Reviewed by Sarah Bryan
Within the safe walls of the KidZania City exists a kind of magic that can only be felt by children.
Oh to be a kid today! KidZania London offers a completely unique and truly magnificent experience for children and I have never seen so many big smiles on so many little faces. If you have been living on another planet and are yet to become aware of the ultimate in family attractions, then let me enlighten you…
Located inside the super swish and snazzy Westfield London Shopping Centre in W12; KidZania is really easy to find – just follow the delightful little footprints from the car park and you are led straight into the welcoming arms of a make believe paradise. What’s even better is if your little cherubs are over 8 years old you can usher them in, get them tagged and slink off for a little browse around those Westfield shops, safe in the knowledge that they are secure inside the realms of KidZania. Win win!
The thing about KidZania is that it is completely and utterly all about the kids. It’s a purpose-built city crammed with every “grown up” career or activity that young people may want to try out and experience in a controlled environment. No wonder this place has won multiple awards. It’s billed as an “educational entertainment experience” and is aimed at 4-14 years; although if you have a younger tot too there is an exclusive area just for them to enjoy along with activities throughout the day such as the “Baby Disco” as part of the Just Dance activity so it’s really inclusive for all. It also covers such a vast range of things to try that your kiddiewinks are guaranteed to find jobs that interest them. From Coding to Cars and Cricket to Care; an unbelievable amount of detail and planning has been poured into making KidZania the success it clearly is.
We were welcomed on arrival by super friendly staff on the front desk and collected our “boarding pass” tickets before heading through the airport departure lounge and finding ourselves in the shadow of an enormous Jet and wondering if we were actually about to hand in our passports and fly off to some exotic location. As first impressions go, the impact upon arrival is really something. We checked in and were given a brief on how it all works, the kids were given hairnets and a wad of “Kidzos” – the only currency worth anything here – and we were all fitted with electronic tags. Not only do these wristwatch type devices link the children to their adult ensuring the safety of the youngsters; it is also scanned at each activity undertaken and any professional photos are connected to the correct child ready for you viewing pleasure at the end of the time slot.
Essentially there are over 60 jobs or activities to try. Most of them are paid in Kidzo notes, a few of them are charged so it encourages financial awareness and some lessons in earning, spending and saving. Each activity is individually designed and staffed and they vary in duration as well as age suitability. It’s enormous fun for the small folks to dress up and role play and have a taster of what that particular job might be like but it also gives them so much more in terms of life skills; no wonder it’s so popular with school groups. It’s a great confidence builder for children as well as being empowering and it encourages independent thinking and behaviour as well as helping them build up their social skills. Our 8-year-old was adamant she was only doing activities that earned money and was very reluctant to pay out anything. She loved counting her Kidzos and was keen to open up her own Kidzania bank account so she could get her own bank card! The other girls were more intent on spending!
As a parent in KidZania you have to take a big step back; of course there are areas for us grownups to retreat to whether it be sipping a Costa outside on the street of the city under the faux cloudy sky above you or you can head to the upper level and into the Adult Lounge where you can plug in and wind down. I wanted to watch the beautiful mayhem. To see what happened and how our children behaved when separated from us and dealing with unknown situations. You can still view what is going on but the door to the activity is firmly shut and you wait with anticipation on the other side of the glass to hear what it was like and what they did inside. Even the queue benches are just for kids but how wonderful to have the opportunity to give your child space in a safe environment and to see them grow.
The mini city is kept scrupulously clean and on several occasions I saw staff walking around with litter pick sticks – were they actual real cleaners? Maybe they were role playing or undercover as part of the “CIA Spy” activity. Who knows but there was no mess or wear and tear anywhere to be seen.
Most of the staff we found to be friendly, helpful and efficient and those based within an activity seemed in their element, fully in character and oozing enthusiasm – this added so much to the experience. They were great at engaging the kids and keeping their attention. Only a handful seemed tired of the script and lacked the communication skills that are vital in this type of work. It was nice to see queue jumping dealt with in an assertive manner.
We went to KidZania with our children ranging in age from 4 to 10 years. They managed to complete 8-10 activities each and found the waiting times fine. Occasionally there was no queue so they could go straight in and only once did they find the waiting time excessively long (Just Dance) so much so that one of them decided she was bored and wanted to try something else.
