Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Lappa Valley Railway

26 March, 2017

On Saturday we went to Lappa Valley Railway. On arrival you get your tickets, and you get into the park on a steam train.  Note, there is no way to walk into the park – so check the timetable before you go (which luckily I had!) and give yourself time to get in and seated – those arriving nearer the train time didn’t get a seat and had to wait 40 minutes for the next train – and at the current time the playground at the entrance is being worked on so there is nothing to do.

Once inside you are free to explore and go on anything as many or as little times as you like.  There are two other railways – one a small, and quite fast, circuit that you go round twice and the other a straight line, where you get a choice to exit at the other end and use the play field, or stay on. There is also a walk back from there.  Isaac (and Mummy!) liked the little one best.

There is a 18 hole crazy golf course – although the first half are more putting holes and less crazy (unless you are armed with a pre-schooler wielding a club!).  Isaac loved this, and luckily the park was quite quiet and we could wander in any order to whichever hole he chose!  Some of the crazy ones are quite tough for a little one, but seemed to keep him amused.

Mummy and Isaac went for a paddle on the canoes.  Nice and gentle, and Isaac liked that he got to paddle too – although was a little jealous that Mummy got the big paddle.  There was no times or route, or people forcing you into life jackets so all seemed relaxed and good fun.

We ate at the cafe – not a huge selection, but a few hot choices (jacket potato, sausage roll etc.) plus a selection of sandwiches and the typical kids “lunch box” you get most places.  Prices were in line with most places, so probably worth bringing a packed lunch and just supplementing with essential icecreams if you want to save some money.

Overall, a great place to visit with younger age children, but probably wouldn’t be enough to entertain older ones for long.  At this time of year for their “Winter Weekends” it was only £6 to get in which was a bargain – I think that about doubles from 1 April onwards.

Wildlife Tots: Winter Wonderland

3 January, 2017

stickmanLuckily for us the New Year Bank Holiday on Monday was a beautiful day – albeit freezing cold! Lucky, because I’d booked Isaac onto the Blashford Lakes Wildlife Tots which is an outdoor activity aimed at pre-school children run by volunteers from the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. Isaac had loved the Nature Tots we did in Dorset on holiday back in September, and he enjoys going to Wild Things near us, so when I spotted this on over the holidays I thought it would be good to try.

We started the session in the Education Centre making our very own Stickman and snowflakes, giving everyone a chance to turn up and get ready.  Or actually should I say I initially started by trying to coax Isaac through the door as he suddenly decided to be incredibly shy and not want to go in, but luckily he got over that after I wafted a granola bar in his face!

stickman-trailAfter that we wrapped up warm and headed off outside to explore. As we went, one of the volunteers read us the story of the Stickman. And with each page of the book we got to play along his adventure. We found nice warm scarves hidden for him in the woods, we played Pooh Sticks on the bridge, we created a large nest for a swan, we made sand castles on a special “pop up” beach, we made snowmen (or rather dough men!) and we lit a fire (and made sure to put it out after we were finished).

It was a lovely fun afternoon and I’d really recommend these outdoor Nature based groups – there are lots around. So long as you are prepared for the weather it is a great opportunity to get outdoors, have some fun and learn something too.

Intech aka Winchester Science Centre

31 December, 2016

On Thursday I took Isaac to Intech in Winchester. I previously went around 14 years ago when they first opened the current site for an event through work involving encouraging the new generation of kids to take an interest in science and technology, and had been meaning to take Isaac when he was old enough to enjoy the exhibits.

Intech6The centre is made up of two large floors of interactive exhibits, and although at 3 years old he can’t really appreciate the science behind them, I thought he was old enough to make the most of a day out. I wasn’t wrong as we spent five and a half hours there… and only left because it was closing time!

It was reasonably busy, being a cold Winters day in the school holidays, but not so much so that you had to wait more than one turn to have a go at anything.  Isaac was particularly fascinated with an exhibit called the Colon Café where you had to use a touch screen to chose some food choices, which produced a ticket you could then scan in various places inside a giant pink “colon” tunnel.

Intech8There was also a number of light tables where you could look at x-ray style pictures. There was a large human skeleton which was broken into pieces so you could put it together like a jigsaw – another favourite we had to visit around 6 times!

