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nessie3105

nessie3105
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Member since: 17.07.2007

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      19.04.2008 17:08
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      Great value for money and lots to do.

      My husband and I decided to buy a baby walker activity set for Ellie as her main Christmas present. When we went into Toys R Us to have a look at the available options, to be honest, we found the experience quite mind boggling. There were lots to choose from and prices ranged from £20 up to £50+ We decided to aim for a baby walker at the lower end of the price range as we felt that all the products did more or less the same things (played music, had buttons to press, flashing lights etc), so we did not see the point of spending a fortune, when a cheaper option would have the same results. I can't remember exactly why we chose the Vtech baby walker, although it met our price criteria and looked like it had lots of different activities on it to keep Ellie amused. The baby walker was easy to assemble. It consists of a handled frame on wheels, which enables your baby to walk and push the frame along. At the bottom of the frame are three, colourful spinning rollers, which have beads and rattly bits inside that make nice sounds when they spin. There is a detatchable panel that contains most of the gadgets and activities on the baby walker. This consists of a removable play phone, with beads inside, lots of colourful buttons to press, in all different shapes, sizes and colours, the on / off button and a butterfly with a wing that can be moved to activate different functions on the walker. The activity panel has lots of different functions... On the top left of the panel is a dog that can be pushed. It says phrases like 'Puppy says clap your hands..' There are three interlocking cogs that can be pushed and turned. These activate different sounds and phrases like..'Twisting and turning round and round...' The butterfly wings activates the music or words and sounds modes of play. There are four numbered buttons (a red heart, yellow circle, blue square, green triangle). In music mode, each of these buttons activates one of two different tunes. In sound mode the buttons activate the names of the colours, shapes and numbers that correspond the the button. At the bottom of the panel are five different coloured musical notes with the letters a, b, c, d and e. Each button also has a picture on it (an apple, ball, car, dog and elephant). In music mode, each button plays a different musical note. In sounds mode, each button says the letter sound and then the name of the picture, with a corresponding sound (i.e. a is for apple...crunch) Ellie really enjoys playing with this toy although she does tend to use the activity panel more than the walker part of the toy. She is still only just one, however, (just over 8 months when she had the toy) and is just finding her standing feet. She dances along to the tunes, she loves turning the butterfly wings and she enjoys pushing all of the buttons and spinning the rollers at the bottom of the frame. Ironically, however, her favourite part of the toy is the detachable phone and she will often just take that part off of the panel and play with it separately. Personally, I've found the removable panel with the activity buttons on it very useful to remove from the main frame, as this part of the walker can easily tip over if Ellie tries to pull the frame towards her or stand up against it. I tend to rest the walker against a walk when she is playing with the activity panel attached as it gives the frame more stability. The frame moves very easily when touched. If I went back to December again and I was looking to buy a baby walker, I would definitely choose the vtech walker again. It has lots of different activities to stimulate babies and toddlers (suitable I would say from 6 months of age), it is bright and colourful and I'm sure Ellie will start to use the walking frame more now as she is beginning to stand more confidently with the aid of furniture and when holding hands. At just £21.97 (Argos catalogue price), I feel that the Vtech walker is good value for money also.

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    • Tumbletots / Local Service / 30 Readings / 29 Ratings
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      11.02.2008 15:04
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      Tumble tots is great fun and will tire both you and your baby out!!

      Tumble Tots is an organisation that has been running since the late 1970's. There are now over 500 centres nationwide. It is a physical play programme for children from 6 months old to 7 years old, encouraging chidren to develop physical skills and confidence. Skills such as agility, balance, climbing and co-ordination are developed, alongside the language skills of speaking and listening. The sessions are fun, exciting and challenging, whilst offering children a safe environment in which to explore and develop using the equipment provided. The sessions are run by a fully trained team leader, who is supported by other trained members of staff. The tumble tots programme is divided into diferent age categories: GYMBABES - Crawling to walking... This class is for babies from 6 months old. Parents particiapte fully in this class, helping their babies to crawl, climb, explore and play. TUMBLE TOTS - Walking to 2 years... A class for children who are walking with confidence. Parents help their children to climb, jump and roll. 2 - 3 years... This class uses higher equipment and activity stations, which develop agility, balance, climbing and co-ordination skills. Interaction with other children, listening and language skills are encouraged in this class. 3 years - school age... Activities are more challenging and controlled in this class. Self esteem and self confidence are encouraged in this class, in which children participate without their parents. GYMBOBS - School age - 7 years... This class encourages body management, warm-up routines and exercise, with and without equipment. Teamwork is developed through games and relays. MEMBERSHIP Each tumble tots class lasts for 45 minutes and there is a weekly session throughout term time. There is a fee for each session, which varies according to the location and type of class (I pay £4.40 per session for gymbabes) The weekly fees are payable on a half termly or termly basis and have to be paid up front. As far as I'm aware, if a session is missed, you do not get this money reimbursed. You must also pay a yearly membership fee in order to attend the classes, which covers insurances. The membership fee is initially £20 and then £18.50 for subsequent years or siblings. This does seem quite pricey, especially on top of the weekly class fees, although the membership fee does include a T-shirt (gymbabes, tumble tots or gymbobs, depending on the class attended), a year's subscription to 'Right Start' magazine, a discount book (family attractions etc) and a gift (Ellie received a tumble tots music CD with about 6 songs on it) MY EXPERIENCES I took Ellie to her first 'GYMBABES' class when she was just over 6 months old. She was able to roll over, but was not yet crawling and was barely managing to sit up unaided. My first impressions of the class were very positive. I had got friends who had recommended tumble tots to me, but I was still not too sure of what to expect. When we arrived, I was confronted with a large gymnasium type room, half of which was packed full of slides, ladders, a ball pit, swing, mini trampoline, large gym ball and lots of slopes and tunnels. It looked really exciting. I took Ellie's socks off (as that's what the other Mums seemed to be doing) and we all sat in a circle on mats, with our babies in front of us. The class leader began by asking us to warm the babies up by massaging their arms, legs and feet. She was demonstrating on a doll, so it was easy to see what to do. We then sang a few action songs. In total, this took about 5 minutes. The middle part of the session involves the children exploring the equipment. The group leader showed me some of the things and then left me to explore. With 3 other members of staff within the room, there were plenty of people on hand to ask for help. In this first session, it was all rather mind boggling and I was unsure of which pieces of equipment to take Ellie onto. Within a few sessions, however, I was much more confident (as was Ellie!!) and I soon became used to the apparatus. At the end of the session, we all came together again for some more action songs. The group leader then gave out any certificates for children who had started to walk, or who were moving up to the next class. She then celebrated any birthdays with a card and a rendition of 'Happy Birthday' and then gave a sticker to each of the babies. At the end of the session, magazines, free samples, invoices etc are given out by the group leader, whilst the other members of staff get ready for the next class. Each week follows this same format. Activities sometimes vary at the beginning and the end (we sometimes use the parachute, which is great fun when all the babies crawl underneath!!) The middle section of the class always involves 'free play', although the layout of the equipment can sometimes change. There is usually a ball pit (which is one of Ellie's favourites), tunnels to crawl through, slopes to climb, tubes to roll over and things to bounce on. Overall, I am really impressed and happy with the gymbabes class. Ellie is now nearly 10 months old. She has been crawling since she was 8 months old and I'm sure the classes have really helped her. She can climb up the slopes with ease and enjoys crawling through the tunnels. She loves the ball pit and will happily sit in there for ages. It is quite tricky to keep her still in the circle at the beginning of the session, as she is so keen to go off and explore the equipment. She is more keen to sit at the end because she is usually worn out and will always fall straight off to sleep in the car on the journey home. The staff are lovely and very supportive. The group leader knows all the babies by name (which is quite impressive considering she runs 5 sessions a week and each of the different types of classes!!) Although the sessions cost £4.40 each, I feel that this is a fair price considering the number of staff members and all the equipment that is provided. I do wish, however, that missed sessions were reimbursed and it is sometimes difficult to attend every session due to unforseen circumstances such as illness. Ellie enjoys the sessions very much, although she is getting far too brave at home and will happily climb over all the furniture!! She enjoys being with the other children and the joy on her face makes the £4.40 cost of the session well worth it. I would thoroughly recommend the tumble tots experience to anyone who is considering joining with their baby or toddler, especially if you are looking for a more active baby / parent venture. The website (www.tumbletots.com) is well worth a visit for more information and to find / contact your local group.

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        20.01.2008 01:08
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        Great socialisation for you and baby.

        I came across 'Tiny Talk' baby signing classes by chance when I was searching for baby classes within my local area. I had not heard of baby signing before, so I had a look at the 'Tiny Talk' website and decided to give the classes a try with my baby. *** What is Baby Signing? *** Baby signing is the use of simple signs and gestures with pre-verbal children to help them to communicate their needs, feelings and what they are looking at or thinking about. It is believed that sign language can encourage early communication and speech. It provides a way of introducing language to children, enabling them to begin to express their feelings, wishes and needs. *** What is Tiny Talk? *** Tiny Talk is an organisation which was founded about 5 and a half years ago by a lady called Katie Mayne, a teacher of the deaf, primary school teacher and BSL signer (level 2). There are over 90 Tiny Talk teachers nationwide, who run baby signing classes for parents and babies. The Tiny Talk teachers also train nurseries and other childcare professionals to use baby signing in their workplaces. Tiny Talk has a website (www.tinytalk.co.uk), which gives more information about the organisation, baby signing, class locations and how to become a Tiny Talk teacher. There is a small range of merchandise which can be purchased on the website. This includes a baby signing pack (£12.95), a signing DVD (£16.95) and a 54 song CD (£8.95) *** My Experiences of Tiny Talk *** I contacted Charlotte, the lady who runs the Tiny Talk class that I was interested in, by email. She replied within a couple of days and arranged for Ellie and I to attend the signing class the next week. This was about 4 months ago. When we arrived at the class, Charlotte came straight over to us and made both Ellie and myself feel very welcome. She was very warm and friendly and briefly explained about the session. I was relieved to find two other mums who were attending for the first time, so we sat together and soon started to chat. Charlotte sets the room up with large mats on the floor for the babies and us to sit on, with a row of chairs around the edge. She has a box of books out at the beginning of the session to keep the babies amused whilst people arrive. She asks that adults remove their shoes to keep the mats clean and to avoid any accidents around the babies. Each session begins with a welcome song. There are then some songs to sing with signs, which involve us either sitting on chairs, sitting on the floor, or moving around the room. Some of the signs within the songs link to the weekly theme. Charlotte uses lots of props within the songs. Each week has a theme (i.e. family, food, bedtime, weather etc). In the middle of the session, Charlotte teaches us the basic signs for the weekly theme. Further into the session, she teaches more advanced signs for the more experienced and older children, then she revises the basic signs towards the end. Every third week is revision week, in which the themes of the previous two weeks are revisited. At the end of the signing session, Charlotte brings out a bag of musical instruments (rattles etc) and we sing some more songs, which are accompanied by the instruments. The songs and signing last for approximately 30 minutes. Carlotte then brings boxes of toys out for the children to play with. She then makes all of the adults a drink, passes biscuits around and spends time talking to us, especially any newcomers. Personally, I think the sessions are great and I really enjoy taking Ellie to the signing classes. The atmoshere is friendly and relaxed. Charlotte does not mind if the babies and toddlers are crawling or walking around. The classes are great fun. The amount of people who attend varies, but can range from about 8 families up to 20. It is a great opportunity to socialise for both the adults and babies, especially during the second half of the session. Ellie really enjoys the classes. She has not as yet signed anything, although I have to admit that I often forget to do the signs at home with her!! (She can say Dad and cat, though!!) It is a great opportunity for her to mix with other babies and toddlers and to stimulate her through the songs and rhymes. Charlotte is a lovely lady. She began signing with her baby, Like, who is now 3 years old and she enjoys sharing stories with us about his signing experiences. She always makes an effort to speak to you at the beginning of the class and shows a genuine interest in everyone. She gives a 'take home' sheet each week with reminders of the signs that have been introduced. *** How much does it cost? *** Each session is £4.00 per family. If you pay for 3 or more sessions in advance, however, the cost is only £3.50 per session. I think this is good value for money considering you get drinks and biscuits included and that there are toys and musical instruments provided for the children to use. Also, Charlotte carries the session forward if you have already paid and miss one. She does not charge you for a missed session, which other baby classes do. *** Would I recommend Tiny Talk? *** I would definitely recommend Tiny Talk baby signing classes. They are stimulating and fun for babies and a great opportunity for mums, dads and other family members to socialise with other parents.

