The Polar Express Train Ride in Stanhope, Durham

All aboard! All aboard! Tickets please, tickets. Well, you coming? As soon as we were handed our golden tickets for the Polar Express, we knew it was going to be magical.

Thanks to the beautifully decorated ticket office and the singing elves on the platform at Stanhope Station, we were truly in the Christmas spirit before we even set foot on the train.

  • Spoiler alert – this article will tell you exactly what to expect on the Polar Express Train ride!

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The hour-long journey is based on the hit Polar Express film and award-winning book. Having an idea of the story before you take your seats is a must.

Passengers are encouraged to wear their pyjamas – just like the children do in the film – and to truly embrace the experience, my sister and I, and my children and niece and nephew all made sure we had ours on.

Yes, it’s pricey, but genuinely, it’s so magical and possibly a one-off, so it’s worth every penny!

We had booked premium-class seats, which were spacious and comfy, and as soon as we arrived we were greeted by the energetic chefs. I really think it’s worth the extra money to be in the best seats, we seemed to have more staff and more attention!

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Mummy and her reindeer on the Polar Express

TIP: Wear sensible shoes like trainers or wellies as it’s a bit of a walk from the car park. Pack a brolly too because there’s only so much undercover queuing area.

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Dressed in white, exactly as they are in the film, all of a sudden they began singing and dancing up and down the aisles. The kids were mesmerised.

They are a highlight in the film, so I had hoped they would bring the journey to life, but I was blown away by how good they were with bags of enthusiasm.

Next, as the passengers are in the film, we were served our hot chocolate and cookies while the singing and dancing continued.

MORE REVIEWS: Thomas Land at Christmas

The chefs then used books to tell the story of the Polar Express, while the official movie soundtrack played and made sure all children were involved.

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And it wouldn’t have been the same without the conductor to check our tickets and even punch each one with each child’s initials – definitely something to treasure.

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Then the magic carpet on the rails took us to the North Pole. From the comfort of our seats we saw Santa and his reindeer out of the window and real-life dancing elves. We stopped just for long enough for Santa to catch the train and we were then back on our way.

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MORE REVIEWS: Flamingoland, Malton, North Yorkshire

As Santa made his way through the carriage, we were encouraged to get up and dance, singing everything from Jingle Bells to Deck The Halls.

Santa spent a good amount of time with each child and even gave them a shiny bell from his sleigh – just like in the film.

TIP: Don’t take a buggy. It’s a short walk from the car park (free parking) and back again

With lots to see, we wished it didn’t have to end – because that’s the way things happen, on the Polar Express.

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Don’t know who enjoyed it more – the kids, or my sister and I
  • Reviewed December 2015

 

NEED TO KNOW…

LOCATION: Stanhope Station, Station Road, Stanhope, Durham DL 13 2YS and also at Okehampton Station, Station Road, Okehampton, Devon, EX20 1EJ.

OPEN: November 20 until December 28.

PRICES: (2015) Standard class: £18 for children and £22 for adults. Premium Class: £28 for children and £38 for adults.

VISIT: http://www.UKPolarExpressRide.com

 

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HAVEN: Hopton Holiday Village, Norfolk

What they say: Get away for family fun at the beach. Water & sports activities, Kids’ clubs, touring & camping, indoor & outdoor pool, 9 hole golf course, sports court, bowling green.

What we say: Excellent beach family holiday by the British seaside. The sun was shining so it was just as good as being abroad. Loved the outdoor pool.

Building sandcastles, stone skimming, kite flying, playing in the amusements and paddling in the sea can only mean one thing – a great British seaside holiday.

We did all that and so much more during our four-night stay at Haven’s Hopton park in Norfolk. My only complaint is that we didn’t have long enough to do everything on offer.

 

Set in beautifully landscaped gardens, the park has the perfect location right on the golden sandy beach, just a few miles from Great Yarmouth.

As soon as we arrived and saw the ‘your  holiday starts here’ sign, we felt excited and knew it was going to be a great holiday.

