Think holiday park and you don’t exactly envisage a caravan done out as a New York loft apartment, a master bedroom big enough to house a freestanding bath, or a fabulous hot tub outside – but that’s what you get at Sandy Balls in the New Forest.
I’d heard good things about Sandy Balls so when we decided to take our family – a three year old and 23 month old twins, the Other Half was adamant we needed a hot tub. And let’s face it, who doesn’t need a hot tub? It would stop us sitting in front of the tele each night, on our phones or laptops – and make us actually speak to each other. Apparently that’s what couples are supposed to do?
Turns out it actually is, and it was the best decision! We talked more in those four nights than we have in about a month, usually far too zombified by the time we finally sit down. After long days dealing with three young boys, chilling out in the bubbles whilst sipping a bottle of prosecco each night was just perfect.
Yes, that IS what it’s called…
But before I go any further, let’s just address the elephant in the room, shall we? The name of this place… Sandy Balls.
SANDY BALLS. What the…
I mean, seriously. I found myself actually feeling embarrassed when I told people where we were going. I’m sure they thought I was taking the p*ss or something. I still have no clue why it has that name – but it provided great (and clearly very childish) entertainment between the two of us throughout our stay there. So let’s take it as a good thing!
Sandy Balls is run by Away Resorts who have six parks around the country. We’ve also been to their Whitecliff Bay site on the Isle of Wight which we loved too. You can read my review of our holiday here.
So if you like the idea of a holiday in the forest, then this place is ideal. It’s situated just outside Fordingbridge on the edge of the New Forest, so your luxury lodge or caravan (and hot tub) is in amongst the trees.
Things to do at Sandy Balls
There’s LOADS to do to keep kids of all ages entertained so you can easily spend days onsite if you don’t want to venture out too far.
The site itself is amazing to explore, with a village centre the main focus of the park, and woodland trails perfect for walks or cycle rides. You can hire bikes on site so no need to worry if you’ve not quite managed to fit your kids’ bikes in your full-to-the-brim car. That was us.
A brand new adventure playground had just opened when we went, which the boys loved, all made out of wood, and complete with a zipwire, endless frames and bridges to clamber all over, as well as good old favourites of swings, a slide and see-saw.
There are indoor and outdoor pools in the heart of the village, but I can’t tell you much about them sadly – they’ve recently changed their parent to child ratios and 0-3 years is one adult to one child, and 4-7 years was one adult to two children. So with three boys under four, we couldn’t all go as a family. Something we found out as we walked into the pool reception with three excited children, only to be turned away. You can imagine the eldest’s reaction…
Luckily there’s a soft play just metres away from the pool, so that took the edge off their disappointment, and later we took big brother to try his hand at mini archery instead.
Fun for the little ones
Sandy Balls has two different activities clubs – ‘PLAY’ designed for five to 12s but under 5s are welcome with adult supervision, and ‘My Active’.
The range of activities they offer is quite frankly mindblowing, and if your child is old enough to join in, they’d be hard pushed to get bored. I’m talking about arts and crafts such as tie-dye madness, pottery painting, marble art, glitter globes and nature painting; science workshops, a slime session, and imaginative play with a Superhero Academy, Fairy and Elf Academy, pirate play, and a bears picnic.
They have a brand new Forest Ranger programme with activities such as nature rangers, foresteering, forest caching, pond dipping, woodland survival, catapult building, and creating bug hotels.
These were all way too old for my three, but for the under 5s there is PLAY Tots with activities such as baby ballet, musical instrument making, balanceability, and special water confidence sessions.
And I can’t forget the nightly dose of PLAY Tots Live, which was an early evening entertainment session designed for the under 5s which featured floor games, a teddy show, dancing and nursery rhymes. We never take our boys to any evening entertainment on holiday so this was a perfect way to let them do something, but it was over and done with by 7pm – back to our caravan, bedtime and straight in the hot tub!
