Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Break for the Lakes with Fun.ie & Family

Is a couple of weeks before Christmas a good time to take a family break in Ireland?

We weren’t so sure either and so we decided we wouldn’t go too far from Dublin and headed to Athlone, in the heart of Irelands Lakelands. 

With the car fully loaded we made it to Athlone in a little under 2 hours – not bad given the Friday traffic out of the capital. 
It’s a while since we traveled directly to Athlone – and coming off the M6 at Junction 13, where our Hotel was located – we decided to head directly into “town” first. 

The kids are, like all kids, crazy about Christmas and Athlone was looking stunningly festive as we drove along the banks of the Shannon, passing Custume Army Barracks, the Luan Museum and the imposing silhouette of Athlone Castle. 

We took a whistle stop tour in the car to soak it up and take some photos before turning around and heading for the 4* Athlone Springs Hotel, our home for the weekend.
What made us pick the Athlone Springs

Well, our requirements are consistent. We want a nice size room or rooms (there’s 5 of us, 2 adults and 3 kids), a pool, nice restaurant and close proximity to fun activities. Athlone Springs ticked all of those boxes. Normally during key holiday times the hotel has a fantastic kids club but given the time of year there was more than enough for us to do. All we needed was a good night’s sleep – which we had after a quick snack at the Cedar Bar, before turning in early for our fun filled Santa Saturday!!

Waking early as you do with three young boys – we found ourselves down at Zen Fitness – the Hotels leisure centre. Collecting our towels at the club reception we were delighted to be first in the 20m pool. The kids were in heaven. Making a mental note to sneak back down later alone to enjoy the steam room, Jacuzzi and Sauna myself or even to be adventurous and avail of the Gym facilities upstairs – the boys had other ideas!

One hour later and extremely hungry – we popped into the Cedar Restaurant for breakfast – a sumptuous feast in buffet style – in the bright and airy dining room. A perfect place to plan the day.

On checking into the Athlone Springs  we were advised of some “recommended” things to do, some even we weren’t aware of but as always at fun.ie we already had a plan.

We left Athlone and took advantage of our proximity to Galway City, due to the convenience of the M6. 45 minutes later – we were parked up and walking into Eyre Square and the famous Christmas Markets. 

The weather was completely on our side – mild temperatures and blue skies, with beautiful aromas coming from the various artisan food and drink stalls. 

Chocolate Filled Crepes, Cinnamon Donuts, Organic Hamburgers and freshly ground coffee were in abundance. We did find the market a tad expensive with the average price of everything €3 but it was a one off and we decided to really immerse ourselves.

An antique carousel, retro Ferris wheel and Helter Skelter really made it feel like we were stepping back in time and everyone really enjoyed the few hours we spend. After a brief stroll through the city we returned to the car and headed for our next stop – Ireland’s Lapland at Glendeer Farm. 

The children loved the farm – with its array of animal and amazing lights and décor it was a perfect next stop for us all. The children got to feed the animals, play in the indoor Skywalk area and get to meet the man himself.

Back in Athlone town itself and all ravenous – we decided to try out an award winning Bistro recommended by our Facebook community – The Left Bank , on Fry Street.

It's always a risk when bringing 3 hungry boys into a restaurant especially fussy eaters. However we experienced the best and most reasonably priced Kids menu to date - which went down a treat with the boys. 

Mum and Dad were spoiled for choice and enjoyed light starter and Mains - and the boys ate like kings!!Can't recommend The Left Bank Bistro enough for a family treat.
Following our meal, we still had a little time left so headed out to Jump Lanes (Indoor Trampoline Park) – about 200 metres from the Athlone Springs Hotel - to burn of a little energy. 

What a fantastic concept. A gigantic trampoline (one of Europe’s largest) where kids can bounce away to their hearts content while getting a little exercise too. Just €10 for an hour of bouncing on Weekends, reducing to €8 during the week.

There is also a Carers Hour at the weekend where those with disabilities can avail of the facility with carers going free – great idea. 

There is also an artificial Ice Rink on site and bounce and skate Combos are available. Really is a great spot. Find out more at www.fun.ie/jump-lanes-athlone

Whatever about the kids – the parents were tiring rapidly and just time to get back to our lovely room, and shower and change and pop down to the Cedar Bar for some light snacks. 

A nice menu is available and service is fast and friendly – even at the height of Christmas Party season. Come nine o’clock we head back to our room, watch some TV (in the amazingly comfortable beds) and by ten, are all fast asleep. What a day!

Sunday – we again get up early but the boys remember we haven’t explored the hotel yet (it’s a tradition) so we took our swimming gear, explored the hotel and arrived at the pool first again when it opened at 8.00am. 

