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I was a big fan of Playmobil before we actually owned any. So far my daughter has had the Wild West set with the jail that takes 20 minutes of swearing and breath-holding to build and 2 seconds to fall over once completed. Then we got the giant pyramid that looks really cool but took me two hours (TWO HOURS!) to build, takes up four million metres of floorspace and needs 8 million metres to be able to actually play with it, plus the inside barely makes sense. It also comes with 200 million teeny tiny pieces of extra bits which are regularly sucked into the vacuum cleaner or eaten by her baby brother. The helicopter is cool, I'll give them that, a big favourite actually, but that is one win and two massive fails for big Playmobil sets (the little ones are lovely and immune). So what convinced me to buy this big Playmobil set, the Nautical Expedition Ship, RRP £35 (I paid £24)? Really? Honestly? Well, shamefully it was the teeny tiny microscope and the teeny tiny test-tubes, even though I knew they would stay together for precisely one microsecond before dispersing forever, only to be found ten years later clinging to a sock. Sigh.
So present duly exclaimed over, box opened and there is the usual Playmobil slew of random plastic bits to construct into the shiny picture on the box. There were also a worryingly large number of miniscule metal screws, which always fills me with dread. So, five different screwdrivers later and I was completing the body of the ship which is filled with a large piece of polystyrene in the bow, presumably for buoyancy. Several of the little screws had to be screwed through this polystyrene which was very hard to do and it took a lot of force to get them all in. The rest of it was the normal clipping and poking in of various teeny little pieces of plastic until the body of the ship was created. Fiddly but par for the course. Finally came my nemesis, knot tying. There are four or five knots to be created; for the anchor, for the winch, for the buoy etc and you have to do them all yourself. Easy peasy, you think, but oh no, oh no, oh no.....Playmobil require a specific type of knot, tied in a specific place on the (slippery, thin) cord. I have never been a sailor, will never be a sailor, but by god after 50 minutes of trying to follow the miniscule diagram provided and doing lots of swearing, any possible minute vestiges of a dream of a life of the ocean wave were well and truly swamped. But why not tie a normal knot I hear you say, oh, if only it was that easy.....the 'normal' knots untied themselves in the springy cord within minutes of energetic play and it was back to the swearing and the diagrams.
And then you finish with the three little people and their accessories, millions of little golden coins, a tool set and diving accoutrements. There are binoculars and other accessories for the female Captain and her crew - a mechanic type and a diver. In the cabin are the little computer screens, the sink and the aforementioned microscope and test tubes in their rack. The test tubes are miniscule and are incredibly tricky to fit into their little holes, my daughter has long ago delegated this job to me, usually just before dropping the whole ship and requiring me to start again.
After the nightmare of construction it does have considerable play value. The polystyrene insert and sealed hull mean that you can take this boat into the bath and for an extra £10 you can buy a little motor which fits to the bottom of the hull to make it chug around the bath. The winch at the back has a little platform attached but also attaches to the shark cage from another Playmobil set -4500 which is another £12. Even without these extras there is a lot to do with this boat, rescuing, investigating, surviving massive storms, losing the test tubes down the plughole whirlpool, working with the helicopter to rescue stranded foam letters and sinking after a run in with the baby bottom of doooooomm. The winch is used a lot and despite its seeming fragility has held up rather better than I expected, likewise the anchor which makes a satisfying metal clunk on hitting the bottom of the bath.
We have had this ship for three months and despite its regular dunkings and the disappearance of the majority of the small parts down the plughole, vacuum and the gaping maw of an investigative toddler it has held up pretty well. The crew are still chirpy, although their computer screens have dissolved, the winch knots are holding up well and the number of missing bits doesn't seem to compromise their multiple missions that much. It has been played with almost as much as the helicopter, much more than the pyramid but just slightly less than the Lego. Even though it has a lot of play value I probably wouldn't buy this model again, the putting together was tedious and whilst I usually love putting these things together I feel that they made it too difficult, especially for 4 year olds (box says 4+). The knots in particular were taking the self-construction too far and I would have greatly preferred it if they had come ready attached, that bit was not fun at all, neither were the screws. There was space in the box for those pieces to come already put together and I don't think it would have detracted anything from the construction experience if this had been the case - it just felt exasperating and tedious. The set itself is one of the more successful Playmobil sets in my opinion, we have had some duds and seen more at the houses of other people. This one works, but only just....and as long as I never have to see another knot again!
