In partnership with Alton Towers Resort
Our family love camping. It's WAY more flexible than staying in a hotel - which, as we've explored here on the blog several times before, rarely caters well for the sleeping arrangement of a family of four. Additionally, when camping the boys can go to bed before us, allowing a 'grown-up' hour or two to sit quietly under the night-sky and chat. In a hotel room, it's a collective lights off at 9pm for all four of us... we have tried staying up with a tiny glass tumbler of wine after the boys go to sleep but we just end up with an uninvited audience. Yep - camping beats a family hotel room almost every time.
But, I have a few issues with camping - in particular with a tent. For starters, a tent offers absolutely no security from theft, I mean, you just have to leave all your best stuff at home, don't you. Also, a tent isn't weather proof - when it's windy or, heaven forbid, raining, we're going to lose sleep and probably get our socks wet too. Also, and this is the biggie, a tent has to be taken down, rolled up and stuffed into an impossibly tiny bag, first thing in the morning, usually in the rain. It's a very undignified check-out.
Ok, enough tent-shade for now. The reason I'm taking down the humble tent (if you'll pardon the pun) is because we recently had a taste of glamping.
Alton Towers Resort is the UK's most incredible and enormous theme park (I've just made that up, by the way - apologies if there's a more enormous one). Anyway, Alton Towers Resort invited us, along with 30 other families to put their new 'Stargazing Pods' to the test. Very excited by the prospect of camping beneath a solid roof, last weekend we became the pods' first ever guests in one of 102 brand new, wooden Stargazing Pods. Here's how we got on!
The Stargazing Pod Site
The site is located around a mile from the main theme park entrance, just past the hotels. The Stargazing Pod site has its own carpark and reception building. The site itself is beautifully landscaped with lawns and dotted with sapling trees, rockeries and pebbled paths. Each pod is around 10-15 feet from its neighbour so they feel nicely spaced-out. There's a playground for little'uns and there are telescopes for stargazing. Sounds pretty, eh? It really is very pleasant.
The site is on a slight incline/hill, which gives it a distinctly rural feel; for instance, from our pod we couldn't see any cars, big buildings or rollercoasters - just trees and other pods.
Tom loves trees and gardening - he mentioned the site will look really fantastic once the trees have settled in and matured. In fact, there are more than 16 native varieties around the Stargazing field including field maple, silver birch, common hornbeam, hazel, hawthorn, holly, wild cherry, blackthorn (sloe), English oak, dog rose, willow and mountain ash.
I already mentioned the reception building - from there you'll check-in and grab your 'breakfast on the go' in the morning. There's a modern toilet/shower building, designed to compliment the style of the pods.
In the far corner of the Stargazing Pods site, a large teepee hosts an evening bar and entertainment venue, complete with picnic tables, bunting, warm, tartan throws and festival-style street food. It feels like you're at an authentic little festival in the countryside. Very nice indeed!
The Stargazing Pods
Stargazing pod 851 was our overnight home. The boys called our pod 'Poddy' (totally unoriginal but my suggestion was 'The Gayz', as in short for Stargazers and was overruled).
At first glance, we weren't sure how we'd all fit into our Stargazing pod but its layout was rather ingenious. Just through the front door (lockable, I might add) there's a twin section containing two single beds and then through a wooden partition there's a double bed, sideways oriented to provide just enough length for two 6ft tall dads.
The pods are heated by a radiator and well insulated so even on a chilly night (it was about 3°c during the night we stayed over) the pods are lovely and warm inside. There's power sockets in the double bed section including a convenient USB power output.
The beds are topped with a comfy mattress, each with a bedding-pack including a soft white duvet and soft pillows.
How did we sleep? Well - in a word, well!
You get a very cosy feeling when sleeping in such close proximity with your children and so close to nature; it's a bit like the feeling you get inside a warm car when it's tipping down with rain outside. After a busy afternoon in the Alton Towers waterpark and then the evening entertainment at the press launch for the pods we slept very comfortably. Look at Richard's happy face in the morning!
One quick word of advice - make sure your kids go to the toilet before going to bed if you're staying in a Stargazing pod... it's a chilly, dark walk to the facilities in the middle of the night (even though the bathroom block is well-lit and heated when you get there!).
This is an impartial review, so we should probably point out there were a couple of very minor (Tom called them first world) issues. Firstly, we forgot to bring a torch which meant getting up in the night to go to the toilet was a bit of a pain. Switching on the lights in the pod will wake the kids so take a torch with you.
Also, you'll need your own shampoo and shower gel. When you visit the Stargazing Pods, prepare for camping without the tent - you'll need a torch, toiletries and supplies.
Ok I know what you're all thinking. The Stargazing pods at Alton Towers obviously cost an arm and a leg, right?
Nope! They're priced from £88 per pod which includes breakfast, parking, a round of golf at the Alton Towers 'Extraordinary Golf', evening entertainment and WIFI.
Book your stay in a Stargazing Pod at Alton Towers Resort here: https://www.altontowers.com/short-breaks/stargazing-pods/
There are loads of options, for instance you can include a day in the theme park, a trip to the water park (highly recommended/very wet) or if you're feeling really brave there's also a Tree Top Quest that looks AMAZING! We'll definitely be reviewing that when the boys are big enough!
Here's some pics from our stay. But before you look at those, a quick disclaimer. Alton Towers Resort invited us to try out the Stargazing Pods free of charge in return for our impartial review. A HUGE thanks to the PR Team at Alton Towers for inviting us along.