However there are lots more attractions up in the north of the country that aren't within easy reach of our home, so this summer we booked ourselves a few nights in both Manchester and Blackpool, and along with a stay at either end with Ram's parents in Warwick we were able to tick loads more of the Merlin attractions off our list!
Manchester is home to two Merlin attractions, both located in the intu Trafford Shopping Centre - the Legoland Discovery Centre and Sea Life Manchester.
The Legoland Discovery Centre
A couple of years ago we visited the Legoland Discovery Centre in Berlin and loved it, so we knew that we'd enjoy the Legoland Discovery Centre in Manchester, and we weren't disappointed! Your visit begins with a visit to the Lego Factory. Children can press buttons and turn knobs to make the machinery work and at the end they are presented with their own souvenir brick to take home. Then you come to the Kingdom Quest ride where you can shoot at Lego villians on interactive screens.
You exit the ride into Miniland, where you can see models of the local landmarks - not just Manchester but Blackpool was also represented, which was really fun to see having just come from there.
There is a display for the Lake District and even Alton Towers. Many of the Miniland features are interactive, so you can play a game of football against a friend, take part in a horse race, and make various things move around.
Then you enter the main area, where you can build with bricks to your heart's content, as well as build and race cars down a selection of different race tracks. You can test your buildings in an earthquake simulator, and build away in the Lego Friends house.
There are also regular building workshops where you can build your own model following instructions from a Lego demonstrator. The creations are available to take home for an extra £3, which we thought was reasonable enough for Harry to spend some of his pocket money on!
There is also a large soft play area, a 4D cinema with regular showings, and two more rides - the Merlin's Apprentice where you need to pedal as fast as you can to raise your seats into the air, and Lego City Forest Pursuit, where children can drive their own Lego police car around forest paths to capture robbers. Finally children can test their ninja skills in the Lego Ninjago Laser Training Camp as they try to find a safe path through the laser beams.
We spent a couple of afternoons here and the children absolutely loved it, I wish we had one closer to home!
Sea Life Manchester
We've visited quite a few of the Sea Life Centres now and to be honest they can be quite similar. However we found that Sea Life Manchester is definitely one of the best, it seems much more modern and there was a great deal more to do.
The whole centre was beautifully decorated and themed and there was plenty to see. Harry was particularly fascinated by the new Octopus Hideout as we've been watching videos about octopuses at home but he had never seen one close up. There was also a lovely Coral Reef exhibit with a clown fish tunnel for children to walk (or for adults to crawl!) through.
In the middle there is a good sized soft play area which is the first one that we've seen in a Sea Life Centre and definitely a huge plus. Sometimes we've found that we speed through quite quickly, but having a stop in the soft play in the middle definitely broke things up a bit and added a good half hour to our visit. It's a great idea, especially for the very little ones.
For the first time Mia was brave enough to put her hand into the rock pool and touch a starfish, I still couldn't make myself do it though! We also enjoyed some interesting displays about sea turtles that were really informative, and then saw an actual turtle in the underwater ocean tunnel.
Along with the other Trafford Centre attractions, like Paradise Island Adventure Golf and the Odeon cinema within the centre itself, and Chill Factore within easy walking distance, we found that staying in a hotel adjacent to the centre gave us many more ways to entertain ourselves than just shopping. On our visit in the summer holidays we also found this great outdoor sandpit just outside both these attractions which the children loved! Manchester is a bit of a trek for us, but we are really glad that we made the effort to visit for a few days.