London's Hyde Park has been transformed into a Winter Wonderland for the fourth year running.
William (7) and I (erm, 37) were invited along for the launch event to review this year's attractions and celeb-spot (well, that wasn't a condition of the invite, but unavoidable given the presence of footballers, WAGS, soap stars and TV personalities mingling amongst the rides and bratwurst stands!).
For the uninitiated, Winter Wonderland is exactly what it says on the tin - a park full of wonder with a festive and wintery vibe, with fairground rides, Zippo's circus, ice rink, observation wheel, and a myriad of places to eat, drink and be merry (for both adult groups and families - there's a Bavarian bar, a British pub and the inflatable E-Cube ice bar for posh drinks) all within the gorgeous setting of London's Hyde Park. Oh, and there are also shops - German Christmas market type stalls are in abundance and some are worth a look (note:some).
Probably the best thing about Winter Wonderland is the fact that it is free to enter - you only pay to go on the rides (and that's via a pre-bought token system, which I'll admit I'm not too keen on - it interrupts the flow of your visit having to keep re-buying tokens). If you just want an amble through to soak up the atmosphere (and it IS a lovely atmosphere) and eat German sausage and chips, then you are free to do so - it's even free to visit Santa!
You do have to book your sessions in advance for the circus, skating rink and the observation wheel, and money-saving combination tickets are available via the event's website.
The observation wheel wasn't operating when we wandered over - apparently there was a technical glitch and they were waiting for an engineer, so we didn't get to go on it, which was a shame as we were quite looking forward to a bird's eye view across the park from the comfort of a heated pod.
The ice skating rink was in full swing (and skid and fall) when we arrived and remained busy and popular throughout the night. It is the largest outdoor rink in the capital and family tickets cost from £28.00 per session.
We decided to forgo a skating session and concentrate on the rides. At 7, my son isn't quite into all the super-scary stuff yet, so first of all we hung out in Santa Land with its cute little train ride (suitable for the tiniest children) and then wandered off to take a whirl in the spinning teacups, and, then, feeling brave, hopped on to the ghost train!
As is always the way with kids, it was the simplest attraction of them all that my son got the most pleasure from: the helter skelter. He must have been up and down it a dozen times. Whilst I was being shouted at by a backlog of children for going 'too slow', William was racing down at a rate of knots and whizzing off the other end on his mat like a thing possessed. And loving every minute of it!
We enjoyed this year's visit just as much as last year's, but it was disappointing not to have gone on the wheel - although we are sure to remedy that with another trip before it closes on 4th of January. We would really recommend going late afternoon or evening to really enjoy the festiveness of it all though - it can feel a bit odd in the day, but by night, with all the gorgeous lights and smell of roasting chestnuts, and Christmas music blaring out, you can't help but feel festive!
Oh, and the afore mentioned celeb spotting: William and I wandered in hot on the heels of John Terry and family (wife Toni and cute twins Georgie and Summer) and once in the hospitality area (la-di-da) spotted Angelica Bell, Vanessa Feltz, and Sinitta with her children Zac and Magdalena. A small crowd also gathered around someone by the skating rink and rumour had it it was 'that boy from EastEnders'. Whoever he may be.
Winter Wonderland is open every day from 20th November 2010 to 4th January 2011 (except Christmas Day) from 10am to 10pm
Entry is free, but you can buy tickets in advance from the Winter Wonderland website for the Lidl Magical Rink, Giant Observation Wheel and Big Top Show.