As a child, the idea of a space where I could role play my grown up aspirations was something I longed for and got a taste for when we took a trip to the Eureka discovery centre in Halifax. For those who haven’t been, at Eureka there are lots of pretend play opportunities including to ‘go grocery shopping’ in a specially adapted M&S Food complete with child-sized shopping trolleys.
If you have been and would like to get a sense of what to expect at KidZania, think Eureka… on steroids.
We first discovered KidZania a few years ago in Dubai (read about it here). In the city that does everything larger than life and to the extreme, KidZania definitely fitted in well. As you first approach the attraction, you’re greeted by the humongous nose of a jumbo jet and a realistic airport ‘checking in area’ (actually a ticket desk). Once in, you’re transported to another world that, with its painted clouds on the ceiling and dim lighting, bears resemblance to Las Vegas Venetian or Dubai’s Ibn Battuta Mall. Like some kind of surreal dream (or nightmare?), kids have taken over the ‘town’; a little boy rushes past us with an urgent delivery of blood for the hospital, pint-size reporters tap away at their desks of the Metro newspaper and kids are flipping hamburgers.
We visited on a Saturday so I was surprised that at midday the attraction was fairly quiet. By about 2.30pm this changed considerably, but the place never felt over crowded.
Children get the chance to try out different work roles for 5-20 minutes and at the end of each task they are paid Kidzos, KidZania’s currency. They can use these to exchange for some of the recreational activities like climbing, some of the more popular experiences like Pilot training and if they have any left at the end of the day, to spend on some small pocket money toys.
Noah was immediately drawn to the Renault garage where he learned all about how to change a tyre on a race car. He’s been really interested in racing cars and watching Formula 1 recently (thanks to Cars 3 I think) so this was a great experience.
He was also able to show off his caring nature working in the midwifery department at the hospital and later in the day performing a life saving operation on a poorly dog at the Veterinary Surgery.
Phew! That was hard work. Time to let off some steam at the stadium where one of KidZania’s many talented and engaging staff members showed him how to play cricket.
Playing is exclusively for the kids so expect, as a parent, to spend plenty of time waiting around ‘observing’. There is actually a parents lounge which is a quiet place you could go read a book if your kids are a bit older and you’re happy for them to go around the attraction by themselves, but there isn’t much else to do in there. There is however, plenty of seating around the attraction and places to grab a coffee or something to eat.
After a quick snack, Noah was back to the grind. Time to make some deliveries.
He took this very seriously.
He was also really keen to do a great cleaning job; something he hasn’t replicated at home.
Proudly, he showed us all the Kidzos he had earned over the course of the day.
KidZania is not cheap. Entrance ticket prices vary depending on the date, but for a weekend ticket for an adult and child, you’re really looking at around £40. Under 4s are cheaper, but there are fewer activities they can take part in, this is something that Noah found particularly frustrating when we visited the first time in Dubai. We think the child’s entrance fee is justified (the parent’s fee, less so). The experience of KidZania is like no other play area that we’ve visited. The attraction is fantastic to facilitate children’s imaginations and gives them an arena to play out their ambitions. It is also educational; through taking part in the various activities kids learn about a whole heap of subjects such as fire safety, nutrition, pet care and many others. The earning and spending of Kidzos is a great introduction to the concept of money and, I’d like to think, is a tangible way to explain to kids what their grown ups have to do to pay for all their things.
KidZania is located at the Westfield Shopping Centre, Ariel Way, White City, London W12 7GF. Book tickets on the KidZania website.