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Alton Towers (Staffordshire)
===In the beginning=== When I was about ten, my family decided to go and visit relatives down in Manchester. A few bouts of car sickness later and I was fascinated with the surroundings. The trips down became a yearly thing that we all looked forward to partly because my great aunt was brilliant fun and partly because we'd ... always work in a trip to Alton Towers. The first couple of times I didn't actually go on any of the rides through being far too scared. Then I finally went on a smallish ride at a dinky little Scottish theme park and convinced myself that the "drop" I experienced on that thing was just about as high as the drop on the scariest ride in the park. Next time we went, my Mum and my Brother took great delight in my absolute terror as we chugged and clanked our way up the tracks of "Oblivion" I even got away with as much swearing as you've ever heard a 14 year old (at least 12 years ago that is). I was so utterly wrong about the drop being the same, but it did mean that I'd just cracked the worst ride in the park and therefore it'd be silly not to do the rest. And that's how my love affair with Alton towers began. The park is huge, so this review will be a long one.
For those of you who don't know, Alton towers is one of the biggest and most popular theme parks in the UK. They've earned that title through having some of the biggest thrill rides and constantly keeping up with the times by trying out new things. People who would enjoy the place the most would be thrill seekers, hands down. Children come next as there's a fair amount to keep the kiddies entertained here too. If you don't have kids and you don't like roller coasters then you'd more than likely be wasting your time and money coming here.
The park is huge and is built on the grounds (800 acres worth) around a listed 19th century gothic mansion which is partly in ruins and in recent years has been partly roped into helping provide chills for the visitors. One of the tamer rides "Hex" is built into the mansion, and at Halloween the park opens up scare mazes through the mansions with a couple of different creepy themes. You'll also find luscious gardens in a valley in the middle of the park, but if you are there for the rides, you probably won't get much time to explore these. I've been about 10 times now and I've still not been into the gardens. One day!!
As well as the theme park there are also two theme hotels that you can stay in. Splash landings hotel is a water park and hotel while the normal Alton Towers hotel has theme rooms based on some of the rides but you'll find yourself paying through the nose for most of the rooms in either. One other perk of staying at the hotels is that you get entry to the park before everyone else meaning you can get to the busy rides first and therefore to the front of the queue. This is also true if you are going to a concert in Alton Towers (I once went to see Pink at Alton Towers). As I'm not rich, I've never visited either of the hotels, instead I've just went with nearby hotels.
Alton Towers regularly do deals with newspapers to collect vouchers and get in for free or half price. If you are planning a trip, it would probably be worth being prepared well in advance so you can look out for some of these deals as it could really save you a tonne. Entry to the park is just under £35 for adults and £30 for children and could even be more if you go in peak periods. Family tickets can save your dosh coming in at £65 but none of these ticket prices include "fast track" tickets which enable you to get on rides quicker. If there's a big group of you going, these deals could really save you a tonne.
If you buy your park tickets along with a hotel booking via their website it can sometimes work out cheaper too, with two days in the park for 1 adult costing us only £40 last time we went.
As well as that, you can generally save a bit of money by going to the park two days in a row. When the park is at its busiest, you really need two days to make sure you get on everything you wanted to. When it's quiet you can simply take advantage and ride everything to your hearts content. Usually your second day has a more than 50% discount but you can get even more if you go for your first day and keep your parking ticket as they usually have an offer for £10 tickets if you come back the next day. What I'm saying is, keep your eyes open for deals otherwise the price can sting a little.
Unlike some other places, however, the ticket price will give you access to all the rides all day for free. The only extras you'll pay for are things like food, drinks, souvenirs and carnival style games that are dotted about the place.
Alton Towers is about a half hour drive from Stoke-on-trent which has no shortage of cheap hotels (some nicer than others for the price). It's in the middle of the English country side but is fairly well sign posted even from Stoke so you shouldn't have too much trouble getting there. There's a local bus service from Stoke that takes you straight to the park for fairly cheap but I don't know the ins and outs of it, but at least now you know it exists if you wish to look into it! It really depends on how far you're travelling and what you're comfy doing to get here. Up till this year, I'd always gotten a deal with my local coach company who would bus everyone down to the park overnight for a couple of days with bed and breakfast in stoke. This year, now that my gorgeous Fiancé has me into a real sleep pattern and my distaste for people has steadily grown, I decided I'd pack all my friends into the car and drive myself. My trusty sat-nav got me most of the way though I'd suggest looking for the signs for the car park when you get a bit closer. As the park is so huge, my sat-nav was just trying to get me to the post code which is actually the mansion inside the park. The car parks are quite a bit away from that so my sat-nav was going mental at me for not turning into the staff entrance.
The post code that will get you most of the way there is ST10 4DB though even the Alton Towers website asks you not to put it on the "shortest route" setting or you'll drive headfirst into a farm!
No matter how you spin it, there's a lot of walking and standing involved in a day at the towers. You can take quick shortcuts across the park via the Sky Ride stations around the park, but sometimes it's just as quick to walk thanks to the queues. Wheelchair access is fairly good with most of the paths being smooth though there are one or two steep hills you might worry about. Getting into the park can either be done by walking from the huge car park or heading towards the monorail station. I prefer to do it that way. You can buy tickets on the entrance or pick up pre ordered tickets there too. If you also pick up a parking ticket at the start of the day it'll save you waiting in line at the end of the day.
