Until a few weeks ago, I wasn’t planning to go to the Olympics. DH had booked ping pong tickets (he’s an enthusiast; yes, really…) and Paralympics swimming for himself and The Boy, but I was prepared to sit this one out, thinking it’d be a nightmare with The Baby. But then the torch came to town, and, gripped by Olympics fever, I logged onto the ticketing website later that evening and found myself in possession of four Olympics Park day passes.
In the run-up to the big day, I had major doubts about whether taking a 6 3/4-year-old and a 17-month-old to the Olympics was a good idea. Overcrowding, transport difficulties, queues for food, the potential for losing one or both kids, bored children, whingy children, rain… The potential for disaster was huge, and I was expecting to have a quick look around and then bale out. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. We may not have had access to an actual live event, but it was a proper once-in-a-lifetime experience all the same.
I could go on for weeks about all the great things about the Olympics, but I wouldn’t want to bore people to death, so instead, here are my top 10 tips for taking children to the Olympic Park.
1. Take the Javelin
We’re fortunate that our nearest mainline station takes us into St Pancras, which meant that from there, it was only a seven-minute ride on the Javelin to the Park. I can’t vouch for the tubes but the predicted transport chaos was nowhere to be seen. There were no queues, it was all well signposted, and The Boy fulfilled his lifetime ambition of going on a Fast Train.
2. Get there early
Our tickets warned that there would be long queues to get through the airline-style security, but at 10am, we walked straight through with no fuss whatsoever. What’s more, all the staff were super-friendly at that time of day, chatting to the children and giving them high-fives.
3. Head down to the canal
Take a right as you go into the main area of the park and you get to the canalside walkway. It may not have been designed as an adventure playground for kids, but it fulfilled its unintended purpose very well, with hills to run up and down, benches to balance on, steps to scale and plenty of space to wander.
4. Stop off in the main square
Not only is this area covered in a colourful rubberised surface that is perfect for running around (and falling over) on, but the stewards are (or were today) seemingly there purely to entertain the kids. We had a most enjoyable half-hour performing rhythmic gymnastics with strips of loo roll, and doing the 20m sprint up to a toilet paper finishing line.
5. Queue early for food
We got to the World’s Biggest Fast Food Emporium at about midday, and were served within about 20 minutes – and we got a seat, too. But by the time we came out, the queues were snaking round the building and it must have been taking people at least an hour to get in – a potential nightmare with young children.
6. Take spare batteries
Our digital camera – which we bought specifically because it can run off normal AAs, eliminating the ‘oh no, the batteries are flat’ panic that we used to have with our old solid-state battery camera – ran out of juice halfway through the day. We assumed we’d be able to pick up a packet of batteries in the shop, but none are sold on site – very, very annoying.
7. Watch the medal events on the big screen
We were lucky enough to be at the Park to see Team GB lift their first two gold medals, and watching them on the big screen at Park Live must have been the next best thing to actually seeing them in person. There’s lots of entertainment in the run-up to the events, too, with Face in the Crowd competitions and stewards dishing out temporary tattoos, which pleased The Boy no end. They also gave out large polythene Union flag ground sheets to protect bottoms from wet grass, which doubled up nicely as victory flags when Wiggins won (see below).
8. Don’t bother with the megastore
Queues to get into the shop: seriously? We gave up and headed towards the smaller London 2012 shop, near the hockey stadium. No queues there, and DH and The Boy were in and out within 10 minutes, bearing a golden Wenlock mascot.
9. The loos are fine…
No queues, plenty of loo roll – but the baby changes are few and far between, and people appeared to be hogging them for goodness only knows what reason; feeding, perhaps? I ended up changing a nappy in a quiet corner after waiting 20 minutes for a baby room, and half-expected to be ejected from the park for my transgression.
10. Don’t miss the rings
Yes, you have to wait a long time in the queue – but as a souvenir of London 2012 for your child to keep for life, you can’t miss the photo opportunity.