North East Family Fun

A family of 5 with a zest for life, love of good food & passion for travel

The Reindeer Retreat Cafe & Feeding Reindeer at Azure Garden Centre, Cramlington

*This is a collaborative post

Reindeer have been visiting Azure Garden Centre in Cramlington for the last five years or so. Situated in the outdoor section (near where the fish used to be) until Christmas Eve, they are nicely settled in now. You don't need to book to visit the reindeer and there are food dispensers (£1) and handwash stations situated nearby as well as a photo station to capture the moment. 

As well as visiting the reindeer, there are so many pretty lights and Christmas displays to look at in the centre - little ones will be captivated. My three are quite cynical and have seen a lot of Christmas displays in their lives but they loved walking through the lights and admiring all of the Christmas decorations. It really got us in the mood for Christmas! Here's just a tiny peek at what's on offer: 

The Reindeer Retreat Cafe |  20 November - 3 December 

The Reindeer Retreat Cafe is an additional event to the regular reindeer feeding on offer and must be pre-booked (you can pre-book online here) and is available until 3 December. Sessions can be booked at the following times: 
  • Weekdays 3:45pm & 4:45pm
  • Saturdays 12noon, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm
  • Sundays 12noon, 1pm, 2pm
Tickets cost just £6 per adult (including a roast beef/turkey sandwich and hot drink) and £5 per child (including a children's meal, drink and packet of reindeer food). It's a massive bargain and perfectly priced for an after school treat I think. 

The Reindeer Retreat is a cosy pop-up tipi and it really quite special inside. I was expecting it to be cold but it was lovely and warm with heating (my kids even had to take their coats off). Everyone sits on hay bales and the tipi is lit up with fairy lights and filled with soft toy polar bears and reindeers. Lots of photo opportunities so don't forget your camera.

Food and drinks are pre-ordered on booking and are brought out to you soon after arrival. The whole event was very well organised and run with precision. You wouldn't guess it was their first time. Due to the inexpensive cost, I really didn't have high expectations for the food but we were honestly pleasantly surprised. The kids all enjoyed their children's meals and Steve and I devoured our hot beef sandwiches. The hot chocolates were delicious too and didn't taste cheap (which is so often the case at these kind of events). 

Everyone was in high spirits as we tucked into our food and I commented how Christmassy it all felt. Father Christmas does not visit as part of this event but in a way I think that's nice - sometimes too much pressure comes with a Father Christmas visit and I know many parents like to visit him just once which means the reindeer retreat is a nice and chilled out affair. Our trays were cleared and then John from Azure introduced himself to us. John shared lots of reindeer facts with us that were fascinating for both kids and grown-ups. I had no idea they stamped their hoof in water before drinking it (I'll let John tell you why they do this) and why male deer lose their antlers before the females do. There was a chance for questions too and I found out that they think two of the deer are currently pregnant and Jack asked if the deer named Greedy was actually greedy. Once we were filled with enough reindeer facts to call ourselves official Reindeer experts, we were all handed some special moss from Norway (which is exclusive for Reindeer Retreat guests) to feed the reindeer with. Apparently, this moss is their favourite food. We left the tipi and headed towards the reindeer enclosure where we fed the deer through the fence. They loved the moss and were super cute! 

As the sun was setting, the tipi looked even more magical......

I have to say I think this event was so well executed and I'd recommend to families who are looking for an inexpensive festive treat with a difference. 

Local Christmas Markets at Azure Garden Centre, Cramlington 

During our trip to the Reindeer Retreat, it also happened to be a Christmas market weekend (it runs until 19 November this time and then again 1 - 3 December). The market supports local traders and we picked up some local wildlife photographs from Far Horizons, some cheese from Northumberland Cheese and Game Terrine from Hadrian's Game Larder. It was also fabulous bumping into Handmade by Lolla Mac who create the most beautiful jewellery. If you're looking to support local businesses this Christmas, pop along to the Azure Christmas Market and you won't be disappointed. 

We spent around 90 minutes are Azure and it was completely stress-free which is so unusual for us! There was just no pressure, the atmosphere was lovely, the event was well-paced and organised and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. 

