Deciding how to accommodate a school group or perhaps entertain the kids one weekend can be a chore for many. But fear not, as below are a handful of destinations selected for the more active, adventurous bunch or alternatively, the more educational and artistic variety. Amy Moore writes
Namely one of the largest inhabited castles in England, Alnwick Castle invites families of various sizes to attend an authentic medieval re-enactment.
The historical setting may prove familiar to some, as the venue was used as the set for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films. The ‘Knight’s Quest’ in particular provides the opportunity for children to dress up as their favourite characters from the era; the pretty princess to the noble knight, with hundreds of costumes to choose from. Traditional games can be enjoyed in the mock market square, with a craft display erected featuring something different to make each day. An additional ‘Dragon Quest’ activity invites those daring enough to attend its lair. Open daily throughout the warming summer season, guests can enjoy the castle’s stunning surroundings at their leisure, with select tickets valid from 12 months of purchase. School visits are well accounted for, with special rates on a number of tailored activities for children of all abilities, mostly dedicated to a Harry Potter theme. Discounted rates for families of four are available when booked online.
In mind of the more adventurous, Awesome Walls Climbing Centre in Liverpool offers taster sessions for a minimum group of two people within a venue that could comfortably accommodate parties of 10 or more. Pre-booking is essential to secure a spot. The popular concept is slowly expanding, with additional climbing sites located in Sheffield, Stoke and more recently Dublin. Kid’s parties in particular give this venue a family friendly seal of approval, with various activities organised throughout the changing seasons, including half term and outdoor events. A designated party room is available to book at an additional cost. Four week courses aim to educate those seeking to strengthen their climbing ability, with first timers instructed to book a training session before embarkation. The lowest wall height starts roughly at 2m. Paying members can enter without a booking and for groups especially, a one off session or block booking is on hand, which can be tailored to specific needs if required. The attraction’s website is updated monthly with the latest deals and discounts. A viewable diary of upcoming events is convenient for visitor’s consideration.
Ranked the number one attraction in London on TripAdvisor, clueQuest boasts an intriguing concept which has received rave reviews from the majority of participants. The attraction has recently welcomed its third mission entitled ‘Operation Black Sheep,’ inviting a creative spin on the classic escape game genre, with an intimate group of three to five people challenged to escape a locked room as the dominating clock ticks down from 60 minutes. Families are welcomed, with children over the age of 9 allowed to take part. Suited to a team building exercise, the concept is ideal for smaller groups specifically. Larger groups looking to attend are advised to book two rooms within the same time slot, inviting the opportunity to compete against one another. Bookings are currently being taken up to September and it is suggested that those seeking a slot during peak times should book at least 4-5 weeks in advance. The game is hosted on the ground floor and therefore has easy access for those with restricted mobility. A select number of puzzles are on hand for those with limited vision, though special requirements should be detailed at the time of booking.
The most intriguing venue on the list, the Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, is a must see for those interested in the weird and wacky. The now considerably worn building first opened its doors as a working prison in 1845 with a design said to have been based on the domineering layout of the Pentonville Prison in London. Since its closure on March 31, 1996, it has been renovated to stand as a key visitor attraction in the area. Its star like appearance is characteristic from above, with two elongated corridors maintaining the image of wings. Guided tours of the confined interior boast a black and white circular spread, inviting a trip through the underground tunnel which connects the structure to the Crumlin Road Courthouse. Open seven days a week, the first tour is available to book at 1000hrs, with the majority lasting a little over an hour. Group rates are available upon request and pre-booking is advised regardless of situation. On site facilities can accommodate parties of 175 people or more. Evening events are available to book, such as movie screenings and live performances in the concert hall.
With its award winning schools and education programme, Fishbourne Roman Palace and Gardens near Chichester, remains one of the largest Roman homes in Britain. There is a wide range of events hosted throughout the year, from cheering Gladiators, with their spectacular displays of conquest, to archaeology, suitable for aspiring archaeologists of all ages because no previous experience is required. October and February half-term events include joining the Fishbourne Roman Army and learning about life in the Roman era. Assuming an educational stance, school parties can pre-book workshop sessions, which include life experiences such as meeting a Roman Soldier; a spine tingling hands on approach for any child visiting. Adult groups are provided with specialized guided tours, as well as illustrated talks about the history of the venue and its collections. These days should be booked in advance and can be specifically tailored to group requirements. Bookings can be made up to a year in advance, giving GTO’s especially, time to plan a detailed itinerary. The attraction is open every day from 1000hrs from February through to December, with special admission prices for parties of 15 or more.
Families are unlikely to resist a more upmarket trip to their local garden centre. GTW highly recommends Mambo Jambos Pottery Painting in West Sussex, as a fun filled attraction for any size group, the perfect way to spend a dull afternoon. The venue’s rustic charm denotes fond memories with a host of collectables on display. Once entered, participants big or small can select a washable and non-toxic item to paint and design, an experience made better with a warm hot chocolate decorated with cream and marshmallows. For the more sentimental perhaps, capturing imprints is a highlight, with baby hands and feet proving popular. A series of adult courses for individuals or groups are handy for those looking to sample the more advanced side of design, with additional themed party evenings injecting a more personalised element. A designated party room on the premises hosts an array of perks for groups specifically, including a signed party plate by all attended, with select pottery included in the booking price. Groups of 10 or more are awarded the studio fee half price. Play zones within the grounds provide an adequate distraction for younger visitors. Once the experience is over, guests are guaranteed to leave inspired by the sentimentality this activity maintains.
