Santa at The Shandon; Giving Time and Memories

I know before I start to type that keeping this short and sweet is not really an option.

If you want it in a nutshell, here it is.  The Magical Winter Wonderland Experience at The Shandon Hotel and Spa is indeed a wonderful, wintery and magical experience.  From the moment you arrive until check out, it’s Festive Fun for everyone.

For us, it was a perfect family Christmas calm in the midst of all the madness of December.

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The Shandon Hotel and Spa outside Dunfanaghy

We booked this after a few friends recommended it last year.  Now, we’re big fans and regular enough frequenters of The Shandon, but we’ve never stayed with the girls before. 

We wanted somewhere this year where we could switch off, relax and fully enjoy a hustle or queue free Santa visit.  I also wanted to be warm while we waited for Santa and as it turned out, with all the flus and sniffles in our house over the past few weeks, this was a good Mammy-call.  There was no queueing or standing around freezing your tootsies off…Santa comes to your room at a prelocated time… perfection. 

We arrived at 4pm.  The receptionist checked us in but also made a fuss about telling the girls about the Elf that was missing in the hotel.  Excitement levels started to mount as the girls realised we were on a “sleepover!” 

We were delighted to be put into one of their Master Suites, on the 5th floor overlooking the bay.  These suites are huge and bright and new.  The bathroom was stunning with a jacuzzi bath at the window. (We didn’t get a chance to use this, but we shall be back!)

We got changed from our winter woolies (we’d just watched Daddy jumping into the River Swilly at The Polar Plunge in Rathmullen!) and went down to the bar for barfood. 

The food never disappoints.  I opted for a steak sandwich instead of my usual seafood platter and Himself had the steak burger.  The girls had pizza and nuggets and chips and all plates were cleared quickly. Not having to drive, we were able to have a drink with our dinner too, something which never happens when we’re out and about with the kids. 

At 6pm we headed down to the Winter Wonderland. It was so beautiful. Trees and bears and penguins and lights and ALL the pretty you can imagine, carefully created and perfectly pulled off.  Narnia was particularly impressive. Who doesn’t love a 6 foot polar bear eh?

Upstairs, Mrs Claus was awaiting with juice and cookies for the kids.  There were crayons and pictures and fairy wishes and Santa letters and a post box… lots to do and see.  Then Mrs Claus and her elf called all the kids over to her sofa for storytime. There was a collective wave and sigh by the parents as we all sat back to watch Mrs C entertain our minions!  There was even a glass of wine for the parents if you wanted one.  

Mrs Claus was fantastic; in character from the second we arrived, fully engaged with every single child and superb in her ability to entertain.  She took them all on a Polar Bear Hunt and every single child was captivated by her. (The Director in me would cast her in the morning! Bravo!)

After a photograph with her, we toddled up “to bed”.  Pjs went on and we all snuggled up on our bed to watch Arthur Christmas.  At 7.30pm, a knock came to the door and there he was; the main man himself; Santa! 

And not just ANY Santa.  This was without a doubt THE REAL SANTA.  He knew their names and everything! “Don’t be hiding Princess” and “My my Mini-Me! You are getting tall!” had their jaws dropping.  Also, he was able to tell them about how when their Daddy was wee and he had to wait for him to go to sleep before he could deliver his presents.  AMAZING! 

He spent 10 full minutes talking to them and listening to them and laughing with them.  Oh what a joy this was to witness. He sang Jingle Bells along with them and gave them their gifts before saying goodbye.   The gifts were excellent too; arts and craft stuff.  

Santa was just wonderful and gave one thing that no other Santa we’ve ever seen gave; time. 

The girls weren’t rushed or hurried and it was genuinely the most enjoyable ten minutes. Watching their wee faces as he told them tales about their Daddy was priceless. 

Well after that, there was no sleeping, so off we went back downstairs in the jammies. (them, not us. We’re not that bad!)   We had hot chocolate and dessert. Apparently the chocolate brownie was incredible. I didn’t taste it as I was tucking in to my Christmas pudding… boozy bliss I tell you.  And of course it was accompanied by a wee Baileys to officially kick off Christmas. Would have been rude not to. 

The hotel was filled with families of all ages and the atmosphere was electric.  The foyer was a forest of happy kids playing with their Santa gifts and happy parents smiling and talking as we headed up to our room.  

