We love the Gruffalo in our house, in fact we are all quite obsessed with it. So when we saw that there was a Gruffalo Experience on at Bluewater shopping centre over the Summer holidays it seemed right up our street. There are shows at half hour intervals throughout the day starting at 9.30am and finishing at 6.30pm. We opted for an after nursery/work time of 6.30pm and had food afterwards, before changing Monkey into his pjs to travel home.
I booked our tickets online via the Bluewater website (link at the bottom of the post). You can also buy tickets in person at the Gruffalo shop which is right next to the entrance to the village. At the moment they are running an early bird discounted price of £11.25* per ticket if you purchase them before the 17th of August. After this date tickets revert to £12.50 per adult and child over the age of 2. Just to warn you there are additional transaction fees, which for the three of us added £3.38 to the bill. I will never understand what they are actually for, since the website provides you with tickets to print at home or store on your smart phone!
We spoke to the concierge service and they directed us towards the village on the ground floor where the arrows began. We followed the arrows and footprints outside to the play area. I had no idea that Bluewater had a play area and since we were early it was a pleasant surprise to find something to keep Monkey occupied. Its reasonably small with a sandy area (below) and two small climbing frames with slides. It got quite busy which is why I didn’t take a photo of the whole park, as I wasn’t sure the other parents would appreciate it! There is plenty of seating and some picnic benches if you were visiting during the day and wanted to stop for lunch.
It recommends that you arrive 10-15 minutes early for the experience, as it was right next door to the park Monkey was raring to go. When we entered we were greeted by a very friendly lady in an orange t-shirt handing out mouse ears. Hubby refused and was told he would be picked on by the story teller.. for all those grumpy people out there who also don’t want to wear ears you will be please to know there is no picking on! Monkey and I of course obliged.
In the reception area there were little tables and chairs set out with Gruffalo dot to dots and word searches as well as crayons for colouring. Monkey headed straight towards the giant connect four with butterflies and frog disks which kept him entertained for the whole time. The room was decorated in pictures straight from the pages of the book which was lovely. They also had a DVD playing in the corner of part of the Gruffalo story. All the staff were very friendly, although I was disappointed (although not surprised at all) that we couldn’t take pictures of the experience once through the doors.
The lady that was running the experience engaged with the children straight away which I though was a lovely touch. There were only eight kids in our session and she made sure she spoke to all of them initially before we went into the deep dark wood. All through the event she was very good with the kids. Effectively the trail is split up into three areas, on the website they refer to them as zones.
Zone 1 – you meet the main animal characters from the story, bearing in mind you are the mouse in your mouse ears! It involves large soft puppets which are about 2ft high of the fox, owl and snake. Set in the deep dark wood there are trees and scenery taken directly from the book, with some benches for the adults and scatter cushions for the kids. Although there seemed not to be enough cushions even for just the eight kids in our group.
The puppets are lovely and look identical to the characters in the book. It made me think that they could do with them in the Gruffalo theatre show! She introduced each animal and gave you a bit of information such as the fox uses his tail for balance, the owl’s eyes only look straight ahead so he can turn his head almost the whole way round and that the snake uses his tongue to smell. It was really quite informative. She also brought all the puppets round and gave the children a chance to touch them. Then she asked for a volunteer to meet the snake, Monkey thought it was great being wound up in the snake. It was a real shame we couldn’t take a picture!
To get to Zone 2 you need to negotiate some obstacles which are two Ikea tunnels for the kids and wooden stepping stones for the adults. We both felt that they could have made more of this. Monkey really enjoyed going through the tunnel though!
In the second area again their were benches and cushions (more this time!) and the lady went through the actions for all of the Gruffalo’s characteristics. She encouraged the children to copy her and showed them some pictures on the TV screen. At this point the experience reverted to the DVD and it played the moments where mouse met each animal for the first time. With the children acting out the descriptions mouse gave of the Gruffalo. At the end of each character the children were encouraged to call out Gruffalo’s favourite food. They all got really animated and enjoyed it very much. Then a (6ft ish) Gruffalo made an appearance from a netted doorway to gasps and shouts. He looked very inviting and I fought the urge to go up and give it a hug! They ran through the rest of the script with the Gruffalo acting out the story ending with all the children shouting ‘Gruffalo Crumble’. The ending did seem to go quite quickly!
In Zone 3 -there was a small wooden climbing frame with a slide designed to keep the children entertained while they wait to meet the Gruffalo. Its the perfect size for Monkey (3). After a couple of minutes we were invited into a small room where we had our photo taken. Then out to the area to buy said photo – standard print £7, key ring £5.50, glass frame £10. There are also a selection of Gruffalo merchandise to purchase.
Monkey loved it and has asked to go back.
Overall the experience lasted for 35 minutes. On the promotional website it says the experience should last 45-50 minutes, maybe 60 minutes if you meet the Gruffalo. The lady that ran our session was very good but you did feel a little rushed, maybe its because we were the last group of the day. So I would probably say that 35 minutes for £37.13 for the three of us is on the expensive side especially as it was another £7 to buy a photo! I would probably consider going to the theatre show (especially as you can get tickets for £10/£12 on promotional websites) over the experience in the future.
*Update – they are holding the £11.25 price for the rest of the Summer.
You can find more information here: http://www.bluewater.co.uk/Whats-On/The-Gruffalo-Experience
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I brought tickets for us to visit the experience, all opinions are my own