A Shrek Adventure with my big boy

Earlier this week I took my son on a day out in London on his last day before starting school. It was such a treat to go to London with just one child who doesn’t need a pushchair, bibs, bottles, purees or any other heavy equipment in order to enjoy the day.

The main attraction of the day was our trip to Shrek’s Adventure, and I thought I’d write a little review in case you’ve been wondering whether it was worth a trip.

The background

As you may know, the Shrek franchise is part of the DreamWorks film company. They are your leading alternative to Disney movies, and they do it well. I have loved Shrek since the first movie came out in 2001 – well before my kids were even a glimmer in my eye. I love the moral that you don’t need to be beautiful or popular to be a hero. And the snappy one-liners.

That must be Lord Farquaad’s castle … Do you think he’s maybe compensating for something?

Other DreamWorks films include Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and (more recent but less well known) Home. All of them have great modern soundtracks and clever dialogue that the parents can enjoy too. One of my favourite ever film lines is from Kung Fu Panda:

There is no charge for awesomeness. Or attractiveness.

So this was one of those days out that was (selfishly?) just as much about me as it was about my son. I was giggling like a little girl the whole time.

The practical stuff

It is a bit expensive, but you can save money if you book in advance online. The online price is £18.90 per adult and £15.30 per child. shrek portraitThis is about on a par with other London attractions though, and well worth it considering the quality of the show.

I highly recommend booking well in advance if you’re going during half-term or other busy times. I had tried to go last half-term and there were no tickets available when I went online to book the day before. However, today, as some kids were already back to school, it was virtually empty – which was awesome.

It’s in a great location on the South Bank, close to Waterloo Station and next to other attractions such as Sea Life, the London Dungeons and the London Eye. If you want to see more than one thing, you can save money buying combi tickets.

The best bits

I obviously won’t give away all the details, as that would ruin the fun, but here are a few of our favourite bits.

The show starts out with a 4D bus ride. In case you’re unfamiliar with 4D, that’s where, on top of the film being in 3D, they do other stuff to make the environment seem realistic, like squirt water at you if you’re being splashed in the film. It wasn’t just any bus ride – it flies through the air from London to the Kingdom of Far Far Away. My son thought it was the coolest thing ever.

Rather than landing in Far Far Away, you crash there – for reasons I’ll keep a surprise – and then you are sent on a quest to find a way back home to London. Obviously, well-known characters from the Shrek franchise will be there to help or hinder you.

You wander through a series of realistic fairytale sets, and actors play the Shrek characters. There is also a bit of direct audience participation, and it’s all very silly with lots of gross-out humour. It really is entertainment for the whole family.  It’s a little piece of theme park magic.

At the enPhoto with Shrekd of your quest, you get to meet a real live Shrek and take pictures with him using your own camera. This is so nice because it would be very easy for a place like this to insist the only photos you get are the ones they try to sell you.

The staff were so lovely as well. When we got to the Shrek photo opportunity bit, my phone (which I’d turned off because I <always> follow the rules) was taking AGES to boot up. I went to the end of the photo queue and it was still booting when I got to the front. The woman working there let me stand off to the side for as long as it took (it must have been at least 15 minutes), and then come back when I was ready, so we wouldn’t miss out. This was beyond the call of duty and I really appreciated it.

While we were waiting, a giant King Julien (from Madagascar) had a dance party with my son.

I like to move it, move it!

After we finally got our Shrek photo, we came out into an area that had loads of bits from the other Dreamworks movies, with cool things you could pose with for photos, and a Kung Fu Panda computer game. We stayed in this area for ages and, again, no one rushed us along, which was great.

kung-fu-pandaFinally, we came out into the bit where they try to sell you pictures they took of you during the show. These had been taken in front of a green screen and they were actually really good quality. I have to admit to being suckered in.

We got a ‘Far Far Away travel journal’ with all of our pictures in, and stories and activities related to the movies. It also came with a keyring and magnet with our pictures in, and you are able to download the photos for use online. It was £25, but it was a really special day and I’m happy with spending this for the memories. My son has wanted to read his travel journal before bed every night.

The verdict

I think this is the most exotic adventure you can have with a young child in London. The website says children under 6 might be too afraid at this attraction, but my son is 4 and is very sensitive, and he was totally fine. It’s definitely worth a visit if you like theme parks, Dreamworks movies and/or adventure!

For the avoidance of doubt, this is not a sponsored review. I paid my own way!

