Tuesday, May 8, 2018

When Mid-West is best…..

After a pretty miserable winter which seemed to run on forever we decided to look for a mini-break somewhere a little different but not too far from Dublin. The last time we were near Shannon was returning from Honeymoon and three children later we decided it was time for a return to the treaty city – how Ironic! The 4****Radisson Blu Hotel and Spa, Limerick (Family Hotel of the Year’ at the Irish Hotel Awards 2018) – just off the N18 on the Clare/Limerick border seemed the perfect choice. Close to Limerick City – which has blossomed since our last visit and within 10 minutes of Bunratty Castle and a revisit to the famous Dirty Nellie’s’ Pub and Restaurant – it seemed like destiny was calling us – so, we listened.

Day 1: Arrival, Discovery and Bunratty CastleHaving stopped off in Moneygall along the way, and explaining all of the President Obama connections to Ireland, which was great to do by the way, we arrived at the hotel 50 minutes later, still with plenty of energy to burn – and that was just the parents!A nice long driveway with plenty of wide open space is the first thing you notice on arrival at the hotel, and that’s really welcoming. Immediately you feel the stress dissipate and the relaxation begins to creep in. Parking the car, each of us grabbed a bag from the boot. The kids all love having their own bags (even if Mom supervises the content) and it makes things easier for everyone – plus it’s only a weekend after all!We were met by Luba in reception, with a lovely warm welcome which the boys really responded too. She took the time to outline to them specifically, what was on offer for them here at the hotel, gave them their gift bags and told them how to sign up for the Global Explorers Kids club – located in a dedicated, purpose built “Base Camp” behind the hotel. Other things on offer for the kids was Basketball and Tennis, Games Area (with PS4's) and of course the Swimming Pool – available from 8-11 and 2-7 for children swimming times. There is also a playground and fairy garden for the younger children with is lovely and very welcoming.Luba gave us all the information we required, outlining the dining options – either in Porters Restaurant or Quench bar and told us about the buffet breakfast available (she didn’t tell us JUST how amazing that was).
Clearly, as a parent of young children, having lots of things for them to do is essential – and with supervised kids club, a pool, tennis and basketball courts they were very well catered for but what about Mum and Dad. Not to worry. The Radisson Blu Hotel has the Rain Spa and Leisure Club so Mum was able to book some treatments while Dad and Chris (16) could continue trying to burn of those Easter Eggs – a perfect combination for everyone.Given there are 5 of us now – ranging from 10 to 16 we chose 2 interconnecting family rooms – which allowed everyone that little bit of extra space. However the family rooms (there are 32 of them) are really spacious enough – especially if you plan to spend as little time as we did indoors then you will not be disappointed. For those with smaller children cots are available as is a babysitting service (available locally) - to truly maximise your break!

So – bags dropped, we took a quick tour, one of our traditions and headed for the car. The hotel is spread across 2 floors which means very few steps and so very buggy friendly! Next stop Bunratty Castle & Folk Park, somewhere we were so keen to show the boys – who are all crazy about castles. We could not have picked a better day to visit. The park, which we expected to be full of tourists, was actually relatively quiet for a Friday afternoon and in fact, with a couple of wedding parties taking photos our only companions. The castle is such a stunning sight and especially on a beautiful, cloudless spring day.Within the folk park itself are several restored houses and outbuildings, with white washed walls and thatched roofs featuring prominently. Inside each house there are turf fires burning and you really get a sense of yesteryear – but the boys just wanted to get to the castle and climb to the top – they were not disappointed.

Although used commercially for its famous medieval banquets each Saturday night – the castle has managed to maintain its charm and remain mystical and curious to the visitor. Lots of hidden chambers (and a dungeon), restored rooms and great halls, plus fantastic lookouts in the battlements make the most amazing imagination fodder. We took about two hours here before exiting via the surprisingly good value souvenir shop on the periphery of the park. The tour is in our view well priced for a larger family with a family ticket and you can even get preferential rates to top local attractions (Bunratty Castle & Folk Park, Craggaunowen and King John’s Castle) from the hotel reception.If  you get the weather and pack your bags with some snacks and a picnic you should really reap the rewards and spent a good half day there.

Ten minutes later we were back at the hotel. The boys were really looking forward to a swim but caught between a swim and registering for Global Explorers Kids Camp. They met the team at 5pm to register and came with us for a swim. The pool is located In the Rain Spa and Leisure Club and Leisure club and parents are allowed to sit on the edge and watch if the children are old enough, that’s very useful sometimes and as a result can mean the kids see more of the pool!After the pool the boys headed off to the kids club. They could have remained with the rest of the group and the team meet them all a reception and they all eat together in the restaurant – a great way to interact with other young guests. Then they are taken to the purpose built “Basecamp" to continue the fun. Activities include Hoverball Archery, Animal Magic Petting Zoo, Orienteering, Ninja Training Camp, Arts & Crafts, Movie and Treat nights, Pool, games (indoor and outdoors) with a fantastic team of staff all just wanting to have Fun!Our dinner that night was booked in Porters Restaurant with the super-efficient Kasia. It’s important to note here that all kids under 12 eat for free though some T&C’s apply – and what a lovely menu it is, especially for the children. It’s really great to see healthy options like Fish and Salads on a kids menus – other Hotels and Restaurants take note! The food arrived promptly, we were served by Ailbhe and Jake and it was a really enjoyable experience I must say. Exhausted, we retired for the evening – 2½ exhausted kids ready for bed. This is when the interconnecting rooms come into their own and the adults are able to watch some TV and some catch up time while the children sleep in the adjacent room. Perfect.

