A weekend away used to be a highly-anticipated event for me. I’d get my hair done (if it was needed), I’d have my nails done, I’d buy a new outfit, I’d think of all the delicious food and cocktails I was going to consume and it meant a night of just my husband and I. However, this seems like a distant memory now, we’ve not had a single night alone together since we had the gremlin! On the 14th of October, we celebrated our 3rd Wedding Anniversary (I don’t know how it’s been three years already) so we decided to book a weekend trip to one of our favourite spots – York; only this time, we had the littlest one in tow as well.
I was still excited for our trip, what with everything going off in regards to Coronavirus, it was going to be a welcome change of scenery for us all, but the last time we went on a trip with E we had a support network of my family to help us out when we needed 5 minutes. This time, it was just us and I could sense it was going to be a VERY different kind of trip.
I like to be organised, so I booked us some activities in anticipation of trying to entertain a toddler in a familiar city, but one that we haven’t been to as ‘mummy and daddy’ before. I booked us into York’s Chocolate Story, The National Railway Museum and National Trust Beningbrough Hall – that should be enough to keep us going, right? Well, it was actually, but I thought I would give you my thoughts on what I had booked and how to survive 2 nights away with a (very strong-willed) 20.5 month old.
York’s Chocolate Story
This is somewhere my husband and I have been before and we really enjoyed it. You get a history of chocolate, and how chocolate has shaped York, plus, you get to decorate a lollipop as part of the the tour (and some freebie chocolates on the way around). I thought “oh, it’s fairly quick-paced, it should keep her entertained.” HAHAHAHA. How wrong I was. Within 30 seconds of being in the first room, she got bored… The next room included a video, so that did keep her quiet and still, but not for long. There’s a room where you see how chocolate is developed and made, which is interactive, but as there was also a 4/5-year-old boy on the tour, he was asked to participate rather than E, which is a shame, because after the tour she went back to this bit and absolutely loved spinning the wheels and pulling the levers. I would say that it’s probably not the best place for a toddler as young as E, maybe when they’re around 2.5 years old, it could be better because they can focus for longer. Plus, the chocolate wasn’t allowed to be eaten on the tour like usual (that’s where my distraction tactics went down the drain) due to COVID. Would I go again? Yes, but when she’s older and can appreciate it more.
National Railway Museum
I was unsure how E was going to take to this one. The saving grace was that it’s not a guided tour and it is actually free entrance, they just ask you to donate what you can to help keep it running. Again, some of the museums usual attractions (including the miniature railway) were closed or not running due to COVID, which is a shame, but completely understandable. At first, E didn’t want to get out of the pram (if anyone knows me personally, they’ll know how strange this is for her), but as we went outside to the play area, she suddenly came alive! The play area is only small, and there isn’t much for toddlers, it’s definitely aimed at older children, but E loves to watch other kids play and she was certainly happy in there. We managed to drag her back inside and she was still happy to run around. There is a one-way system in place in the Station Hall, which makes the experience much easier to navigate at the moment. E did take some notice of the trains, but she wasn’t fascinated, but again, she’s not even 2, so I wasn’t overly shocked by that. What she did love was pushing her own pram up and down the platforms, so it kept her entertained and we were happy! The Great Hall is also a great place for kids to run around and explore, plus there’s a Mallard Train experience simulator for older kids. I saw two little boys on it and they looked like they were really enjoying it! I would 100% go here again, as it’s free there’s no pressure to feel like you’ve enjoyed it or stay for ages, but if you’ve got a train-obsessed toddler, pre-schooler, pre-teen or other half (not mine, but we did see a woman whose eyes had glazed over, whilst her boyfriend/husband excitedly took photo after photo). Even if they’re not train-obsessed, it’s a good space for them to run around and burn some energy, even with the one-way system in place!
National Trust Beningbrough Hall
We’re National Trust members, so, for us, this was also a free trip out. If you’re not a member Adults are £10pp entry and children over 5 are £5pp, and they do Family Tickets too, but it is quite an expensive day if you’re not a member.
