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Big fun for little people: KidZania opens today

Written by
Sara O'Reilly

Tough luck, grown-ups! London's funnest new attraction is just for kids. But we've got the lowdown on wacky social experiment-cum-brilliant day out KidZania.

KidZania? What's that?

It's a theme park you won't have to trek out of town to get to. With branches in 16 cities worldwide, it's about to open at Westfield Shepherd's Bush. An entire city and society in miniature, it's a mash-up of fun and learning designed to give children aged four to 14 a realistic taste of the adult world.

Cool – so they can go to bars and get a tattoo?

Alcohol's definitely not involved but there is a (fake) tattoo parlour. Kids can read the news in a radio studio, put out fires, take care of babies (they're not real) and staff an operating theatre. They can learn how to perform a tyre change on a scaled-down Formula E racing car, get into police uniforms and scour the streets for clues or head for the kitchens and whip up smoothies, chocolates or pizzas.

That does sound quite like real life. What else?

If they attend a course at the KidZania university, they get paid more.

Oh. It's starting to sound a bit serious now.

Yes. The thinking is that children can only aspire to what they know. Kids get to experience masses of new things and in the process they discover that work pays and fun costs.

Do they pay for each activity individually?

They do: on arrival they open a bank account and withdraw their Kidzos. Each of the 60-odd activities lasts 15 to 25 minutes and the most popular ones cost more. But there are opportunities to earn as well as spend (for example, in the hair salon kids can choose to be a stylist or a customer).

Hold on – they're cutting each other's hair?

That would be fun, but they use fake heads.

Do they have to empty their accounts before they go home?

No, and what happens in practice is different in different countries. In Mexico City children end their visit stony broke, while 90 percent of Tokyo's kids save credit for their next trip (and arrive an hour before everything opens to plan their day). It's going to be fascinating to see what little Londoners do.

What are the most popular things to do?

Anything that involves dressing up. Especially being a courier in a high-viz vest: kids love zooming around KidZania's streets delivering stuff.

Can adults join in?

Nope. For a start, nearly everything in this world is built to two-thirds scale. Grown-ups can watch from a distance, or hang out in the parents' clubhouse, but their involvement is limited to activities such as providing an appreciative audience in the theatre and sports stadium. Or, if their kids are over seven, they can just drop them off and go shopping.

How do they stop kids doing a runner then?

That's not a problem. Children would rather play than shop any day. And families get matching electronic bracelets. Adults don't get in without them and kids can't get out.

We'd sooner stay and play too.

Sorry, Kidzania's strictly for four to 13-year-olds. But the good news is, on September 24 there's a special adults-only evening event for Time Out readers (which will involve booze). Tickets will be available on from July 2.  

Photography by Rob Greig. 

KidZania opens today (Thu Jun 25), read more about it here.

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