Some of the exhibits were a little dated, and a few not working, plus there was a large section of floor space fenced off downstairs which made it look a bit tatty.  Overall though there was plenty of exhibits to entertain.

In the centre of the lower floor was a walled, circular soft play area with sofas around the edge – a perfect excuse to chill out for a while safe in the knowledge the little man was enjoying himself and safe!

We visited the café for lunch – there was rather a long queue as they only had one working till, but the food was reasonable – Isaac had the kids meal deal of a sandwich, drink and three snack items for £4.95 which is pretty on par with most places.

The cost for an adult and child ticket was just about the £20 mark, so coupled with £10 for lunch it wasn’t a cheap day out, but I do think he really enjoyed it, and it saved me a day hanging out in the freezing cold outdoors somewhere!  There was a large indoor picnic area too so we could have taken lunch, although I am sure he’d have still dragged me for something else in the café.

One thing that was a bit disappointing was the lack of baby changing facilities, given that it is aimed at families.  There appeared to be just one upstairs and one downstairs and we ended up with quite a wait.

I’d like to go back sometime when he is older and visit the planetarium cinema too, although that costs extra again.

Weymouth Sea Life and the Jurassic Skyline  

22 December, 2016

During our holiday back in September we went to visit the Weymouth Sea Life centre in Dorset. The first thing that shocked me as I was researching what to do on holiday was how expensive the tickets were, especially as the price for my 3 year old was the same as for an adult! Luckily there seems to be a few offers around if you look for them, and I found one that got us in for about half the price and included tickets to go on the Jurassic skyline tower too.  Then another blow as I realised you had to pay for parking on top of the entrance fee.

Our final sucker punch of the experience we didn’t find out until the day itself.  We had booked over the phone and the person I spoke to asked what entrance time we would like as apparently you have to book in half hour slots – I guess so they can control the flow of people entering.  So we had chosen 10am thinking we wanted to make the most of the day given the price, and according to both the person on the phone and their website that was the earliest opening time.  On the day we arrived for 10am, and after a short struggle with paying the car parking fees over the phone as we didn’t have enough change, we headed for the door… to find a gathering group of rather annoyed looking people.  It turns out they weren’t opening until 11am that day! So both their own website and the person we spoke to on the phone (who had insisted we pick a time) had got the opening times wrong.  Which meant we had an hour to kill hanging around, and had paid for an hours more parking than we need to have.  Needless to say we didn’t start the day in as good a mood as we could have!

Luckily the day we went the weather was good, which meant we could make the most of the different parts of the park, and our spirits picked up.  The sea life park itself was one of the larger ones I had been to and Isaac enjoyed some of the interactive elements – such as the small waterfall which gushed over the path in the rockpools area.  The park was laid out with a number of different buildings which meant that had the weather not been great you could still have enjoyed a lot of the park, but to get your money’s worth you really need to go on a dry day.

dorset6One building housed what was known as the New Ideas Zone where they had around 4 different interactive exhibits. The purpose being to see what went down well with the public that they might adopt in other parks.  One area of this had lots of different pools and cameras on long leads attached to big TV screens so that you could explore the different pools. Isaac loved this so it was the one we voted was a good idea!

Going in September meant the area with the children’s rides had closed as it was out of season (although the price was still the same!) but luckily we caught the last day of the Splash Pools being open. Another big hit with Isaac as he spent ages running in and out of water jets and going down the slide – despite it feeling freezing to us!

dorset15After some lunch in the restaurant we headed to the Skyline Tower.  It’s about a half hour walk from the sea life centre – there is a little train, but you have to pay extra so we decided to walk there and catch the train back when we were tired.  Sadly however, the train stops running about mid afternoon so we ended up walking back too!  The ride in the tower is about 15 minutes, and it was nice to fly up and see the coastline, although I don’t know that I would be bothered to go had it not been included in our tickets.

Overall, we did have a really lovely day and I would go again, but it is a shame that a few small things could have made our experience even better.  Definitely do a search for offers and double check what is open when and what is included before you go though!