Our three-bedroom prestige caravan didn’t disappoint either and was immaculate. The pitch itself on waterside, overlooking sea couldn’t have been any better with stunning views and just a stone’s throw to the beach but also only a five minute walk to the park’s centre.

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Our balcony overlooked the sea and inside it was extremely modern and had everything you could need. We opted for linen so our beds were made up for arrival and check in was from 2pm.

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Sea view from inside our caravan #myhavendays

After quickly unpacking we headed straight to the outdoor pool and as we splashed about under the clear blue skies it felt like we were abroad. The pool is surrounded by sunbeds and has a real fun feel.

You need passes to get into this area but if you book with Haven, the passes are included in the price of the caravan.

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The outdoor pool at Haven’s Hopton Holiday village #myhavendays

Inside, the indoor pool has been newly refurbished for 2016 and has a brand new waterslide, a fabulous toddler area and a jaquzzi.

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It’s located in the heart of the resort with a large restaurant next door where you can sit outside on the decking and enjoy a drink whilst looking out over the pool.

The entire park has a real holiday feel about it and the centre, where the pool is, also has amusements, a small play area and paid for activities including mini-golf and bungee trampolines.

There were so many activities on offer I had to make an itinerary for our four children to make sure we didn’t miss anything. I’d recommend buying the sports activity bundle because it works out cheaper to bulk buy the tickets for the activities. They all get booked up fairly quickly so defininltey book them online before you go. If you don’t get chance to do that then pop to the swimming pool reception as soon as you arrive to get them all booked.

My nephew, nine, seemed to get the most out of the activities and did kayacking on the outdoor pool, archery, target shooting and fencing. My 7-year-old niece enjoyed the inflatable pool party in the indoor pool and dancing with the Seaside Squad. Hopton is one of only a handful of resorts which has the Nature Rockz activities which aim to teach the whole family survival skills. Activities included shelter building, bug hunting, bird food making, stone skimming and building bird boxes.

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There was also plenty for my  five and three year old to do with mini versions of archery and fencing and other activities including messy play, swimming lessons, aqua glides and my son’s favourite – the water walkerz.

We were so lucky having the sun shine every day for us which was the icing on the cake, but with all the activities there’s plenty to do even if the weather isn’t great.

There’s kids clubs too, where the FunStars crew aim to get the youngsters playing with other kids of their age  with activities suitable for them. Parents can leave them to it or join in.

The evening entertainment is also worth a look and features music, laughter and downright silliness for the whole family. The night starts with the FunStars squad hosting quizzes and games and entertaining in lively musical numbers. Later in the evening there’s live bands, artists and comedians.

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The beach at Hopton Holiday village, Norfolk #myhavendays

We could have spent our entire stay on the site but we like to explore the local area when we go on holiday so we had a day on the Norfolk Broads and also an afternoon in Great Yarmouth.

A highlight for all four children was the summer spectacular show at Hippodrome circus in Great Yarmouth. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but spectacular is the only word I could use to described it. From start to finish we were wowed, entertained and at some points watching with our hearts in our mouths. The talent on show was incredible and it was all brought to us in the stunning historical theatre.

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The summer spectacular show at the Hippadrome, Great Yarmouth

 

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Great Yarmouth

Another of our favourite days out was our boat trip on the Norfolk Broads. We hired a stunning day cruiser boat from Horning Ferry Marina.

No trip to Norfolk is complete without cruising the famous waterways and we certainly did it in style with a fabulous boat.

The kids loved having a go at driving and Mum, Dad and I enjoyed a bottle of Prosecco whilst we cruised along with the roof rolled back and the sun on our backs.

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Our boat trip with Horning Ferry Marina

But away from the stunning boats and fancy theatres, the kids loved a day on the beach for some proper seaside fun, besides the caravan park.

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Pops and Jasmine enjoying some quality time on Hopton beach #makingmemories
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Oliver on our caravan balcony #myhavendays

Haven literally have everything covered. Their breaks are all about spending quality time with family which is exactly what we did, making memories.

If your kids demand non-stop action come rain or shine, there’s something for everyone.

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Right from the off with a very smooth and efficient check-in service with toys for the children to play with to modern accommodation, a great beach location, more activities than you could ever take part in, and friendly staff, you couldn’t want for anymore from a British seaside holiday.

