Winter Wonderland Manchester

In an attempt to do something a little different after Christmas, while avoiding the various named storms, we headed off to the Winter Wonderland Manchester, at the Event City complex, just next to the Trafford Centre.



This is something that Leeds doesn’t have and so we gave it a go. We didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be a really good find.

As Winter Wonderland Manchester is next to the Trafford Centre, parking is free. However, traffic can be problematic due to the Christmas shoppers (even after Christmas!).  As we ordered our tickets online, we picked up our tickets at the entrance quickly and easily and we made our way in, still none-the-wiser of what we were going to see.

As we went through the entrance, we saw it….an exhibition hall full of fairground rides, attractions, shows, food – EVERYTHING!!

Included in the price of the ticket are all the rides and shows for a 4 hour session. The only things that you have to pay for is food, coin operated games (very few of those!) and games where you win a prize (such as hook a duck)

As you get 4 hours, it is advisable to do a couple of things:

  • Get there on time.
  • Eat well beforehand so you don’t “waste” time eating.
  • Wear sensible footwear and don’t layer up as it gets very warm.

The rides

As I went to Winter Wonderland Manchester on my own with Heidi, we concentrated on the children’s rides and there were plenty.  There were at least:

  • 3 roundabouts
  • 2 teacups,
  • a children’s rollercoaster
  • a ghost train,
  • 3 bouncy castles,
  • a beautiful Dumbo ride,
  • dodgems,
  • a fun house
  • and a few more – literally every ride that you have seen at the fairground is there.


About half of the children’s rides were just for children, which was good if they want to have some independence. However, not so good if they get scared easily or are a bit clingy. If your child doesn’t like fairground rides, it is safe to say that this won’t be for you.

With Heidi being 2 1/2 years old, I wondered how she would get on, on her own. But she was fine. Not many of the children’s rides had a height limit on, which was good as there is nothing worse than a disappointed child!!  I wouldn’t have wanted to take a child under 2 as they probably wouldn’t like the rides and be stable enough to go on them on their own. However, 2+ years of age is fine. We must have gone on at least 15 rides, so it was definitely value for money for us.

The shows

Aside from the rides, there are also shows, which we didn’t see. They included Sooty, a Frozen show (both including Meet and Greet) a magic show as well as a circus show. The shows were well attended and so if you wanted to see them, get a seat early. One of the good things was that there was enough space at the front for the children to sit on their own.


If you were adventurous enough, there were a good few rides just for adults. Obviously there are height restrictions on those rides, but there is enough to do if you wanted a child-free visit (if you’re into the fast rides!)

Verdict of the rides

In terms of the plus points, the rides are clean and look safe and generally the atmosphere is really good. We never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a ride, and there are enough rides to keep everyone moving. They also restrict the number of tickets so that it won’t get too crowded. This was such a plus point for us as the last thing you want is to be waiting to go on a ride with an excited child!

Also, as Heidi is under 3, she didn’t need a ticket. Children 3 and over need a full price ticket. This might put people with young children off as they won’t get as much value out of it as those with children who are 8+ years of age. I did find that Heidi tired halfway through but after a quick food break, we were good to go for the rest of the session. You should consider how many rides you will be able to go on in a 4 hour period and work out if it is worth it…


The food stands were standard “fairground” food stands, charging the usual prices. They were not overly expensive, but what you would expect from going to an attraction/event.


The staff manning the rides were professional, but some could have done to smile a little more!! This was especially true on the children’s rides – however, they were safe and that is the important thing.

Also, it can be a bit of a bun-fight to get onto the smaller rides as there didn’t seem to be a queuing system. However, the parents seemed to manage the situation and the crowds weren’t busy enough for it to cause an issue.

They almost got the baby changing facilities spot on! There was a number of changing mats on the floor in a blocked off area, which was fine. However, there wasn’t a changing mat in a cubicle, which would really help single parents. I couldn’t get into the disabled toilets to see if there was any in there. However, it is an exhibition hall and so it isn’t really geared up for babies and toddlers! The quiet room was such a good idea and I have never seen that elsewhere!

If you go before Christmas as well, you can also meet Santa and reindeers as well. However, as we went after Christmas, they were obviously resting after their travels!


All in all, it was a very enjoyable 4 hours at Winter Wonderland Manchester. There were clear signs that we had a good time when:

  • I couldn’t get Heidi off the bouncy castles
  • She didn’t want to go back to the car
  • She was asleep most of the way home!

If you’re looking for an indoor day out over Christmas and New Year, then Winter Wonderland Manchester might be for you. However, it might not be for all families, depending on the age and maturity of the children!

