Dinosaur delight in south east London

It’s true I like dead people – some of my happiest days out have been spent in cemeteries – but I’ve never really been that interested in dead animals, or dinosaurs to be more specific.  So I really wasn’t expecting Dinosaurs in the Wild to be quite so much fun for adults and children alike.

If you like your entertainment to be immersive, then this is for you.  The central idea is that a company called Chronotex has invented time travel and are now taking tourists back 67 million years to their dinosaur research facility in Montana.  I loved the careful detail with which everything has been planned and executed, from the realistic laboratory set-up, to the fridges filled with samples, to the scientific notes casually left open on a desk.  In fact, it was so realistic, that my 9 year old decided to hold my hand for some of the more ‘wild’ bits of it.  In contrast, my eleven year old (no previous interest in dinosaurs) and her friend (a dinosaur officionado) were desperate to ditch the mums and tour around on their own.  And, given how well-managed it is, they were pretty much able to do so.

IMG_6648.JPGAs you move through the tour of the facility there is a mix of dinosaur models, animatronix and 3D films, which ensures you never get complacent about what you are seeing.  In each lab or zone there is a member of Chronotex’s team talking about their work, which includes everything from incubating dinosaur eggs to conducting dinosaur autopsies.  There are interactive parts (like putting on gloves and sifting through dinosaur poo) and the opportunity to ask questions and engage with the ‘scientists’ at every stage.  I have read elsewhere that the information they present is accurate and incorporates up-to-date information from recent scientific studies, which doesn’t surprise me given the level detail that is everywhere you look.

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This is how Chronotex have mastered time travel

There is so much to watch, listen to, read and do, that there’s no time to get bored and the tour guide keeps up the pace, moving you from one zone to the next.  If anything, we could have spent longer soaking it all up.

I also want to give a mention to how fantastic all the staff were.  It wasn’t just all the actors playing out their roles, but everyone from the man on the door to the lady in the cloakroom finding our coats, everyone was friendly, welcoming and helpful.

It is such a unique experience that the kids and I were talking about it for ages afterwards.  I thoroughly recommend it for children, adults, dinosaur lovers and cemetery geeks (me) alike!

Prices

I’ve got to be honest, it is quite expensive for something that only takes about an hour and a half (£26 for a child and £95 for a family of 2 children and 2 adults), but, although there is a shop at the end, there is no real push to sell you merchandise that so often bumps up the cost of taking children out. If there are any special offers, other than for groups and schools etc, I couldn’t find them.

Booking

Dinosaurs in the wild is on until 31st July, and tours run from 9.30am til 4.30pm Tuesday to Sunday.  You can book a date and time slot to suit on-line depending on availability.  Find out more

Getting there

Dinosaurs in the Wild is on Greenwich Peninsula, a ten minute walk from the O2 and North Greenwich underground on the Jubilee Line.  It is on a number of bus routes.  Find out more.

Cemeteries

If you’ve read all this, and still think you’d rather go to a cemetery, why not read my blog about Nunhead and Highgate Cemeteries, or my blog about Brompton.  Or follow my blog, because I’ve recently been to Kensal Green cemetery and I’ve got to tell you it was awesome!

The bad mummy’s guide to surviving half term

How can it possibly be, when I have barely recovered from the unfeasibly long summer break, that my children are on holiday again?  I mean, I’ve been in meetings that have lasted longer than the half term just gone.  And now parents everywhere are drafting in friends, grandparents, and people they once met on the bus to look after their offspring so they can make it in to work.  Even with help of benevolent strangers, almost everyone at some point has to spend part of half term at home with their children.  Fear not!  I have come up with three easy life hacks to help you survive…

 

william-and-katePlan like you’re managing William and Kate’s trip to Canada – you need your little royals to have a diary packed with interesting activities.  If you leave any days unplanned one of three things will happen:

 

  1. Your children will maraud around your house trashing every room, whilst alternately pulling each other’s hair, rubbing toothpaste into the carpet and ganging up on you.
  2. You will be panicked into taking them on an outing to somewhere that is extortionately expensive. To add insult to injury, not only will the journey there be horrendous, but the journey home will be worse.
  3. You will be required to entertain your own children. This is, of course, water off a duck’s back if you’re a wonder mum who loves nothing better than doing a spot of arts and crafts or baking cupcakes, but for the rest of us it’s a living nightmare.

If you’re reading this, you’ve already left it too late – better check your bank balance and brace yourself for some serious expenditure…

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Quality Street – yes please!

Arrange play dates with friends at their house not yours – this is the smart way to entertain your kids.  Some other mummy will be run ragged preparing a delicious lunch, chopping up fruit for healthy snacks, and searching fruitlessly for Harry Potter’s wand.  And when your child leaves, she’ll be the one stepping on discarded lego (surprisingly painful) and vacuuming crushed cornflakes out of the carpet (don’t ask).  If you take this option, please observe the protocol: you can drop your children off for lunch OR you can leave them there until after supper, but you really can’t expect someone else to give your children both main meals of the day.  Also, I always try to take chocolates or some other sort of mummy-treat by way of acknowledging that her pain is my gain.