This time we took two hours and just about made it back for breakfast – seriously hungry men by this point. 

We decided that we would take a walk along the banks of the Shannon and into the west side of town – home to Athlone Castle. 

Unfortunately we were too early to avail of the tour as the castle has been “transformed into a multi-sensory experience in which family-friendly multimedia displays and interactive games guide visitors through its halls”, this was perhaps our one regret during our trip, however, we will make it up on our next visit. 

It is well worth taking a wander through the streets of Athlone, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying and experience some lovely and unique shops – (we have to support the small retailers, the very fabric of our smaller towns).

With a trip to collect our Christmas tree planned – and daylight against us, we said our goodbyes to the wonderful staff at the Athlone Springs hotel – our base in the Lakelands this weekend. As we did we all agreed that this was one location we had only started to discover. We felt we packed a massive amount into one weekend but promised to return to “finish the job”.

2 Night Family Packages available from only €105 per night midweek – check out the Athlone Springs Special Offers page for more details. For more great ideas on fun things to do in Athlone check out www.fun.ie

Useful Links

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Boys Go Racing at Harolds Cross

It's unusual to say the least, when we go out at night - but then - we were approaching Halloween!

The children are now almost 10,11 and 14 and we genuinely were not sure what to expect. Both Mum and I had been Greyhound racing in the past - but that was pre-children and to be frank, we thought we'd have to wait either until they were a little older or make a night of it on our own sometime - but no - we didn't need to worry at all.

We arrived on Friday night, found parking easily enough (there is lots) and the children got their first glimpse of some "real" greyhounds and the track. 

Andrew joked if we had just arrived at the Aviva, fascinated by the floodlights and the buzz around as we collected our Race Card and went through the Turnstiles! We were about to experience Greyhound Racing as a family for the first time!

Walking track side, with the viewing stand on our left we noticed several families with children around the same age as ours, and seemed to be regulars, in fact, there is a great sense that down by the track, everyone knows each other. Being early, first race starting at 8.00pm, we went inside to find our table.

On the ground floor there are several outlets where you can choose some food and also a bar, lots of tables and screens - so you don't even need to go outside if you don't want to. There is a Tote there too if you wanted to have a flutter. However, we had opted to eat in the Grandstand Restaurant, overlooking the track on the first floor. 

Taking the stairs and we were amazed on arrival at the restaurant. Firstly by the speed at which we found our table but also by the decor and vista we had of the track. We were introduced to our waitress, Claire, who quickly took our orders and explained how it all worked. We opted for starters of chicken wings, followed by a lovely Fillet for Dad and Sirloin for Mum. For the kids there was a great choice, where they could choose Soup or Garlic Bread for starters, followed by either Goujons and Chips or Bangers and Mash - with customary Ice Cream to top it all off!

While awaiting our starters to arrive, Dervla, arrived to look after us with Table-Side Tote Betting. She was brilliant - explained how it all worked and was so, so patient. She became "the lady who knows all about the races".

We placed a couple of €1 bets and a competition started between Mum and Dad, that was the first mistake Dad made on the night!!

Dinner arrived just in time for the first race - it really was superb and the children enjoyed eating and watching the races on what felt like a giant TV! Dinner was followed by deserts which the kids literally demolished!!!

What works really well here, is the visibility and the atmosphere Upstairs, it doesn't really matter where you are sitting you will be able to see what's going on. Once the race gets going the noise is deafening and you can’t help get involved in the cheering for “your” dog – it’s brilliant fun.

Studying the Menu!!!
The squeals of excitement coming from the kids are something we'll never forget - they just got so into the race. Once the bell went to signal we were about to go - they pinned themselves to the windows screaming and shouting for whatever Dog we had picked - it was brilliant craic.
There were 11 races on the card - we stayed for 8 inside and then went outside to experience it from a different perspective as it was a mild evening.
For Race 9 we were track side and our dog started well which only increased the tempo of the shouting – from us and all around us – however it was not to be and “number 4” finished third! 

Oh well – time to go and with some gentle persuasion we said goodbye to Harold's Cross Greyhound Stadium. 

The boys were exhausted but genuinely enjoyed the night so much. It’s the morning after now and Andrew (10) just walked in and said “thank you for the best night ever” – high praise indeed!

Mid-Term Packages
There are a number of great packages available which offer great value, particularly for Halloween 

€15 for 2 Adults & 2 Kids including admission, race programmes and Puppy Treats for the kids.

Puppy Treats includes:
2 Fruit Juices,
2 Bags of Crisps,
2 Chocolate Bars
2 Colouring Pages
2 Box of Crayons

Package value €30

Friday 28th October to Saturday 5th November inclusive in all IGB stadia (as listed above)
This package must be booked in advance and is not available to purchase on the night.

