We are often looking for new and exciting things to do with our families. Brenda Watkinson reviews a range of attractions suitable for a family group day out, from theme parks and science and technology attractions to active pursuits and farm visits.
KEEPING THE FAMILY ACTIVE
Many family groups love the excitement of an activitybased day out. Based at three locations in the UK, Milton Keynes, Castleford in West Yorkshire and Glasgow in Scotland, SNO!zone offers a great day out for all the family. Featuring indoor real snow slopes, a visit provides the perfect opportunity to learn new skills with expert ski and snowboard tuition, or to practice your techniques on the 170-metre long main slope. Each SNO!zone is situated in an Xscape centre, where a range of other exhilarating activities are offered such as indoor skydiving, rock climbing and lazerzone. Refreshments are available in the SNO!bars and group menus can be pre-booked and served in a private area if requested. Groups can tailor-make their day to suit their members, with a 20% discount offered off main slope passes for parties of 10 or more.
In contrast to the world of snow, Waterworld is an indoor tropical aqua park located just off the A500 near Stoke-on-Trent. This all-weather attraction features slides, chutes and water-based activities to suit all ages and both weak and strong swimmers. Discounts apply to groups of 15 or more.
If you think your group would like the idea of swinging through breathtaking scenery on a zip wire, you might consider Go Ape. This tree-top adventure is available in 27 locations across the country. Your members will be kitted out with harnesses, pulleys and karabiners and given a safety briefing and training before they set off across tree-top high wires and challenging crossings using ladders, walkways, bridges and tunnels made of wood, rope and wire.
For a range of outdoor activities, Active Outdoor Pursuits offers a variety. Based in Aviemore, Scotland, Activity Days for families are a good way to try out white water rafting, climbing, abseiling, canoeing and kayaking. Activities can be tailored to suit your group and no prior experience is necessary, with expert instructors on hand to give tuition and support.
In the south of Britain, in Hampshire, Calshot Activity Centre runs courses designed with families in mind in skiing, snowboarding, track cycling, rock climbing and archery during the autumn and winter months, and ‘wet’ courses such as sailing during the spring and summer. Calshot is happy to organise everything from single sessions to week long residential visits tailored to your individual group.
With some excellent theme parks located the length and breadth of the UK, you will not need to travel far to find one to suit your group.
Thorpe Park in Surrey is certainly the place to get your adrenaline pumping. It has some of the best rollercoaster rides in the country. ‘SAW – The Ride’ is a highlight, the world’s first horror movie-themed roller coaster featuring a dramatic drop between huge spinning blades. New for 2011, ‘Storm Surge’ takes riders on a 64-foot spiralling descent aboard a spinning life raft. The attraction offers group rates for parties of seven or more with even more significant savings on multi-day tickets.
Also in Surrey, Chessington World of Adventures features over 40 rides and attractions set in nine themed lands. Highlights include the roller coasters ‘Dragon’s Fury’ and ‘Vampire’ while a gentler option is ‘Dragon Fall’, a leisurely boat ride featuring dips and falls before its plunging finale. Discounts apply to groups of 10 or more with one free place also offered for every 10 paying visitors. Two-day group tickets are also available.
For younger children, Legoland Windsor is aimed specifically at 3 to 12 year-olds and features over 55 interactive rides, live shows, building workshops and attractions within its vast parkland. New for this year, the ‘Atlantis Submarine Voyage’ lets visitors board custom-made submarines and travel around a massive ocean tank. Discounts apply to groups of seven or more if booked in advance. The Legoland Discovery Centre at The Trafford Centre in Manchester also makes an educational day out.
In the heart of the country in Staffordshire, Drayton Manor Theme Park near Tamworth offers a good combination of rides for all the family. For thriller seekers, both ‘Shockwave’, a stand-up roller coaster, and ‘Stormforce 10’, featuring a backwards water drop, are sure to set the adrenaline going while for little folk, Thomas Land offers 12 themed rides and an indoor play area. Discounts are based on a sliding scale starting from groups of 12 or more.