New Forest Wildlife Park was originally constructed in mind of a Butterfly Farm, but what sets this venue apart is the abundance of wildlife on display. Information regarding first hand animal encounters is available on the attractions website, although this may be subject to change. It is advised that those keen should contact a member of staff. Like any nature reserve, the destination promotes strict dedication to conservation, housing giant otters registered on the IUCN endangered species red list. For children, a particular highlight would be to watch some of their favourite animals being fed, with daily keeper talks guaranteed to keep the little ones entertained. Go Wild adventure playground has been tailored to suit all ages, with a miniature version nearby consisting of a spacious sandpit and diggers. An annual family pass is available to purchase upon entry, which can either cover the conventional two adults, two children or one adult and three children. Woodland’s Restaurant is situated near the entrance and is freely accessible, ideal for sitting out in the summer and enjoying a delicious New Forest ice cream. Packed lunches are specially made for children, helping to make family visits as hassle free as possible.
FOCUS ON: Moors Valley Country Park
The New Forest is renowned for its hub of woodland walks with Moors Valley Country Park established as one of the most popular parks to visit in the South of England. With approximately 750,000 attendees each year and growing, the attraction is highly commended for its child friendly facilities. A designated Tree Top Trail has a superb view from above, with an all new family trail established called ‘Percy The Park Keeper,’ based on the beloved children’s novel. The venue is home to the forest adventure course Go Ape. A junior version invites children to get involved, featuring three routes including 20 individual crossings and a spectacular zip wire finish. In regards to family fitness, a number of designated cycle lanes welcome those of all abilities, bringing their own bike or perhaps choosing one to hire. Transport is made even easier through the venue’s authentic steam railway, with a track that accommodates 17 steam engines and an additional two diesel locomotives constructed on the premises and fuelled the old fashioned way.
Group discounts are available for those looking to embark and it is advised that parties of 20 or more book in advance. Opening times vary throughout the year, with the earliest opening of 0800hrs until dusk. GTW recommends visiting at the very start of the day or early evening for the most impressive views. The peaceful setting within an expanded 82 acre farm is maintaned by East Dorset District Council. The park strictly follows the UK Forestry Standard (UKFS) and remains in affiliation with Countryside Mobility South West, working to improve countryside access to those with limited mobility. A strong focus on education is provided through ranger led visits and a host of student projects. Group visits are well catered for, with on-site facilities suitable for birthday party management, private functions and even corporate visits. Goody bags can be organised in advance with a small charge for coach and minibus parking, which will also need to be pre-booked. When grabbing a bite to eat, there are plenty of picnic areas to perch. For larger groups specifically, Seasons Restaurant offers a tasty selection of condiments, including a cooked breakfast to start the day.
With a logo derivative of the resort and casino in Las Vegas under the same name, Planet Hollywood boasts the world’s only dining experience inspired by the glamour of Hollywood. Open in London since 1993, the restaurant is the ideal venue for pre and post group meals, especially or perhaps as part of a sightseeing itinerary suited to all budgets. There is also partial or private hire of a number of themed rooms. Those usable include The British Room, The Bond Room and Cabanas, each with a unique theme. Movie memorabilia and props are displayed throughout the venue’s spacious interior, with 18 screens featuring up to the minute film trailers, keeping it fresh and interesting for restaurant guests. There’s a fully stocked souvenir shop selling a variety of merchandise, where groups are made to feel a part of the show. Additional touches include on-screen welcome messages upon arrival or personalized messages for any group member celebrating a birthday. Hassle free group dining, accompanied by an attractively timely food service, means the attraction is guaranteed to keep adults and children alike entertained for hours.
Bringing the sights and sounds of the rainforest to the heart of London’s Piccadilly Circus, The Rainforest Café demonstrates dedicated support to such environmental concerns as deforestation, with the venue working in close affiliation with the World Land Trust and The Aspinall Foundation. Centrally located in the West End, approximately 5 minutes from Leicester Square tube station, families could perhaps stop off for a bite en route to a renowned theatre performance. The restaurant is open until late every weekday and has been suitably tailored to the imagination of children specifically. Each floor features moving models of animals surrounded by mock waterfalls, tropical fish tanks and fresh water aquariums. Strobe lighting is used every 29 minutes to simulate a storm. The venue can comfortably accommodate up to 650 guests, with two smaller themed areas eating a further 25-30 or 85-100 guests. The attraction specialises in lunch and dinner for larger groups of 15 or more, completely flexible for those on a tight budget. The divergent menu emits creativity, with such starters as ‘Jungle Safari Soup of the Day’ and mains entitled ‘Rainforest House Salad.’ A designated kid’s menu invites a specialised meal deal with activity pack at an additional price.
The first Truckfest event of 2014 opened its gates at 0900hrs at Peterborough Showground on May 4 & 5, 2014, with over 2,000 trucks competing. Located at the popular East of England Showground, visitors could set up camp from Friday until Tuesday where evening entertainment started with a parade and fireworks display on Friday night, a Slade tribute band, ‘Slyde’ on Saturday night, with Sunday night’s entertainment including top Queen tribute act ‘Mercury.’ Exhibitors were located by category, proudly displaying their vehicles. Eddie Stobart showcased a large variety of their companies and guest drivers such as Tim Fox and Mick Leech appeared for signings. Celebrity guest appearances included Joey Essex on Sunday and Michelle Keegan on Monday. The main arena also featured motorbike freestyle experts Broke FMX, monster truck stunts, displays from PRDC. Guest appearances also include ‘Lizard Lick’ stars Ron, Amy and Bobby at upcoming South West, Edinburgh, Ireland and South Coast shows. Another attraction at the show was the Animal Action Sports Tour, featuring mountain bike and BMX stunts. There was also the chance to purchase merchandise from a collection of stalls selling truck themed clothes, sweets, tools and other products. There were also fairground rides attracting children and a Mercedes-Benz family activity arena.