Life Science Centre, Newcastle

With New Years Eve 2016 falling on a Saturday and my sense of adventure feeling stronger, we decided to go for a city trip to Newcastle by train (I realise that I am 3 months slow in posting this, oops!) to go to the Life Science Centre.

Getting to Newcastle from Leeds is much easier by train (about 90 minutes) and we took the 5 minute walk from the station to the museum and thanks to excellent signposting, finding it was a piece of cake.

Whilst the Christmas ice rink outside was somewhat appealing (see here for our eventual ice skating adventure!) we headed in to see what we could find.

In the main area of the “museum” (I call it that loosely as it was more a “hands-on learning experience”) there were loads of little experiments and areas to learn. One of the favourites was the thermal imaging camera showing the heat contrast between humans and a block of ice, for which we experimented by rubbing our noses onto the ice. Our other favourite was the spinning wheels where the children discovered centrifugal forces (almost!) The exhibits weren’t manned so parents were empowered to do the teaching, which is no bad thing!

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Learning about centrifugal forces!

Upstairs was a decently sized free play area for the younger children (I would suggest aged 8 and below) with a free soft play blocks/mats but also a small mock shop and kitchen. This provided a good breakout area after quite intense learning downstairs.

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Play area!

The special attraction at the time was showing the insides of animals, in terms of their bone and muscle structure which was perhaps the most suitable for a 3 year old as the models were VERY realistic but her enthusiasm for biology took over and seemed to learn a bit.

Our favourite part was the show in the planetarium. There was loads of shows going on throughout the day and some are more age specific than others. Due to the dark nature of the auditorium, there is likely to be tears from some of the younger ones, but I think that it is just one of those things!

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Planetarium show!

Our one slightly disappointing part was that we weren’t allowed into the science lab to do some experiments. Children had to be aged 7 and over to go in and while I fully understand the safety concerns, the experiments that they were doing were ones that we do in our kitchen!!

Overall we stayed 5 hours or so and so it is good value for money. Making use of the lockers (£1 charge + refundable deposit paid in cash) was a good move (ask for a large one!) and the food was decent, although we were extremely tired when it came to having tea there, so it might not be the best assessment either way! You can come and go during the day, which we did and the toilets were decent.

The exhibits keep on changing and so when the time is right, we will make another trip up the country to do some more exploring at the Life Science Centre.


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Discovery Museum, Newcastle

On our day trip to Newcastle, we took in the Life Science Centre (post here!) but we also spent an hour or so at the Discovery Museum, which is about 10 minutes walk from the train station, in quite an imposing building. (think 19th century hospital)

In truth, I wouldn’t really write a blog post about somewhere where we only spent an hour, but the free attraction was so quaint, and delivered the most perfect memory to round off 2016, I simply had to!

Initially we went to make a lantern for the New Years Eve parade and I didn’t know much else about it before going in, but the top floor was an absolute hidden gem of hands-on experiments and puzzles for children of all ages.

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Making a lantern

Obviously some will get different things out of each section, but the floor was crammed full of visual illusions/perceptions, as well as bits about motion, gravity, electricity and telephone communications.

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How many lights can you see?!

However, the best part of all was something hidden away in the corner – 3 mirrors put together – and it caused these reactions…

 

Heidi spent about 20 minutes in there playing/learning/experimenting and if it was not closing for the day, she could have been in there for hours!

Now, aside from this brilliant floor, the museum has 3 other floors detailing local history and other science-y things, but we never got to see any of it as we grossly underestimated the time we needed!

This just gives us an excuse to come back and explore, especially why there is a HUGE boat on the ground floor!!
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Boomchikkaboom

I realised a few days ago that while I have mentioned Boomchikkaboom a few times on the blog and on Facebook and Twitter, I have never done a dedicated post on them…

Well our Boomchikkaboom journey started when Heidi was about 15 months old (it was Baby Rave North back then!) and it was probably the first class that we went to together. I’d seen so many great photos/videos/reviews online and if I’m honest, it did take some courage to go. My thoughts raced between “should I be exposing my child to a rave?”, “am I cool enough for this?” and “will I be the only single dad there?”. I think it boiled down to the fact that I didn’t have much confidence in myself or my parenting abilities at the time.

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Is this the largest parachute in Leeds?!

Well as time has moved on, I realised that not much can be done about the mum/dad ratio, but it need not have mattered because as the classes are one-offs, there are no cliques and everyone is there just to enjoy it! Yes, first time was a bit strange, but it certainly beats singing boring nursery rhymes in a village hall – this is 21st century kids entertainment!

Part of me wishes that we would have gone when Heidi was much younger as the light/noise sensory experience must be amazing for a baby and it is so good to see so many attend. If you’re going with a little one, just sit a bit away from the speakers and you’ll be fine (and away from the “crush” to pop the bubbles from the terrible 2 year olds!). On a serious note, everyone looks out for each other and it is perfectly safe for all ages.