===For the kids===
People with kids will have to keep their wits about them here. If you have taught your kids how not to be spoiled little brats, you'll be fine. If you've got a tot who chucks a tantrum any time it sees something fuzzy, you may wish to bring a blanket to put over their heads till the calm down (well it works for budgies and dogs!).
For really young kids there's a story book themed area to the right when you walk in. You'll be greeted by a giant tree reading a story book and kicking about will be various statues of story book characters. There's also the Squirrel Nutty ride which is a little pedal car that takes you and your kid through the "tree tops" (all constructed of plastic) if your little legs can pedal. I don't see slightly older kids taking well to the quaintness of the area, but that's fine, there is more. If you're an adult you'll probably find this area reduces you to tears of boredom after about two minutes. We don't ever go in any more as we don't have any kids with us when we go.
If you travel to your left at the bottom of the main Plaza you'll enter the Pirate Themed area of the park called Mutiny Bay. This area has a really fun adventure playground for the kids and even some boats that can float around and shoot people with water cannons. This area also has a lot of carnival games like hook the duck and basketball which can all be avoided if you wish, as well as a good old fashioned teacups-esque ride with a pirate themed twist. You can even get dressed up like a pirate and have your photos taken or watch a live show in the little courtyard in this area. Recently they added Sharkbait Reef which is a little aquarium full of weird and wonderful sea life. I rather enjoyed my little wander around it and your kids probably will too. Walk a little further and you'll also find the log flumes at the far end of this area. The Flumes when we went were looking a bit run down and dirty. I've never really enjoyed them as you get absolutely soaked on them but some people love them. There's a bit of a drop so kids with a weaker stomach might not do too well on them.
As well as all the fun you can have in this area, I'd say without a doubt, this area is where you'll find the best selection of food in the park. From freshly made donuts to Mexican food (both of which I'd really recommend) and kebabs, back to British all of the food in this area smells fantastic and tastes great and it's not even too expensive. If you are on a tight budget you can obviously bring a packed lunch, but I'd definitely say some of the food here is worth your money.
===Katanga Canyon and Gloomy Wood===
Continue in this direction and you'll find Katanga Canyon which is an area with River Rapids and a Run-Away Train that the kids will love (the adults will probably really enjoy these rides too) and then a little further on in Gloomy Wood you'll find one attraction called Duel which is a haunted house with laser tag built into the trains (it used to just be a haunted house, then kids got bored with that kind of thing so they added the shooter aspect to it). All three of the rides are quite tame but also quite enjoyable. They also offer a seat for five minutes and if you want you can just chill out while the carts go round the tracks. Hardly the most thrilling, but quite nice after a long day of walking around. If you don't like the idea of handing your kids a laser tag gun, then avoid Duel but it's really rather cheesy inside so you'd be hard pushed to find it anything other than a bit of fun.
===Cloud Cuckoo Land===
As well as all of this, there's more fun to be had just behind the gothic mansion in Cloud Cuckoo Land. Head towards the house and go through the arches, you'll see "Hex" to the right hand side which bar being a little creepy (most kids won't be too scared) is completely suitable for children. It's also rather dull and totally skip-able if you don't want to waste your time on smaller rides. It's quite good for a seat if you're tired, but that's about it. Go straight ahead and you'll find a Charlie and the Chocolate factory ride which is great for kids though I found it a bit sickening due to a certain part in an elevator with a video screen on the floor (it's not actually scary at all, I just hate elevators in any context) and a little Alton Towers version of Disney's "small world" tunnel-of-weird-puppets-and-a-boat ride which is great fun for the kids but a little bizarre for adults.
===For the Thrill Seekers===
If you have managed to ditch your kids or like me you haven't taken the time to impregnate someone yet (One day Allan will carry my child I swear it) then you'll probably be here just for the Big Scary Awesome Roller coasters and rides. And who would blame you?? Not me! Firstly let me advise that you should really bring clothes with zip pockets, if you wear glasses, consider contacts for the day so you can see what's going on while on the ride. So, hold on to your hats and I'll take you through what you can expect!
Currently home to four rides, the X-sector is a sort of futuristic government facility under lock down, though the theme isn't played on too heavily anymore. The two smallest rides there are The Enterprise and Submission are rides that you could probably see at bigger travelling carnivals as their main attractions but are still quite a lot of fun.
Until Recently everything in the X-sector paled in comparison to Oblivion which was the worlds first vertical drop rollercoaster opening in 1998 which basically dangles you over the edge of a straight down drop and then lets you fall face first into a gaping hole in the ground. You can pretty much see the whole park from the top and according to a lot of the advertising at the time, on the drop you feel more G-force than an astronaut blasting off into space. (4.5 G's is the official measurement from Oblivion; 3.5 G's is typical for a shuttle blast off, though re-entry can be as extreme as 5.5 G's) I'd say it's the only ride in the park that still scares the absolute pants off of me and to this day is still the only one that people I've been with will refuse to go on. I find the experience entirely terrifying due to my fear of heights which this ride plays on heavily by making the climb really slow and then slowly turning you round to meet the drop before locking the cart above it. I've been on it about 8 times, but the last time I went on, I managed to pass out and ever since have decided to give it a miss. If you're a thrill seeker, this is definitely for you.