Also in Staffordshire, Alton Towers has built up a great reputation with its world class rides such as ‘Nemesis’ and ‘TH13teen’. There are also BMX live shows four times a day during the summer season. Discounts apply to groups of seven or more when booked in advance. If groups book online, they also qualify for Early Ride Time, which gives entry to the park one hour before general opening times.
In Blackpool, the Pleasure Beach has recently launched Nickelodeon Land, themed around characters from the popular children’s TV show. With over 100 rides and attractions, popular with families, the ‘Alice Ride’ takes visitors through the looking glass into Alice’s Wonderland. Discounts vary according to your group’s age.
Just outside Ripon in North Yorkshire, Lightwater Valley Theme Park offers groups a fun day out with over 40 rides and attractions. One of the most popular is the roller coaster ‘The Ultimate’, which travels 2.4 kilometres through dark forest. Discounts apply to groups of 12 or more.
Located just a short drive from the M6 in Lancashire, Camelot Theme Park features roller coasters, log flumes and a good choice of other rides. Pre-booked groups of 12 or more can benefit from discounts with free entry for the GTO, free coach parking and free posters and leaflets.
Another themed attraction of sorts is the London Dungeon, which delves into 1,000 years of the city’s darkest history with 14 actor-led shows and three scary rides. Priority entrance is available to pre-booked parties. There are similar Dungeons in Edinburgh, York, at Warwick Castle and now in Blackpool.
HANDS-ON LEARNING EXPERIENCES
For those whose minds have an inquisitive nature, a trip to one of Britain’s industrial or scientific attractions can help provide answers through the use of interactive and hands-on techniques.
Located in the heart of St Helens just 30 minutes from Manchester and Liverpool, the World of Glass takes visitors on a journey of discovery into one of the most common substances on earth, exploring the story of glassmaking from its discovery by ancient civilisations to the modern, multi-use material we know today. A state-of-the-art special effects film show sets the scene by showing how this material is used by modern society in technology as diverse as the world wide web and space exploration, before visitors explore the interactive museum galleries where the magic of glass is brought to life in a fun packed zone featuring distorting mirrors, kaleidoscopes and periscopes as well as an array of optical instruments. As well as live glass blowing demonstrations, visitors can also explore the Jubilee Cone Building, which houses the remains of the oldest glass making tank furnace in the world. Discovered buried beneath a concrete slab floor, the tank furnace has been excavated by archaeologists from Lancaster University. Discounts apply to groups of 13 or more and guided tours can also be arranged for an additional charge. Overlooking the canal, the Kaleidoscope Café serves refreshments ranging from a light snack to a full meal.
For groups visiting the capital, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is a place of wonders right in the heart of the West End. With more than 700 amazing artefacts on display over five floors ranging from a two-headed calf to a Mini Cooper covered in Swarovski crystals, Amazonian shrunken human heads and a model of the tallest man on earth, the attraction celebrates the weird, wonderful and bizarre in all its forms. With everything you can imagine (and plenty more you can’t), Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is a family day out that’s definitely out of the ordinary. A discount of 30% applies to groups of 10 or more with pre-booked guided tours on request for an additional cost. Audio tours are also available. Aimed specifically at children, a Scavenger Hunt consists of a fact finding sheet, pencil and a unique prize gift for an additional cost. As well as pre-booked meal deals served in the café, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! also offers combined tickets with the Rainforest Café, Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock Café.
Located on the harbourside in Bristol, At-Bristol features over 300 hands-on exhibits, live shows and a planetarium. The latest interactive experience ‘All About Us’ has over 50 new hands-on exhibits and looks at the human body based around seven themes; cardiovascular, senses, reproduction, locomotion, digestion, DNA and brains. One intriguing exhibit is the Digestive Run where visitors can feed a skeleton and see how food runs through the body. Discounts apply to groups of 10 or more with free admission to GTOs.
Moving across to Cardiff, Techniquest science discovery centre also has a planetarium, allowing visitors to see the night sky as never before, as well as more than 120 interactive exhibits and a science theatre, which stages curriculum-linked shows for schools during term time and shows for all the family at other times. Discounts apply to groups of 10 or more if booked in advance.
