Beanies, Croydon

‘Beanies’ is a play centre/cafe in central Croydon, on the site of the old Beanos record store. On the ground floor is a cafe area, but if you want to go up to the play area on the first floor there is also waiter service. They give you a wristband which acts as a tab you then settle on leaving. They also hire out their top floor to other ‘organisations’ that offer music, dance, drama and even yoga classes etc.
Pros: The staff are very friendly, it was set up by mums with young children. The cafe does a wide range of sandwiches, paninis, cakes and drinks. There are lots of toys and dressing up costumes for babies and toddlers. They sometimes offer painting and other arts & crafts activities. There is no restriction on length of stay.
Cons: Personally, I found £5 entrance to the play area a bit expensive considering the toys are not dissimilar to what is provided at our local Sure Start Centres (which are free) and toddler groups. There was no soft play area, which I had expected it to have. The food and drink prices are comparable to typical cafes and coffee shops, whereas another play centre I know in Addiscombe only charges @ 50p for kids sandwiches.

If it was cheaper, we might go more frequently as a treat after shopping. However, for us there are cheaper, more local, places with soft play climbing areas that we would prefer to go.

Vines Bar & Grill, Carshalton

This place has only just opened, although (and this is a guess) is probably owned by the people who had the Greek Taverna in Carshalton – which is now closed.

There’s good buggy access, and already some good deals – buy a coffee and get a free croissant, buy a meal and get your child’s one free. The menu is a good selection of regular and meditteranean foods, and a good selection of vegetarian meals.

The downside – at this point there’s no baby changing, although the man I spoke to said they’re converting an office, so that will happen soon.

There’s also an outdoor area at the back.

Although I’ve not dined here, it looks good, it’s reasonably priced, and definitely worth checking out. Open now (just!)

 

Hooky Knitters Carshalton

Rachel started the Hooky Knitters group way back in the summer of 2011. We met every couple of weeks until Rachel went and moved to Exeter. We miss her!

We still meet though – around the middle of the month, just once a month, still at The Sun in Carshalton. Head over to our Facebook Group for more information.

The Hub @ Tooting & Mitcham Football Club

This is a soft play area which is well worth a visit. It’s £4 for a single child and I pay £6 for my two (age 6years & 20months June 2011) This is for a two hour session and it closes at 6pm.
The “playzone” for children is in the style of a ship. There is a dedicated area for the under fours however the sides are very low and my 20month old climbs out to get into the big kids bit.
It’s on two levels, with slides, playballs and various knock about bits you expect to find in soft play.
The area is generally quite clean although the only baby changing area is in the disabled toilet, and sometimes that’s not working or a bit smelly. The adult toilets are in good condition and have always had a supply of toilet paper & soap.
They serve hot and cold food. We’ve had the hot food a few times and I’ve always been more than happy with the service and quality of food. Kids portions are huge! Tea & coffee is very reasonable and I might note; drinkable. They have a range of snacks and drinks available for the kids and do ask that you don’t bring your own food. They have about 5 ikea high chairs for the smaller ones.
It’s hard to determine how busy it gets. I’ve been on days where it’s rammed out and you can’t get a seat and I’ve been on days when we’ve been the only family in there.
For older children, across the hall from the “playzone” is the “challenge zone” this is a high up soft area for climbing. My 6 year old is tall and finds some of it a bit difficult.
All in all, a good place to go on a rainy day to burn up some energy or to meet your Mummy friends and have a coffee.

The East Hill, Wandsworth

Located on Alma Road in Wandsworth, The East Hill is a Geronimo pub, we’ve been to a couple, and they’re definitely child-friendly.

The general rule is no children after 7pm, but before then you’ll find parents, families, kids, pets – there’s enough space so you can have your buggy by your table, and there’s enough child seats your little one will have somewhere to sit (they use this kind).

I’ve not seen a child menu there, although the side dishes are cheap enough you could get away with those.

Baby-changing wise, the toilets are just plain weird. You go through one door, and within are four or five cubicles – so you’re sharing sink space with everyone – you just have your own privacy beyond the door. I’ve not actually tried taking a buggy in the loos, so we’ll come back to that one.