Opening in 2013, The Smiler is Alton's newest ride and is breaks records being the first ride in the world to contain 14 loops in the track. The ride is a little bit crazy and is split into two parts by a vertical climb in the middle and employs things like strobe lights, and sprays of water to really give you that little bit extra confusion while you're tumbling around it. I'd not say it looks terrifying (if you ignore that vertical climb) and overall it's a very fun ride. At the moment you'll find yourself queuing for a long time before you are able to get on it so while it's the newest attraction I'd recommend heading straight there first thing. If you don't you'll have a three hour wait ahead of you. This ride will also make you hit 4.5G's but the fact you're going round loops and tumbling in all directions means it doesn't feel like it hits you in the stomach the way Oblivion does. This ride really just leaves you smiling with only a few hundred swear words hurled out on the 30 meter vertical climb. I love it.
===The Forbidden Valley===
The Forbidden valley is to the far left hand side of the park and is themed around an alien invasion. Everything here is rusted, sharp and burnt out, some items have what looks to be muscle and sinew growing all over it and there are rivers of "blood" flowing around the place. It's quite a cool area and it holds another couple of the big rides!
This has been the main ride in the area since 1994 pulling an impressive 4 G's and was the first ever Inverted roller coaster in Europe which basically means rather than sitting on the tracks like a train, it dangles you below the track so your feet are free to swing around. The back-story was that an alien is supposed to be chasing you but it's not really played on at any point. It's a very comfy ride and you'll be put through 4 loops. It feels quite fast, though isn't the fastest in the park, but it's a great feel good ride that I'd imagine most people will be able to handle with ease. The only thing I would say is make sure you're wearing tight shoes or take them off and put them in the lockers before you go on this one as it could make your feet come flying off with some of the sharp turns.
Is a newer ride in the area which is all underground. This ride plays on the back-story from the nemesis as you get a tour through a military facility defending earth from aliens and doing scientific research. While you're being shown around something goes terribly wrong, and aliens escape, the lights go out and the carts plunge 20ft straight down. This ride terrifies me simply because it's a "drop tower" ride that plays into my fear of elevators (yes, I know, I'm crazy).
This was the world's first "flying" rollercoaster. Similar to Nemesis in that it's inverted however just before the carts pull out of the station, your seat goes from hanging vertically to hanging horizontally. Your new position is somewhat like superman, hence the "flying" part. You'll still be thrown round a few loops like you're peter pan on speed, but it's not entirely uncomfortable. In fact it's probably the comfiest ride in the park due to the padding that you are suspended in. Allan freaked out a little as he didn't feel like he was very safe in it, but I really don't know why. The G's aren't packing any punches on this one coming in at 3.2G's but the experience of "flying" makes it a really enjoyable ride. Due to the fact you are really close to the tracks they can squeeze you through a few tighter spaces than usual, so there are also a few thrills from speeding by hillsides and various other bits of the park and queues very close up. Great stuff
This is one of my favourite rides to watch as it's controlled by a person in a booth so it's a little different each time. You're in a long carriage set between two arms. The carriage spins round so you'll be doing forward rolls, meanwhile the arms also swing you round in huge circles. To add an element of fun, the whole ride is over a pond with giant fountains that operate at the whim of the controller. The carriage can also lock in any position so sometimes you'll find yourself being spun round upside down, other times you'll find yourself coming face to face with the fountains. If you're really unlucky you'll even get put face first into them. The G's aren't too terrible coming in at 2.3 but all of the spinning and hanging upside down is enough to really mess with your head. It's great fun and I absolutely love the ride. On cold days, you're less likely to get wet too.
This is the tamest ride in the area being a rocking boat ride. It lets you experience zero gravity momentarily and if you sit as far back at either side as you can, you'll get a much better experience as you'll drop further each time The Blade swings. Even though it's the tamest ride (and therefore completely suitable for kids) it does give me that horrible feeling in my stomach that you get when you go over dips in the car or indeed when you're on a swing and looking straight down. I don't enjoy it a lot, but it's an easy ride to get on and keeps the adrenaline flowing.
===The Dark Forrest===
This is an area that's been through extensive changes recently with the addition of a newer ride. This area used to be cave-man themed and was called Ugg land, since then, the dinosaurs have been removed and everything has been gothed up with a much darker feel to the place. You'll find two fantastic rides in this area.
Originally dubbed Rita: Queen of Speed Rita was based on drag racing. The original advertising for this ride featured a carriage full of Drag Queens being shot round the track. Now it's gothed up a bit and more themed towards escaping the evil within The Dark Forrest as quickly as you can. Either way, it pulls the most G's in the park at 4.7G's and all within the first second or two of the ride. You'll be shot off from standing still to 62mph in 2.5 seconds and my, what a rush. It's like taking the gut wrenching feeling you get from Oblivion, making it stronger and then telling it to do nice things to you. This one really tickles your brain in all the right places with the rest of the ride being fairly easy going as your carts go round the track in an effort to slow down! One of the best rides in the park.
