“ Address: King's Square / York / YO1 7LD „
A week or two ago we decided to take the children to York for the day. We live quite near to Halifax so the hour journey up the A1 is no problem for us visiting, however apart from Christmas shopping every year we don't ever seem to make the trip. After deciding to see a tourist attraction (there are several such as York Dungeons, The Jorvik Ctr, etc), we settled on the York Chocolate Story. We had been to Cadburys World last year and it was one of the best family days out (on par with Eden Project) in the UK, so figured this was on the same lines and we'd also love it.
After arriving in York, we decided to get the Park and Ride into the centre. The girls don't ever really go on buses so we thought this would be an adventure in itself. It did however, mean that we lost our bearings ever so slightly when we got off the bus, but after a short walk we soon started to pick up the tourist signs for the attraction. Visitors to York who don't know it very well, will be pleased to know the centre is extremely well sign posted for pedestrians. Upon entering Kings Square we soon spotted the sleek white façade and promptly made our way inside. I instantly began to compare the attraction with Cadbury's World, and the difference in size was immediately apparent, with a short narrow corridor for customers to pay for entry. The walkway was fairly narrow with 2 or 3 tills, and not much room for many customers to queue inside. We went on a Sunday morning so the attraction had plenty of people inside but was by no means heaving. I do wonder what it would be like on a busy day though, and where customers would queue? I can only guess that this would be outside if more than say 10 or 15 people waiting to pay. On a cold and rainy day I wouldn't have been too impressed with this.
Okay, so this was my first little niggle. I had been tempted to book my tickets online, however you had to book a precise time slot and not knowing where it was in the centre of York we were reluctant to do so in case we became lost and ended up being late. There was no guidance online to say what would happen in this instance. So I opted to 'pay on the door' if you like. No problems with this in itself, however the price for a family of four was £30 while online it was £25. I just found this a little bit of a niggle. It's great if you can say you will specifically be there at a certain time but for any visitors who can't, the price is bumped by 20%. Under 5's are free which is good while students and OAP tickets are priced at £8.40.
Once you have arrived and paid, a chocolatier awaits you at a lift which will take you to the beginning of the tour. We had to wait 5 minutes to the next tour which was fine, as you are able to nip into the chocolate café which doubles as the rather small 'souvenir shop'. There is also a toilet here however this was completely laughable. My youngest daughter decided she needed a quick wee so I opened the door expecting to find another door and then a few toilets, however when I opened the toilet directly inside the café, you are actually in the toilet. This was fun in itself as it was one of those extremely tiny spaces, I had to kind of open the door, make my daughter go behind the door, close it and then open it again so I could fit in. Absolutely tiny space and I don't know how mums (or indeed dads) with young children are expected to be able to do anything in the space. Yes they were sleek and looked very nice, and they were clean, but this had me riled before the tour had even started! I so needed chocolate by this point! The chocolatier was by this point calling our tour, so along with 15 other people we all squeezed into this tiny space (not the toilet!), to listen to what he had to tell us. He handed everyone a small wrapped chocolate which was meant to double up as your ticket and told us he would call a lift. We then had to decide who was fitting in the lift on the first round as it would only fit half of us in. A right farce. I was also a little disappointed by this point as (and I'm going to try and not do this all the way through this review) compared to Cadburys World, the amount of chocolate we were given was laughable. When we queued to get into Cadburys World, we were handed handfuls of chocolate (full sized Cadbury's bars) to get us started and get us in the mood. This is after all a chocolate attraction. I wasn't going to let this dampen my spirits however, as my two girls were extremely excited and when the chocolatier asked if we were all ready to stuff our faces with chocolate I thought maybe I was wrong and it would just come later. Hmmmmm........