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          02.10.2007 21:15
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          Definitely worth a visit.

          Seaview Wildlife Encounter, formerly known as Flamingo Park, has been helping to preserve wildlife for over 34 years. The park has a diverse range of different animals and birds, some of which can be fed and stroked by visitors. The park is set in beautiful surroundings. ***** Facts and Figures ***** ^^ Location ^^ The park is situated on the north east side of the Isle of Wight, between the places of Ryde and Seaview. It is reached along the B3330. ^^ 2007 Opening Times ^^ The park is open from 1st April until 30th September 10.00 a.m til 5.00 p.m (last admission at 4.00 p.m.) October opening times are from 10.00 a.m. til 4.00 p.m. (last admission 3.00 p.m.) ^^ 2007 Prices ^^ Adults - £7.25 Children (3 - 15 years) - £5.25 Senior Citizens - £6.25 Family Ticket (2 adults and 2 children) - £23.00 (We paid only £5.00 per person using a discount voucher that was in the Isle of Wight pocket guide) ^^ Contact Details ^^ Seaview Wildlife Encounter Seaview Isle of Wight (01983) 612153 (01983) 612261 (24 hr information line) www.flamingoparkiw.com ***** Setting ***** The park is set within lovely grounds. When you enter the park, you are at the top of a gently sloping hill, looking down onto the grounds. There is a gravel path that leads down to the bottom of the park, which takes you directly down to a large lake. The path turns and follows the edge of the lake and it then leads back up the hill on the other side of the park. There is a pretty waterfall that runs down a tall brick wall at the top of the hill, just a short walk from the entrance. The water from this waterfall cascades and meanders all the way down the first slope, on both sides of the pathway, along rocks, stones, miniature waterfalls and under bridges. This water flows all the way down to the lake, which has some enormous and rather spectacular fountains. There are lots of views of the sea that can be seen from various parts of the park and a small harbour is close by, which can also be seen. The park has lots of greenery, grass areas and ponds. Although some of the animals are kept within cages in the park, these are disguised quite well within the surroundings and features. The layout and features of the park are pretty and carefully designed to make a pleasant walk. It is quite hard to describe what the park actually looks like, but all I can say is that my mother in law, husband and myself were all very impressed and we all agreed that the appearance of the park was very appealing. ***** Wildlife ***** As the name of the park, Seaview Wildlife Encounter suggests, there were lots of animals and birds to discover within the park. ^^ Waterfowl ^^ The first slope that followed the waterfall was dominated by a vast range of ducks, geese and swans. This part of the park was described as being 'Tame and Exotic Waterfowl'. To be honest, I was amazed at just how many different breeds of waterfowl there were. There were information boards describing the name and key characteristics of the different birds and it was lovely to see the animals wandering freely around the park. The ducks in particular, were having great fun paddling in the flowing water and there were lots of grassy areas for the birds to nest and walk on. We could see some of the ducks and geese flying and circling overhead, which was equally nice to see. The park sells bird food and you are able to feed the waterfowl. We did not do this, so I'm not sure how much the food cost. Other people around were feeding the birds and they were incredibly tame, with some taking the food directly from people's hands. There were lots of waterfowl paddling in the lake at the bottom of the slope, which gave us a good opportunity to observe the different colours and shapes of the many breeds. Some of the more exotic and rare breeds of waterfowl were housed within cages along the slope which led back up towards the upper end of the park. Although these animals did not have the freedom experienced by the other birds, the cages were spacious and well kept with grass areas, trees, bushes and mini ponds. ^^ Owls ^^ There was a small walk through area with cages containing different breeds of owl, an area described as 'Owl Country'. As with the caged waterfowl, the owls were in spacious and clean cages. ^^ Pets Corner ^^ This was a small covered area which had pens containing rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets and goats. As with all pets corners, there was nothing out of the ordinary or special within this area, but is always a nice touch for younger members of the family. There was a nice covered area at the end with wooden benches, which we chose as the place to eat our picnic and give Ellie her bottle. ^^ Wallabies ^^ This was one of my favourite parts of the park. This was, basically, a separate walk through area (Wallaby Walkabout), self contained within a fenced area and gates. Within the grassed area were lots of wallabies, brown and white, young and old. What was special, however, was the fact that the wallabies were freely roaming and they actually came up to you and let you stroke them!! This was a first for us all and it was a lovely experience for Ellie, at just 4 months old, to stroke a wallaby., especailly the young white wallaby, that was extremely tame and friendly. ^^ Meerkats ^^ I have been fascinated by meerkats ever since the first time that I saw them at a zoo. They are such fun creatures to watch and I like the way they are as inquisitive about humans as we are about them. The area in the park, described as 'Meerkat Madness' (which I think is such a good name for them) had lots of tunnels for the meerkats to explore, sandy ares and fake rocks from which they could stand on their hind legs and keep watch!! ^^ Flamingos ^^ There are three separate displays of flamingos in the park, the 'Lesser' flamingos, the 'Chilean' flamingos and the 'Caribbean' flamingos. As with the other animals within the park, the flamingos had plenty of space within their enclosure, they had grassed areas and a large pond. The flamingos were pretty to look at and brought a lovely splash of colour to the park. ^^ Pelicans ^^ The pelican enclosure is called 'Pelican Bay', an area consisting of a large expanse of water, a stone area, a wooden bridge and a wooden hut providing shelter. For some reason, we did not really spend much time at this enclosure. I'm not really sure why, but the pelicans did not really inspire us much. I wonder if everyone who visits the park feels the same way?? ^^ Parrots ^^ The parrots were caged in an area called the 'Flight Aviary'. This was one large cage, providing lots of space for the birds to fly in. As with the pelicans, we did not spend much time in this area of the park, mainly because this was our last cage to visit and we were running out of time. ^^ Penguins ^^ The 'penguin pool' is right at the top of the park, close to the entrance / exit, on the opposite side to the waterfall. The penguins have a large enclosure which consists of a large, deep pool area and a land area with covered shelters. We were surprised by just how many penguins there were, which are a breeding colony of 'Humboldt' penguins, a breed I had never heard of. We spent a long time watching the penguins, especially those that were swimming and diving playfully within the water. They were great fun to watch and each penguin seemed to have its own personality. ***** Tropical House ***** The tropical house is a fairly new feature within the park. Work started on the tropical house in the late 1990's. The aim of the tropical house is to preserve bird and animal features. and also flora and fauna from islands around the world. It consists of water features, ponds, fountains, waterfalls, plants, trees, flowers, free flying birds, caged birds, caged insects and reptiles and fish. The tropical house was also one of my favourite parts. The water features were spectacular and the fish, including Koi carp, were lovely to watch. As with the rest of the park, the tropical house had been carefully designed and it was a pleasant area to walk around or to sit down and relax. My only disappointment within this area was the limited number of free flying birds, but maybe more will be added within the future. ***** Activity Programme ***** Although we did not catch any of these activities, the park has a daily programme of activities and talks. Pelican Bay - 11.00 a.m. (feeding) Penguin Pool - 11.30 a.m. (feeding) The Flight Aviary - 12.00 a.m. (feeding) Wallaby Walkabout - 2.15 p.m. (walk with the wallabies) Meerkat madness - 2.30 p.m. (meet the meerkats) Pets Corner - 2.45 p.m. (meet the animals ) Penguin Pool - 3.30 p.m. (feeding) As we did not participate in any of these activities, I cannot comment on the quality of them. I do think, however, that there is a really good range and selection of activities and more than you would find at many other animal parks. ***** Other Facilities ***** Other facilities in the park include a cafe (Tortoiseshell Bay cafe - what a lovely name!!), a gift shop, picnic areas (covered and uncovered), toilet facilities, including disabled and baby change, information display areas, discovery zone and incubation rooms. We did not really explore these facilities too much, but the coffee and hot chocolate were good and the toilet facilities were clean. ***** Overall Impressions ***** On my many trips to the Isle of Wight, I had not visited this attraction before. I was very impressed and would definitely visit again. The park has been carefully set out and the animals are looked after well and have spacious enclosures. The grounds are beautiful and very pleasant to explore. This is easily a whole day attraction, which makes for good value for money, especially if you use a discount voucher like we did. We spent a good 3 - 4 hours at the park, without doing any of the programmed activities. Although the park is on a slope, the gravel pathway makes for easy accessibility. We found it easy to push a buggy along, so I should imagine that it would be ok to push a wheelchair as well. There is ample car parking, which is close to the entrance. My only (small) criticism is that some of the displays are set out in a way that means you have to go along the same path twice in order to see everything. This is not a problem ordinarily, but may make life more tricky for anyone experiencing mobility difficulties. I would definitely recommend a visit to 'Seaview Wildlife Encounter' during a visit to the Isle of Wight. It's a great family day out, but I guarantee that adults would enjoy the 'encounter' as well!!

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            29.09.2007 00:38
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            Great for a wet, windy, cold day on the island.

