We stayed for two nights in a standard caravan at Haven's The Orchards in Clacton-on-Sea. Read on to see what we thought…
Possibly not helped by a two-and-a-hour drive in the pelting rain on a Friday night and two kids who didn’t seem to stop arguing, we arrived a little worse for wear just after 8.20pm when it had turned dark.
When we eventually found our accommodation (it was a big park), we walked in to discover a perishingly cold caravan that smelt of stale cigarettes.
Worse still, my daughter needed a wee and there was no toilet roll, so off we went to the (overpriced) Spar shop to pick some up. Fortunately we turned up before it closed at 9pm and managed to pick some up (note toilet rolls are not supplied).
By that time, our friends arrived (we initially booked two caravans – the other for our friends). When we went to meet them at reception we were told that our bookings were not linked (I had requested them to be linked so that we could be located near each other.
The exact same thing happened to us last year where we were not next to each other, so I made sure I repeated my request at least twice when I booked). Unfortunately, my request appeared to have fallen on deaf ears and we were given accommodation a good six minutes’ walk from each other. Come on Haven! A disappointing start to what I’m hoping will be a relaxing weekend.
What worked? The TV.
What didn’t? See above. I would have thought they could have at least stuck the heating on in time for our arrival, especially as we called and actually told them when we’d be arriving. With two young kids this isn’t great.
Comfort and quality
The accommodation was clean and tidy, despite the unpleasant stale cigarette smell we were getting when we walked in. I wish I had brought my slippers (out of habit we all remove our shoes inside), as with the vinyl floors, our feet were soon cold.
There was additional bedding in the cupboards, which was great for the cold nights, but I couldn’t find a hairdryer anywhere – and I was sure my deluxe accommodation was supposed to have one.
There was a booklet left on the kitchen table, which was handy for knowing how things worked and what types of activities there were for kids. I was impressed at how spacious the living space was – and the sofa was actually really comfortable.
The beds were also comfortable and sheets were clean. A chair to go with the dressing table in the main room would have been useful, but wardrobe space was plenty for the short time we were there.
What was great? It was clean and tidy (and I’m very fussy on cleanliness).
What wasn’t? The initial smell whenever we first walked in – someone had definitely been having sneaky fags in there, but the park does need to address this – pronto.
What to do?
Offsite, there’s a nearby beach to take a long stroll on and Clacton town is a short drive away.
Onsite, the free football pitch, playground and swimming went down a treat, as did many of the activities on offer – from target shooting (£8 per child aged 10 upwards) to Nature Rockz (£4), a new activity that focuses on nature and outdoors, such as how to build a tent.
There was always some sort of activity taking place – or something for them to look forward to doing – so that was good.
In terms of evening entertainment, it wasn’t too bad – they had live bands, entertainment for kids (more suited to younger kids) and acts that included guests making a fool of themselves, which kept us entertained.
What to eat
Well, accommodation is self-catering, so you might want to bring the staples – bread, eggs, milk, cereal etc and eat breakfast in your cabin. For lunch, possibly look at going to Tesco Express outside of the holiday park – or you can pick up some rolls and ham (two packs for £3 with 8 slices) at the onsite Spar for lunch to keep costs down.
We took a drive to the Toby Carvery in Clacton (15 minute drive) where, for £4.99, we filled our plates and our bellies to keep us going until dinner.
Despite a couple of negative online reviews about the site’s restaurant, The Mash and Barrel, we decided to give it a go for dinner. We reserved a table for nine and were pleasantly surprised to turn up to see it ready and waiting.
The food on the menu was varied and had something to suit everyone, including a kids’ menu. I ordered a small plate of pasta but when it turned up, it was actually a decent size.
The same went for the kids’ plates/dishes – the sizes were really generous, so I’d definitely say it offered value for money. Staff were attentive and service was swift (we ate about 7.30pm), making for a great experience.
What worked? The onsite The Mash and Barrel restaurant for dinner, which also housed a sports bar, kept everyone happy. Maybe dine a little later as when we went to check the place out at 6pm it was heaving, so service might have been slower then.
What didn’t? The Spar offers a free paper (The Sun) with any purchase, which is a nice idea. But check your receipt – twice we were charged for the paper and had to go back to the shop to get the 70p reimbursed. If I were Haven, I would just hand a copy to customers if they fancy one. This would avoid guests getting charged.
Okay so how much?
As a barter deal I paid £79 for my two-night stay with Haven, but the full price should have been £195. I can’t justify spending £195, especially knowing that there are hotels that offer a two-night stay for less – including breakfast (and toilet rolls). Okay, the kids wouldn’t have got the choice of activities, but we could have taken the kids swimming for similar prices to what we paid for some of them.
Having said that, it was a nice break and the kids enjoyed the activities and spending loads of small change in the arcades. I always think the weather makes or breaks a holiday, and despite there being a chill in the air on this April weekend, but most of the time the sun was out, which made it more pleasant.
If you’re taking a self-catering break at any holiday parks, remember to pack the toilet roll! Other useful items included a tea towel, washing up liquid, two soaps (one for the kitchen the other for the bathroom), J-cloths, scourer, antibacterial wipes, earplugs and slippers.
Haven’s new app tells you what activities and entertainment are going on while you’re on site, plus has useful features like a park map. Great idea and worth a download.
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