Earlier in the summer, I received an email from a place called Crieff Hydro asking us if we wanted to come and visit. The place looked incredible and I instantly wanted to say “yes”, but having seen that it was 450 miles away up in Perthshire, it didn’t seem likely that it’d happen. If only we hadn’t moved so far down South!
However, with a bit or organising and some luck, we were able to turn a pipe dream into reality. A two-night stay in Crieff quickly became a 1,500 mile UK road trip where we’d see friends in Preston, have a few nights in Blackpool for a press trip, visit Hay’s auntie and uncle on a remote island near Oban, stay at Crieff Hydro, then stop by my folks’ on the way back home. Maybe a little crazy with a toddler, but it worked perfectly.
So, after a few days of farm life on an island, we made our way to Crieff Hydro – a 19th Century spa hotel set in 900 acres of beautiful Perthshire countryside and the self-proclaimed Scotland’s leading hotel leisure resort. With over 60 activities for the family at the hotel and up at Action Glen outdoor adventure centre, it sounded like a great place to unwind, explore and have fun. What’s more, it appeared to be incredibly family-friendly with things like two sessions of free childcare, soft play and a cinema onsite.
Below, you’ll find my review of Crieff Hydro resort, including our accommodation, dining options and the activities we did, both at the hotel and at nearby Action Glen:
There’s a variety of accommodation options at Crieff Hydro, however the main decision is whether to stay at the hotel or go self-catering. If you stay at the hotel, there’s a choice of rooms ranging from standard to executive to signature to family rooms to studio suites, whereas self-catering options consist of lodges, cottages and apartments.
Both types of accommodation sounded great and give choice based on requirements and budget. For instance, if we were staying for a longer period and had the dog and / or extended family, then we’d definitely go self-catering. However, for one or two nights, staying in a hotel room had more appeal – the latter is therefore exactly what we did.
Our room was an executive studio suite, which slept four people over two levels. Although this was a hotel room, it actually wasn’t in the main hotel. Instead, it was a short walk (<1 minute) across the car park – which included our own private space – into reception. This was actually quite nice because we got the benefits of being in the hotel but were in our own mini row of studio suites.
On getting to our room – or should I say small house (!) – we entered with key card and came into an entrance hall for coats and shoes. We then walked through another door which took us into the main downstairs lounge area. In here, we found an L-shaped sofa which turned into a bed, flat screen TV with Freeview, a mini-fridge, a kettle with teas, coffees and biscuits, bottled water, local sweets and a stair gate. The decor was contemporary and it had a nice, homely feel to it.
As we walked up the stairs, we found the large bathroom on what I’d probably call the mezzanine level if I was being posh. The bathroom was really nicely decorated and done so to a high standard. Their was a shower over the bath and complimentary White Company toiletries which the missus was a bit too impressed by.
Further up the stairs, we found the master bedroom – again, a stair gate provided some baby proofing. The room was large and had a king size bed, arm chair, desk with mirror, wall-mounted TV, wardrobes, a safe and nice views across the estate. Again, the room had fresh, contemporary decor.
Due to the layout – i.e. bedroom upstairs and sofa beds downstairs – we decided to use a travel cot in our bedroom. We had the option of Toddler L having our bed and us sleeping downstairs, but it would have been a shame if we hadn’t slept in the king size! Similarly, due to the times we go to bed, we didn’t want to put Toddler L downstairs on the sofa bed then go up to our room at 8pm as that’d be too early.
So, we instead we used the travel cot in our room, then we headed up to bed a few hours later. It worked well, but ideally we’d have wanted a separate bedroom for Toddler L, which I know is an ask of a hotel room (although this wasn’t really one room). If we visited again – which I’m sure we will – we’d probably go for self-catering accommodation or the exec family max room which has bunk beds in an adjoining alcove.
We were really impressed with the accommodation and would have no reservations about stopping there again. The place was large and comfortable, had the required amenities and we had no noise disruptions. It was also family friendly – something that has become critical for any of our holidays. If booking in advance, you could get the room from £186 (Breakfast and Freedom Dining) or from £157 (Breakfast).
