All aboard the Severn Valley Railway Santa Special

We had the most magical day aboard the Santa Special at the Severn Valley Railway, there’s simply no better way to meet Santa in the Midlands!

We booked our tickets months ago because these are usually a sell out and opted to book a table for four of us. Myself, Arlo, Nanny and Grandad. There are also compartments available for families for up to six people – babies can sit on laps but they don’t receive a gift from Santa. Steam trains alone are magical – but at Christmas it’s like being on The Hogwarts Express in a Harry Potter movie!

Our heritage steam train was specially decorated with beautiful bunting throughout and each carriage was named for one of Santa’s Reindeers, and was ready and waiting at the platform for a prompt departure. The station was just as spectacular too.

We chose to arrive almost an hour early to ensure that we could get a parking space – it’s £4 for the day to park at the station. A brass band was playing, a miniature railway was running around a glorious tree and there so many wonderful original features around the station to look all beautifully decorated for Christmas.

We browsed the gift shop, bought some traditional sweets for the journey and soaked up the buzzing atmosphere, and to make sure boarding was efficient, an MC announced four families names at a time to call them to board the train. We had just enough time to test out Santa’s sleigh to make sure the cushions are comfy enough for the big man himself.

There was no rushing and everyone got a chance to enjoy the platform and board the train comfortably. The trains themselves are beautiful and well preserved. Grandad was delighted because they were just like he remembered trains as a child, with little details such as the door handles and window slides, and all of the original fixtures and fittings were “just like they used to be when I was a child ” It was lovely for grandad to be able to share these memories with Arlo.

It was easy to find our reserved table and lovely to see a decorated biscuit and mince pies left out for us as well as a kids activity book and drink, we stashed our belongings in the overhead space, which was decorated with bunting and baubles along the entire length of the carriage and so we settled in for the journey.

Once everyone was on board we all heard bells ringing and got a glimpse of the big man himself walking along the platform to board the train accompanied by his elves and huge sacks full of toys! This little glimpse meant that all the children were reminded to be on their best behaviour.

The Railway takes you along the Severn Valley and there are some glorious views to be seen, especially on a crisp winter Morning, however the most delightful exclaims for the children came when we went past the elephant paddock at West Midlands Safari Park.

We visited the Safari Park yesterday and for some reason the stars aligned and we happened to be in the elephant paddock as the train went past which I captured on film, but today we were far to busy waving from the windows…. but you get the idea from the clip!

The Santa Special doesn’t stop on the outward journey like it does for the usual timetable however there is an opportunity to leave the train at Bewdley on specific return trains to explore the village.

We went through all of the stations slowly enough to see all of the beautiful decorations and to be greeted by people just like in “the railway children” – we were content to watch the world go by and I packed a bag of toys to keep Arlo occupied on the journey. He was extremely well behaved and I think he has earnt his place on Santa’s “nice” list.

This is the first year Arlo has been truly aware of Santa and Christmas and so this experience was magical for him, and just fabulous for me to see it all come to life as a parent.

Throughout the journey a lovely elf popped in and out of the carriage to remind us to listen out for Santa’s bells and raise a chorus of jingle bells from all of the passengers every now and again, and we also encountered the drinks cart and enjoyed our complimentary hot chocolate (with an optional baileys tot for the adults).

A magician appeared almost out of nowhere and had us all intrigued as he managed to trick all the children by making coins appear and disappear, pencils appearing from behind ears and then turning tuppence into a pot of jam! No idea how he did that and all the grown ups were just as intrigued as the children.

Suddenly we heard a knock at the end of the carriage and the sound of bells grew louder…. Santa’s arrival was announced – he visited every group, taking the time to have a good conversation and Arlo waited patiently for his turn, leaning around the seats and waving his beloved sleigh bell for attention – and then amusing our carriage companions with his own rendition of jingle bells whilst everyone else waited patiently for their turn.

As soon as Santa arrived to greet us Arlo became overwhelmed and was a little bit shy however Santa was extremely patient and had a lovely manner, eventually finding common ground comparing their bell noises, and giving high fives before posing for pictures and then reaching into his sack to gift Arlo a beautiful leopard toy.

