Planning adventures for February half term can be tricky. Much as we’d love to be outside in the fresh air, it’s still flipping freezing (as proved by our trip to Southport on Sunday) but of course, it can then be difficult to find somewhere indoors to suit all three kids which isn’t going to cost a fortune!
As is now customary in the school holidays, on Monday Mich and I bundled all five kids into one car and headed off on an adventure. Neither of us had been to The Ice Cream Farm before but had heard good things and were keen to give it a try. (I was particularly looking forward to a delicious ice cream having tried them at Cheshire Oaks last summer!)
A quick check online confirmed that there would be plenty to do indoors if the weather wasn’t kind. Furthermore, The Ice Cream Farm itself is free to enter and additional activities can either be paid for at the time or you can purchase a “Play Pass” which allows you to bulk buy your activities at a discounted rate. One of the things we really liked about the Play Pass was that it could be used by multiple children and didn’t all have to be used at once – which meant we were able to buy one pass to cover our five children for the day’s fun. We had mentally planned out our day so that we would do one activity before lunch and one after. As it turned out our day didn’t pan out quite as we’d planned but the flexibility of our Play Pass meant it didn’t matter and we can save the unused activities for a future visit.
Something which really bugs me on days out with the kids is just how costs can spiral. From parking, to entrance fees and snacks it can soon mount up. The Ice Cream Farm put their best foot forward on this front with free parking and free entry to the attraction. As part of their commitment to keeping entry free, there is a strict “no picnics” policy which I think is entirely fair. Of course we were somewhat concerned that as “sitting ducks” on the food and drink front, we might be somewhat taken advantage off with inflated prices. Not so. The Pantry offers a good range of food and drinks at surprisingly good value. In fact, we fed two adults and five children for less than £35 – not bad going at all!
Evidently, with the strict “no picnics” policy, you must expect the dining areas to be busy. With this in mind, we chose to eat an early lunch. We found a table for 6 quite quickly and settled ourselves down to look at the menu. The queue to order food was fairly lengthy but it was clear that the staff were working through this as quickly as they could and we were extremely impressed at the speed with which the food arrived. Despite The Pantry being rammed with young families, the atmosphere was really pleasant and surprisingly quiet. The staff were working quickly to get the food out and the tables cleared to make sure you’re basically in and out. So all in all, we were really impressed by the quality and value of The Pantry.
The Ice Cream Farm offers up seven different play options and we actually only sampled a small part of this during our trip:
Daisy’s Garden – This outdoor play area is glorious, though fairly exposed so on a cold February day you need to be well wrapped up and summer days would most definitely require sun hats and extra sun cream. There was lots to do for all ages from trampolines in the ground to a swings, a climbing frame with slide, and tunnels to explore. Of course the highlight has to be the magical ice cream tree which oozes a freezing mist to shrieks of excitement! My only real niggle with Daisy’s Garden was that it’s not as enclosed as I would have liked so there was a risk of losing one of our team! The Ice Cream Farm do offer wristbands for you to put your mobile number on and obviously you are expected to supervise your children at all times but when you have three to keep your eye on this is quite tricky and fences are a God send! With it being so cold we managed to spend about half an hour playing outdoors before Mich and I decided we needed to warm up – the kids on the other hand would have happily played for a good while longer. There was so much to keep them busy. I would suggest it’s perfectly feasible to spend a good chunk of the day in Daisy’s Garden when the weather is nice!
Silvercone – Super speedy quad bikes to race the “Silvercone” for those over the age of 4 costing £1 a lap.
The Loft – This offers up a space for older kids to play which I love. It can be so difficult to find places to go which will appeal to the whole family so if you have hard to please teens to entertain as well as little ones – this could be a real winner.
Honeycomb Canyon – Europe’s largest indoor sand and water play area! We had fully intended to try this one out in the afternoon and had taken a change of clothes and towels as advised, however time got away with us and we decided to save this joy for another visit – on a warmer day!
Strawberry Falls – Ice cream themed mini-golf!
Fudge Farm – The farm area is free to enter and accessible to all. With it being such a cold day when we visited, we swerved the farm but it will definitely be on our list of things to visit next time!
Scoop – For children aged over 4, the Scoop JCB challenge gives your little ones the chance to use specially adapted JCB diggers scoop up “ice cream” (or coloured sand!) With two of our party under the age of 4 this wasn’t something we chose to try out this time round but I’m sure they boys would have loved it!
Fun Factory – We were super impressed at what great value the Fun Factory soft play offers. It was all looking very new and clean having only been launched last year. Nobody likes tired, worn soft play areas right? The long room houses a variety of play areas to suit all ages with different height restrictions. There’s lots of seating for adults but not necessarily set out to allow you to watch what your kids are doing – the visibility in the Fun Factory isn’t amazing. That said, our kids are of an age where we would generally just say “right this is where we’re sat, off you go” – even Amy, at just 2, was able to go off and play independently with the big ones given strict instructions to keep an eye on her. The Fun Factory has a secure entry and exit system so we knew she wasn’t going anywhere, besides Mich and I had managed to find ourselves a seat near the door which gave us about the best all round view we could get. We had expected to visit the Fun Factory and then move to Honeycomb Canyon later in the day but the kids were so well entertained in the soft play area that we saw no reason to move them! They spent a very happy couple of hours in there and were more than ready for their ice cream afterwards (I had to laugh at the number of people encouraging / bribing their children out of the Fun Factory with the promise of ice cream, us included)
Of course the promise of an ice cream, even on a freezing cold February day, was more than enough to encourage our troops out of the Fun Factory. I admit I was worried that the queues would be horrendous with so many other parents clearly having had the same idea! The Ice Cream Parlour is a huge space with staff directing us to the shortest queue and large menus displaying over 50 flavours of ice cream allowing us to make our choices before we got to the till point. Everything had clearly been well thought out to allow for a quick and painless service.