Thorpe Park Fright Nights 2017 – Review

Because a) I live too far away and b) I’m a massive scardy cat, I wasn’t able to attend the press launch of the 2017 Thorpe Park Fright Nights last night but I knew a girl who would!  So, let me introduce you to my good friend and guest reviewer Cesca:

Hi, I’m Cesca.  I am pretty lucky, I live in a bit of a “theme park Bermuda Triangle”, and am pretty much equi-distant to Thorpe Park, Chessington and Legoland.  So, when Colette asked if I would like to attend Thorpe Park’s Fright Night I jumped at the chance!

On reflection this was a little fool hardy, I’m still not sleeping properly at night after being scared by ET: The Extra Terrestrial when I was five. But, duty called, so I took myself over to the park on an autumnal Thursday night to experience what was on offer.

Fright Night 2017 includes seven horror filled activities, plus the usual rides.  On the launch night the 5 Fright Night mazes were open, and the park’s six biggest rides (Stealth, Swarm, Colossus, Saw : The Ride, Nemesis Inferno and Derren Brown’s Ghost Train) were running.

All throughout the park they’ve made a real effort with the Fright Night theming, it’s eerily dark, there are a few zombies on the loose and lots of scary noises and music are played which gets the old anxiety levels up!  We did Stealth first, which for those who’ve never been is a bit like Alton Towers’ Rita, but on steroids.  Daniela, my sister, is petrified of it for some reason so we were getting it done first.  Even then I had to shout at her when she tried to bottle it and get off in the loading bay!!

Thorpe Park Stealth - Fright Night

We then went on Swarm, which is another big coaster and really exhilarating in the dark! This looked amazing, with the car looping around a post apocalyptic wasteland themed area with menacing red lights on it.

At that point we happened to stumble across one of the mazes, Sanctum, which was themed around The Walking Dead series.  There are some rules common across all mazes: they are designed to SCARE you!  They are aimed at 13+ so aren’t suitable for young children.  They use sounds, smoke, lights and smells for an immersive experience and they use live actors.  The live actors WILL TOUCH you (and scare the living daylights out of you!!) but they will never hurt you.  Well it’s fair to say I screamed the whole way round, (the man with his intestines out was disgusting) but we managed to escape the Zombies successfully.

Thorpe Park Fright Nights 2017 - The Walking Dead

We then went on Derren Brown’s Ghost Train, which is a virtual reality Ghost Train (I’m not allowed to spoil the secret by saying any more than that); suffice to say it’s like no other Ghost Train you’ve been on before!!  I then forced my sister, who was still being a big jessie, onto Saw: The Ride, which is based on the Saw film franchise.  Think chainsaws, and lots of Billy the Puppets with a huge rollercoaster and you’re on the right lines. Well, it was so scary – it was pitch black and you couldn’t see what was coming!

Thorpe Park Fright Nights 2017 - Saw

Next was the Saw: Alive maze which was BRILLIANT!  You were taken through various torture rooms based on the film and there were dead bodies, and really bad smells, and body bags and body parts… and people trying to capture you to be the next victim.  It was a lot gorier than the other maze (but still good fun!)

We then headed over to The Big Top, a circus themed maze with lots of scary clowns.  My sister and I both liked that they were all so different – this one had really bass heavy dance music playing and really good lighting effects.  The strobes totally played with my vision I got so disorientated.  And there a clown that took a shining to me and followed me round the whole maze.  Joy.

Thorpe Park Fright Nights - The Big Top

Our final ride of the night was Nemesis Inferno, which is similar to the original Nemesis – fast, thrilling and disorientating.  We finished the night with a maze, Platform 15, which was based on a train and abandoned village and used the old railway tracks of the Canada Creek railway (going back to the 80’s there!).  This one was more spooky than scary, other than the bit at the end which was terrifying!  Again, totally different to the other ones we tried.  At that point we left, checking over our shoulders approximately every 30 seconds on the way back to the car to make sure we didn’t have a stowaway in tow!

Both Daniela and I thoroughly enjoyed Fright Night. If you don’t like being scared or feeling afraid of what might be ahead it’s probably not for you, but we think they’ve got the balance of fear, excitement and laughter just right.  The attention to detail and the quality of the actors & acting is first rate.  The length of the attractions is just right, too – at the point when it’s getting a bit too much you realise you’ve reached the end.

Thorpe Park Fright Nights 2017

Top tips for Fright Night 2017:

Stay in the middle: you go round the attractions in groups. If you are a little nervous, stay in the middle of the pack. Those at the front come across the surprises first, and those on the back usually end up with things tailing them, or being separated from the main group (as happened to us).

Mix it up: whilst all the mazes are different, there are some similarities and you could become desensitised if you went on all 5 in a row (“oh look, another severed head, yawn”) which would be a shame.  We found that interspersing rides with mazes avoided this.

Plan your trip: this is stating obvious, but Fright Nights are very popular.  Book your tickets in advance, don’t just turn up on the off chance (like we did in 2008 to find out it was full at 10am – we’d all taken a day’s leave too – I was not popular that day), and expect long queues (they are expecting 3+ hours for the mazes on the busiest nights).  Think about the things you really don’t want to miss and aim for those as it’s unlikely you’ll get round it all.

Sleep with the light on when you get home: well it can’t hurt, right? Better safe than sorry…

Our thanks to Colette, We’re Going on an Adventure and Thorpe Park for a great night!

This year’s Fright Nights run from tonight (29.09) through to Halloween – don’t forget to book in advance! 

