Last weekend we were invited to KidZania, a totally new play concept for children situated in the heart of Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherds Bush. We had never been to Westfield before and so this in itself was an experience for us – it’s bigger than anything I have ever seen before – bigger than any shopping centre I have been to. It was HUGE!
We found KidZania in a corner of the top floor of the shopping centre, easily noticeable from the aeroplane marking the entrance. From that point on the experience of checking into KidZania is like being at an airport with online tickets exchanged for boarding cards. At check in we were all given wrist bands to wear that zap children in and out of activities and let us know where they are at all times – although under eights need to be accompanied.
We were also given 50 KidZos per child, KidZania’s form of currency, as well as a handy map and short instruction booklet to truly understand the KidZania concept. We were then shown through security and into the world of KidZania.
KidZania had been well and truly decked out for Christmas and it looked so lovely and sparkly with trees and bows everywhere. The first thing I noticed aside from this was how dark it is. Your play session lasts for 4 hours and during this time there is no natural light and a feeling like constant dusk. It’s more than a little strange.
Once we’d got over that we took a few minutes to work out exactly how KidZania worked. The whole city is made up of different services, businesses and attractions that children can work at, be customers at or make use of and depending on what they choose to do they have to pay or can earn KidZos. The whole idea of KidZania is that children can do grown up jobs, earn their own money and then spend the money in the shop at the end – or save it in a KidZania bank account.
We only found out halfway through our time at KidZania that you can apply for a KidZania passport to get stamps by doing different jobs and once the passports are complete you can gain extra KidZos from the employment opportunities around KidZania. We found things like this weren’t explained very well and really you would need more than one visit to really understand everything KidZania has to offer.
There was a bit of a mix up with our tickets and so Little Man, although two and a half, had a four year old’s ticket – the minimum age for most of KidZania. Because he was technically four for the purpose of our visit he was allowed to go into the businesses and do the same activities as his sister. In some ways this was great for us as if he hadn’t been allowed to go with his sister we would have had a huge meltdown on our hands.
If Little Man had been treated as an under four year old he would have had a cheaper ticket but he wouldn’t have been allowed in many of the attractions and would have been restricted to the Science Laboratory, RightZKeepers play house and Kindergarten. These attractions are all situated on the first floor and although lovely rooms to play in they wouldn’t keep a lively three year old entertained for long – especially as they would be aware of what their siblings were doing and would most probably want to play too.
It would also be hard to take an under four and an over four to KidZania with just one parent as you aren’t allowed to leave the over four unattended until they are eight years old and you couldn’t be in two places at once. It would definitely be better to go with an equal number of parents and children in this case however the price of two parents attending – £16.50 each – and the parents not being able to participate in many activities would really put me off as you’re paying quite a premium to purely watch your children in the activity rooms.
LP and Little Man managed to fit in a lot of activities. They enjoyed painting in the Painting School and the lady that was teaching them seemed so lovely with so much time for both of them. This was an activity that could have kept them both happy all day – but I couldn’t help but think it’s something we could do for free at home.
Next we split up so that Little Man could go and play in the Science Lab and LP was a dentist. LP had only recently been to the dentist and so this was fresh in her mind and she really enjoyed this – especially as it ended up being a one on one session with the staff member too. She was again lovely with LP and helped adjust things really well to her age and size – being a very petite four year old.
Both LP and Little Man then went to be hairdressers and this was something they could easily both do at their age. They were happy just brushing hair but older children could do more complex hairstyles or even some beauty treatments too.
After this Little Man was incredibly excited by the Pit Lane Experience although I have to say the staff in this section were severely lacking. They were obviously unhappy about LP and Little Man being so much smaller than the other children in the same session and did nothing to include them in the activities. From what we could see the children had to put together a kind of jigsaw made of car parts and learn about each one. They were split into teams and LP and Little Man were in one team with another older child and she was given all the pieces to put into the jigsaw spaces and Hubby and I found ourselves getting quite angry about our children standing there, holding hands and basically being ignored. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. After that part of the activity the children went round to replace tyres on a racing car. In this room it all got a bit much for LP and she came out in tears early although Little Man stayed and I was pleased to see one member of staff help him to change a tyre although after this activity LP didn’t participate in anything else for quite a while, her confidence was knocked.
