As some of you who have read my others reviews may already know I love going on holiday in my caravan. We purchased our first caravan about 7 years ago after getting fed up of permanently holidaying in a tent, in the rain, in summer. I refused to take the tent again and insisted on wanting my own toilet; I was not walking to a toilet block in the night anymore! After borrowing my sister-in-laws caravan for a weekend we took the plunge and got ourselves a great little van and my husband and I and our two children holidayed in it very happily. Unfortunately our little children who were 8 and 5 at the time kept growing( as kids do!) and in 2008 we realised we needed a bigger caravan. After spending the whole day trudging around the Caravan show at the NEC we realised that buying something that would last us as the children grew was going to be tricky as a lot of the bunk beds were just too short for the strapping young teens that we now have.
After careful consideration we opted for the Abbey Vogue 540 as the ideal model. We selected a special edition which gave us extra plugs, a BBQ point, nicer upholstery and an alarm. We bought this model in April 2008 for about £14000 I think.
This van has a reasonably standard caravan layout, the lounge area with seats either side is at the front, there is a kitchen on one side in the middle with a dinette opposite which converts into bunk beds then there is a toilet and shower room and a set of fixed bunks across the rear of the caravan.
This is a six-berth model and I have on occasions gone away with a friend and her children and we have managed using the six-beds quite happily but normally there are just the four of us.
---Time For Bed---
After a busy day in the great outdoors a comfortable bed is a must!
The front lounge seats can be used as single beds if you are quite short (which I am!) as they are 5'11" long. They are quite comfortable and although my husband is 5'10" he just about manages to sleep on them. Normally we just make it up into a double by pulling out the hidden slats from the front locker and then simply rearranging the cushions, this gives us a nice supportive bed which is a much more reasonable size and gives great nights sleep. Above the lounge area is a huge roof-light that slides back. This was heaven in France last year when the hot evenings were clear and we were able to slide the roof back and lie and look at the stars.
The side dinette makes up into bunks but we usually only use the bottom one which just takes a few seconds to erect after stowing the table in the cupboard. This gives my son another 5'11" bed which is ample for him. The top bunk comes with safety rails and a ladder which is stored in the wardrobe but we leave those at home as we don't need them. Putting up the top bunk is quite a straightforward operation and it feels very solid when it is up.
The rear bunks are permanently set up. The bottom one is also 5'11" but unusually for a caravan it has plenty of headroom so my 15 year old daughter is able to sit-up comfortably in bed if she wants to read or play on her lap-top. Although the top bunk is a fraction longer there is not a lot of room above it, I climbed in there once just to see what it was like and it was a bit tricky getting out again! There is a permanent ladder attached to these bunks.
The bottom bunk can be lifted and then this produces a storage area that can be accessed from the extra rear door and is good for storing bikes whilst travelling (but care has to be taken with weight balance). The door cannot be opened from inside so there are no escapee children! The door has a window as does the top bunk so the children can spy on the world from their den.
All the beds have reading lights over them which are independently controlled and the bunks also have curtains around them which works well when the children want to shut themselves in for a while and chill out.
The lounge area is very comfortable with supportive cushions and hard-wearing upholstery. There is a centre unit with drawers and a flip-top table which is ideal when you don't want to get the main table out of the cupboard.
You are just about able to sit 6 people down for a meal here if you use the flip-top table along with the free-standing table but it is a squash and if anyone in your family is prone to sticking their elbows out it can be a bit of a trial, it is usually easier if two people sit at the side dinette instead.
There are several 230v sockets around the van so there is ample space to plug in your kettle and your TV (we rarely take a TV but we are certainly in the minority!), there is also a 12v socket and a TV aerial.
The lighting in the lounge area is good as there is a bright central light as well as side lights that can be dimmed if you prefer a cosier atmosphere.
Caravan kitchens can be tiresome to produce food from as they are usually quite small. I find this one quite workable. There is a good-sized fridge (unlike my previous van where you couldn't get a pizza in it!) which works off mains, gas or battery, a gas oven and grill with 3 gas rings and an electric ring (a god-send when trying to cook anything and you find the gas bottle is empty.) and a microwave. The microwave is in the typical top-cupboard arrangement which is standard in vans but is lethal when you are as short as me. I could not take food out of it safely as it is far too high so my husband has to do that for me.
