Around fifty of us set off for Kidzania, the brand new, child-centre, child-led, role-playing mini-city in West London, where everything is two thirds it's normal size. We arrived at the Kidzania "International Arrivals" which is the entrance to new child-centred, role-playing mini-city, half an hour before our allotted entry time (Kidzania advise school visitors to allow half an hour for "booking in." If you are a family, still do allow some extra time for booking in)
There was a member of staff stationed at the entrance who directed us up the escalators to "Arrivals". This area is styled as an airport check-in. In common with other areas/activities, this was sponsored by British Airways.
There was a slight confusion as we were sent to queue with the general public bookings, as opposed to the school group entrance. Therefore, we were re-issued with different identity bracelets (which are worn on the wrist like watches and can only be removed by staff. These bracelets then had to be scanned (it's unclear why they can't scan them before issuing them!) and the children were issued with 50 Kidzos, which is the official currency of Kidzania.
After everyone was tagged and scanned we could go straight in.
The first thing that is noticeable is that the lighting is subdued - like dusk-light and it really is laid out like a mini city, with shops and buildings and streets. It is also double-height, so the buildings are "two storey"
The children dispersed in different directions, some with the support of their parents/adults. For parents taking children at the weekends or after school, it really is much more fun with a friend or two (both for children and adults)
Only the adults in our group received maps. As long as the children know the basic concept of how Kidzania works, Over 8s will be able to figure out the details themselves given time. However, for younger children, non-readers, and those who need an "orientation" for whatever reason, the tour bus gives an overview of how Kidzania works.
Parents are not allowed to participate in the activities (Although, you could follow your child/ren around Kidzania) and are actively encouraged to go to the Parents Lounge. However, it's not immediately obvious where it is (we ended up asking, to save time). As it turns out, it is tucked away in the corner of the first floor. The Parents' Lounge has a cafe, free wifi - in fact the wifi extends throughout most of Kidzania - a couple of computers and even a massage chair. It also has power sockets. It's possible to see a segment of the Kidzania City through the windows. (There is no vantage point where the whole of Kidzania is visible - but even if there were, it's not possible to see inside the individual activity areas from the Parents' Lounge anyway). However, adults accompanying special needs children can go into the activities to support the child, if appropriate.
There are over 60 activities to do. The children "work" at some activities and get paid in Kidzos and other entertainment activities cost Kidzos. It is possible to open a bank account (which requires 50 Kidzos) and receive a debit card for the ATMs dotted around.
Each activity has it's own building or site within the city. Many of the activities are sponsored, so the building is branded with the sponsoring company's corporate identity/signage. This gives Kidzania a much more authentic feel, and doesn't do the sponsoring companies any harm, either.
For example, The Bank of England sponsors the Kidzania Bank, H&M sponsors the Fashion Studio and Eat Natural sponsor the Fruit and Nut Bar Makery.
Each activity aims to be a realistic-as-possible recreation of the real-life equivalent. Many include a specific educational element, in addition to the general entertainment/educational value of Kidzania as a whole. The authenticity is helped by the fact that some of the activites are devised with input from sponsoring companies (which could be anything from the ingredients, to the training). (Yes, I know, some people are not going to be as impressed as others at the marketing aspect, but the real world is full of brands)
The acting academy takes the participants through a rehearsal and they then go on to perform the play in the Kidzania theatre, to an audience of other children plus any adults (it is one of the few areas that parents/adults can enter). The Renault-sponsored Engineering Centre and Pit Lane Experience takes children through some automotive engineering and a pit stop. The police officers chase a criminal through the streets and the Fire and Rescue Unit rush through the streets in a mini fire engine and then hose down the burning hotel.
There is limited capacity for each activity at any given slot, which varies according to the activity.
Each activity takes roughly 20-30 minutes. The more popular ones have queues and some of the queues are not well-managed. For example, the one for the burger-making (which, incidentally, seems to be one of the longer queues) ended up being a mini-crush when the door opened. This is a shame because the burger-making itself, is very good: participants make their choice of burger (meat or veggie) and after it's been cooked, they get to eat it! This is one of the few opportunities to buy real food with Kidzos.
Bizarrely, the smoothies the children make cannot be consumed and neither can the fruit and nut bars. With the latter, children get "one they made earlier" The fashion models have to wear the clothes over their own, which is somewhat surreal but presumably to do with some health & safety reason and they need to have socks on before they can wear the shoes (so be warned, wear socks if your child/ren are likely to want to do this).
Incidentally, children need to be wear closed-toe shoes (not sandals) to go on the climbing wall.