The new Madagascar PLAY! space at Chester Zoo

During half term we visited Chester Zoo to check out the newly opened PLAY! space featuring a range of different areas created by play experts and launched at the end of May.  The Madagascar PLAY! space is a really active adventure play area designed to encourage children to explore and have fun.

new Madagascar PLAY! space at Chester Zoo

new Madagascar PLAY! space at Chester Zoo

We first arrived at the PLAY! space around lunch time – this wasn’t entirely intentional but just happened to be the point at which we stumbled across it whilst exploring the rest of the zoo.  The Madagascar PLAY! Base Camp is conveniently situated near a couple of eateries and with plenty of outdoor spaces for picnics – and as such it was extremely busy at lunch time on a sunny day in the middle of half term!  This is of course to be expected and didn’t really pose too much of a problem, we were still able to find a picnic table to eat our lunch (which we had bought on site after not really planning ahead and forgetting to take a picnic!) but it did mean that it was harder to keep an eye on all three children when they wanted to play in different spaces.  After a short play we agreed that we would go and explore the rest of the zoo and then come back to the PLAY! Base Camp towards the end of the day for an ice cream and some time to play.

new Madagascar PLAY! space at Chester Zoo - Lost Forest

new Madagascar PLAY! space at Chester Zoo - Lost Forest

new Madagascar PLAY! space at Chester Zoo - baobab tree

new Madagascar PLAY! space at Chester Zoo - baobab tree

This turned out to be a good plan – the Madagascar PLAY! Base Camp was still busy but we felt there was room to breathe.  We were able to let them explore more as it was easier to keep them in our line of view with less people around.  The PLAY! space centres around the Lost Forest which, with its scramble nets and various climbing opportunities, was right up Ben’s street.  To the side of the Lost Forest, we found the sandy beach with its shipwreck which Amy was really excited by.  The sand was beautiful and clean (as you’d expect having only been open for a week or so).  The girls loved being able to take their shoes off and feel the sand between their toes!  And finally, we led them to the dry river bed which I must admit I had a love / hate relationship with!  On a hot sunny day, it was a joy to see so many children splashing about and exploring the different pumps and dams, working together as a team to fill up different sections of the river bed and paddling around barefoot.  Had the weather been colder I’d have been more bothered about the potential for wet clothes and miserable children!  Visiting the PLAY! space on our way out of the zoo was a stroke of genius in this instance as it meant I wasn’t really bothered if they got soaked, I’d have just stripped them off when we got to the car.  As it was, the flow of water through the river bed is fairly minimal – obviously if you sat down in it you’d get pretty wet but for the sake of splashing about a bit with your feet you’d struggle to get too soggy.  That said, next time I will make sure I’ve got a towel and a change of clothes with me – just in case!

new Madagascar PLAY! space at Chester Zoo - beach

new Madagascar PLAY! space at Chester Zoo - dry river bed

new Madagascar PLAY! space at Chester Zoo - water play

new Madagascar PLAY! space at Chester Zoo - riverbed

The Madagascar PLAY! Base Camp is a really great addition to Chester Zoo.  If I’m honest my three would probably have been quite happy to play about at Base Camp for most of the day and took some coaxing to leave at home time (thank goodness for ice cream bribes . . . )  A visit to Chester Zoo isn’t a cheap day out – at around £100 for our family of five if we pre-book online – and for that price I want to see lots of animals, not watch the kids clamber around on a posh climbing frame!  Next time we visit I will definitely save our visit to PLAY! Base Camp for the end of the day when they can play for as long as they like without me worrying that we need to get on and make sure we’ve seen everything before home time!

new Madagascar PLAY! space at Chester Zoo - skipping lane

If you want to see footage from the PLAY! space and what else we got up to whilst we were at Chester Zoo then check out our video here:

*We were invited to visit Chester Zoo free of charge for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own*  

Bank Holiday Adventures with Piri Allergy

This spring & summer we are working with Piri Allergy to prove that life is just more fun when you get outdoors!  We spent a good chunk of our Easter holidays “Wild Living” in the Lake District with Ben McNutt from Woodsmoke which was so far out of our comfort zone we could barely see it any more, but honestly just the most amazing experience.  (If you missed this I will link in a series of posts and videos at the end so you can catch up!)

Continuing with the theme of “getting outdoors” we had a very busy Bank Holiday weekend trying out a range of different adventures and testing our limits.

Saturday – Smithills Open Farm, Bolton

Smithills Open Farm is one of our favourite places.  I first visited with the kids on a Butler / Burgess day out last spring and Dave took Amy back in the autumn when they were having a special day out together.

We're going on an adventure at Smithills Open Farm with Piri Allergy

We're going on an adventure at Smithills Open Farm with Piri Allergy

Amy particularly loves Smithills Open Farm because she’s basically obsessed with cows – she will happily stand and watched them be milked for the full milking session if you let her.  Previously she hasn’t been quite brave enough to touch or feed the cows but over the course of our visit last weekend she over came this and stroked some of the calves.  (She’s still not a massive fan of being licked by them but then who is?!)

Amy and the cows at Smithills Open Farm with Piri Allergy

Stroking the calves at Smithills Open Farm with Piri Allergy

Our visit also included that typically British summertime activity of a donkey ride along with feeding and holding a whole range of animals in Pet’s Corner.  Now I’ve mentioned before that I’m allergic to dogs (and cats but I would never go near enough to one for that to affect me because I can’t stand them!) but I genuinely don’t know how far my animal based allergies go – it’s a fairly safe bet that sitting feeding lambs, stroking donkeys and cuddling rabbits could all be things which would set off an allergic reaction be it aggravating my asthma or breaking out in hives.  Of course I have no desire to let my allergies stop either me or my family doing the things we love so a quick dose of Piriton before we set out for the day meant I didn’t have to worry about it.

Riding donkeys at Smithills Open Farm with Piri Allergy
Stroking lambs at Smithills Open Farm with Piri Allergy

Sunday – City Cycling Tour 

Dave has been a fairly keen cyclist for a few years now but I’ve barely had my bum near a bike saddle in twenty five years.  I had a bike briefly in a my mid twenties but never really got on with it and it was soon banished to the garage.  Ben has been able to ride a bike for about a year now but he hadn’t been out on it since last summer so it was safe to say that we were all a little nervous about how a city cycling tour would pan out!  Dave spent a bit of time planning out a route but soon realised that it was a good 3 mile ride just to get from the bike shop to any of the planned cycle routes.

We're going on an adventure - Family cycling tour round Manchester with Piri Allergy

In the end we just set off and with the help of Google Maps managed to stick to cycle paths to get us from Salford out to Whalley Range at which point Amy had fallen asleep in the trailer and I  had started to panic that he was going to take us too far out so that Ben & I wouldn’t manage to get back!  We decided to head to nearby Fallowfield to show Ben where I had lived as a student and the infamous post box which Dave had leap-frogged the night we got together!  We did attempt to stop for some lunch however it would appear you can only eat in Fallowfield if you’re over 18 so we ended up with a bag of crisps each and hopped back on our bikes to ride back up into the city centre.  Ben was gaining in the confidence all the time and thankfully the cycle paths up through Rusholme are quite wide and mostly separated from main road as it’s a really busy road.  We stopped outside the old MMU Student Union on Oxford Road for a quick selfie as it was there that Dave and I met some sixteen years ago!

