When I first heard about KidZania – a child-sized city that is based in Westfield London – I was interested in the idea of giving 4-14 year olds the opportunity to explore and immerse themselves in a role-playing and interactive learning experience.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, as I purposely avoided reading up too much about it. Entering KidZania (which is located on the first floor by M&S) – on arrival we had to check-in, like we were in a real airport. When Monkey saw the British Airways A319 plane he started whooping with joy.
We were all given a security bracelet which ensures that children remain safely inside the city and can only be checked out with an accompanying adult present, as well as a map and 50 kidZos – currency which can be spent and earned inside the city.
As soon as we walked in, his eyes lit up when the first thing he saw was an ambulance. Right on cue a Zupervisor (yes…that’s what they’re called) asked him if he wanted to earn 8 kidZos for being a paramedic. He went straight in, got dressed up, and patiently waited for other children to join in – which only took about five minutes. Once they finished watching an educational video and given bandages and first aid gear, a ‘code red’ was called in and they all boarded the ambulance to be driven to a ‘disaster’.
It was fabulous to watch the ambulance pull up to a burning hotel and then a fire truck join them as all the children worked together. Once all the injured bystanders were tended to, the kids were driven back and Monkey was paid. He was very proud of himself!
After exploring upstairs – which houses the aviation school and several branded factories from a how to make Walls ice-cream workshop, to a music academy and science laboratory – Monkey was desperate to be fireman.
This time he had to queue and pay for the privilege. While some activities pay out, others have to be paid for – I’m still unsure why this is the case but Monkey couldn’t wait to hand over his kidZos. The highlight of the firefighting session was actually getting to put out a fire!
Next stop was a pit stop, quite literally. We found the Renault garage and Monkey got to change the tyres on a F1 car!
Meanwhile, we tried several times to go to the Aviation Academy so he could be a pilot and step inside the plane, but we kept missing the start of the session and on our third attempt, the queue was pretty long. Not that Monkey was too bothered as I suggested we head over to the Cadburys factory to make some chocolate.
I was so proud to watch him follow the Zupervisor’s instructions and take himself off to wash his hands when he got chocolate all over them. I am amazed he didn’t lick his fingers!
The city itself is well-designed and doesn’t feel too big – even though there is much to do inside with over 60 different role-playing activities. We didn’t even touch the surface of it – which means you can return on several occasions and still experience something new.
KidZania is a growing enterprise – there are now over 15 across the globe from Dubai to Tokyo and more in the planning. But you can see why they are so popular with kids and parents – instead of the usual run-of-the-mill rides and attractions – KidZania enables children to understand the world through their eyes – from banking money to earning money; trying new skills and learning about particular topics; gaining confidence to do something on their own.
Monkey definitely enjoyed himself. But was really special for us was seeing Monkey taking part – he’s grown up so much this past year and this couldn’t have been more evident in the way he interacted with the staff and children. Even though I don’t quite know what he got up to in each activity, I could see how happy he was when he came out. We also got to spend his hard-earned kidZos on a little treat from the department store.
And after an fun-filled and energetic four hours, our session was over. When I asked Monkey what he thought, he simply replied: ‘It was awesome.’
The KidZania experience is run like a well-oiled machine – from the security bands to the city lay-out and dedicated check-in desks. We were really proud of Monkey and how he enthusiastically joined in with the role-playing activities and interacted with the friendly staff – who clearly enjoy working with children. However, it is expensive – and a little irritating that adults have to pay when they are not participating.
They also suggest that you aim to do 4-5 activities within your session time – which is only four hours. When you’re already paying quite a bit of money I’m not sure why you don’t have the option for staying the whole day.
That said, it’s a unique experience for children and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back. I have never seen anything else like it on this scale – and to give children the chance to explore independently and learn new skills can only be a good thing.
Good to know….
• Try to book the earliest slots available. We were able to go to all the popular parts of the city and not have to wait in line for very long. We noticed that as the city filled up, the queues were getting much longer.
• This is completely child-centred experience, so the kids have to participate by themselves. Parents can watch the children through viewing windows and follow behind if they go on the move. If you think your child wouldn’t like to leave your side – it may not be the right experience for them.
• Monkey was just about old enough to participate in most of the activities – although there were several that were too advanced for him. However, even though it’s for kids up to 14, I would hesitate to bring any kids older than 10/11 along – I think they would find it too babyish.
• There are several interactive play opportunities and soft play zones catering to children under 4. So while older kids can roam the city, there is entertainment for toddlers, too
• Parents – be prepared to stand around a lot. Each activity can be up to 20 minutes long. We didn’t want to stray too far from Monkey incase he needed us.
• There are plenty of snack and dining options inside KidZania.
• There is also a buggy park and lockers for items you don’t wish to lug about at an extra fee.
• For mums and dads – there is a dedicated Parents Room which has comfy sofas, TVs and refreshments – great for those of you whose kids are confident enough to go off by themselves.
• You can use the information kiosks to swipe your band and send your children messages when they check in for their next activity.
KidZania London; Westfield London, Ariel Way, W12 7GA; Adults £16.50; Children 4-14 £28.00, 1-3 £10.00
* We were kindly given entrance tickets from KidZania for the purposes of this review. As always, all opinions are my own.