Santa’s assistant also gifted us some unique tree decorations as a memento of our day, and the elves who were taking the responsibility for the toy sacks were friendly and chatty as they worked their way through the carriage too – Arlo was beyond excited and overwhelmed by the whole experience.

Before we knew it we arrived back at Kidderminster – Santa was happy to pose for a selfie in front of the steam engine with all of the children waiting and the driver blew steam and the whistle much to everyone’s delight.

The smell of roasted chestnuts inside the station greeted us and we got the chance to soak up more of the festive atmosphere, check out the gift shop and meet the deputy Station Manager to give our positive feedback from our trip.

We had a wonderful morning and most certainly recommend this Santa Special to families across the West Midlands, we will be back to explore the railway and more stations in the summer!

Seals in the City

We were invited to a special evening at the Sea Life Centre in Birmingham to celebrate the arrival of Miley and Boo.

Miley and Boo, who each have medical conditions which will prevent them from ever surviving in the wild, have been fostered from Sea Life Centres in Hunstanton and Scarborough respectively in order to make critical space within rehabilitation hospitals for the coastal sites during their heightened “pup season”, when demand for rescues of common seals in Britain is at an all-time high.

Boo is a five year old who was rescued as a pup with lots of health problems, and despite attempts to rehabilitate, it’s best for him to be kept in the safe care of animal handlers. Miley was rescued at two days old as an abandoned pup and has an underlying thyroid condition which requires daily medication.

Together they now live in a purpose built facility in Birmingham where their presence will help educate millions of visitors about conservation of our oceans.

Their new rescue facility is awe inspiring to behold, as a visitor you get a first glimpse from a pathway through a window where you can see Miley and Boo tumbling and spinning around under water.

The sea life centre itself is designed to be a one way walk through, so before you meet the Seals there is plenty of opportunity to meet other wonders of the world beneath the sea. In fact the first animals to greet you on your visit are Pablo and his pals the Gentoo penguins.

En route there are rock pools, cat fish and sharks to meet, and my personal favourite the seahorses. We opted to head for a “behind the scenes” experience where we learnt lots about how all of the fish are fed. Very interesting for the parents and older children.

As you continue on your journey through the centre, you turn a huge corner and are greeted by a panoramic view of the seal facility, where you can really appreciate the size of the enclosure, and there’s a fabulous little tunnel to climb through for a fully submerged viewing experience – and the seals seemed to love all of the attention, interacting with us as we watched.

There’s plenty more to see and do at the Sealife centre, with the underwater shark tunnel and a 4D movie experience too so you can spend a good few hours soaking up the atmosphere and learning along the way.

The centre publishes a full schedule of feeding times to get a close up experience with informative team members happy to share lots of information.

For tickets and to find out what’s on head to the website. There are various offers including reduced price tickets for toddlers with parents, as well as themed events during the school holidays.

If you are visiting the midlands be sure to take advantage of the combination tickets with other local attractions including the Lego Land discovery centre and Warwick Castle.


The Eden Project

What a beautiful place. This is a “must do” if you’re visiting Cornwall.

It’s hard to describe what it’s all about because the experience is so breathtaking, but to put it simply it’s a huge project set up in a reclaimed China clay pit with two huge biomes (large greenhouse type domes) and surrounded by an outdoor garden interspersed with art and informative exhibitions.

This is a huge tourist attraction, with clear road signs and directions as you approach, and plenty of car parking space. Be prepared to walk, the car parks are quite a way from the main entrance and the entire place covers a huge amount of space with uphill walks so strollers are a must for little legs.

Entry fee is quite expensive but have a look on the website in advance. I visited with my partner and my parents back in September so opted for a couples membership at £80 which entitles you to bring an adult guest each. By returning again within the year the visits have cost us £10 per adult each time which is more than reasonable for a full day out.

