The blurb about KidZania says it is ‘a real life role play experience for 4-14 year olds, blending learning and reality with entertainment.’ My fabulous friend Sarah and I are always looking for great days out to entertain our children, so we took our four girls aged between 7 and 9 on a weekday afternoon to find out what it’s all about…
How to get there
It’s based in Westfield Shopping Centre in West London, which is really well connected by public transport, particularly by tube. It’s actually very close to four tube stations: Shepherds Bush and White City on the Central Line and Wood Lane and Shepherd’s Bush Market on the Hammersmith and City Line. I would say it’s a six or seven minute walk to Westfield with kids from each – a bonus since at least one of mine moans incessantly about any walking at all.
How safe is it?
When you first arrive, the children and their accompanying adult(s) are all given an electronic wristband that can’t be taken off, and the children can only leave with the adult they came with. Because it’s so safe, you can go round with your children, but you can also give them the freedom to explore on their won, or even drop them off and go shopping in Westfield (if they’re over 8).
What happens in KidZania?
Inside it is like a child-size shopping centre built within a real shopping centre – the difference being that it’s kept really really clean and all the staff are super helpful. There are a series of shop-fronts with different activities happening in each shop. There about 60 real-life roles the children can do, from reporter to fashion model, and the guide says kids normally complete 4-6 roles. Each role takes between 10 and 20 minutes, and they run continuously. If an activity has already started when you get there, you just join the queue for the next session. We went from 3-7pm on a weekday and there were no real queues for anything, but a friend who went at midday told me the queues were up to 45 minutes for popular activities. Our children managed to do seven roles and were more than happy with that, again the friend who went at a busier time told me her children only managed to do three.
Most of the roles have a genuinely educational element – training to be an airline pilot courtesy of British Airways or learning about clothes recycling with H&M stand out – but our children had no idea they were learning anything, they were just really having fun.
Only children are allowed into the activities and adults who choose to stick around can watch through big shop windows. We went to the first couple of activities with our kids, but they couldn’t ditch us soon enough, so we showed them where the adult lounge was and told them to come and get us if they needed anything (they didn’t).
If you decide to let your children roam free, the wrist bands track them, so anxious parents can use information kiosks around the City to see which activity their child last checked into and even to send messages, but we didn’t bother.
The adult lounge is actually surprisingly pleasant, and whilst more expensive than a cup of tea at home, not shockingly priced for this kind of place (a cup of earl grey tea was £2). As well as a selection of cakes and pastries, I was surprised to see they served alcohol. Whilst we were there one daddy had a quiet glass of wine, and there were two mummies who knocked back several beers before heading out to find their children. The lounge was also noticeably empty, which makes me think that a lot of parents had taken the option of checking their children in and then going shopping!
KidZania has its own currency (Kidzos) and children get a small number to start with. For each activity the children either get paid (e.g. working in the clothes recycling centre) or need to pay (e.g. the chocolate factory). Not only do they need to ‘balance their books’ during their visit (hurrah for secretly making them do maths!) but there is a Department Store, where they can spend any left-over Kidzos at the end of your visit. This meant our children weren’t worried about browsing in the gift shop at the end – they’d already the done their shopping.
After four hours the children can no longer participate in the activities, but you can stay in KidZania and browse the Department Store, eat, or just stroll around. As we started at 3, after a bit of a browse, we eventually left at 7.30. Our kids were absolutely buzzing, but needed feeding straight away.
What does it cost?
The cost during weekends and holidays is £32 for kids and £16.50 for adults, but ticket combinations including family tickets are available – check the website for up-to-date details of the options and prices. When we left we also got vouchers for free adult entry, so if we decide to go again we will only be paying for the children.
Although there are a couple of places you can stop for a snack, or even a meal, and these take real money, it is really noticeable there is not a constant demand to pay for little extras. There are even water fountains so everyone can stay hydrated without needing to buy drinks.
There is a professional photographer going round and the photos are quite expensive when you get to the end – £12 for a single photo. Although, in fairness, we got charged £50 (the most expensive package) for all the photos of our four children, rather than being charged separately for each family or even each child. I’d still be surprised if many people buy them at that price.
Would we go back?
Our kids are already talking about activities they missed and want to do next time, including being in the police force and fire service. So yes, I would say we’re definitely going back.
- It’s really safe, so you can keep as close an eye on your children as you want or leave them to enjoy the freedom and independence of exploring on their own.
- The children absolutely loved it, didn’t notice that they were learning(!), and were still enjoying it at the end of the four hours. I would say our children – aged 7 to 9 – were the perfect age to get the most out of it.
- The price you pay at the door is all it needs to cost you, there is no need to spend anything once you get in there – in fact the only things you can spend real money on are food (if you want it), photographs, and the gift shop when you leave. For this reason I would say it’s good value.