We eventually got everyone tucked in; I’m not sure how really as the excitement levels were immense by bedtime.  (Comfiest beds in the world by the way.)

Breakfast next morning was, as always, superb.  I always love how the bacon is properly cooked. There’s nothing worse that pink rubbery slices!  There is nothing you can’t have for breakfast here. Smoked Salmon, cheese, porridge, full Irish, cereals, smoothies and of course the pancake machine! 

We didn’t use the pool simply because our youngest has been a bit fluey all week, but we chilled out before having (one last) milk and cookies in the bar. 

Carolynne and Gert and and their team have made Christmas so magical here.  The receptionists, the elf helping Mrs C, Santa, Gary and his team in the bar, the breakfast team and waiting staff – all professional and smiling and brilliant at their jobs, we can’t praise you all enough. 

December is a manic month in our house.  We’ve always squeezed a Santa visit into the midst of the chaos, and while we always enjoy it, this year was different.  We stopped. We switched off and we spent 24 hours with our girls. We were relaxed and it was truly magical and we’ve both come home a bit more relaxed and ready for the final few days of the year. 

And the girls got to MEET SANTA, not just see him. 

I know that the weekends are fully booked, but there is still limited availability for midweek.  They’re also hosting Sunday lunch with Santa so check that out. 

I’ll let you all know once it goes on sale for 2020, (but not until after I’ve booked our room first!)

Carolynne and team, take a bow. 

You’ve created something magical and helped us to create magical memories. 

See you soon!

Mammy x

 

*reviewing because I want to.  I’m nice like that. You make me smile with your business, I’ll make it mine to tell everyone! 

The Unspoken Reality of (most) Hotel Stays with Kids.

‘Let’s stay in a hotel’ they said.

‘Let us pack up our minions and go on an adventure and stay in a lovely family room in a hotel.  It shall be fun!’ they said.

Forgetting momentarily that

  1. Most “Family rooms” are simply big rooms with two beds.

  2. Children do not automatically behave themselves when in hotels.

  3. Scolding and voices must be conrolled by Mammy and Daddy as whatever frowning might be done at the chaos caused by minions, more frowning will be done if Mammy or Daddy use their usual shouty voice.

  4. Children, regardless of being up since 5am and walking the entirity of Dublin zoo after a 3 hour drive, shall NOT be “so knackered that they’ll conk out straight away” (Me. This was MY fuckwittery. Not Him’s in fairness.)

  5. Children who are used to their own rooms, will either complain incessently about the sibling being “on their side” or cackle incessently together, or both at the same time, for no apparent reason other than to drive Mammy and Daddy up the bathroom wall…

  6. Because the bathroom is where Mammy and Daddy invariably end up EVERY SODDING TIME WE STAY IN A HOTEL with the kids.  Daddy lies in his clothes, in the empty bath, with his phone, Mammy on a cushion of towels with a glass of grapes and, quite often, a book.  Professionals I tell you!      *We learned after the first time to treat ourselves to a nice, full, cold drink at the bar before going up to do the bedtime dance, because there’s not much to do in a bathroom while awaiting your feral one’s to concede to the long overdue sleep in the bedroom, is there?

  7. After 45 minutes of complaining and cackling simultaneously, with random hisses of “Go to sleep!” and “If I have to come into that room” from OUR side of the bathroom door, children will eventually have to be placed by Daddy into separate beds.  After a few minutes, they will go to sleep, usually lying horizontally across the pillows, leaving Mammy and Daddy to wonder where the hell they are going to sleep, not that they can finally remove themselves from the bathroom.

  8. Parents will debate whether to poke the bear…as in try to replace small child into the bed beside her sister, risking said child wakening again… or to simply climb into a bed each, beside the horizontal sleeping feckin cherubs.

  9. Parents will not poke the bear…figuratively, physically, metaphorically or other.

  10. All members of the family shall be asleep by 8.45pm, with both parents sporadically wakening throughout the night to check that miniest minion has not fallen out of the 8 foot high bed, or indeed wet it, just for the craic.

 

Don’t forget to follow me on all my Social Media Platforms.

Mammy

Beech Hill Country House – a Review Peace & Tranquility on the Edge of the City

We recently had the pleasure of being invited to spend Easter Weekend at Beech Hill Country House, just outside Derry.