The Dinosaur Museum in Dorchester

23 November, 2016

So the flyers said it was an award winning museum… and it certainly sounded cool, boasting life-sized reconstructions and hands-on displays.  So as we were looking for something a little more sedate, and trying to avoid the swimming pool and play areas following Isaac’s 24 hour sick bug we thought we’d give it a try.

dorset59As we drove up I could see a dinosaur outside – and yes it was large – but something in my head was making me wonder whether these “awards” were a bit like Rhod Gilbert’s Award Winning Mince Pie. (Which if you haven’t seen I highly recommend!)  It may have been that the building looked smaller than my house and the dinosaur outside was just literally that in a little fenced off courtyard by the building.  But we carried on in.

Inside, we paid up for the three of us – £22. We were handed a sheet of paper and pencil for Isaac, along with a magnifying glass.  It turned out that hidden through the museum there were a number of “clues” (letters) which spelt out something. On completion of the treasure hunt you got a prize.

Inside the museum was made up of about 5 rooms on two floors – rooms about the size of those in a normal house. Three of them were packed with all sorts of displays – from life size dinosaurs to fossils. One room had a large TV screen showing some short documentary. And then final room was a sort of kids interaction room – e.g. it had a number of boxes you could put your hand in to guess what was inside, or a couple of things where you had to guess whether a dinosaur would feel like this or that.

dorset63Overall we were there a lot longer than I expected given how small it was – but mainly because Isaac thought it was insanely funny to keep squeezing the horn inside one of the boxes. We sort of tried to encourage him to find the clues, but he wasn’t really interested.  Our “prize” at the end was a cheap plastic medal.

I can see they had tried to put on interactive displays, and there was a couple of iPads dotted around to make it look like it hadn’t all been there since prehistoric times, but overall I felt it was possibly more suited to school visits.  Paying £6 for Isaac, at just 3 years old, felt too much as he really was too young to appreciate most of it.  I think they should have made it free for under 5s.

Upton Country Park – a hidden gem!

15 September, 2016

dorset18On Thursday through some magic googling I had managed to find mention of a “Nature Tots” event which sounded good.  It was running at Upton Country Park near Poole.  The park is free to get into, and parking is free, although there is a box for donations.  The Nature Tots event was £3 and turned out to be great!

We started off on a Butterfly hunt – they had hidden photographs of butterflies all the way through the park and gave each child a scavenger hunt sheet so they could tick off each one they found.  Then we headed back to the hut for some craft fun – creating butterflies – before heading out again on a real bug hunt with our magnifying glasses.  The whole session was about 2 hours long and Isaac absolutely loved it.  Isaac got given an RSPB badge at the end – it was their first ever session, of what I think now runs weekly – shame we don’t live closer!

dorset29After the Nature Tots we went for lunch in the café.  They unfortunately didn’t seem to have any kind of children’s menu, but we asked if they would do a child size portion. Someone disappeared off to ask, and came back and said they could do something for us which was nice, but shame they didn’t have something as standard as it might put many people off eating with kids.

After lunch Isaac enjoyed splashing around in the Walled Garden Splash Fountain, and climbing on the wooden play trail.

The park was really lovely, and a real hidden gem. Everything was nicely integrated in the park, feeling natural and yet fun for all ages.  We had a whole day’s entertainment for not much money and we could easily have spent more time there.

Breakfast with the Big Cats

21 October, 2012

Earlier in the year I spotted a Groupon offer that sounded like it was made for me – Breakfast with the Big Cats!  So I bought the voucher and got to use it this summer.

Cheetah faceThe voucher included an overnight stay at the Cheshunt Marriott hotel with dinner included.  The hotel was clean and nice.  The menu for this break was fairly limited but you could choose alternative things off the ordinary menu if you didn’t mind paying extra.  They seemed to be a bit confused about which menu they were giving us as they gave us two different ‘special’ menus at one point.  I thought it was a shame that they didn’t let you pick something off the main menu if it was cheaper than the options on the specials menu.

In the morning we made our way to Paradise Wildlife Park before it was open to the breakfast.  There we met our guide, who was one of the cat keepers, and the other 4 people who were doing the tour with us.  We also got given some goodie bags which included DVDs and t-shirts.

