run out of womb

... learning how to be a mum from scratch

Friday, 22 April 2016

Review: is Willows Farm baby-friendly?

 Most of my reviews here are of places Mr ROOW and I love to visit - to check out whether these adult-focused hotels, restaurants, or attractions are baby-friendly too. But for tiny man's first birthday, we wanted to take him somewhere he'd love. Local mums raved about Willows Farm - but I wondered if it would be worthwhile for a baby. Here's our verdict.

It's not just a farm, although you are greeted by some friendly alpacas as you drive by their field. The site - near St Albans just outside of London - also has a large soft play, fair-ground style attractions like coconut shy and gold-panning, play tractor driving area, bouncy castles, adventure playgrounds, picnic areas and cafes. 

Its entrance price reflects that - £16.50 per adult, £17.50 per child - but under 2s are free. One thing I immediately liked was Willows' 'we only milk the cows' motto - meaning once you're in, you're in. You don't have to desperately point out non-existent exotic birds in the tree to the kids to avoid them spotting a pricey ride or game, because they're almost all included in the price. The only extras I spotted was buying animal feed for a quid. (Oh, and you have to exit through the gift shop so good luck avoiding buying a going-home present.)

But all that fun is still to come when you're parenting a baby. And tiny man really did enjoy his day at Willows. He loved getting up close to the farm animals - which include horses, tiny lambs, pigs, rabbits, ponies, sheep, alpacas, and guinea pigs. 

He gazed in awe at goats leaning on the gate and standing on two feet, at chickens lying on their eggs, a turkey with a rubber dangly bit (sure there's a more precise term..) that looked like the human brain, and a Shire horse eating out of his daddy's hand. He giggled non-stop as we bounced with him on the smallest castle (there are three, divided into age groups so your 1-year-old won't get stomped on by a six-year-old.), and loved the boat swings and very bumpy tractor ride.


Then it got cold, so we popped him on a JCB (OK, a tiny one, with our help) and cycled around the driving school warehouse, and finally spent a good hour in the softplay. 
I can imagine this place gets noisy, packed and stuffier than a toddler's nose on a weekend - but on our Monday afternoon visit, tiny man had the run of the under-2s area, with a couple of tots joining him in the ball pond now and then. It was clean and well-equipped and he particularly liked the wind-blowing ball machine, and the toy-packed mini village area where under 4s could pretend they ran shops, houses, garages and more. In fact, he loved them almost as much as my husband - who yearned to drop down the near-vertical slide and ball-shooting machine in the big kids' area. He reckons they should do a Kidzania-style adults' night...
And I wouldn't have minded a free-run on the brand-new Peter Rabbit adventure playground either - an attraction that will definitely go down well with older kids.

So the verdict? Willows has a huge amount for kids - I'd say the optimum age for a visit would be around eight. But it caters really well for tots too. The fact that under 2s go free mean it's a no-brainer for anyone with an older child and younger baby. And for special occasions, we'll definitely be taking tiny man back for a return visit.

* ROOW were guests of Willows Farm on this visit.
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