Local mum, Lorna Farthing, gives us the lowdown on the recently opened London branch of international children’s theme park chain KidZania.
We visited KidZania on a Saturday afternoon, a few weeks after it had opened in the summer, courtesy of a MumsNet/KidZania sponsored trip. For those that haven’t heard of it, it’s a child-sized city where children aged four to 13 have the opportunity to experience more than 60 real life role-play activities. The London branch is located on the second floor of Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush next to Marks and Spencer. (Think of it like an indoor version of a Disney Main Street USA – for those that have been – where all the shops and buildings are actually the individual experiences.)
Upon arrival you “check in” as though you are at an airport (British Airways sponsors both this area and the Flight School inside). At check in, all members of the party are given electronic wristbands (which are linked on the system). If anyone tries to leave the KidZania area whilst wearing their band, unless it has been deactivated by security, an alarm will sound. There is only one way in and one way out (apart from alarmed fire exits) and so once children enter they cannot get back out without adult authorisation. The wristbands are active for four hours and need to be scanned whenever a child enters a new activity. Children are also given 50 kidZos each: this is the official currency of KidZania and they can either spend it (on activities), save it in the bank, or earn more by “working” in some of the activities. Children under the age of seven must be accompanied by an adult. These wristbands can also be used to identify and download (at a cost) any photos taken during the experiences.
Our party consisted of two 10 year old girls and two adults. The girls were very excited, had researched their visit in advance and had an idea of what to expect and the areas they wanted to visit first. Once we entered the main KidZania area, the adults were promptly told by the two girls that we weren’t needed anymore and they disappeared off happily to do their own thing.
This actually turned out to be a good thing for us, as adults aren’t actually allowed to go into the experiences with the children anyway (unless the child has Special Needs and, in that case, I believe the adult wears something that marks them out as a carer). If we hadn’t been abandoned by the girls we would have spent the next four hours queuing with them outside the experiences and then either hanging around outside (where there aren’t always chairs) or tagging along after them (if they are on one of the more active experiences – eg courier service, police, fire service). We therefore had a bit of a wander around to see what the experiences looked like and then headed upstairs to where there is an adults only lounge with coffee bar/cafe, sofas, tv and computers. There is free wifi too, but we found the connection to be rather slow (and the 3G/4G receptions wasn’t that great either). We stayed here for around half an hour and then decided to go for some retail therapy in Westfield instead. To leave the premises we had to go out through the equivalent of Passport Control where our wristbands were scanned to say we were leaving and we had to provide contact details. You then come back in the same way, rather than going in through the main entrance, where your wristbands are scanned again to check you back in. Everyone has to exit through Passport Control, including at the end of the four hour experience
When we eventually caught up with the girls a couple of hours later they were having a fabulous time, but were slightly stressed as they hadn’t earned enough kidZos yet – they wanted to open a bank account and you needed to have, I believe, a minimum amount of 100 kidZos to do so. For some activities you are charged kidZos (eg Aviation Academy), and other activities you earn kidZos such as Courier Service which is why they did it twice.
During their time in KidZania the girls visited the Aviation Academy and landed a plane at Heathrow (their favourite), the Radio Station (second favourite), Courier Service (twice), the Bank Vault and the Fashion Recycling Factory (which they found rather boring). There were plenty of other areas they hadn’t had time for and long queues were an issue for some of these.
Both girls really enjoyed their experience and cannot wait to go back. As I said above, we went courtesy of MumsNet/KidZania so we didn’t have to pay. The normal cost for a child is £28 if bought in advance (£29.50 on the door) for the four hour experience. Given how much the girls loved it, I would say this is worth the money and would be happy to pay for my daughter to go back again (and, indeed, we are taking her and three others for her birthday next month). However, adults have to pay £16.50 if bought in advance (£18 on the door). This, I feel, is not good value for money as there isn’t really anything for the parents to do apart from hang around. Maybe this is a ploy to discourage adults from entering (apart from those with children under seven who have to be accompanied). I know that when I take our daughter back for her birthday I will not be buying a ticket for me: I will quite happily wander around Westfield and sit in a cafe.
Image copyright KidZania/Getty Images.