I hate Westfield shopping centre. Seriously, who needs that many clothes shops? And all the people. Arghhh!
That’s why we only go there as a family once a year or so, usually around Xmas, to check out the decorations and ice skating. During last year’s visit, I noticed a HUGE sign for something called ‘KidZania’. We googled it when we got home, and the kids were enchanted by the idea of a city run by children. They have been desperate to check it out since it opened. But it’s taken me until halfway through the summer holidays to feel recovered enough from the last Westfield outing to feel I was capable of returning only 8 months after our last visit.
So it was, that on Tuesday I drove us all into London. We are not completely insane but we are only 20-30 minutes away, and at least you can always find a parking space at Westfield. My youngest three, aged 7,9 and 12, were all keen to check out KidZania. The eldest is 13, and was not interested at all. Despite the 4-14 year age range, she felt it was way beneath her so we planned a shopping trip instead. I had my doubts about how engaged the 12 year old would be, but she really wanted to give it a go so I coughed up for a ticket for her.
Our four-hour session at KidZania started at 11am. We had been told to book a slot for as early as possible, as it gets a lot busier after lunchtime. We arrived around half ten and the ‘check-in’ area was so quiet we were able to go straight up to the desk.
After presenting our tickets, filling in some paperwork so I could be contacted and all of us getting tagged so my children couldn’t leave with anyone but me, the kids were given 50 KidZos ( the currency of KidZania) each before they entered the especially built Kids’ city. They were very excited at the prospect of going off to explore on their own and I didn’t even get a backward glance as they entered the city.
Some parents do go into KidZania with their children but mine didn’t want me to shadow them and to be honest, I was quite happy to not pay the £16.50 for an online adult’s ticket.
DS is 7, and on the website FAQ it says ‘Children from the age of 7 years can be left on their own at KidZania. The reasoning behind this is that 7 years is the start of Key Stage 2 and therefore seen by many as the next stage of a child’s development. This is provided on the basis that the accompanying adult/s are confident that their child will conduct her/himself in a responsible, courteous and pleasant manner. If your child is under 7 years they must be accompanied by a full paying adult.’ So I was reasonably confident he would have no problems going in without me. But then I printed out the tickets and found a line that said ‘ Children under 8 must be accompanied by an adult’.
I tweeted KidZania about this discrepancy in a bit of a panic and their reply was ‘ Hi, we are in the process of changing our e-ticket. The age is 7 years where you can leave your child unaccompanied in KidZania.’ Phew!
And even if you don’t pay for an adult ticket, you can go and collect your child about 15 minutes before their time is up. There is a machine where you can scan your wrist band to see where in the city your children are, and find out what they have been up to that way.
DD1 and I had 90 minutes of looking at phones as she’s due an upgrade, and were just starting to think about lunch when I noticed that DD2 had texted me. She was tired and hungry apparently, aka ‘bored’. After a few more texts it transpired that the KidZos could only be used to by certain things in KidZania and one of those things wasn’t food.
If your children go into KidZania on their own, they will need to take some real money as well so they can buy something to eat. Apparently the check-in staff should have told us this, but nobody could recall being given this information.
DD1 and I went back past the check in to ‘customs’ where we found DD2 ready to call it a day. The younger two were keen to stay, so I gave them some ‘real’ money to buy food and took the older two to lunch. DD2 had enjoyed some parts of KidZania, but as I suspected a lot of it was too young for her. She didn’t like the queuing to get into activities and felt the questions the staff asked too easy. She’s going into Y8 at school but is summer born and has ASD, so I can see why she thought she might like it, but it wasn’t involved enough to keep her interested. She’s glad she tried it but doesn’t want to go back again.
On the other hand, the two younger ones loved it. When we went to collect them we found them scoffing pancakes outside a cafe, chatting happily and counting the KidZos they had earned. They were surprised their four hours was up and while they could only remember having done about five activities, they had spent their time exploring in a safe environment without close parental supervision.
One of my friends asked me if I didn’t feel it was a waste of money that my children hadn’t taken part in more activities and I can see their point, but I do think one of the best things about KidZania is that it offers children the chance to make independent decisions about how they will spend their time and money while they are there. You can go into the city with your children if you want ( and if they are under 7, you are required to), but you can’t do the activities with them; you just have to wait outside for them to finish.
All in all, I would recommend KidZania if you have the budget for it. It’s pricey, full of advertising and the activities seem quite superficial, but kids between the ages of 7-10 will probably get the most out of it. I wouldn’t bankrupt myself to take my child though, there are more cost effect childcare options out there.
If my two have their way, we’ll be back. But next time, I will make sure I take a good book.