This ride is great at building up a bit of fear. It's almost like a haunted house but with a rollercoaster at the end of it. The ride pulls out 3.2 G's and 20 meter drops to give you a tonne of thrills before pulling in to a dark and gloomy tower where some very scary things happen. I don't want to ruin the surprises for you so you'll just have to get in there to experience it, but it's definitely up there with the best rides despite not pulling too many G's out on you.
===And on its own===
Last of the bigish rides is Sonic Pinball (originally the spinball whizzer) based around (you guessed it) a game of Pinball with Sonic the hedgehog branding all over it. Your cart spins around as it goes round the track and it's gravity that decides so every ride will be different. This ride is all on its lonesome between the story book area and the X-Sector and is never usually too busy. It pulls 3G's and is classed as a family rollercoaster so as such it's not the wildest in the park, but it's still worth a pop if you have time. I'd not feel particularly bad if you miss out on it though.
===Shop till you realise you can Drop===
Every ride ends with a trip through a souvenir shop and most have a photo taken while on the ride. If you want you can ask to pick up anything you buy at the main shop at the end of the day, although the photos are really the only thing you'd need to buy in the gift shops as the main shop stocks all the items from all the shops over the park. It's also a great thing to be able to tell the kids to help them forget about all the cool things in the shops. If you want to treat them to something at the end of the day, the shop will have everything and comes with the added benefit of being so packed that the kids might not notice or remember what they've asked for all day. Result.
This is the major downside of the park, especially if you go at a peak time of year or for one of the main events like Scare Fest. Queue times for all the good rides are usually between 1 to 2 hours with the newest ride that year peaking at 3 hours. The queues are a nightmare especially if you're having an adrenaline crash. If you are sensible plan to go at a time when the schools aren't off and there's not a big event on. There's also a very specific way to get round the park that could save you a tonne of Queue time.
Firstly you have to go straight to the newest ride (if it's a roller coaster). If not you'll get stuck in a giant queue instead of a slightly long queue. Right now you need to hit the Smiler first. After that you're best to go get Thirteen done and then Rita. Rita gets more people round quicker but the queue will only get bigger for Thirteen the longer you wait. Once you're done with those two make your way to The Forbidden valley and do everything there. Oblivion no longer has massive waiting times all the time, mostly because people are so scared of it so, if you are close, jump on it. If not, come back to it when you feel ready. The Forbidden valley is quietest first thing in the morning and last thing at night, but you'll be sacrificing getting on the newest ride if you let queues build up. Mostly though, you really should always try and hit the park for two days running to make sure you have enough time to get on everything you want to do.
One other downside of the park is that occasionally the rides have to shut down. On our most recent visit, the first day was fine but the second day, nearly every ride we queued for broke down before we got to the front. At that point you can either walk all the way out of the queue or wait and see if it'll come back on. It's a total gamble and sometimes you'll win, sometimes you'll lose. Our second day left us having not been on a rollercoaster till 5pm after having been there from 9.30am. It was horrific. The only saving grace is that when the rides shut down completely, if you are smart enough to find a staff member, they'll generally give you a sneaky fast track ticket (which gets you pretty much to the front of the queue once the ride is back on).
As such, we waited 2 hours for Smiler before it broke down and closed, stuck it out in the 13 queue which broke down three times before we got to the front of the queue, got onto Rita, went to go to Hex which promptly broke down and we left for a scare maze we had tickets booked for. After that, because it was scare fest and the park was open late, we went to Smiler. In the dark. And got right to the front within 5 minutes. Oh. My. God. So, the rides might break down, but sometimes it'll be worth it.
===Food and Drink===
As mentioned before most of the food and drink is in Mutiny Bay but there are little stalls and restaurants dotted throughout the park. One thing they do which is quite good value is a refillable cup for about a fiver. You can fill this up for free for the rest of the day at any of the refill stations over the park. If you're sharing one with someone it's even better value and if you're walking, you'll probably want to keep hydrated. As well as this you can get a hot drinks refill cup for £7 that'll get you free tea coffee or hot chocolate for your day. Always a good idea!
===A good plan: Hints and tips===
So, that's what you'll find in Alton Towers. Here's a quick run down of some hints and tips for your visit:
Go for at least two days
Go during a quiet period if you can
Look out for vouchers and ticket discounts
Get your parking ticket at the start of the day
Wear tight shoes
Wear Jackets with zip pockets
Wear contacts instead of glasses if you can
Get juice refill cups
Go to the newest ride first then the dark forest, then forbidden valley.
Ask for fast tracks if the rides shut
Pick up souvenirs in the main shop at the end of the day.
Hotel guests get in early, same if you're seeing a concert.
The place is huge and is probably the best theme park the UK has to offer. Admittedly, it's a total nightmare when it's busy so I'd heavily recommend avoiding the main events and peak periods if you can. When the park is quiet, however, it's heavenly. You can usually get on most rides within half an hour if you time your visit right. Tickets are a little expensive but it really is a trip you probably won't forget if you enjoy roller coasters. I really do love the place, but I'll have to take a star off for the queue times, rides breaking down etc. Mostly everyone will enjoy the place and if you've never been, you need to sort that! Just make sure you plan well!
