If you have children, Kidzania must be on your radar. Mine had been begging to go for a while, so over the half term holidays we booked in, and I have to tell you, they were really excited, especially my eldest, who was looking forward to the independence of forging her way in a mock-up of the real world. Billed as a ‘real-life role play experience,’ Kidzania offers children the opportunity to get a feel for what it might be like to take on over 60 different workplace roles, earning money in return for tasks completed. Here’s what to expect of your four-hour visit, and some of our thoughts on how to get the best out of Kidzania’s facilities.
There’s no doubt about it: Kidzania is exciting for kids right from the start. Check in feels exactly like getting through Heathrow – without the stress, but with all the same signage. There’s baggage drop off (Kidzania London is situated at Westfields shopping centre, so leaving your bags before entry is a good idea), and even a security scanner to pass through, though it’s not as onerous as passport control at a real airport, thank goodness!
Visitors are given an electronic wristband on entry, which kids use to scan the different activities they do as they complete them in the city. It’s also a great security measure; once you’re in the city, it’s not easy to keep track of your kids if you want them to have the full experience of independence, so it’s reassuring that they won’t be able to leave without your authorisation for staff to remove the wristband. They’re also given the option to wear an identifying wristband if they have a disability or additional need. The website states“KidZania appreciates that not all disabilities are visible.” We were disappointed that our check-in representative didn’t think either band was appropriate for diabetes – it’s not an obvious condition, but apparently the ‘invisible’ disability band is interpreted by staff as an additional educational need, and he didn’t think she’d want to wear that. He was right, but there wasn’t an alternative, and he wasn’t aware of diabetes as something requiring extra support. It’s a common omission, but something we’d really like to see recognised.
The Job Centre
First stop is the job centre, where you fill in a touch screen questionnaire about yourself to determine a list of jobs that would be suitable for you. Kids are given a stash of Kidzania dollars on entry, and the objective (at least for mine) is to add to that amount by completing work roles. The Bug was given the power station and went off to report for duty; Maddie engineered her test to assign her the jobs she wanted – hotel staff, personal stylist, and catwalk model. At twelve, she is maybe a little old for Kidzania (though the age stated on the site is 4-14 years) but although she found some of the jobs a little too childish, she did enjoy the independence of having complete freedom in the city, and I left her to it for the morning. If we were to visit a second time we’d make sure to pick some of the jobs that were most appropriate for her age (see below), but she had fun exploring the different options, and had earned a stash of cash by the time she reported back for lunch.
Children can do various jobs during the course of their visit, each earning them money, which is paid at the end of the job. There are also activities such as chocolate making at the Cadbury shop, or the Innocent Smoothie station, where they can spend their dollars learning a skill. They can even pay to go to university, achieving a status that will earn them more on each job they do afterwards. Very real world! Both mine chose to earn, rather than spend (I’ve brought them up well!), queuing up for the jobs they fancied the most. There is a bit of queuing for the popular jobs, and with younger kids it’s worth following them round to make sure they can cope with the queues, and keep their place. Below are some of the jobs we thought were best for different ages, and the queue times:
- Jobs to satisfy older children
- Stop animation studio – kids are put in pairs to create their own Pokémon video
- TV studio – you get to film your own newsroom reel with an autocue
- Renault pit lane experience – the Bug learned the mechanics of an actual racing car, and helped to change wheels against the clock
- Great jobs for younger kids
- Music academy – who doesn’t love a good drumming session?
- Fashion studio – H&M branded, a great dressing up session, followed by either a catwalk show in the theatre, or a photo-shoot
- Fire station, hospital and police station (see below)
- Longest queues (worth going at lunch time, when queues are likely to be shorter)
- Stop animation studio
- Aviation academy
- Music academy
- TV studio
- Chocolate factory
- Beauty salon
Some of the learning is really fun: the forensic lab teaches crime sleuthing with fingerprints and clues, and the pit lane experience was very cool. We didn’t do the aviation academy, but that’s on their list for next time, to learn to be a pilot. Every 15 minutes or so, a building ‘burns down’ and there is much excitement as the fire crew, police, and paramedics turn up. Tiny police officers cordon off the area, then paramedics apply cling film to burns and deliver oxygen, whilst junior firefighters hose down the building.
