Is Forest Holidays Autism Friendly?
Find out how Forest Holidays worked for us as an Autism Family
As an Autism family, it has been really stressful for us trying to find "Autism Friendly" breaks in the past. For this reason, I have decided to review any trips we make from an "Autism Family" perspective from here on in. I hope that by doing so, other Special Needs families will be able to make a thoroughly informed decision before booking their break.
Last week, we travelled to Sherwood Forest for a family break with Forest Holidays. Finding the park was straight forward. We used the SatNav on my iPhone to get there, and had no issues at all. (We did have to follow the signs rather than the sat nav for the last mile, but it was very straight forward). I had completed the check in form online, so when we arrived, it was a 2 minute job to check in at reception, which was located inside the Forest Retreat. We opted for early check in, so there was literally only one person in front of us in the queue.
Once we had our key, we drove up to our Cabin - you can park right outside. (There's space for 2 cars outside each cabin). We stayed in a 3 bedroom, Golden Oak Cabin, which could sleep up to 6 people. It was absolutely beautiful. There were 6 wooden steps up to our front door. These did get slightly slippy when it was wet, but there were bannisters on both sides, so we had no accidents.
Once you stepped inside the cabin, you had to slot your door key into a hole to switch the lights on inside. The entrance hall had a unit for storing coats, bags and plenty of footwear! The front door had a thumb turn lock; so may not be suitable for families who have "runners" amongst them.
We then went through another door, and were inside the living area. This was furnished to a high standard. There was a large L shaped sofa, plus another 2 seater sofa. The TV was attached securely to the wall, and there was a really handy Hub on the wall, which had HDMI, Dvi, component and USB power connectors. These fed straight into the TV, so you could connect your tech directly to the TV (providing you had brought the right cables). This allowed you to keep your gadgets up on a high shelf, out of reach of small hands. It also meant there were no cables trailing around!
The TV system was brilliant - we had access to Wifi, Sky Sports and Movies (You pay extra for this). It was easy to navigate between channels, and flick between inputs to access your gadgets if you wanted to. There was also a Nintendo Wii, with Wii Sports included - you had to go to reception to borrow the nunchuck and controller if you wanted to use this. You could also order food deliveries from the TV, and you found your wifi username and password there too. The wifi worked really well. We had 2 laptops, 2 iPhones and 2 iPads connected to it, and it handled downloads, uploads and streaming with ease. It disconnected a couple of times, but was brilliant by usual holiday wifi standards.
About 3 hours after we checked in, a Forest Holidays team member came to see if there was anything we needed help with. I asked if there was a DVD player anywhere (Sam is obsessed with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse). We'd brought his DVDs, but had assumed there would be a player in the cabin. She went away and returned half an hour later with a DVD player for us to borrow for the duration of our stay. She set it up for us and then checked it was working correctly before leaving. I was VERY grateful to her for this!
The kitchen / dining room was modern and well equipped. It did take us ages to find the pans though - there was a very well disguised drawer underneath the oven which the pans were all stored in! I loved the fact you could still see and talk to everyone in the living area when you were in the kitchen as it was only separated by a low wall. I liked the fact the oven had a safety option too. You had to press "OK" before it would work. There wasn't any storage in the kitchen which was out of children's reach.
All 3 bedrooms had open fronted wardrobes, a mirror and plenty of storage space for clothes. The two twin rooms had a bedside table between the two single beds. This meant you couldn't push the beds flush together. The windows in the bedrooms all had safety catches on them, so they didn't open wide. All of the windows also had Venetian blinds. I did have to tie the cords up, to keep them well out of the kids' reach as they weren't safety ones. All of the beds were very comfortable. Sleeping isn't something my children do very well, but Sydney slept for 10 hours straight every night we were away. This rarely happens at home! Sam slept about the same as he does at home, which was a miracle as he usually doesn't sleep when he's taken out of his routine. The master bedroom had a double bed, which was also really comfy.