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Legoland Discovery Centre (Manchester)
Little Man recently had an operation on his foot which means he was in plaster for October half term so we had to look for places we could take him that weren't going to be too tricky for him to navigate while he is confined to his wheelchair full time. As Lego is the current in thing I decided Legoland Discovery Centre in Manchester's ... Trafford Centre sounded like a great day out, so I booked a room in the Premier Inn sale and we traveled the 3.5 hours from London to Manchester for a mini break.
I apologise for the length of the review - but wanted to cover all aspects of our visit!
I booked our tickets on line as this is the only way to guarantee entry to the centre. The online price for tickets was £12 each for over 3 years (and would have been £16.50 on the door) so was £36 for us all. When you add your tickets to basket you need to select the day you will be visiting and the half hour slot you will be arriving at. I also added a Legoland activity pack to my booking as a treat for Little Man. The booking process was very simple, and only took a couple of minutes from adding the tickets to basket to paying by debit card (Credit cards also accepted) You do not need to print anything to gain entry, just quote you booking number or show the confirmation email on a phone - as someone currently between printer I thought this was a great idea.
Arriving at Legoland Discovery Centre
Legoland Discovery centre is located in Barton Square in the Trafford Centre, and there is a car park nearby. We didn't realise this and ended up parking near Selfridges and walking down - not that that was a problem as we wanted to look around the shops after! It had been raining a lot overnight and once you get outside the paths are quite slippy so be careful. When we arrived at Legoland Discovery centre is was very busy. There were two queues - one for prebooked & season tickets and one for everyone else. This includes Clubcard tickets, which I was going to use but a friend who lives locally advised me not to during the holidays as you could wait for hours. As it was we had to queue for 25 minutes to get in, but the other queue was advised they would be waiting an hour and a half and the staff were talking of stopping general admission until the afternoon due to the crowds. The centre is open 10 - 7 each day (9 - 7 in the holidays) although this is subject to change so check before you go if you haven't booked.
Inside the Centre
Once we had got to the front of the queue and I had quoted my booking reference we were given our tickets and Little Man was given his pack. It consisted of a puzzle book, attached to a lanyard with a badge on it - he was overjoyed with it. There were spaces in the book to collect stamps as you explored the centre, but after we collected a couple we found the stamps had been ripped off the cord which was a bit disappointing so we gave up on collecting them. Once we had our tickets we were directed down a corridor to ....... Another queue!! This one was to have our photo taken against a blank screen with our arms and legs in the air. I assume this would be printed over a ride picture or similar - we didn't even bother to look as they didn't give us chance to get Little Man out of the wheelchair for a decent photo, just pushed it back against the bench and plonked us either side of it! I am a sucker for buying these overpriced piccies so they missed a trick there! Then it was up in the lift to join another queue for our real Lego adventure to begin....
The Factory Tour
We had to wait about 10 minutes for the Factory Tour and there is no way to skip this. Luckily they were showing some Lego cartoons on a screen which was probably the best part of this bit! Once we got in we were greeted by a Mad Scientist character who explained as it was Halloween the machines had been taken over and had the kids doing monster and mummy impressions to get it started. They then showed us how the magical machines made lego bricks - I was expecting something more mechanical and factual not something fictional and babyish, even Little Man was bored by it and he is 5! At the end though, every child is given a brick, which Little Man loved. This is the only freebie you'll get (unless you start stealing them from the building area which I saw a few people doing!)
Kingdom Quest Laser Ride
This was probably the best bit of the visit. You ride around in a car with your own laser shooting at skeletons and monsters to protect the princess and the dragon. You also get points for shooting the bad guys so it becomes a bit of a competition (which I won, causing much sulking from hubbie!) The queue was about 15 - 20 minutes which put of us riding more than once! We were able to take the wheelchair up in the queue but there is a buggy park if you are taking toddlers - no babes in arms are permitted to ride.
After laser quest you walk through Miniland, a lego model village, to get to the rest of the attractions. There was a mock up of Manchester, Blackpool and London. I love all the lego models, so was a bit disappointed that this section wasn't bigger. They had also covered the models with cobwebs and ghosts for Halloween which I felt detracted from the display a bit. They were also dimming and rainsing the lights sporadically which didn't help when you were trying to look at the intricate details, and a lot of visitors were rushing through without looking. One of the highlights was the Manchester football stadiums where Little Man and I played a Manchester derby. A lot of the interactive bits here such as the boats and the noises weren't working which was a bit of a shame
After Miniland the attraction opens up into a big open plan area with a soft play area, café and private hire rooms for schools and parties. We did not use the café as it was packed with a huge queue and no available tables. It also smelt like burnt cheese on toast - a smell that lingered throughout the rest of the attraction. There were also paddling pool like pods of bricks, with building plates on the edges for the children to free build on. Little Man absolutely loved this bit, and happily sat there for a good half hour building away.
The other attractions were located from here - the ones we tried were:
Lego 4D Cinema
A 15 minute film based on the characters from Lego Chima - Little Man is a bit young for Chima so didn't know any characters apart from Laval the lion (he got a key ring free from the toy shop a while ago!) but it was still enjoyable. You have to wear special characters so that you can see the special effects coming out of the screen, and there are a few special effects like smoke and water, but there are no chair movements or anything like that so it is quite safe for little ones. The effects are good and the film was amusing, and everyone seemed to really enjoyed. The film runs about every 25 minutes and there is a counter at the beginning of the queue so you know how long you have to wait to get in. We queued from 5 minutes to go, and had no trouble getting a place in the 100 seat cinema.