Older kids will love Sandy Balls
If you’ve got older children, there’s equally as much for them to do at Sandy Balls. ‘My Active’ has everything from archery to zorbing for your active offspring to try out. There’s forest laser tag, crazy carts, nerf challenge, laser clay shooting, hoverboards, cheerleading, circus skills and a virtual reality room to keep them entertained. Just check what it is on the week you stay, as it’s not all on all the time – there’s an app you can download to help.
But if you think you’ve seen all this type of thing before elsewhere. I bet you’ve not come across this on your holiday site before – Alpaca walking.
You can meet one of the Sandy Balls alpacas (they’re called Inca, Pickle, Archie, Sandy, Alife and Joey in case you were wondering) during a 30 minute introduction, or even go on a guided Alpaca Walk throughout the forest with them. How cool is that?!
Something for the grown-ups at Sandy Balls
So your children are pretty sorted for entertainment, but what about you? To be honest I was happy with the hot tub (and it’s not like there’s much time for anything else with such young kids) but if I had fancied it there’s a state of the art gym on site with fitness classes (not for me, thanks!) and The Retreat spa (much more my thing) offering treatments such as aromatherapy massages, hot-stone massages, luxurious facials and manicures. I can’t believe I didn’t take advantage of this!
There are even specific adult-only organised activities such as arts and crafts sessions, group bike rides or dog walks, quizzes, tap dancing (I would have been right into that one had I known!) and the one I like the sound of most – Ladies who Latte.
Did I mention there’s lots to do?
In the village centre you’ll find the soft play, a play zone arcade, a toddlers play park, boules court, a shop, entertainment suite, a restaurant, takeaway and pub. Aubrey’s Forest Kitchen offers Italian cuisine, including takeaway pizzas (always handy!), whilst The Woodside boasts a great choice of pub grub, and the Woodside Takeaway sells all sorts including fish and chips, burgers and jacket spuds.
So you can happily ditch the cooking whilst you’re away in favour of lovely food and a little stroll up to the village. You might also need to conveniently pop in for a drink at some point, as the pub and restaurant is the only place with Wifi on the whole site. Which isn’t great. I thought EVERYWHERE had Wifi these days? The brochure you receive on check-in tells you Wifi is available in the village only, but after trying in the soft-play, and asking a member of staff, I was told it’s just those two places that it works well.
The most amazing caravan EVER
Anyway, let’s get onto the two best things about our holiday – the first one being the AMAZING TriBeCa caravan we booked. We were set on the hot tub – and loads of different accommodation at Sandy Balls has those. But we wanted this caravan because of how damn FUNKY it looked.
Forget the boring beige exterior of every caravan you’ve ever laid eyes on. The TriBeCa is full of colour and fun – from its striking stripes on the outside, to it’s bright, stylish, colourful and DOWNRIGHT COOL decor inside. We literally could not believe our eyes that this was a CARAVAN. It had enclosed decking around the outside (ideal for the twins to potter about in safely) and the most fabulous interior I’ve ever seen.
Designed to feel like a Manhattan loft apartment, the caravan had a large open plan kitchen/dining/lounge area with a big shower room and kids bedroom off one end, and the master bedroom (complete with standalone bath and ensuite toilet) off the other. The main bedroom was massive – with a king-size bed, coffee table and comfy chairs, a writing desk and chair, and massive wardrobe. Not exactly what you’d expect a caravan to have.
There are two types of TriBeCa you can book – one with a cool den-type kids bedroom with bunks, and one with a normal twin room that we had. I was told over the phone it wasn’t possible to remove beds to make way for travel cots as they were fixed to the floor and that we’d have to put them in our bedroom (which they would have easily fitted) but when we arrived we found they weren’t actually fixed. We did a bit of a DIY job and managed to put one bed up on its end to fit the travel cots alongside the single bed so all three boys slept in together. Relatively successfully I think.
Oh and did I mention that this place had FOUR televisions? One of the biggest I’d ever seen in the lounge, another huge one in our bedroom, and one in the kids’ room. Not that we would EVER think about letting them watch TV in their beds whilst we had a lie-in until, ooh, 7.30am. Nope, not us…
And check this out, the mirror next to the bath in our bedroom had a hidden TV behind it – but the funniest thing was, we didn’t even realise when we were there. Mind you, the only people that used that bath were the boys. We had no need because, did I mention we had a hot tub?