Milk it!  We all know that people with kids go to work for a break from their children.  So whilst you have been putting the hours into rearing the children you created together, your partner has been lazing around in meetings, chatting over the water cooler, and leisurely choosing their sandwiches for lunch.  When he or she arrives home, you should adopt a pained and exhausted expression, slump on the sofa, report every misdemeanor no matter how minor, and demand that you be brought tea / cake  / human sacrifice.  Never admit that the children behaved really well, or that you’ve actually had a lot of fun, because not only will your partner feel aggrieved that they missed out, but you will ruin this ruse for the rest of us.

So if you’re wading into half-term unprepared, I hope these tips have given you a headstart.  If you have more, please let me know!  And if you are now thrown into a panic that you have done all of the above and you are, in fact, a terrible parent, reassure yourself by reading my previous blog in which I pose important questions about my own parenting – such as why my children can’t remember to brush their teeth, and whether I’m too old to like Justin Bieber…

Thanks for the photos BusinessInsider.com (William & Kate) and my talented friend Kulbinder (Quality Street).

Review: A watersports holiday with Mark Warner: how much fun can a family of four have?

We took our 7 and 9 year-old girls to Mark Warner’s Levante resort on the island of Rhodes for a week of water sports and fun in the sun, and here’s what we learnt…

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What is there to do?

No sooner have you unpacked your toothbrush, than you are launched into a barrage of briefings about the facilities and activities on offer.  As I can only hold three pieces of information in my head at any one time, by the time we got to the third briefing I had forgotten everything I had learnt at the first two.  Luckily by the second day, it all seemed to make sense and we even managed to establish a bit of a routine.

You can do everything you would at home, from daily gym, yoga and stretch classes, to mountain biking, tennis and running, but the ‘waterfront’ (Mark Warner’s term for all the water-based sports on offer) is where the holiday really comes into its own.  There is a constant stream of courses, events and activities that you can go to, all at no extra charge (apart from activities that involve a power boat, like water-skiing).   Or you can go it alone, and just get out on the water with a sail boat, kayak, windsurf board or stand-up paddle board.  The staff are all qualified instructors, and couldn’t be more helpful, whether it’s helping you figure out the best windsurf sail for your size and skill level or carrying the wretched thing up and down the beach for you.

They run free introductory courses for all the water sports and we went on the 3-hour beginner’s windsurfing course, which gave enough knowledge and basic skills to have a go on our own.  You can pay for private lessons if you want to, and there’s a hefty discount for booking three or more, but there is no hard sell trying to get you to spend more money, and there’s so much to do, there’s really no need unless you’re particularly focused on improving at something.

We also went on the kayak safari (free) which was three exhausting hours of paddling with not much to see, and a quick pit stop at a local café.  Although on paper this sounds quite dull, it was actually really good fun, and a good way to meet other people on the holiday.  We didn’t manage to make the snorkelling trip (also free), and I’m not sure what else we might have missed.

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I windsurf like a potato

 

 What’s the kids club like?

Kids club is included in the price of the holiday and the children are grouped by age.   Dividing the kids by age means they are more likely to have similar skills and capabilities on the water, as well as more in common to chat about.  Our girls are 7 and 9, so were in separate groups and we were a bit worried this might lead to some moaning, but each had so much fun, was kept so busy and made so many friends, that it was no problem at all.

The club runs from 9-12.30 and 2.30-5.30, and there are different activities each day, although every day includes a session at the waterfront learning to windsurf or sail and a session in the pool.  This is definitely not a baby-sitting service, as the kids are constantly active.  Mine are quite sporty (something they have definitely not got from me) and loved all the sessions on the water in particular.

Every night is ‘movie night’ and (so long as you stay on the resort) you can drop your children off at 7.30 to watch a movie and play some games and they don’t need to be collected until 11. No need to book, no need to pay.  If you want to leave the resort though, you do need to pay for the babysitting service.  Because the kids spent most of the day apart from us, we only used the movie night option once, as it was actually really fun to catch up with them over dinner and hear about their day.

How many swimming pools are there?

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If you are the kind of person who likes to boast about how many pools there were at your resort, then this holiday is not for you – the emphasis is definitely on the sports, not lounging by the pool, but having said that…

There is an enormous child friendly pool surrounded by sun loungers and umbrellas. This is the pool for people who like to keep an eye on their kids and are not averse to the sound of other people’s children screaming with excitement.  If you haven’t got your towel on a lounger by mid-morning you may find it difficult to get one.