Colette & Dave outside the old MMU Student Union with Piri Allergy

We hit a bit of problem when we made it back to the city centre as we basically needed to get across the course of the Great Manchester Run . . . honestly you couldn’t make it up.  In the end we had to walk alongside our bikes following the route of the run through the crowds until we made it past the finish line and could cross over!  If I’m honest I was quite glad of the walk as my bum was really starting to suffer!  All in we cycled somewhere in the region of 1o miles.  The cycling itself was fine but I was definitely saddle sore and my hands hurt.  I enjoyed our family bike ride far more than I had expected but I would definitely avoid such busy roads in future as it was pretty nerve wracking and also meant that the ride was quite “stop -start” in places.

Monday – Go Ape, Delamere Forest 

Regular readers will know that Ben is something of a thrill seeker (he’s desperate to hit the magical 1m 40 to be able to go on all the biggest theme park rides)!  He has been keen to visit Go Ape for quite a while now so he was particularly excited about our trip to Delamere Forest on Bank Holiday Monday.

Exploring Delamere Forest with Piri Allergy

Of course a forest full of trees is not necessarily an attractive prospect if you suffer from hayfever.  Ben and I both dosed up on the appropriate Piri Allergy products to make sure that we wouldn’t have our adventure ruined by our allergies!

Safey equipment at Go Ape, Delamere Forest with Piri Allergy

Testing the equipment at Go Ape with Pri Allergy

Once we had put on our safety equipment and had a go on the practice course to make sure we knew how everything worked it was time to get on with it.  I must admit I was really impressed with just how confident Chloe was once she got up onto the course, she clearly trusted her equipment and just got on with it!  Amy was also very brave considering she hadn’t really wanted to do it in the first place!

Adventure kids at Go Ape

Excited faces at Go Ape, Delamere

The biggest challenge arose when we got to the end of the course and were faced with the zip wire.  Chloe broke down in tears and couldn’t bring herself to do it.  I think the fact that she was the first in the queue didn’t really help matters so to give her time to get to grips with it we swapped her round and Dave went down first followed by Amy!! Yes, three year old Amy.  She was clearly nervous but she just jumped off and did it.  Dave said she was smiling when she got to the bottom but she didn’t want to go back up again!  Obviously we didn’t push her as we were just so impressed with her for doing it in the first place.  Ben obviously just launched himself off with no fear, even pulling out a dab on the way down!  Once the others had had a go it was Chloe’s turn to try again.  I reminded her of the time she got to the top of the water slide at Splash Landings and refused to go down but then absolutely loved it once I’d made her get on.  With lots of help and coaxing from a fabulous member of Go Ape staff, she took the leap. . . . and guess what?  She loved it.  Of course she did.

Zip wire at Go Ape, Delamere Forest with Piri Allergy

Chloe feeling nervous about the zip wire

Chloe braving the zip wire at Go Ape

We're going on an adventure at Go Ape, Delamere Forest

Having conquered the first course, Amy decided to sit out and watch from the ground, Ben set off around the more challenging course on his own whilst I did the main course with Chloe again.

Amy waited for the big two on the ground at Go Ape

There’s quite a step up between the two courses and whilst Ben was able to manage it by himself, Chloe found it considerably more challenging so after having a go with Dave, she reverted back to the first course for her final turn.

Chloe conquers the more challenging course at Go Ape, Delamere Forest

Dabbing on the zip wire at Go Ape, Delamere Forest
All said and done Go Ape was a great success.  Ben came home and immediately told Mich that she must take Finn because he’d love it!  In all honesty, although Amy was tall enough I don’t really think she was old enough to properly enjoy the experience and I certainly wouldn’t’ take her again until she’s quite a bit bigger as one go round the course doesn’t really offer great value for money!  As it is I’ve booked a similar activity for them all this coming weekend but Amy will be doing a course that’s just a metre off the ground so I think it will be more along the lines of the practice trail which she was perfectly happy with!

Dave and I were both especially proud of the girls for overcoming their fears and giving it a go!

Team photo at Go Ape

Of course we’ve made a video of our adventures so you can get a real flavour of our Piri Allergy adventures there too!

We’ve now finished our Piri Allergy advetures and, later this month, I will be writing all about how we’ve benefited from getting outside this spring & summer.  Of course, in the meantime keep an eye on the Piri Hub, my instagram and youtube!

Getting outdoors with Piri Allergy this summer

* Wild Living with Piri Allergy at Woodsmoke

* Ecotherapy & Tree Climbing at Woodsmoke

* Rambling, Scrambling and Sinking Sand with Piri Allergy at Woodsmoke

*This post forms part of a paid collaboration with Piri Allergy* 

11 Reasons to visit Cannon Hall Farm this spring

Canon Hall Farm in the Spring

Nothing says spring like a visit to the farm does it?!  We first visited Cannon Hall Farm a couple of years ago with the Butlers and I’ve been dying to go back ever since.  I knew I wanted to go in the spring-time when we had the best chance of seeing lots of baby animals so was it featured fairly highly on our list of adventures for this Easter.

As luck would have it our Easter holidays are a little wonky this year so not a lot of people seem to have been off this first week – I know that schools in York and Sheffield haven’t finished yet which meant that a trip to Cannon Hall Farm in Barnsley was perfectly timed.  I had expected we would benefit from it being a little bit quieter but in all honesty it was far quieter than I could have ever imagined – which meant no queues for the toilet, no struggling to find somewhere to sit at the indoor play and a super view wherever we went, it was an all round win to be honest.  Well aside from being absolutely flipping freezing.  The spring sunshine finally appeared mid-afternoon but it would have been a much nicer day had it been a bit brighter from the off!

We're going on an adventure to Cannon Hall Farm

Eleven Reasons to visit Cannon Hall Farm:

It’s lovely and clean – my friend Hannah doesn’t like Cannon Hall Farm as she think it’s “too clean and sanitised” and not like a real farm.  I totally get where she’s coming from but honestly, when I’m visiting with three kids for the day – the cleanliness is a huge factor for me, it just makes it a much nicer place to be and an easier day out all round!