Huge thanks to Orla,Dawn, Claire,Darragh,Ross,Amar and Dervla for looking after us so well tonight and all the staff at Harold's Cross Greyhound Stadium for an amazing night out to remember!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Discovering Dungarvan

We were looking for a great place to spend a well earned, relaxing weekend. 
Not too far from home but far enough so we could go experience some new things as a family.

Having stayed at other Flynn Hotels (Newpark, Kilkenny) we opted for The Park Hotel, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford.

We had been allocated two adjoining rooms one with 2 double beds for the kids and another fine bright and airy room for Mum and Dad - the beds are super comfortable - an extremely welcome feature after a long working week - but it would be a while before we got our heads down - Dungarvan awaits! 

For us, with energetic boys there are a couple of "must haves" - Swimming Pool and Kids Club - The Park had both! We opted for the 2 Night family trip package - which included a family ticket on the wonderful Waterford and Suir Valley Railway (20 minutes drive from the hotel) - more about that later.
After a quick check in and registration for the kids club (designated desk) the kids wanted to go explore the hotel and grounds - it's funny and quirky but they always want to go all round the hotel so see what's going on - where's the kids club, how big is the pool, is there a games room..... In fairness - when writing a blog it's no harm to follow the leader!
After about 30 minutes roving the hotel - we took our bags to our rooms.
There are 2 options here both of which are great for families - family rooms or Self catering houses - both perfect for us.

The hotel itself is really well located for families within easy access to Dungarvan town.I remember as a kid myself my parents would often spend a night or two on the way from Dublin to Kerry, in Dungarvan or Youghal "just to break up the drive". 

The town itself oozes charm with lots of narrow streets and waterside cafes - it has changed a lot since I stayed here before - for the better.

We took a walk along Dungarvan Harbour - which has become a very popular area full of trendy eateries overlooking the water.
We stopped by St. John's Castle which is free to visit - open to the public - with great access which the kids really loved.

We stopped by St. John's Castle which is free to visit - open to the public - with great access which the kids really loved. 
With hungry tummies it was time for a pit stop.Interlude, on Quay Street, seems to be a hot spot for families and came recommend by staff at the hotel. 

Nice menu - reasonable prices - the food was incredible. It's always encouraging when the menu is simple. 

Kids are tough critics! Pizza and Pasta for the children which they loved - with a stunning and renowned Chicken Caesar Salad from mum and and super tasty fajita wrap for Dad (www.interlude.ie).

We spent a couple of hours browsing the shops of Dungarvan before changing gears and heading to Colligan Wood ( a short drive away) - a really great idea and one we would highly recommend.

There are many trails to be experienced - however,we didn't have time to do one - but even for short walk we were able to experience great views of Dungravan Harbour and Helvick Head in the distance - more details http://coillteonfilm.ie/colligan/ 

On the way back to the hotel - we actually took time to check out both of the playgrounds near the hotel. Both are relatively new and modern and the kids loved the opportunity to enjoy them for half an hour so - working up yet another appetite.

Something every parent of boys will appreciate is their ferocious appetites so back at the hotel again - this time to The Meladon Bar - which is busy due to the Euro 2016 Quarter Finals - so a great atmosphere.
There is a kids menu available here which offers 3 courses for €10 and a great choice for adults. Service was quick and with lots of staff on duty there were no delays at all. Special mention here to Kenny, the Manager and the restaurant supervisor who looked after us so well.After dinner, the younger boys decided to sample the kids club. 

As they get older it can be a challenge to get them to go to the kids club and normally first impressions are critical! We need not have worried - within the centre of the hotel - is a dedicated Kids Club House run by Sydney an experienced Irish teacher who has a great philosophy on Kids Club fun.
She suggest that a varied programme encouraging the children to focus on doing as opposed to the end results. Kids bake and play and are all very hands on which you can see when we arrive when some of the "guest" are face painting Sidney!

They also get involved in other activities including arts and crafts and movie nights.The boys played for a while but were exhausted and bed beckoned!We began our final day with an early swim in the lovely pool. There is a superb leisure centre here but with a young family it's often a tough ask to try and get the time - maybe next time!

After another lovely breakfast (buffet plus hot options from generous menu) it's time to both check out and head for our next stop - The Waterford and Suir Valley Railway - where we board a period carriage and take in the wonderful views of the River Suir. It's a family friendly railway which run through scenic areas along the River Suir with stunning views of Mount Congreve Gardens. The Ticket office is based out of an old carriage and really sets the scene.

