Macdonald Aviemore Resort: An activity-packed staycation for families in the Highlands
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When you live in the Highlands, staycations are usually just as much paralarva as going on holiday abroad. Most things are at least a few hours' drive or a flight away. Little did we know, the solution to our easy family-friendly long weekend was just down the road.
We arrived at Macdonald Aviemore Resort, in the heart of Cairngorm National Park, on a wet Saturday. As a family of four with two small children, we were concerned that they might get bored with everything outdoors being a washout, but we needn't have worried. In fact, there was so much to do that we're already planning to return next month to experience everything we missed.
Sheltered in scenic woodland just a few hundred yards from the hotel, the lodges at Macdonald Aviemore Resort offer a secluded country feel. We opted for a spacious 3-bedroom lodge, boasting an impressive double-height living space complete with mezzanine and a cozy log burner. In the evenings, after we had tucked the kids into bed, we lit the fire and uncorked a bottle of red wine – an idyllic setting to unwind after a busy day. The lodge also served as the perfect family base, offering a spacious retreat to return to halfway through the day for a leisurely lunch and some quiet time.
Macdonald Aviemore Resort boasts a full program of family-friendly activities from morning until night. From slime-making to pottery painting, shows to discos, it feels very much like the animation teams you'd find at an all-inclusive hotel abroad. Our little girls, aged four and two, were enthralled by the staff, eagerly discussing their favourite characters in the shows and excitedly participating in the crafting activities.
During every school holiday, the resort hosts a panto – during our stay, it had a Halloween theme. Spooky characters greeted the kids at the door, posed for photos, and then led us into the impressive production. Even toddlers with their notoriously short attention spans were captivated throughout the entire show, and my husband and I found ourselves enjoying it just as much.
The kids' disco in the evening is a must-do with loads of party games, some designed to entertain the parents. Even when my youngest had a little mishap on the dance floor by falling over her own feet, the staff couldn't have been more helpful. While she was being looked after, my eldest won the prize for the best dancer, leaving us with the distinction of having both the best and the worst dancer at the disco.
In between activities, there's a spacious swimming pool complete with a separate kids' pool to enjoy. We spent most of our time on the flume and in the waves. If swimming doesn't tire your little ones out, there's a fantastic soft play area next door where you can watch them zoom around while sipping a coffee.
Although not part of the hotel, the on-site ice skating is a must-do. We may not have been the most graceful skaters, but we had a lot of fun mimicking drunk Bambi on ice.
Amid our packed schedule, I managed to find some time for a full-body hot stone massage. My therapist, with over a decade of experience at Macdonald Aviemore Resort, demonstrated her expertise by identifying that carrying my daughter on the same hip every day had given me a stiff shoulder. The massage was the perfect balance between relaxation and therapeutic relief.
We dined at the on-site family-friendly restaurant, Giovanni's, on both nights. The term "family-friendly restaurant" can sometimes conjure images of noisy canteen-style diners with a limited menu. But Giovanni's defied this stereotype. Their Italian menu offers authentic dishes, including pizzas from a real pizza oven and fresh pasta. Our favourite mains were the mushroom risotto and the seafood linguini, and I highly recommend the crème brûlée.
Another hidden gem at Macdonald Aviemore Resort is Spey Valley Shopping. Stocked with clothing, toys, and homeware from brands like Barbour, Dubarry, Sea Salt, and Joules, the prices are surprisingly reasonable, especially for hotel guests who receive a discount. Don't forget to explore the deli, brimming with speciality cheeses, meats, chutneys, and all the essentials for crafting the perfect gift hamper.
Although we filled our weekend, we still left feeling as though we needed more time. My husband, an avid golfer, had to cancel his round due to heavy rain, and our plans to visit the nearby reindeer had to be shelved. Not to mentioned we haven't even scratched the surface of the wonders of Cairngorm National Park – cycling, hiking, the funicular railway, skiing, sledging, and more. It's high time we start making the most of this exceptional destination right on our doorstep.