Our guide took us around the different big cats and told us about their stories, as well as some general information about the work that Paradise was doing.  It was lovely to have an opportunity to see the cats while no-one else was around – made for some nice photo opportunities.

Om nom nomAt the end of our tour we got to get up close with one of the tigers while our guide showed us how they perform some routine medical checks on the animals – namely feeding small bits of meat through the bars so the tiger put his feet up and the keeper could check his paws and belly!

After the tour we got to go and have a full English breakfast in the restaurant.  They couldn’t have been friendlier – greeting us and checking what we’d like to eat, and then coming back and asking if we wanted more!  There was plenty of tea, coffee and orange juice to go around too.  The food was fairly basic canteen style but it was all freshly cooked and nice.

Doesn't taste like chickenWhile we were eating breakfast the zoo opened to the public and we were free then to spend as much of the rest of the day as we wanted in the park.  One of my highlights was watching the white lions – they were just about to get their enclosure refurbished, but the male lion decided it was time to make a start.  He managed to chew his way through one of the huge logs making up his platform and totally rip it out of the rest.  It then became a rather large cat toy!

Overall I thought the deal was excellent, and the park very good.  The zoo is relatively small but they had made a lot of effort to design to park in ways that meant there was plenty of room for everyone to see, with raised walkways as well as the standard viewing windows.  It also meant that is was good for photography as there was some different angles and places you could view the animals from.

More photos from our visit on my Flickr set.

Lowry Park Zoo

8 August, 2012

We’ve been to Florida now a few times in recent years and although we love to visit some of the same old favourites we always try to find somewhere new to visit each year.  This year a friend suggested Lowry Park Zoo as she’d heard good things through her friends that had been.  Being a huge animal lover it sounded like a good suggestion to me!

The zoo is in Tampa so just over an hour from where we were staying, but the drive was straight forward and easy.  One nice thing about going was that it felt more chilled out that many of the other parks and attractions in Florida – which although we go in lower season still get thousands of visitors daily.  The car park was free to enter and there was some shade too which meant getting back in the car wasn’t unbearable at the end of the day!

Wave to the peopleOne of my highlights was the Clouded Leopard.  He was such an attractive cat, and he had a cute personality.  We went and saw him first thing in the morning which meant he was up and about and he kept coming over to us to say hello!  The conservation status of these cats is vulnerable, so while not quite as rare as some of the other leopards, their population numbers are declining.

In addition to wandering around the zoo they do offer other things to see and do.  There are a couple of rides for children – a log flume, a carousel, a small rollercoaster and a train.  They also had what was named a safari ride which is a narrated tram tour around the park.  This was the only ride we did while there and in hindsight I wouldn’t have minded missing it!  We waited for around 5-10 minutes as there only seemed to be one tram going around.  The tram did go around parts of the park not directly visible from the paths in the zoo, but you didn’t see anything different so you wouldn’t miss animals by not going on it.  As I volunteer in a zoo, and have visited rather a lot over the years, I didn’t find any of the basic commentary told me anything I didn’t already know.  However, I am sure for children the ride was a fun addition.

Flying tigerThe zoo also put on various talks and shows throughout the day.  The one we went along to was with the tigers.  We’d walked past there earlier in the day but the cats were asleep in the cave at the back and we didn’t really see them so I hoped by going back during a talk they may be more active.  However, they remained sleepy!  It was a good talk though and the keeper told us about the two male brothers living there as well as general facts about the species.  Luckily just before we went home I nipped back to see if they had woken up and was delighted to find them playing together.

There was also a few animal attractions where you could choose to pay a few dollars extra for some unique experiences like hand feeding a giraffe or riding a camel.  I liked the fact that people could make their own day and it kept it interesting for all ages and interests.

Overall it is somewhere I would definitely recommend.  The zoo was really nicely laid out with about five distinct areas, and each was easy to wander around without missing anything.  The animals all looked well cared for and in good accommodation, and signage and things around the park was kept up to date.  So although the zoo clearly doesn’t have the income of the larger places like Busch Gardens it was a really nice place to visit.