            ***** Background ***** Butterfly World was originally opened in 1983 by Roy Lancaster. At the time, it was only the fifth Butterfly House in the world. In 1989, a further attraction was added known as Fountain World, followed by the Jumping Jets in 2000. ***** Location ***** Butterfly and Fountain World is located in Wootton, one and a half miles from Newport in the northern part of the Isle of Wight. As with all attractions on the island, it is signposted well and easy to find. ***** Opening Times / Prices ***** Butterfly and Fountain World is open daily from either Good Friday or April 1st (whichever date comes first) until October 31st. It is open from 10.00 a.m. until 5.30 p.m., with the last admissions at 5.00 p.m. Adults - £5.50 Senior Citizens - £4.50 Children under 15 years - £3.50 Under 4's - Free Guidebooks are available at a cost of £1.75 ***** Contact Details ***** Butterfly and Fountain World Staplers Road Wootton Isle of Wight PO33 4RW Tel: (01983) 883430 www.butterfly-world-iow.co.uk ***** Details of the Attraction ***** Butterfly and Fountain World is a completely indoor attraction, comprising of different areas, each of which are self contained, leading from one into another. From the outside, it looks like a gigantic greenhouse, which in effect, it is!! ** Butterfly World ** The first area of the attraction is 'Butterfly World' and the first experience that you get is the incredibly humid atmoshere. It is extremely hot and damp in this part and I would definitely recommend that you have a short sleeve top on when visiting, as this is no place for jumpers and coats. The slight discomfort of the air, however, is well worth it and you soon adjust to the heat. This area has hundreds of pretty coloured, free flying butterflies, which are truely spectacular to see and watch. Those fluttering around your head, chasing each other and narrowly missing you are amazing to watch and they almost don't seem real. The only way I can describe it is that these butterflies give the impression that they are being moved around like a puppet on a flexible pole attached to a thread. They chase each other and lark around like children. It is equally as nice to observe the butterflies that have settled on the pretty trees, plants and flowers that contribute to the displays in this area. These butterflies allow you to get very close and gives visitors a chance to see the beautiful colours and shapes on their wings. They have no fear of humans. Some of the butterflies are actually mating, not surprising as they only live for a matter of days, but this was fascinating to watch (unless of course you are 9 years old, like my stepson, and you find the whole experience hilarious!!) I was amazed just how close the butterflies came, especially those flying around and at one point, a butterfly even settled on the edge of Ellie's buggy. The colours and patterns on their wings were so vibrant and to see these flashes of moving colours all around was a special experience. The butterflies are housed in a display that consists of pretty pathways, small ponds with bridges and lots of green and colourful plants and flowers. The area has been carefully designed and it is easy to walk around. There are also some caged displays showing the chrysalises and on average, about 20 adult butterflies hatch every day. Keep a sharp eye open, not just for the butterflies, as there are some exotic finches flying freely in this area of Butterfly World and also, some Chinese quail wandering on ground level. ** Fountain World ** Doors and plastic sheeting lead you straight into 'Fountain World', which if nothing else, brings instant relief to the humid conditions of 'Butterfly World', as the area is much cooler. In comparison to the bright colours of 'Butterfly World', 'Fountain World' has more of an elegant, calm, neutral feel. There are two separate areas, one with an Italian theme, one with a Japanese theme. Both areas are authentic reproductions of gardens, complete with water features, statues, plants, fountains and waterfalls. Personally, I preferred the Japanese gardens, as these were more colourful than the Italian ones and also included two Koi ponds and bridges. In comparison, the Italian gardens were more simplistic and plain. At certain times of the day (11.00 a.m., 2.00 p.m. and 3.30 p.m), there is hand feeding and a talk about the Japanese Koi carp in the ponds, some of which are over 75cm and a mixture of lots of different colours and patterns. Ellie enjoyed watching the fish and my stepson had a go at actually hand feeding them, which was a nice experience for him. **Small World** Another doorway led us from 'Fountain World' into 'Small World'. This consisted of a dark area, with decorative lighting, which housed a collection of animated animals and characters, including a clown band that played music. This was the smallest area of the attraction (another reason no doubt for the name!!) Personally, I think Ellie was too small for this part of Butterfly World, as it was very dark and for her age (only 4 months at the time), a little scary. It is a great attraction, however, for older children (probably toddlers upwards), but probably not for any teenagers in your family!! **Jumping Jets** The final attraction, jumping jets, is by far the most fun. This consists of jets of water that shoot three and a half metres into the air and five metres across the room, along with other water attractions that are guaranteed to get you just a little bit wet. This is a great attraction for children (and adults) of all ages and it is fun to try and catch the jets of water as they fly across the room. I enjoyed watching them and I have to admit that walking through the tunnel of dripping water was very refreshing after still feeling hot from 'Butterfly World'. I was fascinated also by the technicalities of the jets of water and I just couldn't get my head around 'HOW' it actually worked!! (probably just having a thick moment, I'm sure there was a perfectly simple explanation!!) **Gift Shop** The Jumping Jets display led back into 'Butterfly World', which I'm sure you could have walked around again if you had have chosen to. If not, this led out of the attraction and straight into the gift shop. The gift shop had a good selection of gifts and (surprisingly), very little 'tacky'. Most of the gifts were tasteful, reasonably priced and mostly with an animal theme. **Hungry Caterpillar Cafe** The Hungry Caterpillar cafe is open daily from 10.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. (4.45 p.m. on Sundays) There is indoor and outdoor seating. We chose to sit outdoors. We ordered drinks (coffee, hot chocolate etc) from the cafe and we ate our own packed lunch. The drinks were ok, but nothing special and prices were comparable to other places that we had been to on the island. **Medina Garden Centre** Although we did not visit here, the 'Medina Garden Centre' is located adjacent to 'Butterfly and Fountain World'. From the outside, the garden centre looked a good size and is apparently one of the largest garden centres on the Isle of Wight. ***** Facilities ***** There are toilet facilities, including wheelchair and baby change facilities on the site of Butterfly World, although these can only be reached from outside the attraction. i did not use the baby change or disabled facilities, but I have to say that the toilets were not the freshest or cleanest that I have used!! ***** General Impressions ***** Butterfly and Fountain World is a great attraction to visit on the Isle of Wight, especially on a cold, wet day. It is good value for money and you are able to come out of the attraction and then return using your receipt. We found this particularly useful, as we were able to grab a coffee and a bite to eat and then return in order to catch the Koi feeding. The attraction is carefully designed and has been set out in a thoughtful way. The staff are friendly and helpful. The animals appear to be looked after well. Although there are several areas to the attraction, it is still fairly small and one to two hours is sufficient time in order to see everything. Dress sensibly - even if it is cold and wet outside, the temperatures inside reflect a tropical summer!!

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              24.09.2007 12:34
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              A great high chair for taking out and about.

              My husband and I decided it was time to buy the all important high chair for Ellie. At just over 5 months old, we felt that it was important to get her used to a high chair right from the beginning of her experience of solid foods. We decided that 'Mothercare' was as good a place as any to take a look at the choice of high chairs. We were quite surprised by the amount of high chairs to choose from and also the price, with chairs ranging from £25.00 to over £150.00!! To be honest, our budget was around the £50.00 mark, so we headed for the display of cheaper high chairs. There was a good selection and Ellie very much enjoyed being a big girl and trying them all out, with a huge grin on her face! There were three high chairs that we were interested in. The 'Oslo' at £24.99, the 'Atlanta' at £34.99 and the 'Cosatto On the Move' priced normally at £49.99, although it was reduced to £39.99. All of these three high chairs were similar in terms of size and the padding that they offered. Ellie looked comfortable in them all. We ruled the ''Oslo' out, mainly because it didn't have a foot rest, so we felt that Ellie wouldn't be as comfortable in this one as she got older. We quite liked the 'Atlanta' high chair. The bright pink design seemed a practical colour and it had a large tray, with a removeable top section that could be placed in the dishwasher. We asked a sales assistant to show us how the chair folded. We travel to our parent's houses quite a lot with Ellie, especially at weekends, so it was important to have a chair that we could take with us easily. We were also thinking about the practicalities of this when I go back to work. The sales assistant did not fill us with much confidence. He struggled to fold the high chair down and did not give the impression that it was an easy task. This did put us off a little, but we were also deterred because the chair folded up, but did not fold in half. It was over 100cm long in the folded position. We felt that this would make life difficult when we wanted to take the high chair in the car. We then asked the sales assistant to show us how the 'Cosatto' high chair folded and what a difference this was. The chair was quick and easy to fold and the chair folded in half, making the folded length only 72cm. We decided that this was the most sensible choice for our needs and with a £10 reduction in price, it was a good bargain too. ***** Facts and Figures ***** ** Dimensions ** Unfolded - 98 x 64 x 64cm Folded - 72 x 64 x 11cm Seat Height - 61cm Weight - 6.2kg ** Design ** The high chair is the 'Jungle Fever' design. The background colour of the padded seat is white. It is covered with lots of small animal pictures. The frame is white and aqua blue. The seat and tray are white. The harness is aqua blue. ** Practicalities and Safety ** The padded seat cover is plastic, so it can be wiped clean. It is also removeable. The chair has a 5 point saftey harness. The shoulder straps can be adjusted to three different positions. The chair has a foot rest. There is a wipe clean tray. ** Transporting the Chair ** The high chair folds away and opens easily. There is a release handle and then the high chair folds easily together. The high chair is easy to unfold by using the same release handle. There is a handy carry handle (which is also the release handle) ***** My Experiences ***** Overall, I am really pleased with this high chair. To be honest, Ellie is still just a little small for the chair as she tends to flop a little to the side when using it, although we have solved this problem by putting towels either side of her. The straps are secure and keep her safe, although at the moment, all aspects of the straps are on the tightest settings. It is easy to wipe the high chair clean, although the colours are not the most practical. I do not know if there are other designs in the 'Cosatto on the Move' range. The high chair is a nice size to fit around our dining table. Folding, transporting and unfolding the chair is incredibly easy. It is light weight to carry and fits easily into the car. The high chair fits on the floor in front of Ellie's car seat, which is useful, especially when the rest of the car is full. This will be handy when we take the chair on holiday. My one criticism of this chair is that the tray is on the smaller size compared to other high chairs that we looked at and also, it can't be removed. I'm not sure how easy it will be to get Ellie in and out of the high chair as she gets bigger. In summary, this chair was a good bargain and seems to suit our needs, although we are still in the early stages of using it. Ellie is happy to be sitting in it and I am confident that she is safe and secure.

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                15.09.2007 00:57
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                A great choice for early weaning.

