A trip in the company of other families can make your day out an extra special experience. From eating lunch under giant rockets in Leicestershire to feeding giraffes in Wiltshire, Emma Jeffreys discovers the variety of family day trips available to groups.
A firm family favourite for a day out is a trip to the zoo. From safari parks to aquariums, wildlife fans of all ages are spoilt for choice with the variety of animal attractions on offer in the UK.
Groups can get up close and personal with over 400 animals in specially designed enclosures at Paradise Wildlife Park in Hertfordshire. You can touch and even feed many of the animals in the park by purchasing an animal feedbag. Younger members of the group will also appreciate the five adventure playgrounds, the daily shows and meet the keeper sessions. Entry is discounted for groups.
Meanwhile in Wiltshire, Longleat Safari and Adventure Park has over 100 species to discover from rhino to warthog. This year has seen the introduction of the African Village featuring a Giraffe Feeding area. A new lakeside Gorilla Colony has also been unveiled to thrill alongside Cheetah Kingdom, Monkey Jungle and not forgetting the famous lions. New for 2013 will be the Penguin and Stingray Cove. Generous discounts are available on all ticket purchases for parties of 12 or more.
Two new marine experiences opened at the SEA LIFE London Aquarium this year. A special ‘Behind the Scenes’ tour enables groups to go beneath the surface and team up with expert aquarist guides to discover how they care for over 600 marine and freshwater species. The second experience, ‘Shark Reef Encounter’, allows visitors to come ‘face to fin’ with nature’s most magnificent but misunderstood creatures. GTOs may even brave the Shark Walk and touch real shark skin!
The Hawk Conservancy Trust in Hampshire is an award-winning visitor centre and bird of prey conservation charity set in 22 acres of woodland and wildflower meadow. There are over 150 birds on view, from the tiny Pygmy Owl to the impressive Steller’s Sea Eagle, and every visitor has the opportunity to hold a bird of prey. Many of the birds are involved in spectacular daily flying demonstrations. The trust offers daily displays, talks and demonstrations that will keep your group thoroughly entertained and informed. A Welcome Talk by one of the falconry staff can also be arranged. Home cooked food and snacks are available in ‘Feathers’ restaurant. Group rates are available to parties of 15 and more.
ACTION AND ADVENTURE
For family groups who prefer their days out to be action packed and adrenaline pumping, the following attractions are sure to tick all boxes. With over 50 rides and attractions, there is something for all the family to enjoy at Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire, whether you are after gentle thrills or exhilarating experiences. New for 2012 are Ice Age The 4-D Experience and Nemesis Sub-Terra, an attraction that takes visitors underground for a psychologically and physically thrilling experience. Group discounts are available for 10 people or more.
Also in Staffordshire, the family-owned and run Drayton Manor Theme Park features some of the biggest, wettest and scariest rides around, including Shock-wave, G-force, Maelstrom and Apocalypse. Set in approximately 280 acres of beautiful woodland and countryside, it also houses a 15-acre zoo. The hugely popular Thomas Land attraction is sure to be a hit with younger members of your party. Group rates are available.
Famous as the host venue for the 2010 Ryder Cup, The Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, South Wales, recently opened the Forest Jump Treetops Ropes. Participants on the high ropes course undertake 30 separate elements in a giant obstacle course up in the trees. Younger children and the less daring can enjoy the shorter low ropes course, subject to them being at least 1.2 metres tall. Family groups can complete an adventure-thrilled day out with a round of Adventure Golf on one of two nine-hole courses or enjoy a high-tech shoot-out on the newly opened Laser Combat. Parties of 12 or more can take advantage of discounted prices.
Groups can also get active at The Snow Centre in Hertfordshire. Conditions are always perfect, with real snow – made using water and specialist snow cannons – falling daily on the impressive 160-metre main slope and the largest indoor lesson area in the country. The slope is serviced by two drag lifts, combined with a wide nursery slope for beginners. To add to the Alpine atmosphere, there is a bar open on the bottom of the slope serving hot wine and hot chocolate. Group rates are available for parties of 10 or more, and special family packages are also available. Group organisers can even hire the whole centre and slopes, or sections of the slope.
HANDS ON DISCOVERY
Attractions that engage the whole family through demonstrations, interactive exhibits and hands-on activities will keep all family members entertained.
The capital’s most bizarre attraction, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, offers an unforgettable day out in the heart of London for groups of 10 people or more. Alongside five floors of over 700 weird and wonderful exhibits, visitors can also lose themselves in the Mirror Maze or try their luck at the newest interactive attraction – The Impossible LaseRace. For a small additional cost, guided tours can be arranged for groups to really bring the exhibits to life. Snacks and meals are available in the Ripley’s café and combination tickets are available that include lunch at local restaurants.