There’s plenty of space for picnics – there are a number of large picnic tables just outside the farm which we used on this visit and plenty of grassy space to sit on if the tables are full.  But, if you don’t want to picnic . . . there are several options for buying food on site and if you spend £10 on food in the cafe areas then your £3 car parking charge is knocked off.

The ice creams are lovely – it was too flipping cold for ice cream when we visited this time (we plumped for cups of tea and hot chocolate) but I do remember them being delicious last time we visited.

Milking display – for  Amy, who absolutely loves cows, being able to watch them getting milked is a bit special.  The milking display at Cannon Hall Farm is purely for demonstration – just a couple of cows are milked whilst a member of staff talks about the process.

Milking at Cannon Hall Farm

Actual real live lambing – we were lucky enough to see three lambs born on Tuesday, two with intervention from staff and one without any help at all.  This was a pretty special experience and something we’ve talked about quite a bit since.  ( I even managed to capture one birth on film – the video is at the end of the post if you want to see!)

Variety of outdoor play areas for different ages – the only downside to this is when you have three children and one more suited to a different play area than the other two!  Luckily because we had Aunty M and Granny with us we were able to split up a bit.

Play area at Cannon Hall Farm

Indoor play area – This is a relatively new addition to Cannon Hall Farm, it certainly wasn’t there the last time we visited a few years ago.  I loved that it meant we had somewhere to sit down and warm up whilst the kids burned off some energy.  It’s one of those soft play set ups where it can be quite difficult to see your children and I lost mine for a good few minutes but I’m lucky that they are of an age now where I can trust them to come back to wherever I’m sat if they’ve got a problem and they’re really good at keeping an eye on each other for me.

Raised viewing areas – for both watching lambing and milking the raised platforms were an absolute god send.  We were able to get a really clear view of what was going on without having to lift anyone up or get in anyone’s way.

Watching lambing at Cannon Hall Farm

Friendly helpful staff – all the staff we encountered on our trip this week were lovely.  They were all happy to chat to the kids about what they were doing, answering questions and even explaining right in the middle of lambing what was going on with a particular ewe who needed some help with giving birth because her lambs were in an awkward position.  This meant that the kids had a real understanding of what they were watching and were able to tell Daddy all about it later!

Baby animals – we loved being able to see so many baby animals of different ages, from fresh born that day through to months old.  Being able to see the animals being born or feeding with their mummies was a real talking point for us and all three children learned such a lot from seeing things close up

Piglets at Cannon Hall Farm

A family ticket for four cost us £26 this week (but is £30 during peak season) and by the time you’ve added parking, fuel, a picnic and hot drinks onto that it’s not a cheap day out but it was absolutely worth every single penny.  Next time we go back we’re taking Daddy too!

A birthday day out in Whitby

A trip to Whitby has been on my seasonal bucket lists for as long as I’ve been writing them.  Yet, until this weekend, I hadn’t been for five years.

Living in Manchester means that we are far closer to the West coast – to Blackpool, Southport or Lytham St Annes.  All places I love to visit for different reasons but none of which really feel like I’m properly at the seaside.  Each year Mich and I take the kids to Lytham for the day and we have a lovely time playing on the sand but there’s no paddling to be done as the sea is literally miles out.  In fact, it’s often so far out you can hardly see it.

It’s different on the East coast – Whitby, Filey and Scarborough are the seaside towns of my childhood and when I think of a day out at the seaside, these are the places that spring to mind.  I’ve been a couple of times with Ben and Chloe but not so as they would remember – the last trip had been on Mother’s Day five years ago – it coincided with Dave’s Stag Do so Mum & I took ourselves off to Whitby for the day with Ben and Chloe.  But, for one reason or another we just hadn’t been back since.

Mum & kids in Whitby

Granny & Amy in Whitby

Boxer puppy in Whitby

Daddy & Ben in Whitby

I decided that, rather than us all going out for lunch for my birthday as we often do, I fancied a trip to Whitby for a wander and to finally introduce Dave to the infamous Magpie fish and chips.  As luck would have it, the weather was flipping glorious.  To be able to wander by the coast with no coat on was about as good as I could have hoped for!  Of course the downside of the bright blue skies and warm sunshine was that the world and his wife had also descended on Whitby for the day!

The kids were all super excited when they realised we were going to the seaside and had to be reined in a bit that this wasn’t a sandcastles and paddling kind of adventure but they thoroughly enjoyed exploring Whitby with it’s little cobbled streets and swing bridge (which we were lucky enough to see opening).  I think the highlight of the day for the three of them was sitting on the rocks near the lighthouse and watching the waves rolling in.  The rest of the water seemed really calm but in this particular corner they were crashing noisily onto the rocks and the three of them were so excited to spot which ones would make a huge splash and which would come to nothing.  I realised this isn’t something they’d experienced before as their seaside days have been fairly limited.  Something I shall aim to rectify this summer!

Watching the waves crashing onto the rocks in Whitby

Waves splashing in Whitby

Of course no trip to the seaside would be complete without fish & chips and an ice cream would it!  I’ve been raving about Magpie chips to Dave for years and worried that, after making him queue up for ages, that they might actually turn out to be a bit rubbish.  Thankfully that wasn’t the case and in actual fact they were even more delicious than I had remembered – perhaps as a result of the fact we were all starving!  You can’t beat eating your fish (or sausage in my case) and chips out of the wrapper by the sea can you?

Amy and Grandad in Whitby

Girls eating chips from The Magpie Cafe, Whitby

Donkey rides on the beach in Whitby

Chloe's first donkey ride of the year in Whitby

Little girl enjoying a 99 ice cream in Whitby

I won’t be leaving it another five years before we return Whitby I can promise you that!

Chill Factore – The Snow Park

Last weekend we took ourselves off on a bit of an exciting adventure to Chill Factore, our local indoor snow destination!  As Amy and I watched the fun from the warmth of the Mont Blanc Cafe (and tried to take photos for you) I’m handing over to Dave for a full write up of the frosty fun!

Chill Factore - Ready to go play!

We love a good adventure here.  The clue’s in the name really!  So we were thrilled to be invited to The Snow Park at Chill Factore near the Trafford Centre in Manchester.  If you haven’t heard of Chill Factore it boasts the UK’s longest indoor ski slope at 180m of real snow where you can learn to ski or snow board.  Today however we were sliding around in a variety of fashions on the kids’ Snow Park.

