Odeon Luxe Leeds-Bradford

I was invited to the official opening of the Odeon Luxe Leeds-Bradford to watch “Murder on the Orient Express” in absolute luxury, with more than half an eye as to how the venue would be suitable for a family evening out.

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View from the back row

The cinema itself is the first Odeon in England to have the “Luxe” treatment, with reclining seats, extending footrests and tables for each seat. One of the benefits of this is the extra legroom meaning that if little ones (or big ones!) have drunk too much, they can get out without the entire row having to stand up to let them out!

 

One thing we didn’t realise until the end of the film is that the seat arms move up, so it is possible to have a family hug in the spacious seats and get all cosy in front of a film!

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Yummy nachos!

The venue is quite isolated in terms of other attractions (there is only a curry house next door) but there is an excellent snack bar/restaurant on site serving traditional snacks such as nachos, pizzas and hot dogs. Above and below are a few pictures of the food that we were given to sample!

Of course, there are other snacks available including child-focused slushy machines and the cinema favourite, popcorn! I can confirm that it is a challenge to eat a box of popcorn during a film, but they do taste just as nice the following day!!

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As the venue has been rebuilt, the facilities are top notch, including the toilets and so if you’re still at the stage of taking your children to the toilet, there is plenty of space and more importantly, very clean.

All in all, it is really good to see a national brand invest in the region and the venue really raises the bar in terms of what is expected of the cinema experience and is perfect for an evening night out for all the family.

For more information about what’s on and special offers, go to: http://www.odeon.co.uk/cinemas/leeds_bradford/103/

Full disclosure: I received 2 tickets to the film/event for the purposes of this review, but no influence has been made as to the content.


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Valley Centertainment

Ok, when it comes to going to Sheffield for family entertainment, what do you think of? Meadowhall, Sheffield Arena or maybe something like the Elephants which were in Sheffield in 2016 (link here)?

Having worked in Sheffield for 4 ½ years, I had only ever heard of Valley Centertainment and never actually went until I was invited down to see what was on offer.

Well, truth be told, there is loads there!!  There are 12 places to eat (yes, 12!!) including good old favourites such as Nando’s, but also loads of entertainment such as Cineworld (apparently the busiest Cineworld outside of London) and Hollywood Bowl.

Obviously you can’t do all of this in one day (would be a good challenge) but we did try and do as much as possible! We started off with Paradise Island Adventure Golf, which has 2 full 18 hole courses. We did the downstairs course, and if truth be told, it was very difficult! If you have smaller children, it might be best to go for the upstairs course!

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The course is clean and well kept and there are enough quirky bits and pieces to keep the children entertained if the attention span is beginning to be stretched! Next-door is “Monkey Business” which is an indoor play area which looked quite large and so you could easily combine the two if you have younger children. Also, the toilets are of good quality and number  so you don’t need to worry about that side of things if your little one drinks too much too quickly!!

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In the same building is Laser Quest, and i have to confess that I have never done this before! You get about 15 minutes to walk (don’t run!!!) and try to shoot the other players. You really need 6 or more to make a good game of it, but they try to group smaller groups together to get a better atmosphere and game. There is a minimum age of 7, probably due to the dark and the effort it takes shooting the laser, so it’s something to bear in mind.  Sadly, taking pictures in the dark doesn’t really work that well!!

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Ok, I look a bit geeky!

In terms of food, we went to Nando’s (another first!) for wings and while we went on a Wednesday evening, it was busy, but the line did move quickly. If you have a large group, it might be an idea to see if you can book in advance!

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Very, very mild wings!

Also on the food front, we went to Frankie and Benny’s for our main meal and the service was very quick and the food was as good as ever. There is always a family friendly atmosphere at Frankie and Benny’s, although I would recommend having the milkshake after doing the laser quest and certainly not before!!

I called it quits for the evening then, before the others went to Cineworld, but I did notice in Hollywood Bowl a “Colouring Station” for children to colour and draw – something that I have never seen and is a really cool idea.

