Monday 10 October 2016

Kidzania - A Kids Paradise in London's Westfield Centre

I've been dealing with a very tired 9 year old today, she didn't get to sleep until gone 11pm last night and now she is jumpy and hyper-sensitive. Thank the Lord that our 1pm arrival time has come around for entry into Kidzania as she may now finally calm down a little and settle in to her afternoon of fun!

At the beginning of the year my 9 year old twin girls came to Kidzania with their school class and loved it. It was all they talked about for a couple of weeks. So when it got close to JJ's 13th birthday and he said he fancied a visit too, I jumped at Kidzania's offer to host our family on a date of our choice. We visited on Saturday 8th October for the 4 hour slot commencing at 1pm and I expected it to be heaving but thankfully I was wrong (although the girls tell me it was busier than the school day they had last visited).

As our tickets had been booked in advance for us we had printed tickets and this meant we could head straight inside Kidzania and go up the three floor to the British Airways departure lounge. Check-in was easy and the member of staff very smiley and friendly, he certainly knew how to relate to kids. He checked if the kids had any allergies or additional needs and fitted us all with a security bracelet. This meant the kids couldn't leave without my husband or myself and it also acts as a location tracker.

They were handed 50 kidZos each (money just available for the children to earn and spend in Kidzania) and the girls explained to their brother how he earns or spent them. Miss E had saved some KidZos from her previous visit and thus had enough to open a bank account if she wanted. This was the cause of great excitement.

The Kidzania experience
The first place we stopped into was the Employment office where the kids could take a quick test on the computer to see what jobs might suit them. They were then presented with a card with three suitable future careers but JJ soon rejected one of his as it was too 'girlie' for him (his words, not mine) and he was allowed to swap for another card. By taking these cards to their chosen areas they could earn an extra 2 KidZos per place and another 4 for returning the card at the end. This meant the kids bought into this straight away as their competitive natures meant they wanted to earn the most KidZos possible.

Kidzania say that your child will probably be able to take part in 4-6 activities during the 4 hour period but if your child is clued up and willing to be a bit flexible about which activities they take part in then they can probably clock up more. Miss M had managed to complete 3 in her first hour.

An average activity takes about 20 minutes and once a child is part of that activity they are encouraged to stay until the end. A few activities like the Acting Academy and Theatre have scheduled start times so if your child is desperate to join in with those you need to check the times at the start and plan your visit around them. If not they can just get in queue by their chosen activity  and as long as the queue isn't too long they will be in the next group. Many activities appeared to be in groups of 6-8 so my kids would just count the kids in the queue (as adults are not allowed to hold places - I LOVE this) and then would join in almost straight away. There really wasn't any queue more then 10 or 15 minutes on the day we visited.

I think pictures speak a thousand words, so have a look at some of the great activities that the kids can get up to whilst in Kidzania. There are more than 60 real-life role-play adventures, something for everyone - dance, theatre, retail, fashion, recycling, postal, police, food and drink, manufacturing, animation, news reporting, even bell ringing!

Kidzania is sold as being suitable for 4 - 14 year old's and that is quite an age range. I think a 4 year old would need a lot of supervision and would need you to go round with them guiding them which areas might be best for their interests and I had suspected that my very savvy 13 year old would be pulling his hair out after 1/2 an hour. I was super surprised how wrong I was. I offered for him to leave three hours in and he said no way, he was loving it and wanted to have the full experience. He did comment that some areas where geared at too young an age and it meant things were far too easy, like being a newspaper reporter and creating his newspaper. The things he had to do were the same as those a 4 year old would do, so I'd hope in the future Kidzania can offer a bit of age differentiation in the activities.

I think it made JJ's day that he was able to go round Kidzania with one of his 9 year old sisters Miss E, it allowed him to feel like the useful big brother, showing her the ropes and being in charge. My other 9 year old Miss M did what she does best and went off on her own and made new friends and chatted to all the staff.

The Parents Lounge
In general the parents lounge worked for us as we secured a comfy chair each and enjoyed a coffee and use of the free Wi-Fi. The coffee we had was Lavazza and it cost £2.80 for a large cappuccino which I felt was reasonable and it tasted excellent. A can of Coke was £1.50 and crazily a small bag of vegetable crisps was £1.75, so the prices were mixed. Some parents will be pleased to hear you can also get a glass of wine or beer in here.

