During half term we decided to take the children to the National Space Centre in Leicester. It took about 2 and a half hours to get there by car, but it was a fairly uneventful journey with only a couple of ‘are we there yets?’ (thank goodness for Apple products!)
We arrived just before 11 am, found a parking space and then scrabbled around for £2 to pay the parking fee. Typically, we didn’t have £2 so Mark headed into the centre to get some change while I waited in the car with two fidgety children. After the longest 10 minutes ever Mark called me to say that we could add the parking fee when we paid to enter the centre, so we locked up the car and headed over to meet him.
Once inside we joined the inevitable queue (oh the joys!) but after standing in the queue for 5 minutes we discovered that this was the queue to join another queue to pay (I’m not kidding!) It was at this point I accepted the blame for not pre-booking, I hadn’t pre-booked as we weren’t 100% sure Mark would be able to get a day off work so it wasn’t really my fault. It was also at this point that I said to Mark ‘they could learn a lot from Disney.’
Roughly 20 minutes later we made it to the front of the queue and parted company with £50 (£48 entrance fees – no family ticket discount – and £2 parking fee). We were asked if we knew what gift aid was and would we like to ‘gift aid’, we said yes and were then rewarded with free annual passes. I thought this was a bit of an odd way of doing things but hey ho! Our server gave us our tickets and said if we were still here at 4pm we might like to check out their We Are Aliens show (remember this for later dear readers).
Finally we were through the turnstiles and in to the centre.
There are six areas inside – The Rocket Tower, Exploring The Universe, Planets, Orbiting Earth, Space Now and Tranquility Base, plus the Planetarium.
The children chose to go to Tranquility Base first. There are several ‘tasks’ to complete which get you ready to become an astronaut. The first task was to have your photo taken ‘jumping on the moon’ whereby basically you lay on a small trolley on wheels and use your feet to push you onto a ‘green screen’ platform. This wasn’t working. Next up was a game that involved you working with other trainee astronauts to keep the space station working, I don’t think the children fully understood what was happening and there were no members of staff on hand to help. Then came an area with two arcade games that weren’t working. There were a couple of other tasks that I can’t really remember but the children said they weren’t working properly. The next task was to sit in a chair that uses compressed air (at least I think that’s how it worked!) to hover around a platform and move a small laser dot. The instructions for this were not particularly clear and yet again there were no staff on hand to help – needless to say there were lots of disappointed children who couldn’t make it work properly. Finally in this area there was a simulator ride.
We joined the short queue behind a small group of school children (not all schools have half term at the same time). Approximately five minutes later a teacher appeared and added another 11 children to the group – for those of you who have experienced the Brazilian tour groups in Disney you will understand how frustrated we were by this! 45 minutes later we finally got to the front of the queue and as the door opened a delightful family behind us let four of their children push in to the room ahead of us. Now the ride only seats 13 at a time and myself and the mother behind me did not take the pushing in incident well, we both spoke to the member of staff on the door who removed the children and let us through.
Once inside we had a six-minute ‘briefing’ session from an astronaut on the screen but sadly the sound was not in time with the picture which made it rather odd to watch. At the end of the film the member of staff re-appeared and told us that the school group had decided not to ride, so there would be a delay while they reset it. After almost an hour we made it on to the simulator for our six-minute ‘ride.’ It was a little bumpy and I had a lovely bruise on my hip afterwards but the children thought it was ‘awesome’ and that’s all that matters.
I do think that the queue for this ride would have moved a lot faster had the one member of staff looking after it not kept disappearing to the front of the area once each briefing had started, which meant that there was a delay after each showing while another member of staff went to fetch her.
Next we moved onto Exploring the Universe where the children got to sit in a shuttle. We also watched a short film of a shuttle taking off and we were able to walk round a mock-up of a space station. The children declared that having to use the toilet in space looked gross! In this area there were little spacesuits that the under 5s could wear and there were lots of dinky spacemen running around looking very cute.
We then headed to the Rocket Tower which was our favourite part of the centre. The children enjoyed learning about the Apollo Moon Landing and there were some fun things in this area such as the mock-up of a sitting room of a typical house at the time of the landing. We also learned about animals being sent in to space and saw the huge rockets on display. There was an activity in this area that the children really wanted to try where they could pretend they were either in the control room or in the shuttle on take off, but sadly this was broken when we were there.
We skipped over The Planets, Orbiting Earth and Space Now quite quickly for a number of reasons; we had caught up with the school group who were just running around like lunatics and shoving into people which made it rather unpleasant, there weren’t very many hands-on activities and the majority of activities that were in these areas were broken or not working.
The children decided they wanted to take part in a junk-modelling activity so we took this opportunity to sit down and have a drink and snack. As we were near the planetarium we decided that now would be a good time to watch the show We are Aliens, however there were no times displayed anywhere and not a member of staff to be seen. In the end, Mark ended up going back to the entrance desks to ask about times where he was told that our ‘slot’ was at 4pm. (Do you remember that from the beginning of our day? I don’t think it was made very clear that we could only see the show at this time.)
We took our junk models and headed into the Planetarium. We enjoyed the film but I must admit tiredness had started to wash over me so I might have closed my eyes for a few minutes!
After the show we decided it was time to head home. A quick pit stop at the (filthy) toilets and a look around the gift shop and we were on our way.
Would I go back and use my annual pass? No. There were not enough staff monitoring the centre (I counted 5 members of staff all day), the majority of activities weren’t working and I just feel that there are better attractions out there.
Did the children enjoy it? Yes but they were frustrated with the number of things that weren’t working.
The Easter holidays are fast approaching, do you have any recommendations of where we can go with the children?
See ya real soon!