                I started weaning with baby Ellie approximately 3 weeks ago and although I wanted to use as much 'homemade' food as possible, I decided to begin with some baby rice, as this seemed to be recommended as an ideal first weaning food. I chose to use the packets of 'Cow and Gate' baby rice, as I trusted this brand, having used the baby milk and also, as it is a brand that specialises purely in baby food. Since using the cow and gate baby rice, I have also used the packets of 'creamed porridge' and ' apple & banana wake-up', so my review will be based on my experiences of these three products. The products are all part of the cow & gate 'baby balance' stage 1 range, which are suitable from 4 months onwards. All three products consist of dry, powdery / flaky food in a sealed, foil packet in a box. Once opened, the packets can be folded down and stored inside the box for up to 28 days. The boxes are blue, with a picture of a happy, smiling baby, the ingredients of the food and a picture of what the food looks like when mixed.The boxes contain information about the nutritional content and ingredients of the food, information about the different stages and products within the 'cow & gate' range, instructions on how to mix the food and contact information. The boxes contain all the necessary information that any Mum or Dad would need and the picture of the happy baby implies that the food will satisfy your own baby. All three products claim: ** No added sugar or salt ** No artificial flavourings, colourings or preservatives ** Gluten free ** Smooth & Easy to swallow ** Aproved by babies & their Mums The baby rice also claims to be the purest baby-grade rice; the porridge and apple & banana wake-up claim to have one third of the key vitamins & minerals in each bowl. <<<<< Pure Baby Rice >>>>> The cost of the baby rice is £1.59 in Sainsburys, for a 100g box. The baby rice is mixed using one spoon of baby rice to ten spoons of your baby's usual milk, although the consistency can be changed by adding either more or less milk. The rice can be served warm or cold. The ingredients are: ** Rice ** Thiamin (Vitamin B1) The baby rice has no added milk, lactose or egg and it is suitable for vegetarians. <<<<< Apple & Banana Wake-Up >>>>> The cost is £1.89 in Sainsburys for a 125g box. It is part of the cow & gate breakfast range. The food is mixed using one spoon of apple & banana wake-up with three spoons of water, although more or less water can be added. It can be served warm or cold. The ingredients are: ** Baby-grade fruit (apple, banana) ** Milled rice ** Demineralised whey powder ** Skimmed milk powder ** Vegetable fat ** Calcium ** Vitamins ( Vitamins C, E, B6, A, D3, Niacin, Pantothenic acid, Thiamin (B1), folic acid, biotin) ** Iron ** Zinc The apple & banana wake-up is described as being 'fortified milk with apple, banana and rice' and it has no added egg. <<<<< Creamed Porridge >>>>> The porridge is also part of the breakfast range and costs £1.89 for a 125g box. The porridge is mixed using one spoon of food with three spoons of water, although more or less liquid can be used. The porridge can be served warm or cold. The ingredients are: ** Baby-grade milled cereals (rice, corn) ** Demineralised whey powder ** Skimmed milk powder ** Vegetable fat ** Calcium ** Spices (vanilla, cinnamon) ** Vitamins (Vitamins C, E, B6, A, D3, Niacin, Pantothenic acid, Thiamin (B1), folic acid, biotin) ** Iron ** Zinc The creamed porridge is described as being ' Fortified milk with cereals & vanilla' and has no added egg. ***** Our Experiences ***** I tend to give Ellie either the porridge or the apple & banana wake-up for breakfast and then the baby rice for lunch, as we are still only on two meals of solid food a day. Although I used the baby rice on its own at first, I now mix the rice with other foods like pureed carrots, apple and broccoli. At first, I measured the spoons of milk or water exactly as the instructions on the box, but I now find it much easier just to gauge the amount needed and add more food or milk / water if needed. All of the foods mix really well, even with cold water that I have stored in the fridge. The foods warm through well and quickly by placing the bowl in a jug of hot water. the foods are quick and easy to prepare and the baby rice mixes well with the pureed food. The opened packets can be quite messy and the dry food does tend to tip out of the packets a little, although I have solved this problem by transferring the food into sealed containers. The food is handy and easy to take on a day out, either by taking the whole box / container or by transferring the required amount of dry food to a baby bowl with a lid, ready to mix with either the water or milk. The foods have quite a bland taste and are, therefore, ideal as first foods. They have a soft, mushy consistency. The biggest disadvantage that I can see with these packet foods, however, is the need to also have the water or milk with which to mix the dry food... at least with a jar of ready made baby food, it is ready to eat and does not need preparation. This could be problematic when travelling and may not be as convenient as a jar of ready made food. Personally, this is not a problem for me, but may be a disadvantage for other people. My biggest reason for either using or not using any brand of food, however, is Ellie... Does she enjoy it? Is she eating well? Is she healthy? All I can say on all of these questions is YES!!! Considering we are only 3 weeks into weaning, her mouth is opening eagerly whenever the spoon of food is near, she is smiling (just like the babies on the boxes), she cries for more when it is all gone and she tries to draw my hand with the spoon closer to her mouth!! If she could speak, I'm sure that Ellie would give these foods at least a 9 out of 10 and maybe even a 10. There are other foods in the cow & gate packet food range. I have come across 'sunshine banana' and 'fruity breakfast' within the breakfast ranges and I'm sure we will give these a try. Although I have not seen these in my local Sainsburys, I think there are also some packet foods for dinners and desserts. Personally, I don't think I will use any of these, as I would prefer to use my own prepared food, especially as Ellie gets older, but the packet foods that we are using now have certainly been a good way of introducing solids to her. Thanks for reading. I hope this review is useful to any parent who is introducing solids to their baby. Nessie : )

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                11.09.2007 20:16
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                Definitely worth having in the cupboard.

                Gripe water is one of the many products that you associate with babies and in my experience, it always seems to be the thing that people of an older generation (Mums, Aunties, Grandparents etc) suggest if your baby is grisly and upset. I decided to buy a bottle and keep it in my baby cupboard, as this seemed to be an 'essential' item. ***** Product Information ***** The first thing that I noticed was that the company, 'Woodwards', has been trading since 1851, which immediately gave me confidence in the product. This was re-inforced by the recommendation of the product by my own and my husband's family members. The product claims: 'Rapid relief of Wind and Gripe'. The ingredients are: ** Terpeneless Dill Seed Oil ** Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate ** E215 ** E217 ** E219 Personally, I have to admit that these ingredients mean absoloutely nothing to me, but I was reassured that the gripe water was alcohol free, sugar free and colour free. ***** Dosage ***** This product should not be used on babies under 1 month of age. 1 - 6 months - One 5ml spoonful 6 - 12 months - Two 5 ml spponfuls These doses can be given during and after each feed. The doses can be repeated up to 6 times in a 24 hour period. ***** How the gripe water works ***** The box explains a little about gripe and wind, which I found very useful. It explains that gripe is caused when air bubbles that form in a baby's tummy cause muscle spasms and excess acid. Apparently, when these air bubbles get trapped, the stomach thinks it is full of food, so acids are released that break down food. As these acids are not needed, the baby can get irritation, cramps and spasms. The dill oil warms and relaxes the tummy and the sodium hydrogen carbonate neuralises the acid in the baby's tummy. The product claims that the results are usually a 'resounding burp'. ***** My Experiences ***** Overall, I am extremely lucky as I have such a happy, easy going baby, so on the odd occasion when she is upset, it is usually because she is hungry. If she cries, however, at other times when I know she does not need feeding and at the same time, her legs are kicking frantically, this is usually when I turn to the gripe water, although I have not used it very often. The gripe water is clear and has a mild, almost minty flavour. My daughter does not take the gripe water very well from a spoon and she does pull a slightly strange face when she is taking it. I'm not sure if this is because she dislikes the taste, or whether she is just getting herself so worked up through crying. This is another reason why it is tricky to give her the gripe water from a spoon and also because she is only 5 months old and we haven't really mastered the use of spoons yet. Personally, I find it much easier and successful to put a spoonful of the gripe water into her bottle of milk, or to use a smaller 2.5ml spoon (I use the spoon that came with the bottle of Calpol). If it goes into her milk, she does not pull any of the strange faces and she does not seem to notice that it is there. I can't say that I have ever noticed a 'resounding burp', as the gripe water claims to result in. I can say, however, that my baby seems to bring her wind up more quickly if she has a spoonful of gripe water in her bottle than she seems to without it, and it does seem to ease her tummy ache. I paid about £2.35 for the 150ml bottle of gripe water, which I would say is good value, providing you are able to use the whole bottle. If like me, however, you do not need to use the gripe water very often, you will probably waste alot of it, as it has to be discarded after 2 weeks from opening it. The gripe water does not include a medicine spoon, which would be useful, especially when out and about. As I've already mentioned, I have over-come this small problem by using the calpol spoon. ***** Would I recommend it?***** On the few occasions that I have used the gripe water with my baby, it has definitely worked, so I would recommend it and it seems to be easy to buy, available from many supermarkets and chemists. Be prepared, however, to have some spillages if you try the spoon method!!

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                • Hospital Births / Parenting Issue / 26 Readings / 22 Ratings
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                  10.09.2007 13:46
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                  Can't wait for the next one!!