Let me know if you plan on visiting the reindeer at Azure this year.


Visiting the FREE Santa Claus and festive fun at intu Metrocentre - All you need to know

I think we are spoilt for choice when it comes to visiting Father Christmas and trying to figure out where to visit can take some serious thought. Hopefully, this post may help a little. Father Christmas is FREE to visit at intu Metrocentre and what's more, he's pretty good. The grotto is festive, there's colouring in tables to keep the kids entertained in the queue, kids will receive a very decent Playmobil set as a gift AND Santa and his elf are cheerful and chatty. Plus there's free parking at intu Metrocentre and lots of other ways to keep the little ones entertained during your visit too. What's not to love? 

First of all, a big shout out to the Christmas decorations at intu Metrocentre - they are just so pretty! It's worth a trip just to check them out. The giant light-up reindeer is definitely my favourite and the Christmas tree is the tallest that we've ever seen. 

Visiting Santa Claus at intu Metrocentre

You'll find the Christmas Grotto next to the Yellow Customer Service desk in the lower Qube opposite Argos. You can't miss the entrance right by the giant light-up reindeer. You don't need to book or pay anything - it's completely free and you simply turn up during opening hours and join the queue. 

Here's all the essential info you need to know. You can book online for signing Santa here.

We visited on a Sunday evening at around 4pm and the queue was around 20 minutes long (there are helpful signs letting you know how long you'll have to wait). There are colouring tables and sheets to keep little ones entertained while you wait and the time passed super quickly.

Once you've made it to the front of the queue, a friendly elf will welcome your family into Santa's grotto.

Father Christmas is lovely  - he took the time to chat with Heidi and Jack (read this post to find out why Harry wasn't with us) and asked them what they'd like for Christmas and what they were doing at school. Heidi and Jack really warmed to him.

There's plenty of opportunities for photos too and I liked that I could stand at the back to get these more candid shots as well as join in and chat with Santa and the kids too (mostly about Jack's behaviour - I'm afraid I'm one of those parents who uses Santa as a bribe to be good at this time of year).

Our chat lasted 3-5 minutes and at the end, Father Christmas handed Heidi and Jack their very own Playmobil set. Heidi received the tooth fairy set which is currently selling for £2.99 on Amazon and Jack received the Pirate and cannon (also £2.99). I honestly can't believe this is all completely FREE of charge. Heidi and Jack were chuffed to pieces with their gifts, I mean what child doesn't love Playmobil? The figures kept them busy as we waited for dinner at MOD Pizza later on in the evening too. Children under 18 months will receive a roll along toy. 

Kids Club and Family Films at Odeon 

There's lots of fun you can add to your visit to Father Christmas and really make the most of your day. We watched Paddington 2 at the Odeon and loved it. If you're looking for an ideal movie to watch with the kids, we can't recommend Paddington enough - I think it's actually better than the first one!

A quick heads up that if you book to see 'Olaf's Frozen Adventure' at Odeon Metrocentre at 10am on  25 - 26 November, every child will receive a FREE Olaf Lego figure and a £5 voucher to redeem at the Lego Store. Terms and conditions apply, see here for details.  if you're looking to save money, Odeon Kids club show family films every weekend morning and tickets cost just £3.25 each. 

Family-friendly dining at intu Metrocentre 

*We received a complimentary meal at MOD Pizza

There are loads of places to dine with the kids at intu Metrocentre - our go-to places are Carluccio's, Yo Sushi or BarBurrito. We were recently invited along to try MOD Pizza with the kids and were really impressed so will add them to our list of recommendations too. MOD Pizza is perfect if you're looking for a quick pizza and like to try lots of different toppings. Pizzas are all made to order and you can order as many or little toppings as you like for the same price.

We also like the unlimited soda machine - you can try 37 different combinations. I went for the cherry fanta (throw-back to Florida). 

My three loved crafting their own pizza at MOD. You order at the counter and move along the stations asking the staff to add toppings as you go. It's fab for kids as they can physically see what is going on their pizza. Jack made me laugh as he kept asking for more sweetcorn! The pizzas are cooked in a matter of minutes and brought straight to your table. The service is personal too - your name is written on your pizza so there's no chance of a mix-up.

