parenting · Raising children · Summer holidays · Uncategorized

Pac-a-Macs, Picnics and Saving Ducks: a family day at Alton Towers

pat1Since our impromptu visit to Alton Towers last year to take Little Monkey to Cbeebies’ Land, he’s done nothing but talk about it ever since.  Every day.

“Mummy, can we talk?”

“Yeah of course, about what?”

“Cebeebies’ Land, Alton Towers.”

And then he fully describes, in the finest detail, what we did, where we went and what he wants to do the next time we go. This has happened at least once a day for a year.

Every.  Day.  For.  A. Year.

The problem with that is that it makes even the most sane of parents (which I have never claimed to be) dread turning on the television in case there is an Alton Towers advert on, steer him away from the breakfast cereal aisle in Asda in case he spots the vouchers on Frosties and wish to high heaven that you’d never taken him in the first place.  However, when you ask him what he wants to do most of all over the summer holidays and he shouts “CEBEEBIES LAND, ALTON TOWERS!”, you once again start collecting the tokens off the Frosties, Googling the seven-day weather forecast to see when it might be a bit overcast but not torrential rain and asking your mum if you can borrow the sensible cool bag.

Yes, dear reader, we gave in and took Little Monkey and Little Panda to ‘the best place ever in the whole of England’ (Little Monkey, July 2015).

We chose Tuesday because it looked like it would be sunny but not too warm and possibly a little bit overcast in the afternoon. At no point did BBC Weather or my trusty iPhone tell me it would rain so rather than packing a coat and a hoody, I packed shorts and flip-flops for me and all manner of weather-proof clothing for the kids.  Even the husband chucked his waterproof coat in at the last minute. This turned out to be a fail of most epic proportions both on the comfort front but also in a fashion sense.  Gone are the days when I cared more about what I looked like than how hot/cold/soggy I was and here are the days of ‘yes, husband, I DO want you to go and spend £6 on an attractive, bright blue Alton Towers branded Pac-a-Mac’.  My only comfort was that I wasn’t alone.  Gazing at the park from the main entrance I could see a sea of blue and red poncho-ed people, like some kind of rain-god worshipping tribe.  Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever looked quite so ridiculous attractive.

As we approached the entrance to CBeebies’ Land (once I had resuscitated the husband after his coronary at the ticket office when he realised how much it was to get in) Little Monkey was bouncing up and down at the side of me, for right there, just beyond the archway, were two of Mr Bloom’s gardener friends and a pram full of Baby Veggies. To see his face as he gazed at some baby peas and a baby runner bean, all tucked up and sleeping in a pram lined with grass, was worth (almost) every penny. Spell cast, we carried on through and were almost giddy with the short waiting times.  We had clearly picked the right day to go as every ride was queueing for no more than 5 minutes.  The Octonauts roller coaster was a big hit with my little daredevil Monkey and he was even more impressed that Captain Barnacle was there to make sure everything was running smoothly.

The biggest highlight of the day was meeting Iggle Piggle though.  That weird, blue alien-type thing has been a big hit in our house since Monkey was Little Panda’s age and I put up with it because I know once Derek Jacoby has finished his sing-song narration of sending Iggle Piggle off to bed, Monkey gives a big yawn and its snooze time for him too.  Iggle Piggle gave Monkey a high-five, posed for some pictures, gave him a big cuddle and even stroked Little Panda’s face. Pure magic.

Every area of CBeebies’ Land had something brilliant going on.  From the Zingzillas doing a Big Zing to Postman Pat and Jess just casually cruising around in the Pat Van and lots of Alton Towers’ staff buzzing around juggling, walking on stilts and throwing diablos to each other; there was something to keep the kids going.

One feature I absolutely loved is the non-branding of the refreshment stands. The ice cream stand simply says ‘Ice Cream’ and has a price list rather than pictures. Absolutely genius as it meant that Monkey was not attracted to it at all and we could wander past without the ‘canIhaveanicecreamcanIhaveanicecreamcanIhaveanicecream’ every time.

Once the rain had subsided we decided to take a trip through the Night Garden before lunch time. This is a lovely little ride which takes you aboard Iggle Piggle’s boat, around the Night Garden to meet all the things/people/creatures who live there. It actually turned out to be a most traumatic experience (for me) and very nearly a capsize situation.