Finding your way around
There are friendly ‘police officers’ on most corners ready to direct your child, or support them if they have any difficulty when they’re not with a parent. We needed help when our time ran out whilst the Bug was queuing for the stop animation studio; our policeman solved his worries about being thrown out before he’d had a chance to complete his film by having a word with the studio manager. (The stop animation queue was the longest we waited, taking half an hour for us to get to the front, as it was so popular. We’d recommend getting there early and making this the first stop if you want to do it).
The city is on two levels, with a map for each level. It does take a while to get your bearings, but once you’ve been right round the city a couple of times it’s not hard to remember where you need to go. It would be a good idea to take a walk round before you get stuck into the jobs – you’ll have plenty of time to do the things you want to do so there’s no hurry.
Once you have enough Kidzania dollars, you can open a bank account. This was one of the things they enjoyed most, and the queue isn’t terrible – about what you’d expect in a real bank. You hand your cash over to the bank teller, who counts it, opens you an account, and hands over a debit card. You can’t do too much with it, and Maddie would definitely have liked a shop where she could spend her hard-earned cash, but I guess the cost of that would have to be added to the entrance fee, pushing the price up to an unacceptable level. It might have been nice to have it as an optional add-on though, and would certainly make parents more likely to allow kids to make merchandise purchases. She was able to use her money to pay for some face paint and a temporary tattoo, and I’ve never known a 12-year-old girl to love face paint as much as she does! Popping your card into the cash point to retrieve your dollars at the end of the day is also one of the coolest parts of the visit, and mine loved having that power over their own money. It was only about a week later that my daughter began asking for a real debit account for her allowance!
Kidzania for Parents
If your children are old enough to be left, or once they feel confident to navigate the city for themselves, you may want to pay a visit to the parent’s lounge. Adults only in here, there are some delicious looking treats to buy, plus you can settle down in a massage chair with a glass of prosecco and catch glimpses of your children as they roam the streets below.
Tips for making the most of Kidzania
- Go early. Our starting time was 11am, and the city felt very mellow, with only very short queuing times for the activities. By mid afternoon it was very busy in the school holidays, and our four hours were just beginning to feel frazzled. If we go back, we will definitely make the effort to get there first thing, before the crowds arrive
- Arrange a point for meeting up, or let your child know where you will be. The city isn’t large, but it does take a while to get your bearings, and younger children may like the security of knowing where to find you. If they’re nervous, we’d recommend queuing with them for each activity, and popping back when you know they’ll be finished. Parents are not allowed into the activities, so your child needs to be confident without you
- Don’t make a day of it. Maddie was awe-inspired by the size of the shopping centre at Westfields, and has extracted a promise from me that we will spend a day there soon (joy). But taking advantage of the shops would have been a little too much, and after the morning at Kidzania, we were ready for home
- Don’t try to fit everything in. I’m a list ticker, and wanted to achieve as much as possible, but it’s much more rewarding to go at a gentle pace, and come back another time to complete things there weren’t time for. You can buy a Kidzania passport for £5 which allows you to build up extra dollars and receive special offers on future visits
- Travel light – leave bags and coats in the baggage area before check-in if you can. Once inside, it’s worth paying the £3 for a locker to keep bags and coats in, rather than lugging them round for 4 hours. You don’t need anything much once you’re in there, and it’s tiring carrying bag
- Aim to snack rather than dine – the food options at Kidzania are good, but they’re not the cheapest. We paid £26 for a chicken burger and a couple of burritos with fries and a drink. Though the soda fountain is refillable, so you can drink as much as you like for one price, and there are lots of café/snack options.
Good to know
- A child ticket costs £32 in peak time; accompanying adults pay £16.50. It’s best to pre-book online, as phone and in-person purchases incur an additional cost.
- If you have younger children, they can be entertained at an early years area while your older kids explore the city.
- Children up to the age of 7 need a paying adult in the city with them at all times. Children over 8 can be left, provided they are checked in by an adult; so there’s your shopping day at Westfields organised!
*Thanks to Kidzania for inviting us to review. All opinion, imagery and editorial is our own. Check out the Kidzania website for more details.