 

Debenhams, Sutton

Let’s be honest. Debenhams in Sutton is showing its age. From the grubby changing rooms to the consistently broken down escalators and smelly lift, signs of wear and tear abound. So it’s safe to say I didn’t hold much hope for the child-friendliness of the ‘restaurant’ (we’ll call it a cafe for this review).

Don’t be fooled! The cafe is a perfectly acceptable place to feed your baby / toddler and had a few surprising touches. First of all, there is SPACE! And plenty of it. No need to squeeze my postnatal belly and buggy here (yes, Starbucks Sutton, I am referring to you). Enough space for your pushchair or double buggy even. Then there are the highchairs – bassinette style for newbies and good old standard wooden seats for the toddlers. And the safety straps are intact – mostly.

So, once you have unloaded your luggage and baby and strapped them in, you can make use of the ‘At Your Own Risk’ microwave. It’s super powerful, nuking baby food (I sneak my own in but there is a limited selection of children’s food available to buy, including innocent smoothies and annabel karmel ready meals) in minutes. The food area is clean, the microwave doesn’t pong and they even provide small food cartons (with lids) for you to heat and serve food. Handy if, like me, you forget/drop/melt your Boots baby food bowl and lid.

Helpfully, there are disposable bibs, individual wet wipes in sachets and plenty of napkins.

The food might not be all that, and the cafe staff aren’t that friendly, but just have a coffee and a sandwich and be thankful that baby is fed and might just drop off in the buggy afterwards while you browse the clothes. Be warned that the shopfloor is not as accommodating as the cafe in terms of space, so mummies, drive buggies carefully to avoid the tutting staff.

Epsom Ashley Centre.

So, not quite as good as it should be.  No parent child parking spaces in the Ashley shopping centre at all.   4 lifts, one usually out of order and as the stairs only go to level one, all the shoppers are trying to get in the lifts with trolleys from Waitrose, buggys and shopping.  If you are parked on the 1st level it’s an idea to use the customer lift in Waterstones but if you have some older children you run the gauntlet of getting past McDonalds!

The toilet & baby changing facilities are generally good and available to both gender parents.  If it’s just the loo for you but you have a buggy, the disabled toilet is big enough to fit you both in easily.

Croydon

I though it might be helpful to post some info for mums meeting/shopping in central Croydon. An obvious destination for baby changing facilities is Mothercare (Whitgift Centre) but be warned, its facilities are often ‘out of order’! Alternatives are, top floor of Whitgift centre (nr Auberge) which has a baby change with toilet cubicles & feeding area or, Marks & Spencer (1st flr back of Homeware dept.). There are also baby changing facilities in the Centrale shopping area.

Shops.

Generally, most shops cram as much in as they can, and there’s very few which acknowledge people with buggies or wheelchairs might want to visit. However, I’m trying to stay positive, so here’s some shops which you should generally find are good to visit for various reasons.

Mothercare – a bit obvious, I’ve never been to a store yet which doesn’t have a changing/feeding area in it – comfy seats and a bit of quiet when you need it and don’t feel comfortable feeding anywhere.

Starbucks – while I’m not the biggest fan of their coffee, almost every one I’ve been to has good baby changing and facilities, plus plenty of space for buggies, child seats if you need them, plus what seems to be groups of NCT mums all doing the same as you…

Caffe Nero – much better coffee, and again really good facilities – though I’ve found quite a few of these you need to ask for a key at the counter before you can get into baby changing (apart from the one in Croydon!) – all well and good, but it’s a popular shop and there’s the conundrum of queueing or pushing in to ask for it… which is never ideal with a stinky/upset baby

Flying With a 15 Month Old

Toddler on a PlaneI’ve only flown once with H, but if you’re going to fly, may as well make it Australia, right? Just walking, almost talking, and not as sleepy as she used to be. Sensible. If for any reason we happen to have a second child I’ve already said we’re flying when number 2 is 6 months, so they can sleep the entire time – it’s exhausting. I’ve written up a load of advice for mum friends over at various blogs, but decided it’s time I did a more coherent list, as I do like to ramble.

