|KidZania - A Kids' Size City Opens in Westfield
Educational 'theme park' aims to teach children about the world of work
Theme parks in this country have been fairly conventional to date - all thrills 'n spills rides.
Now something completely different has opened and much like that yeasty breakfast extract, adults will probably either love it or hate it.
KidZania is massive; a 75,000 sq ft indoor attraction, based at Westfield. It's been described as a mini-city with a hospital, police station, shops, a bank and even its own theatre.
Children don't have rollercoasters to queue up for instead they get the chance to live in the world of work - trying out real-life professions.
There is an operating theatre, police and fire stations, newspaper office and radio station and even a plane's cockpit - all at two-thirds the real size.
Brands including Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Renault and Capital Radio are partners in this city for kids and youngsters aged between 4-14 can take part in activities and earn Kidzania “money” called KidZos which they can spend on activities or even save.
Before they begin their four hour play slot, children are 'checked in' just like at the airport and given a digital wristband for safety.
Adults can enter but are not allowed to take part in the activity with their child. Children under seven can be left to enjoy the experience without an adult.
I was invited to the media launch and was completely amazed by the size of it all and wandered round this mini-city slightly agog.
Excited by the role-playing concept, KidZania's Director of Education Gers Graus, explained the ethos:
''Children aspire to what they know exists and learn by watching and doing. Here they get the chance to try out lots of different roles and have fun.''
Not everyone agrees however and there has been criticism about the capitalist nature of KidZania and concern that the emphasis on brands was sinister - one publication described it as an 'incredibly creepy theme park..' which '' serves as vehicle to pummel your children with named brands whilst giving them a taste of life as both consumerist and consumer.''
Chairman of Kidzania London, Joel Cadbury naturally disagrees and says there is nothing sinister about it.
'' I think kids are smart and the branding is very subtle, it's necessary because it makes it authentic and that's what brings the city to life. We want children to learn about real life values; money doesn't grow on trees, they start their session here with a small amount of KidZos and if they spend it and want more then they need to get a job.''
KidZania was launched in Mexico 16 years ago by entrepreneur, Xavier López Ancona,who has overseen its franchised expansion throughout the world. He says the concept is easy to explain but difficult to grasp:
'' Seeing is believing. The level of detail, the quality of the city - it's very difficult to tell someone. You have to come and see for yourself. When you walk in the streets and see thousands of children all smiling, dressed in different uniforms of various professions all very engaged, this is what it's about.''
It's opened just in time for the school holidays so no doubt will be busy. The fact that parents can leave children aged over 7 in the City and go and shop in Westfield has to be a major bonus.
My thoughts would be that it's aimed at the younger market and up to 14 is possibly stretching it - but I could be wrong, curiosity might just get the better of the teenagers.
The concept and scale of this place is novel and exciting, and, given it's an all weather facility, I expect it to be an initial success.
I didn't get to see it in situ with hundreds of kids charging around so would be interested to hear the verdict from others.
Will kids pick role-playing reality over rollercoasters?.. Time will tell.
Child (4-14 years old) ..... £ 28.00
Adult (15+ years old) ..... £ 16.50
Early Years (1-3 years old) ..... £ 10.00
School groups with over 40% FSM .... £7.00
2nd July 2015