As part of our stay, we had breakfast and Freedom Dining included. Breakfast is breakfast so there’s no need to explain there, but Freedom Dining was a new concept for us. Basically, this lets you spend £26 per adult and £10 per child on food at any time of the day for each night you stay – we therefore had £124 to cover our meals up until check out on our final day. The bill is settled on check-out, with any overspend being settled then.
In total, there are six different places to eat – all of which have a different angle. We ate in four of these during our stay – this included breakfast in the impressive Meikle, dinner in both Brasserie and Piccolo, as well as lunch in Winter Garden. Unfortunately, the sports bar-themed The Hub was closed during our stay due to a conference, which sadly meant I couldn’t have the BrewDog I craved after seeing the sign.
Breakfast – Meikle
Each morning, we had a full Scottish breakfast in Meikle. We went to breakfast at about 8.30am on both days – each time, the place was busy, but we had no issue getting a table and weren’t required to wait. Inside, the restaurant felt very grand – high ceilings, chandeliers, wood panelling etc – but there was no snobbery to it at all and kids were enthusiastically welcomed.
Randomly, we actually sat at the same table on both mornings. I noticed that we were in an area with other families with pre-schoolers, so they obviously do what they can to keep similar groups together which I quite liked. When it came to breakfast, there was a huge choice. As expected, there was a buffet-style breakfast featuring cold meats, pastries, cereals, fruits and yoghurt, as well as a full Scottish breakfast. There was also the option to order something from the menu, such as porridge and pancakes.
The breakfast tasted nice – the best I’ve had at a hotel in a long time. In addition, I was impressed with the range and everything was fresh – this was quite surprising considering the amount of people in the restaurant. Staff were also attentive and friendly. All in all, a good breakfast experience.
Dinner – Piccolo
Our first evening saw us eat at Piccolo, which is an Italian restaurant you get to via Brasserie. We had booked earlier in the day and managed to get a table at 7pm – there’s only a handful of tables in there, so booking is a must. We were shown to our table by the window, given menus and some colouring things for Toddler L.
The menu featured a range of salads, pastas and dishes from the oven, but with 15 pizzas on offer, we were only ever going to order them. I ordered the Regina (ham and mushroom), the missus had Salmone (salmon, ricotta, capers) and Toddler L had Pollo (chicken) off the kid’s menu. The food came pretty quickly, tasted nice and they even turned Toddler L’s pizza into a rabbit with ears, eyes, nose and a mouth – a nice little touch.
Despite being full, we ordered dessert. Toddler L had the chocolate mousse, whilst the missus and I had a selection of gelatos and sorbets. Again, all good and filled a spot that didn’t really exist in the first place. Service was a little slow at this point though – with a tired toddler, we just wanted to head off, but only one waitress seemed to be about, and because we were sat at the back, it took a while for anyone to get to us. Not the worst thing, but worth mentioning.
Lunch – Winter Garden
The Winter Garden is an impressive conservatory-like building at the back of the hotel which serves a range of sandwiches, snacks and hot drinks. We popped in here for lunch one day and managed to bag a window seat with nice views out of the property. Here, we had a sandwich and cake as Toddler L tucked into a kid’s meal deal.
Dinner – Brasserie
Our last night saw us eat at the French-influenced Brasserie. Again, we’d booked a table, so had no issues eating when we wanted to. We were shown to our table, given menus and Toddler L was provided with some colouring things. I even managed to get an IPA, which made me happy after the closure of the BrewDog-serving The Hub. There were some really nice looking things on the menu, ranging from steaks to fish to sharing platters. They even had a two-course and three-course set menu.
We ordered spaghetti bolognese off the kid’s menu for Toddler L, which she received when we got our starters. I had the scallops, whilst the missus had a goat’s cheese tart – both of which were nice. For mains, the missus and I both went with the beer battered haddock with chips. Although this looked good, we were both put off a bit by the fact that the fish contained loads of bones. I get that fish have bones, but I’d have expected it to be deboned – maybe I’m being picky, but I very rarely find one bone in fish and chips, let alone five every fork full.