The main bathroom had a bath with overhead shower - it was very slippy, and could have done with a bath mat really. I'll definitely take one next time we visit, as we did have a couple of scary moments during Sam's bath times. The bath tap had safety dials, so you could keep the temperature well regulated. There wasn't a great deal of storage space in the bathroom, we did have to use the window ledge to keep our razors, aerosols etc out of the kids' reach. The double room had an en suite with a shower. This was big enough for two people to get into - perfect if you need to help your child in there.
From the kitchen / diner there was a door out onto the decked area. This was fenced off securely, and the hot tub was fenced off as well. This meant the kids could play on the decking without us worrying about them getting to the hot tub. There was a BBQ point, a bird table and another table and chairs on the decked area, plus an amazing view!
Before we arrived, we had said we weren't going to let the kids in the Hot Tub (They are almost 3 and almost 4 now). The water didn't feel as hot as we'd expected though, so we decided to let them have a go. I am so glad we did - Sam was so calm. He is usually on the go all the time, but he physically relaxed and looked so happy while he was in there. He spent the next 4 days leading us out to the hot tub, requesting to get in!
The hot tub really did make this holiday perfect for us! We spent a lot of time during the day in there with the children. It was pretty cold, and rained a lot, but you don't feel the cold once you're in the water. Of an evening, Hubby and I were spending an hour in there together, once the kids were asleep. (We took the baby monitor outside with us so we'd hear the kids if they woke up). It was so nice to get some "quality time" together. We loved watching the sun set, between the trees each night. We also enjoyed watching the squirrels running around collecting nuts from the bird tables. (Make sure you put something on the bird table if you want to see some wildlife right on your decking - we had loads of birds and squirrels there)!
The Golden Oak accommodation worked really well for us as a family. The fact it was all on one level inside meant Sam could have the run of the place. He gets frustrated by baby gates, so it was nice not to need those. The underfloor heating meant there weren't any dangerous radiators to worry about either - another huge plus for us! The Wood Burning Fire was beautiful, and had a glass door, so we weren't worried about the kids being near it. Fire guards are available from reception if you do want to keep it well out of reach, though. We only used the fire once, as it wasn't really cold enough for it. The underfloor heating worked really well, so we were nice and toasty anyway.
The holiday park had 82 Cabins. They were all detached, and spaced far enough apart to be very private. Sam can be very noisy, but we were confident we didn't need to worry about upsetting our neighbours as they were so far away. The Hot Tub was on the decking. Ours was well screened on 3 sides, but 1 side was very close to a public footpath. There was a fence separating you from the path, but you could clearly be seen by passers by.
The footpaths are all gravel. Some are slightly uneven, but not too bad. There are some hills, as you'd expect within a forest setting. Once you get into the forest itself, away from the main routes, you're on dirt paths for the most part. Our BOB pushchair handled these easily, but most standard buggies would struggle. You can avoid these, but it'll mean longer routes in some instances.
The Forest Retreat was much smaller than I had expected. It contained the shop, reception, a restaurant and a lot of the activities took place here too. It was a really calm place to be, and the staff were always very keen to help. The shop itself wasn't well stocked enough to keep us fed for the duration of our break. It stocked a small range of frozen, tinned goods and packets, but there was no fresh fruit or veg available. They had a small range of alcohol, sweet treats and souvenirs too. We visited a supermarket for supplies on our second day. We didn't eat in the restaurant as eating out is very overwhelming for Sam. I loved the fact you could order food to be delivered to your cabin if you wanted to - Pizza, Curry or groceries!
I have blogged about some of the activities we enjoyed while on our trip - Feel free to check that post out HERE
In answer to my question - Is Forest Holidays Autism Friendly.... In our experience, it most definitely was.
We were provided with the break, early check in, the in cabin entertainment package and the ranger session for the purpose of this review. All words and opinions are my own.