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No-one is safe from the bubbles!

Now that Heidi is almost 4, we have done virtually all the Boomchikkaboom events, from baby rave to family rave to preschool workshops to hip hop history month celebrations to Fathers Days (my treat to me!) although I REFUSE to do messy play!!!! I can’t remember a time when I was disappointed by the class and after each class, I feel alive and invigorated. I can only imagine how the little ones feel afterwards.

(True story, after our first class, Heidi slept for 3 hours in the middle of the day because the sensory experience was so strong!)

Perhaps the best thing about Boomchikkaboom is the people behind the microphone/scenes. You’re not dealing with a massive brand, you’re dealing with local people who really care about giving you and your little ones a good time as well as being immensely talented. It does help that they are a bit mad as well!!

I don’t know if Heidi will ever grow out of wanting to go to “big girl baby raves” but given the number of glow sticks we have and the fact we’re onto our second disco ball, I’m guessing that I have a little longer to try and get my moves down!

(Hopefully this video will show her excited reaction to being told that we were going to a “big girl baby rave”)


 


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Magic Kingdom

In this section of the Florida write-up, I am focusing on the Magic Kingdom, which is probably the best known Disney park, with the Cinderella’s castle and rides and attractions.

(For information, the 12 Hints and Tips for Walt Disney World would be quite a useful pre-read! 12 Hints and Tips for Walt Disney World

If you’re staying off-site, getting to the Magic Kingdom is either a boat or monorail ride from the car parking lot, which will probably add  15 minutes to the journey, but the views from the boat are amazing, even though the monorail is my personal favourite! Either way, it gives you chance to sunscreen up!

Getting to the Magic Kingdom for the start of the day is a must do as there is an opening show either in front of the entrance, or (in 2017, due to building work) in front of the castle. It is the perfect way to start the day, so give yourself enough time to get there.

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Reaction to the opening show!

The park is set out in a number of different sections, each with a different theme, but all with rides, characters, mini shows and attractions. Depending on who is in the group, will mean different parts suit different people, but for the younger people, the area (Fantasyland) behind the castle is most suitable with a number of child specific rides such as the merry-go-round, Small World and Winnie the Pooh, as well as a lot of characters! However, use the map/app to plan what suits you the most.

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The map of the Magic Kingdom

If I had to suggest three things for the Magic Kingdom, they would be:

Dole Whip –  These are sold next to the Tiki Room show in Adventureland, and while there was a 20 minute queue, it is well worth it. Pineapple juice beneath ice cream – delicious!! Also, the pineapple ice cream itself is pretty good!

Shows/Parades – There is generally a parade mid afternoon and various shows in front of the castle and on Main Street throughout the day. You’ll probably bump into the shows on your travels, but the parade is brilliant for the little ones, especially if you can get in some shade (not great for photos!)

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The Move it Shake it parade

Crystal Palace breakfast – The lunch option is more expensive and the food was not particularly suited to British tastes, but the buffet breakfast is lovely and having breakfast with Eeyore, Winnie, Tigger and Piglet is amazing. You aren’t rushed at all and it just adds a bit of magic. Book your table as early as you can and if you get an early slot, you are in a perfect position to get brilliant pictures in front of the castle!

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Big Bear hug!!

As you can imagine, the park is pretty large so a pushchair may be needed, and there are loads of places to park it as you go in for rides etc. The park itself is flat so it is easier to walk for little legs! If you have smaller travellers, the bathrooms are decent sized (if you are a dad taking daughter to the toilet!) and pretty much every toilet block had a baby change bench for men to change nappies.

 

Finally, the fireworks are pretty amazing, and while it does get busy,even if you get in front of the castle 5 minutes before the start, you’ll get a good view. You’ll just have to fight the crowds to get back to the car (via the monorail or boat!) It took us an hour to get to the car after the end of the fireworks, so bare that in mind with tired legs!


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12 Hints and Tips for Walt Disney World

Given that there are 4 main parks (plus 2 water parks) within the Walt Disney World complex, I thought that it would be a good idea to give some useful hints & tips which can be used in all of the parks – think of it as a One-Stop-Shop guide. Over time, I’ll write more detailed guides for each of the parks to help anyone going in the future.

 

Book your park tickets in advance – For some reason, they are cheaper in the UK and bought in advance. While you need to be careful who you buy them from, there tends to be some deals on so be a little patient.

Parking – Parking costs $20 a day (in February 2017) unless you stay at a Disney hotel, and then it is free. You can use the receipt all day so if you want to park-hop or go back to the hotel for a bit, that is fine. Also, remember where you park – the car parks are huge and the last thing you want is to forget where you have parked when you’re hot and tired!

