Tree Top Nets

So Fathers Day 2017 was spent in the company of a group of friends who we have known since we started doing Rhythm Time almost 3 years ago (read all about Rhythm Time here) and for our first “day out” together, we decided to go to Tree Top Nets in Ripon.

While there are a few Tree Top Nets locations, the Ripon one is easily located if you follow the signs for Lightwater Valley theme park as they share the same (free) car park.

Tree Top Nets is basically lots of net trampolines set high in the trees with walkways between each mini-section. There are also slides from the trampolines down the ground as well as “stepping stone” logs on the ground. One of the sections is specifically age restricted so the little ones have a safe place to bounce – I put safe in italics because it is all very safe, but restricting the ages in a specific section is a good idea to help the smaller ones build confidence. There is also a safety talk before you’re allowed on, which is reassuring and scary at the same time!!

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It’s not like a prison, honest!!

When you first go on the nets, it is a very strange experience and does take a while to get used to the sensation of bouncing and walking, as well as the fact you’re up in the sky! This is especially true for the children and the children in our group (3 and 4 year olds) did struggle for the first half an hour or so, so you need to factor that into your expectations of the attraction.


However, once they got used to it, they loved it and just as importantly, the parents of the group enjoyed it too!! Our favourite was the area with the “footballs” and we had great fun playing with those whilst trying to make sure the little ones were safe!! This is probably the one area where it is advisable to avoid if you have a smaller child, or wear glasses!!

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Bouncy fun!!

Further up into the nets, the Crows Nest is one for the more adventurous and stronger climbers (we didn’t get up there to see the wonderful view) but the hopscotch is very fun to watch!

We stayed for about 6 hours, although the allotted time is 2 hours (we had a voucher) and as you can imagine, we were suitably tired on a hot and sunny day by that time, but it showed that we enjoyed it so much!! You are free to bring picnics into the site and while there are no lockers, there are enough picnic tables so you can leave your things there while you climb and bounce. There is a small tuck shop, vending machines and most importantly, a water dispenser. The fact that you’re climbing and bouncing means you need to keep your fluids topped up, however, up in the trees, it is remarkably shaded and cool.

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Not sure you can take umbrellas onto the nets!!

Under 3’s are not allowed onto the nets at all and I wouldn’t want to take a 3 year old who wasn’t confident as the sensation can be particularly strange. As the attraction is not geared to babies, I didn’t see any baby changing facilities, but I am sure that the friendly staff would help as much as possible. (UPDATE! The friendly Tree Top Nets staff have told me that the baby change facilities are in the unisex toilets!)

This type of attraction is geared towards going with a group of friends and having a laugh with each other and playing with the children at the same time. Because of the physical nature, it does help if you have enough adults so you can rotate and have a rest, because the children seem to go on forever because they have a brilliant time!!


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Alton Towers Hotel

 

As my post on Cbeebiesland mentioned here, we went for 2 days and as a result, we stayed over and made it a mini-holiday. There are a couple of hotels on site – Alton Towers Hotel and the Splash Landings Hotel. From July 2017, there is a Cbeebies Hotel which I would love for us to stay in (and use our free tickets!)

We stayed at the Alton Towers Hotel, for the only reason that it came up first in the search results! Both hotels are interconnected and the entertainment/restaurants in both hotels are available to residents of both hotels (It looks like Cbeebies hotel is going to be more standalone). Both hotels are a very short walk to the monorail which takes you to the park.

Rather than describe the hotel room, I think this video would probably do more justice…!!

The Alton Towers Hotel seemed more “business like” with the restaurants and entertainment, with the excellent Michelle singing in an evening. It was really good to see the majority of the children listening very politely and in a grown-up way, even with a little bit of dancing as well…!! There were many cuddles when the 7pm set was finished and many of the little ones knew it was bedtime.

The children’s entertainment in the Alton Towers Hotel was limited to Meet and Greets with various characters at half hour intervals in late afternoon/early evening – so think about your dinner reservation timings! However, in the Splash Landings hotel, it was more child focused with story time and a mini disco in an evening – but the beauty is that you can see/do both.

 

In terms of food, the breakfast is in the Secret Garden restaurant and is help-yourself to warm/cold breakfast and is what you come to expect in such hotels. For dinner, we also went to the Secret Garden as it was the most appropriate child menu for us, but I would have liked to try the all-you-can-eat buffet in the Splash Landing hotel as the variety of choice looked really good.