                  I decided to write about my own experiences of childbirth, as I feel it's important for expectant Mums (especially first time Mums like myself), to have as many different viewpoints as possible. When I found out I was pregnant and for the months to follow, I did not really think about the prospect of actually giving birth. This was far from my mind, with the feelings of joy and excitement taking over, alongside the activities of sharing the news with family and friends, buying baby things, decorating the nursery, midwife appointments and watching my 'bump' grow. I was lucky as I had an easy, healthy pregnancy. I can remember only having about 5 mornings when I was actually sick, which soon passed and I only had 3 days off work through illness, which was with a heavy cold. I did feel tired, particularly during the early and later stages of pregnancy, but I think this is hard to avoid unless you are able to do very little. I worked right up until 3 weeks before my due date (I'm a teacher), which was the beginning of the Easter holidays. I did not really slow down, although my friends at work helped me out and made sure I rested during the day. In fact, the last few weeks at work were quite busy, as I had to make sure my end of year reports were written before I left and there were 2 parent evenings during my last week!!! There were 3 other women at work who were pregnant and they all had their babies before me. I started to think about the labour and giving birth bit when they had their babies, particularly as no-one seemed to have an easy ride. Also, one of my colleagues at work insisted on telling me how painful labour was and that she had never forgotten it (her sons are teenagers now), which made me feel rather concerned. I remember thinking at the time how insensitive and unnecessary her comments were. Ironically, she was the teacher that was covering one of the maternity leaves!! Other colleagues told me about their more positive experiences, but it is always the bad things that you remember. I was not reassured, either, when my husband and I attended ante-natal classes. Although the video showing a lady giving birth was not too bad, the midwife who led the classes had a rather strange sense of humour and made lots of jokes relating to childbirth. She assured us that if we collapsed in a pool of blood, that help would be at hand, but this wasn't the kind of information that I really wanted to know. She told it as it was and enjoyed sharing stories about how much she hated her mother in law interfering when her children were babies, some 25 years ago!! I also got the impression that the midwife was not too keen on newborn babies. She scared another first time Mum in my class as well!! The ante-natal classes, however, were useful in providing information relating to the stages of labour and pain relief and I began to think about my own preferences. We also visited the labour ward, which scared me rather less than the midwife. I decided to use the birthing pool, if available, and to have as much pain relief as I needed at the time. I was apprehensive and slightly scared about giving birth, but I also had 2 other concerns. My first concern related to my waters breaking. I was worried that this would happen, unexpectedly, and that I might be in a really embarrassing place. My second concern was whether I would actually know if my contractions had started or not and I was worried that I would have a false alarm. When I did go into labour, it was unexpected and took my husband and I a little bit by surprise. It was Thursday morning at 5.30 and my waters broke. This was nearly 2 weeks before my due date and less than 2 weeks since I had stopped working. I had only packed my hospital bag a few days earlier!! My waters breaking was quite a strange sensation. It was not a sudden rush of lots of fluid, but equally, it was not a slow trickle either. It was a steady, constant flow of water and I needed to use sanitary pads for most of the day. My husband telephoned labour ward. They were extremely busy, so they told me to have a bath, eat some breakfast and then go down to the hospital. I had no pains whatsoever, so we did not panic too much. When we arrived at the hospital, we had to wait in the waiting room for about half an hour. When we got into a delivery room, I was examined by a midwife, who was lovely. She confirmed that my waters had broken and told us to go home and return when my contractions started. If they had not started by Saturday morning, she told us to come back and then I would be induced. My husband and I had very mixed feelings. We were excited to know that our baby would soon be arriving, but apprehensive, as we were not sure when this would definitely happen. Also, I was scared, particularly as the lady in the delivery room next to me was screaming so loudly with pain, that you would have thought she was being murdered. We returned home, but it wasn't long before we were back again. My contractions started early Thursday afternoon. These were mild at first and infrequent. By late afternoon, the pains were much more intense and happening less than every 5 minutes. My husband phoned labour ward again. Guess what...? They were still busy, so advised me to have a bath, something to eat and then to go down to the hospital when we were ready. Emotions at this point were high. It was very exciting. Very soon, we would be able to see and hold our new baby. I was also frightened and worried. We arrived early evening. By this time, my contractions were happening every couple of minutes and I was in a lot of pain, particularly in my back. It was difficult to get comfy and when a contraction happened, I just didn't know what to do with myself. There was a lot of deep breathing, panting and back rubbing, courtesy of my lovely husband. It didn't help because we had to wait for half an hour in the waiting room. When we eventually got taken to a delivery room, the pain was over-whelming and I was desperate for some pain relief. I did not bother to ask for the birthing pool, as I guessed it was probably already in use and to be honest, I was just grateful to be in a room. The pain in my back was so intense and whatever position I tried did not help. Standing on the floor and leaning on the bed was the best position, although this did not really help much. We waited and waited, but no midwife appeared. The agony and pain was getting unbearable and I began to bleed, which really was quite scary. My husband went on a midwife hunt and eventually, someone arrived. This was about an hour after we had gone into the delivery room. I have to say that from this point onwards, our midwife, Louise, was fantastic and she did not leave us. She strapped me onto the monitor to listen to the baby's heart rate and then examined me. I was shocked when she told me that I was 5cm dilated. She also told us that the baby was lying in an awkward position. Although she was head down, I think she was positioned back to back with me, which accounted for the back pain that I had. Louise suggested that I squatted on my knees on the bed to try to encourage the baby to turn around. She set me up with the gas and air but to be honest, I found that this just made me feel sick and it did not really help the pain, so I gave up and went without!!! After about an hour and a half, I felt an over whelming urge, almost as if I needed to sit on the toilet. I told Louise and she re-examined me. Wow...I was fully dilated and I couldn't believe that this had happened so quickly, especially for a first baby. Louise gave me my instructions and then with every contraction, I pushed. My husband could not believe how calm I was. Although I did squeeze his hand rather tightly, there was no screaming or swearing. The baby made a little progress, but due to her awkward position, after an hour, we had not really progressed that far. This was annoying, as Louise told me that I was doing everything right and that if the position had have been perfect, the baby would have come out really quickly. The Doctor was called in. Before going into labour, I would have felt strange having a man examining me. When in labour, however, I couldn't care less and all my inhibitions had gone. The Doctor examined me and quite frankly, he hurt!! This was the only time during my whole experience that I cried out 'OW!' He put me on a drip, as I was getting tired and told the midwife to give me another hour of pushing before he would then consider an assisted delivery. Louise was determined that the baby would be delivered naturally. By this time, her shift was over, but she was kind enough to carry on working and I'm so glad that she did. She encouraged me so much and was very supportive. We carried on pushing and Louise decided to get the stirrups out, so I had something to push against. This seemed to worked more successfully and the baby's head got to a position where my husband could actually see it. Unfortunately, however, despite all my efforts at pushing, it was going no further. As a last attempt, Louise decided to use an episiotomy. She explained the procedure, gave me a local anaesthetic and with the next contraction, she cut me. With a final push, the baby came out!! Wow!! What an incredible feeling. I was tired and relieved, but the feeling of joy and happiness was overwhelming. My husband told me that we had a girl, which we had wanted, but not expected. He cut her cord and then she was wrapped in a towel and handed to me. She had been born at 10 minutes past midnight on the Friday morning, less than 24 hours since my waters had originally broken. She was absolutely perfect and beautiful and by far the greatest gift that I had ever had. The pain and tiredness drifted away in an instant. My beautiful baby was then handed to her Daddy, who was proud, emotional and overjoyed. The final stage of labour was completed with the successful delivery of the placenta and then the Doctor reappeared. Unbeknown to me, Louise had snipped a blood vessel when she cut me, so I was losing some blood. My husband later told me that the blood was squirting out and making a puddle on the floor, but he didn't worry because he knew I was in safe hands and there were plenty of people sorting me out. The Doctor stitched me up and the bleeding was stopped. I lost 700ml of blood altogether. At this point, Louise finished her already over-run shift. She had been great and I definitely hit the jackpot with her. She handed us over to an equally nice midwife. We had not expected a girl, as my husband's family are very male orientated, so we had not made a final decision on a girl's name. It was either Chloe or Ellie. We decided on Ellie, as that seemed to suit her. The midwife weighed and dressed her. We were surprised as she only weighed 5lbs 14ozs and all the clothes that I had packed were massive on her. The midwife made us a cup of tea each, which was very welcome and she left us alone to enjoy our new baby. We had lots of cuddles, lots of photographs and we couldn't stop looking at her or believe just how beautiful she was. Eventually, I was cleaned up and we were transferred to a ward, where I was lucky enough to have my own room. My husband was not allowed to stay and I was sad to see him go, but he was one of the first Dads knocking at the ward door the very next morning. Although I was shattered, I didn't get much sleep that night. I kept staring at my new baby girl and I was over-joyed at the miracle that was lying next to me. She was the most perfect baby that I had ever seen and I knew I was the luckiest lady alive!! I healed up quickly afterwards. My stitches became painful and tight and to be honest, gave me more pain than the labour itself. Also, I had very swollen feet for about a week after giving birth. I know every woman has a different experience and that I was lucky to have such an easy labour, but my advice to any expectant Mums would be to stay as calm and relaxed as you can during labour, be prepared to be flexible and not to stick rigidly to your birth plan and most importantly, do not believe everything that you hear. Whatever the experience, however, the result is more than worth it!!

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                  • More +
                    04.09.2007 22:21
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                    A really enjoyable day out.