Parking is free at Valley Centertainment (post code: S9 2EP) and can be found all over the site (probably best near the laser quest, or Cineworld) and has its own Supertram stop. To find more information on the venue, check out their website (http://www.valley-leisure.co.uk/) and you can find a page full of offers for the various attractions on site.


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Hotel Chocolat – Children’s Workshop

 

We were invited to attend the Hotel Chocolat “School of Chocolate”, which is a children’s workshop to show them all about how chocolate is made, why it tastes and looks a certain way, as well as have a lot of fun at the same time!

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Hosted by the fabulously child-friendly Dan and Sam, we were guided upstairs and after a hand-wash (good start!) the children were sat around a table and the adults had their drink orders taken and let Dan and Sam take over!!

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You HAVE to have a hot chocolate at Hotel Chocolat!

The children were asked about how chocolate was made and I think it’s safe to say that the adults learnt just as much as the children! Then the taste testing began, with buttons of various kinds of chocolate being passed around. With children being children, and Hotel Chocolat being Hotel Chocolat, all of the chocolate was amazing (adults were jealously looking on at this point!)

After half an hour, the sugar was really kicking in and the children were led downstairs to look at the conch (who knew!) and how the beans were cooked and then the chocolate made. Then, they were up close watching how the tempering process took place, although the children were genuinely scared that the mix was about to be thrown onto a marble table top!!

The tempering process can be seen below.

It is best if you follow your child down for this bit because, well, would you leave a child in a sweet shop?!?! Seriously, they are looked after well but the adults get as much out of it as the children!

Going back upstairs, the really hands-on part came, with decorating a slab of chocolate and a chocolate lolly. This is the part where adults get involved a bit, depending on the age of the child, but remember the chocolate is for the children and not the adults!!

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After that, the decorations are put in the fridge and the children get to have a warm drink of salted caramel (not to my taste, but it went down well with the children!) and they got to decorate a box for their chocolate slab.

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After that, it was time to go with our goody bag and into the shop – you get an in-store discount and so it would be rude if you didn’t buy a little something extra!!

As of October 2017, it costs £20 for a place at each workshop and whilst that might seem a little steep, you probably get £5 of chocolate to take home, plus a drink, plus a discount in store. As a result, the course might pay for itself if you are buying Christmas/Easter presents there in bulk!! In terms of age range, they suggest ages 5-12 and that feels about right – the child has to be confident enough in conversation on their own as it is effectively a learning experience. The class size is limited, so it is a special occasion for all concerned.

Talking to Dan and Sam afterwards, they do suggest that it is better to come as a group, as it gets a better atmosphere in the session, but if you have a confident child, they will be fine on their own. It did make me think that it could be an ideal birthday party venue – especially if you don’t want to invite too many kids!!

We are extremely lucky to have this in Leeds, as the only other location where Hotel Chocolat is doing this workshop is in London and fingers crossed it will be a success, and it deserves to be because it is a wonderful one-off experience.

 


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William’s Den

With a reported £3m investment, William’s Den opened in 2017 and the pair of us went with 2 other families on a summers Wednesday to see what it was all like!

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Located 5-10 minutes off the M62, it does feel as though it is in the middle of nowhere, (so trust the Sat Nav!) but that is because of the vast open space that William’s Den needs for all the outdoor play areas.

There are effectively 2 sections – an indoor and an outdoor play area. The indoor area is a huge rustic play/climbing frame with rope bridges, slides and sand. The adults favourite was the chill-out area, but we weren’t sure whether the area was suited for adults or children – it was much needed towards the end of the day as we were getting tired!!

The outdoor area included 2 zip wires, climbing stones, mud kitchen, swings and a maze of hills and tunnels which were made for creative, energetic play! Also outside were numerous picnic benches for the adults to watch the children go and enjoy themselves.

This is a place where you can let the children play amongst themselves, albeit watch from a relative distance, in part because it is a secure location, but also because the nature of the attraction means that it isn’t suitable for any children under 4 (or you will be doing a LOT of lifting and carrying on the climbing activities!)