Little Monkey was quite innocently enjoying the narration and songs as we sailed past the Pontepines and Upsy-Daisy when there, on the bank just opposite the HarHoos (speak now if you haven’t got the foggiest idea what I’m on about, or get a toddler to translate), was an actual mummy duck and 6 teeny-tiny ducklings. Cute.  An opportunity to show Monkey some duckies close up.  Or, a lesson in natural selection.  As we sailed towards the Ducky  Family the babies got a bit excited and mummy struggled to quack them into order; one decided now was the time to go for a swim and another went headfirst into a drain and could be heard tweeting very loudly while mummy duck ran about, unsure which child to save first. It was like Sophie’s Choice.

The husband sprang to action, leaning over the side of the boat to scoop the escaped duckling back onto the bank.  After several failed attempts and almost tipping the boat over we sailed past and had to watch as the poor baby struggled to swim against the current to get back to mummy.  Meanwhile the baby down the drain was still shouting for help.  I was beside myself.  As soon as the ride ended we grabbed the operator and told him of the Horror of HarHoo Corner.

“Oh right, well I’ll switch the ride off for a minute and let the current stop, they can usually get back out once that happens.”

What? Is that it? Lives are at stake here, man!

Unruffled, he stopped the engines, let the water calm and then turned them back on again.  The only problem with that was that there was no way for us to see if the duckies had made it. This did not sit well with me.

What happened next was nothing short of a social media miracle. Thanks to the power of Facebook and Twitter and the hashtag #savetheduckies someone from Alton Tower’s maintenance team was sent to retrieve the ducklings and reunite them with mummy duck.  You can see their responses here.

Good deed for the day done we pushed on for some lunch in the Big fun Show Time tent (handily covered in that fake grass stuff so it always looks fresh and clean and it’s not muddy).  We caught the end of Mike the Knight and stuck around, eating our picnic and playing horse-shoes in the games area, until the Zingzillas came on. The shows were brilliant and Monkey was enthralled and enchanted to meet the characters afterwards.

After CBeebie’s Land we walked up to Cloud Cuckoo Land for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the Ice Age 4D cinema. Little Panda was too little for these, so mummy got to go on Mr Willy Wonka’s boat while daddy got shot with arrows in the cinema.  Both were brilliant. When it was my turn to entertain Panda we headed over to the Wobble-World café for a drink (using our refillable drinks cup; £5 initial cost but free refills all day of any soft drink) and a nappy change. The changing room was perfect.  Panda is at that oh-so adorable annoying stage where, as soon as it looks like a nappy change is in progress, he turns into a contortionist.  No such worries in this little poo-change pod.  There was music; a little console on which to choose between songs, bird noises, waves or some other wild-life type sounds and directly over Panda’s head on the ceiling was a little LED display of stars and twinkly lights which changed in time to the music. So simple, so lovely and very effective at keeping him occupied for a minute so I could get down to work.

Wobble-World itself is a room with bouncy castles in but the lights are dimmed which was brilliant for convincing Panda that it was time for a nap.  It was very peaceful and there were quite a few empty tables so I took advantage of the Wifi while he napped.

The rest of the day passed enjoyably with a Sky-Ride, a walk around the SeaLife Centre and a soaking on the pirate ships. Considering Monkey is only 3 years old, there was a lot that he was able to do and see outside of CBeebie’s Land.

We made sure to pick up a few of the park maps on our way out (to keep us going until next year as he wore his last one out from constantly folding and unfolding it) and I absolutely am keeping my Pac-a-Mac safely packed away for another rainy day.

Positives of the day were the staff who could not do enough to keep everyone happy and the queues moving swiftly, the quick response to #savetheduckies and the value for money of drinks and snacks inside the park.  Downside was the ticket price. We just can’t justify another trip until next year, even with the Kellogs vouchers, which is a real shame as we all enjoyed a real family day of fun and would have liked to round the summer holidays off in the same way we started.  Ideally we would have loved to have stayed over in one of the hotels; I think Little Monkey might have exploded with pure happiness if we had, but unless we win the lottery any time soon, the £395 it costs for one night, is a stretch too far for us.

So thank you Cbeebies’ Land Alton Towers, it was amazing.