Thanks to our UK minibreak aficionado, Georgina for this one! We went to Butlin’s three times last year. No matter how much we love it, I just couldn’t face returning so soon. Sandy Balls was a lovely alternative for a sunny weekend away with the kids, aged 4 years and 7 years, in the New Forest. We’ve been there a couple of times in the past, but always during off-peak periods with pre-school children.
What is Sandy Balls?
Sandy Balls is a holiday park in the New Forest, that has been taken over relatively recently by the ‘Away Resorts’ group. The site offers a range of accommodation, including camping pitches, caravans and lodges. These are all dotted around a central hub with leisure facilities. It’s family-friendly and pet-friendly and it’s in a lovely peaceful spot of the countryside, not too far from London.
What kind of accommodation should I book?
On our previous trips we had stayed in a lodge, and this time we decided to treat ourselves. I booked an ‘Indulgent Zen’ lodge with a hot tub, direct via the website. We had an open plan kitchen/living room, master bedroom with en suite (shower), children’s bedroom and an additional shower room.
We enjoyed having plenty of space to relax, although once we were inside the lodge with all of our belongings, the kitchen area in particular felt quite cramped. The master bedroom and en suite were large and comfortable. The children’s bedroom was tiny, which our kids found really fun, but might not suit older children who need their space.
They had twin beds and there was a ladder leading up to a third bed above. The other bathroom was right next to the children’s bedroom, and it felt like a real luxury having two separate bathrooms on this type of holiday.
Outside we had a narrow decked walkway leading up the house and our hot tub. Unfortunately our hot tub area felt very overlooked by the surrounding accommodation and we were not provided with a BBQ. With hindsight, I think that it would have been a good idea to phone the office when booking, with a view to requesting a specific lodge. We did see other lodges that appeared to have a more private hot tub, and a BBQ. Last time we stayed in a standard lodge that shared a large grassy area with a few other lodges, and our kids had really enjoyed playing out there.
What are the facilities like?
Exploring the site – we were fortunate to have lovely weather, and we spent lots of time walking and scooting round the site with the kids, which we all thoroughly enjoyed
Pool – there’s an indoor and an outdoor pool. Indoor pool slots need to be booked in advance online for a nominal charge, and they do keep to this quite strictly. If there are available spaces they are then offered at the door on a first-come first served basis. The indoor pool was adequate, but not hugely exciting. It was pretty busy, and not very warm. Fine for a quick splash around with the kids on holiday. The outdoor pool was open when we were there, and I don’t think you book slots in advance, but it is only open when the weather is good.
Gym – there is a decent gym and there are a couple of fitness classes available, all to be pre-booked online. I did a spin class one morning which was enjoyable.
Family activities – there are lots of activities on offer for all ages, and we all really enjoyed these. We did laser tag, mini archery, an alpaca walk, plus a few arts and crafts activities.
One of the craft activities involved walking out into the woodland and making mini-teepees for fairies and it was absolutely lovely. I’d recommend all of the activities that we did. There was also family entertainment in the evenings, including shows for the kids and an outdoor cinema.
Soft play – there’s a small soft play area in the activities building. It opened before the main activities started, so was great for the kids to let out some energy in the morning.
Cycling – we didn’t look into this, but you can rent bikes on site.
What’s the food like?
Cooking at the lodge – we brought supplies and disposable BBQs and cooked a few meals at the lodge. There’s also a shop on site that sells all the basics you might need.
Eating out – there are two places to eat on site. Aubrey’s is an Italian-style relaxed restaurant in the central square. We had a couple of meals there and were perfectly happy with it. The Woodside Inn serves pub food, but we didn’t eat there during our stay.
Would I recommend Sandy Balls?
We would highly recommend Sandy Balls. It felt like a smaller, simpler version of Butlin’s, in a good way. I enjoyed the fact that we weren’t on a huge, sprawling holiday site. We thoroughly enjoyed all of the family activities, and the staff were delightful. It’s in a beautiful part of the country, and I’d happily go back again soon.