Monday, 31 December 2018

Legoland Discovery Centre Manchester - A Review

I always find that after a couple of days at home over Christmas, the whole family are keen to get out and about. So when we received an invitation to visit The Legoland Discovery Centre in Manchester, this sounded like the perfect opportunity to enjoy some family fun and get creative. We therefore decided to spend a morning at the attraction on Friday and see some of the new additions and changes that have been made since our last visit in early 2017.


The Legoland Discovery Centre experience begins with an introductory factory tour where you are welcomed by a Lego professor. A fun interactive demonstration soon follows where we learnt about how lego bricks come to be created and the process involved. My youngest son Riley loved participating, as all the children (and adults) were encouraged to jump, shout and wave their arms to get the machinery working. We followed the action through two rooms and once we reached the end, all of the children were rewarded with a Lego Duplo brick to thank them for their help.


As we exited the factory tour, we immediately joined a queue for the Kingdom Quest Laser Ride. We remembered this from our previous visit, where we had enjoyed competing against one another for the best score. We were all able to fit into one car, which is a rarity at some attractions when visiting as a family of five, so we immediately liked the fact that we could enjoy the ride together. My children all really enjoyed this and my daughter managed to obtain the highest score, though I am convinced that I should have won! It is a great little ride for younger children as it isn't scary and the laser guns are quite light to hold, so my five year old was able to use his on his own without any assistance needed from me.


We then made our way into Miniland, which is an area packed full of recognisable landmarks, all built of Lego. I also found out from their website that this area is constructed from over 1.5 million bricks, which I think is incredible. My children enjoyed looking at them in great detail and we loved that there were some santa and elves figures peeping out of some of the windows. A Santa Dash had also been created near the Blackpool Tower which we thought was a lovely idea. My son Ben also spotted The Woolpack, docks and a yellow submarine. As we looked at all the creations, the lights began to dim and this provided the opportunity to see all the landmarks how they would appear at night time. The tower lit up lovely as a tram made its way up and down the tracks. It looked really beautiful and must have taken a very long time to build.


As we entered the main attraction area we came across the Space Mission Experience which had not been here on our previous visit, so it was fun to be able to enjoy a new activity that we had not seen before. Some of the creations looked absolutely superb and my children enjoyed pretending that they were astronauts navigating their spaceship. There were building areas where guests could create their own Lego rocket ships, planets or spacecraft and the mission control base offered a great opportunity for some pretend play. Riley really enjoyed this area, so we spent quite some time here getting creative with all the different Lego pieces on offer.



Once we had finally convinced Riley to explore the other activities on offer, we made our way over to the Merlin's Apprentice Ride where you could take to the skies by pedaling as fast as you can, which would then raise the vehicles up to the roof, whilst also spinning around. Each vehicle can seat two passengers and there are height restrictions which means that younger guests between 90cm to 120cm will need to be accompanied by an adult.


Riley then asked to go straight to the Lego City Forest Ranger Pursuit Ride where children can drive around in purpose built Lego police cars. Children have to be at least 4 years old to operate the vehicles and there are also height restrictions which apply. I think that this is because children need to be able to push the pedal down to make the vehicle move, as well as steer it around the course, so I can completely understand why the age and height restrictions have been implemented. There was only a short queue for this attraction, so my two boys didn't have to wait too long for their turn. Once you reached the beginning of the queue, a staff member provided the children with a safety briefing, before allowing them to enter the course and select their vehicle. Riley absolutely loved being able to drive his own car and because the road was in a simple oval shape, it was easy for younger guests to navigate their way around. It was also well supervised and we noticed that if any child appeared to be having difficulty operating the vehicle, then a staff member would go straight to them to assist.


After the excitement of driving his own vehicle, Riley decided that it was time to build one, so we moved over to the Lego Racers Build and Test in partnership with Jaguar Land Rover. This area allowed all my children to be both creative and competitive as they all challenged themselves to build the best Lego vehicle that was capable of taking on the ramps and the Land Rover Discovery Build Table. My son Ben really enjoyed this area and he was very pleased with his creation.



One area of the attraction that my children had really been looking forward to, was the Lego Ninjago City Adventure, which was under construction during our last visit. I had assumed that this would just be a soft play area, however it offered much more, with numerous activities being spread across three floors. Amongst the play zone was a build table, some ninja skill training areas, along with a reaction time board and a rotating climbing wall, though unfortunately the latter wasn't open on our visit. It was a great area to enjoy some interactive play as well as being able to let little ones imaginations run wild too, with lots of pretend play possibilities. Riley enjoyed pretending to be a ninja and imagined that he was in training to become the best ninja on the planet!


We followed this up nicely with a visit to the 4D Cinema Experience that was showing a Lego Ninjago movie featuring the Spinjitzu Master and his scroll. As we entered the screening area we were provided with a pair of 3D glasses each and we chose some seats central on the second row. This was perfect for families of all ages to enjoy and it was great hearing all the children in the audience laugh as the water and snow effects fell from the roof. The movie itself only lasted around ten minutes, so it was also the perfect length of time for smaller children to enjoy without becoming too restless. We had previously watched The Lego Movie so it was nice to be able to watch a different film which again added variation to our visit.


Unfortunately we ran out of time to check out the Creative Workshop as my children had been too busy enjoying all of the other areas, but from the outside this looked like a large classroom where guests could sit and be given top tips to help with their lego creations. We also didn't get to try out the new Great Lego Race VR Experience which was a shame as this looked fantastic and it is something that we would certainly try out when we return in the future. There is an additional cost for this of £5 per person, We finished our visit with a trip to the shop, where two of my children purchased some lego items with their Christmas money. There was a huge selection of products to choose from as well as some fantastic displays, including a huge Hagrid figure. This must have taken such a long time to build and I cannot imagine how many bricks it would have required. My daughter is a huge Harry Potter fan so she thought this was magnificent.