Close by in the West End, the Rainforest Cafe is a restaurant designed as an exotic jungle, recreating the sights and sounds of the rainforest with special effects and animatronics. The recently launched ‘Education Tour’ uses the café as a visual classroom for groups to learn about the important role of the world’s rainforests. A trained Safari Guide will take the group around the venue, stopping at key places to present interesting facts and stories about the environment, rainforests and various animals. In addition, by taking part in the tour, each person actively saves 80 square metres of rainforest through a land purchase scheme in conjunction with the World Land Trust.
Heading north to Leicester, the National Space Centre offers groups the opportunity to discover the amazing history of space exploration. Groups will be met by a member of the Space Crew on arrival and fast tracked through the ticketing process to enjoy six hands-on galleries, over 150 interactive challenges and the Sir Patrick Moore Planetarium. For instance, take a tour round ‘Into Space’ where you will come face to face with astronauts and spacesuits or take a walk through ‘The Planets’ where you can explore the wonders of the universe. A full or half-day can be planned to include a 30-minute planetarium show immersing you in a full 360º full-dome cinema experience. Group visits can also include homemade hot and cold lunch beneath giant rockets and a trip to the well-stocked gift shop. Exclusive money saving packages are also available for groups.
The World of Glass in St. Helen’s, Merseyside, allows groups to discover the magic of glass and how it’s made, including a live glass-blowing exhibition in the Hot Glass Studio. There is also a film show, a mirror maze, beautiful glass art items, local history treasures and the opportunity to take a trip down memory lane and relive bygone days. Parties of 13 or more can enjoy an inclusive package covering entry and guided tours and lunch, plus tea or coffee on arrival.
All the family will enjoy a history lesson with a difference at the following attractions, where the emphasis is on bringing the past to life and creating a fun filled day out.
In south west London, the famous home of Henry VIII, Hampton Court Palace, has a wide range of activities and tours available to entertain families. For instance, groups can join the King’s courtiers and dress up in a Tudor gown in ‘A Living Tudor World’. Families can also test their skills and get enjoyably lost in the famous maze. Group rates for parties of 15 or more are available.
Moving to the West Midlands, Warwick Castle continues to offer groups of 10 or more a great value day out with exciting attractions including The Castle Dungeon and The Princess Tower. Seasonal attractions include The Trebuchet, birds of prey displays and jousting. A new witchcraft experience, ‘Witch Watch’, opened earlier this year and summer 2012 brought the first World Jousting Tournament to the historic site.
Near Telford, in Shropshire, the 10 fascinating Ironbridge Gorge Museums offer a great day out for all ages. The indoor and outdoor museums reflect a slice of the history of the Gorge, its people, their lifestyles and their work from the beginning of the industrial development in the early 1700s through to Victorian times. Highlights include the Tar Tunnel and Blists Hill Victorian Town where life over a hundred years ago is re-enacted. Visitors begin their experience by exchanging modern money in the town’s bank for pre-decimal token coins, which can be spent in the authentic shops, workshops and pub. Group rates are available for 20 or more.
Big Pit, which is located in the South Wales Valleys, allows groups to experience the sights, sounds and smells of an authentic coal mine. The highlight of a visit is the underground tour, led by a real coal miner. Visitors are lowered 90 metres down the mineshaft for a captivating journey around a section of original underground workings. Children must be one metre tall to go underground. For those who prefer to stay on the surface, a virtual tour of the mine can be found in the multi-media Mining Galleries. Entrance is free and groups who pre-book can benefit from a free guided tour and discount at the Miner’s Canteen and museum shop.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!
The world of film, television and children’s literature offers the family group a number of attractions that are guaranteed to excite both the young and young at heart.
In Hertfordshire, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour brings the magical world of Harry Potter to life. The mostly self-guided tour takes in a number of famous sets from the film series. Groups will be able to step in and discover the Great Hall itself and explore hidden treasures in Dumbledore’s office. This summer saw the iconic Hogwarts bridge open for the public to walk across for the first time. As well as viewing props from the film, movie buffs will be fascinated to discover how creatures were brought to life using green screen effects and animatronics. Group rates are available for parties of 10 or more.
Across the Severn Bridge in Cardiff, fans both old and new will not want to miss the recently opened Doctor Who Experience. Visitors will join the Doctor on a journey through space and time, encountering some of the best-loved and scariest monsters from the hit television series. When visitors emerge from the adventure, they step out into the largest collection of Doctor Who props and exhibits ever assembled. Groups of 10 or more are advised to book via SEE Tickets.
Groups with children between the ages of 6 and 11 years will want to consider the brand new CBBC Interactive Tour at MediaCityUK in Salford. MediaCityUK is the new home for the BBC’s children’s channel and is where many popular programmes are made, including Blue Peter and Newsround. Children will be able to have a go at being a CBBC presenter, present the news and weather, and discover what goes on behind the scenes. Tours take place on Saturdays and Sundays, and group rates are available.
Heading to the north east, Seven Stories in Newcastle is Britain’s national children’s literature gallery and archive. Here, you’ll find something for all the family, from great exhibitions and family activities to storytelling and talks with authors and illustrators. There’s also an exciting and fascinating treasure trove of artwork and manuscripts. Group rates are available for parties of 10 or more.