Continue reading Winter Wonderland Manchester

Rhythm Time

The initial reason why I set up this blog was to share my thoughts and experiences of being a dad. There was a hope to inspire parents to see and do new things with their child(ren).  They say that the hardest part of a journey is the first step. That is certainly true when it comes to being a parent. For me, my first step was signing up to Rhythm Time classes.

Rhythm Time

Back in the spring and summer of 2014, my Saturday mornings consisted of taking a then 1 year old Heidi down to the park in her pushchair, walking round the park and then pushing her back up the hill, which felt like a mountain, while she slept! There was nothing particularly wrong with that in the nice summer mornings but we needed more. We needed to socialise, we needed to see other people (big and little!)

Working Monday to Friday meant that this was surprisingly difficult and we struggled to find something.  At this point Heidi was 16 months old and had just started walking in a straight line. In the class there were about 14 other children, all of whom seemed older, more developed and knew what they were doing! How would we cope?!

Heidi was still on a bottle and these other children were playing musical instruments and everything! Being a single dad in this situation, I reverted back to the best backup plan – I brought my mum along! Entering a new environment is stressful enough for adults, let alone children. As such, I felt no shame in bringing backup and it was a brilliant decision! It just made things a bit easier and more relaxed for all of us.

After the first Rhythm Time class, we were hooked! For the rest of the weekend, we were singing the songs we had in class, or at least trying to remember the words and tunes! As soon as I hit work on Monday, I would be looking forward to Saturday morning again. It gave us both something to look forward to and let us interact with others.

As Heidi didn’t go to nursery, she would potentially go all week with seeing a child her age. However, the classes have really brought her along socially as well as her confidence. The classes are really good in terms of sharing, tidying up and those kinds of things. One reason why Heidi has developed so much is because of what happens before and after the class…

As the venue is set up in good time, it enables the children is play in the open space before class. It sounds really simple. However, at another class we go to, the teacher doesn’t arrive until 5 minutes before the start. This means there is no time for social interaction and for the little ones to burn off some energy before class. Also, if they see that the teacher has taken the effort to set up and prepare, the children take it more seriously and get more out of it. Some of my best memories have been before the actual class watching the children have free play, while talking to other parents.

In fact, talking to other parents has been one of the best things about joining the class. Yes, breaking the ice is difficult but children are a great conversation starter. After all, you have something in common straight away! I have learnt so much from others about things that are happening, things to avoid, how potty training is going etc etc. That support is invaluable. There is a brilliant guide to “surviving” these classes, which is written from a dad’s point of view, but it applies to everyone I think  (Survival Guide for Dads). In fact, at the Saturday class, there is an even mix of mums and dads. This  is really, really good to see and means any dads don’t feel out of place!

I realise that I have not actually mentioned the class yet. Generally it is 30 minutes of songs, music and dancing/movement. We get a CD at the start of the term, which is a lifesaver on car journeys and generally most of the songs on there are used in class. We took the approach of “you get out of it, what you put in” and so we went through the CD time and time again so the songs were familiar. This also meant that we could spend the time in class enjoying the activities, rather than not knowing the words/songs! The CD is quite good quality.  However, I am not sure I would have it on in the car by myself!

Every Rhythm Time class is similar but different. The “hello” song is the same for the term, but generally a couple of the activities will be the same as the previous week. However, some will change as you work your way through the lesson plan (yes, it is THAT organised!). No two classes feel the same and the time flies! Oh, and the singing is actually singing from the teacher in the main and not just taped! However, parents are not expected to sing!

The general theme of the Rhythm Time classes is encouragement. There is no wrong way of doing things and there is no pressure. If the child doesn’t want to copy a rhythm pattern into the microphone, it doesn’t matter. If the child wants to look out of the window, it doesn’t matter. At the beginning, I was too stressed out that Heidi was going to be run over by an older child or cause a disruption. However, I have relaxed a bit and if she wants to play with her friends away from the group, that is fine as there is no pressure.

As time has moved on and Heidi is one of the oldest in the class, she has developed the confidence to do most of the activities by herself. She especially likes being at the front of the class, which is fun to see. However, she will always come running back with a huge grin on her face after doing her rhythm pattern or finding Arabella, which is a beautiful sight.

One thing that I had better say is that it does require some commitment. As you sign up for a term, it is obviously in your interest to make as many as possible, but also it helps the development of the child. Although you can swap classes, we have never missed one, partly due to good health (!) but because it gives us a reason to get up on a Saturday morning after spending the week at work!

For more information, you can either:

  • Facebook “Rhythm Time Bradford and Calderdale”
  • email [email protected] (you’ll be sure to get a response in super quick time!).

** UPDATE – Rebecca no longer runs Rhythm Time Bradford and Calderdale, so the email address is now [email protected] **

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Breakfast with Santa – 13/12/2015

With Heidi about 2 1/2 years old, this has been the first year where we have tried to get her “into” Christmas. Previous years, it has gone over her head completely, but this year has been different.