As a child, my sister and I were really into Playmobil and I have been looking forward to buying it for my little boy for ages. Although Playmobil is designed for children over the age of four, we decided to buy my son the Playmobil Expedition Ship for his third birthday as he was starting to create ever-more complicated imaginative stories with his space rocket and fire engines, and we thought the Playmobil range would appeal to his tendency towards that style of play.
* Reason for Purchase *
We chose the Expedition Ship because, following a family holiday to Mallorca last year when we went sailing with his uncle, my son had developed a fascination with boats. I spent a while debating the merits of the Expedition Ship and the Family Yacht, but chose this product because it seemed to have less 'tiny' pieces (and those that were included weren't critical to the playability of the product so I could remove them and hide them to be re-introduced at a later stage).
* Assembling the Product *
My son was very excited to unwrap the big box that housed the ship on his birthday and wanted to play with it straight away. So, we opened the box only to discover that the ship was in pieces and needed to be put together, something that was simply not going to happen on the morning of his birthday with a party to prepare for and a houseful of overnight guests! I eventually sat down to build the ship the following evening in a quiet house with time to concentrate on it - even with the time and space to do it, it still took me 45 minutes to put the ship together due to the sheer amount of fiddly pieces. You even need to know how to tie proper knots in the miniature ropes which hold the anchor and the winch to pull up the diving platform - luckily my husband used to be a Scout and he took care of that bit for me! There is actually a message on the box warning that the assembly time is approximately 30 minutes but we didn't notice that before we wrapped it up.
* The Product / Contents *
Once assembled, the Expedition Ship is a lovely toy. It is a sturdy boat which is weighted at the bottom to allow it to float on water - you can also add an underwater motor to the boat (at additional cost), although we have decided not to do that for now. The boat even has a transparent bottom so that the little people on board can see the imaginary fishes underneath! I particularly like the attention to detail that has been put into this product - with items such as a metal anchor, a working winch to pull the platform up from the sea, a tiny fire-extinguisher hidden beneath the deck and a well-equipped control deck. The additional items that come with the boat are three people; a female captain, a workman with his own hard hat and tool kit and a diver complete with mask, snorkel, air-tank and flippers. There is also a chest for buried treasure, a tool box for the tiny tools, a couple of pairs of tiny binoculars and a handheld radio.
* Other Features *
It is also suitable for playing with in water, although I wouldn't really recommend it as a bath toy unless you limit the items which can be taken into the bath. It's ok with just the boat and the people, but some of the smaller items could easily end up being washed down the plughole.
* Compatibility *
The Expedition Ship is also compatible with some of the other Playmobil products in their 'Underwater Range'. My son has the Diving Bell which can be attached to the winch on the Expedition Ship and has been eyeing up the Shark Diver every time we see it. You can also get a Research Submarine, a Researcher Boat with a whale and more divers in an underwater reef in the same range.
* Cost *
The price of the Playmobil Expedition Ship is £39.99. I think this is reasonable value for a very well-made product with a lot of playability. It is also possible to get it cheaper by shopping around - we bought it as part of the Boots 3 for 2 Christmas gift offer.
Overall, I have been really pleased with the product and my son loves it. He still plays with it frequently and it is definitely helping him develop his imaginative play as he makes up stories about the divers and the captain (although as she is a woman, he keeps telling her to cook dinner for the divers!). There is a slight issue with the size of the smaller items - a couple have unfortunately been sucked up by the hoover already - but apart from that we are all very happy with it and would definitely consider buying additional items from the range.
Model: Expedition Ship