West Midlands Safari Park

28 April, 2012

While we were up in the Midlands back in March we went along to the West Midlands Safari Park.  It was on my list of places to visit as I’d heard about their white lions, although I wondered whether being a Safari Park rather than a zoo would mean there wasn’t the same kind of photographic opportunities.

The entrance price seemed very reasonable, especially as if you buy tickets online you got a free return visit.  The park is laid out with the safari area which you drive through, and then there is an area where you can park and walk around the other attractions.  There is a small theme park / rides area, but they are mainly for the younger guests, and you have to pay extra to go on the rides so we didn’t bother.  There are also some more animals you can wander around, including penguins, hippo, meerkat and what looks like quite a new lemur woods. 

WMSP 2The last time we went to a safari park we’d lost some parts of the car after driving through the monkey enclosure, so my husband wasn’t overly keen in taking his car in to another safari park!  However, there isn’t monkeys to drive through here, and there are routes you can miss certain animals if you don’t wish to drive through them all.

The safari area is really well laid out, with the roads twisting through different enclosures.  I liked the fact that the road in most places is two or three cars wide so there was plenty of room to stop for photographs, or to pull around people when you were ready to move on.  Quite a few of the areas you’re free to open windows and even feed some of the animals – they’ll sell you the food at the entrance to the safari.  We had fun watching some of the giraffe and zebra up really close, and found it funny when a zebra put his head through the window to say hello!

Who dares to disturb my sleepI was really pleased to see that there were a lot of different big cats.  In a couple of the areas (cheetah and white tigers) there was additional fencing between the road and the animals, but you were close enough to the wire, and the animals were far enough away, that it was possible to still get some nice photographs without the wires causing a problem.

Eat up dearSeeing the lions was one of my highlights as there are two massive prides – one of the normal lions and one of the white lions.  They both seemed to have been fed relatively recently so were all enjoying midday snacks!  Due to the fact the road wound its way around the enclosure there was plenty of opportunity to see them up close and take some nice pictures.

The safari area took about an hour and a half to drive around.  It wasn’t too busy when we went which was good as there was lots of time to enjoy it without feeling rushed, or having your view blocked by anyone else.

Overall I think the West Midlands Safari park was well worth a visit.  I still do prefer the leisure of walking around somewhere at my own leisure, and being able to return to areas at different times of the day to see different things, and for that reason do prefer a zoo to a safari park.  From a photography perspective you don’t have so much time to get a photo set up, and you can’t always move yourself to get that perfect angle.  However, you can utilise the window frame and things inside the car to anchor yourself and try to avoid camera shake a little.

More of my photographs from the visit on my Flickr set.

Drayton Manor

22 March, 2012

On Tuesday we wen to Drayton Manor in Staffordshire.  It is part theme park and part zoo, and was fairly close to where we were staying.

Black leopardWe first wandered around the zoo, as the rides don’t open up until later.  It isn’t a huge zoo, but had quite a mix of animals.  I particularly liked seeing the two gorgeous black leopards and the very pretty Geoffroy’s cat with his spotty back and stripey tail.  It wasn’t an ideal place for photography as the bars were quite thick, and I didn’t have my proper camera with me anyway.  We also went along a little later and managed to catch the meet the keeper session and see the penguins being fed.  It was a shame that the keepers didn’t bother to acknowledge anyone was even standing there.

After wandering around the zoo we went on the rides.  They have tried to cater for all ages, and had a variety of rides, from a stand-up rollercoaster for the older kids to a Thomas the Tank Engine train ride for the small ones, and family favourites like a log flume which everyone could enjoy.  The thing I found rather frustrating is that on many of the rides they insisted I took my glasses off.  I’ve worn glasses since I was 4, and on huge great rollercoasters in the US where you hurtle face down towards the ground so I hardly think I’ll get into any trouble on a log flume!

The park currently costs £36 to enter plus £3 for parking which is rather expensive.  Luckily you can offer find deals, and we managed to a get a buy one get one free offer.

Overall it was a pleasant enough day out, but I much preferred Chessington which we went to last year.  The parks are both aimed at a similar audience, but Drayton Manor felt like less care had been spent on keeping it looking fresh, and the staff were no-where near as friendly.

There are some more photographs on my Drayton Manor set on Flickr.


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