Heidi has been taken to many Santas this year just to build her up and to make her feel comfortable with the Big Man! This has meant that she has started to understand that Santa is and in fact, it is a special occasion at a special time of year.

The Santas who we have seen have been your traditional grottos in the usual places (garden centres etc) and there is nothing wrong with that at all – you know what to expect!

However, Baby Rave/The Grotto, Leeds have done something a little different – Breakfast with Santa! Hosted in the ground floor of the Corn Exchange in Leeds, we headed down on a Sunday morning for our pre-booked session (pre-booking is highly recommended!)

If you have never been into Leeds City Centre, sometimes it isn’t the best for parking, particularly down that end and so we got the train (aka Polar Express/Northern Rail!) and did a 10 minute walk. (There are loads of bus stops nearby as well!)


Upon finding where breakfast was being served, there was a really simple but clever thing – a mini bouncy castle, just so that the little ones could burn off some energy and kill a few minutes without stressing out their parents!

Anyway, the breakfast was a very intimate session, as there was only 10 children and so it was nice for the children to get close but not being put on the spot with a one-to-one conversation but the kids could strike up a chat if they wanted to. The looks on the children’s faces was priceless when they saw Santa coming into the room!

As there was only 10 children in the room, it really did feel special and heart-warming and nothing felt rushed, nothing felt forced and it just flowed right (and no child had a tantrum!)

After 15-20 minutes of being sat with Santa during story time, there was an opportunity for photos with Santa and any combination of parents/children you want! Photos were uploaded onto Facebook and they were brilliant quality! (as always!)

I should actually mention the breakfast itself…the breakfast is only for the children! Also, we found that food was the last thing on Heidi’s mind – after all, she was a yard away from Santa!!! It might be an idea for the little ones not to arrive on an empty stomach as they might not feel like eating!

As Santa was finishing off his hundreds of individual photos, a side room was opened for the kids to run and play with toys etc with the usual Baby Rave vibes/music!

Once everyone had done their photos, Santa came back into the room for some dancing, bubbles and “snow”!! This worked absolutely perfectly for Heidi and will do for similar aged children as if they had to spend longer eating with Santa, they would have got bored and the edge would have been taken off it, but by having the opportunity to run, play and dance, it broke it up nicely.


A couple of things:
1) in the break out rooms, the lights are dark and changing, therefore difficult to take a good photo (I have never taken a good photo at a Baby Rave event!) As a result, the best photos are in the breakfast room!

2) there is no gift. For some this might be an issue, but the gift is a child who has just had a wonderful experience! (as well as a breakfast!)

3) all in all, it lasted about 45 minutes, just about right!

It was such a wonderful experience and in future years, this will probably be the only Santa that she gets to see, as it was so good and so special – next year it will be quality as opposed to quantity and this was of the highest quality!

It would be wrong of me to fail to mention that there is a whole host of other Christmas activities going on at the Corn Exchange, from traditional grottos, to Elsa/Spiderman workshops – which sound really cool and will be explored next year (I am probably too old for the Spiderman one!) Probably the best place to find out is to Facebook “The Grotto, Leeds”

Merry Christmas!

The Shoemakers Christmas Wish – 9/12/2015



Full Disclosure – The entry for me and Heidi was free and part of a preview performance

Full Disclosure 2 – I have no idea about performing arts, the stage, or anything vaguely creative! I am a bloke! Therefore, if you’re expecting a detailed account of the stage management and posture of the performers, you will be sadly disappointed…

I watched the show through the eyes of a child, in part, because I am one myself…

xmas shoemaker and elf. Copyright C Johnston Photography

So having been to the Rainbow Factory a couple of times (see here for a previous review) we were invited to a performance of the Shoemakers Christmas Wish.  While the review won’t give a detailed account of the story or how the story is acted out (because that would spoil things!) it will hopefully give you the warm fuzzy feeling that the Rainbow Factory is still producing magical memories and will hopefully do so for a long time to come.


So, there was an audience of around 20 children, aged from 2 to 9-ish and the famous Rainbow Factory beanbags were at the front for the kids to sit on, with the adults having grown-up seats at the back. Some kind of magical spell must have been put over the children as they were all seated quietly and still for the start of the show…

…and they stayed that way…

The show was so entertaining and captivating that the children were transfixed on the performers and the story that they were communicating – through song, music, actions and Elf-speak! I was laid at the front as I knew Heidi was only 2 seconds away from joining in on stage, and the look of happiness, concentration and joy on the children’s faces was such a sight. It must have given the performers such a thrill to see the audience transfixed on their every movement and action.

Don’t forget, children are not good fibbers  – they will tell you if something was boring, or if they didn’t like something.

But none of them did.