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The view from just outside our caravan #myhavendays

My top tip is to remember things like tea towels, bin liners, a bath mat, dish cloth and washing up liquid. That’s the stuff I usually forget on a self-catering holiday. However there is a Spar shop on site and an Asda just down the road so you’re not far if you need to buy anything.

We love Haven holidays so much we’ve got our own caravan at Thorpe Park at Cleethorpes. It’s not as expensive as you think and the perfect way to enjoy a seaside escape whenever you want.

Although the Haven sites are very similar, we never get bored visiting a new park with plenty to explore because we know there’s always something to do with round-the-clock family fun from dawn ‘til dusk.

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One of the parks at Hopton Holiday village #myhavendays
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Haven’s Hopton Holiday Village #myhavendays

 

NEED TO KNOW….

LOCATION: Hopton on Sea,  Warren Road, Great Yarmouth. NR31 9BW

VISIT: www.haven.com

CALL: 0871 230 2679

 

 

Boat hire with Horning Ferry Marina, Norfolk

THEY SAY: Offers holiday cottages and cruisers for hire on the Norfolk Broads.

WE SAY: Look no further than Ferry Marina if you’re looking for day boat hire or a holiday on the Norfolk Broads.

No trip to Norfolk is complete without visiting the broads and the only way to experience the famous waterway is by boat.

We hired the most fabulous day cruiser from Ferry Marina whilst staying in the area during the school summer holidays and the experience was one of my children’s favourite days out.

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Lewis, 9 & Emily, 7 with the Admiral Boat

Horning Ferry Marina is situated alongside the River Bure in the heart of the Norfolk Broads and is a perfect base from which to explore Norfolk’s rivers, villages and broads.

Ferry Marina has a great range of day cruisers but also provides accommodation, from apartments to spacious new luxury cottages and holiday cruisers.

We hired the admiral day boat which was new for 2016 and holds up to 12 people.

It looks rather impressive from the outside and inside is just as fabulous with its sliding roof and sound system.

We were given a very detailed and friendly tuition before setting off on our adventure and handed a map so we could choose where to go.

There was plenty of room onboard with a large table in the centre kitchen area, seats and an electric toilet at the rear and comfortable driving seat area.

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The kids loved taking a turn at driving and in-between there was plenty of space for them to walk about and sit comfortably. Meanwhile Mum, dad and I enjoyed sharing a bottle of Prosecco as the sun shone through the open roof.

The kids also loved creating our own boat party by using the ipod docking station to play their own music.

All the day cruisers at Ferry Marina have galley, toilet and cabin and many of the boats have been built on-site by the companies craftsmen.

Pets are allowed on board and the fuel is included in the price too, plus there’s free parking.

The waterways of the Broads are safe and easy to navigate, with over 125 tranquil, lock-free miles to explore.

So much of the Broads can’t be reached by road, with hidden places, perfect fishing spots and close encounters with wildlife at every turn.

Horning itself has several riverside pubs and restaurants; and a range of shops all within walking distance of Ferry Marina.

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Mummy, with Oliver, 5 and Jasmine, 3 on a Horning Ferry Marina boat

After cruising for a day we’ve definitely got the bug and would love to spend more time on the waterways.

We passed the riverside holiday cottages which Ferry Marina hire out and saw the laid back lifestyle people were enjoying so might try one of those next time.

There’s also the holiday cruisers if you want to stay on a boat which have all the comforts of home onboard.

Afterwards we visited the Ferry Inn pub which is right next door to where we dropped the boat back off. The beer garden sits alongside the river and there’s a huge play area for the kids including a bus which has been transformed into an indoor play area.

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The beer garden at the Ferry Inn, Horning

 

Need to know…

LOCATION: Horning Ferry Marina can be reached from the popular village of Wroxham. Use postcode NR12 8PS.

PRICES: From £199 per day for the Admiral boat

CALL: 01692 631111

E-MAIL: sales@ferry-marina.co.uk

VISIT: http://www.ferry-marina.co.uk