The Pramshed

Blog Toast Tuesday: 23 August 2016

This is my second week of my feature, #blogtoast Tuesday, where I – in my modest way – toast other blogs I’ve discovered/enjoyed reading over the past week. For further description of the feature, take a look at the first post in the series. Herewith, my favourite blogs this week:

Claire at Life, Love and Dirty Dishes – Parenting from the front line

She has a gift for picking out these everyday parenting gripes which are not earth-shattering but nevertheless f*cking annoying. The post that got me interested in her blog was “Doing it in Public”. Not (thankfully…or is that regrettably?) about what you think. Rather about the rather unpleasant business of changing baby’s nappy in a public baby change, and the ridiculous ways that unthinking shop builders make it difficult for us. It made me giggle. I also read with interest and glee her post about dealing with nits. I luckily haven’t had to deal with this yet, but my son did insist on checking out the sodding Topsy and Tim book about it which I had to read 100 times. It’s nice to have a more realistic perspective!

Beth at themotherhub – working, mothering, thinking, living

She writes with such skill about feminism and real-life parenting. I was once a woman who shied away from calling myself a feminist, but since I’ve become a mum, I’ve begun to feel passionate about it. I have a blog post in draft about why I’m a feminist but I’m still trying to articulate it. Beth does an amazing job addressing a range of feminist issues in a way that should engage even people who say they aren’t feminists. My recent faves are Rape culture, parenting and lessons for my children and Body Image: Built for use, not decoration. She also has great, funny posts about the hard work of parenting in general, such as How to ‘enjoy’ a family ‘holiday’.

Sarah at Mum & Mor – Ramblings of a British mother living in Denmark 

I discovered this blog quite recently when I saw her comment on Twitter that her recent post about gaming didn’t have the greatest stats. I felt for her because (a) I love gaming (although it’s currently an abandoned love) and (b) Being a new blogger I understand stat obsession. But having a look at her blog, she has some really fabulous writing there. Her tone is forthright and honest; she doesn’t make any apologies for who she is. I related to her very emotional post, Dear Mum and Dad, What would you think of me?. And I also loved her post about how she’s cutting costs for her wedding. In this day and age, more people need to know that they have options for their wedding that don’t involve getting into debt! She covers a great range of topics and is well worth a look.

Please do join me in toasting the best blogs by tweeting your favourite this week with the hashtag: #blogtoast (and if you @themumreviews I will retweet you – it’s win/win!) – or let me know just what you think of me in the comments!

A day at Shanklin Beach, Isle of Wight

A family day out with possible abseiling and a race against time

Getting there

When I go on holiday, I’m usually a stickler about doing my research. I buy a guidebook and read stuff online, and any day trips are carefully planned. However, this time I was all tired out from planning the umpteen million things I needed to pack to keep my kids happy. So when we decided to go to the beach, I said, “I heard Shanklin’s good”, and blithely chose a Shanklin car park on my sat nav.

So I’m not sure what other people’s sat navs are like, but mine loves going off the beaten track. I have troves of holiday photos of roads that end abruptly in the middle of a field of sheep or that require me to ford a small stream. I therefore should not have been surprised when my blithely chosen car park did get me near the beach. It was just a quick abseil down a massive cliff to get there.

So we tried again and figured out that we wanted the Shanklin Esplanade. This is the bit where you can actually get to a beach without mountaineering equipment.

Our second mistake was deciding we’d turn up at the beach “just in time for lunch”. There were loads of car parks on the Esplanade plus parking along the road, but every single last spot was full. It was an exceptionally nice day, but this was still on an off-season weekday so I wasn’t expecting the busyness. We wasted quite a bit of time driving up and down, stalking pedestrians who might be returning to their car, in the effort to find a spot. We finally gave up on parking on the Esplanade and drove back up the hill, where after a bit more stalking we found a spot. It was a parallel parking sort of one so it’s a good thing my husband was driving. I’m so bad at parallel parking we’d probably still be there, going back and forth, trying to get closer to the kerb.

TOP TIP: Either go early to nab a parking spot or plan to drop your family and beach kit on the beach while the unlucky driver parks the car wherever he or she can.

So we piled all of our stuff out of the car at the top of the hill. And we really brought a lot of stuff. A tent, sand toys, swim kits & towels, a very large changing bag packed to the brim with things I’m sure I couldn’t have managed without … It’s a good thing we have a big pushchair with all-terrain wheels.

However we had foolishly retired the double-buggy extra seat, thinking 4-year-old could now manage without. Not very long after leaving the car and really quite some way from the restaurant we wanted for lunch, my big boy started doing some of his very best whingeing. First it was just “my little feet are tired” and “I’m hungry”. But then he uttered the phrase that strikes fear into my heart: “I need the toilet”.

I learned something on this day. I will go a long way to avoid a public toileting accident. Ever since my son in younger years made a trail across the church hall which the vicar then cleaned up. I guess I was traumatised. So as soon as he uttered these words, I scooped him up and began carrying him as fast as I could to the nearest toilet. However, it seemed everywhere that looked like it might have a toilet either didn’t or required you to queue up with the customers and get a key. So I ended up carrying him (along with the overstuffed changing bag) about half-a-mile all the way to restaurant, sweating and puffing while my son whinged about his bladder and the haphazard way I was carrying him.

