the burger. For dessert, we both went with a warm chocolate brownie which, despite the name, wasn’t warm. Toddler L had cheesy garlic bread, breaded chicken strips and the brownie.

The food was decent, but nothing special – it’s what I’ve come to expect from a hotel restaurant. It was pretty reasonably priced though – if we were paying, it would have been £50ish for 2 adults and a child for a three-course meal which seemed pretty decent.

We then headed up to our room, having a sneaky look at the gym on the way passed as the guilt of finishing Toddler L’s brownie kicked in. The beds were comfy and we didn’t hear noise from any of the other rooms, which is just what you want. I’d like to say that we all slept really well, but Toddler L was a bit too excited about sleeping in the same room as us, so took ages to settle. That’s nothing against the room obviously, just the reality of staying in a hotel with a toddler!

The next morning, we got up and headed down to breakfast, which was in the same restaurant as last night. The buffet breakfast consisted of a range of hot and cold breakfast options – so the usual stuff like sausage, bacon, egg, beans, toast, pastries, cereal etc. It was a good selection and there were no complaints whatsoever. Also, just to give a shout out to the member of staff who happily went around interacting with the kids and gave them a sticker when they’d finished their breakfast. A nice little touch.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire winchester holiday inn breakfast

The cost of our room was round £120, which seemed pretty reasonable. Then it was £18 for two adults for breakfast and £50 ish for the evening meal. This includes the ‘kids stay and eat free’ offer, which helps to make the whole experience that bit better for families. We’d have no issue in going back to Holiday Inn Winchester again and enjoyed our stay whilst there.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire winchester holiday inn hotel room selfie

Marwell Hotel

Our second night in Hampshire saw us stay at Marwell Hotel, which is on the grounds of Marwell Zoo. I’d heard good things about the hotel and was expecting a grand, impressive hotel on arrival. However, what we instead found was something more understated which looked more like a wooden safari lodge. This wasn’t a bad thing at all, just different to what I’d imagined.

We parked up, forced our way to reception through a wedding party, then spoke to a friendly lady at check-in who gave us our room key and directions. Continuing the safari theme, to get to the room, you walk through a glass corridor which kind of makes you feel like you’re outside in the wild. There’s then four different lodges off this main corridor, which each have a number of bedrooms. It was certainly unique.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire marwell hotel outdoor corridor

Our room was upstairs on the left hand side of the corridor, which I was pleased to see was at the opposite side to the wedding party. We were in an executive twin room, which consisted of a double bed and a single bed. The room was nicely decorated, giving off the impression of a boutique hotel rather than a budget one where everything looks the same.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire marwell hotel executive twin room

In the room, there was an en-suite bathroom, TV with DVD player and Sky, hospitality tray with tea, coffee and biscuits, a Dyson HOT fan and hairdryer. We also found an activity pack for Toddler L which has crayons, colouring books etc. I don’t recall coming across something like this before, so it was a really nice family-friendly touch.

We had a quick wander around the hotel, finding the bar area opposite reception, along with a little snug area up a spiral staircase. Here, there were more places to sit, along with a TV and beanbag seats for the kids.

Review A Family-Friendly Activity Holiday To Hampshire marwell hotel upstairs snug area

That night, we all slept well – I think our day of activities wiped us out! In the morning, we headed down to breakfast which was in a separate room just off reception. Here, there was a selection of hot and cold breakfast options, including the usual cooked breakfast items, cereal and pastries.

After breakfast, we visited the indoor heated swimming pool behind reception. As well as the pool, there was a jacuzzi, sauna and changing rooms. The pool was a decent size and we had a splash around for 45 mins or so, prior to heading back to our room and checking out.

The cost of our room was about £125, which I think is pretty reasonable for a slightly quirky hotel. The room was nice and the little extra touches – activity pack in room, TV ‘snug’, swimming pool etc – were great from a family-friendly perspective.

 

Summary

We had a great weekend away in Hampshire – something we’ve come to expect from visiting the county. Both the Holiday Inn Winchester and Marwell Hotel were nice places to stay and offer great locations for visiting attractions in Hampshire.

Our favourite activity was the cycling and canoeing with New Forest Activities. Although we felt it the next day, it was great to do something active with Toddler L as opposed to some of the normal activities we find ourselves doing again and again.

Disclosure: We were provided with a complimentary trip to Hampshire (accommodation and activities) by Hampshire’s Top Attractions with the purpose of writing an honest review of our experiences.