“ Address: Marine Parade / Great Yarmouth / Norfolk / NR30 3JG / Tel: 01493 842097 „
***Review based on visit in June 2011
Situated just past Wellington Pier on Great Yarmouth Seafront Merrivale Model Village, Penny Arcade Museum and Tearooms is a lovely place to while away the afternoon should you be in the area. We had a great time during our recent visit and found there was something to entertain and amuse all age groups from 14 month old Freddy to his 92 year old Great Grandma. As some parts of this attraction are free to enter, while others are not, I'm now going to break the review into sections.
==The Model Village==
The model village is open daily from the 26th of March until the 30th October, opening at 10am with the closing time varying depending on season. When we visited at the beginning of June the village closed at 5.30pm with the last entry at 4.30pm. At first thought the entry fee of £6.50 per adult seems a little steep, but that price does also include a free game of mini-golf. As it happens we had been given a money-off voucher at the nearby Sea Life Centre which entitled us to £1 off per person, making our visit even better value.
On entering the village you are faced with a winding path that takes you around the various displays, this path is wide enough to accommodate a single buggy or wheelchair, but too narrow for double, side-by-side buggies. We pushed Freddy round in his standard stroller and there was no point where we struggled. Although the paths are well maintained, there are a few points where the slightly unsteady may need help as the path slopes at quite a steep gradient. We certainly had to lend support to Freddy's Great Grandma a couple of times. While there isn't an abundance of seating, there is a bench dotted here and there, which allow you to rest as you take in the view. The gardens are very well maintained with the trees and plants having been chosen in keeping with the size of the models.
The actual models are brilliant, they are beautifully detailed and many of them contain little jokes. The very first scene is under cover and depicts the Royal Wedding, complete with Buckingham Palace and a display of memorabilia of past Royal Weddings. Personally this display didn't interest me much, yes the Palace looked spectacular, but I didn't actually take any notice of the actual wedding. With the older members of our group it was a completely different kettle of fish and they really enjoyed spending a good ten minutes "oohing and ahhing".
Once past the wedding display we were back out in the elements and perhaps I should have mentioned that the day we visited it was rather overcast with occasional downpours (not that we let that bother us). Before travelling down the path to the village proper we decided to take advantage of our free game of mini-golf, which prompted lots of fun and a surprising competitive streak. There was a small deposit of £1 per person to pay, but this was refunded as soon as we returned the clubs and balls. The 9-hole course is in extremely good condition and very brightly coloured, which I imagine is designed to attract younger visitors. But, while the holes looked easy, in reality they were quite challenging, or at least they were to this bunch of complete amateurs. In all it took the four of us (Freddy didn't play as he can't walk as yet) about half hour to play the golf and we had great fun.
Once we'd finished our game of golf, we took advantage of the very clean toilets, before moving on. Although for obvious reasons I didn't personally enter the male toilets, I have been assured that they were as clean and well stocked as the ladies was. There is also a disabled toilet available near the entrance along with baby changing facilities. I must say that the toilet block actually looked pretty new, whether that's because it was newly built or refurbished, I simply do not know. There is also a picnic area in this section, which is ideal for sitting and eating sandwiches.
Having played our game of golf and emptied our bladders, we finally started to make our way down the path towards the main displays. As we started down this path, Freddy was delighted when I pointed out some toadstools where the fairies "Tom", "Dick" and "Harriet" lived, although we couldn't actually see the fairies, so we came to the conclusion that they were hiding. These toadstools set the tone for the whole visit, with the fantastic level of detail paired up with a sense of humour. I'm not going to discuss every exhibit, because a big part of the fun in this attraction is discovering the little details for yourself. But I will talk about some of the high (and low) points.
One exhibit that you can't help but notice is the castle at the centre of the village, the castle really does look spectacular and I can't help but wish that we had visited a little later in the year so that I could have seen it lit up. Another notable mention goes to the railway, running around the village there are tracks that hold a number of different trains. Personally my favourite was the Orient Express, but there are also a number of others including freight trains and an intercity train. As far as Freddy was concerned it didn't matter which train went by, they were all great and deserved to be pointed at. Many of the displays are also interactive, with them making sounds or moving after a button is pressed. These buttons showed that you never really grow up as everyone competed to be the one to press the button. I, personally, especially like the church with the wedding, while the mother-in-law liked the fairground (and spent quite a time setting off the different rides).
I think what makes this model village so special though are the little details. Yes the scenes are all well maintained, but it's the thought that's gone into them that shines through. So what at first glance is just a street scene, reveals itself as a bank robbery, or what looks like a waterfall, turns out to be a group of pirates partaking in some "Yo-Ho-Ho-ery".
That's not to say that the whole village is perfect, because there was one aspect that disappointed us. At one point you could pay 50p to have a go at some radio controlled bumper cars. With all of us being big kids at heart, we definitely had to have a go at this, but only two out of the four cars worked. Now we were disappointed enough at this as adults, so I can only imagine the tantrums that would have ensued had it been children playing.
Including our game of golf it took us almost two hours to make our way round the village and even then I'm sure that we missed some detail. We all enjoyed our visit and will definitely be re-visiting next year. I would say that it was well worth the £20 it cost for the five of us to enter and makes for a great day out for young and old.