For the record, we went for a month, we had three large suitcases, one small cabin case with a car seat strapped to it, plus a changing bag, and one large record bag (also for cabin luggage), plus one 15 month old and a stroller. Oh, and the day we flew we missed our flight thanks to London’s evil snow at the end of November 2010 – thanks to the trains being cancelled. We didn’t end up stranded at Gatwick (thanks to friends nearby) and did fly out three days later, but it certainly was the biggest thing we’ve learnt about travelling. Hopefully it’ll be some help for you.

• Take a car seat if you can. You can’t always trust hired ones at the other side, although if you do take a seat with you, put it in a bin bag (helps protect against rainy weather), and try and strap it to hand luggage (we bought a case from M&S). We had to buy a seat for H, which meant we didn’t qualify for bassinet seats (she’d have been too tall anyway) but it meant she could be strapped in and was quite happy watching the Mr Men on the in-flight entertainment when we needed a break from entertaining her! We could only find one car seat which was lapbelt compatible, the Britax Prince – as we’d read some airlines will put the seat in the hold if it can’t be fastened that way.

• Next time we’re going to book a day room at a hotel nearby. Our flight was 8.30pm, but we couldn’t have allowed for the weather – our cab was gridlocked, so we had to resort to getting the train. At least if you’re in a room it’s not the most fun, but you’re there.

• Food-wise you’re doomed most ways. We did Baby Led Weaning with H from six months, so being offered mush (and she’s 15 months at this point too) on takeoff for her to eat was kind, but something she’d never eat. The kit with the spoon and wipes and everything was useful though, so even if you’re offered food but a meal has been booked, make sure you get one. We ordered H a toddler meal, which seemed to consist of crisps, chocolate, more chocolate, sweets, sugar, boing boing, hyper child sort of medicines. We swapped most of our food with hers and kept all crackers, cheese, savoury things, fruit and vegetables to one side for her. The tray on the back of the chair wouldn’t work on her side due to the car seat, so fortunately I got my meals first (vegetarian), and scoffed it so we could use the other two trays that we could access.

• In-flight Entertainment. Up until a month before Oz, the television was never put on at home – mind, she didn’t need too much distracting as she could crawl, and was happy sitting on the chair reading a book. However, we decided to introduce some Cbeebies into her life so that if we needed to put her in front of a screen on the flight, she’d have some familiarity. They had a handful of Cbeebies programmes, and also had some Australian ones (including several Wiggles episodes from ‘Wiggle And Learn’) which she watched on the way back (after having seen it on tv there almost every day). The Mr Men was the big surprise hit – the bright colours and simplicity worked a treat.

• Stroller – we got a battered old stroller from Freecycle, as I didn’t want to take our nice one on the plane – which was a sensible move. We had it up to the gate at Gatwick when it was put in the hold, and fortunately Dubai had some complimentary Emirates ones (all MacLaren’s), so we got to see the stroller again on arrival in Oz. On our return they had complimentary strollers at Perth, so it had to be checked in straight away – so it’s worth knowing what the policy is at each airport before you travel, depending on how you get there.

• Nappies & changing – the airplane apparently had some nappies, but we had plenty in the changing bag, so never needed to ask. The changing area in the loos on the plane were surprisingly good too – no space, but it’s do-able – though there’s no belt to fasten baby to (thank god she’ll lie still anyway). We got a large plastic bag to put any used nappies in, though didn’t realise until we’d landed – in London. Oops. Although one bag for a 12 hour flight is a bit hopeful, I think. (we had our own nappy sacks)

• That old “the attendants will take your child for a walk” thing… it happened once on four flights. We got about five minutes of child-free time and it was good to do things like reorganise our seating area, and stop, and breathe, and relax. Then back comes our crying toddler unhappy as she’s not with mummy or daddy…

• Child amusement packs – Emirates are pretty good – they had some notepads and pencils, a quiz book (H loved this, she pointed out all the animals she knew), as well as some odd looking hand puppets. We brought some sticker books and some Cbeebies magazines which also helped pass the time.

Toddler in a Stroller at Dubai International