This time last year we enjoyed a long weekend break in the Forest Holidays site in the Forest of Dean. We couldn't fault it and were hopeful to book again this year. The only problem was that Mr. TheBoyandMe had to check he could take holiday on those days before we booked, and 24 hours later there were no lodges left. Gah!
Then I remembered somewhere similar, that I'd wanted to visit since it had opened in Summer 2008:
"Set in the heart of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Bluestone is an all year, all weather, 5 star short break destination. With luxury lodges set around a traditional Celtic village, there are activities to suit everyone, from the adrenaline-fuelled, to those in search of a relaxing experience."
'Marvellous' thought I! That is just what we need and so I booked a Caldey lodge a fortnight before we were due to go.
Three days later, The Boy caught a terrible stomach bug which he then decided to share around the entire family. This meant that by the time our weekend away came around, we were absolutely desperately in need of the tender-loving care of the five-star resort.
A conversation with a colleague, in which she divulged that she was also visiting Bluestone that weekend, enlightened me to the fact that I could probably upgrade to a Ramsey lodge for an additional £10 (special promotion), and when I checked this with the lovely folk who operate the twitter account, this was confirmed. A quick phonecall and we upgraded, and also found out that they were able to fit stairgates top and bottom of the staircase, free of charge. All of this excellent service gave me such a good feeling about our stay.
We arrived and checked in through a 'drive-through' system. As Bluestone is a no-car resort we were allowed to take the car down to the lodge to unload (and would then need to return it for the weekend to the long-stay car park), and meandered down through the 'village' and resort to our lake-side cabin. I was a little surprised at how much closer the cabins than I had thought. There aren't many aerial or distance shots of the resort on the website, so I had an impression from the television advert which is a little deceptive.
Photos taken from inside showing the proximity of other lodges.
The Ramsey lodge is based around 'upside-down living' which means the bedrooms and bathrooms are downstairs, the living and kitchen area upstairs, allowing for good views over the area. I was pleased with the decoration and facilities of the lodge.
The following is a panoramic shot of the living area, so beware the 'bend' halfway across the shot.
I've lightened these shots quite a lot because the lodges rely on natural light, and low wattage energy saving lightbulbs to provide illumination. Generally not a problem at all, and it encompasses the environmental awareness that Bluestone promotes with its recycling bins provided in the kitchen.
On the surface of everything, it all looked great and I was pleased. And then I went to take The Boy to the toilet in his en-suite. It was filthy and the bowl was covered in faeces. Either housekeeping had ignored it or not checked. Either way, it made me query the level of cleanliness throughout the rest of the property. While The Boy sat on the sofa and watched CBeebies, my husband went and reported it to the visitor centre and I blitzed every surface with anti-bacterial spray. Having just recovered from a gastric bug, a filthy toilet was the last thing we needed. I also used my GTech cordless electric carpet sweeper throughout the property, which needed emptying twice and was full of food debris, sequins, dust and dirt galore. While cleaning, I also discovered these two gems:
Housekeeping came and cleaned the toilet, but by then I was more than disheartened. We put The Boy to bed, settled down to watch some television with a beer and took ourselves off for some much needed sleep.
The mattress was the most uncomfortale thing I have ever sleeped on in my life. That may sound like an exaggeration, but having slept on a two inch thick mattress on a wooden board in a Bulgarian youth hostel which was more comfortable, I was disappointed. The mattress sunk down from the rigid edge, and the springs were so close to the surface you'd have sworn there was no padding between them and the cover. At nearly midnight, we ended up putting the two single duvets over the top of the mattress and hoping that they would provide some level of comfort and allow us to sleep. It wasn't much of an improvement
The next morning saw it pouring down with rain, and with sinking hearts we trudged up to the adventure centre at the top of the hill. Stopping on the way to complain in the visitor centre, we were assured that the mattress situation would be sorted out.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the adventure centre is great and was the saving grace for the entire weekend. There is also a legendary waterworld, but as The Boy had been so poorly I didn't want to risk more germs, so we stuck to the indoor play area.
I genuinely can't convey how impressed we were with the facilities in the adventure centre. The photos above show some of the main hall with the mini-golf, climbing towers, soft play, sandpit, giant wigwam, bouncy castle, sky trail and cafe. We spent a lot of time here. Word of warning: in Winter it's freezing in there, wear a fleece. There is also a small science exploration centre, a Lego room and an amusements arcade.
We had lunch in the Wildwood Cafe which is situated on the first floor and with a seated area on stilts overlooking the main play area. I ate the only vegetarian option which was cheese and onion potato skins, corn on the cob and cursory salad (£6.95), my husband ate the pork burger and chips (£7.95) and The Boy had the excellent value children's 'all-you-can-eat' buffet for approximately £5.50. In total it came to £24.
Following our hijinks in the adventure centre, we decided to hire a golf buggy to get us about the steep paths in the pouring rain. For £25 a day I thought it wasn't too bad value, but originally I'd been quoted £75 for the entire weekend with no option for a daily hire. I'd recommend hiring one to be honest, the paths are steep if you're pushing a pushchair, and if it's raining you'll get drenched walking around.
On arriving back in the lodge, I checked the mattress situation to discover that they had put a double duvet under the sheet. That was not a solution, especially as it was worse than our own solutions had been for the night before. I went down to complain again and this time demanded the mattress was changed. That was at 3pm. At 8.30pm two people from housekeeping came and swapped it over. I have no idea if it was a brand-new one or borrowed from another lodge, but it was just as bad and again we had to sleep on the two duvets.
On the Sunday we decided to head to Folly Farm, only to discover that my car battery had died a death in the -7.5°C on Friday night. This is where Bluestone's customer service came in and they redeemed themselves. They took my husband to Haverford West to buy a new car-key battery in case it was that, then when we discovered it was the main battery, they jumpstarted the car for us.
The customer service in Bluestone is excellent, and this is what helped save the weekend for us. However the standard of maintenance and housekeeping in the lodges is not quite what I'd expect from a resort with such a good reputation.
- the paintwork is battered, scraped and marked;
- the carpets hadn't been hoovered, cobwebs were hanging from the ceiling in the main room;
- the toilet wasn't cleaned;
- the mattresses are old and worn, or poor quality to start with.
This review has only come about because I want people to realise what it's really like at Bluestone. I paid for the holiday myself and my opinion is most definitely honest.
UPDATE – May 2012:
We were invited by Bluestone to return for a complementary weekend, enabling us to see that the problems were a one off and not common. Accepting this offer, we returned for the Easter weekend and again stayed in a Ramsey Lodge, this time on the edge of Bluestone Lake. The lodge we had was one of the first being redecorated that year, and so obviously the decorative order was much better throughout, and it was also incredibly clean which had been my other issue.
The mattress was still uncomfortable for me personally, but I accept that's a preference issue.
The weather that weekend was glorious and it just indicated to me that it can make or break a weekend in the middle of the countryside. Well done Bluestone for showing you care about customer's opinions.