If you forward this video to 6 minutes 30 seconds you'll be able to catch a glmpse of some of the festive decorations and watch us select our MOD pizza toppings.

Heidi and I are pretty boring and like our pizzas plain and simple. I think on my next visit I will pick a few toppings though as my pizza did taste on the bland side.

A special shout out to the dipping sauces you can order on the side. The pizza dipping sauce was my absolute fave where as Steve preffered the hot sauce.

Steve's pizza included the not so popular combination of pineapple and pesto....hmm not sure I'd choose that but I guess that's the beuty of being allowed to create any combination you like. Harry normally sticks with Pepperoni but added some other meats this time and Jack loaded his pizza with chicken and sweetcorn.

The pizzas arrived piping hot but as soon as they had cooled enough they were ready for us to tuck in. Not the best pizza we've ever eaten but most definitely not the worse either and we thought they were perfect for dining with kids as they were so quick and easy plus good for picky eaters. We were able to bring our leftovers home in a pizza box too. We all left MOD Pizza saying we'll be back when we need a quick pizza fix during our next shopping trip. 

Make sure you follow the MOD Pizza Facebook page as they often run Kids Eat Free promotions.

We loved our little trip to intu Metrocentre and would 100% recommend you add a trip to enjoy a bite to eat, a family movie and of course a visit to meet Father Christmas and receive a FREE Playmobil toy. 


What's on in North East England for kids & families | 18 & 19 November 2017

There's lots of festive (and non-festive for those who aren't ready) fun to be had in the North East this weekend from winter trails to light switch-ons and even a coca-cola truck visit. This weekend is just a quiet one for us before the madness of our Christmas diary begins but it's actually nice to not have plans sometimes I think. Let me know what you're up to in the comments.

From 16 November | Wynyard On Ice | Find out more here

16 - 19 November | Wynyard Hall Festive Shopping Event | Find out more here

From 17 November | Newcastle International Christmas Market | Find out more here

17 - 19 November | Azure Christmas Market, Cramlington | Find out more here

18 November | Morpeth Christmas Light Switch On | Find out more here

From 18 November | Winter Trail at Alnwick Garden | Find out more here

18 - 19 November | Kirkley Hall Christmas Fayre | Find out more here

18 - 19 November | Jack's Beanstalk Trail opens at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens | Find out more here

18 -19 November | Coca-Cola Truck visits intu Metrocentre | Find out more here

18 - 19 November | Durham Lumiere | Find out more from Sprog on the Tyne here

19 November | Amble Christmas Light Switch On | Find out more here

19 November | Sing-a-long Sound of music at Sunderland Empire | Find out more here

19 November | Helmet, Sword, Scooter Challenge with Chalk at the Discovery Museum | Find out more here

19 November | Book cover design at Seven Stories with Nick Sharratt | Find out more here

Check out these posts for more ideas: 
Please take a look at my video featuring ideas for a festive weekend in NewcastleGateshead below: 


Christmas Events & Ice Skating with Kids in Newcastle at Life Science Centre - All you need to know

*Review post

We attended the live launch of Newcastle's best outdoor ice rink last weekend and the first 50 through the door were given a free pass to try it out. We are eager beavers so the very next day we popped into Newcastle to give it a whirl.

Ice Skating at Life Science Centre Newcastle - All you need to know

First of all I will say that there's no way you'd get me on the ice. I am not built for ice skating! Heidi and Steve tried the artificial rink at Woodhorn last year and were dying to get on some real ice this year. They're the pro-skaters in our family despite not having much practice - I can't believe this was Heidi's first time on the ice. Here are the rink's opening hours:

If you're looking for a party atmosphere, Friday Night Skates will be accompanied by a live DJ from Newcastle College. All are welcome on Friday evenings but these sessions are most suited at ages 14+. 