A great roundabout style ride where you pedal double glider cars up to the sky. We were quite lucky with this one as wheelchairs could enter through the exit so we didn't have to queue. Little Man couldn't reach the pedals, so I had to do all the pedalling! Make sure you wear decent shoes for this one, as I wore slip on dolly shoes and thought they were going to fall off at any second! You need to be over 90cm to ride this one and 120cm to ride unaccompanied.
Lego Racers - Build and Test
A great attraction where you have a selection of lego blocks and wheels to design vehicles that can be raced down various slopes and tracks with big timers so you can see how fast they go. Little man loved this one, experimenting with different designs, and the whole family got involved in racing our creations down the ramp. No queuing for this one, you just saw a space and started building - it never really got that packed while we were there.
Lego Fire Academy and construction Site
A large soft play area at the centre of the building. The Construction site is meant to be for under 90cm and the Fire Academy for under 140 cm. Little Man is a smidge over 90cm (in shoes!) so freely moved between the two areas, but no one was really policing them so it was a very busy free for all. The play area was not as good as our local soft play place, and it was so busy with children not being watched by their parents that I was worried for Little Man crawling about there that we didn't stay long.
The following attractions we didn't used, but in case you want to here is a quick overview:
Lego Friends: Olivia's House
A Pink and Purple House, full of girls building Lego Friends - was never going to appeal to a 5 year old boy!!
Master Model Builder
A group session every half hour where you are instructed how to build an animal out of Lego (which you don't get to keep). We kept missing the start of this one, otherwise we would have done it, but there are plenty of other build activities so didn't feel like we missed out.
Small area tucked away in the corner for under fives to explore Duplo - was of no interest for Little Man, but was a nice area if you have little ones.
Lego City Forest Pusuit
Drive Lego 4 x 4 go carts around Lego city! This is the only ride that Little Man would have loved to have ridden but couldn't - he was old enough but not tall enough as you have to be a metre tall, and he would not have been able to work the foot controls. It looked amazing and was very popular with the biggest queue.
In order to exit Legoland Discovery Centre you have to walk through the shop which holds pretty much every lego set currently available. The prices are the RRP so you are probably better off shopping around if you want something big. We got Little Man some mini figure sets which were £10 each or two for £15 (one to go away for Christmas) which I did not think was too bad. They had some great t-shirts and although they were on 3 for 2 they were £16.99 each and I thought almost £35 for 3 t-shirts for a 5 year old was ridiculous! They do not accept the Lego VIP card, but will give you 5% off your purchases as long as you don't buy anything on offer.
So would we return:
Although I am in no hurry to return to Legoland Discovery, Little Man loved it so I wouldn't say never! I definitely wouldn't go in the holidays again though! I think the experience was overpriced for what it was - we were there less than 3 hours, not including queuing to get in, but if I returned I would still book in advance even though it's cheaper to use offers as you get in far quicker. However I would say the disabled facilities were very good, and even in the crowds Little Man could steer himself about easily. There were some great parts like the laser and magic rides, but there is lots of room for improvement without too much effort. I think a few more staff, a few tweeks to things like the factory tour and soft play, coupled with a small price drop and the place could be an amazing day out.
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Scottish Deer Centre (Cupar, Scotland)
===He's my Deer my darling one...=== My gorgeous fiancé's 30th birthday fell in October this year (the same as every other year) and I was trying my best to make him forget all about it by doing lots of fun and interesting things. Since he is a huge animal lover, I decided to take him and his cousin Sloan for a super secret ... surprise day out to the Scottish Deer Centre because we are all, in fact, five.
I'd really suggest a sat-nav to help you here as it's kinda in the middle of nowhere, between Coupar and Ladybank which usually means approximately bog all to most people. If you are heading from Dundee you'll be best to stick to the A92 for about 14 miles and then take the first exit at the Melville lodges roundabout. Go about a mile and a half down that road and it's on your right hand side. All in, it was about a 20 minute drive from Dundee but I doubt I could have found it without my trusty sat nav. The post code you'll need is KY15 4NQ. There's no house number or street name that I could get out of their website. Be aware, however, that with that postcode, my sat-nav did try to tell me that the centre was on the left hand side of the road and a little further down. There are huge signs for the entrance that you can't miss, but if your sat-nav does the same, you might find yourself going past the entrance and having to double back. Or you could do an emergency stop like I did and scare the bejesus out of your passengers! Happy birthday!! There is plenty parking at the centre so you won't need to worry about that. You'd be best to go with someone who drives as there really aren't many bus services and a taxi would cost a bomb. Being a rather large wildlife park the ground isn't always the best for people in wheelchairs but I don't see it being too much of an issue unless it's really wet. In the summer they offer tractor trailer tours of the park but as we went in October they weren't running.
You enter through a lovely courtyard which has toilets and a café in it, to get into the park you need to go in through the gift shop at the back of the courtyard and straight forward to the admissions desk. It's £7.45 each for adults and £4.95 each for children over three with any younger tykes getting in for free. You can also buy family tickets for £23.00 or £27.00. Something to keep in mind is that you'll probably all want to get a bag of animal feed and they are £1.50 each. You might want to bring an extra carrier bag to pop them in as the bags burst quite easily and could make a bit of a mess otherwise. Your experience won't be the same if you don't get some feed bags.