Overall we had an enjoyable few hours at the Legoland Discovery Centre and it was great to see all the changes that have been made since our last visit in 2017, which show that it is an attraction that is always looking to make improvements for its guests. The staff we came across were all really friendly and also showed a lot of enthusiasm throughout the attraction, encouraging guests to enjoy themselves and have a great time. We regularly saw the Lego creation areas being checked and staff would pick up any loose pieces of Lego off the floor, helping to make it a safe environment to play in. My children loved the Lego Ninjago City Adventure area, which offered a whole variety of different activities to enjoy and to help improve on your ninja skills. Our favourite though had to be the 4D cinema experience which is really enjoyable for families of all ages. We had plenty of fun and a very creative time during our visit and would definitely recommend it to others.

Tickets can be purchased online here and you can also view the different combi tickets which are available. Children under 3 can visit for free! There are also some advantages to booking online as you can save money on standard admission and also scan your mobile ticket for faster entry. The Sea Life Aquarium Manchester is also next door, so by purchasing a combi ticket you can enjoy a full day out enjoying both attractions. It is important to note that adults are not permitted to enter the attraction without being accompanied by a child under the age of 17. However, they do run Adult only evenings on certain dates throughout the year, to cater for older Lego loving guests!

Attraction Details

Attraction - Legoland Discovery Centre Manchester
Address - Legoland Discover Centre Manchester, Barton Square, The Trafford Centre, Manchester, M17 8AS
Website - https://manchester.legolanddiscoverycentre.co.uk/
Opening Times - Monday to Sunday 10am til 6pm with last entry at 5pm. Closing times may vary over the festive period. Closed on Christmas Day.


Disclaimer: We were invited as guests to Legoland Discovery Centre for the purpose of writing an honest review of our experience. All opinions and thoughts are my own unless otherwise stated.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

The Snowman Tour 2018 at Parr Hall, Warrington - A Review

Watching The Snowman on television every Christmas has been one of our favourite festive family traditions for as long as I can remember, so when we learnt about the wonderful Snowman Tour earlier this year, we were very excited.

The Snowman Tour from Carrot Productions visits a total of 16 different venues from all across the country this December, including seven cathedrals in Blackburn, Chester, Durham, Gloucester, Lichfield, Liverpool and Winchester. The show brings the magic of the animation alive, as the iconic film is accompanied by a live orchestra and a young soloist who performs the song Walking in the Air. We were invited along to Warrington's Parr Hall to review the show on Thursday evening and it really was a wonderful experience.

 Photo Credit: ©Tom Bangbala
Unfortunately for me, I was informed by the doctor on Thursday morning that I have somehow caught chickenpox, so despite looking forward to this since earlier this year, I was personally unable to attend. I did however have a very willing volunteer to take my place and so my mother in law attended with my family instead and as such the remainder of this review will be written by my husband Mr.F.

The venue of Parr Hall is approximately a 30 minute drive from our home, however it is a venue that we had not visited before. It was very easy to find and with a stroke of luck, we were able to find on street parking right outside the entrance. My youngest son Riley was very excited and began to sing Walking in the Air as we left our vehicle and made our way to the entrance.

To begin with we were treated to a festive overture by the orchestra which featured a variety of well known Christmas songs such as Jingle Bells, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. This lasted approximately ten minutes and it was a superb way to start our evening. I was pleased that they had chosen to play songs that the children would recognise and my youngest son loved listening to the music play and naming the tune.

We were then introduced to the different elements of the orchestra, which had been produced in an interesting, but comical way. The gentleman on the double bass began to tell a story as to how the orchestra had reached a venue after becoming stuck in the snow. An animation played on the screen as the narrator delivered an explanation of their adventure. The way it was told allowed children to identify with different instruments which I thought was particularly clever.

Following this was the heartwarming tale of The Bear and the Piano, based on the book by David Litchfield. This animation was narrated by Joanna Lumley, and being a story that I had not been familiar with before, it was very entertaining for my family and I.

It told the story of a bear cub who found a piano in the woods. Over time he grew bigger and gained fantastic musical talent that led him to the city to seek fame and fortune. Eventually he returned back to his home in the woods and was worried that his friends and family may have forgotten all about him, when in fact they couldn't have been more proud. The woodland had been covered with merchandise, surrounded by his friends and family, which led to him performing for the most important audience of all.

Photo Credit: ©Gareth Widdowson
There was an interval between The Bear and the Piano and The Snowman which lasted approximately 15 minutes. Given that the audience was predominantly families, I think that this interval was a good idea as it provided the opportunity for a toilet break or to purchase a drink. A character costume of The Snowman came out to the audience and waved to all the excited children as it made its way around the venue.

Soon enough it was time for the main event and the atmosphere was absolutely wonderful. My son was captivated by the animation on the screen, however I did try to take the time to also observe the orchestra, who were all extremely talented and quite fascinating to watch too.

A young soloist performed the solo of Walking in the Air and their voice was exceptional. Having watched the animation numerous times over the years, seeing this song being performed live was wonderful and is certainly something that my family will definitely remember.

Overall our family had a wonderful time at The Snowman Tour and it was a truly magical experience. It was the perfect opportunity for my youngest son to be introduced to an orchestra and learn more about the instruments and musicians involved. I felt that the way the show had been presented was really well thought out and the inclusion of the Christmas overture and The Bear and the Piano certainly added further enjoyment. It is the ideal show to get you in the festive spirit and we would like to thank Carrot Productions for creating such a beautiful presentation of this heartwarming animation.

If you would like further information on The Snowman Tour 2018 or to check remaining availability, then you can visit the Carrot Productions website here.

Photo Credit: ©Gareth Widdowson
*Disclaimer: We were provided with 4 tickets for the purpose of writing an honest review of our experience. All thoughts and opinions are my own unless otherwise stated. Review written by Mr.F. Images are from previous tour and do not feature the Warrington Parr Hall venue.


Sunday, 16 December 2018

The Wizard of Oz at Storyhouse, Chester - Review

On Thursday evening we were invited along to the press night of The Wizard of Oz at Storyhouse in Chester. This is one of our favourite venues in the area and we are very lucky to live less than ten minutes away from such a fantastic arts centre. We have been to a few performances here and have always been very impressed by the quality of the shows on offer. The Wizard of Oz was no exception and we followed Dorothy and her friends along the yellow brick road, in a wonderful and well thought out production.

