Reviewed by Sarah Bryan
This place is sheer heaven for kids! The absolute best family day out we’ve had this summer! Five-star fun!
I’ll start with one small downside… it’s not a cheap family day out. Before you go, book your tickets online to save £3.50 each otherwise it’s £20 for adults and £21 for children on the gate. But please don’t let the cost put you off, it’s unbelievably worth it!
“Why on earth is a child’s ticket more expensive?” I hear you cry… because Willows Farm is a child’s world, It’s all for the little people. Everything is centred around those tiny tackers, us adults are mere enablers and bag holders but the joy your precious peaches will get from a day out here and the memories they will make, it’s priceless.
It’s a whole day out – more so in fact but that’s the delight, when you come back again (which I guarantee you will!) they’ll be something new to try as well as favourites you will want to see again. I can see why there is membership options available; you could dedicate a few hours at a time to a section. There’s funfair rides, shows and character meet and greets, tractor rides, outside playgrounds, indoor play barn, farm animals to feed, pets to pet, Peter Rabbit adventure playground, giant inflatables, gold mine, sandpit, ride on diggers, a mini pretend play world and more! Everything your children want, big or small, it’s here.
The car park area is free and plentiful and the main entrance is easy to find. The kiosk staff are super friendly and once our group of 5 were kitted out with our wristbands and stamps we were off with our visitor guide book and a programme of daily events. Toilets, hand washing facilities and baby changing are scattered around the farm and even the portakabin style units were well stocked and clean with real flooring and all handryers, handtowel dispensers and lights worked. There were plenty of them too which is fab as anyone with young children knows that once they need to the loo, waiting and queuing can be a disaster!
Out first stop was at the “Cotton tail village” – what a delight! This little mini world evoked the child in me and oh how I would have loved to play in something like this when I was small. There were pint sized shops, a salon, a bakery all ready for role play paradise. Our three girls, aged 3, 6 and 8 were in and out of the units and in their element either causing noisy mayhem in the “music shop” or building a wall with pretend bricks. This is a really well-designed area giving complete freedom in a safe space.
We then went on to the “JCB Young Drivers Zone” which is a huge undercover area full of roads, ramps, tunnels and petrol pumps with yellow ride on diggers of every size for every age and ability. When we could finally pull the kids away, we had a go on a fairground carousel before heading to the Farmyard. There are many more fairground rides and inflatables over the far side of the farm and we went back to this area a few times during the day to try out the teacups, gondoliers, coconut shy, the giant bouncy castles, slide and the trampoline pods. All these rides are free and we went on them many times as we went on a day that wasn’t too busy. Further round the park there are other things to try such as cow milking, duck racing, water squirters and mega puzzles as well as a favourite of ours; the gold mine – where you pan for gold and then trade it in for a medal.
“The Farmyard” is a huge barn with horses, cows, pigs as well as a petting area with lots of guinea pigs and rabbits where staff will help you to hold a pet. I liked to see care was taken in ensuring the children were sat correctly, putting the animals’ welfare a priority. Our older two really enjoyed this area and yes, they fell in love with the guinea pigs and want one of their own….
We wandered out through the animal feeding area to the “Runaway tractor” ride “Tristian” pulling the trailer “Tilly” where we were driven through an area of the farm where cows and bulls lazed at the trackside, big muddy puddles were ploughed through with ease and a woodland area full of secret houses led us out past the vast fields where potatoes and pumpkins were growing ready for the Autumn festivals at Willows Farm. They have several such festivals throughout the year; we attended during the “Summer Spectacular”. The tractor ride was such a winner we went on it twice in the morning and three more times in the afternoon! Everyone sang along to the cheesy songs and the driver was dressed in full farmer attire. My little girl tripped getting off and the driver was very attentive checking she was ok and telling us he was first aid trained. He had such a good attitude and was friendly and informative. We took a walk alongside the river (it’s fenced so is safe) to the “A-maizing maze” where we were given scratch cards to use while roaming around the Maize maze to find all the clues. The kids shrieked at the idea of getting lost and there was further shrieking each time we found a clue. It was quite hot once inside the maze so we whizzed round and were rewarded with a sticker on the way out.
We sat in one of the outdoor “booths” for our lunch, there are several scattered around the main central area. There is also an indoor picnic area, various cafes, kiosks and BBQ hut so plenty of choice. The kiosk staff were more than happy to replenish our water bottles for us.
The stage shows were held 5 times throughout the day, starring various characters from Peter Rabbit and held outdoors in the “Willows Show Stage” but if not great weather, these could take place indoors in the “Peter Rabbit Theatre”. These were funny and entertaining but could do with some shade as it was too hot to sit there for very long and there were a few little red-faced cherubs. We could watch it from high up in the Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground though which is a beautifully created space with soft fake grass, benches, a treehouse playground, Mrs Tiggywinkles House and Mr McGregor’s garden – complete with huge radishes to dig up from pretend soil and sensors that project sounds and voices. There is so much in just this area alone; it even has its own wooden indoor play barn with slides. There are lots of interactive things to play and hidey holes that are child sized.
We packed so much into our day at Willows Activity Farm and still we didn’t see everything it has to offer. After digging in the enormous sandpit, playing on the Playtrail and stopping for ice cream (reasonably priced) we just had time for a final slot in the indoor soft play area “Wooley Jumpers” to sample the colossal slides and embark on some climbing, swinging, balancing pleasure.
We then managed a quick stop in the gift shop before closing time. The gift shop contained a vast array of goodies from Willows Farm merchandise to dolls, toys and something for the grownups too.
Accessibility wise, the farm is uneven with slight hills but it is wheelchair accessible.
There is more to Willows Activity Farm though; they run a nursery and preschool as well as activity day camps – both groups we saw while we were there. The farm is also raising money for Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice on a 2-year charity partnership. In addition to all this, it also offers a birthday party package for your child and their friends at the farm too.
This place is cram packed full of entertainment, kids of all ages will be enthralled and engaged. It’s been designed in an ingenious way that flows, it’s just big enough, it’s all so high quality as well as being well maintained, well-staffed, clean, tidy and well signposted (its clear hand hygiene is paramount). The “wet” facilities are of a good standard and it covers foods, snack and drinks for all. It gives a “family friendly” feel and is professionally play orientated. It’s a gem of a place that you have to try and will no doubt try again. We’re already planning when to go back!
For more information or to book tickets visit www.willowsactivityfarm.com.
Willows Activity Farm, Coursers Road, London Colney, St Albans, Hertfordshire, AL4 0PF