Friday, 3 March 2017

Our Family Visit to Mattel Play in Liverpool - A Review

On the Thursday of February Half Term, the not very nice Storm Doris put an end to any plans we had for that day. Although the rain doesn't bother us, it would have been silly of us to have attempted to go anywhere in the gale force winds that swept through the local area and so we were forced to admit defeat and have a stuck indoors day at home.

Having checked the weather forecast for the following day, we were pleased to see that a dry day had been given out for the Friday, albeit very cold. We therefore decided that we would head into Liverpool for the day, where there is a good mixture of things to do both inside and outside, and then we could visit places to suit both us, and the weather.

I had seen some advertisements last year for a new indoor play area called Mattel Play which is situated on the Albert Dock, a short walking distance away from the Echo Arena and within easy reach of Liverpool city centre. This therefore looked like the ideal place to visit indoors, where Riley could have a play and keep warm from the weather outside. There is plenty of parking nearby, and we chose to park in the ACC Liverpool multi storey car park which cost £7 for up to 5 hours. There is also some family friendly parking available in Car Park B which offers larger spaces which some parents may find easier to use and are situated closer to the attraction.

Mattel Play is a relatively new indoor attraction that features over 13,000 square feet of interactive adventure play. It is made up of three play zones which are Thomas & Friends, Bob the Builder and Fireman Sam, and each zone hosts a wide range of fun activities where your child can use their creativity and imagination to enjoy some fantastic pretend play, all whilst enjoying being surrounded by their favourite characters. It has recently been nominated for two awards in the Liverpool City Region Tourism Awards in the "Best Newcomer" and "Large Visitor Attraction" categories.

On arrival, we initially went the wrong way whilst walking, as somehow we missed the sign, but a nearby security guard, soon pointed us in the right direction and we entered the main cafe and shop area ready to enter the attraction. This area looked spotlessly clean, nicely decorated and there was lots of space for families arriving.  The ticket desk was located in a central position in between the cafe and shop and my son became very excited as he spotted a familiar face from Thomas the Tank Engine at the top of the stairs. The shop also caught my sons attention, and he was very keen to take a look at the huge selection of toys on offer.

A member of staff provided us with information as to where to go, and asked whether we had a buggy that we required storing, as there was a large area dedicated to buggys and pushchairs. I felt that this was a great idea as it meant that the play area wouldn't be overcrowded and I am sure that this will be a big convenience to a lot of parents. We were also provided with directions to the toilets so we made a quick stop here first for Riley so that he wouldn't need it again during our visit. Again the toilets were very clean, and they were also quite low down, so it also meant that Riley could use them himself without needing to be lifted on, which was ideal.

Now, as for the actual attraction itself, I will be honest when I say that I was really pleasantly surprised with Mattel Play. I hadn't been too sure what to expect, but from looking on their website, I had the impression that there would be several small themed soft play areas along with some statues that you could have your picture taken with.  In fact, it totally exceeded any expectations I had, and I was very impressed with the variety of pretend and imaginative play options in each zone.

We began in the Thomas the Tank Engine zone, where children are transported to the Island of Sodor and can explore Knapford Station, Tidmouth Sheds, Farmer McColls farm, and Brendham Docks.

As we entered the room, the first thing we saw was a giant Thomas the Tank Engine train, that children could climb onto and pretend they were driving. Opposite this was a small train track, where children could climb into a small child sized train, and pedal it around a track using their hands. This looked great fun, and Riley enjoyed riding on this several times. Although this attraction is primarily aimed at under 7's, Riley's elder brother Ben who is 9 just couldn't resist having a go himself!

Next to this was another train to climb aboard on, along with a carriage on its side, that housed large foam building bricks that you could use to make some great creations. A short distance away was Tidmouth Sheds featuring Percy, a turntable ride, and several benches for parents to sit and relax whilst children have fun. The models looked just like the trains do in the show, and it was a lovely atmosphere to be in, listening to children arriving and being so excited at spotting their favourite characters.

As we made our way through a tunnel entrance, we found the Sodor Coal Supply, which housed large foam squares that could be used for building, and opposite this was a wonderful large ball pool area.

The ball area, featured a fabulous replica model of Harold the Helicopter, and there was a small slide at the rear that you could slide down into the balls. This was a really nice sized ball pool, with plenty of room for lots of children. There were also some lovely views out of the side windows overlooking the docks.

We spent around half an hour in the Thomas the Tank Engine area, before making our way to the Bob the Builder zone which was my son's favourite, as there were numerous imaginative play activities to enjoy.

In this zone you become part of Bob the Builder's yard and join him as apprentice builders to help him with his work. My son really enjoys pretending to be a chef, and so he literally could have spent hours playing in Bob's kitchen before helping out Wendy in her workshop and the vehicles in the yard.

In Bob's office kitchen, there was a large selection of food, pans and pots, and a variety of utensils, so Riley set to work making some lunch for Bob! We bought Riley a wooden kitchen at Christmas and he loves pretending to be a chef, so this was the ideal activity for him to enjoy.