We arrived shortly after opening at 9.30 and it was fairly quiet, there are toilet facilities at the main entrance, as well as a cafe – and don’t forget to pick up a map and check out the daily schedule – or if you want to be eco friendly then photograph the maps to save paper.

It’s difficult to miss all of the different eco-friendly messages throughout the project, from recycling, to saving water and beyond. I won’t go into detail as all of the things you learn are part of the experience, and some of the fact and figures are quite surprising.

My favourite art installation is the giant bee – bee’s are crucial to the eco system, they pollinate flowers and over a third of our food flowers rely on this process, and our bee’s are under threat for a variety of reasons.

Outdoors, Arlo’s favourite area was the sensory garden. A walkthrough area full of herbs and aromatic plants – we spent a long time walking through, using our senses to explore with delight…. mint, lavender, wild garlic and all sorts is on display.

The clever garden design is split into zones, each reflecting a different part of the world, from allotments, to American prairies, so much thought has gone into this and it’s truly as authentic as you can get, because the team at Eden work with people from across the globe when installing…. which I’ll come onto later.

The main attractions are the biomes. You enter at the centre, between the two, where there is a huge two level atrium, with the ground floor hosting the Eden Kitchen with long wooden tables with benches which means there’s plenty of space for large families, and an amazing menu.

We watched the chef’s from above as they prepared the fresh food from early morning and after our walk through the biomes couldn’t resist the menus… jerk chicken for me (£9.50) and Arlo had marinated chicken wings, cassava fries and corn on the cob.

Kids food is very reasonably priced at £5.50 – our membership earned us a 10% discount. A lovely little touch is the provision of paper rolls at the table for cleaning sticky hands.

We decided to explore the Mediterranean biome first, which transports you right there, with all sorts of little details. The plants are of course the main feature, however the sculptures and installations add to the atmosphere, there’s also a beautiful pizza restaurant here too.

We were invited by a member of staff to join a free of charge toddler activity “music in the med” – led by a charismatic conductor. Arlo really enjoyed singing and dancing along with musical instruments in this beautiful environment, and having checked the website there seem to be frequent activities for all ages so make sure to check before you plan your visit.

The walk through the biome led us toward Australia next, and my mum having recently visited Perth was delighted because it was so similar. After talking to the team, we discovered that indeed the Eden project had worked with a team based at Kings Park, so the plants here were planted with the advice of Australians, and not only that, the art work including the totems have been created by an Aboriginal artist too, so this truly is as close as you can get to Australia without the 24 hour flight!

Before you head into the rainforest biome there’s a cloakroom, toilets and a store on the upper floor. I would advise to rehydrate and remove layers as it gets incredibly humid inside. The biome is full of wildlife, and some of the most amazing rainforest plants. One one side of the pathway you could be looking at African jungle and the other, South American plants will line the route!

The route takes you up a winding path and there are water fountains along the way. You will meet some unusual little birds, discover new fruits and then end up in the clouds, just when you think the heat is too much, there’s a lovely little cold room to pause and rehydrate – ready for the rainforest canopy.

As you climb higher there’s a waterfall, a rope bridge and cloud formations to discover before heading back down through sugar canes to discover the BaoBao shack and grab a tropical smoothie.

In this biome we also discovered how a Nigerian artist created sculptures from reclaimed wood after the fire damage to Falmouth harbour. The wood originated from Africa in the 1930’s and we learnt all about how this particular type of wood from Africa is resistant to water so is used world wide by the shipping trade, and it was lovely to find out just how much thought had gone into this installation, and this delighted my dad to learn about his Nigerian heritage.

We spent all day at the Eden project, there’s plenty more to see and do including an indoor science exhibition and an outdoor amphitheater, and even tea tasting sessions.

Arlo was exhausted by 4pm, we took the land train to the top and spent a long time browsing the gift shop and nursery before heading home. So many unusual items, ethically sourced, eco friendly and locally produced – I ended up buying some succulents and a fab bar of chocolate.

Thank you to the Eden project, we had a wonderful day and we will be back soon 🐝

Seaside town of Padstow

On our first full day in Cornwall we decided to visit Padstow, a lovely town on the North Coast of Cornwall, about ten miles drive from Newquay.

