What is it? Sandford Holiday Park

Where? Sandford, Poole in Dorset

Description: [THE_CARAVANS_AT_SANDFORD.JPG] It might seem like an acquired taste, but a caravan holiday is an inexpensive way to see the country – and can be loads of fun, as Wendy Sloane discovered…

If you have small children and want an affordable holiday with most extras included, this is the place. The caravan park is clean and welcoming and the area is one of natural beauty that is packed with things to do. This holiday is best for visitors who want everything readily available on-site. Loads of activities are on offer, especially during the warmer months, for those who don’t want to venture far afield. Our kids would have been completely happy if we had never left the park at all!

The warmer the weather the better. Take advantage of the indoor and outdoor pools, amusement arcade, Go Karts, bike hire, small playground, stables, and bowling green. Little ‘uns will love the planned activities and there is a cafe, restaurant and several fast-food kiosks.

When the kids’ games come to an end, the adults take over. Bingo, fancy dress competitions, adult discos and cabarets – you name it, they have it. We ventured out to watch the Adult Talent Competition and only one man turned up: a balding, middle-aged guy bravely belting out a Beatles tune. To make up for the lack of interest, the emcee bravely tried to present a belated Valentine (this was February, after all) to a special someone. He called her name repeatedly. He begged. She never showed up.

No facilities are on offer where you can leave the kids on their own, but there are lots of activities to keep them occupied – with you. If you really need a break, enjoy a quiet cup of coffee and a cake every morning in the Limelite Club watching the kids take part in a painting, music or playdough session.

By the time you read this, the hair and nail salon and tanning booths will have opened. In the warmer months you can also spend all day on your sun-lounger, soaking in the rays. No sauna, whirlpool or treatment rooms available, I’m afraid.

Local activities: Brochures, readily available virtually everywhere, list things to do – often with discount vouchers – and the Park itself lists the top area activities. We loved Farmer Palmer’s nearby, Swanage Railway and the Tutankhamun Exhibition in Dorchester.

Wish we had known: … that the boiler for the indoor swimming pool was broken. We changed and jumped in only to find it freezing (this was February, after all). The good news is why: renovations being carried out while we were there (thus cut wires to the boiler) mean there will be a new hair and nail salon, larger reception and bigger communal areas.

Our top tip: If you feel like cooking, go to Somerfield in nearby Warburton. It’s small but well-stocked and we found everything we needed. As the caravan kitchens are well-kitted out with everything from cutting boards to colanders, we enjoyed eating most of our meals at home – and so did our wallets.

Kids say: Tilly, 3, says: ‘I loved Lizzie and Sid. Lizzie is for girls because she’s a girl, and Sid is a boy. And I loved playing games with them and dancing.’

Getting There: Hoseasons have holiday villages nationwide. Visit their website, www.hoseasons.co.uk or call 01502 502588. Prices are roughly L145 per week for the least expensive caravan off-season, going to over L400 weekly for the largest caravan in summer. Discounts are available for under 5’s, seniors, late and fortnight bookings.

About our stay: Half term was looming and we had no plans. My two eldest, five-year-old Josie and Tilly, three, would have liked nothing better than a week flopped across the settee in front of Nick Jr, wearing the same soiled pyjamas seven days in a row and only rousing themselves for popcorn, fizzy drink and toilet breaks. I had to act quick. Tilly goes to a private nursery, and when she announced that most of her friends would be spending the week learning how to ski in either Val D’Isere or Gstaad, I seriously considered the idea for a nanosecond. Then reality kicked in, and I remembered that our budget wouldn’t stretch to buying new mittens, let alone salopettes, lift tickets and airfare for five, along with a cute chalet boy (for one). We needed to find somewhere cheap – and fast. That’s how we found ourselves driving down the M3, our secondhand Vauxhall Zafira stuffed full of clothes, extra towels and the ‘barf bowl’, designed especially for car journeys over eight and a half minutes long. Our destination: a caravan park near Poole, Dorset, where a top-of-the-line three-bedroom Jasmine Grand caravan eagerly awaited us. My husband Duncan, surprisingly, wasn’t that eager, although as a child he had spent every summer travelling the English coast in his family’s caravan. ‘I remember turning the dining table into an uncomfortably hard bed, and queuing to go to the toilet in a hole in the ground,’ h told me. ‘I can hardly wait.’ The children and I, all caravan virgins, were excited. And when we arrived at Sandford Holiday Park, we were pleasantly surprised. Our caravan was clean and welcoming, the bedrooms small yet functional (no room on the floor for a travel cot meant the baby, 16-month-old Clementine, had to sleep in a tiny cot perched on a bed and clipped into the wall). Best of all, the shower and the gas fire were both hot, and it had two loos that flushed. [TILLY_AT_THE_BEACH_IN_LYME_REGIS.JPG] Josie and Tilly loved the entertainment. Two life-sized characters, Lizzie the Lizard and Sid the Seagull, led the children’s disco every evening, and our kids joined in all the games and danced until dawn (well, until 8pm anyway). In the morning they eagerly participated in well-supervised arts-and-crafts activities and ran wild in the new indoor play centre, and they even braved the cold swimming pool without too much complaint (see Top Tip!). [CORFE_CASTLE.JPG] When Duncan got a bit grumpy, we all hopped in the car. Josie and Tilly adored Farmer Palmer’s farm, just a five-minute drive away, although Clementine became a bit agitated when a goat nuzzled her repeatedly, hoping to find a rusk hidden in her pocket. The girls gawped at the mummys at the Tutankhamun Exhibition in Dorchester, hunted for fossils on the beach in Lyme Regis, and gobbled up all their fish and chips in a tiny cafe in Sandbanks without an ice cream bribe! The best activity by far, however, was a trip along the Swanage Railway, an antiquated old steam engine that gently carried us from Castle Corfe to the coast (we decided to forego a ride on the Thomas the Tank Engine train, as it was too full of boys). Even Duncan was impressed. ‘I think a caravan holiday is an acquired taste,’ the park director told me right before we left. True. Sorry Duncs, I think it’s one me and the girls have acquired. (Wendy Sloane is the Travel Editor for entertainthekids.com, has 3 children and lives in London with her husband, Duncan)

Created: 2006-03-14 22:45:59.040

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