Category Archives: Reviews

Review: The Hertford Theatre’s Production of Rapunzel

Despite the constant rushing, holiday planning, and over indulging, I do love December. There’s just so much on for families during the Christmas season and especially in Hertfordshire.  Rapunzel_header_for_web2

One of the things we also look forward to each year is the Hertford Theatre’s Pantomime – their wonderful musical theatre comedy production that takes place over Christmas and New Year. This was our family’s third trip to the Hertford Theatre Panto in as many years and we love the experience each time we go.

As with many of the pantomimes, the theme is usually fairy-tale in nature. It’s family-friendly (mostly) and the children can anticipate the general plot quite easily. So as a mum of two girls, we jumped at the chance to check out this year’s long-haired panto, Rapunzel.  

As with previous years, Rapunzel also didn’t disappoint. It was brought by the same team that produced “Hansel and Gretel” and last year’s “Little Red Riding Hood.” So we knew we were in for a treat.

After a drink and some free face-painting (for the kids), we were called to take our seats. The theatre itself is intimate, so a perfect setting for the pantomime interaction (boo!!…look out!) and every comfortable seat has a great view…even for the little ones.

The stage, set, and production value is also always on mark. Upon entering the theatre, you immediately appreciate the stage creative design detail and the work involved to produce such an event.  

And then the panto begins. The costumes, props, musical score and accompanying musicians were fantastic; and the performers’ voices, acting, dancing, and of course, the comedic enthusiasm were also of the highest quality. It all certainly solidifies the enjoyment of spending a Saturday night at the Hertford theatre.

So, as with every holiday season, there are many pantomimes and productions on offer; but Mumsnet Herts certainly can’t recommend the Hertford Theatre productions enough. Check it out with your family this December.

For more information or to book tickets:   

Erin Anderson tech content writer Mumsnet EditorErin Anderson is a mum-of-two and the Editor of Mumsnet Hertfordshire, Barnet, and Enfield. She is also a freelance tech growth marketer and content writer. Previous career stops include London and San Francisco-based roles at Google, GPJ, and various start-up ventures.


Review: Looking for Santa? Check out Willows Activity Farm “Santa Spectacular”

Santa's elves and children enjoying Christmas

It’s that time of year again…Christmas light switch-ons, markets full of ornaments and wreaths, the decorations, the shopping, and of course, if you have children…the obligatory visit to Santa’s Grotto.

Across the UK, families are booking their time with the white-bearded man in the red suit. In Hertfordshire alone, there are several grottos of choice; but there’s one in particular, that stands out in my mind…the Willows Activity Farm “Santa Spectacular” event. And our family of four had the opportunity to experience the ‘Spectacular’ and visit the big man, himself, last weekend.

If you’ve been to Willows before you’ll know there’s tons to do as a family and especially for the children. It’s really a fantastically fun place year-round, but I think it really comes into its own at this time of year. In addition to the Willows standard activities like the Peter Rabbit Adventure playground, the Wooly Jumpers indoor play barn, and the farmyard animals, the spectacular brings in even more festive fun for your family.

There’s a whole programme of events including everything from a Create-a-Cuddle workshop, arts and crafts, write Santa a letter (and get a reply!), a 3D Christmas film, Nativity Story, meet Mischka the Alaskan Malamute, reindeer talks, and of course the journey to Santa and receiving the coveted golden key. Only the key will unlock the wonderful choice of the Father Christmas toy shop. And there really is a lovely choice of gifts and my children certainly took their time in choosing just the right thing.

Your children will also receive their very own Elf Passport to gain stamps at each location. If they complete the stamp hunt and book, they can claim some magic reindeer dust to take home for Christmas Eve.  

So if you’re looking for a Santa experience for your family this season, you can’t get much better than Willows’ “Santa Spectacular.” It’s a great day out for all and will most certainly add to the hope and wonder of the Christmas season. 

For more information, check out the Willow’s Activity Farm website.


The Grove: A Surprisingly Fabulous Family Break

By Erin Anderson

In a wonderfully serene Hertfordshire landscape 18 miles northwest of  London sits the classically opulent, Grove Hotel. With great history, the high-living, well-heeled have been coming to the Grove for centuries; including a Queen Victoria and her week-ending aides. IMG_8754But  the once restrictive dress code is now modernly non-existent and there’s a wonderfully inclusive feel for family of all ages. Longer half-term holidays or short family breaks at the Grove are the new reality. 