Activities – Crieff Hydro
With an advertised 60 activities at the hotel and on the grounds, we were never going to be short of things to do. This included plenty of free activities, alongside other paid-for ones, that would keep the family entertained. What’s more, with it being a very family-friendly place to stay, there were a lot of things aimed at the kids. The daily resort activity sheet could be picked up from reception each day to give you an idea of what was happening. Below are just some of the things we found:
Crieff Hydro has an on-site day care called BIG Country which Toddler L went to for a few hours on one of the days. We go on holiday to be together, so it felt a bit strange sending her to day care for a few hours, but as she missed nursery that week, we thought we’d let her have fun with kids of the same age whilst the missus had a massage and I went to Action Glen. Plus, if you book directly with Crieff Hydro, you get two free session during your stay, so it felt a shame to waste them.
BIG Country is open seven days per week between 8am and 9pm, is certified and all staff are disclosure checked and trained. It feels a bit weird to leave your kids with random people, but knowing that it’s a proper day care really helped. There are three sessions each day – starting at 9.30am, 1.30pm and 6.30pm – which last for three hours in total. Toddler L went to the 1.30pm session on our second day.
We were asked to fill in a disclosure form in advance which gave them all the info needed, then we arrived in time for the session. We signed her in, she was given a name tag and we were given a card – the same reference number was on each of these things to protect the child, e.g. you couldn’t pick them up without the card. What’s more, to get into BIG Country, you had to go through two electronic doors, so there was no way a kid was escaping or someone was getting in. This was great to see.
We were allowed in to have a quick look and make sure Toddler L was settled. As she’s a confident little kid, she left us straight away as she found a box of Toy Story dolls. As I looked around, I was massively impressed. The room was huge and there were so many things to play with – there was even an indoor castle.
When we returned nearly three hours later, we showed our card and Toddler L was brought out to us. From what they – and she – said, she’d had a lot of fun playing and they’d even wandered out to go visit the animals on the lawn area outside. From what I’d seen, it was a secure and well run day care, which I was more than happy to let Toddler L go to in order to play without us.
Next to BIG Country is a free soft play area. Accessed through a separate door, this was three levels of soft play fun. We went a couple of times during our stay, and on all occasions, there were only one or two other kids in there. The indoor play area featured a ball pool, a slide and various obstacles to climb over / under / through. There were also a number of chairs where spectators could watch on.
The Gallery Games Zone
Up above The Hub is The Gallery – I guess it can be described as somewhere for slightly older kids to hang out. In here, there’s sofas, TV, pool table, table football, table tennis, air hockey and computer consoles (Wii, Xbox, PS3). It’s free to enter, but it’ll cost a quid to play table football, pool or air hockey. Despite Toddler L not necessarily being old enough to be an ‘older kid’ and us being too old to be ‘older kids’, we still hung out in The Gallery a couple of times as we played air hockey and tried to teach Toddler L to play table tennis.
Adventure Play Area
Right next to our accommodation was an outside play area – very handy. Here, there was a variety of good quality play equipment. This included normal things like a swing, roundabout and slide, as well as other stuff like a full-size tractor, a mini fort, an assault course and giant tyres. Toddler L had fun playing – as did I.
Inside the hotel’s main leisure club is the swimming pool, which we visited once during our stay. At reception, we were given towels and made our way to the family changing area. Within the pool area, we found a 20-metre main pool, a whirlpool and a shallow pool for kids – the latter being where we spent our time. Within the little pool, there was also a huge container of pool toys for
us Toddler L to play with. This included buckets, watering cans and boats – fair to say, we had a lot of splashy fun in there.
There’s also a number of other things in the leisure club, including sauna, steam room, spa bath, adults only Victorian Spa, gym and fitness classes – obviously we didn’t do any of these with a Toddler. Something the missus did do though was have a mum to be massage – this was a back, shoulder and neck massage, foot treatment and express facial which she thoroughly enjoyed. I was a little jealous.
At the back of the hotel in the Victorian Gardens area, we found a couple more free activities – giant chess and two trampolines. I’m not sure Toddler L really understood the rules of chess, but she did a good job of lining up all of the pieces and pretending to ride the Knight piece around the board. She was more comfortable with the rules of trampolining though and spent ages jumping and tumbling. Obviously these are weather dependant, but Toddler L managed to get on a trampoline on both days with no waiting around.
We also had a bit of a wander around the Victorian Garden. This was a nice walk which took us through some landscaped areas where we played hide and seek and also stumbled upon some pet rabbits which were outside.
