There’s a saying (and if not, there should be) that no matter what time of day it is you will be able to find an episode of Friends playing on a digital or satellite TV channel. Similarly at least one children’s TV channel will be playing an episode of Peppa Pig. It’s one of those rare cartoons that appeals to both boys and girls and I actually quite enjoying watching it too.
It was inevitable that we would make the trip to Peppa Pig World at Paultons Theme Park, near Southampton, sooner or later. And when I was offered the chance to stay at nearby Sandy Balls Holiday Village in the New Forest, I knew the moment had arrived.
First up, yes, Sandy Balls. The name is certainly memorable for its snigger factor, and apparently first appeared on maps way back in the 15th century. I’m hoping it’s well known among nursery staff as both my boys started getting very excited about going there and kept talking about their 'sandy balls'…
We left London on a Friday afternoon in late June, and made pretty good time despite the best efforts of London traffic. On arrival, Ethan and Logan were very excited about staying in our Premium Plus Lodge and spent a good ten minutes running from room to room exploring and testing the beds, the lights, the loo and so on.
The lodge itself was clean and nicely kitted out, and had most essential family mod cons like a TV and a dishwasher. Mobile signal in the New Forest can be rather poor depending on your network so the nearby WiFi spot was very handy indeed. But, this was a weekend to put down the smartphone and get busy with the kids.
The boys were a bit confused as to why Sandy Balls did not have a giant sand pit, possibly one filled with balls. Perhaps an idea for the future? But they were very happy to discover the adventure playground and had to be dragged home at bedtime.
Given the lovely hot weather we were keen to hit the swimming pool the next morning, but unfortunately - so was everyone else. The Leisure Centre had a band system going on so people could queue up each hour, 15 minutes before the session started. We were not very good at doing this. Toddlers, being on time and queues are never a good mix, so we never managed to get there in time to get a band.
Instead, we hired bicycles and hit the road. The hire bikes were in really good condition making it easy to tow the kids in a trailer behind my bike. It was very entertaining listening to the chat between my 4-year-old and his mimicking 2-year-old brother. Cue lots of gasps of “This is amazing!”, “Hurry up and catch Daddy” and neverending chat about dinosaurs.
There are lots of food options at Sandy Balls, we had a very big lunch at the Woodside Inn. Well, we’d worked up an appetite on our bikes, and the food was really tasty! You can even stock up on supplies at the Village Store and have a barbecue at your lodge.
Our weekend was nearly over, but we squeezed in a quick visit to Sandy, Pickle, Archie and Inca - the gorgeous Alpaca brothers. Ethan and Logan got quite close, but weren’t brave enough to feed or walk them. The rain came on and that was our cue to say 'goodbye' to Sandy Balls and 'hello' to Peppa and George.
We’d timed our visit to Paultons Park well, the day had started pretty grey and wet, keeping the crowds away. Then the skies brightened nicely when we were there, probably making it a bit too hot for the staff members who had to wear the Daddy, Mummy, Peppa and George Pig costumes!
Ethan was up for going on all the rides and was very patient, even though there was a bit of a wait for Miss Rabbit’s helicopter flight. Neither boy liked visiting Peppa’s house - animatronics still freak them out. Nor would they get close to any member of the Pig family wandering around. Instead Logan took a shine to the tractor ride and had to be dragged away screaming or we’d have been going round all day.
My highlight was a solo ride on George’s Dinosaur Adventure. I had planned to ride with Ethan but he was too tall for the front seat so merrily hopped onto a dinosaur on his own. Which left me little choice but to get on the next one. I did ask my husband to pass Logan over to me but he claimed not to understand and instead took photos of me rocking away on my big green dinosaur...
Peppa Pig World is part of Paultons Theme Park, but we didn’t have much time to do the rest of the site justice. A quick visit to Critter Creek and both the boys were thrilled to ‘drive’ the train, sitting on their own at the front. An experience only slightly marred by a tearful and exhausted Logan when it was time to go - shouting “you’re being naughty” at the people waiting to ride next. No surprise that he was fast asleep within seconds of the car journey home.
With a dinosaur-themed Lost Kingdom opening up next spring, I’m pretty sure we’ll be back.
To stay at Sandy Balls for a three-night weekend prices start at £204 for two or a four-night midweek break starts from £224 for four people. To book or for more information see www.sandyballs.co.uk or call 0844 693 143
An advance ticket for a family of four to Paultons Theme Park/ costs £93 and is available by visiting www.paultonspark.co.uk/tickets. Children under one metre tall can visit for free.