Get there early – The queues for the first couple of hours of the day are pretty small and you can do a good part of the park before the crowds get in. Generally it is the cooler part of the day also, so when it gets too hot and the crowds are too big, you don’t feel bad for going back to the hotel for a couple of hours.

Plan – Have a plan for what you want to get out of the day. Do you want to see the characters, or do the fast rides etc? The parks are too big and it is too hot to be wandering aimlessly around the park and it will only lead to arguments.

Security – Disney is an amazingly safe place, but generally because of the airport style security. It does lead to queues when entering the park, but it is for a reason. Plan accordingly, and make sure you leave your selfie-stick at the hotel.

Fastpasses are your best friend – Once you book your park tickets, link up the tickets to an account and the app and book your queue-jumping fastpasses. You can generally save half an hour on each fastpass, so use them on the busy rides. Also, use them early in the day and when you run out (you get 3 a day) you can get another one.

Food & Drink – $3 for a bottle of water?! Pack your own drinks and snacks and you’ll save a fortune! If you have a decent breakfast, you’ll be good for most of the day, but remember it does get hot so freeze a couple of the bottles you take so you have ice cold water in the afternoon.

Character meals – If you were to splash out on one thing at Disney and you have a child, do a character meal. It is wonderful to see the child interact with a character and just makes the holiday a bit more special. The best value meals are the buffets, especially the breakfast ones as they tend to be a bit cheaper.

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Character meal breakfast at Hollywood Studios

Photopass – There are a host of Disney photographers willing and able to take photos for you free of charge at certain scenic points/character attractions. These link through to your Disney app and so you generally don’t have to take that many photos during the day. Even if you aren’t linked up the the Disney app, they are happy to take a photo using your phone.

Wifi – The parks have really good Wifi throughout and so you can remain connected throughout the day. This means that you can access the Disney app and update Fastpasses and look at the photos throughout the day. Just be careful of your battery!

 Footwear and Clothing – Make sure you plan accordingly. It will be hot and you will be on your feet most of the day, so light clothing and decent shoes are a must.

Suncream – I think that this is obvious…don’t ruin the holiday by having sunburn! Top up as the day goes on.

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Not a cloud in the sky!

There are loads more and it would be good to hear some other hints/tips in the comments section!


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Flying with a 3 year old

This is the first of a series of posts detailing our February 2017 holiday to Florida, hopefully giving a few hints and tips along the way if you’re planning on doing a similar trip in the future.

This time last year, I published “Flying with a Toddler” (https://leedsdad.com/2016/03/01/flying-with-a-toddler-2622016/) but the toddler is more of a three-nager now, so I thought that it would be good to refresh…

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This time, we flew with Virgin Atlantic from Manchester to Atlanta and then onwards to Tampa, all in all, about 10 hours in the air and total travelling time of 21 hours from door to door! Flying from Manchester is quite good with a young child as there is a toddler play area in Terminal 2, and a really decent play area for slightly older children in Terminal 2. As we found out, such facilities are not as available Stateside…

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Terminal 2 play area

On board the plane, the leg-room was decent in the standard seats, but the additional legroom seats felt very spacious and with the additional cost being only a few pounds, it is well worth it. There were seatback TV’s with a wide variety of programmes/films etc for all passengers – however, given the attention span of a 3 year old, this would never be enough… The Virgin Atlantic website suggests that children goody-bags are handed out, but we didn’t see them anywhere, but they would have been good to see.

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Remember to pack child sized earphones!!

Perhaps the most simple and cost effective method of entertainment was to pack small toys that you tend to get from a vending machine for £1 and allow the child to open one whenever they got bored. So long as you get different ones, it should keep them entertained for a while and clearly don’t cost much. If you have a larger budget, a tablet would be useful for all the games that they can entertain themselves with (check before travelling they don’t need internet access!) Also, letting them have their own bag (even if you have to carry it) is a great way of giving them a sense of responsibility and pride.

However, clearly a 9 hour flight is a long time for anyone and so meal time is a bit of a treat! Make sure you book your special meal a few weeks before departure. This is what Heidi was served as a “child’s meal” for lunch and tea (I put it in quotes as the serving was ample for a 3 year old!)

While Virgin do fly directly to the House of the Mouse, flying indirectly does tend to cost less and while the travel time is longer, it does break up the day a bit. Yes, it is an inconvenience, but if it is the difference between having a holiday or not, the extra bit of adventure is well worth it! Also, you get to clear Customs and Immigration after your first flight which makes it quicker at your final destination. Even with a sleepy 3 year old, it was easy to manage the various passport and security checks.

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However, the easiest way to fly with a 3 year old, is to try and let them sleep and if they are happy with their own company, let them be and relax a bit yourself, after all, it is your holiday too!!


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