The main activity area is for children aged 4-14 years. There are minimum age restrictions on some of the activities. Toddlers and preschoolers aged 1 to 3 years old have their own special area on the first floor.
A lot of the activities have uniforms or costumes - such as the flight crew uniforms, which are very cute and based on British Airways uniforms. Children are encouraged to wear them, but if the child has strong feelings, the staff do not insist unless it is a matter of health and safety (such as aprons for the cooking activities).
We found all of the staff to be generally helpful, friendly and polite. A couple showed their inexperience, but that was probably mainly due to Kidzania only being open for 3 weeks at the time of our visit. (This had improved with our second visit)
Kidzania is a large immersive environment. It is loud and full-on, your senses are assaulted pretty much continuously for four hours.
Although some schools did escort their pupils round in one group, this isn't strictly necessary, as the children can't leave without an adult and they are all tagged. This is a venue where the children really can go off on their own (and that is the point!).
If you are going as a family, you can see where your child/ren were last scanned and also leave a message for your child/ren and they will receive it on their next scanned activity.
As it is newly opened, naturally, there is still some room for improvement in some areas, but on the whole the experience was thoroughly enjoyable.
Queue management needs to be better, perhaps with a member of staff to manage each queue and also explain a bit more about what to expect. If the Identity Bracelets were scanned before being put on, on check-in, this would cut down a step in the process. I imagine that as time goes on these would be ironed out (or the staff would become quicker!)
Things to note
Although Kidzania has it's own "economy", you will need real money both for the better quality merchandise and because only limited food can be obtained with Kidzos. The rest of the food and drink has to be purchased with real money (to give an idea - a burger, on it's own, costs over £5 and around £3 for chips). There is a shop where Kidzos can be spent, but it requires a lot of Kidzos - a way of guaranteeing a return visit (Kidzos can be taken home and saved for another visit). Jobs pay around 8-12 Kidzos. A small hair clip in the "department store" will cost 50 Kidzos. For some reason, there seems far less for boys to buy than for girs.
As mentioned earlier, the Tour Bus might help to explain how Kidzania works to younger children. You will not be able to get round every activity in one visit. The most popular activites will have a queue. If you have to accompany children, wear comfortable shoes. You are allowed to bring your own packed lunch. Attending Kidzania University may result in higher pay for some activities.
The child's identity bracelet is scanned at the start of each activity. After 4 hours, the staff are alerted that the four hours have elapsed and no further participation in any of the activites is allowed. If you are late for your pre-booked slot, you may lose the time. You do not have to leave immediately, so it might be better to leave the visit to the shop until after the 4 hours have elapsed.
The age group that would get the most out of a visit is the 4-11 year old range. The atmosphere is quite "busy", as you can imagine. For children (and adults) who experience sensory overload, quite corners in the first floor are a good place to hide out. Children aren't normally allowed in the Parents Lounge.
Kidzania is located in Westfields Shopping Centre (the entrance is next to Marks and Spencers). It is open seven days a week. Visits last strictly 4 hours.
General opening times at the time of writing are:
During school terms Monday - Friday: 10.00am - 18.30pm last admission is 14.30pm.
Weekends: 10.00am - 19.30pm last admission 15.30pm.
School holidays: 10.00am - 20.00pm last admission 16.00pm.
Prices for schools are here.
Prices for families are here.
Dates and times for school visits need to be booked in advance. There is an overall capacity limit for Kidzania, so families are also advised to book ahead. When ringing to book (particularly for school visits), your call is not always taken at the time, in which case, staff will take your number and call you back - occasionally on the following day. It is fully wheelchair accessible.
When you book Kidzania, you will have to guess a provisional number of children and adults to start with.
They won't hold a slot without an initial estimate of numbers.
You can go back to them and ask for additional spaces, though, as long as they still have capacity for the slot you want.
Once you finalise numbers, they will invoice and you have to pay it in advance of the trip. They won't do refunds or changes after that.
They have a free adult ratio, which means that the final adult price comes out even lower. (I always pedantically refund the difference after the event,)
It only requires 15 children to get school rates,(and the free adult ratio); so, for home-educators who can't face organising a big trip, it's really good one to do with a small group of HE friends, too.
We took 32 children aged between 1 and 14, and of mixed ability, some children had special needs such as ADHD, ADD, Aspergers or had sensory issues and 19 adults. We visited in the midweek between 11am - 3pm. We parked in the Westfields Shopping Centre carpark but others in the group came via train/tube. We paid special introductory offer prices of £5 for toddlers/preschoolers, £9.90 for Primary aged children and £12.50 for Secondary school children. Adults were £8.25.
(This is NOT a sponsored post)