Here at DadGeek we love days out, especially ones local to us in Norfolk, so we were intrigued when we heard that our ‘local’ theme park attraction Pleasurewood Hills had announced they had opened a new sensory room as part of their Woody’s Cub House area.
Sensory rooms are a great resource for people, most often children, with sensory issues to be able to calm down and reset themselves. These issues are most often (although not exclusively) seen in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Defecit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Having one located in a busy theme park attraction seems like a great idea and the concept alone could mean that families who might otherwise have had to go home might be able to regroup and enjoy their day.
We got in contact with Pleasurewood Hills and they invited us to come take a look at the new facility and the rest of the park including their new Magical Mayan Temple diving show! It seemed like a great opportunity to check out the whole park and how welcoming and accessible they are.
Park Entrance & Priority Ride Access
The first thing we always have to check out when we visit an attraction like this is if Morgan (ASD) can benefit from any priority access to the rides. Autism is a cognitive disorder and queuing for even short periods of time can lead to a build-up of stress and anxiety. Before autistic children were given priority access on rides, families would often be unable to access rides with queues (so pretty much all of them). Even if the child was able to get to the front of the queue at all, they were often in no fit emotional state to enjoy the ride by the time they got there.
Many parks now offer priority access for people with disabilities and this has been great for us. We’ve experienced quite a few UK attractions where disabled park users where really well looked after and given priority access in varying ways.
Pleasurewood Hills is one of the better, quicker and more accessible systems we’ve used. By providing proof of his disability at the gate we were immediately provided with a silver wristband that indicated his priority status. This then gave him and 3 of us priority access to all the rides in the park on the instruction that we were not to return to the same ride within a 30 minutes period. That was that. It was such a quick and easy process that took very little of our time so we could focus on enjoying ourselves.
To put this in perspective, some UK parks can require pre-registration of any disabled customers, which usually means navigating their website or customer service line prior to the day you attend. Other parks don’t always deal with disabled requirements at the gate either. When we went to Chessington World of Adventures, although their provision was quite good, we had to wait for some time to be processed at a very busy customer services kiosk.
So, to be processed so quickly and easily gave us a great first impression. Morgan often has issues with the transition into new places and it was notable that he did not have the usual anxiety that we would normally have expected entering an attraction of this size.
Park Staff & Customer Service
The thing that was really apparent when going on rides or dealing with any of the park staff was how friendly and chatty everyone was. Now the cynical part of me know that this is more likely to be heavily trained into the staff than ‘spontaneous’ chattiness (much like the greeters at a Disney store) but it’s still really nice to have everyone you meet have a smile on their face and ask you about your favourite ride. It really makes a difference to the kids too.
One thing I’d also like to note. There were quite a few staff that I spoke to that I recognised as very likely being on the autistic spectrum. It’s not something I’d seek to delve any further into but what it did do is give me a great impression about what their attitudes may be towards accessibility and representation when it comes to their HR and recruitment policies. All of those staff members were hugely helpful and added massively to our experience.
Rides and Attractions
Overall we had a great time exploring Pleasurewood Hills. We tried out a large number of the rides, attractions and shows and when Morgan wanted to try something he was able to use his silver wristband to take him and his brother and sister on with him. We were lucky that we picked a day that wasn’t particularly busy. Quite often it wasn’t necessary to use the wristband but it did put all of our minds at ease that when there was a big queue, we had that available to us. Morgan actually accessed a lot more rides than he has on previous outings and I think the lack of stress from queuing actually put him at ease a lot more than he usually would have.
The kids all really enjoyed the Magical Mayan Temple diving show. Getting any of them to sit still is usually a challenge but they were all stuck to their seats to watch the jumping, bouncing and diving. Morgan has actually been talking about it since leaving the park so I think it made a real impression on him. Marshall also loved it and was lucky enough to get picked to win a goody bag and have his photo taken with the divers!
Open attractions like this are often good for kids with auditory sensory issues as the open space lets a lot of the sound escape. We found that even though we could enjoy the music and hear everything that was going on, Morgan didn’t appear overwhelmed by it and was really enjoying himself.
Woody’s Cub House & Sensory Room
The one thing we really wanted to get a good look at was Woody’s Cub House and the new Sensory Room.
Woody’s Cub House is a soft-play area and those who’re familiar with spending a few hours in one aren’t going to have too many surprises. That said, I was impressed by the quality of the facility. There’s some cool air guns that can shoot balls and the whole thing is complex enough to keep the kids busy for an hour or so. One thing that I really liked as a parent was the fact that there aren’t multiple exits. Multiple-exit soft-play areas give me a heart attack because, as quite an anxious person, I find myself worrying that my small people might bumble out of an unseen opening and off into the crowd. Here everything is nice and compact and you can easily sit and chill with a coffee while the younger ones throw themselves around on the foam rollers and slides.
The Sensory Room is directly opposite the main play area and takes up a small room at the other end of the building. It has a soft, cushioned floor and walls and there were numerous colourful lights to interact with. My first impression was that they’ve clearly done a lot of research and made a great start kitting out this room to be a good, relaxing area.
There were a couple of things that did concern me about how well this would operate as a ‘calm down’ facility specifically for ASD/ADHD children.
Firstly, there’s no door to the room. Situated in a busy soft-play area, all of that external noise is still largely audible within the sensory room. The ‘ball guns’ opposite can also be heard within the room and this could set off a child with auditory processing issues. They make a noise very similar to hand-dryers and while I can’t speak for other parents, two of my three children have had real issues with that noise.
Overall though my take-away was really positive and having this area shows that Pleasurewood Hills really take the needs of all their visitors to heart.
On stand-out experience that we had was at the Parrot Show.
On our way in we had the opportunity to see some of the birds with their handlers outside which was a great way to interact with them before the show had started. One hiccup we did have was that the music playing inside the building was incredibly loud. Morgan immediately reacted quite strongly to it and was obviously uncomfortable. My wife immediately removed him from the space and took him outside. She was immediately met by a member of staff who spoke to her and turned down the music.
Morgan took some time to calm down before coming back inside and it was outside that he and his mum met a member of staff called Jade. Jade was amazing and sat down with Morgan with one of the birds called Harley. Morgan no doubt found this amusing as we have a cat called Harley too. Jade sat with Morgan and let him feed Harley some food. As he calmed down he used my wife’s phone to take pictures of Harley. He loves taking pictures and we’re considering getting him a proper digital camera. Although we’ve already said so online we’d really love to extend our thanks to Jade for taking the time to give Morgan a great experience like this as part of his day out.
Morgan was eventually able to come back in and sit through most of the show. All the kids loved the different birds but Morgan found Gary (who I believe is a Red-Legged Seriema) to be hilarious. He was cackling as Gary thwacked a plastic snake with his beak and later he came away with a poster of Gary for his wall. Later Morgan was able to pose for a photo with a parrot and you can really see how ecstatic he was.
We had a great time at Pleasurewood Hills and part of that was how seamless it was for Morgan to enjoy the same rides and activities as his brother and sister with as little fuss as possible. I’d definitely recommend other families, especially those with children with additional needs to try a day at Pleasurewood Hills and see how they get on. Busier periods may be slightly more troubling for those children that aren’t comfortable with big crowds but we found that the overall approach was very open and helpful!
Disclaimer: This review was undertaken in return for free entry to the attraction. No financial agreements were enetered into. Our opinions remain our own.