Image kindly provided by Storyhouse
The show was very similar to the film with only a few variations arising from some modern interpretations. We really enjoyed the staging from the beginning and it was great for my daughter to see how the story began and relate it to the characters that Dorothy would meet once in Oz. I did however feel that the introduction was perhaps slightly too lengthy, though that being said I can understand why they have chosen not to rush this part, so that the audience can fully appreciate the relationships between Dorothy, her friends and family.

Consuela Rolle has been cast in the lead role of Dorothy and her portrayal was magnificent throughout. Her energy and enthusiasm ensured that guests remained entertained as the story was performed on stage. I felt that she connected with the audience well and there was a believable vulnerability from the character. When her journey began along the yellow brick road, she was able to exhibit her fear of the unknown, whilst also ensuring that she had a vibrant and positive personality to help lead her new found friends to the merry old land of Oz.

Our favourite scene from the show was actually very early in the production, when Dorothy first met the Munchkins (performed by children from House of Dance). The talented skills of the children involved are highly commendable and their performance of Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead was absolutely superb. We loved that the choreography had a modern twist, featuring dance moves that the children in the audience could relate to.

Image kindly provided by Storyhouse
The first friend that Dorothy makes on her journey, is that of the scarecrow, played by Natalie Woods. We all agreed that her acting was wonderful and it was great to see her interaction with Dorothy, which created a convincing friendship.

Ben Oliver's interpretation of the Tin Man brought happiness and laughter to the audience, especially during his explanation as to how he came to be created of Tin. Watching the friendships develop was exciting to see and although we were familiar with the story, there was still an element of intrigue as to what might happen next.

The cowardly lion (Richard Colvin) introduced an element of comedy, which I did feel was needed at times and this could have potentially been pushed further, with the inclusion of a few more witticisms. He played the role really well and soon established himself as a very loveable character. He was in fact our favourite performer of the show and we enjoyed the humour that he delivered.

Kenny Thompson appears as both Uncle Henry and The Emerald City Guard and admittedly we much preferred him in the latter role. We loved the powerful performance he presented in Oz, that made me want to sing and dance along. This was complemented by Natasha Bain who starred as Aunt Em and Glinda the Good Witch, who created a loving but authoritive figure in both roles.

Fergus Rattigan delighted as the intriguing and powerful Wizard of Oz as well as Professor Marvel and I really enjoyed both of his characters. The clever use of technology featured throughout the show, but I particularly liked how this was used to deliver his booming voice over video projection.

Of course the Wizard of Oz wouldn't be complete without The Wicked Witch of the West. This was played by Zara Ramm who had a very commanding stage presence. Her performance was strong, but at no point did I feel that it would be too scary for younger audience members, which helps to make it more family friendly.

I felt that all of the musical performances throughout the show were really entertaining and consisted of perfectly timed choreography, beautiful vocals and plenty of enthusiasm and gusto. Particular highlights included Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Follow the Yellow Brick Road and also the inclusion of Jitterbug.

Overall we thoroughly enjoyed the Wizard of Oz, but with a running time of 2 hours and 30 minutes it is perhaps a little too lengthy for younger audience guests. I think if we had brought my five year old along then he would have definitely got restless at some point. For older children and adults though, then this is a commendable production with magnificent staging, lighting and sound. It was great to see a show of this quality in the local area and it also offers something a little different for a Christmas production. Ultimately it is a well written musical, with a credible cast that offer a talented interpretation of an iconic story.

The Wizard of Oz is appearing at Storyhouse, Chester on various dates until Sunday 6th January 2019, with ticket prices starting from £15. For the most up to date information or to book tickets, you can visit the Storyhouse website here: Storyhouse Chester

Image kindly provided by Storyhouse
Disclaimer: We were invited as guests to the press night performance of The Wizard of Oz for the purpose of writing an honest review of our experience. All opinions and thoughts are my own unless stated otherwise. Images kindly provided by Storyhouse.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Peter Pan at St Helens Theatre Royal - A Review

On Wednesday evening, St Helen's Theatre Royal & Regal Entertainments Ltd took us on a swashbuckling adventure, when we attended the press night for this years Christmas pantomime of Peter Pan! This was our fourth visit to St Helens Theatre Royal this year alone and if there is one thing we have learnt, it's that they certainly know how to put on a fantastic show! We know from past experiences that their pantomimes are always superb, but having never seen Peter Pan in panto form before, there was an added element of excitement as we took our seats ready for the show to begin.

The production features everything you could hope for - from upbeat well known songs to some musical favourites, exceptional choreography to fantastic flying, plenty of laughter and even a 3D scene thrown in too. Their pantomimes never disappoint and it is very clear to see that they have a fantastic team that have recognised exactly what families want, when coming to see their shows.

Photo Credit: David Munn Photography
The whole cast were excellent from start to finish and they are evidently a very talented team. Georgina Parkinson stars as Wendy Darling and she has the most beautiful singing voice making her vocal performances a pleasure to listen to. She suits the role perfectly and works extremely well alongside Peter Pan.

Kristina Rihanoff sparkles as the loveable but tempremental Tinkerbell and certainly adds some fairy magic. At one point during the show, she takes part in a dance off and being Strictly fans, it was great to see some wonderful moves on stage. Everything she took part in was done with elegance and pizzazz and we really enjoyed all of her performances!

Photo Credit: David Munn Photography
Captain Hook is played by the magnificent Louis Emerick who delivers the perfect pantomime villain. Although he is the ultimate baddie, his witty remarks, powerful confidence and comical relationship with Mrs Smee made him very entertaining to watch. The St Helens theatre-goers never failed to shout Boooooo when he took to the stage and it was great to see a lot of audience interaction throughout the show.

It was fantastic to see the lovely Lewis Devine playing the starring role of Peter Pan and having always viewed him as a comedian, we were intrigued as to how he would play a more serious role. Whilst there was less of the slapstick style comedy that we have seen from him in previous productions, his portrayal of Peter Pan showed that there is far more to him than just creating a giggle. He consistently wowed us on stage whether acting, singing, or simply interacting with the audience members. He definitely knows how to keep a crowd entertained and can always be depended on to deliver a wonderful performance.

