We’ve spent the summer with Real Family Holidays and we’re now passionate advocates of these family breaks with a difference.
The truth is, though, that as much as we know we’ll be booking again, these trips aren’t for everyone. Here’s a few reasons you’d be best to avoid them.
1. If you can’t bear the thought of sleeping in a bunk bed.
Your room at Real Family Holidays (RFH) really is just a place to lay your head. The rooms are clean and basic with no bells and whistles.
In term-time the centres are used for school residentials and when you see your room, if you ever went on a trip like that in your childhood, it’ll definitely spark some memories. You may even get the odd bit of graffiti on the bottom of the top bunk, but, if you’re a glass half full type you could see it as a kind of sweet, slightly nostalgic bonus! We were treated to an etched stick man and the words ‘I can see clearly now the rain has gone’. It was like waking up to one of those uplifting Facebook Gifs without having to switch my phone on.
In all seriousness though, whilst I am sure few adults wouldn’t prefer a luxurious king-size, this holiday is about fun, family adventure. Real Family Holidays marketing says it’s like camping but less hassle and that’s a pretty perfect description. On campsites there’s a camaraderie you rarely get in a hotel and that’s what you get with RFH. Though with RFH you also get all your meals served up and in some locations can even get your laundry done for a fiver!
If you’ve ever been backpacking in hostels, as I did in younger years in Australia and New Zealand, it’s a very similar kind of feel. Your room includes simply what you need and not a lot on top. Though you may also have an absolutely cracking view.
2. If shared living areas and (possibly) bathrooms are not for you.
Some RFH rooms are en-suite or may have a sink in the room, but many are just four walls, enough beds for your family, somewhere to hang your clothes and perhaps a desk. The showers and toilets are usually not far away and although shared they’re kept clean and there’s usually plentiful, avoiding any necessity to queue. If you’re a bit finicky, as with any similar environment, a pair of clean indoor only flip flops is a useful thing to have – you could even wear them in the shower if you wanted.
The communal living and recreation rooms will have various little extras depending on where you’re staying. Table football or a pool table in some cases. Even a TV or games console perhaps. With tea and coffee and squash always available, the outdoor and indoor areas provide somewhere comfy and often picturesque to sit. The enclosed garden at the RFH centre in Start Bay, Devon was one of our favourite things about it, as was the impressive sun deck at RFH Dale Fort.
You’ll find your children gain instant playmates and you’ll have adults available to chat with if you wish or somewhere to read a book or even catch up on a bit of work should you have to. While WiFi is available, many of the centres are remote and intended as a getaway, the connection can be a little temperamental.
3. If you can’t see the attraction of the great outdoors (though these trips may just change your mind).
You’ll find a pair of flat, sturdy shoes a must for a RFH trip, and a waterproof jacket and a small backpack are wise investments too.
Whether you’re on the Devon coast at Slapton Ley, on a Welsh headland at Dale Fort, in Pembrokeshire, or at Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales, a major attraction of RFH is their environments. We’re talking picture postcard stuff. Incredible unspoilt beaches, nature reserves, lakes and rolling countryside. In ideal weather it’s of course even easier to enjoy, but you’ll definitely get the most out of it if you’re willing to throw on a coat, pull up your hood and still get out and about if conditions aren’t perfect.
You don’t have to be an avid birdwatcher or nature buff to be delighted by seeing a gannet plunge into the sea, a glow-worm sparkling at night or dozens of bats emerging from their roost and these are the kinds of opportunities you’ll have.
If the thought of being enveloped within that kind of setting lights you up, this is for you and if you’ve never tried anything like that before, this is the perfect chance for a stress-free, civilised introduction to it. What is there to lose? You may just surprise yourself.
4. If home cooked pub grub kind of food isn’t for you.
The meals on offer at RFH are generally simple, family favourites such as lasagne, cottage pie and, perhaps once a week, something like pizza. They’re nutritious, but kid friendly. There are always a few options and you’ll be amazed by how accommodating the catering staff are, always willing to find an even more simple alternative such as a jacket potato or plain pasta for a faddy eater.
Everything you need for a packed lunch of a sandwich or wrap, perhaps with pasta or potato salad, plus a fruit selection and homemade cake, is provided every morning for you to make a packed lunch to take out with you.
The breakfast offering can vary slightly but a full English is provided every day at many locations.
If you’re dieting, prepare to test your willpower – homemade cake is available with the lunch offer and more arrives mid-afternoon for you to enjoy if you’ve stayed close to base.
At every meal, there’s plenty to eat and with the £30 per person per night price tag being so affordable, if you fancy shaking it up bit, you can always decide to splash out and treat yourself to a meal out (just let the catering staff know if you can, as, being backed by the Field Studies Council, RFH is keen always to be as environmentally aware as possible and avoid waste).
5. If the thought of remote locations gives you the shivers.
Whilst RFH settings are often relatively close to a whole variety of attractions, you’ll find they are usually a bit off the beaten track. Civilisation (certainly anything more than a small village) may be a short drive away.
At coastal locations the nearest beaches may have an ice cream van if you’re lucky and there will perhaps be a village shop within walking distance but amusement arcades and high streets are likely to be a little further afield.
The included activities such as rockpooling and den building mean the kids, and you, remain entertained by what’s around you and you all get a chance to learn something about it too. The activities also give you ideas of low cost, environmentally based things to do in future. If you’re still unsure, just imagine days on end with no whining for expensive snacks, tat or theme park entry tickets! If those things aren’t under the kids’ noses they tend not to even think about them.
See also, our review of RFH Start Bay, in Devon: Our first Real Family Holidays experience ended in tears…but we’ll still be going back