We didn’t manage to get there unfortunately due to timings, but it’s worth mentioning that there’s a free cinema. The 38-seat room shows two films per day – the afternoon screening is family-friendly, whereas the evening one is a little less family-friendly. During our stay, they were showing Frozen, Despicable Me, A Street Cat Named Bob and one of the Bourne films. How cool is it that the hotel has a cinema? I know, very.
Activities – Action Glen
Action Glen is an outdoor adventure centre connected to the grounds of Crieff Hydro hotel. It’s about a mile from the hotel, so you can have a wander if you’re feeling energetic, or alternatively drive and park directly outside. With a 900 acre estate and over 30 experiences ranging from aerial to water to driving to shooting, there’s certainly a lot of fun activities to do for the entire family.
As part of our stay at Crieff Hydro, they offered us a few complimentary experiences at Action Glen in exchange for a review. Having looked at the things on offer, we decided on the Quad Pods for Toddler L, and both the 4×4 driving adventure and segways for myself. Unfortunately for her, pregnancy ruled the missus out of getting involved.
4×4 Off-Road Driving Experience
On arrival at Crieff, the first activity I did was the 4×4 off-road driving experience. I met the instructor outside and got into the vehicle – a Land Rover Defender 110. Passengers are able to come with you and sit in the back to experience it themselves, however we decided against it – Toddler L would be too small and the missus was pregnant. A shame, but I was prepared to soldier on without them!
The instructor drove us down a lane and onto the 40-acre all-terrain course, which was once a sand and gravel quarry. As we drove to the bottom via a couple of steep hills, he briefed me on what we’d be doing and explained a bit about the vehicle, namely the high low ratio gearbox which allows the engine to provide more torque so the vehicle deals better with off-road situations.
One of the first things that the instructor said was that this wasn’t an amateur track. Considering I’d never driven anything as big as this before – I’m pretty sure it was bigger than our old Vauxhall Corsa – I was excited but a little apprehensive at this prospect. I’ve done an off-road experience before, but this was in a Land Rover Defender 90 and the track sounded easier by comparison. Still, I was looking forward to it.
At the bottom, we switched over and it was my turn to get behind the wheel. The instructor directed where we’d be going and was on hand to provide feedback and advice. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any photos whilst out on the course – whipping my phone out for a selfie as I steered us down a muddy hill didn’t feel like the best thing to do!
The course was really good – challenging, fun and a little bit scary. We started on the smaller hills so that I could get used to the vehicle, before moving on to some trickier situations. Despite my occasional incompetence behind the wheel – namely struggling to get into first gear – the Land Rover performed impressively on the track. It dealt with huge puddles, rutted tracks and steep hills with minimal effort – we even drove across a flowing stream which was particularly cool.
We were out on the course for just short of an hour, so it felt a really comprehensive off-road driving experience. There were also loads of different water hazards, obstacles and steep hills, so it’s not like I got bored doing the same thing over and over again. My confidence grew the longer I was out there and I think I coped pretty well with everything that was thrown at me. It was an exhilarating driving experience, although £130 does make it quite steep – although not as steep as some of the hills!
I’d not heard about quad pods before, but the description online sounded awesome. Basically, it’s a conga line of five off-road pods which are pulled along by a quad bike driven by a member of staff. Suitable for ages three and up, your kid can either go solo or you can jump in one of the pods yourself. As no-one else was booked in, the missus and I took the opportunity to go along for the ride too – and we were really pleased that we did because it was brilliant fun!
The pods are basically plastic drums which have been repurposed into a mini vehicle. With a seat, seat belt, two off-road wheels, a steering wheel and attachments to the quad in front and behind, it’s like a little train of adventure. Toddler L chose the yellow one – as it’s her favourite colour – then the missus jumped in front and me behind. It was a bit of a squeeze for us, but then again they’re really designed for the little ones!
The quad bike set off and pulled us along on a 10 minutes (ish) journey down the road, over gravel tracks, into the woods and back again. We probably weren’t going that fast, but we felt every corner, every bump and every splash through a muddy puddle. Toddler L’s face was one of excitement and determination as she gripped onto her steering wheel – I’m pretty sure she thought she was driving.