Because of the age restrictions on The Snow Park, Amy wasn’t able to take part and we decided that rather than playing in Mini Mooseland on her own, she would stay with Colette whilst I took the big two.  Luckily I was joined by Chris from Team Custard to help.  Chris is no stranger to snowy adventures and he and Ben have a growing bromance so he was the perfect choice.  Aunty Custard (Kirsty) from Team Custard joined Colette in keeping Amy occupied while the big kids (Chris and I are definitely included in that statement) played in the snow.

On offer in The Snow Park are Downhill Donuts, Luge Slip ‘N’ Slide, Sledge ‘O’ Mania and the Snow Luge – it’s worth checking the age restrictions on each of these before you book.

Once you’ve paid for your adventure at Chill Factore you need your cold weather clothing.  Waterproofs are recommended as well as hats and gloves.  Luckily if you haven’t got such gear yourself you can hire waterproofs and buy gloves right there.  (Helmets and snow boots are provided.)  It’s good gear too.  The boots, trousers and coats me and the kids got were all really well fitting and comfy and kept us warm throughout.  Chris had his own gear, as you can see in the pictures, and very colourful it was too!  Very helpful for spotting him across the piste!

You book your time in the Snow Park in hour long blocks, which sounds like a long time but it flew by for us.  It’s worth mentioning that you really need to get to Chill Factore a good while before your session starts to give you time to get changed and prepared – getting those snow boots on can be quite time consuming!  Once you get inside the snow area a guide explains the rules of the Snow Park and what the various rides are and how to use them.  Once that’s done you’re unleashed!  We went straight for the Downhill Donuts first off.  To get to these you have to ride a travelator up the slope to the top before choosing your track back down.  The travelator takes a second to get used to, and getting off at the top was a little tricky for the kids in the beginning but they soon got the hang of it.  At the top of the slope there are two bumpy tracks and one which is a straight, smooth track.  This may sound boring but the operator at the top spins you round at quite a rate.

Chill Factore - Travelator

Chloe chose a bumpy track straight from the off while Ben went for the spinny one.  I thought Chloe might not enjoy the bumpy track as she can be a bit nervous but she loved it and Ben, as predicted, enjoyed everything the Snow Park could throw at him.  Even for big kids like Chris and I the donuts were good fun, and you do feel a bit dizzy once you reach the bottom of the spinny track.

Chill Factore - Little girl on donuts

We tried the Luge Slip ‘N’ Slide next.  To use those you pick up a tray at the bottom of the slope and walk it up to the top.  There are two Luge tracks to choose from.  One is for up-to sixteen year olds and the other is for six years and up.  Chloe stuck to the smaller Luge track and was very happy with it.  Ben used both but in the end I think he preferred the smaller Luge.  Chris and I were both restricted to the larger Luge.  It was very good though.  Plenty of speed with some good turns and a few drops which did a good job of stretching my spine out!  Both Ben and Chloe were smiling when they reached the bottom which is the whole point.

Chill Factore - small boy on Luge

Chill Factore - tall man on Luge

Chill Factore - Man on Luge

Lastly we tried the sledging.  Reluctantly I missed my turn so I could film from the bottom of the slope.  Chris took the two of them up to the top with their sledges (more trudging) and Ben and Chlo had a race.  Ben is very keen to point out that he won however, Chloe did travel further down the slope so I think they were both winners.  Chris and I didn’t attempt the sledging as the sledges were quite small, and I could well imagine myself getting thrown off a sledge which was approximately the same size as my backside!

Chill Factore - sledge race

Chill Factore - Sledging

So with everything tried the kids chose to go on the Donuts a few more times.  Trying out the different tracks over and over.  We all did the Luge again a few times and then there was just enough time for the kids to have one last go on the sledges before our time was up.  It really did fly by but Chloe was quite tired by the end of the session so I think it was probably just long enough!

Once we’d got the snow gear off and met up with Colette, Amy and Kirsty we went next door for Pizza at ‘Pizza del Piste’.  A solid ending to a fun morning out.  Anything that ends with pizza is a win in my book.  We managed to feed and water four adults and three kids for £60 which was fantastic value, especially considering there was pizza leftover to take home!

Ben and Chloe have been skiing once before and they both mentioned that they’d like to do it again while we were eating afterwards.  I think they’re about ready and judging by their Snow Park adventure I imagine they’d take to it very well.

*We were invited to try out the Snow Park and Pizza de la Piste free of charge for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own*

The Enchantment of Chester Zoo – a guest review!

We had planned to visit Chester Zoo yesterday to experience the Wild Rumpus “The Enchantment of Chester Zoo” – unfortunately our plans were foiled by a vomiting boy . . .

Regular readers will recognise Mich and the kids from our regular adventures together.  This time we asked Team Butler to go  in our place and write a guest review of The Enchantment of Chester Zoo . . .

Team Butler (and Amy!)

When we woke up this morning we didn’t have many plans other than taking the kids to Sunday school and doing the food shop!  So when Col messaged to say that Ben was poorly and she needed someone to step in and take up their place at Chester Zoo I was obviously gutted for them but instantly accepted the offer!  Col told us that Amy was upset not to be going as she’d just recovered from her bout of sickness and woke excited for her adventure – so how could we not take her with us?  Action stations started and we managed to get everyone up, ready and out the door in an hour!  In keeping with the Burgess tradition we didn’t tell the kids where we were going other than we were stepping in to take their place on an adventure!  Finn wanted to know if it was somewhere he would have fun – I promised it was!

Amy & Finley

When we arrived at the zoo the kids were suitably excited and couldn’t wait to get inside.  Luckily there were no queues so we sailed through and were given a map showing us where to find ‘The Enchantment Garden’.  On route we passed the Elephants so couldn’t help but have a quick stop off there and watch as the whole herd tucked into breakfast.

Girls watching elephants at Chester Zoo

Elephants at Chester Zoo

As we were booked in for 11am to meet ‘The Wise Old Owl’ we couldn’t hang around for long so Finley followed the map and soon found where we needed to be!  Having a time slot booking system was fantastic as it meant there was no queuing and we simply waited a couple of minutes for the gates to open and our small group, maybe 6 or 7 families, to enter ‘The Enchantment Garden’!  On entering the garden we were told that today it would be our mission to help save the nocturnal animals from Evil Sorcerer who had stolen the nocturnal animals ‘super hero’ senses.  Moving through the garden we met lots of ‘animals’ who pleaded with us to help them by collecting potions from around the zoo, in an attempt to stop the Evil Sorcerers plan!  All three kids were so engaged with the fun and couldn’t wait to get their test tube from one of the ‘owls’ so they could get started!