Next to the kitchen area, there was a nice selection of costumes so that children could dress up as builders with vests and hard hats. This is a very simple but great idea for children who all seemed to enjoy this. The hats were adjustable so there were no worries about children being left out by them not fitting.

Once we had managed to persuade Riley to come and enjoy the other activities on offer, he swiftly climbed aboard Scoop and pretended to be the driver. He started directing us as to where we needed to be on the building site, and really enjoyed pretending to be the boss!

One thing we really liked, as you can probably see in the photos, is the amount of space between each activity, meaning that it never felt too crowded and it was easy to always find somewhere to stand or sit in order to supervise and watch him play.

We also enjoyed a little game of hide and seek, and Riley found this fabulous hiding spot! I even walked past him twice, but I soon heard him laughing and found him.

Another fun activity was the sand diggers, where Riley spent some time digging, scooping up the sand and then dropping it in a new location using the levers provided. We were very impressed with the design of all the activities and each area seemed very tidy and well looked after.

Riley then spotted some building blocks, which were laid out around a nice seating area with tables. Each desk had two stools, so it was ideal for siblings to work together, or to allow parents to sit and help their children. Riley and his dad enjoyed laying all the blocks out, and then making a really tall tower.

 Adjacent to this was a drawing area, where you could trace over your favourite characters from Bob the Builder, using the clever light up desks.

Next, Riley decided that he would like to build a wall, and so with the help of his dad, they quickly got to work. It was really funny watching Riley bossing his dad around and telling him where to lay each brick, whilst he fetched them over in the trailer.

The last zone we visited was the Fireman Sam area, which again offered a wide range of activities for children to enjoy. The village of Pontypandy featured the local shop, the Ocean Rescue Centre, and the chance to pretend to be at sea on Titan. Riley immediately boarded the Fire Rescue Boat on arrival, and set to work in firing the water hoses to save the day! It wasn't long before his elder brother and sister came to give him a helping hand too!

Ben and Riley then set about working in the shop. Whilst the majority of activities were too young for Emma and Ben, they do regularly enjoy watching their younger brother have fun, and will often join in with him when playing. Therefore Ben decided to play the role of the shop keeper, whilst Riley grabbed a shopping trolley and basket, and set about doing his weekly shop.

As you can imagine, with lots of children playing, the shelves were quickly emptied, but Riley soon took over the role of shelf stacker and placed items back in the stands.

The highlight of the Fireman Sam Zone, was the huge replica Jupiter, that children could climb in and pretend to drive. Like the Bob the Builder area, there were fireman hats available for kids to wear so that they could enjoy dressing up. Around the Jupiter vehicle were lots of fun extras to play with too, such as the hoses, and all the buttons. Every now and then the blue flashing siren would switch on as well, which Riley was really excited about!

In addition to the play zones, the attraction also houses a party room, and a green screen experience, where you can have you photo taken with a character background. The Green Screen room, the cafe and the shop can all be entered free of charge, and you don't need to be attending the play zones to use these areas.

The attraction is open 7 days a week from 9:20am to 5:20pm, however the last timed entry slot is 3:20pm to allow children to have a full 2 hour experience. Walk up admissions are permitted though until 4:30pm. As with any attraction, it can get very busy throughout the day, so if your child would like a quieter experience, then Mattel Play would recommend that you attend the early 9:20am slot.

Entry tickets cost £10 per child (1-12) and £2 per adult (13+), however if attending with a child of pre-school age Monday to Friday during term time, then you can take advantage of their midweek offer which costs £10 for an adult & toddler ticket, which I think represents great value for money. Babies under 12 months are free of charge when visiting with a paying child. The attraction can get very busy, especially on weekends and during school holiday periods, and so it is advisable to pre book your timed slot to avoid disappointment on arrival. Mattel Play are unable to guarantee entry to guests who have not booked in advance, although they will try their best to accommodate walk up guests when possible.

Mattel Play is also Autism Friendly, and host Autism Events on a regular basis where capacity is limited to enable a quieter, calm and relaxed experience for all guests. I was also pleased to see that all staff working at Mattel Play have undergone appropriate training. The next Autism friendly event is on the 29th March between 5pm & 7pm, at a charge of £5 per child with free places for accompanying carers. (Maximum of one free carer per child.) Additional adults are welcome at a charge of £2. In order to limit the numbers, this event is pre-bookable only, and can be done online here: Mattel Play

For the latest news, up to date entry prices and events, I would recommend visiting their website or following their social media pages which can be found here:

Mattel Play Website

Overall, we had an absolutely wonderful time at Mattel Play, and the attraction far exceeded our expectations. We were very impressed with the layout, and the wide range of activities and facilities on offer. The whole place seemed really clean and well cared for, and any staff we approached were friendly and courteous at all times. We will definitely be returning with Riley, and are currently considering booking here for his next Birthday party. It is easy to see once attending, why the attraction has been nominated for awards, and I have no hesitation in recommending Mattel Play to other families.

Disclaimer: We were provided with complimentary entry for the purpose of providing an honest and impartial review. All opinions and photographs are my own. Entry times, prices and event details were correct at time of writing, however these may be subject to change.

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