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The beautiful Beech Hill Country House

Nestled in the hillside of Ardmore, Beech Hill is a hidden haven of peace and tranquillity, despite being only a stone’s throw from the main Derry to Belfast road.  It is quite literally on the cusp of the city and only a 20 minute drive from our home.

Recently taken over by Sam Harding, Barry Kemp and Adam Kemp, the new owners of country house have vowed to turn it into Northern Ireland’s best four-star hotel.

The 32-acre estate has a rich history which is beautifully catalogued and shown both inside the hotel and on plaques throughout the forests; it was taken over by US Marines during WWII as a base for soldiers, before being transformed into a hotel in 1989.

What is a grand and stately building, filled with history and character, is being gently moulded into a modern hotel to compete with any of its contemporaries.  The natural beauty of the grounds combined with the quaint decor is indeed stately and classic, and yet the restaurant and bedrooms are modern and fresh.     What is also traditional and classic, is the staff and how they interact with the guest; polite, helpful and professional.

We brought the two girls along for a family switch-off and catch-up weekend!

Check in was easy and friendly.  Our family room brought us on a trek through the many little corridors and rooms, all well signposted and filled with history and photographs.  A lift brought us to the first floor and then a small flight of stairs brought us to the room.  If you had a buggy however, there is plenty space to safely leave it if you don’t want to carry it to the room.

The family room was huge!  A massive double bed, with a single bed and a fold-out bed for the toddler, these beds were incredibly comfortable.  There was a sofa and resting chairs in front of the TV and lots of space for a family of 4. 

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The bathroom, gleamingly clean, had a bath which is so essential when travelling with kiddies.

The forests provided a beautiful playground for the four of us.  We spent over two hours running and playing on the grounds before dinner and another hour on Sunday morning in a completely different part of the forest.

We had booked dinner for 6.30pm.  The restaurant is bright and has gorgeous views over the little lake and gardens.  Again, the staff were incredibly pleasant and efficient.

The food was beautiful.  I had mussels to start; a subtle portion as opposed to the unnecessarily huge bowl that is so often served.  I then had pork belly, which was served with a perfect balance of flavours and again, was a perfect size.  Himself had a meat terrine to start, and then the steak, perfectly cooked and seasoned.  Both were served with potato and veg.   Dessert was sorbet for Him and a cheeseboard (yes, as usual) for me.  It didn’t disappoint.

I was particularly impressed by the kids’ menu and the freshness of the food served to them.  No beige frozen or processed food for the kiddies at Beech Hill.  The chicken tenders were obviously freshly battered in breadcrumbs and the burger would have been acceptable on any adult menu!  The hand-cut chips still had skin and the girls devoured their meals.

I would love to see some crayons and colours for kids next time we visit.  In fairness, we managed over two hours with the girls, with no crayons or books or screens! They were quite happy to sit and chat and eat with us.  Mini-Me loved feeling grown up when her food was served on proper plates, the same as ours.

They were full of stories from the forest and were so suspiciously well behaved that we even ventured into the gorgeous bar for a drink before bed.  Special shout out to Aaron, the lovely barman who really knew his stuff.  He was able to recommend a beer to Himself and proceeded to explain the difference between different types of draft.  When I asked for an Espresso Martini, he asked if I’d like it bitter or sweet and was able to tell me the history of where the instapopular cocktail originated.

My favourite meal as always was breakfast; I get very excited about breakfast!

I love the selection and variety of fruit and cereal and baked treats, but what particularly excites me is when there is a menu and someone brings you a lovely plate of cooked joy!  I am not a fan of having to plate up and serve myself.  Maybe it comes from working as a waitress for many years, but when I am out for any meal, I truly appreciate it being brought to me at the table. This is unusual in hotels nowadays, but a definite tick in my book.

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We had the most relaxed 24 hours.  And to only have to drive a short distance to find such a beautiful escape, means that we will certainly be back.  Beech Hill House is wonderful for a family switch-off.  The TV in the room didn’t get switched on and the girls were so happy exploring the forests and the corridors.

It would also be perfect for a romantic sneakaway or a girly break.  I’m looking forward to visiting again many times and to seeing how the new owners develop and grow this beautiful estate.

 

Mammy and her family were invited to review the hotel.  As always however, Mammy was under no obligation to write anything, maintains her honesty and all views and comments are my own.