The Enchantment of Chester Zoo - Owls

The Enchantment of Chester Zoo

The Enchantment of Chester Zoo - Bats

The Enchantment of Chester Zoo - Owl Team

The Enchantment of Chester Zoo - Collecting magic potion test tubes

As we left the Enchantment Garden they instantly wanted to get the map out and find the first nocturnal animal on the list.  To my horror our first stop had to be the tarantula but hey I would put on a brave face and embrace my role in saving the animals!  When we found the tarantula we met 2 fantastic members of Chester Zoo staff who spent time with Finn, Erin and Amy explaining what ‘super sense’ their creatures had.  They used tarantula skin and a piece of string to explain how these spiders are experts at using vibrations – Finn loved this hands on experience and was confident to report back to the owls what he had learnt so they could all collect their first drops of potion.

The Enchantment of Chester Zoo - Tarantula

The Enchantment of Chester Zoo - Collecting magic potions

The Enchantment of Chester Zoo - Magic potion tubes!

After this we moved on to find The Fruit Bat Forest so they could get more potion.  As we entered the dark room Finley and Amy were not very keen at all – but clinging to Neil we managed to convince them to go in!  To be honest I completely sympathised because the first time I went in there I was quite freaked out – however now knowing what to expect, I love it!  As you enter the blackness bats swoop around you from all directions and there are literally hundreds of them (over 600 I believe) hanging from trees, ‘caves’ and the walls.  Erin was in her element and absolutely loved it, asking questions of the staff and getting excited when the bats brushed past us.  Again, we met a brilliant member of staff, Pippa wore an LED name badge so she could be found in the dark, who told us all about these amazing animals and their ‘super senses’.  Once we had the information we needed for the ‘owl’ Finn and Amy couldn’t wait to get out – however Erin would quite happily have stayed all day.  Once we found the owl we shared our newly found knowledge of bats and got a different coloured potion added to each test tube.  Amy was very excited that this made her potion change colour!

The Enchantment of Chester Zoo - collecting blue magic potion

The Enchantment of Chester Zoo - magic potions turn green

Everyone was quite hungry by this point so we opted to have a relatively early lunch.  Usually on a day out like this I would always take a picnic as I find food quite extortionately priced when you need to feed a family, however I was very pleasantly surprised!  We went to the Junes Pavilion Restaurant and took up the ‘Family Feasts’ offer to feed us all for less than £20.  I was a little dubious about the food we might get and the portion size, with this low price, but it was great!  Large portions and all freshly cooked meant everyone ate happily and there was food left over as we were all so full!

feeding time at the zoo!

From here we set off to find our next target – the Aardvarks.  On route we went into the ‘Islands’ area which I was really pleased about as this in a new addition since I was at the zoo around 5 years ago.  In here you could take a gentle boat ride around and see the tigers snoozing as well as warty pigs – which the kids thought were hilariously named!

Team of Adventurers at The Enchantment of Chester Zoo

kids exploring The Enchantment of Chester Zoo

On leaving the ‘Islands’ we headed straight to see the Aardvarks who were super cute all cuddled to and sleeping – as you might expect from a nocturnal animal at 2pm in the afternoon.  Again, all three kids couldn’t wait to add to their potion collection and were eager to find out the information they needed.  This is what I loved about ‘The Enchantment of Chester Zoo’ as it encouraged all five of us to be drawn to and genuinely be interested in finding out about some animals we may traditionally have just rushed past to get to the lions, tigers and elephants!  Finley definitely learnt facts which will stay with him and he’ll be keen to share back in school after the holidays.  Having said that we were also keen to see the usual must see zoo animals and as Chester Zoo is well laid out they were all easy to find and none of them were hiding from us.

Pouring all the magic potion into the pot at The Enchantment of Chester Zoo

The only down side to our day was that Sunday opening hours meant the zoo closed at 4.30pm.  We made the most of our last hour and got around all the animals we wanted to see, but also making sure we had time to deliver our potions to the final ‘owl’ on our mission.  The ‘owl’ asked us to pour our potion into the huge pot in the hope that we would have collected enough to help save the animals from the Evil Sorcerer!  The kids were so excited by this and were even more pleased to each receive a thank you letter which explained that they had indeed “created enough counter spell and the evil sorcerer has been defeated”.

Successful completion of The Enchantment of Chester Zoo

Erin shows her thank you message from the owls - The Enchantment of Chester Zoo

Finley reads his letter from the owls - The Enchantment of Chester Zoo

Amy shows her letter from The Enchantment of Chester Zoo

This excitement ended what had been a pretty perfect day!  The Enchantment of Chester Zoo was a lovely addition to our day, although at first I was a little concerned it may detract from what we would traditionally see and do on a zoo visit, it really doesn’t and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for similar events in the future.

If you want to try out The Enchantment of Chester Zoo experience it is running throughout half term and ends on Halloween, 31st October. 

 

*Disclaimer – We were invited to Chester Zoo free of charge for the purposes of reviewing The Enchantment of Chester Zoo experience – all thoughts and opinions remain those of Team Butler!

The Snow Centre, Hemel Hempstead – Review

Chlo on two skis

For the last few years there has been a distinct lack of snow.  In fact Chloe, at 5 years old, has little experience of real snow at all.  The last time we had a fall significant enough to rock out the sledge, she was only a toddler and happened to be poorly that day.  So, when the opportunity arose for us to visit The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead, I was keen to give it a go!

Ok, I hold my hands up and admit it – I’m not a winter sports kinda gal.  Ok, ok. I’m not a sports kinda gal.  Not at all.  Holidays for me are about sunshine and lazing by the pool.  The idea of a skiing holiday really doesn’t appeal.  Far too much effort for my liking.  It will come as no surprise then that I’ve only worn skis once in my life . . . I was about 7 and went to a dry slope with Brownies somewhere in North Yorkshire!