Ticket for the family - 2 Adults and 3 Children cost €26 which works out as terrific value for money. Details here Take a look at our "arrival" in KilmeadanWe spent a lot of time in the immediate area of Dungarvan and Youghal - two lovely towns to base a family in the sunny south east. There are so many things we could have done if we had longer - such as take a cycle along the new Waterford Greenway or ventured out to take in some water sports on any of the amazing beaches along the Copper Coast. This area has really evolved since our last visit, pre children - there is a really nice vibe in Dungarvan and it's not hard to see why this hidden gem is so popular - sure to be back.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Fun Times in The Pines - Zipit Dublin


It may well be a cliché but making the most of the family time we have is a real challenge for parents – as is getting value for money. Now – throw a teenager and his two younger brothers into the mix and you might have a conundrum on your hands when finding somewhere to go on a sunny Sunday.

We’ve known about Zipit Forest Adventures for a long time but hadn’t had time to visit for various reasons. I’d grown up near the
ir Pine Forest base – and spent hours orienteering through the woods of Tibradden as a teenager myself – so it was a sort of trip down memory lane when we drove under the canopy of Pine trees last Sunday. Instantly we were captivated by the buzzing sound of the zip lines, the whoops of kids and adults as they moved through the trees via the various apparatus!

Zipit describe the activity as offering “up to 4 hours of tree-top, fun-filled, adventure challenge in a healthy, outdoor setting for adults and children from age 7.  Climb poles and climbing walls, swing into cargo nets, balance on a rope bridge, hurtle down a zipwire, even ride a BMX across a treetop bridge!”  – show me an adult or child who would not be intrigued to find our more and give it a go.

Let me introduce the kids – Christopher (14), Andrew (10) and Kyle (9). The doors opened and they ran over to the Log Cabin base at the edge of the forest. Up above – people of all ages, were zipping across the treetops at different heights. Others were walking across “tight ropes” encouraged by others either in the trees or from the ground. There were people everywhere at different heights and if you strained your eyes you could just about make them out high up in the trees.
We had booked online so our instructor was waiting for us. After signing the requisite forms we were all fitted with our safety harness.
What I noticed was the team are all very good with the kids, extremely patient. Ours had now gone suddenly quiet – anticipating and probably a little fearful of the next four hours. They needn’t have worried.

The safety briefing and training takes about 20 minutes. Zipit use a special safety system which means that anyone taking part is at all-times secured and can only “disconnect” from the circuit when they are on the ground. It takes a few minutes to get used to but the kids got it first time of course with the adults taking just a bit longer. After a few laps on the test course – we were ready to go.
Happy to start on the green course was me. Father of three, adventurous boys, but such a coward when it comes to heights. Just a couple of metres or so off the ground we took turns on stepping out on the circuit.
The first few activities involve either a sort of tight rope walk or some floating steps and then there is the first of the Zip Lines. Stepping off the platform and putting all your faith in your harness is a great test of mind over matter. Height is relative but once you let go the rush is amazing as you zip feet first towards the next platform.
The next three courses get gradually higher and the “tasks” get more and more extreme. All around you can hear people whooping and screaming as they take on the next obstacle. The buzzing of the ziplines is all around as you look up and see people flying through the air.

The younger two boys decided to stay on Green while myself, Mum and Christopher (14) took on some more challenges on the other, higher and more challenging courses. As you go higher and higher the challenges really do get extreme – culminating in a Skate Board ride through the trees about 15 metres and there’s even an opportunity to cycle a BMX too! The zips get faster and longer – the climbs get higher and higher and the nerves get tested to the extreme. I have to admit to only making it around 3 of the 5 courses – I simply couldn’t force myself anymore! However our teenager would have climbed all day and showed no sign of stopping or tiring.

Having been in the trees for four hours we were all starving but having been warned we came prepared. We took a picnic with us and we sat out under the trees and ate our lunch – laughing and joking about what we had just done - surrounded by the sights and sounds from the tree-tops.

It’s so hard to find activities that suit everyone but Zipit was perfect for us as a family. It allowed us all to have fun together – encouraging each other and laughing heartedly as we pushed ourselves just
a little past our comfort zones.

I can definitely recommend Zipit as a family, group or team building activity. It’s perfect for boosting self-confidence and esteem in children and really gives them a great lift.

There are four circuits to choose from all colour coded and rated by age. The course prices depend on the participant’s age firstly and then their ability.

Prices for the younger ones was €15 rising to €29 for for those 15+. This gives 4 hours of fun for everyone. Booking is highly recommended particularly in busier school holidays.

fun.ie TOP TIP: Bring a Picnic and make the most of the amazing environment

More details on the and lots more activities at www.fun.ie or www.fun.ie/zipit-forest-adventures-dublin