Little Man was welcomed into the Ice Cream Factory and shown how to make Mini Milk ice lollies and had a great time whilst LP, Hubby and I watched staff members breaking into dance whenever a Christmas song was playing. This random moments of festive cheer were lovely, and alongside the staff in Christmas costumes the whole festive side of KidZania was something we really enjoyed.
To cheer LP up we took her and Little Man to get their faces painted and the lady that did this was lovely – so patient with Little Man and such a lovely addition to KidZania although slightly tucked away that people may miss it. We didn’t see any other children with their faces painted either! It could be paid for in KidZos and is one thing that is included for under fours too. They both also had temporary festive tattoos that was the icing on the cake for both of them.
LP and Little Man then went to be customers in the supermarket and were given cards of produce to find on the shelves. This for Hubby and I was a highlight of the trip – watching the kids do something that was fun for them and that they could easily do without too much help.
LP and Little Man also went into the Recycling Centre and to be honest I think this activity went completely over their heads. They weren’t very interested or engaged and I do think some of the activities came across more educational than fun rather than learning through fun.
After this LP queued up to be a Fire Fighter, something she really wanted to do. This activity confused me though. It was obviously one of the main attractions – along with police and ambulance service – and yet you didn’t get a salary – you were charged to do it and yet it is clearly a job. LP went in the fire engine, put out a fire and did so many other fire fighter jobs – that she loved – but on the whole basis of KidZania she should have been paid – not charged to take part. I’m presuming the other emergency services would have been the same.
Whilst LP was doing this I explored the Kindergarten and RightZKeepers Residence. Both of these places were a great way of taking some time out, winding down and just having a play. When LP came to join us in the Kindergarten it made me rethink the whole concept of KidZania.
Four year olds pretty much just want to play. They love role play games and love play kitchens. They like to give each other a check up and they love things like soft play. Realistically I don’t think four year olds need to be thrown into the world of work – earning money and things. They also can’t read as well as older children, if at all, and really I think they should just be left to play for a while longer. A play supermarket, hairdressers and a soft play centre where they can come and go as they please is usually adequate amusement for LP and I think KidZania would be great for older children.
From age eight and over children are free to explore KidZania by themselves whilst parents can sit back, have a coffee and relax – although the food and drinks prices were incredibly inflated – £2.20 for a 500ml bottle of Diet Coke for example. Eight year olds can read, can count well enough to deal with money and can probably even make good choices in the Department Store.
At the end of our visit LP and Little Man were able to go into the Department Store to spend their hard earned KidZos however we weren’t able to accompany them. This meant that they spent KidZos on things they would never normally buy or even want outside of KidZania but are too young really to make that kind of choice without some input.
After the shop it was time to head home through Immigration. All in all the kids had a lovely time apart from LP’s confidence knock in the middle. Children love acting grown up and getting to do things adults do and so any child would really love KidZania. However, I do think to get the most out of this experience, and to have the best value for money it should be aimed at older children of maybe 7/8 as a minimum.
From a parent’s perspective some of the staff need guidance in how to deal with different audiences – as well as basic customer service. It’s also pretty steep to charge parents £16.50 each to purely watch their children for four hours. Also, the overall cost of KidZania – £99 for a family of four with two children aged over four is incredibly expensive considering you can spend a whole day at most UK theme parks for a similar or lower price.
Realistically I think when LP and Little Man are 6 and 8 and can do all of the activities together, and I can take them by myself then I would consider taking them again. I wouldn’t take an under four along with an over four and I would definitely try and avoid the cost of two adults going too.
KidZania is a great concept that adults and children are sucked into I just think at this stage in our lives it wasn’t for us. The children need to be older and for now we’re happy to focus on the children having fun at places like soft play centres and Little Street. They can be introduced to the world of work at a later date.
Disclosure: We were invited to visit KidZania for the purpose of this review however all opinions are my own.