Play Factor-e Halloween Party

We received an invitation to go to the Play Factor-e Halloween Party and had a lovely time! If you have never heard, or read about Play Factor-e, it is a HUGE indoor play centre just opposite the Trafford Centre in Manchester. You can read our previous visit here: Play Factor-e Manchester – 28/6/2016

So, what happens at a Play Factor-e Halloween party?! Well, firstly, it is very busy! I’m glad that we ate before setting off as the queues for the cafe were huge for the first hour or so!!

There were about 5 or 6 members of staff dressed up in some brilliant outfits, walking round for photos etc  before the entertainment in the stage area in the middle of the play centre.  The venue was dark and “spooky” which made it rubbish for photos, but added to the atmosphere. Also, a good number of children were dressed up in fancy dress. This was good to see, but also a bit weird because we didn’t have time to be that organised!!

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Not the best photo of the dressed up characters!!

The first part of the entertainment was a “mad scientist” act, doing all sorts of funky things. I’m quite sure what exactly he was doing because the microphone wasn’t the best!!  After that, there was a guest appearance from a huge robot who was attracting a good number of children for photos and hi-fives. Then the disco took over on the stage area.

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In truth, I may have missed a couple of other attractions and events because you could dip in and out during the 2 hour session and a good number of children seemingly took no part in the entertainment. This is because the play area is absolutely amazing.  It is nice that even though we haven’t been for 4 months, Heidi remembered the amazing computer floor game. She raced there straight away when we got in!

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Spooky disco!

The venue is ideal for these kinds of events as it is big enough to cope with demand, and it didn’t feel crowded. There was a decent sized queue to get in with the doors, but it didn’t feel as though it was packed when we got in and settled.  It will be interesting to see what other events they do, because the venue is ideal for monthly one-off events like this.

Perhaps the best  things to say about the evening were:

  • Heidi fell asleep before hitting the motorway on the way home – result!
  • She woke up half way home and said: “Daddy, can we go back again soon?”

I think that says it all!!!

We can’t wait for the next Play Factor-e Halloween Party!!

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Museum of Science and Industry – (MOSI)

Planning this post in my head was difficult and I questioned whether or not to write it. This is because MOSI wasn’t particularly suited to us at this point.

There wasn’t anything particularly bad about it. It was just more focused for adults and older children, rather than inquisitive toddlers. And that is not a bad thing, it just doesn’t fit in with us at this time!!!

So, quickly going through the downsides, they include:

  • poor signage
  • the museum being in 4 separate buildings
  • the exhibits not being particularly hands-on

Also, parking is a problem as street parking outside is only for 2 hours and probably won’t be long enough (which is a good thing as there is plenty to see!)

Now that I have got that out of my system, I can talk about the positives from a toddlers perspective. There is a brilliant exhibit next to the restaurant which is hands-on and practical and lots of fun for young and old alike. It is full of little puzzles, interactive science experiments and various other bits and pieces like that.

While the little ones will enjoy playing, it is possible to explain the science as well behind it all which is what going to the museum is all about. Our favourite was the experiment dropping the ball into the different surfaces and predicting how high they would bounce. It is quite dark in there, so pictures are not easy to take!

In terms of the other good aspects of MOSI, the cafe serves excellent pizza and the gift shop is to die for. I could have spent all day in there!! While it was not particularly for toddlers, we did spend 3 hours in there. As such, it certainly wasn’t a wasted trip!

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For toddlers, MOSI isn’t in the same league as the National Media Museum or the Railway Museum. Perhaps it isn’t supposed to be. The focus is on industry, which isn’t as exciting for toddlers as opposed to science and things going “bang” or “pop”!!!

However, there is a place in the world for MOSI, especially if your child is learning about local (to Manchester) history or the Industrial Revolution. We are not in that place yet, but when we are, we know that we’ll be able to get a lot of knowledge out of our visit there.


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Gullivers World

As part of daddy/daughter week together, I wanted to go somewhere different, somewhere child friendly but also big. Therefore, I chose Gullivers World over the other side of the hills, in Warrington.

I chose this as it is a theme park just for children, particularly focused on the younger children. As such, it would be something completely different to what we have in Yorkshire. Lightwater Valley and Flamingo Land are more adult oriented and Sundown is somewhere we have been to already (and really enjoyed!)

Practicalities

After negotiating the M62/M60 for the second time in a week (see Play Factor-e post here) we arrived. One good thing is that the price is height dependent for the child. If they are under 90 cm, they won’t be able to go on many rides, but they will be free. Heidi is around 1m and while she cost the same as me (£17) she could go on virtually all the rides. However, I had to go on some with her (what a hardship!)

