We haven’t been to Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland for a few years, partly because my husband is Buzz Killington when it comes to ice skating, partly because of the cost and partly because it’s one of those things I mean to do but just don’t get around to and then all of a sudden it’s February and I’ve missed it. Full disclosure, we had food, drink and ride tokens in return for a review. #ad and all that.
A few things have changed since we last went. The bar is two storeys high so not as rammed as I remember, the biggest ride has changed and the ice skating is now undercover, probably for the best in the rainiest city* in the UK.
It did drizzle while we were there but it didn’t dampen our spirits. You can take food bought at the stands into the bar so we ate and drank in the dry. Sur La Piste (see what they did there?!) was going for that après ski, wooden chalet vibe complete with stag antler paraphernalia and a rainbow of faux furs on the roomy booths. Word to the wise: if you want a mulled wine or mulled cider you’ve got to use the downstairs bar. We were at the upstairs bar so I panic ordered a Rekorderlig.
Unsurprisingly, the food isn’t super cheap at £5 for a bratwurst in a hot dog bun and £3.50 for chips but it’s filling and cheaper than buying the family a meal in a pub or restaurant. Kids meals (chicken nuggets, chips and a fruity drink) were also a fiver each. The sauces were squeezed from an udder contraption which tickled my stepdaughter. Make sure you use the right condiment though, unlike the poor little kid we saw who made the school boy error of dousing his chippies in chilli ketchup. Service was a little slow but it was the first night so I’m sure they’ll get into a rhythm.
As we first approached Winter Wonderland (we parked on road near the museum but it’s easy to reach on public transport from the Vale, just get off the train at Cathays or Queen Street and walk) we were greeted by the screams of grown men calling for their mothers. Festive. We had the heebie jeebies just watching the source of the squeals, the 90M Tower, a new attraction this year that replaces the Big Wheel**. I damn near wet myself with terror on ferris wheels so this 90 meter high thriller was not for me. We hit a few of the tamer rides instead. I say “we” but I watched and waved whilst sipping my mulled wine.
The Ice Skater ride was one of those spinning ones that I vowed never to go on again after being forced onto a similar one at Barry Island. The kids (ages 12, 10 and 6) loved it. It’s exciting, fast and covered in bright lights. The Fun House is awesome. It’s massive, took ages to get around and is only 2 tokens per person. Think classic fairground cake walks and Danny and Sandy at the end of Grease. For smaller children, the reindeer ride was gloriously Christmassy, blasting passengers with fake snow.
We didn’t ice skate last night, saving that for another time with friends while Buzz Killington holds the bags. As I told the kids, we can’t do everything every time. Winter Wonderland has the potential to be one of those experiences with kids where they turn into brats asking for all the treats, more rides, more drinks, those maddening flashy light things. It works best for us to tell them exactly what we’re doing and not doing. So “we’re only ice skating tonight, don’t ask about the rides” or “you can have a drink, pick one ride each and we’ll share some churros”. Ah yes, the churros. Big hit and good for sharing. £6 for 6 churros and dipping sauce.
Skating sessions on the Admiral Ice Rink are 1 hour including time to put on your skates so get there 15 minutes before your slot. No under 3s on the ice, kids under 7 need an adult. The penguin things are £5 to hire per session. Group bookings give you a bit of a discount (buy 10, get 1 free etc). It’s cheaper if you pre book and the off peak prices start at £7 for kids or £27 for a family of 4 (Christmas Eve and NYE are the most expensive. Obvs). This year they’re also holding several Relaxed Access Sessions with lowered lighting, sound and number of skaters which is worth looking into if someone in your family has an autism spectrum condition or sensory sensitivity. Full details on cardiffswinterwonderland.com, call 029 2009 9087 or email email@example.com.
If Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland is the kind of thing you’d usually put off until the Christmas holidays, give it a go on a random November midweek night. It’ll be less crowded, you’ll get a better deal on skating and it means you’re spreading out the treats. Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland and Admiral Ice Rink are there in front of City Hall and the museum*** until 6th January 2019.
* true story. http://www.freeflush.co.uk says so and they’re rainwater harvesting experts using Met Office data
** It is tradition while watching the biggest scariest ride for Buzz to retell his tale of his mate Simon who had one too many purple ciders before being spun meters in the air above Winter Wonderland and sprayed the crowd with his purple vomit.
*** Tim Peake’s actual spacecraft is at the National Museum until 10th February. We’re mega excited. The exhibition launch day is this Saturday 17th November 11am-4pm and is free. Not connected with Winter Wonderland but it’s right next door so you could combine the two in one visit to Cardiff. Be warned: the 17th November will be very busy in Cardiff, especially on public transport as it’s Wales v Tonga at the Principality Stadium.