It’s a town renowned for it’s food and also for it’s fishing, and we were delighted to be there early enough to see tradesmen all delivering fresh food to the restaurants, and for bakeries and fish shops to be arranging their window displays.

We had a wander around the shops and it was wonderful to find such an eclectic mixture of stores, from some high end brands, to art studios and everything in-between, this is the place to buy gifts and keepsakes alike.

We paused on the harbour front to gawp at some wonderful cakes, before noticing a sign for sea safari trips which caught our eye, so of course we had to book a little excursion – click here to read more about our trip.

The harbour itself was pretty quiet when we left on our boat, but we arrived back to the hustle and bustle of a busy tourist destination, we ate fish and chips overlooking the boats in the harbour before heading further along the coastline to the beaches to make the most of the glorious sunshine.

If you’re in Cornwall and have the opportunity, it’s well worth a day trip to visit this lovely little town.

May Day Mini Break

At the last minute we decided to pack overnight bags into the cars secretly and take the four wildlings on an adventure. It seems like every time we go on a day trip, the kids have so much fun they never want to leave.

Arlo literally sobs when he has to say goodbye, and the older cousins use diversion tactics to try and delay home time. Imagine their delight when we revealed that we were going to stay at a hotel. Together! All night!

I used Booking.com to make a reservation based on proximity to our Sunday trip to Arley Arboretum.

I often use this app to make last minute reservations as it is so simple to use. I used the filter to highlight the hotels with indoor pools and discovered Stourport Manor– a lovely four star hallmark hotel. This is ideally located for people exploring the Severn Valley Railway and other local attractions.

We arrived looking a bit worse for wear having been exploring the arboretum all day with four children in tow however we were greeted at reception warmly. The hadn’t received the details about the children from booking.com , so the additional beds in the family rooms were not made up for our arrival which reception apologised about but rectified swiftly.

Reception also called the leisure reception to ensure that there would be space for us in the pool, as the hotel was busy with it being the bank holiday, and so we ditched our bags, got changed and head straight to the pool.

The kids were delighted to be treated like mini adults and given their own spa towels and greeted warmly by staff, and we had the pool to ourselves for the best part of an hour. With changing facilities clean to the highest standards and a lovely kids splash pool we all had a fabulous time.

With it being so busy we decided not to take the kids to the restaurant downstairs and subject the other guests to our chaos – so we ate in our rooms, the beds had all been prepared whilst we were downstairs, and we gathered together to watch Jurassic a park on the TV screens before getting some sleep.

We all slept soundly, and the children delighted to be next door to each other were ready in their swimming costumes again at 7am. They had another hour in the pool before we went down to breakfast.

What a spread! I often stay away with work, but I can honestly say that the selection available here is one of the best, truly befitting of a four star hotel. With pastries and cereal, yoghurt and toast, all of the full English options, plus juices, coffees and fresh fruit we were spoilt for choice.

The staff and other guests seemed to be amused by how thrilled all of the children were, and the attentive service by the staff members made us feel extremely welcomed. Nothing was too much trouble, with staff happy to help us warm milk and fill our water bottles with cordial before we departed.

Check out was a swift process and we left after a sound night’s sleep ready to take on another outdoor adventure at Rays Farm to complete our Bank Holiday Mini Break. There’s so much to explore nearby we will definitely be back

The Fairy Tale Forest

We decided to conclude our May Day bank holiday mini break with a trip to Rays Farm, set in the Shropshire Countryside. With four children to amuse it’s sometimes difficult to satisfy all of the different age ranges, but here there really is something for everyone.

As we arrived we purchased tickets and animal food and headed to the farmyard to meet the animals. Arlo is now an expert when it comes to naming all of the animals and so he roused us all into a few verses of “Old Mac Donald” as we met rabbits, lambs, goats, chicks and ducks in the small animal shed.

We followed one little escapee goat across the courtyard to visit the llamas and donkey before heading to the open field to play with the goats. This is a truly unique experience, and the playful goats were happy to jump and skip around, and over us – this made our day!

We paused for a snack on the picnic benches before parking up the pushchairs and tying up our shoelaces to hit the forest trails. May is the perfect time to explore the beautiful English countryside and the work done along the trails at Rays Farm is inspired.

Along the entire route are wooden sculptures inspired by classic fairy tales, myths and legends. At the start of the route you can choose to go left or right at the big chair. There’s some giant boots you can try for size here too

We decided to take the woodland walk to the left first and came across Excalibur set in stone – alas none of us were strong enough to remove the sword and claim the English Throne – quite fittingly as we were here a news alert popped up to let us know that a new member of the Royal Family had been born.

We followed the path down alongside the brook, and were surrounded by a sea of the white flowers of wild garlic. All of the children were busy spotting wooden sculptures, and Logan the eldest at six years old pointed out an orienteering clip so we spent time looking for these along the route too.

The woodland walk is approximately 300yards and so if you have little ones with tired legs you can head back to the farm, however we marched on, and I’m so glad we did.

The pathway is a bit of a climb up and down, but there’s so much to see and so many rest stops that it’s a lovely route. Here we were delighted with the swathes of bluebells, and along the route were informative wildlife signs.

I won’t post too many spoilers with the sculptures, there’s plenty of nursery rhyme characters to meet along the way – including Humpty Dumpty.

There’s a fairy ring, a story telling witch and then three men in a boat looking over an assault course style play area.

The kids all had muddy knees, and the little ones were tired so without strollers they had piggy backs for the walk back, and then as we left the woods we stopped at the little crooked house for snacks, next to a field of goats at the far side of the farm.

We’d been exploring the woods for over three hours at this stage, and slowly ambled up the far side of the farm boundary to meet the pigs, Reindeer and the owls which bought us back to the courtyard.

We finished our day with some refreshments from the cafe and a little run around in the indoor and outdoor play areas, being followed by a mother hen with two chicks.

The farmyard is lovely, the animals are well cared for and very friendly but the stand out for us was the fairy tale forest. We will be back to explore again as the seasons change.

To read about our day out at nearby Arley Arboretum during our May mini break click Here

Have you got any suggestions for family days out in the Midlands? Have you been to Rays Farm? Which was your favourite sculpture? We’d love to hear from you

Arley Arboretum

What a beautiful place. It was my sisters idea to take all of the kids for a little mini break, so we booked a hotel, packed up the cars and headed off on an adventure for the bank holiday weekend.

Arley Arboretum is in Worcestershire, not too far from the beautiful banks of the river Severn where there are plenty of beautiful rest stops for scenic picnics.

The entrance to the arboretum in a lovely wisteria covered archway which takes you into the entrance courtyard, with a little cafe, outdoor seating and a hut to buy tickets. For an additional £3.50 we purchased a Peter rabbit trail booklet.

What a fabulous idea – the booklet and enclosed stickers have been designed with much thought, to guide you around the grounds following the story and looking for Peter at some of the most beautiful spots, at each location a picture of Peter was hidden with a little Beatrix Potter themed set up and we had to match stickers to the location.

The story began of course at Mr Macgregors garden. The first Peter was hidden in the beautiful courtyard at the first of the greenhouses, with a watering can and so we found the first sticker with the watering can, added this to our map and read the next bit of the story.

This told us to follow the signs – bright orange carrots painted on to signposts in the shapes of arrows pointed the way clearly, and as a little checkpoint we found Peter’s blue jacket in the gardens. At this point Arlo was fully invested….. he knows what a rabbit is and is familiar with Peter Rabbit so recognised the blue jacket and then began to point out the signs as we spotted them along the route.

We walked through the courtyard and through an arch into the grounds, past Mr MacGregors gate to look for Jeremy Fishers pond. This area was nothing short of stunning.

I won’t share all of the details and ruin the surprises, but along the route we met Jemima Puddle Duck, Mrs Tiggy Winkle and other characters from the books before finally finding Peter Rabbit.