At this point I must apologise of Heidi’s over-enthusiasm to those who were there… She was into the performance so much, she wanted to join in on stage, and didn’t want me anywhere near her to act as crowd control! Mild embarrassment followed, but it was fine – it was simply the fact that she was stimulated, perhaps overstimulated (!) by the magical performance.

By the looks of it Heidi was the youngest there (aged 2 ½) and so if you are to see the show (or any show) with a child of a similar age, perhaps a little toy in the nappy bag could come in useful to aid concentration! However, the magic of the Rainbow Factory meant that a new friend was there for Heidi to share a rubber duck and a shaker between the pair of them for the last 10 minutes of the show!

I realise that I have not mentioned the actual play, as I don’t want to spoil anything, but the 2 performers were amazing. To carry a 40 minute play involving songs, costume changes, musical instruments and comedy with just 2 people and no pre-recorded action/music was amazing. I have so much respect for stage performers anyway, as it is something that I could never do due to a) a lack of skill and b) a lack of confidence, but they had both in abundance.

The quality of the show was that it would not look out of place at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, but then again, it would not have been as intimate and certainly would not have given the audience both young and not so young, a warm, fuzzy feeling of happiness.  The Playhouse certainly doesn’t have a tree in its seating area, which turned out to be a brilliant prop!!

As with most children’s shows, it does work at two levels and this certainly did and the uncontrollable laughing by the children (again, which cannot be faked!!) shows that the children appreciated the jokes aimed for them!

The huge round of applause at the end of the show was well deserved and the fact that so many of the Rainbow Factory team were there to watch was so wonderful to see as well. The stimulating effect of the show meant that afterwards, most of the children were running around and playing and generally being like children should be, even though it was past 7pm! Also, we took the opportunity to look at the decorative scenes again, which are truly amazing!

In true Rainbow Factory fashion, the show has 2 big thumbs up from us (fine motor skills allowing!) but now the main problem is how does the Rainbow Factory top this for next year……?!

xmas funny. Copyright C Johnston Photography

xmas stocking. Copyright C Johnston Photography

Xmas show. Copyright C Johnston Photography.

xmas secret. Copyright C Johnston Photography

The performers were Emily Goldie (the Elf) @EmilyGoldie1 and Jennifer Carss (the Shoemaker) @JenniferCarss   who also devised the original performance (amazing!)

The pictures were courtesy of C Johnson Photography @cjohnstonphoty  (apart from the amateur one of the stage because that was my effort!)

The good people at the Rainbow Factory can be found at:

as well as in Farsley!


Gravity – Xscape

A Thursday in Daddy-Daughter week (aka Daddy as a week off work!) brought us to Gravity at the Xscape Shopping Centre in Glasshoughton. It is a bit more of a shopping centre as there are the usual out of town shops, but also a leisure section with a cinema, indoor crazy golf (going to that next time!) a ski slope, as well as Gravity, which is a trampolining centre.

We went on a Thursday morning to the Toddler session. There was about 12-15 pre-school children there, but it didn’t feel squashed at all. However, you you need quite a bit of space! They advise you to arrive 20 minutes before the start of the session. This is really good advice as you have to fill out a waiver form on a terminal (not easy with a toddler!). You then go and pay (or register if you have purchased online) and then get your funky orange socks on in the changing rooms!


The changing rooms are basic, because they don’t need to be anything else really. If you want to get changed, there are small cubicles. However, I am not sure if you could cope with a toddler in there.  There are lockers (free to use) with a digilock which means you don’t have to worry about losing the key!

One word of warning, it does get hot and it is energetic. As such, dress you and your child appropriately! Dress as if you are going to the gym and you won’t go far wrong. Also,  take lots of juice for after for the big and little ones!

So, having got ready, what else is there to say….?! The session is an hour long (which is just right!) and it is basically free-play on the trampolines. There are a few props including dressing up clothes, a parachute and balls which varied it up a bit. All in all, it was a good way to get everyone some exercise without going to a playgym.

You might be reading this and thinking how can an hour jumping on a trampoline be fun. However, if you like your exercise and want to go back to your youth a little, then it is a perfect (and different) way to spend an hour. The atmosphere is good as it is dark with neon lights and loud, upbeat music (think Baby Rave North) and the time just flies. We had a drink break half way through (Heidi is 2 ½ years old). This gave us both a chance to get our breath before starting again!

There are separate under 5 trampolines for during normal times but if you can get to a toddler session, do it as the small trampolines are probably not big enough for active legs. They do say they during non-toddler sessions, under 5’s can go in the main area and “mix” with the adults. However, I’m not entirely sure that would be a good idea but then again, I haven’t been to a “normal” session.

There aren’t mainly places where you take your toddler and you actually want to go without them next time. However, Gravity is one of those places and we will be coming back again soon!

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