                    I have fond memories of Blackgang Chine on the Isle of Wight, as this was an attraction I visited with my parents when I was a child, over 25 years ago. It is a magical place, filled with fantasy and adventure, an attraction that is enjoyed by young and old alike. Blackgang Chine is situated on the south side of the Isle of Wight. It can be easily reached from all areas of the island. ***** History ***** In 1800, Blackgang Chine was merely a steep ravine, 500 feet above sea level, overlooking Chale Bay. The last path which led down to the beach was washed away in 1913. In 1842, Alexander Dabell opened the chine to the public, as gardens. In the same year, a massive fin whale was stranded on the shore, close to the Needles rocks. Sadly, the whale died, but fortunately for Alexander, this became a profitable business venture. He bought the whale, sold the blubber at auction and then displayed the whale bones and skeleton at Blackgang. The whale skeleton has been preserved and it is still exhibited at the park and you can actually walk underneath it!! In 1933, the hall of funny mirrors was opened, which then led to the gradual development of other attractions, many of which were opened in the 1970's. The park continues to have new attractions, the latest being a rollercoaster, water chute ride and a new adventure playground, whilst some attractions have been relocated due to cliff erosion. The website (www.blackgangchine.com) gives a more thorough account of the history of Blackgang Chine for anyone interested in learning more. ***** Attractions ***** Blackgang Chine is absoloutely full of different attractions, new and old. What I particular like is the fact that new attractions are continually being added to keep the park innovative and fresh, but the older attractions are still popular as well. On a personal level, it brought back lots of happy childhood memories and nostalgia seeing attractions that I had seen and explored as a child. The attractions are set within 40 acres of Victorian cliff top gardens. Blackgang is divided into different themed areas, which lead from one area to another in a systematic way. The attractions are within easy reach of each other. These include: ** Frontierland / Cowboy Town ** This is a chance for all those budding cowboys and sheriffs to basically go around shooting people and sending them to jail in the wild west themed area. There is a jail, saloon (complete with swinging doors), shooting games, a stagecoach, wild west train and bank. The shop lacks authenticity, but is an ideal opportunity to buy rifles, pistols and caps. This area of Blackgang can get rather noisy, but is great fun with kids of all ages running around shooting people!! It is amazing just how many Dads get into character in this place!! I remember the area from my childhood, but I do not remember the guns!! ** Dinosaurland / Jungle walk ** There are lots of steep slopes in this area, so maybe worth a miss for anyone pushing a wheelchair or for people with limited mobiliy (it was hard enough pushing Ellie's puschair up these slopes!!) This area is full of life size dinosaur and animal models and is one of the attractions that I remember from my childhood. Children are able to climb and sit on some of the models, which provides some good photographic opportunities. ** Fantasyland ** This is one of the newer attractions. It includes the weather wizard, a lovely animated display which has some nice ideas about how the seasons are made and a rather angry dragon. ** Rumpus Mansion ** Again, this is one of the newer attractions. It is an enchanted place, full of riddles and poetic rhymes, a place that is full of surprises and unusual creatures, some nicer than others!! This attraction could be a little scary for younger children, although it is only animated characters and models. We did avoid this one when we went to Blackgang with Ellie (she was 4 months at the time) My 9 year old stepson did not mind giving it a miss either, as he had already experienced the attraction the year before. His reason was so his sister did not get scared!!!!! ** Nurseryland ** I remember this one also, although some of the models and features here are new. This is a great place for younger visitors, as the characters and displays reflect popular nursery rhymes. ** Crooked House ** An attraction that I remember from my childhood visits and one that hasn't changed at all. Not much to see, but worthwhile to walk on the crooked floors and narrow passageways. ** Musical Pet Shop ** Animals that sing!! What more can I say..lots of buttons to press and then see what happens! ** Snakes and Ladders ** Sorry grown ups, but one for the kids. It's like a giant game of snakes and ladders. Sets of steps to represent the ladders and metal, curvy slides to represent the snakes. ** Giant Hedge Maze ** Not the most difficult maze to explore, but a fair size in comparison to the size of the park. There are a few dead ends to frustrate you and to provide lots of entertainment and laughs to those members of your party who are viewing your steps from the viewing platform above. You can guarantee that they will not be able to give you guidance instructions as they will be too busy laughing!! ** Cliff Hanger ** This is the rollercaoster. Fans of Blackpool, Alton Towers etc would be uninspired by this ride, but a great first time rollercoaster ride and fantastic views over the cliffs!! ** Waterforce ** This is an attraction for the older kids, as is does have a minimum height restriction. Queues during peak times can be horrendous for this ride. It is basically like a giant astroglide in which you sit in a small dinghy like boat that shoots down the slide on a shallow flow of water. For those more daring, one of the three chutes is a covered tube, so you ride in the dark. I have not been on this ride, but it is great fun to watch. If you do have a go, however, prepare to get wet!! ** St Catherine's Quay / Blackgang Sawmill ** These two attractions are displays, geared more towards adults than children. The displays include information about the shipwrecks within the history of the island and the famous whale skeleton. They are well worth a visit and very interesting. ** Other Attractions ** Although I have given a brief description of many of the attractions, Blackgang Chine also has a fairy castle, water gardens, gnome displays, smuggler's cave, chimney pot walk, adventure playgrounds, picnic areas, a pirate barrel ride, hall of mirrors, a gift shop, 3 restaurants / food outlets, toilet / baby change facilities and ample free car parking. The views from the park are spectacular and there are several viewing platforms from which to enjoy the views of the cliffs and coastline. It is a little saddening, however, to see the cliff edges that have eroded and broken away and to see the paths that were once part of the park that have now been sealed off as they are dangerously close to the cliff edge. It's amazing to think that these were paths that I walked along as a child. ***** 2007 Opening Times and Prices ***** March to May - 10 a.m - 5 p.m May to early July - 10 a.m - 6 p.m Late July / August - 10 a.m - 8 p.m September / October - 10 a.m - 5 p.m Every Wednesday evening throughout August there is a special event, which ends with a firework display. The park is floodlit during evening opening times. Ages 4 - 60 - £8.95 Saver Ticket (4 persons) - £33.00 Senior - £6.50 Disabled Concession - £ 5.50 These prices include a return free visit with 7 days. Dogs are welcome, providing they are on a lead ***** General Impressions ***** Although the cost of visiting this attraction seems quite expensive, in my opinion, it is well worth it, especially if you take advantage of the free return visit. You can easily spend an entire day here as there is so much to see and do. There is quite a lot of walking with some steep slopes in areas of the park, so this is worth bearing in mind if someone in the family has mobility difficulties, although there are plenty of resting areas. I would not recommend the park for older teenagers, as the attractions are geared more towards children of a younger age and I would say that children over 7 years of age would probably enjoy the park the most. If, like me, you have childhood memories of Blackgang Chine, I would thoroughly recommend a return visit. You'll be surprised by just how much of the park you will remember!!! To find out more, visit: www.blackgangchine.com

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                      31.08.2007 12:58
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                      A must read for first time mums.

                      My daughter Ellie is nearly 5 months old, so I felt it was time to start thinking about the joys of introducing her to solid foods. Being a first time mum and wanting to do things right, I decided to buy a book to give me some hints and tips, so I made a trip to my local WH Smith store. I was astounded by the amount of books to choose from on the themes of weaning and baby / toddler feeding. To be honest, I didn't really know where to start or which book to choose. I chose the Annabel Karmel book because it seemed to have a good variety of different information and the kind of things that I needed to know. The book also had lots of photographs to accompany the written information, which I felt would make the task of reading and absorbing the information more enjoyable and useful. It was not the cheapest option, priced at £14.99, but with nearly 200 pages and an A4 sized, hardback book, I did not feel that this was too expensive for a book that will guide me through the first few years of Ellie's eating life. **** The Author ***** Annabel Karmel is a leading children's author and an expert on child nutrition and childcare. She is a trained Cordon Bleu cook, combining research on child nutrition with her expertise on food. Her recipe ideas have been tried by babies and toddlers. She has three children of her own. Just today, Annabel appeared on the show 'This Morning', with recipe ideas to tempt fussy eaters to eat fruit and vegetables. ***** Layout of the Book ***** The book is divided into 6 main chapters. These are: *** Weaning your baby *** 9 - 12 months *** 12 - 18 months *** 18 months - 2 years *** 2 to 3 years *** 3 - 7 years Each section is divided into sub headings including recipe ideas, facts and advice. There is a brief synopsis about each of these sections at the beginning of the book, which is a useful guide to each chapter. There are also shorter chapters on: ** Early nutrition ** Healthy eating ** Food allergies ** Kitchen basics **Menu planners Each page in the book consists of sub-headings, written information and photographs. The book is incredibly easy to read and follow. Relevant information can be found easily. It seems to include everything that you could possibly need to know. ***** Facts and Advice ***** The book is crammed full of useful facts and advice to help with every stage of development from babies and weaning through to school age children. Personally, I have found that the information I have read so far has not only been very useful, but has been interesting as well. Although I have not started the weaning process yet, I already feel much more confident about how and when to do this. I also feel that I know which foods are the best ones to choose in order to give my baby a good balanced and nutritional diet. The information on how to prepare the food has also been extremely helpful. ***** Recipe Ideas ***** Every chapter in the book has some written recipe ideas to suit each stage of development. There are over 200 recipes in the book and there is even a section on family meals. I have not tried any of the recipes yet, but they seem easy and straightforward to follow. I'm looking forward to trying them out. Each recipe follows the same structure and includes: a list of ingredients, useful information (i.e. preparation and cooking time, how many portions it makes, the food groups that the recipe meets, whether it is suitable for freezing) and simple step by step instructions. Some recipes are accompanied by a photograph. They sound and look delicious. ***** Menu Planners ***** The book includes a section of sample menus, divided into different stages of development. These include ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper and in between snacks, with references to recipes within the book. This is a great idea for a starting point and I will definitely be using the menus for the first 4 weeks of weaning. There are also menu ideas for healthy snacks and party food. ***** General Impressions ***** Although at the very early stages of reading and exploring this book, my first impressions are very positive. I'm sure it will be a very useful guide and I have a feeling that I will be referring to it many times over the next few weeks, months and years.

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                        28.08.2007 21:34
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                        A lovely attraction.

                        The Isle of Wight model village is situated in the pretty village of 'Godshill', approximately 3 miles inland on the south side of the island between the towns of Newport and Shanklin. ***** Godshill ***** Godshill in itself is well worth a visit, with traditional thatched cottages and several tearooms, with attractive gardens, ideal for enjoying a drink and piece of cake on a warm day. There are also gift shops, a free car park, with ample parking and of course, the model village. ***** The Model Village ***** The model village is a family run business. In the website, it is described as being: 'Godshill's secret garden' and there is no denying that the model village has charm and appeal. The model village consists of: 2 churches, 4 pubs, an airfield, a working railway, 3 hot air balloons, an airship, 2500 miniature conifers and shrubs and numerous islanders. It is set amongst one and a quarter acres of land. The model village has an 'Isle of Wight' theme and many of the models show buildings and events, past and present, that are associated with the island. There is a footpath that runs through the village that enables visitors to study the models. Access for wheelchairs and pushchairs along this path is adequate, although it is narrow. This, however, adds to the authenticity of the 'miniature' theme. The layout and design of the village has been carefully thought out to make the best use of the space available. The models are intricate and detailed. The people characters are each individual and different, almost coming alive with their own personalities and facial expressions. The characters are relevant to match the theme of their accompanying models, which include a game of football (complete with steaker), a row of old fashioned shops, show jumping (with rather plump horses and riders) and a church christening. The characters are fun and humerous. Some of the models are accompanied by relevant music, which includes church organ music and ballroom music. In the middle of the village is an added surprise, a working model railway, with trains that actually stop at stations, go through tunnels and travel over bridges. This seems to be the highlight for many children and adults. The model village is spotlessly clean and the models are immaculate. The miniature shrubs and conifers are a nice touch and it is obvious that these are carefully looked after. There is even a nursery for the seedlings and tiny plants. I'm sure a botanist would enjoy looking around the model village for the greenery and plants alone!! In addition, the model village has toilet and baby change facilities and a gift shop. Dogs are welcome, providing they are on a lead. There is even a self catering holiday apartment for hire, which overlooks the garden, with a 4 star rating and unlimited visits to the model village. ***** Opening Times ***** March - 10.00 to 3.00 April - Early July - 10.00 to 5.00 Late July / August - 10.00 to 6.00 September - November - 10.00 to 5.00 ***** Prices ***** Adults - £3.25 Children (3 - 16) - £1.75 Family (up to 2 adults and 3 children) - £9.00 Senior Citizen / Students - £2.90 ***** Contact Details ***** Telephone - (01983) 840270 Email - info@modelvillagegodshill.co.uk Website - www.iowight.com/model-village ***** Summary ****** The model village is well worth a visit and is an attraction on the Isle of Wight that will take up an hour or two of your time. It is good value for money and I highly recommend a visit. My personal recommendation is to combine this trip with a look around the village of Godshill and a drink and a piece of cake in the tea gardens next to the entrance to the model village. This will make a good half day excursion. For a whole day, combine the above with a trip to the nearby donkey sanctuary (admission free) or Amazon World, which is a great indoor attraction.