Photo Credit: David Munn Photography
Resident Dame Si Foster has also become one of our panto favourites. In this years Christmas production he stars as Mrs Smee and his interaction with Captain Hook was absolutely hilarious at times. We loved his performance of Fernando & Gimme Gimme Gimme, which was a scene that I could have quite happily watched several times over.

Tigerlily is played by Abigail Middleton who has a fantastic stage presence and great vocals too. The pantomime also features some extremely talented children who were certainly stars in their own right. The two young boys who played John and Michael were wonderful and it was great to see some younger performers trusted with main roles. The show also involved plenty of fast paced dance and the juvenile dancers completed the choreographed moves with ease and always with a smile on their faces.

Photo Credit: David Munn Photography
We felt that there was a great music selection throughout the pantomime with something for everyone to enjoy. A particular highlight for me was seeing the whole audience sing along to George Ezra's Shotgun song, which had a lot of the children up on their feet singing and dancing away. My youngest son Riley absolutely loves this song, so he was delighted when it began to play. Be warned however that Baby Shark is also on the playlist, so parents be ready to get involved and sing along!

The 3D scene added a new element to the pantomime and it was great to have this incorporated into the show. One thing that I would say though is that if you are attending with very young children who scare easily, then it maybe best to watch without the glasses. There are parts where sharks, fish and crabs do jump out at you, which even caused some screams from the adults too. It is a lot of fun and the audience loved it!

Overall we had a wonderful time watching Peter Pan at St Helens Theatre Royal and we haven't stopped talking about it since. We enjoyed it so much that we have already planned a return visit in the New Year. We cannot wait to see the show again and we also intend on bringing several other family members for a fun filled afternoon. This production provides so much for families to enjoy, making Peter Pan the perfect pantomime to visit this Christmas.

Listing Details

Show - Regal Entertainments Ltd present Peter Pan
Dates - Saturday 8th December 2018 to Sunday 13th January 2019
Times - Performance times vary, so please visit the website for the most up to date information.
Venue - St Helens Theatre Royal, Corporation Street, St. Helens, Merseyside, WA10 1LQ

Tickets - From £11*
*All prices are inclusive of a £1 per seat transaction fee. On-line bookings are subject to an additional 50p per seat on-line processing fee.

Box Office - 01744 756000
Website - www.sthelenstheatreroyal.com
Twitter - @TheatreRoyalStH
Facebook - www.facebook.com/St-Helens-Theatre-Royal

Photo Credit: David Munn Photography
*Disclaimer - We were invited to attend the press night for the purpose of writing an honest review of our experience. All thoughts and opinions are my own unless otherwise stated.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Cinderella at the Manchester Opera House - A Review

My family and I have been looking forward to this pantomime all year, ever since the casting of the Ugly Sisters was announced back in April. In what I would consider to be a stroke of genius, the pairing of Connor McIntyre and Les Dennis meant that I had no doubt in my mind that we would be in for a great night, and we were definitely not disappointed. Although our initial focus had been on these two characters, it soon become apparent that the entire cast excelled with talent and it was a whole team effort that created a laugh a minute show from start to finish.

As the lights began to dim, there was a sense of excitement throughout the theatre, whilst the audience waited in anticipation. We were introduced to the Fairy Godmother played by Hayley Ria-Christian who has an absolutely stunning soul voice. She caught our attention immediately and her performances throughout the night were beautiful and a pleasure to listen to. She exhibited a lovely warm and friendly personality and we knew from the beginning that we had a great show ahead.

Photo Credit: Phil Tragen Photography
When Cinderella (Shannon Flynn) took to the stage it was clear to see that she suited the role perfectly. She was a familiar face for my children as they recognised her from CBBC and so they were looking forward to seeing her perform in pantomime. We found some of her collaborations with Buttons (Ben Nickless) really funny, along with a particular scene involving the Ugly Sisters shopping bags. Her vocals were lovely and you could see that she seemed very comfortable with her performances. The constant smiles and sometimes unexpected giggles ensured that her presence on stage was enjoyable to watch. There was a quick change scene involving Cinderella and The Fairy Godmother that also added a wonderful element of magic and left my children asking "How did they do that?" Though this was quickly followed by the most superb horse and carriage which literally took to the skies above the audience. Everyone watched in amazement at this stunning sight and it was obvious that no expense has been spared in creating such a beautiful moment.

Prince Charming is played by the delightful Gareth Gates and it was superb to see him perform the song Unchained Melody. I had secretly hoped beforehand that he would sing this, so it was definitely an added treat for me. He worked well alongside Cinderella in creating a believable chemistry and the wall scene in the woods when they first meet is absolutely hilarious.

Dandini (Jack Wilcox) was wonderful and has that likeability factor. We have seen a few different performances of Cinderella over the years and my daughter Emma said that his portrayal was by far her favourite.

Photo Credit: Phil Tragen Photography
When the Ugly Sisters first took to the stage there was a large cheer that resounded throughout the Opera House. It was the moment we had all been waiting for as Phelena & Michaela appeared. Phelena is played by Connor McIntyre (best known as Pat Phelan in Coronation Street) and Michaela is played by the legendary Les Dennis. It was an absolute delight to see these two perform on stage together and their performances far exceeded our expectations. There are plenty of references and quips relating to Coronation Street which provided numerous belly laughs. We absolutely loved the outrageous costumes which seemed to grow in extravagance in each scene. Our personal highlight though has to be the performance of "If I Were Not" which also included Gareth Gates and Ben Nickless. We were all close to tears from laughing so much and although we have seen this routine performed elsewhere before, the cast involved created a whole new dynamic of fun, that my children spoke about all the way home.

Photo Credit: Phil Tragen Photography
My favourite scenes however, were those that contained Buttons (Ben Nickless). I will be honest when I say that I personally hadn't heard of him before, but I am certainly aware of him now and genuinely hope to see him again on stage in the future. He is what I would consider to be an all round entertainer and brings with him a wide range of skills that offer far more than just jokes. Along with bringing continuous comedy to the stage, he was also incredible at impressions, with his Michael McIntyre, Gary Barlow and Ozzy Osborne being absolutely spot on. At one point he performed an Elvis Presley song and it was so wonderful hearing all of the laughter created throughout the theatre. Another highlight was when he appeared on stage alongside a talking bear, which was not only funny, but also a really sweet moment too that created lots of aaahhhs.