Comments from our group include:
Freddy (14months) - Dain!!!
Daddy (Somewhere over 30) - Really clever
Nana (60+) - Lovely and interesting
Great Grandma (92) - Beautiful, I want to come back.
==Old Penny Arcade==
While the village has an entrance fee, the Old Penny Arcade and museum is free to enter. This museum can be broken into two parts, one of which features various fruit machines and amusements that take old pennies and the other containing slightly more modern and yet still retired arcade favourites.
The pennies for the older machines can be purchased from the gift shop at the rate of fifteen for a pound. I have to admit to having indulged in spending a pound in this section, but I saved one of the pennies for Freddy's scrapbook and gave another to his Great Grandma as it was minted in 1919, which was the year she was born. While modern fruit machines are flashy, noisy affairs, the older versions really have a charm of their own and I rather enjoyed spending time in here. Freddy especially liked one that was a laughing clown, and we played that a couple of times. There were also some racing type games in this section where you had to turn a handle as fast as you can.
The other section contains a lot of machines that I remember as favourites from my childhood. I'm not sure exactly how it made me feel to discover that the 2p roulette machine I used to enjoy playing is now a museum piece, but it was fun playing it. There are also several 2p pusher machines in this area and Nana and Great Grandma spent a good half hour playing. As well as these machines where you could "win money" there are a couple where little puppet shows play, most notable of these is a Sooty one, just like I remember. Although as my partner pointed out, it didn't seem to play for as long as it used to, but there again that could be just that we didn't have such a good sense of time as little children.
All in all the penny arcade museum is fairly interesting and certainly more amusing than modern amusement centres, especially as it is free to enter.
==The Tea Rooms==
Along with the museum, the tearooms are free to enter, although obviously it will cost to eat here. There is both indoor and outdoor seating, with most of the outdoor seating being under cover. Although a selection of food is available, we decided to only have a light snack. Daddy, Nana and myself had bacon sandwiches, which were all reasonable enough, after all it's really hard to ruin a bacon butty. Freddy had toast which was supplied with real butter, and Great Grandma had soup of the day which was Leek, Potato and Stilton and served with a roll. Great Grandma did state that her soup was very nice, but very filling and Freddy scoffed his toast, so I would say that everything tasted ok. We also had drinks, with me having tea, that came in a teapot (2.5cups) and seemed good quality, the other women had a coffee each, which went down well, while Daddy had a posh Dandelion and Burdock and Freddy had a fruit shoot. All of this came to just under £20 which was pretty good considering. There were a variety of other snacks and light meals available and what impressed me was that not only were vegans and vegetarians catered for with the options clearly marked, but there were also a number of gluten free choices on the menu. While someone had to go inside to order, our meals were brought out to us and service was not only quick, but was also accompanied by a smile.
Although we could have sat indoors, we decided to sit outside, under cover and the seats were comfortable enough. What I especially liked about sitting outside was that we were surrounded by children's rides from years gone by. Even though it made me feel quite old, it was nice to sit and reminisce about my childhood and even better to let Freddy have a go on rides that I enjoyed as a child.
Along with the set of toilets inside the village, there are another set in the outside seating area, which while not as modern as the others were still clean and well stocked with toilet paper. There are also baby changing facilities in this area, although I do have to point out that the changing table is more of a hammock (which Freddy thought it was hilarious to bounce on) and there isn't a safety strap.
Along with the actual tearooms and children's rides there is also a kiosk in the outside seating area that sells traditional sweets and the most delicious hand-made fudge. I actually watched some lemon meringue fudge being made and was quite upset that I wasn't able to buy that particular flavour as it wouldn't be ready until the next day. Not only was the fudge hand-made but it was made with fresh cream and butter, with natural flavourings. I can't remember every flavour that was available, but I bought some whiskey/raisin flavour for Great Grandma, and the raisins had been marinating in the whiskey for a week. The man who ran the kiosk was perfectly happy for me to taste several flavours before I decided which to buy. Even so it was still a hard decision, but I finally whittled it down to four, which cost me £1.95 for 100g, only because I bought three I got the fourth free. I will say that the fudge itself was divine, and the difference between this and the fudge you get wrapped in plastic is similar to the difference between a burst of sweet, buttery, goodness and eating plastic.
==The Gift Shop==
No tourist attraction would be complete without a gift shop and there is one here. Although there are a few bits of tat, much of what is sold is of reasonable quality and for those who, like me, prefer their souvenirs to have the name of where you've visited on them, there's plenty to choose from. The prices are pretty reasonable too, with postcards only costing 10p each, there really is something to suit all pockets.
In case you haven't guessed we really enjoyed our visit to Merrivale Model Village, Great Yarmouth and would recommend it to anyone that is in the area and has the couple of hours minimum that you need to fully appreciate it's delights. My only regret is that we didn't get to see the full effect of the lighting at dusk, but hopefully we'll be able to experience that next year.
So I'm giving the village as a whole and all it's component parts five stars out five as it really is a brilliant afternoon for the whole family.