Our family of four was invited to stay over this recent October half-term to experience all the Grove has on offer for families; and for a crisp, colourful, autumnal break, it didn’t disappoint.  Not sure about you, but when I was a kid I always loved staying in a hotel. Time seemed to stand still. It was something about the adventure of exploring a temporary home with possibly a pool, and maybe a lift, was fun. You could become someone else for a little while. This was clearly the case for our four and six year old children…as well as for my husband and I.

From the moment our car entered the gates of the stately grounds, our backseat daughters began giggling with anticipation. The stresses of everyday life began to fade and the stillness and excitement of what the day to come offered took over. “Is there a pool, Mummy? Will I have my own bed? Is the bathtub big, Mummy?” Well, “yes, yes, and yes!” But there is so much more.

As we arrived early, the smiling and welcoming staff offered to store our bags so we could begin our familial journey of the beautiful hotel grounds. Once we got our bearings, we went for a walk for some fresh air and the girls burned off some energy in the lovely wooded play area. You couldn’t have asked for better weather. The Grove Anouska's play area
The perfect autumn day. A little chilly, but with blue sky and the leaves in perfect hue, it all offered a wonderful backdrop to the beginning of our stay. 

After a little play and a walk, we headed to our first lunchtime culinary experience at the Glasshouse, one of the three main restaurants. At first I wasn’t sure this was a place for a four and six year old…even on their best behaviour. The setting is slightly formal, but because the staff were so warm and welcoming it felt normal to bring small children to such a lovely occasion. They were so interested in the girls and sincerely wanted our experience to be a treat. And boy a treat it was.

The dish production and detail is amazing…and to think they do this a few times a day every week. Sectioned buffet areas, overlooked by the chefs themselves, for all-you-can-eat locally sourced, freshly prepared seafood, antipastos, salads, asian stir-fry, tapas, roast dinners, curries, soups, cheeses, and our absolute favourite…the various Halloween-themed merengues, tarts, and other tantalising desserts.

The Grove Glasshouse lunchtime for family

As we meandered to our table, I looked down at my girls with their wide eyes and could tell that they checked their once-picky appetites at the door. In addition to pizza, some cheeses, and fruit salad, my girls actually ate a varied amount of vegetables. Beautifully presented and exquisitely-tasty vegetable dishes. This alone is a successful feat and warrants a return.

Of course, just when we thought they couldn’t cater any further to us or our children, the hostess stopped by our table with some “Princess packs” complete with crayons, colouring, mask-construction, and puzzles. The smiles on their little faces grew bigger and sustained, with manners in tact for the remainder of meal. A lovely, caring touch for potentially nervous parents bringing children to such a nice place.

After experiencing such wonderful delights, the reception team notified us that our room was ready. Reverting back to the excitement of a temporary home, we were eager to see our living quarters for the next day, so we ventured down to the contemporary West Wing side of the hotel. Family size room at the Grove

The family-size room is huge with included deluxe king size bed, sofa beds for the girls (or bunk beds, if you request), sizeable flat screen tv, giant bathtub, bathrobes for us and for the girls, a hamper of gifts and a thoughtfully-placed box of toys and children’s books. It was a fantastic room and had us all thinking maybe we’d stick with a duvet day instead of heading out to cycle or swim.

A walk over to the balcony overlooking the view of the grounds and golf course quickly view of the golf course from the Grove west wing family rooms
changed our minds. It was a glorious day and my cycle-loving husband and children were ready to get out and explore some trails. My four year old learned to ride a bike this past summer, so we were ready to head out on our first family ride. There’s a 1.92 mile wildlife trail and a 1.03 mile musical meander trail, but we opted for and cycle-winded our way through 4.02 miles of wooded autumnal parkland and along the serenely picturesque Grand Union Canal. Such a wonderful way to spend the heart of the afternoon. The Grove cycle trails for families

After all the exercise and fresh air, we returned our bikes, and headed back to the comfort and luxury of our family room. We all quietly laid-back on our beds and chilled-out for a bit. The girls played with their toys and books while we caught up for a short while on our phones (what else?)…This didn’t last long, though, as the girls had recharged their batteries and were ready for some swimming before dinner. 

There are two pools to explore as a family at this time of the year (three in the summertime). Something to explore on another trip, the fantastically-renovated Sequoia Spa offers a black mosaic-tiled indoor pool that caters to families with children over 12 years old. Those of us with younger kids, however, are better suited to use the smaller and more shallow indoor kids’ pool at the Anouska’s Kids Club. It was early evening and we were the only ones using the facilities which was nice. The bathwater warm pool has one section for more independent swimmers and one section for less confident children, toddlers, and babies. It was so nice having a calm little swim after cycling so much The Grove's Anouska's kid's pool
earlier in the day. Anouska’s has lovely and clean showering facilities equipped with the aromatic ESPA products, so we showered and headed back to the West Wing before dinner.