As such, we were all complete novices except Dave who used to snowboard well enough to have at least bothered to buy his own snowboard but that’s before I even knew him so I think it would be fair to say his skills are a little rusty.  We had private family ski lesson booked – an hour long for Dave, Ben and Chloe and half an hour for Amy and I.  Unfortunately, Dave and Amy weren’t able to come with us on the day so Ben, Chloe and I had an hour long lesson with a bonus instructor for the first half an hour!

Of course, as ever, Ben and Chloe didn’t know what we were doing – just that we were going on an adventure and would be staying in a hotel.  Our session at The Snow Centre was booked for 2pm so we set off at 8am giving us ample time to factor in a stop at services and lunch before our lesson.

Stopping at Watford Gap for Costa

When we arrived at The Snow Centre and parked up, I explained to the kids what we were going to do – Ben was immediately excited (he’s such a thrill seeker) however Chloe was really nervous – I’m sure she thought I was just going to take her to the top of the main slope and push her down it!  I explained to her that our instructors knew we’d never skied before and wouldn’t make us do anything scary.  I went on to remind her that she was scared of the water slides at Splash Landings before she did them and that sometimes she just needs to trust me that it will be fun!

It’s worth bearing in mind that although our ski lesson was booked for 2pm, there’s a substantial amount of preparation required – we had to check in and then collect all our equipment.  There is a clothing hire charge of £7 per person (which is of course avoidable if you have all your own ski stuff . . . we didn’t).  The women’s ski gear comes up pretty small and I ended up having to wear the men’s equipment . . . stylish.  Anyway, no matter – it kept me warm and dry which is the most important thing!  Ben and Chloe were able to dress themselves fairly easily.  (It’s worth bearing in mind that jeans are not a good idea of this kind of activity as they tend to get wet and heavy very quickly – I wore leggings and the kids both had tracksuit bottoms and hoodies on under their ski clothing)  I had taken hats for us all to wear but this wasn’t really necessary as we had our helmets on and they kept our heads pretty warm (and obviously safe!).  We took our own gloves, just standard woolly mittens for the kids and my leather gloves.  I realised afterwards that this probably wasn’t the best choice of equipment for the kids as their gloves were soaked through and their hands pretty cold but neither of them complained and it’s only an hour – no different to playing in the snow as kids ourselves I guess!

The Snow Centre - Ready to ski

Once we were all set with our clothes it was onto the rather more technical equipment of boots and skis.  Ski boots are sized according to your shoe size and your skis adjusted according to your weight so it’s worth making sure you know those details ahead of time!  Putting our ski boots on took forever – they are awkward and cumbersome to get your feet into and then tricky to fasten but this is nothing compared to how tricky we found them to walk in!!  I’d also made the mistake of fastening up my ski jacket before I got everyone’s boots on so I was absolutely roasting by the time we were ready.  The guys at The Snow Centre helped us out with fitting the kids helmets and then I picked mine off a rack according to size – this involves a bit of trial and error to make sure you get a good fit.  I must admit that the helmet was probably my least favourite bit of the day . . . it smelt all stale and sweaty, as you’d expect I guess, and I could smell it for the rest of the day!  I think it’s probably the first thing I would look to purchase for myself if I was about to taking up skiing with any regularity.

Finally, we were all suited and booted and set to go!  We were met by Doug and Dave who had a quick chat with us about our previous experience (or lack thereof) and what we expected to get from our session.  As I mentioned earlier we should only had have on instructor but because Amy hadn’t been able to come with us we benefited from an extra half hour’s tuition from her instructor.

The first thing we learned was how to un-clip our skis and put them on.  Doug and Dave were really great at explaining things clearly to the kids so they quickly sussed out to fasten their skis on or take them off again.  (This was especially useful for Ben who seemed to spend half the lesson knocking his skis off and having to fasten them on again!)

The Snow Centre ski lesson

With one ski on, Ben and Chloe practised pushing with one foot as though they were on a scooter to get them used to the feeling of sliding and then learned how to climb up the hill without slipping back down (sideways in case you’re wondering).  Once they had mastered this with one ski, we had a go with both.  (And yes when I say “we” I do me mean as well!)

Chlo skiing

Chlo on two skis

Doug and Dave encouraged Ben and Chloe to make animal noises and actions as they were going down the slope – Chloe got totally on board with this and made some great lion noises, Ben said I did a good job of being “a scared human” as I squealed my way down the slope!

Mummy skis

Once they’d had a few goes of sliding down the slope and climbing back up again, Doug left us for his next booking and Dave took us over to the travelator – which meant we could get a little higher up the slope but didn’t have to work so hard to get there!

Travelator at The Snow Centre

The Snow Centre - Ben on the floor

Now Dave had them doing “heads, shoulders, knees and toes” as they skied down the slope, or even jumping a little.  He explained later that this was good for developing their balance and meant they weren’t really concentrating on what they were doing.  Chloe thought it was hilarious!

The hour passed so quickly but it was definitely just long enough.  By the end of the session it was clear that the kids were tired, they were slower to get back up when they fell!  They’d had a fantastic time but I knew they were ready to stop and have a rest!

The Snow Centre - Ben

At the end of the session Dave sat down with us in the changing rooms and talked through the things that we had achieved and gave us a record card to show the levels we had reached.  He said that both children had done really well and had got a lot done for their first lesson.

I must admit I was particularly impressed with Chloe as she has a tendency to get quite frustrated when things are hard and isn’t always very good at laughing things off.  She loved her ski lesson though and just kept on getting back up and having another go.  In fairness to her she spent less time on the floor than Ben and both myself and her instructor Dave thought she’d done incredibly well.

The Snow Centre - ski instructor with Ben and Chloe

Once we had got changed and given back all our equipment we made our way upstairs to The Lodge where I had expected we would all want to warm up with a hot chocolate but actually we were all still really hot from our lesson and had a slush to cool down instead!  Ben and Chloe loved that we were able to look out over the main slope whilst we had our drinks and were particularly impressed with the snowboarders taking the jumps!  Ben said he quite fancies trying a snowboard next time!

 

Both kids were absolutely buzzing after their lessons and have both said that it was well worth the effort of driving all the way down to Hemel Hempstead and are keen to have another go!  I’m just gutted that Dave and Amy weren’t able to come and take part this time!