Photo Credit: Phil Tragen Photography
The ensemble featured some highly skilled performers who dazzled throughout, in their vast array of costumes. There were also some wonderful dancers from the Stalder Academy of Dance who helped to create some of the most memorable scenes with their superb choreography, dancing and gymnastics. I am always extremely impressed by talented young performers and it was clear to see their passion for performing arts. Whether dancing to a fast paced number or displaying their acrobatic skills, everything was just perfect and I am sure that there were plenty of proud parents in the audience watching their children on stage.

Of course no production would be complete if it wasn't for the creative team as well. It can sometimes be very easy to forget the efforts that go on behind the scenes with the writing, choreography, costumes, scenery, special effects, lighting and sound and this pantomime exceeded our expectations in those elements too. Ultimately it is the combined effort of all involved that makes a show successful and I have no doubt that audiences will love Cinderella during its December run.

Without a doubt QDOS Entertainment have pulled out all the stops in producing a highly entertaining show. There truly was never a dull moment and the cast and creative team have succeeded in delivering a production that is suitable for all. Packed full of all our favourite panto characteristics, along with plenty of audience participation, this definitely ticks all the boxes. Overall, Cinderella provides entertainment and comedy in abundance which makes it a must-see pantomime this festive season!

Listing Details

Show - Cinderella
Dates - Saturday 8th December to Sunday 30th December
Times - Performance times vary, so please visit the ATG Tickets website for the most up to date information.
Ticket prices - From £12 (transaction fee will also apply)
Address - Opera House Manchester, 3 Quay Street, Manchester, M3 3HP
Box Office - 0844 871 3018 or for group bookings 0333 009 5390
Website - www.atgtickets.com/Manchester



*Disclaimer: We were invited to the press night performance of Cinderella for the purpose of writing an honest review of the show. All opinions and thoughts are our own. This post contains an affiliate link.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Father Christmas at Waterside, Sale - A Review

Our visits to Christmas events are well and truly under way and so far we have attended some fantastic family friendly attractions and productions. Whilst entertainment and fun are the main characteristics we usually look for, we also love those that have that special Christmas magic to help create beautiful moments and memories.

Last year we watched a truly captivating show called "The Bear" at Waterside Arts Centre in Sale, which was created by the very talented team at Pins and Needles Productions. It touched every emotion possible and was the perfect introduction to theatre for my youngest son Riley. We were therefore absolutely delighted to hear that the team would be returning this year to bring another of Raymond Briggs' stories to the stage, the lovable Father Christmas!

We were invited to attend the press evening on Thursday and of course we gladly accepted the invitation. Both my husband and I decided to attend with our youngest son only, since he still very much believes in Father Christmas and we always find it nice to give each of the children some time with us on their own so that they get our full attention. We therefore thought that this would make it a lovely special time for us to enjoy together. Riley absolutely loves drama, dancing and music and although he can be quite shy around others, he is always putting on some kind of show or performance at home. This past year he has attended numerous productions and seeing how much he loves the theatre is always a delight to see.

The venue of Waterside, is a lovely arts centre and we have been impressed each time we have visited. We love the little additions that make the theatre so welcoming for children; for example Milk & Cookie packs, along with the option to come in your pyjamas to the slumber shows. This helps to create a really relaxed environment which I think is really beneficial for families of all ages attending the production.

The show itself tells the story of the grumpy but loveable Father Christmas and we followed his activities as he prepared for his busiest day of the year; Christmas Eve. Rather astonishingly this production consists of only three cast members, all of whom are extremely talented and draw you into the show from the very start. 

Mike Aherne stars as the bloomin' marvellous Father Christmas and his portrayal of the character manages to display the loving, warm and friendly side of Father Christmas' personality along with his grouchiness. The opening scene was something that most of us could also relate to, which was when he woke up for work. Riley found this particularly funny as he knows how much our family struggle to get out of bed in a morning! A very funny scene followed shortly after when Santa popped to the loo and it was lovely to hear all the giggles from children sat in the audience.

Our personal highlight of the show was when Father Christmas boarded his sleigh and set off for his Christmas Eve duties, which was so magical and delightful to watch. Led by two puppet reindeers, it looked really spectacular and Riley was absolutely astonished as he sat watching open mouthed.


Another favourite for me was when Father Christmas was amongst the roof tops and needed to navigate his way down the many chimneys. The set and staging looked wonderful and had been really well thought out. Watching him move along the many steps that I hadn't previously noticed, made me realise how much effort had gone into developing such a creative set design.

Richard Booth features as the talented puppeteer and we actually found it quite amazing how you could relate to a puppet and its feelings simply based upon a persons movement. The cat, dog, chicken and reindeer became completely believeable and even Riley commented that the way they moved or reacted seemed really genuine. He also mentioned that he kept forgetting that the puppeteer was there, which meant that he had become focused on the puppets instead of the person controlling them.

Katy Sobey was superb providing not only the music, but all the accompanying sound effects too. It was great to see how the noises were being created and it gave us a great insight into the different roles within the theatre. She would replicate sounds associated with Father Christmas' actions, so for example when he poured his cup of tea, a jug of water would be poured into a glass by the microphone. Riley couldn't believe how she made some of the sounds and his particular favourite was when the cooker hob was lit as he said it sounded so realistic.

Overall we had a wonderful time at Father Christmas and we felt that it was a truly beautiful production. The cast members were all extremely talented and watching the story being told on stage was simply enchanting. Packed full of live music, hints of comedy, wonderful acting and most importantly Christmas magic, it is certainly a show that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to others.

Listing Details

Event: Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas
Venue: Waterside, 1 Waterside Plaza, Sale, Trafford, M33 7ZF
Dates: Tuesday 4th December to Monday 31st December
Times: Times vary, so please visit the Waterside website for the most up to date information.
Tickets: Ticket prices vary £16.50/£14.50/£12.50
School tickets available for £10 and 1 teacher free with every 9 students booked.
Running time: 50 minutes with no interval.

