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~Shark Exhibit Playset~
Age recommendation : 3 years+
This playset is part of the Thomas & Friends 'Take-N-Play' range. It measures 53.3 x 30.5 x 29.2 cm and folds up to allow your child to transport it. The complete set is presented in a cardboard box and the contents are as follows :
*Die cast Thomas engine
Thomas is asked to help our at the Sodor Aquarium. He enters via the shark mouth entrance and has to pick up the small shark from a holding tank and transfer it to the display tank in the aquarium. The product information states that this playset will help develop your childs fine and gross motor skills. This playset can be joined up to other Take-N-Play sets.
~Where To Buy~
This playset can be bought from Tesco (instore and online) priced at £25.00. Amazon is quite a bit cheaper at £17.99.
We bought this for my son as part of his 5th birthday a few months ago. He had spotted it in Tesco but I had some Amazon vouchers so chose to purchase it there. At the time of purchase, this was a newly released set and I paid £25.00. I was a bit annoyed to see it go down to £17.99 (where it appears to have stayed) a week after delivery - typical! We have owned a small number of Take-N-Play sets over the past few years but my son personally favours the Trackmaster range over this range.
This playset needed very little set up as it was simply folded up in to the box when my son received it. It doesn't need any batteries so was pretty much ready to be played with. The set is easy to fold and to also unfold. It isn't huge when folded but is an awkward shape due to the design of the set. The set isn't overly heavy and can easily be carried (using the shark lever) by my son but as a parent with bigger hands, I personally wouldn't wish to carry it around as the hand space is generally more child friendly. The extras can be stored inside the playset when folded up. The set doesn't require much floor space and is best used on a flat surface.
This playset is appealing in design. It is made of plastic and features a bright yellow 'building' with the Shark Exhibit name on it and also a colourful aquarium sticker on the other side of the set. The large shark mouth is blue and has big white teeth - do not buy for a child who you know is scared of sharks. The rest of the set consists of grey tracks. The Thomas engine provided is small and well made with good detailing but the cargo cart often doesn't secure properly to the engine. The small shark provide is just that - small. I actually think 'tiny' may be a better word as it so easily lost and could pose a choking hazzard so be careful if you have smaller children (under the age recommendation) in the house.
Personally, I don't consider this to be as well made as the other Thomas playsets. Once folded out, I begin to notice that the plastic tracks are a little thin and flimsy. I don't think it would hold up under pressure and would likely snap in places if it was accidentally leaned forcibly. When this set has been folded up and then unfolded, some parts of the track need to be clicked back in to place which is easy enough for an adult to do but too fiddly for a child to do themselves.
My son loved this set at first. The design appealed to him as it was different to the other Thomas playsets on offer. Now though, it doesn't receive as much play as it has become a bit 'samey'. We have mainly stuck to using the supplied Thomas engine with this set but some of the other Take-N-Play engines can be used on this track. They have to be the right size as anything bigger will simply not fit through the sharks mouth.
My son places Thomas on the top of the track whilst the shark mouth is open and then close it to give Thomas a chance to zoom down the track. This is where Thomas sometimes encounters some issues. Due to how flimsy the tracks are, they aren't always in line with each other. If they aren't lined up, Thomas will simply fall off the track which is annoying for little ones especially when they have tried to line up both tracks and then they go out of line again.
The little shark should be put on the shelf in the aquarium with the cargo cart underneath. If Thomas travels the way he should, the shark will drop down the shelves and in to the cargo cart. When Thomas drops down, he ends up at the other size of the aquarium and needs to reverse and travel around the circular track at the side of the playset. Whenever my son does choose to play with this playset, he enjoys watching Thomas zoom around the track and likes the satisfying noise that the shark makes when it shuts his mouth. He finds it easy to manipulate Thomas around the track despite him being quite small and I would imagine smaller children would find this Thomas to be the perfect size for their little hands to work with.
What we can't figure out is why the manufacturer didn't build an additional bit of track underneath where the shark drops into the cargo car. Thomas has to come off the track and be lifted back on to the track with the cargo car but I think it would have been better to include a small piece of track to make the transition a lot smoother. The little cargo car doesn't have moving wheels so Thomas is responsible for hauling it around the track. Again, this small flaw does result in my son becoming annoyed with the set as it the cargo car doesn't move as freely as it could have if a bit more thought had gone in to making it.
As you can imagine, playing with this playset as a stand alone toy gets a little boring after a while. There is only so many times Thomas can go around the track and collect the shark before my son starts to get annoyed by the tracks moving out of place and ends up giving up with it. It loses its novelty very quickly. We have connected up other sets to this to take advantage of extra play scenarios but at the end of the day, I would say that this playset will appeal more to the younger side of the recommendation age range with older children going on to prefer Trackmaster. With our son, this is definitely the case.
Whilst this set isn't the best quality, it does provide a good amount of enjoyment for short periods of time. My son hasn't taken to it quite as much as we originally thought he would as it was one that he personally expressed an interest in when he spotted it in Tesco. It is easy to transport and my son has taken it to my friends house before to play with. It isn't a bad playset by any means but it isn't as good as others in this Thomas range and I wouldn't recommend it at full price. It is quite flimsy so not ideal for children who are too heavy handed with their toys. If you could get it on sale, it may be worth buying for a preschool age.
Thanks for reading :)