At the counter you'll be given a map and a schedule of all the talks and demonstrations that go on in the park as well as a sticker to pop on to show that you have paid so you can pop in and out (to the toilet and café) all day. We never had our stickers checked all day but I think that's because most of the staff had seen us come in.
===Playing your day away===
As soon as you enter the park through a rather dark and interesting tunnel, you come out into a big open barn. Within this barn there is a fairly big adventure playground come fort that you can let your kiddies run wild in if you aren't completely overbearing. I remember playing in this fort as a kid and I loved it. Most kids probably will, but I can't give you a more recent account than that.
Once you come out of the barn/ play area there is a path heading straight ahead of you and one heading to the right. If you go to the right, you'll find some pedal-powered go karts for everyone to enjoy as well as the otter enclosure and you'll see a circular area where they display birds of prey. Behind that is a forest area where the wolves and wildcats live. If you go up the path straight ahead of you, you'll enter the main feeding area of the park.
===Plan your day away===
There are a good few things scheduled at the park so you may be best to take a peek at them before you go so you can arrange your day. It all depends on what you'd like to see, and if you get there on time its possible to do everything. The very first thing on the schedule is a guided tour which starts at 11am. We weren't there in time for this, but with everything else we did that day, I don't feel like we missed much.
As a little extra, just behind the go karts is a house where some of the park rangers stay and they have their own personal ferret collection made up of rescued ferrets. We arrived at about 12:15 and the keeper was out feeding and tending to them so she brought one of them over for us to meet and pet. This isn't actually part of the park but you might get lucky and get to see the ferrets close up as well as the two beautiful herding dogs!
I'd recommend getting to the park around this time and taking a wander up to the feeding area, especially if you want to do all the talks they have throughout the park. Each display takes up most of the time till the next one so you won't get an awful lot of time between to do other things. Once you get into the main feeding area you can whip out your bags of deer feed and have the deer eat out of your hand! If you are one of those extra hygienic types then you probably won't enjoy this much as your hands do get quite covered in deer spit and food, but there are points on the path where you can get a squirt of cleansing alcohol gel and once you are done, there's a set of sinks with soap and hot water back at the barn. Personally I thought it was a fantastic chance to get up close to the adorable deer in the park, even if some of them give you the creepy stink eye at times.
===Nose to Nose===
The first "event" that we were there for was the "nose to nose" which begins right next to the sinks and notice board area just outside the barn. The keeper we had snuck up on while feeding the ferrets gave us a little talk about the deer we'd be getting up close and personal with. They currently have a deer who had been hand reared from birth by a woman who found her injured in the forest. The poor wee thing was nursed back to health with the help of the woman's dog before she passed the deer on to the centre. She can't be let back into the wild so they let her play with the visitors, and play she does. She acts a little like a dog, playfully charging at you and stopping and running away at the last second. A few kids that came into the pen with us were a little frightened by this, but that was probably because their mum was freaking out a little. No one actually got charged or hurt in any way so there really is nothing to worry about. You'll also get to feed this one a bit of carrot, that is, if she likes you. Allan offered his carrot and she huffed at him and trotted off, giving me some perfect pictures to mock him with later. While the deer was playing around the keeper gave us a bit of information on deer around the park and when we were done we got to play with the collection of antlers just outside the deer's enclosure while the keeper told us all about them.
All three of us loved the nose to nose session and there was a lot of really interesting information given by the keeper. All the children in the enclosure seemed to be kept amused the whole time, though only a few stayed for the talk about the antlers. You'd have to judge your own kids to see how you think they'd like it, but this big kid and his two friends thought it was great. This activity took half an hour which leads perfectly up to the next activity scheduled!
===Birds of Prey===
In the area up to the right of the barn you'll see a big circle shaped mound with picnic tables in the middle. Take a jaunt up here and at 1:30pm you'll be treated to a little show from the birds of prey. When we were there it was a little wet but the keepers still battled through the weather anyway with the birds not caring a bit about the rain. The first bird they took out was a rather large owl that took turns flying to each picnic bench which meant there were a few fantastic photo opportunities, but also meant that if your child was scared of a bird that is almost as big as they are, they might not enjoy this part. That's up to you to judge, however. There were kids at almost every table and only one of them freaked out when the owl came over to investigate. They took out another couple of birds too that were less "friendly" than the owl but just as impressive with shows of how fast and accurate they are when hunting prey. All of the birds are in the habit of getting very close to the crowd when flying so if you are a bit scared of birds, probably best you avoid this. Sloan managed to get hit in the face by the wing of two out of three of the birds of prey. I think she was upset she didn't get a slap from all three. I was also taken by surprise by the same two birds whereas Allan escaped untouched! We all really enjoyed this demonstration and the keeper was great at explaining about the birds and letting them show their stuff. It took half an hour so it wasn't overly long either meaning (hopefully) the kiddies won't lose interest! A big thumbs up from us!
