A few weeks ago, Ram found a cheap London Travelodge deal, and so we decided to spend the last couple of days of the Christmas holidays taking the children up to London. The day before we went we also purchased Merlin Annual Passes, so we had no shortage of things to do! We last had Merlin passes when Harry was tiny and had a lot of use from them even then, so now that both children are that bit older it seems like a good investment. It was also the first time that we'd attempted London with both children and no pushchair and it makes it so much easier to get around when you don't have a buggy to worry about!
After travelling up nice and early, our first stop was at the Museum of London Docklands. It's free to visit, and there is an interactive play area for young children which operates on timed slots - you can book free tickets online the night before or collect a ticket from the main desk. The children had 45 minutes to play here which was just about right - there is a small soft play area for little ones and then lots of activities where you can load a cargo ship, play with pulleys, do some building with large bricks and so on.
There is also a big water play area where you can send little boats down rivers to the sea which was probably their favourite area.
Then we went to the new Shrek's Adventure, located on the South Bank near the London Eye. We booked a time slot earlier in the day, but it's worth noting that the time on your ticket is the time at which you can enter the main queue at the entrance, not the time that you will start the actual attraction. Once inside you still have to queue several more times (for a photo, for a lift, for another photo, for the buggy drop off window, for a welcome speech and so on) and it felt like the whole thing took a while to get going.
But once you get into the first attraction, a magic 3D bus ride, the adventure moves along quickly with no more hanging around. You are divided into a group, there were about 30 people in ours, and then you travel between a series of rooms with a different adventure in each, all linked by a story involving Rumpelstiltskin and his witches. Each room is hosted by an actor dressed up as a character from the films or as an appropriate fairy tale character. The group was small enough that everyone could see, and children were encouraged to stand at the front for a good view. I must admit that I'm not a huge fan of the audience participation element so I spent most of the time trying to hide at the back, but the children enjoyed it!
You aren't allowed to take any photographs as you go around, but at the end of the tour there is an area with different characters both from Shrek and the other Dreamworks films, and you can take your own photos here. You also have a photo book thrust upon you composed of pictures which they have taken of you with different backgrounds and characters, which I'm afraid we always avoid as they are so expensive!
It was a great visit and the children enjoyed it very much. At 6 and 4 they were good ages to visit, old enough to walk around without any fussing or boredom but young enough to still enjoy the magic. It might be a little scary and intimidating for little ones in some places, but ours were fine as long as we were close by. A visit would have cost us around £100 which I do think is very expensive as a short one off attraction, although you can buy combined tickets with the other Merlin attractions or use an Annual Pass like we did which does make it better value.
In the evening we had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe as a treat for the children (they also do a discount with the Merlin Pass!). Then after dinner we went back to the London Eye for a night time ride. Harry has been on it several times before, although he did suddenly have a fit of the wobbles and decide he didn't want to go on it, fortunately we managed to persuade him and he loved it! Although it had rained all day the evening was clear, and we had some lovely views.
We walked for miles but the children managed brilliantly! I'll be posting about our second day later this week!