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One of the really good things about William’s Den is the fact that you are allowed to bring a picnic in and so you don’t have to spend a small fortune on food – however, the food prices didn’t seem too bad at all, especially compared to elsewhere.

Another really excellent thing is the toilet facilities. Yes, I said that right! Being a single dad to a 4 year old girl, going to public toilets are often a challenge, but here they have family toilets, with baby change (see picture below) which make it so much easier. However, it also means that my 4 year old daughter has now discovered going to the toilet with her best friend – which means chaos in the future!!! Suffice to say, the toilets were clean and in good condition.

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Also, on the entry wristband for the children, adults were encouraged to put a contact number in case they got lost – very simple but never seen it before and it could come in very useful at times.

In terms of downsides, as it is a partly outdoor attraction, you do need a dry day to make the most of it. Also, it is somewhat exposed and so if the wind is blowing, it can feel a bit cool so make sure you take a jacket, even if the sun is shining!

As you can imagine, with a new attraction that has had positive reviews, it does get full and so it is advisable to pre-book online to avoid disappointment. However, regardless as to how full it gets, car parking is plentiful and free.

All in all, we spent 5 or so hours at William’s Den and at the end of it, we were all exhausted, but in the best way possible.  I’m pretty sure this will be a place for us to visit regularly, especially as the kids get a bit older and stronger and can enjoy the activities a bit more.


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The Rainforest Cafe, London

I don’t normally do restaurant reviews because we have what could be politely described as an unrefined palette, but The Rainforest Cafe isn’t an ordinary restaurant.

As the name suggests, the restaurant (not a cafe!) is set in a rainforest theme, with elephants, monkeys and various other animals. The only thing missing is the rain and humidity (thankfully!)

Set in a basement in Piccadilly Circus, you can’t actually see the restaurant from the street, and you access it through the ground level shop (handy for post meal-nagging for a present!!). However, don’t let this put you off – the decor is amazing and creates such an atmosphere and sensory experience for the little ones (and big ones!)

Heidi was besotted by the elephants that were next to us and was even more amazed by the Rainforest Cafe mascot “Cha-Cha” who came round for meet and greets during the meal. It is a dining experience that is somewhat unique to say the least!

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Cha-Cha!!

In terms of the actual food, the service was really quick (the food was served before the drinks!!) and was of good quality. I had burger and fries – at the end of a busy London weekend, that was all I could face and Heidi had chicken and fries. Both with drinks came to just under £40, which is expensive for a Yorkshireman, but coming here is a one-off treat, rather than a daily occurrence. The staff were very child focused and were happy to talk to the children a s much as the adults!

Children get a colouring pack but there is the option to buy an activity pack, which comes with an animal mask. If truth be told, the excitement of eating in such a cool place was more than enough stimulation and is probably not needed – however, it would be a good way to navigate the shop at the end of the meal!

We went on a Sunday late afternoon and the waiting area was full and so booking is a must do – the website is so easy to navigate and we were seated within 5 minutes of arriving at the restaurant. As mentioned, the restaurant is in the basement, so pushchairs are left upstairs (not sure there is a lift). In terms of toilets, there are baby changing facilities in the Gents, which is good to see.

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As I said previously, the cost will be prohibitive for some, but this is perhaps the coolest restaurant that I have ever been in and so child focused, so it is well worth a visit if you’re wanting a treat.


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Sneaky Experience – Fairy Tales Kingdom

So we finally managed to get to a “Sneaky Experience” event and given that the second day of the event is tomorrow, I thought that I would try and do a quick recap, without giving too much away!!

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So, the event is in Kirkstall Abbey itself, and so be prepared for uneven ground and narrow walkways (not suitable for double buggies!!!) and given the recent rain, take a picnic blanket to sit on as there is a bit of sitting down watching performances. (While you’re at it, take some food as well!!)