*We were invited to try out a private family ski lesson at The Snow Centre free of charge for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own*

Legoland Discovery Centre Ninjago event

Earlier this month, Dave and the kids went on an adventure without me!  Here’s how they got on: 

Ben has been a fan of LEGO since he was two.  Starting with Duplo and then moving up to the proper stuff with great speed.  He loves the it.  Whenever he’s saving, either pocket money or money from birthday presents, you can bet he’s saving for LEGO.  Ben’s passed on his love of LEGO to Chloe and Amy.  Chloe has started to buy the LEGO Friends or princess themed boxes and Amy has been playing with the huge box of DUPLO we’ve got in the playroom.  Ben’s got various sets, Star Wars, super hero, and recently he’s got a few Ninjago boxes.

So when LEGOLAND Discovery Centre contacted us and asked if we’d like to go to the visit their new Ninjago event, even though Colette was in London for the MADs and I would have to take all three of them on my own, I knew I couldn’t say no.

We turned up to Barton Square quite early on Sunday morning.  Ben knew where we were going before we had parked the car.  If you’ve never been to the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre before it’s in Barton Square, the complex adjoining The Trafford Centre.  As we entered the kids were given Ninja goggles (free during the event).  If you turn up wearing a Ninja outfit then you get a free poster too (while stocks last)!

For the uninitiated when you enter the Discovery Centre you are treated to a bit of an interactive play describing the process of making LEGO.  There’s a professor who needs help from the kids in getting the machinery to work.  All very interesting and gets the kids blood pumping with plenty of cheering and such.  This time there was the added element of some Ninja skills displayed by the professor.

LEGO factory

Once you’ve done that you go through into the actual play/display area.  The first thing you can do, although it’s not compulsory, is a ride haunted house/laser quest, ride where you sit in a buggy on rails and get driven round a track while you shoot various creatures and things on the walls, ceiling and screens.  Amy was very reluctant to get on the ride.  I think she thought she was going to be scared.  The other two were very keen though so I made her get on and after a minute she was fine.  You get points for every thing you shoot while on the track.  Ben and Chloe did far better than the last time they had been there.  Of course I won.  I didn’t tell them that though.  I’m not a showoff!

Lego mini land

After that you’re into the Miniland.  Locations from all around the world are recreated in LEGO.  It’s fantastic stuff.  For the Ninjago event there are Ninjas hidden throughout Miniland.  Test your own Ninja skills by trying to find them all!  It was while looking for mini Ninjas that a huge one sneaked up on us!  We turned around and there was Kai, the Fire Ninja!  Ben was very excited to meet Kai.  Amy was a little perturbed by this 6 foot red Ninja, and who can blame her!

Ninja Kai

There’s other Ninja based activities such as building your own Ninjago vehicles and in the Master Model building classes you can build Ninjago Eye masks.  There’s large displays of Ninjago models and face painting on hand for those that want a Ninja mask.  My favourite was the Ninja Laser Maze!  A darkened labyrinth where you can live out your fantasies of being a cat burglar in the middle of a heist!  I think the kids enjoyed it but to honest I was too busy tripping the laser beams!  They’re not made for people of a larger height I’m afraid.

Aside from the Ninja themed stuff the rest of the centre is still available including the 4D cinema with two different shows playing.  The large soft play area and climbing area as well as the Forest Pursuit (go kart track) if you’re over 4 years old.  Amy was gutted she couldn’t go on these and had to watch her big brother and sister crashing into each other.  I was a little sad I couldn’t join them to be honest!  Amy was very taken with the Merlin’s Apprentice ride.  You sit in a winged bike contraption that spins round a central pillar and rises into the air, if you pedal fast and keep pedalling!  Kids under 1.2 meters have to be accompanied which meant that I went on twice in quick succession with Chloe and Amy.  I was a little sweaty by the time I had got off.

Lego cinema

After all the exercise it was time for a drink.  The cafe bit has proper Costa coffee which I was most happy about and the kids enjoyed their Slush Puppies.  As a treat we got them some chocolate cake which Amy proceeded to smear across every surface she could find.  Bless!

The kids had a great time and as they had some money saved from birthdays and such on the way out I let them spend said money in the gift shop.  Ben got a huge box of LEGO.  Chloe and Amy got smaller sets but they were all happy with their lot (as were the The Brick Castle boys!)

LEGO purchases

If your child likes LEGO.  The LEGOLAND Discovery Centre is well worth a visit.  Whatever the time of year.

*We were invited to visit LEGOLAND Discovery Centre free of charge for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own*

#SevenWeeksofSummer Round Up

I can hardly believe it’s the last day of the summer holidays.  At the start of the holidays, seven weeks stretching out in front of us felt so unbelievably long, yet now we’re at the end I almost feel as though they slipped through our fingers.  Of course this isn’t the case at all and we’ve packed so much into our #sevenweeksofsummer.  In fact there’s definitely been weeks where we ended up doing too much – where I had managed to plan something in for every single day.  Looking back perhaps we’d have benefited from more “calm down days” but then equally, those days tended to be the days where the bickering and irritations set in.

Kids on Scarborough beach

Kids splashing in the sea

Getting out and about with three kids can be stressful – getting everyone dressed, fed and out of the door whilst sorting yourself out and packing a picnic can be prone to stressful moments (equally, some days it just goes smoothly and you’re in the car ten minutes earlier than planned…)  Mostly, our days out have been those planned with other people – various Butler adventures to the coast, to Leeds to meet up with Aunty Nic or Jaime and even a trip to Birmingham to see Donna.  We’ve been to festivals, had a holiday in Scarborough and even enjoyed five nights with no kids at all.  There’s been more ice cream than you can shake a stick at and sun cream by the gallon, picnics, paddling pools and water fights.  We’ve done our best to make the most of those sunny days when they’ve put in an appearance (anyone else notice they often seemed to fall on a Tuesday!?) and braved the odd rainy day too.

Toddler with ice cream

I’m not sure I’m ready for the summer to end yet.  I’m not ready to give up our lazy mornings, the hope of sunshine or our regular ice cream treats.  I’m not ready for routine and rain.  However, the kids are.  They are ready for routine, for catching up with their friends and for learning.  It’s time get going again, to lay the uniforms out, get the dinner money ready and prepare for the daily drama over lost shoes and hair bobbles.

Siblings Aug

Summer 2016 you flipping awesome, quite possibly the best one yet – we’ve made so many memories and I’ve loved (almost) every second of our #SevenWeeksofSummer: