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.

The loveliest Castle – Leeds Castle in Kent

We have been visiting Leeds Castle in Kent since Arlo was quite tiny. For the first year of Arlo’s life we lived in Maidstone before relocating and so I bought an annual pass for £25 (babies are free).I would pack up the car with a picnic and head out for a stroll around the grounds – whatever the weather. There’s always an abundance of things to look at whilst walking. The grounds are so beautiful and with local parks charging for parking then I felt the pass was excellent value for money.

14th January 2018
January

Throughout the grounds are various sculptures and beautiful things to discover. I made a point of stopping at this carved rest stop every time. During the school holidays they create little trails for children to follow along with an activity book and then exchange as they leave for a chocolate treat. Arlo was fascinated with the ducks/swans and from quite early on he would notice them and point – and one of the first animals he ever mentioned was duck – you can buy food at the entrance for £1 if you’d like a really close encounter, but be warned they are used to being fed and can gather around very quickly. You can also explore the interior of the castle – prams are to be left outside so I would pop Arlo in a sling for this and wander around indoors on a rainy day as there’s lots to learn about the local history – and some of it is not quite what you’d expect.

There’s a lovely restaurant about half way along the walking route, along with a Costa, and refreshment stores – and if you keep going through a beautiful kitchen garden there’s a brilliant play park, a cafe, the birds of prey display arena, a maze and a Battle of Britain presentation.

Arlo’s first ever experience playing in a park was at Leeds Castle – we had the place to ourselves one weekday morning.

Every time we visited there was more to discover. Our annual pass also gave us entry to special events happening at the castle, including the classic car show, medieval jousting event as well as the beautiful Christmas fayre – I’ll share our experiences at these events in another post.

Pretty Fly – Butterfly Farm – Stratford Upon Avon

A Sunday afternoon visit to The butterfly Farm in Stratford upon Avon.

Arlo woke up at 6am this Sunday and had me playing and running around after him all morning. As per usual he started singing “old Mac Donald” so I packed him and our supplies in the car, planning to go to our local child’s farm but he fell asleep en route.

I decided to continue a couple of junctions up the motorway so that he could get his forty winks and turned off at Stratford thinking we could have a little wander around as it was such a lovely day – and I ended up heading to the sports club for parking.

We had a wander over the bridge to get a bite to eat (I can highly recommend The Cox Yard for lunch) before heading to the butterfly farm.

Entry is free for under 3’s and adults are £7.25. I decided to ditch the stroller and head through to the flight area on foot. I was quite surprised at Arlo’s reaction to all the butterflies -he was very interested but also cautious and unsure a first – he wasn’t keen when they landed on him or if they flew too close to his face.

The flight area is like a huge greenhouse full of plants and flowers which the butterflies must love, and every so often there’s a feeding table set up so you can get really close up to look at the colours.

We went through into two side rooms to look at the chrysalis collection – Arlo is way too young to understand the life cycle of a butterfly but for older children this could be a fab learning experience. Arlo watched with wonder as one emerged.

As we continued along the pathway, we encountered a waterfall area and a bridge – it 20p to purchase a handful of fish food from a little machine and Arlo stood blocking the pathway for half an hour as he spotted one of the biggest koi carp I’d ever seen. Butterflies kept landing on him and he was blissfully unaware, until this little one must have tickled him. He stood still so patiently without me having to say “gentle” so he’s finally learning to respect animals and not touch them.

In another side room there were some insects and other creatures to encounter – I won’t ruin the surprise if you plan to visit but don’t forget to look up! Arlo was fascinated with the fish and snakes and kept running back and forth to the tanks….. and then he spent quite a long time watching a dung beetle do its thing before rushing over to a frog and saying “fwwrog” for the first time.

As always you exit via the gift shop, so after a couple of hours we emerged into bright sunshine and Arlo chose a little wooden snake. We sat in the sensory garden outdoors and ate our snacks before bidding our farewell to the butterflies.

If you’re visiting the area it’s certainly a memorable experience to add to your trip – you wouldn’t spend a whole day there, but there is plenty to do in Stratford Upon Avon – you’re a couple of minutes walk away from the boating area, you can get an ice cream, feed the ducks and wander down to the markets in Stratford too. I’ve picked up some leaflets and hope to take Arlo for a theatre experience in the summer.

West Midlands Safari Park

This week we visited the safari park – Arlo is learning new sounds and animal names every day and we’re really keen to encourage this whilst he seems so interested.

The challenge is there’s only so many animals you can see on a day to day basis “in real life” and I’m getting a bit bored of ducks and dogs.

We do as much as we can in terms of books, toys and the dreaded you tube clips of animals but there’s nothing better than an in the flesh experience and the Safari Park is right on our doorstep!

(I designed and made this little busy bag for all the animal toys)

So off we went with a bag full of snacks for Arlo and two cartons of animal feed- and of course he was delighted – it was enough to be allowed to come to the front of the car – he found the radio volume control immediately, but then he realised that there were some huge animals wandering very close by. He kept pointing, and saying “look” – he soon figured out that the animal feed bought the animals closer so he kept reaching into the box to pass some over to daddy and was brave enough to try himself a couple of times.

The safari park itself is extremely well maintained. An adult entry ticket is £24 however this also entitled you to a free return visit. Under 3’s are free and I thought this was fairly reasonable.

After the safari experience we parked up and walked into the grounds, visited the dinosaur exhibition and saw the penguins – we fed the lorikeets (£1.50 for a cup of nectar).

There’s a full schedule of animal encounters in the grounds every half an hour – we went to feed the hippo’s some cabbage before Arlo fell asleep for his nap, so we will revisit to meet the meerkats and lemurs.

We’ve picked up quite a few new animals from the gift shop to put in our busy bag on the way home.

Arlo seems to absorb all of the information from a day trip and we do try to utilise the opportunity – At home we ask him “what noise does a tiger make” or “what colour is a tiger” and he tells us the answers and he is also able to identify and pick up animals we ask for from a selection of animals spread out. Now we’re working on separating a donkey from a zebra and trying to figure out different noises to make for all the big cats.