The park itself is really flat and pushchair friendly. As such, if you’re in half a mind to take a pushchair, do it! There is a lot of walking for little legs! The reason why I mentioned the height/cost is that if you have a 91cm child who hasn’t the best stamina, you might want to consider the value for money.

Rides

The park has loads of rides (too many to count!) included within the cost of admission. As we went during the week in term time, it was nice and quiet and so there were no queues. However, school trips tend to come on Thursdays and Fridays (nice!).

Given the number of rides, you don’t feel as though you have to pressure the little ones to go on everything. Our favourites were the Indiana Jones-type ride (because we got squirted!) the haunted house (this was good as it was busy and you can scare others with a flying toddler!) as well as the numerous car rides.

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Heidi and Gilly!

If I am being honest, by personal favourite was the dodgems. This is because Heidi is now at an age where she is allowed on and can drive them. They don’t go too fast so you don’t need to worry about the potentials of whiplash!!

A couple of other popular attractions included the face painting (£4 a go) but pretty good face painting. However, though the park looked as though it had been invaded by tigers! Also, the goodbye show was absolutely excellent and  innocent fun. It is well worth the stay until the end as it is upbeat and gets the kids dancing.

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Tiger driving a car!

It is a good idea to check out the show timetable when you arrive. We bumped into the clowns leaving their show and so it would have been good to see them in action.

Toilets and Food

In terms of facilities, the baby change facility in the dinosaur section looked pretty good expecially with the dinosaur decor (although no toilet within). There there are also numerous toilets around the park. In terms of food, there are plenty of food stalls and picnic tables in case you want to bring your own food/drink, which we did. There are a few shops dotted around, but by the time we got to the main shop at the entrance/exit we were too tired to shop!

Just a word of warning, the venue is 99% outdoors and so if you have rubbish weather, your day will be rubbish unfortunately!

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If the weather is rubbish, you’ll have to do time in the play jail!

However, our day was excellent and we stayed from 11am to 4.15pm with barely a stop in between. Thanks to my Fitbit, I clocked over 10,000 steps walking 5 miles so bear this in mind when planning footwear! However, this was because we were having such a good time and wanted to go on so many things. If we can get back again in September before the bad weather kicks in, we will do!

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Play Factor-e Manchester

You can tell how much you enjoy a place when you rewrite about your experiences in double quick time, and that is the case with the Play Factor-e.

However, it was all a bit of an accident as we headed off for Heidi’s birthday wanting to take in the Albert Dock in Liverpool. It took us 90 minutes to get to Birch Services because of a crash on the M60, and so a new plan was quickly hatched. This took us to the Play Factor-e, 2 minutes away from the Trafford Centre.

It is safe to say that the only research was a quick Google search on the M60. However, but the pictures looked impressive, and they didn’t lie!

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Wow! The HUGE play area

Play Area

The play centre looks brand new. As a result, it is clean and all the equipment is new and in good condition. The eye catching part is the huge climbing frame which is hard work to get to the top of, but all good fun nonetheless! It is quite easy to lose a child in there as there as loads of different levels/paths. As a result, you may need to follow or have a stern word beforehand!! There are the usual climbing frame bits and pieces for the little ones to tire themselves out on, including slides, rollers and all the rest…

The eye catching part is the huge slide going from top to bottom. Now, under 5’s cannot go on the slide, with due reason. If you have an over 5, I would test it out yourself first (purely for research obviously!) as it is blooming fast!! Apparently, it is the tallest standing indoor slide in Europe and perhaps a little too tall for me!!

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It even has a football pitch!

Separate Toddler Area

For the little ones, there is a separate toddler play area which is lovely. Within it is the star of the show for us, which is an interactive video game. This entertained Heidi for about an hour and it seemed popular with all the toddlers as they kept on coming in and out during the visit! It is housed in a bland “house” in the toddler section. However, there is a projector showing interactive games on the floor (for example, playing a piano, popping balloons). The activities they cycle through every couple of minutes, they don’t get too bored. I have only seen it in the Science Museum in London (read about London here) and even then, it was just 1 game, so this is pretty special.

I love this part!

Food

In terms of food, we had a bagel and a small pizza, which were quite nice and reasonably priced. The portion wasn’t huge but you probably wouldn’t want to go on the play area on a heavy stomach! The variety of food and drinks was quite diverse as well, especially on the sweet side of things.

Toilets

Also, as it is a new venue, the toilets are decent and child/baby friendly with stools to help the little ones to reach the sink. The baby change room also has a toilet in there as well. The security on the toddler section is pretty good, meaning that toddlers can’t get in and out of their section. There is also an exit button on the exit of the centre, as well as someone on the desk as you leave, so that aspect is really good as well.  Parking is also free and plentiful as well.