We didn’t go in the Hall itself, because 1) we had the big pram and 2) E has been in a very unruly mood if she isn’t getting what she wants and we decided it just wasn’t worth the hassle. The walled kitchen garden was nice to walk through and E was fascinated by the pumpkins growing; however, I imagine it would be a little nicer in summer as more things would be flourishing. We walked around some of the grounds and E was excited to see the “moo-moos”. There’s a woodland playground for children of all ages and we spent the most time in here. It did get quite busy, but everyone maintained social distancing, so we felt safe the entire time. There were swings, slides, a pirate ship, a little house, climbing frames and dens to build, so you could spend AGES here if you’ve got children of varying ages, because there’s so much choice.
There’s plenty of grounds to walk around, which we might’ve done if we had the carrier and our legs weren’t exhausted from 30,000 steps the day before. Other than this, there wasn’t much to entertain a toddler. We were going to go for a coffee, but 1) E started kicking off because she was tired and 2) it was £3.50 for a sausage roll, which to the Northerner in me, is bloody extortionate!
All-in-all, if you’re a NT member, it’s a decent place to spend a few hours whether you’ve got miniature people with you or not, but I’m not sure I’d pay the full price to go.
The Hotel – Premier Inn
When we’ve previously stopped in York, we try to stop in independent guest houses and do our bit for the local economy. However, things change with a toddler, and when you co-sleep the draw of a family room with a king-sized bed is much more appealing, even if the room is a little tired and boring. It was clean, it was (mostly) comfortable and it felt safe. The staff were friendly and we didn’t feel out of place with a child. Did I miss the nice-ness of a guest house? Yes. Was it easier to go to a Premier Inn with a toddler? 100%!
We obviously had to eat out whilst we were there. For breakfast one morning we had a Greggs bacon sandwich and a coffee (we were in a rush, don’t judge) and the other morning we had the breakfast at the Premier Inn. It was no longer buffet style, which made it feel nicer and E’s breakfast was free. Couldn’t ask for more.
On Friday evening, we ate at Turtle Bay. It was slightly bizarre as due to the 10pm curfew, there were people drinking at 4:30pm when we got there, and then us in the corner with a screaming toddler. E was in her element, she was dancing on the booth and was given crayons and a book to colour in. Ideal. She didn’t enjoy the Mac’n’Cheese we got for her, and, if I’m honest, it did not smell appetising either. She did manage to eat 3 of my BBQ ribs and some chips, washed down with orange juice and some ice cream. Not her usual tea, but she was on holiday. Child-friendly rating: 8/10.
Saturday we had dinner (lunch to the southerners reading this) at Bill’s. I always feel comfortable with a child at Bill’s; the staff are always friendly and I never feel judged. The children’s menu was much more E-friendly and she had fish fingers, chips and peas. There was a problem with my husband’s meal, but that was quickly rectified and reflected in the receipt. Child-friendly rating: 9/10 (she was given a little glass for her drink, but a plastic cup for children would be better).
For tea (dinner to southerners), we went to the Dormouse Inn, which is part of the Vintage Inns chain. It was just next to the hotel and we could book online 20 minutes before going to eat, which was handy. Again a great children’s menu, but the only drink offering was a Fruit Shoot, which I don’t give to E. We managed to get her some cordial, but this isn’t advertised on the children’s menu and I think it should be. She enjoyed her pizza and it was a really decent size and quality for a kid’s portion, so we were more than happy. Especially as it was only around £6. We felt less comfortable here and we could hear people tutting when E was getting giddy and squealing. Unfair as it wasn’t even late! Child-friendly rating: 7/10.
We really enjoyed our little family break, but we didn’t really feel rested when we got home. A weekend away with a toddler is (obviously) a lot different to one pre-children. Would I do it again? Without a doubt. Do I now need a weekend away sans-toddler to recover? 100%.