There is a smaller and quite deep (more than 5ft) pool by the beach, also surrounded by loungers and umbrellas.  This is the only pool to have a bar area and is quite popular with teens.  We used to congregate here for a milkshake and a dip when kids club finished at 5.30.

Our favourite pool was the adult pool.  This is the most peaceful of the three and a Mecca for people who want to swim a couple of lengths and read a book or magazine in peace.  Like the children’s pool, if you want a sun lounger you need to be a bit German about arriving early and staking your claim with a towel and beach bag.

How safe is it?

I was really impressed by the rigorous approach to safety on the waterfront, from always requiring both children and adults to wear a life vest, to signing everyone out and back in again and keeping a close eye on them from the watch tower and the permanent safety boat out on the water.  At one point I was jettisoned head first off the windsurfer and floated beside it for a bit just feeling sorry for myself.  Within two minutes the safety boat was over to check I was ok, and whether I wanted to be towed in (I didn’t).

What’s the food like?

We went half board, but in reality there’s really very little option other than to eat every meal on the resort.  Breakfast is served on the hotel terrace and you can eat lunch and dinner there or at the cafe by the main pool.

Breakfast is really good, with loads of fresh fruit, omelettes and pancakes made to order (and you’ve got to love a restaurant that thinks cake should be served at breakfast!).  We ate lunch at the pool cafe every day and it’s basic but wholesome and reasonably priced. The evening meal is a buffet, and there’s a huge selection – although I would have preferred less choice but better quality. The main evening meal starts at 7.30, but there is an earlier children’s sitting, which is full of more child-friendly foods.  Even at the main meal, there’s all the standard stuff children eat like spaghetti bolognese – although nothing tastes exactly the same as at home.  This also goes for the coffee (UHT milk only), and if you like a particular kind of tea other than English breakfast, your best bet is to take it with you (I’m weird about Earl Grey, and have turned into one of those people who take their own tea bags with them wherever they go – even if it’s only a meeting in North London).

What’s the room like?

The room was basic but clean and pleasant, with a large sliding door between our room and the children’s area, allowing privacy if wanted.  The bathroom was spotlessly clean, but there was always a slight toilet smell.  Apparently the Greeks use ‘grey water’ for their loos (i.e. not water that you can drink, like in the UK), which may account for the slight whiff.  There’s also a small fridge and a kettle in the room, and a drier on the balcony – perfect for hanging your swimming stuff out to dry.  The air conditioning was very efficient, and my husband had the temperature set to ‘Antarctic’, so the kids slept with a duvet!

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What kit do I need?

In theory, you don’t need anything in particular, but in practice I would recommend:

  • Day sacks for your kids – they need something to carry their suntan lotion, towels and dry clothes in as they trek from activity to activity
  • Baseball caps for the kids – this protects their heads and keeps the glare out of their eyes if like mine, they refuse to wear the sunglasses you bought specially for the trip
  • Rash vest /UV tops and shorts for adults as well as kids – the sun is absolutely blistering all day long and no amount of suntan lotion can survive how often you’ll be getting in and out of the water
  • Crocs or similar for adults and kids – walking anywhere is like crossing over hot coals, and you want something you can easily slip on and off and rinse off afterwards
  • Loads of high factor sun lotion – no explanation needed! Bring several bottles as each child needs their own for kids club and you’ll want to keep some with you as well.
  • Board shoes for adults and kids – these are neoprene shoes with rubber bottoms.  In theory you don’t need them, but they do give you better grip for board sports.  You can buy them quite cheaply in the resort shop, although they’re not very good quality.

Other bits and bobs worth knowing

  • Shower gel, shampoo and conditioner are all provided in your room.
  • The chamber maid provides clean white towels for the room and brown towels for the beach every day – although being a mummy I religiously hung ours out to dry every evening ‘just in case’.
  • The resort shop is not very extensive, but it is reasonably priced and you can pick up most emergency items like toothpaste and sun tan lotion.  You can also buy snacks if your kids, like mine, find the gap between lunch at 12.30 and supper at 7.30 too long.
  • There is an English nurse on site, and you can just drop in. We made one visit and she got something from the pharmacy in town for us the same day.
  • There is a spa on the resort, but we honestly didn’t have time to visit it in between everything else.
  • The staff – both local and Mark Warner staff – are a delight, super-friendly and helpful, so if there’s anything you want or don’t know, just ask!

What does it cost and is it value for money?

Let’s be honest, taking a family of four on holiday is never a cheap enterprise.  The facilities and food are nice enough but definitely not delux.  What you’re really paying for is the amount of activities that are available, so if you mainly want to lie on a sun lounger, you are wasting your money going on this holiday.  But if you want to be active, then I would definitely say it’s worth it.  Prices vary enormously according to the resort and dates you go as well as the timing of when you book, so the best thing is to check the Mark warner website.

 Would we go again?

Absolutely!  The kids loved it, and frankly so did I.