What's your reaction when somebody suggests a family day out to the theme park, the zoo, or a stately home? Do you automatically start compiling a list, or hide your head in your hands recalling a nightmare of tantrums and tears?
A family day out can be a wonderful thing, where everyone can relax, have fun and make memories , but in my experience that takes a bit of preparation to achieve. If you don't want to lose your savings, your mind, and maybe one of your precious offspring there a few things you can do to make a Family Day Out a bit easier.
Buy your tickets in advance. The entry to visitor attractions can be extortionate, and leaving aside the free attractions like museums, galleries, parks and so on you could be looking at a small fortune. As an example, a family of four tickets to can save £60 Alton Towers* by booking online in advance. Make sure you check if there are any deals for Buy One Get One Free tickets, or voucher codes for a discount, and see if anyone is entitled to a discount - OAPs, students, emergency service workers etc. Buying at the entrance is always the most expensive option.
What to take. If you have a buggy with you then you're laughing as you can use it to transport the day's essentials as well as Junior. One of those stroller shopping bags* that attach to the handles is helpful as everyone starts handing you their coats, drinks, jumpers and whatever else they don't want to take on the rollercoaster. A pocket highchair* is great for when the cafe runs out of high chairs, which they always seem to do (I mean you Blackpool Zoo!). If you have young ones that still need a nap, then you might struggle to get them to sleep in their buggy with all the distractions - that's when a snooze shade* comes in handy. These are just a few ideas for things that might help, along with all the usual snacks, drinks and everything else you will have in your bag.
Avoid the entrance queues. Another benefit of booking in advance is that you don't have to spend the first half hour or more of your trip queuing for tickets, you can usually just waltz on through the fast track entrance while everyone else is trying to deflect the first tantrum of the day.
Plan your day. If you don't want arguments about which animals to see next, or which ride to go on then a bit of planning before hand will take care of this one. Have a look at the website maps with the kids before hand and see what everyone really wants to go on, then plan which order you will do it in to avoid the biggest crowds. Often the best way is to go to the far side of the park and work your way back towards the entrance - everyone else will be doing the opposite!
Beware the "Win A Prize" stalls. Did anyone else see that BBC programme with Nicky Campbell where they 'revealed' the methods used by the staff on win a prize stalls? Have you had a go at knocking down the tin cans, failed, then been offered another go for half price, and so on? Before you know it you have spent more than it would have cost to buy the flippin' massive Minion. Mr Campbell's tip was to go at the beginning of the day when they have just opened, as it's much more likely that you will 'win' a huge soft toy bigger than the kids, and then you're a walking advert for the prize stalls. It works.
The Ice Cream Stand. You know how it goes. You spend £3 on a bubblegum flavoured ice cream that get's dropped on the floor 30 seconds after you have bought it, so you get end up giving them yours instead. I was really looking forward to my caramel cone that day...sigh. My idea may be crackers, but this is what I'm going to do next time. I'll pop a couple of Chupa Chup lollies in my bag, and make sure I give them out just before we pass the Ice Cream Stand. Do you think it will work?
Food. Oh blimey, the price of the food and drink in these places is truly alarming. Everyone deserves a treat, but a fiver for a stale sandwich? You can take your own picnic, but it does mean lugging it around all day, and you'll probably have enough to carry. I go the way of a bag full of small snacks and drinks. They keep everyone's energy up with all the trudging around, and you only need to get something light from the onsite eateries. Still robbed, but costs a bit less. Also, go for lunch early. Go at half eleven or twelve and you will be finished and leaving just as everyone else starts heading for the cafes, and while they are eating you have less crowds outside.
Gift Shop. You have a few choices here. You can go in, and pay £50 for something you could get in the poundshop. You can divert their attention as you walk by..."Wow, look at the size of that Monkey's bum!". I'm going to try my new plan next time we go - buy the souvenirs beforehand and whip them out of my Mary Poppins-like bag at the opportune moment. The CBeebies shop at Alton Towers charges massive prices for the merchandise, but buy it online from the BBC shop* beforehand and you get it for a fraction of the price (they do free delivery as well!). It should work with the zoo as well. I'm getting sick of paying £10 for a plastic elephant when I know I can get one in Wilko* for a quid.
So that's my plan of how to survive a family day trip. I'll let you know if it works next time we go on an excursion!