TOP TIP: Later in the day, I learned that there were public toilets RIGHT F__ING NEXT TO where my son had first announced his toilet emergency. Near the entrance of the Esplanade near Pirates Cove Mini Golf, which looks awesome, btw. In fact, I’ve later realised that my son often says he wants a wee when he sees a public toilet sign, so that’s probably all it was in the first place.

Lunch at The Waterfront Inn

Chosen via an extremely brief and careless Google search, mainly based on its location, I was happy with my lunch there. To be honest, after our mad dash for the loo, the most important part of my lunch was the beautiful cold pint of cider.

But the atmosphere was great. There was terraced outdoor seating at the front of the restaurant looking out towards the beach, and most of it was in the shade. You have to order at the bar, but there were still plenty of smiling and helpful staff about to get highchairs, advise where to park the buggy, etc.

View from The Waterfront Inn, Shanklin, Isle of Wight

I ordered the seared tuna with salsa verde and husband had mussels in a Thai-flavoured sauce. There was a lot of variety on the kids menu. Older boy had lasagne with garlic bread and youngest had fish and chips. The kids food was very good quality (I stole a lot of it), and they ate as much as they usually do when the food in unobjectionable (i.e. not a whole helluva lot). Husband seemed to enjoy his mussels too. My only complaint is that my seared tuna was fully cooked through. I thought seared tuna meant it was a bit raw in the middle. But it was still perfectly edible and I cleaned my plate.

And now to the actual beach…

The beach is all sandy and beautiful and there were plenty of places to “cop a squat“, as they say in Pretty Woman.

Now, those of you, dear readers, who grew up in England may be no strangers to pitching a tent on the beach. I suppose the weather here often necessitates that sort of thing. But I had never before had a tent on a beach. I grew up in the USA where I’ve never seen that done. But, boy am I converted. We had shade, a place to hide our stuff where it wouldn’t get blown away, and best of all a place to change without seeking out a changing room. I am never going to the beach without a tent again. So worth carrying THAT down the hill.

So we pitched our tent and we all changed into our swim kits INSIDE THE TENT. Okay, I’ll stop going on about it.

It’s simply a brilliant beach. The English Channel water is really freeze your arse off cold though. And if you can handle the cold, be sure you wear some aqua shoes because even though the beach is sandy, it’s very rocky once you’re inside the water. But other than that it’s clean, sandy, spacious and scenic.

It was my youngest son’s first time at the seaside. He hurtled himself towards the water yelling “Sea! Sea! Sea!”. While my oldest dug himself a hole full of water to make a nice safe paddling pool. Good times.

The verdict

I reckon if you’re visiting the Isle of Wight during beach sort of weather, Shanklin Beach is a must-see.

ShelliconShelliconShelliconShellicon4 out of 5 shells (I had to penalise them one for the parking fiasco, even though it was mostly my fault)

Red Funnel ferry to the Isle of Wight

Enjoying the Solent crossing with snacks and pretending to drive the boat.

My last post was about our Isle of Wight holiday and this one gives credit to an important part of us getting there. Should you wish to visit the Isle of Wight, I highly recommend Red Funnel ferries.

The boats were spacious with plenty of air-conditioned indoor seating and outside deck seating. There were several different places to buy food. We had coffee, juice and cake during our outgoing morning crossing and ice cream on the way home. There is a special pet-friendly lounge if you’re bringing your dog, and more importantly a child-friendly lounge featuring a giant computer touch screen with games. It also had a little table for playing trains, although unfortunately people had stolen all the trains. Nevertheless, my 1-year-old enjoyed pretending the train tracks were bricks and climbing over and under the train table.

Best of all, if you ask nicely and the weather is good, you can visit the bridge and meet the captain. My 4-year-old asked to meet the captain and so the two of us crept up the narrow stairs to the bridge. My son got a little intimidated once we were there and didn’t want to sit in the captain’s chair, but he did begrudgingly accept the captain’s binoculars. I restrained myself from sitting in the captain’s chair despite desperately wanting to.

I totally geeked out asking the captain how he drives the boat and “what does that do”. He was very kind and informative, and even posed for a picture with us. I didn’t ask him if I could post his picture so I’ve just posted a picture of boat-driving wheels and walkie-talkies. Well, I found them exciting.

The crossing takes about an hour and it costs us £65 round trip for our car with roof rack, using a Sun newspaper discount that came with our holiday. The Solent crossing is well-known for being the most expensive crossing in relation to distance, but at least the boat was good.

The verdict

This was the best short-haul ferry I’ve ever been on.

ShelliconShelliconShelliconShelliconShellicon5 out of 5 shells