A couple of weeks ago KidZania invited us to come along and visit their recently opened attraction at the Westfield Centre in West London.
Now you may have seen some posters or newspaper reviews about KidZania – and if you're like me you may have been a little confused about what it was all exactly about, or what happens there.
The posters say that kids get to dress up and role play different professions. But I was unsure how it all worked, or how they mannaged to keep the kids – and parents – engaged.
Let me start this review by saying that none of the publicity I've seen does KidZania justice. It absolutely blew us away. Chiswick Boy had an amazingly fun – and educational – time. I don't think I would have visited if I hadn't been invited, so I'm really pleased to share a write up of our day out here.
Suffice to say upfront that it got the thumbs up from us. And if you have at least one child four or over with you, then I definitely recommend it as a last days of summer or back to school treat.
Making the most of your visit
I'm hoping that my review gives a flavour for the magic, but also gives a bit of a practical insight into how it all works.
The bumph says that a child can expect to have four to six different dress-up-and-try experiences in their four hour timed ticket. We managed to do a whopping eight, and still had time to smell the coffee, so I hope our top tips on how to navigate are helpful…you'll find these in the last part of my review, below.
Our Kidzania experience – in ten steps
Arriving at KidZania is set up like an Airline departure. So after several escalators, which add to the mounting excitement if you have a massive escalator fan like my son, you arrive at a check in desk.
TWO Electronic bracelet
You get a map, and everyone is fitted with an electronic bracelet. This bracelet is key to the experience. It allows children to roam free, checking in and out of activities, and helps parents to keep track of where their children are, by scanning their own bracelets at information points scattered around the attraction.
No child can leave KidZania or have their bracelet removed, without being with the adult whose bracelet registers them as being connected to that child.
THREE Timing is everything
Tickets at KidZania are timed. You get four hours to enjoy the activities inside. After this you can still visit the restaurants and wander around, but your child won't be able to scan into any activities.
If you buy an advance ticket, you mustn't be late or you'll eat into your slot.
When we were there the attraction wasn't overcrowded, and there was no tiresome queuing for individual activities beyond waiting for the currrent set of children to finish their go, and the next one to start. I'm assuming this is down to the timed approach. It's a refreshing antidote to the endless queuing that you do at Legoland etc.
FOUR It's all about the money
Each child gets a stack of KidZania money on entry – a bit like Monopoly money. Again, this is a core part of how KidZania works. It took us a little while to understand what to do with it – but all you need to know is that some activities 'pay' kids Kidzania money to do them. While some 'charge' them.
If you have spare KidZania money at the end your beloved child can visit the toy shop and buy something. We didn't make any effort to collect KidZania money, but at the end Chiswick Boy had enough to visit the shop and buy a medium sized rubber dinosaur.
Shopping was an experience in itself – with the assistant greeting Chiswick Boy as 'sir' and asking him seriously if she could help him.
We didn't get round to this, but your child can also set up a mock bank account while they are there and even get a debit card to use to pay for activities.
FIVE A whole new world
As soon as we passed through check in, into KidZania itself, I finally understood the scale of the attraction. It made all of us gasp.
'We're outside,' Chiswick Boy squealed. And it did seem that way. We had entered what looked like a real street in a real town – with street lights, shops, a theatre, a fire station, midwifery unit, restaurants.. and more stretching in all directions.
These ARE the attractions – because when you visit your child will be going into the places they choose, scanning their bracelet, dressing up appropriately and getting a fifteen to forty five minute lesson in how to do that job using true to life role play.
SIX Life on the beat
The first thing Chiswick Boy wanted to do was be a policeman. And it didn't take us long to find the police station. There were two different police activitites to choose from – one to be a policeman on the beat, and one to do forensic investigation.
It's all really organised – and for parents and caregivers, here's the low down on how the activities work:
Each 'building' or 'shop' has a sign on the door that explains in a consistent way:
- Age range for the activity – most are four to fourteen
- Number of children who can take part in any one time – usually around eight
- How long it lasts for – most were fifteen minutes although some, like the theatre classes, were forty five minutes.