 

Because of the location of Alton Towers, you are best to keep on site as you’re in the middle of nowhere, but that isn’t a bad thing as it feels as though you’re on holiday more than if you went to a “standard” place for tea etc. There is also a small shop in both hotels so you don’t need to leave the hotel.

One tip is to make use of the Porters Lodge if you’re arriving early/leaving late after check-out. This makes it easier when getting to the park and they will try to put your bags in your room if you’re an early arriver. The only downside is that there wasn’t an ice bucket facility which meant that I had to improvise to have a cool drink after bedtime!!

Next time, I’m sure Cbeebies Hotel awaits us (sneak preview of the bedroom below!!!)

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Cbeebiesland

We made the trip down to Alton Towers for a 2 night stay, particularly to take in Cbeebiesland while Heidi was still interested in those programmes and while we could go before she started school.

Cbeebiesland is within the Alton Towers park, although set aside so it is very much child friendly and you don’t get any of the crowds going on the rollercoasters – in this respect it is very much like Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park (See here for our visit there!)

As it is only for children, the staff are very friendly and the setting is very colourful in the Cbeebies colour scheme. Within the park, there are around 12 attractions and you should be able to do them all in 1 day, depending on how little your little one is and whether they need a nap during the day!!

All the rides/attractions are Cbeebies themed, from Octonauts to Postman Pat, in the Night Garden to Charlie and Lola. The only one which is height restricted is the Octonauts rollercoaster and while it is not fast in the great scheme of things, but I would watch it go round first before queuing up.

There are also “Meet and Greet” with various characters throughout Cbeebiesland which seemed to be a bit ad-hoc so keep your eyes peeled, but there is a specific tent for an “In the Night Garden” which seemed to be a big hit with the babies (or the parents more likely!).  There are hourly interactive shows as well which are really good if your child can get involved – such as Tree Fu Tom and do the actions etc.

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Ubercorn!!

Our (or should I say my!) favourite attraction is Justin’s House and is basically a mock up of Justin’s house but the main fun is going onto the balcony overseeing the ground floor and collecting the foam balls and then using them in the play guns and fire them at people!! It is a bit more than an adult attraction, and while it is impossible to get hurt, care needs to be made not to hit small children!!

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Justin’s House!!!

In terms of facilities, there are quite a number of toilets and the ones near Justin’s House had plenty of space. There is one small food outlet which offers a standard theme park menu/prices – although there are numerous outlets throughout the rest of the park. There is also a shop selling Cbeebies themed goodies and the “In the Night Garden” ride exit feeds into the shop so if you have a “needy” little one, you might want to do this ride at the end of the day so you can avoid the shop until then!

All in all, we had 2 good days here, although you don’t need 2 just to do Cbeebiesland. Our first day was beset by winds and rain and because of this, everyone in the park got a free ticket and so we have a ready made excuse to go back!!


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Mini Princesses – Rainbow Factory

Any regular readers of the blog will realise that we are HUGE Rainbow Factory supporters and we have been slowly working our way through the “We Are Mini” classes. To read about Mini Heroes follow this link and to read about Mini Einsteins (as at May 2017, no longer running) follow this link.

Mini-Princesses-Character

The aim of the Mini Princesses classes is to teach the children about how to understand their emotions, use their imagination and generally be better people but being kind and courteous. Just think of it as classes to make them better people both to themselves and others.

While it is called Mini Princesses, in reality, there is nothing gender specific about it and while I have not seen a boy in the class, there is absolutely no reason why boys wouldn’t get as much out of the classes as girls.

So the class is a mixture of movement/dancing, games, crafts and the famous Rainbow Factory story thrown in for good measure. As the class is only an hour long, as you can imagine, the tempo is fast paced and as such, the children are not kept around waiting or stuck doing the same activity.

The classes are probably suited for those between the age of 3 and 8 – Heidi is 3 and for one of the bigger classes, it was good to see her being stretched and challenged by some of the tasks which were aimed at the older children. Any younger than 3 (or nearly 3) and I feel as though they are not going to have the concentration or perhaps the ability to understand the concepts being delivered. Because it is aimed at slightly older children, this is perhaps the first class which I have watched from the side rather than take part – a very strange feeling indeed!!

A little word about the Fairy Godmother, Emma. As with all of the Rainbow Factory staff, she is  always eager to talk to all the children, particularly at their height level, with so much enthusiasm and always with a smile. As I have said previously, while the classes at the Rainbow Factory are good, it is the staff that make them great.

You may ask why are there no photos – well, the classes are quite intimate and I felt that taking any would spoil that. Besides, if I took any at the last class, they would just be a blur because Heidi was constantly moving because she was so excited about the class!


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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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