Further north in mid-Wales, the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) is an education and visitor centre that demonstrates practical solutions for sustainability. Covering all aspects of green living from environmental building and energy efficiency to woodland management and organic growing, the centre features seven acres of interactive displays. Lectures, talks and Q&A sessions can be arranged for your group in advance.
In Leicestershire, Snibston Discovery Park is an interactive museum specialising in science and technology, engineering, transport, fashion, history and mining. There are over 90 indoor and outdoor interactive exhibits exploring the impact of technology on our everyday lives. You can also join real life miners on a tour of the former colliery here and take a ride on Snibston Discovery Park’s diesel locomotive. Discounts apply to groups of 10 or more.
Further north in Cheshire, Catalyst is a science centre and museum devoted to chemistry and how its products are used in every day life. There are three interactive galleries with over 100 different exhibits to fascinate everyone in your group as well as an interactive theatre and a discovery lab. Discounts apply to groups of 10 or more. Workshops, films and guided tours can be arranged in advance for an additional charge.
Housed within a former steel works, Magna in Rotherham features a number of interactive pavilions including Fire, Water, Earth and Air, full of hands-on activities suitable for all age groups. Special rates apply to groups of 12 or more if booked at least a week in advance.
In the heart of Edinburgh, Our Dynamic Earth takes visitors on a journey through our planet’s past, present and future, with interactive exhibits and impressive technology, including a 4D experience. Beginning with the Big Bang, children and adults alike can witness the creation of the Earth, follow the planet through its evolution and even catch glimpses of its future. Discounts apply to groups of 12 or more.
DOWN ON THE FARM
If you enjoy the fresh air of the countryside, a day at a farm could be just the answer. Paradise Wildlife Park in Hertfordshire was purchased by the Sampson family in 1984 and since then, with hard work and investment, they have built super animal enclosures and public facilities. Family groups can enjoy close up animal encounters such as feeding lemurs, being climbed on by meerkats and meeting Brazilian tapirs. The park has recently opened a new Discovery Centre, and is also home to a Speedway Museum. Entry to the museum is included in the park admission, which is discounted for groups.
Set within 120 acres of countryside, the South of England Rare Breeds Centre and Country Farm Park is located near Ashford in Kent. Highlights of your visit will include the daily Meet the Animals sessions, the walk-through Butterfly Tunnel, the Pig Racing and Pig Assault Course and the Woodland Discovery Trails. Discounts apply to groups of 15 or more if booked in advance. Groups can also enter the park at 10am, thirty minutes earlier than the general public.
Just 11 miles west of Salisbury, Farmer Giles has been open for over 20 years and is well practiced at giving family groups a good day out. As well as over 150 animals to meet, there are large indoor play areas with a bouncy castle, sand pit and ride-upon tractors and an outdoor adventure playground. Group visits can be arranged out of normal opening hours and discounts are available. Conveniently located just off the A303 and with plenty of coach parking, Farmer Giles also makes a good meal stop for passing groups offering morning refreshments, lunch or tea.
Also known as Adam’s Farm in the BBC TV Countryside series, Cotswold Farm Park was established 40 years ago to protect some of our rare and valuable old breeds. As well as 50 flocks and herds of rare breed farm animals including Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs, visitors can also meet a number of smaller animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, goats, lambs and piglets in the Touch Barn. The Demo Barn stages seasonal demonstrations such as lamb feeding, milking and shearing as well as the Sheep History Pyramid Show, giving an insight into the development of sheep breeds through the ages. Discounts are offered to pre-booked groups of 20 or more. Talks and guided tours can also be arranged in advance for an additional charge.
Located on the B5195 between Ormskirk and Formby in Lancashire, Farmer Ted’s Farm Park welcomes groups throughout the year and provides hands-on education about farming and the different types of farm animals including cows and calves, sheep and lambs, ponies and horses, hens, ferrets, water buffalo and guinea pigs. Other highlights include a daily milking demonstration, tractor rides around the farm, a bird of prey demonstration and quad barrel train ride. The Worral House Farm Larder is known for its excellent produce while Farmer Ted’s Grill serves only food freshly prepared on site.