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                          23.08.2007 16:25
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                          Well worth a visit

                          The Needles park is situated on the West side of the Isle of Wight at Alum Bay, between the places of Freshwater and Yarmouth. It is easy to reach by car along some of the windy country roads of the island and if you approach from the south, the views of the sea and cliffs are breathtaking. The park can also be reached by bus. The park is named after the famous Needles rocks and lighthouse, although there is much more to do and see than this. On arrival at the park, there is an all day parking charge of £3.00, which seems quite expensive. The car park is on a fairly steep slope, so the walk from and to the car can be a little tricky. There are some disabled spaces which are situated at the bottom of the car park, making access easier for people with mobility difficulties. The car park leads to a fun fair area, which consists of a tea cup ride, a mini pirate ship, a carousel, junior driver and a games kiosk. All of these attractions are payable separately, so it is easy to soon spend lots of money. The junior driver seems the most popular attraction. Basically, this involves mini motorised vehicles which children from 4 - 11 can drive around roads, complete with traffic lights and roundabouts. It is good fun to watch, as there are usually some near misses, but with only 5 drivers at a time, the queue for this ride can be long. Prices for the rides are: Junior Driver - £2.00 or 2 tickets Carousel - £1.00 or 1 ticket Games Kiosk - £1.00 or 1 ticket per game Pirate Ship - £1.00 or 1 ticket Tea Cup Ride - £1.00 or 1 ticket Tickets can be purchased individually or a book or 12 tickets costs £9.00. Other attractions include 'Jurassic Golf', which is crazy golf. This costs £2.00 or 2 tickets per person, the sweet manufactory and Alum Bay Glass, which each cost £1.00 or 1 ticket per person to watch the demonstrations. They both have shops which can be visited for free if ypu prefer not to watch the demos. I have seen both the sweet making and glass blowing demonstrations. They were both interesting, but my personal recommendation of the two is the glass blowing. Although interesting, the sweet demonstration enables you to only watch one demo, it is crowded and difficult to see and there are set demonstration times. The glass blowing demonstrations, however, are available to watch at any time, viewing is on a raised platform, so it is easy to see and you can watch the demonstrations for as little or as long as you please. Very interesting and fascinating to watch. In addition to these attractions, the main area of the park has a restaurant, with average priced drinks and food, a bar, a gift shop, a sand shop and other food, drink and clothing kiosks. There are also toilet and baby changing facilities. One of the main attractions to see, however, is the Needles rocks and lighthouse. There are places within the main area to see this, but the best views can be seen from going down the cliffs to the beach. This can be achieved in two separate ways. One option to to use the wooden steps and walk down, which leads straight onto the beach. There are a lot of steps and although manageable, I would not recommend this route for less mobile or inactive people, although it is free!! The second option is to take the chairlift at a cost of £4.00 or 4 tickets for a return trip. I'm not sure if this option would be feasible for anyone who is wheel chair bound as the chairlifts continually move, but at a slow pace, making getting on and off a little tricky for some people. I do think, however, that the chairlifts could be stopped if someone needed more time to get on and off. The chairlifts go right over and down the cliff edge, giving you fantastic views, but this might be a hair raising experience for people who are afraid of heights!! There is the option at the bottom of coming off of the chairlifts to explore the beach area of Alum Bay, or alternatively, you can take the trip back up straight away. Alum Bay is a shingle, pebbly beach and the water can become quite rough, so it is not a good choice for sun bathing. It does give good views of the Needles and the coloured sandstone cliffs, which the bay is also famous for. Weather permitting, you may have the opportunity of a short 20 - 30 minute boat trip, which takes you out to sea for a closer look at the Needles. We did this last year and I think it cost £4.00 for adults and a cheaper rate for children. I would highly recommend this. You get a different view and perspective of the Needles and also the coloured sand cliffs and this was good value for money. After exploring the beach, the choice is either a walk back up to the top via the wooden steps, or a return trip on the chairlift. A final attraction worth mentioning is the sand shop. In this shop, you can buy an empty plastic container, available in various shapes and sizes (Isle of Wight maps, animals etc). You then fill your container up using the different colours of sand that have been collected from the cliffs and then a professional will securely seal your container. This makes a good souvenir, although queues for container sealing can be horrendous. Overall, the Needles park is well worth a visit, although due to the vast amount of payable attractions, it can be an expensive day out, especially if you have children. Personally, I recommend a walk down to the beach, the boat ride and the glass blowing demonstrations. Beware, however, if you visit at peak times, as you may find that you are queuing for a long time to get into the car park and the park becomes very busy.

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                            21.08.2007 21:15
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                            A great self catering choice on the Isle of Wight.

                            Please note that although the title says 'Verbena Cottage, Ventnor', the description and picture DO NOT describe the Verbena Cottage in Ventnor, Isle of Wight!! I have just returned from another delightful holiday on the Isle of Wight and as promised in my 'Home from Home Holidays' review, I am writing this review on the accommodation that we stayed in. General Information The accommodation is called 'Verbena Cottage' and it can be booked through the 'Home from Home' holiday company: Home From Home Holidays 31 Pier Street Ventnor Isle of Wight Tel: 01983 854340 Fax: 01983 855524 email: ventnor@hfromh.co.uk website: www.hfromh.co.uk The accommodation is self catering and sleeps 4 people. A fifth person can be accommodated on a 'Z' bed. Pets are not allowed. Verbena Cottage has a rating of 3 stars and costs between £235 and £430 per week, depending on the time of year. The cottage is let on a Saturday to Saturday basis. Occupation of the property is from 3 p.m., vacation is by 10 a.m. Duvets, duvet covers and pillows are provided. Guests need to bring their own top and bottom sheets, pillow slips, towels and tea towels. Location Verbena Cottage is located on the south of the island in the village of Bonchurch, which is a 10 minute walk away. It is situated on the main road between the towns of Shanklin and Ventnor. The cottage backs onto St. Boniface Down, which is National Trust Downland The Cottage Verbena Cottage is a terraced stone cottage, built in 1862, but with all modern amenities. It has a double and twin bedroom, a bathroom, a separate shower room, cloakroom area, kitchen and lounge. Although the cottage does not have a back garden, there is a small patio area at the front of the house and a rooftop sun deck which leads from the bathroom. The house is situated along a main road, although it has an elevated position, which can be reached via a sloped pathway that leads from the road. The front of the cottage has sea views and the cottage backs onto the St. Boniface Down. The sea views can be enjoyed from the twin bedroom, the rooftop terrace, the front patio area and the lounge, which has a large window. The cottage has central heating, an electric fire, satellite TV, video, DVD player, stereo, bath, shower, washing machine, fridge freezer, electric hob and oven, microwave and dishwasher. The kitchen is fully equipped with a range of utensils including crockery, glasses, cutlery, serving spoons, tin opener, butter dish, pots and pans, toaster, kettle, oven gloves, washing up bowl, drainer, bread bin and biscuit tin. There are two dining tables. A smaller one in the kitchen, which would seat 2 - 3 people and a larger table in the dining room, suitable for 5 people. This is the best table to use as it looks out over the sea views. The cottage is equipped with a plastic table cloth and place mats. Verbena cottage has a handful of videos, books and games including table football, snakes and ladders (which we played lots of!!) and jigsaws. There are also telephone directies, local interest leaflets and a helpful file with information about the cottage and how to use the appliances.. There are a choice of chairs to sit and relax on - dining chairs, sofas and a casual canvas style chair. Our Experiences The cottage was very easy to find using the 'Home from Home' directions. As the cottage was situated on the main road, parking could be a little tricky, as the cottages did not have separate parking and some of the road was double yellow lines. Having said this, however, we always managed to find a space and my husband got lots of practise at parallel parking!! My mother in law struggled a little with the access to the property, as the cottage was reached using a sloped pathway and then a small set of tight stone steps, although she always managed to make the journey. The small front patio area was tiny, but adequate and this was a nice place to sit and admire the beautiful sea views. Although there were cottages on the opposite side of the road, these did not block our views due to the elevated position of Verbena. The kitchen and lounge areas provided good facilities and there was nothing missing (except some of the sky channels that we were used to at home!!). The range of equipment in the kitchen was exceptional and there were many things that we did not even use. The stone floor and walls in the kitchen were a nice touch and really gave a 'cottagey' feel.The dishwasher was useful and saved us spending our holiday time washing up. The kitchen area looked out onto a covered utility room, which in turn looked out onto the shower room, which made the kitchen rather dark. A nice view of the St Boniface Down would have been more pleasant!! The bathroom and shower room were both massive, modern and well equipped, although their locations were not ideal. The shower room led from the kitchen, through a cloakroom area and the upstairs bathroom led from the double bedroom, making neither an easy option for a middle of the night toilet stop. The cloakroom was small, but a useful area in which to hang coats and to store our beach towels. The lounge / dining area was tastefully decorated with nice wooden furniture. The dining room table was in an ideal location to see the sea and this was lovely, particularly in the mornings at breakfast time. The stairs were quite narrow and we did have to be careful when walking up and downstairs, especially when holding Ellie. Again, my mother in law struggled a little with these. The bedrooms led from the top of the stairs, one to the left and one to the right, each bedroom being reached by climbing one small step. Both bedrooms were a good size and had a nice fireplace. My biggest criticism with the bedrooms, however, was the lack of wardrobe and drawer space. Each room had only a small wardrobe and limited drawers. The beds were really comfortable. The twin bedroom at the front of the house had a fantastic view of the sea. The view from the double bedroom was a little disappointing. Although you could see a tiny bit of the St. Boniface Down, the view was blocked by the bathroom and surrounding cottages. The rooftop sun terrace was an added bonus. This was reached by a safe ladder type stairway and had a skylight opening roof. This provided yet another spectacular view of the sea and at night time, was a great location for spotting shooting stars...very romantic!!! The cottage was extremely clean and tidy when we arrived. The oven and dishwasher were spotless and quite frankly, put mine at home to shame. The cleanliness within the bathrooms was of a high standard also. Although the cottage was situated along a main road, you could not really hear the noise of the traffic and the cottage still felt surprisingly peaceful and relaxing. The location of the cottage was really good for exploring all parts of the island. The furthest trip we took was only a journey of about an hour and the country, windy roads of the Isle of Wight can be slow!! Summary Verbena cottage was a good choice of accommodation and I have once again been very pleased with the service of 'Home from Home Holidays'. The cottage only cost us £430 for a week in August and for the facilities and equipment that the cottage offered, this was good value for money. We would definitely consider the cottage again if we returned to the island, which I'm pretty sure we will doing very soon!!!

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                              20.08.2007 13:56
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                              Great hotel choice if travelling to Mexico.