The walk took us over an hour to complete, and we slightly overlapped with another route for older children called “the goblin trail” so even without the guidebook we decided to follow the signs for this trail too, because who can resist a fairy door?

Our route took us to retrace some steps back to the park area, and we spent a while here with a picnic, and being followed by pheasants. Throughout the day we’d heard the far off sound of the Severn Valley Railway steam trains and we were delighted to discover that just behind the park, was the perfect grass bank for train-spotting.

We sat and played tumbling down the hill before picking up the goblin trail clues again which led us along a path to a sensory garden, which is a work in progress but full of herbs which we took some time to investigate before heading along an enchanted pathway to the maze.

I took a picture of the maze map before we entered, and it took us a good 45 mins to find the centre and then find our way back out again. The kids loved running through, chasing dead ends and each other – by the time we’d finished here it was time to start a leisurely stroll back to the main entrance.

We took our time ambling through the woods and into the walled gardens, which are beautifully landscaped and home to chickens and peacocks which were free roaming, and we sat for a while on the tree swing just to soak up the surroundings, before heading past the fountains to the cafe.

We showed our completed Peter Rabbit trail sticker books and all of the kids chose their reward from a basket full of chocolate eggs and bouncy balls and all sorts of fabulous prizes, and then we ordered milkshakes and sat outside to enjoy our drinks and review the days “best bits.”

Zoo-mazing – Paignton Zoo

Paignton Zoo is without doubt one of the best zoo’s in the UK and I’m not just saying this. We’ve been to many zoos, conservation centres and safari parks and there are several different things which make Paignton Zoo a must visit.

First of all I have to commend the beauty of the grounds. Set in the beautiful county of Devon the expansive grounds took us the best part of a Saturday to explore. We didn’t get to see everything because Arlo at 22m old was insistent on walking and this meant going at his pace and stopping to absorb everything, so we will definitely come back again.

The view from the far end of the zoo, past elephant house and across the camel enclosure gives you an incredible view of the sea and it’s well worth the hilly hike just for this.

En route the grounds are stunning, with botanical landscaping throughout. We visited at just the right time of year to see the bluebells making an appearance, and I was delighted to see wildflowers planted and “bee hotels” throughout – there’s no aspect of conservation untouched.

We always take the time to read the information around the enclosures about all of the animals, and being a passionate animal lover we visit zoos in an attempt to teach Arlo about all of the animals which exist, in the hope that when he is old enough to travel the world there will still be wild Rhino’s and tigers.

Their extinction is a very alarming and real threat and pausing to read about the work the zoo and the trust is involved in is fascinating.

We spent a long time in the giraffe and elephant house, I had read some online reviews about the solitary elephant, however having stayed for the keeper talk and learn about Duchess, and the obvious passion the team have for her, I am entirely satisfied that she is living out her golden years in the best place.

I couldn’t possibly give details about every animal we encountered, but there were many species which we hadn’t come across before. So many varieties of birds, but Arlo spent a while following peacocks around as they roam the grounds freely, and was delighted to be surrounded fed by hens as we stopped at one of the many play parks dotted around grounds.

There were lots of picnic stops, benches and refreshment stores all clearly sign posted for our regular snack stops, even on a busy Saturday during school holidays we never felt crowded.

A couple of stand out experiences include the desert walk through – this vast indoor space was full of birds flying around us, which gave us a chance for some really close encounters, and was a truly unique experience.

My personal favourite was the monkey area – I’m no an expert but the enclosures looked well laid out, lots of enrichment, very clean and the whole area was full of information, educational and interactive displays about issues such as palm oil deforestation, difficult for anyone to miss.

There’s also other environments to explore – we spent a lot of time with the crocodiles, the reptiles, the lemurs and then also wandering through an outdoor wetlands trail/aviary.

It’s certainly worth keeping track of time to follow the animal feeds and talks – the keepers are extremely knowledgable and happy to answer any questions you may have, and all extremely patient with children.