Oh my God. I’ve been on breaks before with a hot tub, so I’m probably sounding slightly ridiculous being so excited about it. But after a day of refereeing the three boys, dealing with teething, tantrums, food throwing and general three under four crap, this hot tub was the light at the end of the tunnel each night. We actually started counting down the hours from about lunch time to the point where they’d all be asleep and we could crack open the fizz and jump in.
I’m very much of the thought that holidays with young kids are ‘same sh*t different location’ to a point. And the hot tub was the thing that made all the difference. WE had chance to relax too.
Day out to Paultons Park and Peppa Pig World
The other ‘best bit’ of our holiday was a day out to nearby Paultons Park – home of Peppa Pig World, just 25 minutes from Sandy Balls.
Read my full review of the theme park here – we had the best family day out. Going on a mid-term Wednesday in May we were lucky it was quiet and we only queued once for 10 minutes all day. And there was so much for all three children to enjoy.
Peppa Pig World has 9 rides, all of which little babies and toddlers can go on with an adult – which to me was the best thing about it. A lot of the time my twins sit in the buggy whilst my eldest gets to enjoy himself, but this was just as much about them as it was him.
Peppa Pig’s Balloon Ride was a real highlight, and one of the few that we could all fit on as a family of five. You got a fabulous view over the rest of Peppa Pig World. And Grandpa Pig’s Boat Trip was also fun for all of us.
There was also the Queen’s Flying Coach Ride which was a gentle monorail ride, Grampy Rabbit’s Sailing Club’s spinning boat ride, Daddy Pig’s Car Ride, Grandpa Pig’s Little Train and the Windy Castle Ride which all looked great. The only time out of the whole day we queued was for Miss Rabbit’s Helicopter Flight (basically a small ferris wheel type thing). And if you want to get in out of the sunshine or escape the queues, there’s a great soft play centre in Peppa Pig World too.
If we only had our twins we would have spent most of the day in Peppa Pig World and gone on all the rides with them. I just kept thinking how brilliant it was that they could go on so many at such a young age. And I think children up to ages 4 or even 5 would love it, if they prefer gentler fun.
We went on four of the nine rides – not because we didn’t fancy the others, but it turns out my eldest is a bit of a thrill-seeker and wanted to get back to the more exciting stuff – the BIG rollercoasters in Lost Kingdom.
He’s a dinosaur fanatic so was most excited about Lost Kingdom anyway, but once he tried the Flight of the Pterosaur – a 395m suspended rollercoaster that I can categorically state goes really bloody fast – and basically thought it was the best thing ever, I think for the first time in his life dinosaurs were relegated to second place.
He wasn’t much taller than the height restriction, but that didn’t seem to hold him back. That was it – off he went (with one of us) repeatedly on all the big rides – his favourites being the Velociraptor which drops from 20m in the air and hurtles round tight bends at 40mph before reversing and doing it all again. And the Cobra which is Paultons Park’s wildest rollercoaster, with a mix of thrilling drops, exhilarating spirals, twists, turns and breathtaking ‘camel humps’. Grinning from ear to ear the entire time.
Even the Twins went on their very first rollercoaster called the Dino Chase, and loved it. I think…
With more than 70 rides and attractions at Paultons Park we couldn’t get it all done in a day, despite it being quiet, but it’s an absolute must if you’re staying so close.
So if you want something that can entertain your children, whatever age they are, is close to great days out, stay in the coolest caravan you’re ever likely to find, and actually have chance to relax yourselves, Sandy Balls should definitely be on your list of places to go.
Have a look at what’s on offer at Sandy Balls here.
*Featured image by Away Resorts
Disclaimer – we received tickets to Paultons Park free of charge for the purpose of a review, but opinions, words and pictures are mine. We paid for the stay at Sandy Balls ourselves – I just thought you’d love to read about it!
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