===Take a break===
At this point we found ourselves with fifteen minutes before the next display while also being a bit damp and cold. Assuming the timings are always the same I'd suggest this point as a good time to pop out to the café in the courtyard and get a coffee and/or a hot bite to eat. You'll probably need to get it to go so you can get to the next item on the agenda without missing anything. Thankfully that's not a problem. We got a couple of hot chocolates, a coffee and some chips and took a wander back into the park just in time to catch the next feeding while regaining a little warmth! It wasn't even too expensive!
===The magical Hairy Otter===
Feeding the otters starts at 2:15pm. A slight warning, otters eat meat so they feed them chicks and mice (already dead) so if you are a little squeamish about things like that, you might want to look away. If you aren't, then you'll get a great chance to see the otters out and about, though, if I'm being honest, we managed to see them no problem before the feeding time anyway. The keeper that took us in with the deer and showed us the ferret was doing the talking this time and she told us all about otters and gave lots of fascinating information about them, all the while the otter family were trying their best to take her wellies off of her. Another very enjoyable item on the schedule and it leads nicely up to the next item on the agenda, giving you about ten to fifteen minutes to have a slow wander up to the next area.
===Wolves in cute clothing===
The Carnivore feed walk and talk starts at 3pm in the wolves wood, which is just up to the left of the birds of prey display area. Also nestled in this area you'll find another play park with zip lines and climbing frames to keep the kiddies entertained. Once the presentation begins you'll be told all about the wolves and their importance in keeping the population of deer in check and also a little bit about their eating habits. We did see one prudish woman huff off when they mentioned about wolves rooting through their poo for leftover undigested food. That being said, I'm not sure that woman would have enjoyed much of any of the presentations as they do touch on reproductive and eating habits of the animals. It's all done incredibly tastefully though, so really you shouldn't have anything to worry about unless you are the world's biggest prude.
===High School Musical===
Once the wolves have been fed you'll be told to continue up the path to the wild cat enclosure. These cats look very similar to household moggies the only real difference being the size of their tails. As such they are really cute. Vicious as hell, but cute. Again they'll be eating what looked like birds so if you are squeamish probably not a good idea to get too close. You'll pop up past a lynx who was a beautiful creature and then on to the last carnivore on the tour.
Lastly on the carnivore walk, you'll come to a little fox called Ginge. If you are lucky you'll even get to see her, however, she's very shy and even food doesn't lure her out like the other animals. Unfortunately for us, we had a family in the group who didn't quite understand the meaning of "if you are quiet she's more likely to come out" and proceeded to crunch around in the leaves and gravel, shake the fence and generally make enough noise for the entire group to be judging them. The same family arrived half way through the bird show and let the kids run after the birds before being asked firmly to take a seat by the lady in charge. As such we didn't get to see Ginge other than a quick flash as she weighed up the prospect of food versus being caught by humans. Oh well!
===Tree Top Walking===
Just before you get to Ginge, you'll see a large raised wooden walkway through the trees on your left hand side. It's about as tall as an adult and a half so it's not quite the treetops you'll be walking along... more like almost the middle...assuming it's a small tree. It's not very high at all. That being said, it does give you a slightly different view of the reindeer and elk in the area, though I'd not say it would be any better than the view you'll get from the ground as they don't really hide anywhere and will happily come right over to the fences to get fed. An interesting, but strange addition to the park and not one that we were particularly bothered about.
By the time we'd done everything in the park, we were quite surprised that it was almost time for the park to close! 4:30pm is the closing time though you are welcome to stick around till that time and then make your way to the exit. If you continue in forward you'll find that the path loops round and takes you back down the main feeding area so you'll get plenty of chances to get rid of any extra feed, albeit with a little bit of a time pressure looming over your head. I did notice that less people were hanging around at the end of the day in the feeding area, but the place is big enough that it's never too busy to get in to feed the deer so it's not any better to leave feeding till last.
The toilets are a bit grubby, but given that you're essentially on a giant farm I wasn't really expecting much. At least the hot water works and the soap dispensers are all fully stocked. If they were in a restaurant I'd take a star off, but they aren't. The facilities are just there and shouldn't pose any issues for disabled customers either.
So you can probably tell we all had a really fun day at the park, mostly because we are total children at heart. That and animals are ridiculously cute at all times, even when ripping things apart with their teeth. My tips for a successful day would be as follows:
1. Get there early enough to spend a little time feeding the deer before things start.
2. Get a feed bag each
3. Take a carrier bag/ separate bag to carry leftover feed in.
4. Take waterproofs/ wellies, it's all outdoors and the weather is very changeable here.
5. Plan, plan, plan. Make sure you check the website for times of events and discuss what you want to see with the other half or kids before going and then double check the times on the notice board when you get there. The web address is www.tsdc.co.uk
We had a fantastic day. The weather went from wet and windy to blistering sunshine and back again, but even that couldn't stop us smiling and enjoying being around the beautiful animals. They are all clearly well cared for by people who are passionate about them which is great to see. Assuming you get the weather for it, I'd say this is a great day out for all of the family, unless, of course, your mum's a prude in which case you'll be marched right out as soon as "mating season" is mentioned. Five stars out of five from all three of us!
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Theme Park / Zoo National
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Theme Park / Zoo National / Pleasure Beach, Blackpool
Address: Burnside Farm / Theme Park / Zoo National / Stanley / Perthshire / Scotland / PH1 4QB / Tel: 01738 827286
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