*Disclaimer - We were invited to watch Father Christmas as guests of Waterside, for the purpose of writing an honest review of the show. All opinions and thoughts are my own unless otherwise stated.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Getting in the Christmas Spirit with Elf Pyjamas from New Look

AD - When it comes to Christmas films, most people are sure to have a favourite. Whether it be a classic from many years ago, or one of the newer offerings to hit the screens, it is certainly something that many will have an opinion on. In my family though, it is a very easy choice and no Christmas Eve would be complete in our house without watching our all time favourite ELF!

This year however, I am in for added treat, as not only do we have the film on Bluray DVD to enjoy whenever we like, but I now also have a fabulous pair of Elf pyjamas from New Look, so that I can watch the film in both comfort and style!


These fabulous festive Elf pyjamas are available both online and in-store now for the great price of only £19.99 and come in Small, Medium and Large sizes. The top is made from 93% cotton and 7% elastane, with the bottoms being 100% cotton and providing a really soft and comfortable fit.

The top is short sleeved, with a rounded neckline and features one of Elf's famous slogans from the film which is "OMG, It's Santa. I Know Him, I Know Him!" It is a casual fit, which I personally prefer as it hides my mum tum easily.

The trousers are super comfy with an elasticated waist and tie waist front, so you can adjust these as you need. Again they are a casual fit and have cuffed ankles to add a bit of style. I love the all over Christmas print that features throughout the pants, making them the perfect festive pyjamas to relax in at home.

If you would like to purchase your own pair of Elf Pyjamas, then they can be found on the New Look website here: New Look Elf Pyjamas

*Disclaimer - We were gifted a pair of New Look Elf Pyjamas in exchange for writing an honest review of the product. Thoughts and opinions are my own unless stated otherwise.

Christmas at Dunham Massey 2018 - A Review

One of our most popular festive reviews last year, was of the spectacular Christmas at Dunham Massey event, that featured the most wonderful and magical illuminated light trail. We were therefore extremely excited to be invited to the preview of this years event, which we attended as a family on Thursday evening.

Christmas at Dunham Massey has been made possible by a joint collaboration of the National Trust and leading events producers Raymond Gubbay Ltd, who have both worked together to transform the grounds and gardens into an incredible winter wonderland offering lights, music and plenty of festive fun.


On arrival we made our way to the restaurant where we were provided with some tea, coffee, mince pies and biscuits, whilst we listened to a short introduction to the event by one of the creators. After this brief talk we were invited to make our way to the courtyard and then onwards to experience the lights.

As we entered the courtyard we found that it varied slightly to the last year as there were more traditional rides for children which included a carousel, swings and a beautiful helter skelter, along with more food vendors to choose from. There were plenty of dining options available ranging from wood fired pizzas to pancake stacks & waffles. I also felt that the prices were very reasonable as well, with a lot more choice.

It was slightly too early for us to eat as none of the children were hungry just yet, so we made our way straight to the Christmas Light Trail. We had expected it to be very similar to our previous visit, but we were in for a huge surprise as this years event is even bigger and better than before!

As we made our way past the main property towards the trail, there was a mini-show featuring Mr & Mrs Claus, welcoming everyone to the event. The mansion was covered in a projection of snowflakes as Santa Claus asked for help to find his reindeer and for guests to look out for them around the trail. A short story was told in rhyme and the children were told to collect a wooden stick bearing a reindeer's name. They were then told to look for the reindeer on their stick and to tell a member of staff at the end of the trail where they had found it, in order to receive a large sticker. My children had Donner, Blitzen and Prancer and they loved trying to find the reindeer whilst walking around.


We were immediately blown away right from the very beginning, as we entered the trail through an incredible tunnel adorned with thousands of pea-lights. This certainly set the scene for the remainder of the trail as we were greeted with stunning displays at every turn. Each display was accompanied by well known festive tunes, apart from one area that featured the Harry Potter theme music instead, much to my children's delight.

Due to the poor weather, we had anticipated the path to be muddy and therefore came prepared with wellies, but it certainly wasn't as bad as we expected. Whilst a few small areas were a little squishy under our feet, the majority was absolutely fine, with some parts covered in rubber matting which showed that they were well prepared for any rain.


The singing trees were superb with lights wrapped around the trunks that moved in time to the music and we continued past coloured spheres that were scattered amongst the woodland. Riley was the first person in our family to find his named reindeer of Donner and he was absolutely delighted to have discovered it before his siblings. My daughter's favourite part of the trail came soon after as we walked through twinkling green lights accompanied by the theme music to Harry Potter. This led to her dancing through the trail, pretending to wave a wand around whilst singing along and I must admit that I did join in with this too!

We walked past a large tree with lights that replicated coloured raindrops falling from the branches, which was really beautiful to watch and quite mesmerising too. We also came across some giant sparkling reindeers that glistened against the night sky. You could also walk directly under one of them which Riley found fascinating. Another highlight for the children soon followed as we walked through another tunnel of lights, only this time they filled the entire walkway, so you needed to move the lights around you to make your way through.


My personal favourite of the entire trail was the huge grass area that had been filled with hundreds of football sized coloured balls. These lights shone brightly as they were perfectly choreographed to the relaxing music. It really was an incredible sight and something that must have taken a lot of planning to put together.

Photo Credit: This image was taken by a friend L.G (image not to be used elsewhere without permission from owner)

About three quarters of the way round, we arrived at the fire pits where you could purchase gourmet marshmallows for £1.50 each. Both Emma and Ben chose vanilla flavours, whilst Riley opted for a hot chocolate flavoured one. The marshmallows were mounted on sticks and we were directed to the fire pits where my children enjoyed toasting (and eating) them. There was a great range of different flavours to choose from including some extravagant choices such as blueberry & sipsmith gin, along with popcorn & cranberry.


As we made our way towards the end of the trail, we walked past a huge fire display that had a large quantity of stands that featured flickering flames. My youngest son thought that this was really interesting and it stood out as being something a little different to all of the other lights we had observed so far. We could also spot the fountain finale from across the water and Ben correctly guessed that he could hear the music from one of his favourite films 'Home Alone' in the distance.


Nearing the end of the trail, we found Ben's named reindeer which made him very happy as he had become slightly concerned that we might have missed it, but it was simply the last reindeer of the walk. There was a member of staff located shortly afterwards, who rewarded each of my children with a sticker.

