KidZania has been on my children’s ‘must do’ list for many months. Our first brief taste of KidZania was when we were lucky enough to be invited to a preview screening of the Boss Baby film: all attendees converged on the attraction for a short time prior to the film. And ever since then they’ve been desperate to return. Well, just before Christmas we arranged for them to spend 4 hours there – a pre-Christmas treat.
On the train down to London the children were full of excited talk about their plans. Millie-Mae was keen to try out the Pokémon Animation Studio and to do “whatever paid the most KidZos”. The boys wanted to try most things, but they too were keen on being paid rather than paying. Let me explain how KidZania works, because I’m sure I’ve confused you already!
What is KidZania?
Kidzania is a mini-city aimed at children aged 4 to 14. Based in the Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherd’s Bush, London, here your children can ‘try out’ a huge range of jobs … from estate agent, to fireman to surgeon to pilot, and every type of job in between. When you enter KidZania each child is gifted a wad of KidZos notes. This is the currency of KidZania. A lot of the ‘jobs’ pay the child – for instance if you work as a pitlane engineer (changing a racing car’s tyre), you will be paid 8 KidZos. This particular activity lasts 20 minutes, but they do vary. If you want to be a British Airways pilot, or learn how to make chocolates with Cadbury at the Chocolate Factory, well then these are training courses, and YOU pay THEM to take part.
We were lucky in that it wasn’t very busy when we first arrived. Our initial thoughts when we studied the map of what the children could do was one of “how can they do all this in 4 hours”? The truth is that you can’t do it all … you have to focus on just a few things that you’d like to experience.
Many of the popular jobs, like the Pokémon Animation Studio, the Fire Brigade and Police Station, had long queues – not helped by a large group of Cubs that seemed to fill most of the queues at one point! It is important to read the info plaque outside each activity: it tells you how long a session lasts, how many children can participate in a session, what age it’s most suitable for, and how much you get paid/need to pay. Using these as a guide you can guesstimate how long your children will be queuing (because we all know that children don’t like queuing!)
Mills is 11 and she told me she felt out of place at KidZania.
“Remember when you say how small things are when you, as an adult, go into a nursery class? Well that’s how it felt for me today.”
None of the job uniforms fit her – it was geared to much younger children than Millie. When Millie-Mae took part in an activity, she looked the odd one out as she seemed so much older than the rest of the children. Here’s the proof … this is her being a surgeon: her scrubs barely covered her arms and she’s towering above all the other children. Yet KidZania is for children up to 14? No, it’s not really.
She did love the Pokémon Animation Studio though. She had to queue for quite some time to do this, but during the 20-minute session she had using stop motion animation, she produced this short video:
The Boys’ experience
Both boys are 9 years old. They were determined to earn as much money as they could, so that they could spend it at the end in the KidZania shop. Fair enough! They tried their hand at a lot of things – mainly jobs where the queue to participate was shortest (the least popular experiences). On their previous visit they had tried out the BA Pilot training course and the Renault Pit Lane experience, so they could miss these out this time around.
They did dip into their earnings to get their faces painted (while Millie was queuing for the Cadbury Chocolate Factory).
Mainly though they ran around a lot looking for opportunities to earn KidZos. When we finally caught up with them mid-visit, they were desperately in need of food and a drink.
Mums’ opinion (there were two of us!)
We didn’t like the fact that we had to pay to enter. It’s not like we could take part or anything! The children wanted us to stay, and that came at quite a high price tag (£17 each). We were all tagged, so there was no way out once we entered (this, of course, is really valuable had we felt able to leave the children at the door).
We were lucky enough to get a locker to put our thick winter coats in, to save us carrying them around. Many people who arrived after us failed to find a vacant locker 🙁
Food and drink isn’t cheap inside KidZania – but the quality was quite good. We bought the children pizza and a drink: the pizzas were made to order and the children really enjoyed them. Seating was at a premium though – a few more seating areas would have been useful.
Spending the KidZos
Ok, this is where our visit was ruined. As you’ve read, the boys had been working really hard to build up their pots of money to spend in the shop. We had warned them in advance that they’d need LOADS to get anything of value, and that they’d probably have to settle for a keyring, or lanyard, or similar. They were happy with this.
Once you have your wrist band removed and you leave KidZania, you walk through the shop. It’s full of brilliant things, like science kits, branded stationery, water bottles, t-shirts, teddies … However, this isn’t where you spend your KidZos. Oh no, there’s a small area partitioned off for this. I have never seen such rubbish in my entire life! The boys – who really had run themselves ragged earning money all day – had enough money for only one item on display. This was a three-cornered highlighter pen that had a random taxi company branding on it … it wasn’t even KidZania merchandise! Millie-Mae couldn’t afford anything at all, so gifted all her KidZos to the Cub group that we seem to have followed round all day. They were trying to raise enough between them for a board game. In the end the boys gave them their money too.
Given the entry cost, surely a few cheap KidZania branded items (pencils, erasers, ruler, mini notebook etc) wouldn’t be too much trouble to have on offer, as a ‘reward’ for the children’s hard work? The children left empty-handed, and exhausted.
Our collective, overall, opinion of KidZania is that it is aimed at children younger than ours. 4-8 years old – no older than that (definitely not the 14 they advertise). There was a lot of queue jumping – even parents were pushing their children to the front of queues, which was frustrating, unfair and out-and-out wrong.
For the five of us, the cost of our 4-hour KidZania experience was £130. Obviously, our train fare into London and home again was on top of this. It’s not a cheap day out. Because adults can only chaperone their children, a voucher for a free coffee would have taken the sting out of the cost a little! Small gestures etc. And some more seats where we could rest our ageing legs and feet!
And as for the KidZos shop – why bother with it at all unless they offer things that the children actually want. This was such a let-down after 4 hours of full-on intense activity (albeit a lot of that was standing in queues).
What did the children enjoy? The Pokémon Animation Studio. In fact, all three of them got stop motion animation kits for Christmas, so they can build on what they learned in KidZania.
Would they like to go back? All three have said no. They all believe it is too babyish, “and the shop was rubbish”.
Their highlight was spending time together. We could have done this at home and saved a lot of money.
‘Little things’ ruined our day, and if KidZania read this I hope they take our comments on board.
- Be more inclusive for older children, with larger uniforms and more advanced experiences
- Have staff monitor the queues and tell off (or throw out!) queue jumpers
- For parents who pay to attend, treat them to a free coffee, and give them somewhere to sit down and enjoy it
- (I do question why parents should pay to attend at all, as they can’t actually do anything other than hold the bags and coats and follow their child around)
- And sort out that KidZos shop. Get some cheap KidZania-branded merchandise and make them ‘affordable’ for the children who have worked hard and want to treat themselves at the end of the visit.
I honestly expected this review to be an all-positive one, given the fun they had during their really short ‘taster’ visit earlier in the year. Based on our visit though, I’m afraid it really was a “never again”.