Travel: Going Dutch in Duinrell makes for an epic and awesome family holiday
What do you get when you mix a holiday park with an amusement park? A fun-filled, action-packed experience, as Fergal Hallahan, his wife and their nine-year-old daughter found out when they travelled to Duinrell with Canvas Holidays
EVEN taking into account the natural high that simply being away from the daily grind gives, if you come home from a holiday giddily contemplating not just a return visit but a permanent move, it’s a fair indication that you’ve had a good time.
The Netherlands has much to recommend it as a holiday destination, and not just for the city breaks with which we in Ireland mostly associate it; it’s got scenic seaside towns and great beaches too, with nature reserves and networks of paths threaded through the miles of sand dunes that protect the low-lying interior from the North Sea.
Then there’s the Dutch attitude of we’re all in this together. This is manifested in practical terms in comprehensive public transport, a general air of calm (we heard a car horn blown once in 10 days) and courtesy, often extending to downright cheerfulness, at the business-customer interface. Given that few outsiders speak Dutch and so are accommodated by Dutch people speaking (usually excellent) English, such friendliness is no small thing.
Consideration for all comers is evident in everything from architecture (public housing and amenities don’t, it seems, have to be poorly designed after all), to under-12s travelling free on buses and trains, to purpose-built cycle lanes everywhere you go.
All of which, to cut to the chase, makes it a safe-feeling, family friendly and hassle-free place to spend your summer hols.
We spent most of ours in Duinrell, a holiday and amusement park on the coast south west of Amsterdam, about 10 miles north of The Hague.
By holiday and amusement park I mean, firstly, a large continental-style campsite of the sort you get in France and elsewhere: static mobile homes of various styles and sizes, along with pitches for tents, touring caravans and camper vans, plus bar, shop and restaurant facilities, kids clubs, organised activities that you can avail of or not, and heated indoor and outdoor swimming pools.
With me so far? OK, now add a theme park, complete with roller-coasters, rides, slides, trains, planes, trampolines, pinball machines, candy-floss stands and chips – with mayonnaise, naturally, this being the Low Countries.
Though efficient and sensible are words applicable to the grown-up, real-world Holland, within the confines of Duinrell two other adjectives suffice: epic and awesome.
Ah now, that’s all very well if you’re nine, you might say, but surely a campsite amalgamated with amusements is a recipe for bankruptcy?
Actually, no, the nice people at Duinrell have thought of that (those Dutch...). So, when you book a holiday there, unlimited entry to the adjoining theme park and access to the rides and amusements is included. Prices overall compare favourably with campsites throughout Europe.
Members of the pubic who come daily – it’s a popular attraction – pay a flat entry fee too so there’s no double charging and no-one feels as if they’re being, well, taken for a ride.
In any event, epic and awesome as the roller-coasters are (for which, if you’re on my side of 45, read terrifying and bewildering), it’s surprising how quickly kids get their fill of thrill and gravitate towards the good old-fashioned playgrounds in the plaza that forms the park’s focal point. There they can do normal things like swing, climb, stand on each other’s fingers and show off.
Epic, awesome and terrifying are all equally applicable to Duinrell’s pool complex. Given that you’re in northern Europe and so can’t be guaranteed a fully sunny summer break here, the focus is on the indoor side of things.
The Tikibad (Tiki pool as Béarla) is a massive complex with several distinct areas catering for a broad range of age groups. The biggest water park in the country, it has more than 20 slides, affording experiences from your gentle whee to your all-out blood-curdling scream, plus a bar and restaurant where you can sit in your trunks and eat chips with mayonnaise.
Having a nine-year old with you means having to go with the sometimes very excitable flow – you don’t want either to be a wing-clipping parent or to lose face.
In this way fathers and mothers find themselves, having climbed interminable flights of stairs, at the top of a sort of slide control tower high above the treetops of the wonderfully wooded Duinrell. There they have a spectacular view of the sea beyond the neighbouring sand dunes and, directly below, of the steep, twisty tubes that snake out from said tower, one of which they are about to step into.
They smile warmly to their happy offspring, asking them, perhaps once or twice too often, “Are you sure you want to go through with this?” while inwardly chastising themselves, the colour draining from their faces as they near the front of the queue, for not having made a will.
To get to Duinrell, realistically Irish visitors have to fly – Schiphol is an hour and a half from Belfast or Dublin and it takes the same amount of time to get to the site from the airport by train and bus (or a 30-minute car drive). Unfortunately you have to pack as if for Donegal, given the Dutch climate, so you’re unlikely to have room for a tent in your luggage.
Therefore accommodation options are mobile homes, chalets or ‘Duingalows’, which vary in size and location within the park. We travelled with Canvas Holidays, a long-established Scottish-based company we’d first come across in France a few years ago which operates in campsites throughout continental Europe.
Our two-bedroom chalet had a roomy kitchen and living area, shower and bathroom with separate, compact toilet and a decking area with awning for dining or just sitting out on – we had a mixed bag weather wise, ranging from cool and rainy to high-20s scorchers.
It was spot on for our small family and we were conveniently close to both the amusement park – which closes at a civilized 6pm, though residents can use the playgrounds and pools until 10pm – and the on-site shop and bar. The latter didn’t particularly appeal, though there are lovely bars and restaurants to suit all budgets within a 10-minute stroll in the pretty village of Wassenaar, on the edge of which Duinrell is situated. The campsite’s two La Place cafe-restaurants are very good, with healthy fare on offer and, again, they don’t try to stick the arm in.
Hiring a bike is a must in Duinrell, whether to cycle the three or four miles to Wassenaar’s beautiful beach or just to get around. It’s a case of when in Rome when it comes to cycling in Holland – everybody does it and the infrastructure is second to none.
Our chalet was also handy to Duinrell’s bike-hire shop. Within the campsite itself kids rule – there are bikes galore pelting up and down the paths and roadways and they can also hire go-karts and freely use them all over the sizeable site.
Minor niggles would be that while everything in our kitchen worked perfectly, it could have been slightly better equipped (try chopping onions with a bread knife) and that the campsite management (nothing to do with Canvas) only seemed to provide for glass recycling during our stay, which doesn’t seem either efficient or sensible.
Everything else, I have to say, was epic and awesome.
:: Fergal Hallahan visited Duinrell, near Amsterdam, with Canvas Holidays (canvasholidays.co.uk / 0345 268 0827), who are offering last-minute summer breaks from August 14 (seven nights), in a two-bedroom Moda (sleeps seven) for £1,173 (was £1,804 – 35 per cent discount) or September 18 for one week, same accommodation, £364 p/w.
:: Scotland-based Canvas Holidays has been arranging outdoor trips for holidaymakers from Ireland and Britain for more than 50 years. Joining its MyClub loyalty programme offers a chance to win the cost of your holiday back (one winner each week) plus extra discounts and offers.
:: You can fly direct from Belfast to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport with EasyJet and KLM and from Dublin with Ryanair and KLM.
:: Duinrell is open until October 27 and will open again for 2020 in March.