I think aside from meeting all of the new animals – the highlight of Arlo’s day was the little train ride which took us around the lake across to the big cat enclosures for a view you wouldn’t get from the pathways. After a chat with the driver we learned about the local steam railway which we squeezed in time to visit on the last day of our holiday.

We also learned about another site run by the trust in Torquay – “Living Coasts” and manages to visit whilst on this mini break. There are opportunities to receive discounted entry tickets between these attractions if you speak with the teams at reception.

Thank you Paignton Zoo, we will be back again very soon and highly recommend as a must visit to holiday makers in the area.

Organised Chaos at Kidtropolis

I don’t know what I was thinking yesterday but I decided to take Arlo and two of his cousins to “Kidtropolis” on my own – and what in theory should have been a fabulous day out almost turned into a disaster.

Before we even entered the event they were all playing chase in the queue, Literally a minute after I took this picture Arlo knocked Logan’s glasses from his face, Logan dropped Arlo. The glasses broke and Arlo then projectile vomited over all of us, whilst surrounded by thousands of people eagerly counting down 10…9…8 until the gates opened.

No big deal, I swiftly got everyone changed into clean clothes (I always carry lots of spares because these things happen)….. a member of staff quickly came over to help clean up the mess and as soon as the kids saw the soft play section all was forgotten.

The under 4’s section was the first we visited, and all the kids ran off in different directions – it was at this point I realised I probably shouldn’t have gone alone with three wildlings….. but it was too late to back out. There was a huge variety of attractions but it was quite difficult to manage the kids expectations, as there were different age restrictions for everything and it wasn’t immediately obvious and the map in the guide book didn’t have clear labels.

There was a huge inflatable assault course, I think this is one of the best I’ve ever seen and the older two went on this one several times. Each of these attractions was managed by an independent company with their own staff, and it seemed as though some were more professional and child friendly than others.

Logan was happy to join Arlo on a mini version in the under 4’s area and he quickly tired out so had his afternoon nap in his stroller whilst we explored some other areas for the older two.

The fair ground ride was a big hit – the boys were so excited and nervous at the same time! The roller blading arena was a fabulous idea – a really slick set up with skates and protective gear available in abundance. They had ten minute sessions and didn’t over fill the space so the kids had a really good time trying this activity out and have asked if we can go to a roller disco again.

I also have to take a minute to praise the bumper cars – I’ve never seen this style of car – the kids picked up the controls quickly and were delighted to discover the big red button with inbuilt water pistols.

Lots of high octane activities, most of which we had to queue 10-15 mins for and only lasted 3 minutes – as a side note I think allocating fewer tickets for each session would have helped to manage the queues and deliver a better experience for all guests – it was a nightmare trying to contain the excitement of the kids on my own, and the queues were a little bit on the stressful side for me.

There were some fabulous promotional areas, the big brands really pulled out all the stops with kinetic sand, messy play, wooden trains and tablets all providing lots of entertainment and this was something we could all participate in – the floss challenge with Phillips was fun and we all received a goodie bag full of surprises which I won’t spoil.

I would love to give the NEC a shining review as it is on my doorstep, and I love to support local attractions but there a few things which really do let the venue down. As this was an event specifically geared towards an audience of children and families it was disappointing to see a lack of catering options inside the event space and also to have to eat our snacks on the floor because there was no seating – next time inviting a kids brand and setting up a pop up cafe (like Ella’s kitchen at the baby event) would solve these problems.

I would also add a child/baby friendly feeding and changing area – one baby change toilet inside the event space was not adequate.

In a timed event session, wandering around the huge NEC concourse to find a subway sandwich or another toilet would have meant missing out on play time so I just made do with what was available.

We didn’t manage to get around the whole event in our four hours, and chose to leave queuing up to “meet and greet” characters, the kids preferred to play on the activities instead – I’m grateful that they made that decision for themselves (phew).

I think this event on paper is literally the stuff kids dream of, but for adults it’s the stuff of nightmares. I think I would probably brave it again, but would have to travel with back up adults and pack more food/drink supplies to avoid paying over inflated prices.