Watching my cheeky three- nager offer the Gruffalo a high five, only to leave his new furry friend’s paw hanging, is exactly the kind of magic moment Merlin is hoping to conjure up at its new Blackpool attraction.
We were invited to join former Corrie actor Helen Flanagan, fresh from her appearance in I’m A Celebrity South Africa, and her two-year-old son Charlie at the opening of the Gruffalo & Friends Clubhouse.
It’s set in the same building as Sea Life, just a stone’s throw from the Blackpool Tower.
The indoor playground for under-tens brings to life six of the stories created by author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler.
Tiny tots have a dedicated Room On The Broom soft play area, while anyone with sensory needs can chill out in the Gruffalo Child’s cave.
There’s even a Snail and the Whale ballpit that draws inspiration from the ocean waves.
The star attraction, though, is the Deep Dark Wood adventure play area where little bookworms can climb, crawl and slide while listening to much-loved lines from the tale.
Personally I’m a fan of lots of natural light when it comes to indoor play areas, but I guess that was never on the cards when it came to recreating the forest that’s home to the Gruffalo. Instead there’s lots of opportunities to create the right atmosphere using light and sound effects.
My little boy most enjoyed getting his groove on at the live dance party with songs inspired by the animals who encounter the Gruffalo, before meeting and greeting characters, including Zog and the Highway Rat.
And while the kids burn off steam, there are plenty of comfy chairs for tired parents in need of a coffee and a rest from Blackpool’s bright lights.
Bubbly light tubes and soft rock-shaped cushions in the Gruffalo’s Child sensory room welcome visitors who might benefit from a calming space and there are plans for a quiet hour so guests with extra needs will be able to enjoy the attraction too.
And a Changing Places toilet with extra space, hoist and adult changing table adds to the handful of places in the seaside town that cater for those needing assistance when going to the loo.
Helen tells me she’s just pleased her family can visit the Gruffalo and friends right on her doorstep instead of having to head down south to the likes of Warwick Castle, currently hosting Zog, or Chessington World of Adventures.
There’s so much to keep tots active all day at the Gruffalo Clubhouse, but while you’re in this neck of the woods, Peter Rabbit Play and Explore, an indoor attraction that only opened last year, is well worth a visit too.
Heading home, my little one didn’t even make it out of Blackpool before he was spark out in the back of the car clutching his new cuddly toy.
There couldn’t be a greater growl of approval for the new Gruffalo attraction than that.
- The Gruffalo indoor play area costs from £12 per child aged three to 12 and £4.50 for adults or toddlers aged one and two. Or buy a bundle that gives access to more than one of the seven Merlin attractions now on the seafront. See gruffaloclubhouse.com.