Our overall favourite activity was Fire & Rescue which was really popular so it’s advisable to head there first if it’s on your list. All the kids absolutely loved being Fire Fighters. They donned the uniform, underwent training and rode around the city in the Fire Truck before fighting a fire! I love the thought that has gone into planning this and how all the emergency services link up to create a real feel crisis experience. You can see the adrenaline pumping!
Another fave for our 8-year-old was the PDSA Pet Wellbeing Centre activity. She said “I loved being a vet. I actually got to treat the pet and put a dressing on” She was happy to dip into her hard earned Kidzos for this one and wore her lanyard with pride.
Our 10-year-old is crazy about babies and a complete mini mum so she was in her element in the Maternity Ward; so much so that she wished it had been longer, more in-depth and she even wanted to do this activity again!
The 8 and 10-year-old were keen to make a nut bar in the Eat Natural Fruit and Nut Bar Makery activity but were disappointed after queuing with their hair nets on to learn as the door opened that they would not be taking one home. They felt it was a waste of ingredients and a waste of their time.
All 4 children wanted to try the “Children’s Intelligence Agency” activity which is new at KidZania this summer and they were drawn in by the eerie green lighting and intrigued by what the previous group were rushing around doing. The kids loved how the room was decorated and worked brilliantly as an undercover team racing against time to search the city for clues. They found the “Spy boss” really enthusiastic and helpful and you could see the kids took it seriously as one yelled “We’ve got 3 minutes!” as he checked his stopwatch. Our 5-year-old came out declaring “That was brilliant!” and told me “We saved KidZania from a virus. I felt excited and nervous!”
The GBK activity is truly amazing and was top of the kids list to do. You do have to pay real money for this one but at only £3 per child it’s well worth it. It’s in-depth and very hands on and their little faces as they came out proudly clutching the burger they had made was a real picture!
There are places to get food within KidZania but we didn’t want to waste a moment of our 4 hour time slot so we snacked on the go… plus the kids were full from the deliciously juicy burger they made at GBK! There are lots of signposts with directions and once inside you find your bearings quite quickly and can easily navigate your way around. There are lots of toilets too which makes life easier.
At the end of your 4 hour time slot you exit through the Picture Air Photo Store where you are shown all the photos taken of your child whilst in KidZania and there are various formats or packages you can choose from. They were brilliant high-quality glossy finish pictures and we brought 3 of the 6” x 8” prints that come in a KidZania mount and make a great keepsake. We only wished that there was a way to capture a picture of every activity undertaken, as the photographers roam around popping into the activities on an ad hoc basis so it’s not guaranteed that you’ll get a photo.
You then walk through into the tag removal zone and into the gift shop where it divides into two areas, one with goods you can buy with real money and one area with items you can purchase with your Kidzos. We found lots of items without prices on in the cash purchase area and in the Kidzos purchase area we found hardly anything under the value of 100 Kidzos. Our children had between 80-100 Kidzos to spend so there really needs to be some lower value items. We decided to save our KidZania currency for our next visit.
My top tip before visiting KidZania is to plan what you want to do. There is lots of info on their website so you can go through the jobs and highlight the particular activities you want to try. We found it build up the excitement and it also meant we made the most of our time there as the 4 hours whizzed by. Our children had a top 3 list of what they really wanted to do so we made sure we prioritised those and we also printed out a map of the city. For the more electronically minded there is an app you can download so you can have the map on your phone.
You do have the opportunity to book one extra activity onto the end of your time slot which is a wonderful choice to have and means no one goes home unhappy.
KidZania is the type of place you will return to; not only because there are so many activities to try but also because as time ticks on and your child grows so too does their interest in other things.
This place is so awesome that it makes all other kids days out pale in comparison. It’s a child’s dream come true and I now hold the highly prestigious title of “Best Mum ever in the world and universe” for taking them.
If you’ve never been to KidZania then add this to the top of your list of things to do this summer and if you have been before there is loads of new stuff on such as the CIA Spy activity.
Prices range depending on peak times but there are usually offers to be found or discounts for booking ahead and its money well spent for making memories that help build vital childhood foundations as well as being total fun.
Absolutely outstanding in every way and if I could give KidZania more than 5 stars I most certainly would!
Tickets cost from £10 (book online for best prices).
For more information or to book tickets visit kidzania.co.uk.
KidZania London, Westfield London, Ariel Way, W12 7GA