All the exercise made us collectively tired, but also nicely relaxed as we got ready for our 7pm dinner booking at the Stables. We enjoyed the room a bit more and then walked over to the Golf clubhouse where the Stables is located. Despite the abundance of our lunchtime feast, we were all starving and ready to experience our next inspired meal.

The Stables is slightly more casual dining than the Glasshouse, but equally welcoming and yummy. Once the housing of 18th century horses, it’s now a country-styled building with an atmosphere that is perfect for families. The girls were presented, once again, with packs of crayons and colouring and given a hefty choice of options on the Children’s menu. My six year old opted for the pasta and my youngest, the sturdy burger, accompanied with crispy French fries.

The main menu is simple, but detailed enough to cause some indecision. Everything sounded great. In the end, I opted for the sea bass, jerusalem artichoke puree, capers, and a side of chips. My husband followed my four year old’s choice and dug in to one of the juiciest-looking, apple smoked cheese burgers I’ve seen in a long time. Instead of starters, our sweet-toothed family chose to top-off our meal with desserts of chocolate brownies, apple galettes, fruit salad, and lemon tarts. Lovely stuff. the stables children's menu desserts chocolate brownie

After a full day of fun and food, this family was ready to finalise our day by cuddling-up on the big king size bed for a film. Needless to say, after the day we had, we only made it halfway through “Despicable Me 3” before the sirens of sleep made their calling. My eldest slept walk into her sofa bed, while my youngest stayed nestled between mummy and daddy for some shuteye.

As with the rest of our Grove experience, we all slept hard and awoke rested and rejuvenated. Unfortunately for us, it was also the end of half-term, so we couldn’t linger too long before heading back to work and school that very day. It was all worth it though.

Even though we live a short drive from the Grove and were only there for one day, the whirlwind experience felt like a long weekend break somewhere further afield. As we pulled out and back down the cascading drive, my six year old says, “Mummy, I don’t want to leave the Grove. Can we live here forever?” I’d say that’s a family break to remember.

Depending on timing, family rooms at the Grove start at £195 per night, but you can also check out the many wonderful family offers listed here                                                          

Erin Anderson tech content writer Mumsnet Editor                                                                                                                                               
Erin Anderson is a mum-of-two and the Editor of Mumsnet Hertfordshire, Barnet, and Enfield. She is also a freelance tech growth marketer and content writer. Previous career stops include London and San Francisco-based roles at Google, GPJ, and various start-up ventures.



A Super Summer Family Evening at Whipsnade’s Sunset Safari

Cheetahs, peacocks and zebras, oh my! Yes, it was that kind of evening at Whipsnade’s annual Sunset Safari…and those were just the high-flying aerial, acrobatic team feats. IMG_5120

Although there was a mild breeze, the weather was thoroughly cooperating for what is one of ZSL’s nicest family summer evening’s out. The far-reaching skies were ranging from reds, to yellows, to lavender and as the sun was setting over the Chiltern Hills you could feel the zoo come alive in ways that aren’t regularly experienced on your average day out.

It was a fantastic opportunity to go beyond the Whipsnade gates after closing time and see the zoo looking nothing like it normally does. As soon as you get past the entrance, you’re immediately drawn to the subtle music of chilled beats and the multi-coloured beanbag beds perfectly placed around the acrobatic apparatus…clearly where part of the evening’s bendy performers would amaze and delight.


Intermingled between the aerial performances, there were hula-hooping leopards and stilt-walking peacocks strutting their stuff, mariachis bringing the sounds of Mexico as well as the entrancing steel drumming man. The variation of music throughout the evening kept the parents energetically relaxed and the kids happily dancing past their usual bedtime routine.

To add to the atmosphere there was plenty of food and drink to keep you satiated and interested: Pizza, Mexican, Thai, and of course the standard of hot dogs and burgers were all on offer. This and the added bar options make for a lovely evening out.


Once fed and relaxed it was time to tour the zoo animals, after-hours. You can tour at your own pace, lookout for the zoo’s nocturnal animals, listen to talks, learn about conservation, and even pretend you’re a zoo vet for a moment.

All in all, it was a super summer sunset safari evening and one to look forward to on the calendar each year.