The missus and I loved it too. Not only was it great to see our little adrenaline junkie having a blast, but it was genuinely such a fun thing for us to do too. I was smiling and laughing all of the way as we were bounced up and down. For a fiver – yes, just a fiver(!) – I would thoroughly recommend the quad pods for your kid(s). If you get to go along as well, then that’s the definition of a win win situation.
Whilst Toddler L was in Big Country and the missus was having a pregnancy massage, I headed back to Action Glen for a bit of segway trekking. If you’ve not used a segway before, it’s basically a two-wheeled, self-balancing scooter. You stand on it and hold the handlebars, then use your weight distribution to control it. For instance, leaning forwards makes the segway accelerate, leaning backwards slows it down to a stop and leaning to the left or right turns it in that direction.
I checked in, waited for a few minutes, then was greeted by the instructor, along with another couple who were segwaying too. We were each given a helmet and briefed for a few minutes, before we made our way around to the ‘test area’. Here, we took it in turns making sure we could operate the segway. As we’d all been on a segway before, it was more of a refresher rather than starting from scratch.
After successfully managing to do things like go forward, turn in a circle, go up a hill and stop as we went down the hill, we were ready to set off on our segway adventure. We went via the golf course, along some narrow paths, then into the forest area of the Crieff Hydro estate.
I’ve been on a segway a couple of times before, but this was a different experience. Not only were we using the X2 model which is designed to be used off-road, but the terrain was pretty uneven and featured a steady ascend as we made our way up the mountain. Previously, I’ve used a segway on pretty flat, unassuming dirt tracks. It therefore felt good to tackle something more difficult, all whilst knowing the clever tech in the segway was doing the hard work.
That was until my segway battery died! As we were making the ascend up the hill, I felt the segway handles push back – as I had to lean forwards to accelerate, this made getting up the hill pretty difficult. I was therefore given the instructor’s segway, who said he’d pick mine up on the way back as it would self-charge as we went back down the hill.
A we reached the top, we were treated to stunning views of the Scottish countryside. We had a 180º perspective from our elevated vantage point, as the instructor pointed out some of the landmarks below, including the Famous Grouse distillery. It really was a fab view and one we wouldn’t have seen without the segways – or sunny weather.
After 10 or so minutes, we retraced our steps – or should that be wheels – as we went back down the hill. This is a different skill on the segway as you need to lean back to keep everything under control. You’re not really in *that much* danger of going too fast, but it does feel more of a thrill than the 12mph max speed would suggest.
At the bottom, we crossed the road and zoomed through a different woodland area which gave us a nice scenic backdrop against which to segway. As this didn’t have the ascends or descents of the hill we’d just been up, this felt like we could put the segway through its paces at a faster speed.
After being out on the segways for around an hour, we headed back to the main building. Despite my arms and legs feeling a little like jelly due to the vibrations caused by holding the segway, it had been a fun way to explore some of the estate. From £32, you get some great views of the countryside and it was certainly the most action adventure segway experience I’ve had. Whilst out, I also shot a few minutes of footage on my GoPro which you can check out below:
Crieff Hydro surpassed our expectations on all levels. We had a fantastic stay and would visit again in a heartbeat – the only problem is that it’s 420 miles away! I expected it to just be a hotel with a few activities, but it was actually more like a family-friendly resort, not too dissimilar to the likes of Center Parcs. The actual building was impressive, the location was stunning and they’ve really made it a place that welcomes families with open arms.
We were really impressed with our executive studio suite and enjoyed the Freedom Dining – there’s not really many food options around, so chances are you’ll be eating at the hotel anyway (unless staying self-catered). There were multiple choices for food and everything was nicely done – we particularly liked breakfast and eating in the Italian-themed Piccolo.
There was also so much to do for all family members. You could simply visit and be more than happy with the free things on offer – BIG Country day care, soft play, The Gallery games room, the leisure club, outside play area, trampolines, giant chess, exploring the countryside etc. However, if you’re wanting to spend a bit more money, then you have the likes of spa treatments, tennis and golf, as well as the thrill-seeking activities at Action Glen, such as segways and 4×4 off-road driving. The limit really is your wallet and the amount of time you have!
Disclosure: We were provided with a complimentary stay at Crieff Hydro and activities at Action Glen with the purpose of writing an honest review of our experiences.