- Whether you get paid
money for the activity. Or whether you pay KidZania money.
SEVEN Loosening the cord
I mentioned the electronic bracelets that all visitors – kids and adults alike – wear.
Just to recap – there are interactive displays dotted around. As a parent or caregiver you scan your bracelet, see where your child was last scanned into an activity. You can also leave a message for your child that they will get when they next scan into an activity. And again – no child can leave KidZania without scanning out with someone who's registered as looking after them, in their party.
If you have more than one child in your group than this is a great place for kids to spread their wings and have freedom – dashing from activity to activity togther.
We let Chiswick Boy have a bit of free rein for a short amount of time – but he was always within sight. It wouldn't have been fun for him being off and about on his own but if he has a friend with him the next time then we will definitely give them the chance to roam free.
EIGHT Diving straight in
I also mentioned above that the leaflet says you can expect to fit four to six activities into your four hour slot. But we did eight – and no, we didn't run around with a list or plan. I think we managed to fit so many in by not using up play time to get food.
The leaflet suggests that you walk round first and work out what you want to do – but I say just dive in to the things that your child wants to do, as and when they see them. While they are in an activity you can always scout out other options.
It's surprising what's fun – yes, the anatomy class at the 'university' was educational. But one of the most fun things was when Chiswick Boy was a courier, entrusted with a list of things to pick up and deliver from different locations throughout KidZania. In fact I was queueing up for a coffee when I heard a cheery 'hello mummy' and there was my son, sitting on a delivery trolley cooly being pushed around by another kid with a clipboard.
If you're someone that has a bit of trouble loosening the cord – see point seven above – then Kidzania is as much about parents stretching their boundaries as it is kids…
NINE Impressed by staff
Adults aren't allowed further than the door of each activity. But each one activity an adult leader that takes the group of children. Adults can observe through glass windows and from what I could see, all the leaders seemed engaged and knowledgable. Chiswick Boy came out buzzing from each activity, with some new bit of knowledge.
There is a Disney-esque vibe in that every so often a KidZania theme tune comes out of the speakers across the site, and all the available staff come out of their shops etc and dance and sing along to the theme tune. It's certainly an infectious atmopshere.
TEN Know thy stuff
Things you may want to know before you go:
Wear closed shoes or trainers – we had some tears when Chiswick Boy couldn't go on the climbing wall because he was wearing sandals.
There is a section for younger children, but I'd say you really need to have at least one child of four or up to really enjoy KidZania.
Check out the theatre when you get there – these activities are longer, up to forty five minutes. So it makes sense to choose whether you want to do magic, say, or dance – and work out what time that activity starts that day.
If it all gets too much, and you're relaxed about giving your kids free rein, there is an adults only lounge. With coffee, beer etc on sale. And spaces to lie down and snooze, while charging iphones etc. There were a few dads in there sleeping when we visited…
Everything that Chiswick Boy did
- Policeman on beat.
- Fireman – this was amazing, with a real hotel on fire to put out with hoses, and a firetruck with sirens.
- Magic class at theatre – with live performance the parents could then watch. Very sweet.
- Air pilot training.
- University anatomy class.
- Making ice-cream
Best thing: It's utterly devoted to the kids and their enjoyment – making it unique in days out.
Could anything be improved: More information upfront so you know how it all works before you go. But then again, I could have read the website first. I hope this review helps you have a bit of advance knowledge so you can pack more into your time.
I do think a longer time slot would be good – giving time to have a spot of lunch and then go back to activities. It's a pricey visit – twenty eight pounds for adults, and sixteen pounds fifty for kids. You definitely don't want to use your time up grabbing food.
The litmus test – would I go as a paying customer: Yes. We had a great time and I would definitely take Chiswick Boy back. I'd like to take him with a friend the next time so they can have free rein. It would make a great special play date, or a birthday treat. I'd like to visit with my mum too, as it would be such a nice grandparent day out.
Please note – we were given three free tickets to KidZania to try the experience. The thoughts are entirely ours – you wouldn't want it any other way, and nor would I.