There is a large storage cupboard which also houses the tables and that is great for storing all the cooking equipment and large boxes etc that we take. There is a very slim cupboard under the sink which just about manages a couple of cans of soup but is really too small to be useful. The sink has a detachable draining board which is useful as you can pop it in the cupboard and it gives a little more workspace. There is an extractor -fan over the kitchen which works really well to rid the van of steam and smells.
---The Smallest Room---
The bathroom has a Thetford cassette toilet with an electric flush. When I started caravanning I hated the idea of emptying the toilet but the cassette is easy as it is all sealed and you just open a nozzle and empty it at the disposal point, the chemicals stop the smell and although it isn't my favourite job it is not too bad either. There is a small sink which is one panel that pulls forward and forms a shower cubicle. This works surprisingly well and my husband frequently use the shower. I tend to use the shower block as my hair takes a lot of washing and I would use all the water. The only problem with the bathroom is the lack of storage. There is one slim cupboard on the wall above the toilet but none in the moulded area around the sink and nowhere to put shower gel or soap either.
---All the Knobs and Whistles!---
The caravan has plenty of storage. Under the front and side seats there is plenty of storage for sleeping bags, towels and outdoor toys. At the rear of the van there is a tall cupboard next to the bunks. This is great for storing all the children's stuff as there are several shelves. All around the top of the van are lockers that are easy to open and are very deep.
The only area that is not adequate enough is the wardrobe. It is very narrow and trying to fit in clothes for a family of four for two weeks is a feat of engineering requiring using lost of lockers and folding everything very carefully. If there were six of you I think you might have to go naked!
All of the windows have fly screens so you can keep the windows open but avoid being bitten to death at night. The windows also have black-out blinds which help keep the van dark in the mornings and give you that longed for holiday lie-in. These blinds also act as thermal blinds so if the caravan is standing in sun you can close them to keep the inside cool if you are going out.
Outside the caravan has an external BBQ point which is really handy but unfortunately if you used a full-sized awning you would not be able to access it because of the position. There is also an out-side light so I can sip my wine whilst reading my book in the evening whilst hubby demonstrates his BBQ prowess!
---Keeping Up Appearances---
One of the reasons we chose this particular model was the fact that it looked modern inside. Too many vans still have brass carriage clocks and cocktail cabinets and floral cushions that I would never have in my home and certainly don't want in my caravan. The lockers are oak-grain with brushed chrome handles. The carpet is plain brown and is removable and leaves a laminate floor which is sometimes better for us during the summer, we just leave the carpet at home.
Outside this is a nice looking van. Obviously it is just a white box really but the windows are tinted and it is has one piece aluminium side which make it really shiny.
This is a big caravan at over 7 metres in length but it runs on a single axle. This means that it is still easy to manoeuvre onto a pitch by hand (when my reversing skills let me down) as it is very well balanced. It tows very well as it does have a stabiliser and we have never had a snaking problem but we don't tow over 60mph anyway (sorry if you are behind!). It is a heavy beast at 1500kg when loaded so we have to tow it with a 4x4 (Hyundai Santa Fe) as we couldn't afford the type of saloon car that could pull it, there are no Mercedes for me I am afraid!
Overall this caravan is suiting our needs at the moment. The bunk arrangement means that the children can both have comfortable areas to themselves where they can sit and play without getting a cricked neck. We had to compromise by not buying the bigger model which would have given us 6'3" beds at the front (too heavy!). The bathroom could certainly have done with a little more time being taken on designing the storage but the shower works well and at least I have my own toilet.
This caravan is one of the newer styles that are wider than traditional models. This is really noticeable inside and makes for a comfortable living space for all of us. We don't feel as if we are on top of each other all the time and there is plenty of room to move about unlike our old van when we had to adopt the "shuffle-sideways" mode of getting past each other.
I was converted to caravanning very easily but I know it doesn't appeal to everyone. However should you ever need a family van I would not hesitate to recommend this one and if you needed a different arrangement there are 7 different layouts in the range. The Abbey name has now disappeared so these can be picked up for about £11,000 from a dealer for the 2008 model.