So, having never been to a Sneaky Experience event before, I didn’t know what to expect, but essentially there are 10-14 pop-up entertainers throughout the Abbey performing for the whole of the 3 hour session. While it seems a bit chaotic, it tends to be a good idea just to go with the flow and it is all very fast paced anyway, so you don’t have that long for downtime.

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The entertainment ranged from puppet shows, Elsa singalong, Anna fashion show and a big version of Twister.

However, the best entertainment was the 2 person performances of both “Hook and Pan” and “Toad and the Mole”. Whilst they lasted 20 minutes or so each, the audience fully bought into the show – so much so that the children were so excited that they nearly invaded the stage! The children were so loud that I couldn’t speak to the person next to me (who I thought that I knew but wanted to ask!!)

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The fabulous Hook and Pan

The entertainers were all dressed up and if they weren’t doing a performance, then they were more than happy for pictures to be taken with the little ones and this was almost as exciting than the shows for the little ones.

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We lasted 2 ½ hours and I enjoyed a sleeping 4 year old on the way home, mainly because the event was so fast paced that there was always something to see or do. It probably wouldn’t be suitable for those under 3 and above 8 or so, and while there were a high proportion of girls, there is nothing gender specific about it. Likewise, while plenty dressed up in princess outfits, there is no obligation ro incentive to do so – it might make the event a little more special, that’s all.

There were a few stalls to buy ice cream/drinks, but you are probably best taking your own so you’re not queuing and thus, getting the most out of it.

Sneaky Experience do all sorts of events and I’ll be sure to check out some of the others in the future as this was of an excellent quality.


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Rainbow Factory – Summer Holiday sessions 2017

With Heidi about to start school in September (boo!), this is the last hurrah of having random time off during the week to do random kiddie stuff. As a result, we went down to one of our favourite places in the world – the Rainbow Factory – for their Summer Holiday themed sessions, and we went to the Superheroes event.

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Batgirl Photobooth (free)

The events change each week, but the concept is the same for each week. As a result, you could go every week during the school holidays, and have a different experience each time.

The general theme is there is a “warm-up” at 10.45am before the activities start at 11am. Each activity is timetabled for 30 minutes and there is a sequence to the activities so if you have got a clash, you can still do the activities that you want to do.

To get the most out of the day, the best tips are:

Get there for 10.30 – It does get busy and you really want to get there for the warm-up

Sign-up to the activities – Once you know what you want to do, sign up to the activities on the sheets provided. They do get filled quickly and so it is a good idea to do that first. However, if you/your child changes their mind, cross off your name so someone else can do the activity!!

Go for the whole day – Even if you just pay for a couple of activities, there are loads of free things to do and make sure you don’t have to rush off after an hour or so.

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Playing in the Secret Garden (free)

The activities are completely different each week, but we did Super Hero and Super Villain training, Controlling the Weather, Creating explosions (both science related) and Marshmallow target practice (which was just firing marshmallows at targets – very fun!).

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Marshmallow Target Practice!

In reality, we couldn’t have done another activity as the pair of us were tired, but I think if you had an older child, then they could squeeze another activity in. We did the online VIP pass (£13.75), which made it easier at the reception and meant that you didn’t have to ration the activities – it also guaranteed entry, which is also a reassuring thing because it did get busy.

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Ingredients to make rainclouds

In terms of ages, I wouldn’t want to take a child under 3 to be honest, because it would probably be a bit too much for them, and the top end would probably be about 10 years old. There were loads of 6 to 8 year olds, and the activities are best aimed for them.

When people ask me what the Rainbow Factory is, it is very difficult to describe, because everything is totally different. However, it is teaching children through play and structured activities so they become more creative and confident. However, none of this would be possible without the excellent staff there – always happy (at least on the outside!), always willing to help and always wanting to interact on your child’s level. They help the shy children come out of their shell and they interact with the uber- confident children. They are the stars of the show, and they put their heart and soul into every single thing they do for the children and it shows.

The Summer Holiday sessions are running until 1st September during the weekdays, with a different theme each week, so there is no excuse not to pop down!!


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