“ Location: Blackburn Rd, Houghton Regis, Dunstable LU5 5BQ. „
Snakes and Ladders-Brentford.
Although my daughter is adult now, I often visit her in London and especially during school holidays and half-term when I look after my grandson, Jack. Like all six-year-old boys he's on the go from morning to bedtime and he really needs to let off steam. I visited just last week and one of our favourite outings is to indoor children's playgrounds called 'Snakes and Ladders.'
The Company and Website.
The website is as nice and colourful as it's brochures and the pictures are very accurate. The company is a private one with sites in five great centres, most in the southeast of the UK. Unfortunately there are none in the rest of the country, as I think the service is one that would be a boon to families across the UK. You can easily find details of your nearest playground complete with map and opening times on the site.
It also gives details of private parties, events and special offers. I won't go into any details on these as I am going to review the place I know about from personal experience.
I will be writing about the Brentford site as the playgrounds are very similar and the category for this company already exists, although it says Dunstable only.
The playground at Brentford is situated in the grounds of Syon Park in Middlesex. The park is open to visitors in the main grounds, though I have never had the time to visit the house itself. We usually walk through the park to get to the playground as I find it part of the fun to picnic in the grounds. Jack also loves to play ball, run around and feed the squirrels. I like to visit the garden centre and recently became a member, getting half price deals on plants.
The playground has an indoor and outdoor section, and both are enclosed so you need to pay one price only. I do find it rather expensive, but my daughter tells me I am not used to London prices, we get off quite lightly in Wales! More on prices later.
Once you pay there's an entry through a gated area and a place where you can leave any items for children's parties. These include party presents, balloons, and anything else you bring along for a birthday party. These are later taken into a private party area, of which there are six in the Brentford site.
There are three play areas at Brentford, one three-tiered play area, one intermediate 2-5's activity area and a safe and soft toddlers area. There is also an outdoor adventure area, a bit like an assault course (I really wish I wasn't too old for this) with lots of balancing, swinging and poles to sliver down or around. Each area has it's own age and height restrictions to maximise safety for children and toddlers.
There are also added extras, including battery-operated motorbikes, air hockey table, a café and the party rooms. I've had experience of all as I started taking Jack there from the age of four.
The intermediate area is a bit like the play areas you can find in most large funfairs and at specialised children's play sites. Even though Jack is now six, he still looks back a bit longingly at this area when he feels less adventurous than normal. I think it's because the enclosed space is only two floors high and isn't too demanding. Even so, all things like ropes, climbing frames and especially slides can cause injuries, so each child needs adult supervision. It's also a good idea to take a spare set of clothing as I find long sleeves and jeans lessen the impact of bruises, though you can never escape some.
The three-tiered area is the one we go to now and this is something that I would have loved myself as a child. The bottom area is quite safe for most children with soft-roped and strong plastic supports providing safety from falling off the whole construction. You still see adults watching their children playing and even joining in at ground floor levels, as some children require that reassurance. Since the floor is suitably padded then all children and adults have to take off shoes and bare feet are not allowed. The ball pool is on this level but I find it far from tame, with some older children throwing the plastic balls at one another and children getting buried under a layer of balls. Great fun for some, but littler children can be scared of this. I've had to rescue quite a few when it's become a bit rough. There is a lovely spooky ghost house which has all sorts of painted ghoulies and ghosts with just enough height to allow adults to go through with children. I chase Jack through here and he escapes from me by climbing through a small opening and on up to the next level.
I find each level has it's own obstacles and since I can only watch from the ground I took a while to relax about it. There are some fearsome looking spider webs to climb and plenty of large balls to climb around or over, slides in the shape of snakes that twist and turn back and forth and swinging tunnels on ropes that children scramble through.
Another set of padded steps takes the children up to level three which looks a bit like a three-story house in height. On this level the massive play frame gets more adventurous with ropes, vertical slopes and a slide that Jack still hasn't quite got the nerve to try. It's a vertical drop and as I watch the older children crossing their arms and allowing gravity to drop them down I worry about the day when he will try it. I've seen some children with bumps and bruises from it, though it's a part of childhood that is essential for an adventurous child. Strangely enough, I often find the girls more daring than the boys. I wonder if I was ever like that?
Time for Tea.
Jack is out of breath and in need of a drink or a 'slush puppy.' I've spent a good deal of time watching him, though other mums can sit at the tables by the café and drink tea and chat, while their children play safely. There is plenty of supervisory staff checking that children don't get injured in all the excitement, but I like to watch my grandson play. The café itself doesn't do a huge array of food. It's mostly what kids like most, chips, burgers, ice creams and soft drinks. I buy a coffee and a slush puppy and still get change from a fiver so, not too bad. We have usually had our picnic lunch about a half-hour before we get inside, though I take extra water as we both get dehydrated on hot days. Consumption of your own food and drink is not allowed on the premises so we will spend some time on the assault course, soak up a bit of summer sun and have a drink outside.
Jack had his last birthday party here and although it can be expensive, it's a good way of the kids having fun and no cooking or washing-up for the adults.
We had ten boys and eight girls, so at £10.95 per head it wasn't cheap. That includes the hire of the room and the help of a party host, a cooked meal for the children, burgers or pizza with chips or jacket potatoes, followed by ice cream. There was a large jug of squash for the children and tea and biscuits for the adults at an extra cost of £8 for up to eight adults.
Balloons and party bags are extra, but we made our own the previous day. My daughter bought a Dr Who cake from Tesco's and the party host brought this in as we all sang 'happy Birthday' to the birthday boy.
Time to go home.
Each child is allowed two hours on the premises, though staff has been fairly good about allowing extra time for getting children to get off the frame and into their shoes. This applies for parties as well, with half an hour in the party room and 90 minutes play time. I don't have too much trouble getting Jack to go home, he gets tired and he knows he will get his second treat of the day when we get back to the park area.
First I have to persuade him through the shop and this is my one grumble with this site. You have to leave through a gated area, which, goes through the middle of the shop. Here there is far too much sweets, books and expensive toys. I know these places have to make money, but I resent buying extras.
Fortunately as a 'Nan' I'm allowed to spoil Jack a bit, so we know by now that there is usually an ice cream van outside the garden centre and we can get a '99 with flake and chocolate sauce for Jack and a lolly for me.
Tired now we sit on the grass and relax a while. Later on we'll decide which part of the day we liked best, but for now we enjoy the afternoon sunshine.
Under 2's £5.30
Under 5's 6.30
Over 5's 7.30
Times of admission are from 10am to 6pm and prices are cheaper after 4.30. There are also play and meal deals for term times, but I wouldn't consider that unless I really needed to have an evening out later on. It can be handy for after school play and a quick meal before bedtime.
The website does say that adults go free, but I've always been charged £1 and that does annoy me.
There are also special schemes with bonus free days after a certain amount of visits. This is new so I will sign up for it. It's one good day out that we both look forward to and cheaper than the cinema. The rest of our time together we will spend on cheaper activities, so I can recommend a trip to Snakes and Ladders as a great fun day out.
I've deducted one star for the incorrect information on the site that says adults go free and also because of the shop area that tempts parents to spend too much.
As always, thanks for reading and if you do go, have a good time.
Play centre for children.