Day 2 – The Milk Market and King Johns Castle
After a great sleep, a little bit more than usual, we wandered back down to Porters for breakfast. Wow! The choice of options was incredible. From the huge choice of Teas and Coffees, to the huge variety of breads and fruits and hot breakfast items – we were so spoiled for choice. The children were delighted with the fresh orange juice maker and the Belgian waffles they were able to order from the kitchen. Mum and Dad were particularly fond of the omelettes which chef prepared for us specially – fantastic. We really enjoyed the breakfast and the time together at the table – which is so hard (and rare) for busy working parents. Breakfast done – we were on the move again – but first – a quick wander around the hotel itself. Outside there are two tennis courts, a basketball court, an 800m nature trail, playground and fairy garden. Inside is the fantastic Rain Spa and Leisure Centre which ensures there is something for everyone.

We left the hotel and travelled toward Limerick City via the home of Munster Rugby, Thomond Park. The boys were impressed with the size of the stadium and wished there was a match on against Leinster – maybe next time! Our destination today was to visit the famous Milk Market and we just could not have wished for better weather to experience it. The market itself is a mix of indoor and outdoor and a huge variety of things were available. The aromas of Artisan cuisine from all corners of the globe, breads, cheeses and chocolates to try, books to browse and tools to buy – everything was there to experience and enjoy, and we really did.We spend about two hours wandering around and even the younger ones enjoyed it. We wandered from there toward King John's Castle next on our tightly packed agenda for the day.The castle itself is located on King’s Island in the heart of Limerick City and a real hidden gem in our option. The stunning exhibition in this medieval castle really brought us back in time to 800 years ago and helped us “re-live” just what it would have been like back then. The tour is across many levels and is brought to life through CGI, Interactive displays and other technology. Lots of ghostly projections and characters punctuated along the tour – which took us almost two hours and was the highlight of the visit to the city.We ate lunch in the famous gastro pub The Locke Bar  – enjoying really great menu and lots of choice – totally recommend for a hungry family.We left the city and made the short trip back to our hotel, mindful that we needed to sign up to fully supervised "Global Explorers Kids Club "Base Camp" at 5pm in reception. The boys were torn between the idea of spending time at the club or heading to the pool – so we compromised and did both. Claire, who leads the Global Explorers Rangers explained how they offer a range of seasonal activities to entertain and engage children of all ages with lots of season activities which could include a Petting Zoo, Hoverball Archery, Arts & Crafts, Training Camp, Scavenger Hunt and lots more. 

At weekends - following the growth in popularity of Afternoon Tea - there is a kids version available at weekends, Midterms and School Holidays at just €12 per child, T&C’s apply and but must be booked in advance - fabulous treat idea!The building is fantastically equipped and fitted out with a huge array of games, arts and crafts, pool table and PS4 – so something for everyone. As the boys had eaten late – they didn’t join the other Children and Paula for dinner and went along with one of the other team members to get a head start. They had an amazing time and went from there directly to the pool.Needless to say – all this activity had the family exhausted so by 10pm we were all asleep!Day 3: The Extra MilesWe had agreed the night before that we would go play basketball and Tennis and duly borrowed the equipment from the Rain Spa Reception (thanks Orla). The  courts at are the edge of the hotel near the nature trail so an opportunity for Dad and eldest son to enjoy the lovely nature trail while Mum competed with the under 12s. When Mum was truly amazed by the comprehensive lesson in Tennis by the boys, we all went in for breakfast and yet another wonderful surprise.The morning before Kyle had mentioned to Kasia, the manager of the Restaurant , his favourite breakfast cereal was Cheerios but there were none left in the hotel. Well, as we gave our room number to Kasia, she produced a box of Cheerios just for Kyle. What an amazing and classy gesture that was – he is still talking about it – could this hotel put a foot wrong – apparently not!Following another sumptuous breakfast – we asked the hotel receptionist where there nearest playground was – as we figured one last run around was required. We were directed to the village of Cratloe, Clare, about 10 minutes away – a lovely playground created for and dedicated to, the Cratloe community.Noon arrived and it was time to say goodbye to our dear friends at The Radisson Blu Limerick and it really felt that way. The boys made sure to get a card and “something nice” for the staff just to say thanks – as we always say – it’s the little things…..We can’t recommend this hotel enough – it’s conveniently located, had plenty of space, a pool, an amazing kids club, playground, tennis courts, a phenomenal breakfast, the friendliest staff, I could go on and on but seeing is believing! Just Go..
Summer Packages: Stay July & August with Bed & Breakfast rates from €185 per room

·    Rain Spa & Leisure Facilitieshttp://rainspawellness.ie/
Radisson Blu Limerick Family  https://www.radissonblu.com/en/hotel-limerick/family

King Johns Castle https://www.shannonheritage.com/KingJohnsCastle 
Bunratty Castle https://www.shannonheritage.com/BunrattyCastleAndFolkParkThe Locke Bar https://lockebar.com/ 

Fun.ie visited Radisson Blu Hotel and Spa Limerick as guests of the Hotel

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