Sensational Spa Day at Luton Hoo Hotel

Just before Christmas I had the opportunity for some much needed personal time and pampering. In the midst of all the holiday hype, I managed to find a morning where I could indulge myself into the relaxing retreat at the Luton Hoo Hotel Spa. img_0929It’s quite a magical place that helped me escape for just a little while and recharge my batteries.

From the moment you pass the majestic hotel gates and drive through the
countryside/golf course entrance you enter into an almost fairyland-esqe world that  begins melting and leaving the stresses of everyday life behind. Seriously; The Luton Hoo grounds are beautiful.

After parking my car and wandering through the woodland trails to the elegant spa entrance I was cheerfully greeted by the reception team, given a tour of the facilities and offered a cosy, terrycloth dressing gown to begin my experience.img_0940

 I  was booked in for the customized Luton Hoo Signature Treatment, but as I arrived early, had some time to decompress and take advantage of the offered facilities.

There’s a very calming atmosphere from the locker room to the spectacular (one of the best I’ve ever seen) oak framed pool area complete with infinity pool, vitality pool, and heat therapy suite.

img_0942After a little swim and sauna, I had a some time to spare before my treatment; Naturally, I ventured upstairs to the Relaxation Room to sample some herbal teas and dried fruit snacks while entranced by the sound of soothing music and the almost-sedative inducing fish tank bubbling. I almost didn’t need the treatment, though, as I was pretty much relaxed and ready for a nap.

I’m glad I held-out for the treatment, though (as if I’d miss it). The Luton Hoo Signature treatment, with the lovely Senior Therapist,  Becky, in charge, is 80 minutes of blissful calm. An ESPA-customized treatment specifically for Luton Hoo, the ritual takes you from a cleansing footbath to Balinese massage and can be incorporated with the most warming of hot stones. The ESPA oils are personalised to your liking and smell fantastic. Needless to say the overall experience left me ultra-relaxed and ready to take on the world. I’m even considering the Luton Hoo Spa membership just so I can unwind on demand.

Click here for more information on the Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf & Spa & here for Luton Hoo Spa Membership

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The Hertford Theatre Does it Again in the Panto Department   

I always thoroughly enjoy the Hertford Theatre productions and this year’s pantomime, Little Red Riding Hood, is no different. With the intertwining fairytales of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red, the storyline keeps engaging interest for all ages.


It starts with simple Simon, the pig farmer, and his friendship with Little Red. They’re each on their own journeys with Simon searching for his lost little pigs and Red on a journey to deliver some meds to her ill grannie. The trip to grannie’s humble abode has Little Red wandering from set to colourful set meeting many full-of-life characters and most of them are the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

As with any pantomime, there’s the interjection of fun and poppy music. With a play on many pop culture ditties, the journey of tunes carries you from the recurring theme song of Friends, to Coldplay favourites, and some Mary Poppins standards. Familiar songs kept the audience toe tapping, interactively singing, and cast supportive throughout.


Which brings us to the cast…The following words come to mind: magnificent chemistry, quality acting and choreography, and superb vocals. One of the best panto lineups the Hertford Theatre’s produced.


For the two hour and twenty minute runtime, the combination of story, music, and interactivity kept my almost six-year old and me thoroughly entertained. It’s a wonderful Christmas treat for 2016 and we’re looking forward to next year’s production.

Little Red Riding Hood is running at the Hertford Theatre until 1 January so get your tickets fast:

Review: “Mrs. Armitage and the Big Wave” A Great Family Day at the Theatre

Mrs. Armitage and her faithful dog, Breakspear, are off to the seaside for a day of surfing; but what happens while they’re waiting for the big wave makes Quentin Blake’s story a sincere display of true companionship, trust, problem solving, and eternal optimism.

I recently had the privilege of experiencing the Ga Ga Theatre Company’s adaptation of this lovely story at the Abbey Theatre in St. Albans. We took the whole family to this hour-long production and it was a wonderful, interactive way of giving young children a taste for the theatre, as well as having a lovely morning together.


The entire play uses two clearly talented actors each portraying a handful of upbeat, amusing characters. Different voices and accents are used to give real variance and depth to the characters and certainly keep the audience, especially the children, interested.

The main characters endure many situations as they’re ‘waiting for the big wave;’ and with each comes the choice of either giving up or staying positive and finding a solution. These scenarios also made for some good discussion with the kids after the show.  mrs_armitage_0393

The combination of quality acting, funny lines, simple, yet clever, props, and animated, projected sketches make for a well-integrated way of interpreting Blake’s story. Well done to the Ga Ga Theatre Company for this fun production. Looking forward to your next project soon.

For more information on the Ga Ga Theatre Company and their coming productions, see the website, here:

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