After the short ride in the lift (an alternative stair route is available for any with claustrophobia) you enter into a large room where your guide for the tour awaits you. In the centre of the room is a glass jar with small square pieces of dark chocolate. The guide explains a little about the origins of chocolate and why it is so popular (do we really need that explaining to us?!), followed by a guide to tasting chocolate the proper way. This includes listening to the chocolate (I raised my eyebrows at that bit too), smelling, touching and tasting. This bit was good, but perhaps not very well thought out as the guide asks you to pick out the chocolate and then explains it all, meanwhile you have to hold this piece of chocolate and not eat it. After a minute or so, we all had melting chocolate in our hands. A massive niggle here (I'm so moody!), was that next to the glass jar full of dark chocolate, there were four peppa pig foiled chocolate lolly's which I assumed were for the younger children. Despite my youngest daughter turning her nose up at the dark chocolate, she wasn't offered one of these chocolate lolly's, so I can't understand what the purpose of them being there was. After this room, we were swiftly ushered into a small dark room with tiny lights in the ceiling and a huge curved cinema style (imagine the IMAX on a much much smaller scale!). The guide offered us to sit down but as I had been collecting my bags in the last room, we had been the last to enter this cinema room and there were a few tree trunk style seats which literally could fit around 10 people on, so we had to stand. There was masses of room so I can't understand why they didn't fill the room with more seats. Perhaps the budget ran out..... A short film explaining how the Mayans introduced chocolate from the bean and how they consumed it. We were then offered a horrendous drink of 'chocolate gold' which was absolutely gross (watered down chocolate powder with chilli I believe)!
The guide explained before the next room that we should all get ready to stuff our faces. Now this is more like it! Queue the next room with 3 chairs (!) which explains where the chocolate story began in York and had a clever little video of actors flitting between pictures on the wall. This was quite interesting although very samey as we had seen an equivalent of this at Cadburys World (which was much more interesting!), and while it explained the history of chocolate and York, I didn't really learn anything. Here we were offered some Quality Street but everyone seemed to be being polite so we only took 1 each. This was us apparently 'stuffing our faces'!
The next room was a bit of a filler. I got the impression like they thought, 'hmmm we haven't filled the experience enough, let's put another room in!'. So I guess that's what they did! It was basically an empty room filled with loads of photos on the walls of workers in the old Rowntree's and Terry's factory or the owners. It was fairly interesting but maybe more suitable to a hall or walkway, not a room. I felt a little awkward when the guide offered us to spend ten minutes looking at the pictures as I was done after a few minutes, it perhaps would have been more suitable for the guide to have explained some of the pictures to us. Here the guide also explained the huge popularity of the humble kitkat and the numbers produced daily in the UK. She also explained the popularity of kitkat in Japan and the editions they have made including soy sauce flavour, tuna flavour and squid ink. Tasty!
The final room of the tour is probably the best and is very interactive. Lots of photo opportunities in this room. A massive tipped over milk bottle and big white cow is perfect for children to drape themselves over for photos to remember. You can also interactively mix some chocolate together and sample a white minty looking sweet and guess what the flavour is. My favourite bit is the wall of post its where you can write notes to the attraction (!?) and post on a wall. Saving the best till last, the head chocolatier making chocolates with mint fillings with a taster at the end. After this was over we walked down some stairs and my 6 year old daughter in a horrified high pitched voice shouted 'is that it?!'. My thoughts exactly my princess!
The whole place is very new and shiny and sleek. White and modern and very grown up. It seems to take the fun out of the experience and makes it grown up and serious. I struggle not to compare to Cadburys World which seemed fun and messy and didn't matter if you brought mud in on your shoe. A kind of lets jump in muddy puddles kind of place (family friendly I guess), whereas The Chocolate Story couldn't have felt any different. At one point I think I told my daughter not to touch anything, and in an interactive place it just shouldn't have felt like that.
I must admit by this point I was just ready for getting out of the place and didn't want to give the attraction any more of my money. Plus there was an amazing street artist right outside the door who gave us 45 minutes of entertainment for about £4 in tips from us and we had more fun watching him than in the whole attraction! The café had a few sparkling white booths but I don't know what happens when it fills as there was only a handful. The café had lots of lovely looking cakes and a good selection of hot drinks but it felt a bit miss placed in the shop as customers independent of the attraction are able to enter the shop to browse so it was quite crowded and I wouldn't feel comfortable paying for cake and drinks sat in the middle of a shop.
I really don't think I need to summarise this but I will anyway. I think this attraction is massively over priced and I think this had a lot to do with my thoughts about it. For an hour's tour at £30 for a family of 4, we could have taken them to the cinema or swimming and a play centre, the price just wasn't justified in any shape or form. Even worse, is comparing it to Cadburys World which just exposes it even more as a complete rip off as Cadburys World was a struggle to fit it all in one day and had an enormous outside play area for children afterwards. Also, I don't really think this attraction was very interactive except for one small section and it that sense felt a little like council run museum which are normally free to enter. The attraction needs to massively change for us to ever consider going back here, and I just can't recommend it.