It had been my intention to purchase some food to eat once we arrived back in the courtyard, but my children still weren't feeling hungry, so we headed straight towards the fountain finale. As you make your way there through the white exit gate, you finally spot the most famous reindeer of all, before following the path along the lakeside.

The finale at the end was superb and we sat on the conveniently placed benches as we watched the water fountains light up in time to the music. This was absolutely amazing and watching the lights against the watery backdrop to the soundtrack of "Somewhere in my Memory" by John Williams, was the most perfect way to end our evening.

Overall we absolutely loved the Christmas at Dunham Massey event. The effort that has clearly been put into this is tremendous and we didn't want the evening to end. My children grew increasingly excited to see what was coming next and around every corner there was something new to entertain us. In addition to the lights, we found the fire display and fountain finale to be spectacular and the festive courtyard added to the evening and made it a lovely place to relax both before and after we had entered the trail. The whole experience was wonderful from start to finish and I wouldn't hesitate to return in the future. I would definitely recommend this event to all and for me this was the perfect event to get us well and truly into the Christmas spirit!

For further information on Christmas at Dunham Massey, please visit their website or social media channels which can be found here:

Website - National Trust - Dunham Massey
Facebook - DunhamMasseyNT - Facebook
Twitter - @DunhamMasseyNT

Event Listing

Attraction - Christmas at Dunham Massey, the magical after-dark illuminated trail.
Location - Dunham Massey, Altrincham, Cheshire, WA14 4SJ
Dates - Selected dates from 30th November to 30th December 2018.

Admission

Advance - Adult £16.50, Child (5-16) £10.00, Family (2 adults, 2 children) £50.00
On the day - Adult £18.50, Child (5-16) £12.00, Family (2 adults, 2 children) £58.00

Tickets can be purchased from the See Tickets Website here: See Tickets - Christmas at Dunham Massey (affiliate link)

*Transaction charges/print at home charges/postal charges/agent charges may also apply.

Please note that advanced booking is recommended, as some dates are already sold out.

*Disclaimer: We were invited to this event as guests of Dunham Massey for the purpose of writing an honest review of our experience. Thoughts and opinions are my own. Any event details provided are believed to be correct at time of writing, but are subject to change. I would therefore always recommend visiting the attraction's own website in order to obtain the most up to date details. This post contains an affiliate link, which means that I may receive a small commission should you choose to purchase tickets.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Breakfast with Santa at Bridgemere Garden Centre, Nantwich - A Review

Last weekend we were delighted to be attending our first Christmas event of the year at the Wyevale Bridgemere Garden Centre, located in Nantwich, Cheshire. We have plenty of fun activities planned for the next few weeks, but what better way to begin our celebrations, than with a visit to see Father Christmas and the chance to enjoy Wyevale's Breakfast with Santa experience!

Having previously attended Bridgemere last year to review their Santa's Grotto experience, we were very excited to be invited back to enjoy this wonderful Breakfast with Santa event and find out exactly what it was all about. Although we have seen these kind of events advertised before, this was the first time that we had tried something a little different to a normal grotto and so we were all intrigued as to how it would work and whether it would be as much fun as it sounded.

Bridgemere Garden Centre is located in Nantwich and there are plenty of signs from the main roads helping to direct the way. As returning customers we already had a good idea of how to get there and so the drive was really simple and took us approximately 45 minutes from our home in North Wales.

On arrival we made our way to the main entrance and walked along the path through the outdoor garden centre area. I absolutely loved some of the creativity in the displays and before we had even reached the restaurant, we had all decided that we wanted to have a good look around after our meal and enjoy a little festive shopping. This Robin display was one of my favourites and I thought that the prices were really reasonable too.


As we entered the indoor shopping area, Riley spotted this wonderful polar bear display pictured below, which was absolutely beautiful. The large polar bear and baby bear also moved which really set the scene for this stunning winter toy arrangement.

We had arrived in plenty of time for our Breakfast With Santa, however we had become distracted by all of the lovely plants and gifts for sale. We soon noticed that we only had five more minutes to spare, so we quickly made our way over the restaurant.


We were a little unsure as to where we should go initially as we saw two signs for restaurants, but a quick chat with one of the helpful staff, soon led us to the correct place and we were greeted by a friendly lady who checked our name off a list and guided us to our seats. My children had asked whether we would have to sit with "strangers" meaning other families on the same table, and whilst the tables were arranged in three long rows, there was plenty of space left between each family, so that you had your own table area to enjoy your breakfast. This meant that there was no feeling of being too cramped in, or being in earshot of anyone elses conversations. We felt that the tables had been arranged perfectly and whilst everyone had their own space, the fact that the tables were joined together also gave the appearance of a celebratory feast, which we thought worked well.

The tables were neatly arranged with cutlery, crackers and colour in placemats for the children. There was also a Christmas card in the centre of each seating area for the attending families. We were immediately impressed with the set up of the event and took the opportunity to take some pictures of the lovely surroundings whilst waiting for the other guests to arrive.

The room had been decorated beautifully and was adorned with festive lights, a stunning Christmas Tree and a wonderful sleigh that was full to the brim with presents. There was a seating area with blankets and cushions, which we guessed would be where the children could meet Santa. It looked really cosy and a nice place to enjoy a sit down and have a chat.


We were invited to help ourselves to some refreshments, with tea and coffee available for the adults and unlimited squash for the children. A member of staff then came round and brought some toast to our table with both white and wholegrain choices available.

Once all of the families had arrived then the breakfast commenced and we were very much looking forward to our meal. There was a little bit of confusion to begin with as the tables either side of us had their sausage sandwiches served to them, but we then also noticed a queue forming at the opposite side of the room, so we were unsure as to whether we needed to collect our breakfast or if it would be brought to us. We spoke with a lovely member of staff who explained that guests who had purchased a cooked breakfast would be called up table by table to collect their meal which answered our question.


Whilst we waited for it to be our turn, Riley spent some time looking at all of the toys that had been displayed within the sleigh. He noticed a few things that he really liked the look of and was wondering if he had enough pocket money with him to buy one of the games that he really wanted. We had no idea at the time that children would have the opportunity to choose one of these toys following their meeting with Santa.