You can't book online (except Christmas Eve & New Year's Eve which should be pre-booked) and tickets are purchased from the main reception on arrival. The quietest time to visit is between 2pm - 4pm weekdays. Your ticket includes 45 minutes - 1 hour skating plus Costs are detailed below: 

I would highly recommend upgrading your ticket to visit the Science Centre too. For £15 more per family of 4, I think the combo ticket is well worth it - especially as it includes a ride on the 4D Polar Express ride in the run up to Christmas (you need to be over 1.2m to ride).

Age suitability and information to be aware of

There are a few rules and regulations you will need to follow (see here for full details). The main one to be aware of is that children aged 9 and under need to be accompanied by an adult on the ice and that children aged 10-12 need to have an adult supervising either on the ice or from the viewing area. 

All ages are welcome to skate - ice skates are available from a children's size 8 and bob shoes are available for smaller sizes (they are worn over shoes). I did not know this during our visit but I've read on the Life website that there are a limited number of skating aids available to hire for children aged 7 and under for £5. There should be no more than two under 4's supervised by one adult on the ice. 

Wheelchair users can usually skate too - sometimes due to busy periods there may be a little wait (I'd recommend trying around 2pm on a weekday). Wheelchair users pay the normal price and their carer goes free. Call 0191 243 8223 for more information. 

Ice Skating with kids - our experience

Heidi absolutely loved ice skating and was a real natural. We had to fight to get her off the ice. Harry was one of those who clings onto the side (that would be me) but after a few tips from the ice marshalls, he was able to slowly skate around unaided. He really enjoyed it too. Jack was super wobbly on his feet, he's pleased he tried it but it wasn't for him! Check out my Instagram story video below:

I thought £25 for Steve, Harry, Heidi and Jack really did provide excellent value. We're already making plans to re-visit in February before the rink closes for Spring. 

Spectators can order a festive drink from Life's cafe  - I recommend their hot chocolates and there are seats rink side for you to enjoy the atmosphere or inside if it's a little chilly. The cafe is also perfect for a post-skate drink to warm you through. 

Polar Express 4D Ride at Life Science Centre Newcastle 

If you buy a combo ticket (and I think it's well worth upgrading to), you can ride the 4D Polar Express Ride inside Life Science Centre. The ride is suitable for those taller than 1.2 metres and in good health and plays regularly throughout the day (you'll receive a leaflet with timings on arrival - we visited during opening weekend and it was every 30 minutes). I tried out this ride with Harry and Heidi and we all felt very festive afterwards as we experienced the train journey with our favourite characters, snow and Father Christmas. It only lasts 6 minutes but it's lots of fun and not too scary either. The ride is included with centre admission so you'd be crazy to miss it. 

Christmas Events at Life Science Centre Newcastle

As if Ice Skating and Polar Express rides aren't enough, there's also a fantastic programme of special Christmas events happening at Life this year too. Highlights include a Christmas Cracker Science Session for ages 13+ and Father Christmas in Times Square across various dates. The ice rink is also available to hire for groups or Christmas parties. 

Fun at Life Science Centre

As well as festive fun, you'll find lots of non-festive fun at Life too. We re-visited Dino Jaws which is fab for dinosaur lovers. It was a lot quieter this time around but just as fun. We usually always try and catch a planetarium show (included in admission) but decided to watch a Science Show in the Science theatre his time. We loved it and learned a lot. It was like watching a magic show and entertaining for both young and old. There's also a young explorer's zone, experiment zone, curiosity zone, brain zone and more - all packed with lots of hands-on activities and experiments that all have educational value too. I think we've probably visited Life Science Centre close to 20 times now but we still managed to spend 4 hours here during our last visit. 

You can bring your own packed lunch to Life to keep the costs down (there's a special Packed lunch areas downstairs near reception) but I highly recommend the main restaurant in Life. It's super reasonable. We enjoyed a delicious cooked meal, drink and cake for 5 of us for under £35. 

If you're looking for some festive fun in Newcastle, I really don't think you can go wrong with a trip to Life Science Centre. I think the outdoor ice skating and 4D Polar Express are especially suited for children aged 7+ so perfect for tweens and teens. 

We visited Life Science Centre as part of a festive weekend in NewcastleGateshead. Check out our video below to discover what else we got up to: 

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