While it is probably a bit far for us Yorkshire folk to make the trip just to here, we did spend 2 1/2 hours in there. There are time restrictions during peak times however. It is clear that we had a good time, which meant for a very easy bedtime in the evening!! However, if you’re off to Manchester, the Trafford Centre or elsewhere within the Trafford Quays Leisure Village (for example ski-ing!), it is certainly a place to add onto the itinerary!

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Flying with a Toddler

“Flying with a Toddler” is the first of a series of posts telling the story of Heidi’s first “proper” holiday. This will hopefully give some hints and tips to those planning on taking a toddler away, as well as making you smile along the way.

The other parts of my mini-break review can be found here:

  • Oceanarium & Bournemouth – Part 2 – (here)
  • Paultons Park – Part 3 – (here)
  • Longdown Activity Farm – Part 4 – (here)

So the idea was to go on a short haul flight as a test for a longer trip in the near future. After hearing about Peppa Pig World near Southampton, the destination was set. It sounded quite simple, but it never is!

The night before

Flying Manchester to Southampton at 8.30am on a Friday meant that we decided to stay close to the airport the night before. We chose the Premier Inn South, which is a mile from the airport and relatively handy. You can never go too far wrong with a Premier Inn and the room was everything we really needed. However, the adjoining restaurant wasn’t….

I completely understand that some places are not meant to be child appropriate, and we made a wrong decision to go to that restaurant! The food took an age to come and when you’re finishing at 9pm, that isn’t the best start to a holiday! To be fair, the staff were great. Our waitress had a slight scouse accent and a hairband /bandana and was brilliant! The food was good, but it was all a bit drawn out. This meant that we had quite a late night…

Security/Airport Facilities

So an early start took us to Manchester Airport, Terminal 3 to check in and get through security with a tired toddler – great! It took us 40 minutes to get from going through to doors to get past all security so something to bear in mind.

The security staff were brilliantly understanding, given the job that they have to do. We were ushered to the priority security lane, probably because we looked a little stressed out and this definitely helped. At Terminal 3, there are lots of shops to pass the time with. There is also a small, basic children’s area, but is was a quiet part of the airport and allows children to be children for a bit!

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Given that Manchester Airport is one of the biggest in the country, the changing facilities were good. They also seemed to be cleaned at regular intervals, which is a must!!! If you have some time to kill, I would try and find a quiet part of the terminal. This means that you don’t feel rushed and everyone can relax a bit.

As Heidi is a good walker and aged 2 3/4, we decided not to take a pushchair. This would have taken an extra pair of hands and made getting through security a bit more difficult. I imagine if you have a small child who is happy to be in a pushchair, it would help to have one going through security . However, it would have been a nightmare for us!

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The Flight

So, now to the “exciting” bit – actually Flying with a Toddler! Having done my research (aircraft geek!) I knew the plane wouldn’t be the biggest and we would have to walk on the tarmac. With it being late February, we wore an extra layer of clothes! I also informed Flybe (our airline) that Heidi was a first time flyer, just so the flight crew were aware in case Heidi got freaked out!

This proved to be a masterstroke as the flight attendants were brilliant (Alex and Alice). Every time they walked past and the opportunity arose, they talked to Heidi, making sure that she was ok and keeping her entertained and engaged with the flight. This additional interaction really helped break up the flight (even though it was only 50 minutes!) and made sure we had trouble free flight.

Top Tips

Flybe do an excellent “Flying with a Toddler” guide here and this helped, but I would give the following advice as well:
– talk about the journey beforehand with your child (if possible) so they understand what is going to happen.

– plan your hand luggage very carefully. Know exactly where your wipes, nappies, changing pads, change of clothes etc are. As such, in case of an emergency change, you know without thinking.

– pack quiet entertainment. I packed thin paperback books to read to Heidi and that worked well, as did a teddy and other small toys.

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– plan for a delay. Carrying an extra pack of wipes or trousers isn’t going to cause any issues, but a 2 hour delay might.

– don’t forget the liquids! Unfortunately, security procedures mean that you can’t take more than 100mls of liquid past security. Make sure your hand luggage is packed accordingly and buy a bottle of water for your child after security. No chocolates, sweets or fizzy pop!)

I did try and take Heidi to the toilets on the plane, to see how she would react,. It’s safe to say that she didn’t like them! They are particularly small and I am not sure how you would go on changing a nappy.  This is one to ask for the help of the flight attendants, as there might be some spare seats that you could use.

The landing

The flight was so smooth, that Heidi was asleep for the last 10 minutes of it, including the landing!

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As a special treat, we were also granted access to the cockpit after taxiing to the terminal. However, the conversation was very limited with a groggy toddler!!

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And that was it. Heidi’s first flight and Flying with a Toddler went remarkably smoothly. Onto the car hire and then Bournemouth for a day at the seaside!

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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…

Facilities

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.

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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!

Overall

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!

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