                              My husband and I visited the 'Clubhotel Riu Tequila' two years a go for our honeymoon. We both liked the idea of trying Mexico as a holiday location, as we were looking for a non-European holiday destination and it sounded like quite an exotic location, but with reasonable priced hotels compared to other worldwide destinations. General Information Temperatures in Mexico between April and October are 30 degrees plus, so it can become extremely hot and sticky. You also need to be aware of the chance of hurricanes in this part of the world. We missed Hurricane Emily by only a matter of weeks, so we were extremely lucky!! Plane journey time is about 10 and a half hours. We flew from Manchester airport. We paid about £2700 for a fortnight break in August, which included flights, airport taxes, in flight meals, coach transfers and all inclusive accommodation in the hotel. The 2008 brochure prices for this hotel in the 'Portland Direct' brochure range from £975 to £1179 per person(May to October), depending on the date of travel. There is a departure tax to pay, which is payable directly to the airport. We made sure we kept this money separate at the beginning of the holiday, so we knew we had enough to cover the cost. The Mexican unit of currency is the peso. Most shops also use and accept American dollars. The main language is Spanish. Hotel Location The hotel is situated on the Yucatan Peninsula, which is between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean on the South East of Mexico. It is in a resort called 'Playacar', which is 3km from the main town of 'Playa Del Carmen'. This is 68 km from the livelier resort of Cancun, which is where the airport is located. Coach transfer time is approximately 1 to 1 and a half hours from the airport to the resort. Playacar is a small resort, with a golf course, hotels and residential housing. The beach is within walking distance from the hotel. When you arrive at the resort, you are greeted with large stone lettering which reads 'Playacar', which is quite a nice touch. There are a handful of gift shops and outdoor market type stalls within about a 5 minute stroll from the hotel, with plenty of interesting gifts to buy. This is a nice area to explore during the evening when temperatures are cooler. The town of 'Playa Del Carmen' is within walking distance of the hotel, although this was not an easy stroll in hot temperatures. It took us about an hour at a slow pace to reach the main town and I would definitely recommend that you take a drink with you. It is a pleasant walk, however, and offers you a town with many more shops, restaurants and cafes than Playacar. 5th Avenue is the main shopping street, which is adjacent to the beach. I'm sure Playa Del Carmen could also be reached by bus or taxi, although we did not try this option. The Hotel We chose the Riu Tequila because of the reasonable prices and the good customer ratings that were shown in the brochure. In the 2008 Portland brochure, the customer ratings are: Holiday Overall....99% Accommodation....99% Location....97% Food Quality....96% Bedroom Comfort....94% It is rated with '4 ticks' and has a 'Gold Medal', which is awarded to hotels that receive excellent customer ratings. It's official rating is 5 stars. We also chose this hotel because the facilities sounded good and the photographs made it look like a nice hotel. We booked at the Holiday Hypermarket through Thomson. We were certainly not disappointed. All people on our coach from the airport were staying at the Tequila, so we did not have to make any other hotel stops. One of the reception staff from the hotel joined us on the coach and gave us our all inclusive wrist bands and welcome packs. This made check in when we arrived at the hotel much quicker, as we only had to collect our keys, which was a welcome relief after such a long plane journey. The hotel reception area was cool and tastefully decorated, with a large reception desk, a small shop, comfy seating areas, a fountain, trees (part of the area was open air!!), holiday representative areas and toilet facilities. Overall, we were very impressed with this area, being our first impression of the hotel. We received a welcome arrival drink, checked in and were directed to our rooms. Our suitcases were left in reception to be delivered to our room by the porters. I think we waited about an hour for our suitcases to arrive, which was a little too long to wait. Sitting out on our balcony in the warm afternoon sunshine with a refreshing drink was nice, although finding something cooler to wear from our suitcase would have been even more ideal. We were not able to give the porters a tip, as we did not have any loose change!! The rooms were dotted all around the hotel complex, arranged in small blocks of about 16 rooms set on the ground and first floors. The rooms were signposted well and it was easy to find. There are 664 bedrooms altogether, although it does not feel like this many as the apartment blocks are spaced all around the hotel complex. Our room was located on the first floor, just a couple of minutes walk from the pool area. Our Room The facilities in the room were excellent. There were 2 double beds, a TV, dressing table, safety deposit box (for free!!), a wardrobe, larger bathroom area, with the toilet in a separate room and the largest walk in shower that I have ever seen. The room also had a mini bar fridge, liquor dispenser, hairdryer, air conditioning, wicker chairs, small table and a balcony area. As it was our honeymoon, we also received a free bottle of tequila. The room was clean, cool and by far, the most luxurious room that I had ever stayed in. There was a maid service daily and the mini bar, which included non-alcoholic drinks, was re-stocked every 2 days. The towel arrangements that were left on the bed each day were amazing!! Towels were wrapped and arranged in different ways to make animals. My one tip is to leave your 'do not disturb' sign on the door last thing at night, as some of the room cleans were done at very early times of the day. Food and Drink Our first task when we reached the hotel was to book a dining time. I can't remember what the two choices were, but I think the first sitting was 7 pm and the second was 9 pm. I remember thinking that one was too early and the other was too late and whichever slot you chose, you had to keep this for the duration of the holiday. We opted for the later sitting. The 'Jalisco' restaurant offered a buffet style option of food, with a good selection of dishes to suit all tastes and cultures. We had the same table each evening and waiter service providing drinks. During breakfast, however, you could sit anywhere. The food was good quality and very enjoyable. Occasionally, some food was cooked on the outside BBQ and there were always chefs making some freshly cooked dishes within the restaurant. The desserts were delicious also Within the restaurant were ice sculptures and character fruit displays, and usually some real life, massive butterflies resting high up on the walls for added authenticity. The food at breakfast was equally delicious, ranging from continental options, cereals, fruits and traditional cooked breakfasts. Even the fussiest of eaters would be satisfied!! My two criticisms with the restaurant would be that the dining times were not great and that during the evening, there were long queues for food. There were also other options for food during the evening. 'La Lupita' restaurant offered a steakhouse option, situated on the hotel complex between the two pools. Or alternatively, there was a restaurant at the 'Beach Club', which was not on the hotel complex and offered more of a Mexican cuisine. Both of these restaurants needed booking in the hotel reception area, which you had to do on the morning of the day and it was a first come, first served basis, with limited availability. We tried the 'La Lupita' restaurant, which made a nice change as it was waiter service. This was a lovely location for a meal, but was rather warm, as it was more 'open air' and did not offer the same level of air conditioning as the main restaurant. During the daytime, snacks and lunch were also available from the 'La Lupita' restaurant and the 'Beach Club', based on a self service, buffet style option. The food available was varied, hot or cold and drinks were available 'on tap', including beer, wine and soft drinks. This was very convenient and the 'Beach Club' was handy, as it was located right by the beach. Overall, the food quality was good and there was a good selection of different choices at every meal time. We certainly did not go hungry. The hotel has three bars and it was always easy to get drinks, even during busy evenings. As the hotel was 'all inclusive', all drinks were included in the price of the the holiday. My personal favourite bar was the swim up bar, which formed part of the swimming pool. It was so refreshing to slip into the pool in the heat of the sun, swim to the bar and order a cool cocktail...LOVELY!! It was, however, a bit tricky to sit on the bar stools as the movement of the water made it difficult to stay on them. Other Hotel Facilities Other facilities available in the hotel included a second swimming pool area, both areas providing sun loungers, free towels and umbrellas. As with all hotels abroad, it was often difficult to find a good location around the pool and the usual 'early morning reservations' were needed!! Sun umbrellas were also limited, but were definitely a welcome relief during the hotter parts of the day. The umbrellas were made from natural palm leaves and were a more attractive addition to the poolside than canvas umbrellas. We collected and returned the hotel towels for the pool and beach every day, so they were always clean and fresh. Most days, there were photographic opportunities around the poolside with huge Iguana lizards and parrots, that were brought around for guests to hold. My husband and I braved the parrots, but not the lizard!! The hotel had a small shop, which sold snacks, a limited amount of gifts, toiletries, swim wear, magazines etc. To be honest, the shops that were five minutes away from the hotel were a better option. The size of the hotel shop was disappointing for the size of the hotel. There were daily activities available around the hotel, including tennis, water polo and salsa lessons. We did not indulge in any of these and the staff were not 'pushy' in trying to encourage people to join in. As we did not go on holiday with children, I am not sure about the children's facilities, although I think there was a Children's club available in the hotel and I do remember some activities in the evening that were geared towards the youngsters. The evening entertainment was impressive, varied and entertaining. This mainly focussed around the stage area, which led from the main reception and was surrounded by two large bars, with a nearby disco (we ventured into the disco once – we felt too old, as it seemed to be the area that attracted the teenagers!!) The area was partly covered, partly open air, which was lovely to sit in during the warm evenings. A disadvantage was that this area got extremely busy and it was often difficult to find a seat, especially after our late dinner time. There was a regular entertainment team. Evening entertainment always began with something for children, although we did not see any of this as it clashed with our dining time. The evening always progressed into a show, usually involving the hotel team, but occasionally using outside entertainers. The shows were song and dance, comedy or traditional culture and we enjoyed every evening. The entertainment was top quality and extremely professional. Occasionally, there was musical entertainment in the reception area just outside the restaurant, which was a nice touch on the way into dinner. On a couple of evenings, there were also some craft stalls within the hotel complex, which provided some extra gift ideas and were just nice to wonder around. As an extra bonus, we could also wander into the nearby hotels of the 'Riu Yucatan' and 'Riu Playacar' and use their bar and restaurant facilities, but not for breakfast or evening meals. Wildlife There was some interesting wildlife within the hotel complex. Huge butterflies and moths, snakes, large spiders (although thankfully, we did not see any of these), iguanas and some interesting four legged, furry creatures, about the size of cats, which we do not know the names of!! The Beach Although the hotel offered a free land train shuttle service to the beach, it was much nicer to take the short, 10 minute stroll down to the beach out of the hotel and through the pretty covered walkway. This led directly to the 'Beach Club', which in turn, led directly to the beach. The first time we saw the beach, all I can say is..WOW!! It was a typical white sandy, palm tree beach with turquoise blue sea and the first view was absolutely breath taking. The sand was soft and hot to walk on and the sea was clear and warm to swim in. There were plenty of sun loungers on the beach and the palm trees provided lots of natural shade. Water sports were available on the beach, some of which were part of the all inclusive package, although we did not try any of these as lazing and relaxing on the beach was just so nice!! The 'Beach Club' was close and handy to grab a refreshing drink or a snack to eat. Our Reps There were two Thomson reps who were available at the hotel. Luckily, we did not need to speak to them about any problems. They provided a fun and informative welcome meeting and they were able to organise our choice of excursions to enable these to be spread well throughout our holiday. Although limited, our contact with the reps suggested that they were helpful and professional. When they joined us on a night out in Cancun, however, they proved to be good fun as well!! The End of the Holiday The porters collected our suitcases as efficiently as they had delivered them and this time, we had enough loose change to leave a tip!! Checkout was straightforward, but sad, as we had enjoyed our holiday so much. Summary We thoroughly enjoyed our fortnight stay at the 'Riu Tequila' and it was an ideal choice for our honeymoon. The facilities and staff were good and there was plenty to do if you wanted a more active holiday. Equally, it was possible to relax and be lazy in the warm, Mexican sunshine.

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