IT’S not always easy to find a holiday that suits everyone in our family of five, but could it be that this time we have cracked it?
A theme park awaits at our first campsite, Duinrell at Wassenaar in the Netherlands, while Disneyland Paris is just an hour’s drive away from our second base, Berny Rivière, in the Aisne valley region of France, both of which should tick all the boxes for our ten-year-old son Daniel, his eight-year-old brother Joseph and their five-year-old sister Hope. Their mum and I are more easily pleased – cold wine and warm weather generally do the trick.
First though we must navigate a dreary five-hour drive from Edinburgh to Hull (“No we are not ‘nearly there yet’, we are on the City Bypass”), before boarding P&O’s overnight ferry to Rotterdam. “The boat’s bigger than I expected, and the cabin’s smaller,” says Daniel on arrival. He has a point, but we don’t spend much time in our quarters anyway – not when dining options include an all-you-can-eat-buffet, as well as children’s entertainment in the form of a Treasure Island show (audience participation required – hence yours truly playing a particularly unconvincing pirate).
We retire for the night to comfy bunks and are asleep in no time. The crossing is serene and we wake in the morning revived and refreshed, peering through the portholes as the ship cruises into the huge Dutch harbour – and torrential rain. Undaunted, we disembark and drive the 25 miles to Duinrell and are shown to our three-bedroom mobile home.
We unpack quickly, and head off to explore our surroundings. Hundreds of mobile homes occupy the pristine woodland setting and hiring pedal-powered go-karts or bikes is a good way to get around the vast site. A couple of restaurants and a takeway outlet are found at the Plaza, which also has a supermarket and a theatre for nighttime entertainment – if you’re not too tired after a day of thrills at the on-site theme park, which has free entry for guests, and dozens of rides, rollercoasters and amusements for children of all ages.
That evening, however, we head to the tropical Tiki Pool waterslide complex, Europe’s largest apparently, where heavy petting, far from being prohibited, appears compulsory among the hundreds of preening teens. Not that our children care – they are too busy having the time of their lives floating down the Lazy River, splashing in the Wave Pool or careering down the Tyfoon tube.
The next day the weather relents and we join the queues at the theme park rides. Joe waits for ages to go on a towering, terrifying Aqua Shute, which we somehow contrive to miss filming on our camcorder. Other high-octane rides such as the Dragonfly rollercoaster and Mad Mill are too daunting, but they adore the ferris wheel, House of Shadows (like being in a giant camera, with your ghostly silhouette appearing on the walls when the flash goes off), bumper boats and outdoor trampolines most of all.
Eventually they are cajoled into going on the wet and wild Splash ride and, despite initial squeals of protest, love every second of it. At night we head to the Plaza for pizza and a packed live production of Dirty Dancing performed by energetic campsite reps – in Dutch. I think it lost a little something in translation.
In the morning the rain returns and the Tiki Pool is thronged with younger infants, the heavy petting replaced by heavy nappies. We walk to the picturesque town of Wassenaar and have lunch at Bagel Alley before buying burgers, sausages and marinated meat for a barbecue back at our mobile home in the evening – once the showers ease off – followed by late-night trampolining.
For a change of scene the next day we visit the historic university town of Leiden, then the pristine beach at Scheveningen, where we build endless sandcastles and, in my case, get grotesquely sunburnt when lilywhite skin is at last exposed to UV rays for a few uninterrupted hours. Stage two of the holiday begins as we pack up and hit the autoroute, driving through blue skies in Belgium and arriving at Berny Rivière about five hours later.
The site is sensational. For some reason I thought it would be little more than a holding pen for Disneyland Paris tourists, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact it’s a glorious, sprawling rural idyll based around three lakes (one with a man-made beach which is perfect for children) and featuring play parks, a pool complex, restaurants, shop and bakery. Our mobile home is tucked away in a quiet garden location and we could happily have spent our whole holiday on the parc, but with Mickey Mouse et al just an hour along the road it seems churlish not to visit the Magic Kingdom, so we do – twice.
Of course, the children love it: Daniel celebrates his tenth birthday there which makes it extra special, Joe is blown away by the Toy Story rides and Hope is ecstatic to meet various princesses. But they find feeding the ducks at the Berny Rivière lakes just as much fun, and have a ball at the free Canvas kids’ clubs – especially when they have sports in the morning, detectives in the afternoon and a chocolate party in the evening.
That leaves me and my wife free to dine à deux for the first time in months. The remaining days are spent pottering in pedalos, fishing unsuccessfully for our supper, soaking up the sun when the clouds clear – and generally having fun family time together.
• During the Scottish school summer holidays, one week in a Select (three-bed) Premium mobile home at Duinrell with Canvas Holidays, including a midweek, off-peak ferry crossing from Dover to Calais, starts at £1,099 per family. One week at Berny Rivière in a Select (three-bed) mobile home with decking and including ferry crossings starts at £1,134 per family. For more information phone 0845 268 0827 or visit www.canvasholidays.co.uk.