It was soon our turn to collect our meals and the food looked absolutely delicious. The lady serving asked each of the children if there was anything that they didn't like and offered them the opportunity to select something else which I thought was a great idea. One of my children doesn't like scrambled eggs, so rather than miss out on an item of food he was able to choose an additional sausage instead. We were told to help ourselves to sauces and once we were sat down a member of staff came round with more toast. We had a selection of white and wholegrain and both sets were toasted just right.

The food was absolutely delicious and just the right portion size for my children. The sausages and bacon were really good quality and the eggs were perfect with a nice runny yolk to dip the toast in. We all pulled our crackers and put on our party hats, whilst telling some Christmas jokes as we ate our meal.

Once we had finished a lovely lady called Emma came round and brought the children some snowman shaped biscuits, along with edible confetti and an icing tube. This meant that the children attending the breakfast could all create their own biscuit, exactly how they wanted to and with their own unique design. Whilst they were decorating, Emma spoke to each of my children individually asking their name, what their interests were and what they would be asking Santa for as a Christmas gift this year. I don't often highlight a particular member of staff but she was absolutely wonderful with the children. My youngest son Riley can be very shy at times, but he immediately chatted away with her and even offered to sing her a song. The way that she engaged with the children was really lovely to see and it definitely added to our experience.


Riley practiced a few times laying out the snowflakes in different formations before applying the green icing gel. Eventually he decided to use the confetti for the hat, scarf and buttons and he was delighted with the end result. As he had just eaten a large breakfast he didn't want to eat his biscuit straight away, so Emma kindly went and got some takeaway boxes for us and the children placed their biscuits in them to take away and enjoy later.


Of course Breakfast with Santa would not be complete without a visit from the main man himself and the Bridgemere Father Christmas was superb. At no point were children rushed to finish their meeting with Santa and Riley was with him for a good five minutes talking all about his Christmas list. I thought that the way it was organised worked really well and seeing such a huge smile on Riley's face throughout the conversation was priceless.


Riley told Santa all about his school and that he and his friends have been practising for the Christmas concert. He also told him about his favourite things to do outside of school and the shows that he loves to watch. There was no awkward silence during the chat and Santa seemed really enthusiastic and keen to hear more and I genuinely think that Riley could have carried on talking for hours!


Once Riley's time with Santa was over, he was told that he could go and select a gift from the huge sleigh that we had noticed earlier. I was quite shocked when I heard this, as the presents were really good quality items and there was plenty of choice to suit children of all ages. Riley selected a large jigsaw puzzle which also doubled up as a finding game, so once you have built it, you need to spot certain items and see if you can find them all.

It was Ben's turn next to visit Santa and again Ben told Santa about the things that he had asked for this Christmas. When Ben revealed that had asked for Fifa 19, Santa asked him which football team he supported and quite proudly he replied with Manchester City. This resulted in Santa sharing a little secret with Ben as he whispered his favourite football team in his ear too!

Lastly my 12 year old daughter visited Santa and although she is no longer a believer, this did not stop her from enjoying the experience. I felt that Santa was great with the kids and was able to easily adapt his conversation to suit the age of the child. All three of my children really enjoyed the Breakfast with Santa experience and we were able to create some lovely memories that will definitely stay with us in the future.


After leaving our Breakfast with Santa, we decided to have another look at all the displays as well as enjoy some Christmas shopping. I absolutely loved this unicorn display below and I could have literally spent thousands buying all of the items that I saw. Sadly these beautiful unicorns were beyond my budget and so we settled on purchasing some new baubles for our tree to add to our collection.


My husband gave each of our children £5 and told them that they could pick a bauble of their choice, which they were all really excited about. There was just so many to choose from and I adored this entire selection of white and silver decorations. They each had a good look around and Ben decided on a selection of Silver Car baubles which were in a pack of three. Riley opted for a personalised Santa bauble with his name on, along with a flashing Reindeer bauble where the nose would flash and light up. Lastly Emma chose a personalised snowflake bauble along with a flashing Father Christmas one and we were all really pleased with their choices.


After selecting our new baubles, we decided to have a look around the gift areas. Again these were all displayed beautifully and every shelf looked immaculate. The staff clearly work hard to make sure that all the products are displayed neatly and this definitely helps with the shopping experience. There was such a wide range of gifts to choose from and the food and drink gift sets were wonderful with something to suit all tastes.




Overall we had an absolutely wonderful time at Wyevale's Bridgemere Garden Centre and the Breakfast with Santa experience was fantastic. I believe that it offers exceptional value for money, as well as being a lovely variation to the traditional grotto experience. It is perfect for families looking for something a little bit different, as well as being an event that the whole family can enjoy together. The food was delicious and the staff were so friendly and welcoming that it made the setting a really enjoyable place to be and I wouldn't hesitate to return again in the future.

Attraction details

Attraction - Wyevale Breakfast with Santa 2018
Address - We attended Bridgemere Garden World, Bridgemere, Nantwich, CW5 7QB, however this experience is available at numerous other Wyevale Garden Centre's. Further details can be found here:
Cost - Child's Breakfast £10.95, Adult's Breakfast £8.50, Adult's Mini Breakfast £5.00
Dates - Various dates and times are available.
Times - Opening times vary, so please check their booking page for availability here: Tickets
Website - Wyevale Garden Centres
Twitter - @WyevaleGC
Facebook - Bridgemere - A Wyevale Garden Centre

As an alternative to Breakfast with Santa, Wyevale also offer Tea with Santa, where children can enjoy a choice of hot meals or a selection of 4 items from the Little Diggers Picnic Range for £10.95. At the same time accompanying adults can enjoy a festive afternoon tea with St Clements Cake, Blackberry Pavlova, Mini Macarons, festive iced fruit cake, plus cranberry and cinnamon scones with clotted cream and jams along with fresh finger sandwiches for only £8.50. A mini tea consisting of tea/coffee, a slice of festive cake or traybake, plus a bowl of seasonal soup with crusty bread or cheese scone is also available for only £5. Further details on both the Breakfast or Tea with Santa events can be found here: Breakfast or Tea with Santa


Disclaimer: We were invited to Bridgemere Garden Centre as guests of Wyevale for the purpose of writing an honest review of our experience.