In the lounge there was a couple of PCs for shared use, an electronic piano, lots of tables and chairs, comfy sofas and a couple of aeroplane pods for laying down and watching TV. Children are not allowed in the lounge but they come to the door and ring the bell and for parents like me that is fine we go and see them but for other parents, like the couple asleep in the pods whilst their child cried at the door, it's not great! Many a time I felt the need to get up and help the kids stood at the door for some time whilst the lady behind the cafe counter just shouted 'you're not allowed in here' at them. It might be an idea for Kidzania to have someone on the door to fetch parents for the children.

Keeping tabs on your Kid
The security brackets that we all wore are very good and they certainly give peace of mind to parents, so it means your child can not escape or be taken out of Kidzania without you. On the first floor there was an info point where I could use my bracelet to be able to track where the kids had last checked in and I could even send messages too. That was brilliant for Miss M who was going about on her own as it meant next time she checked in the member of staff passed her my message.

It would be good if Kidzania could introduce some kind of technology so that the child can call/ summon their parent if they need them and then they could meet at an agreed place. As it stands Miss E could not find me at first until she found her big brother and he was able to text me as he has a phone. I did then show all three kids how to use the info point to locate each other so at least they could find a sibling if not a parent, as sadly the info point did not locate my husband and I to our kids.

Facilities at KidZania
We paid £3 for a locker to use during the time we were in KidZania, this is perfect if like us you are staying overnight or if you have been shopping and have bags that you don't want to trek around with. Realistically as we stayed in the parents lounge we could have kept them with us but it was good to have the freedom to walk around or go out shopping without baggage if we fancied.

There were plenty of bathrooms and unlike in most places there was not a queue in the ladies. They were also clean and well stocked when we went in them. I didn't use baby change facilities but I kept seeing signs for family bathrooms and there was a whole dedicated ELC/ Mothercare area with toys and fun for the under 4's who are too young to do the main activities in Kidzania.

It was good to see plenty of water fountains by the bathrooms too, so the kids could all stay hydrated and have a drink without having to spend any money.

Photographers walk around capturing the kids having fun throughout their time at Kidzania and you can visit Picture Air (near the exit) to view and buy pictures if you so wish but I thought it was really good that you can take as many pictures of your own kids as you like, nice not to feel forced to buy a memento as you can create your own. The professional photos were quite good but I couldn't bear the thought of parting with £12 for one picture or £15 for a photo ID card, with three kids the cost soon escalates. They did do a £50 package for all family photos which would be a better deal if you had lots taken but frankly it was too much money for us.

You can book online in advance and it makes your ticket price cheaper. A child is £33.50 on a weekend day or school holiday on the door price and £32.00 if you book in advance online. Whilst this may sound pricey I actually think it is worth it as the kids get to do so much and you can safely leave them to navigate Kidzania on their own. You also have to pay to enter which I find a bit harder to understand as it costs £16.50 (online) or £18.50 (on the day) and you don't even get anything for that money. Not even a cuppa, which seems pretty mean as adults are not allowed to take part in the activities so it is a price we pay to either watch them and take photos, sit in the parents lounge or if they are 8 years or older you can leave them and go out into The Westfield centre shopping.

Every child we saw at Kidzania looked as though they were having a fabulous time. There wasn't anyone moaning or throwing a paddy so as a concept for fun for kids it really works. I'd say the optimum age range is probably 6 - 11 years as the child is old enough to join in independently and not too old that it is all too easy or babyish for them but of course this will dependant on the individual child.

This is fun education at its best. Kidzania is helping our children to explore different vocations and careers and also giving them a taster of the real world. They have to earn money and spend money and if they don't do it wisely it is all gone and they are left without the ability to join in with the next paid activity.

Kidzania itself is very smart looking, the finish on all the role play areas is high and many areas are branded with companies you know. I don't mind this at all but I know some friends would be cross about subliminal advertising. My girls enjoyed bringing home some tasters from brands we know like wraps from Mission Deli and a fruit and nut bar from Eat Natural.

Four hours is definitely long enough for the kids to really have a great time in Kidzania and actually a bit too long if you are the accompanying adult of children who are happy to go off on their own. I asked my girls if they would prefer to go to Kidzania or Legoland in the future and Kidzania came up tops for the 9 year old's, whereas JJ at age 13, said he'd had a fun time but he had now done it all and didn't need to come back again.

Thank you Kidzania for having us to visit, we had lots of fun and the girls can't wait for show and tell next week!

Disclosure: We were provided with free entry for our family of five. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.
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