We visited ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure and this is what we thought
Hidden in the countryside near Norwich is a place you can step back in time and discover a world where dinosaurs roamed.
But it's fair to say that as well as offering time travel, ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure, at Lenwade, has a bit of everything.
Perfect for all dinosaur-loving youngsters (and also those ambivalent to the prehistoric creatures), the park not only has dinosaur trails but a splash pad, soft play centre, high ropes course, secret animal garden (where children can get up close for animal encounters), a raceway with miniature vehicles for children to drive, adventure playgrounds, crazy golf, a chance to dig for dinosaur remains and an exploration adventure.
We had visited twice before – first when Clara was about 18 months old and again in 2020, when she had just turned four.
Each time she – and we – had enjoyed different aspects of our visits so we were excited to return ahead of Clara's sixth birthday to see what she made of it.
As well as many prehistoric creatures, ROARR! is home to mascot Dippy the dinosaur, who lends his name to many of the park's attractions. And new for 2022 is Dippy's Exploration Adventure.
On arrival, we saw Dippy's Exploration Adventure was fairly near the park's entrance and so, not really knowing what we were letting ourselves in for, headed straight to it.
Perhaps we should have prepared ourselves more thoroughly – or heeded the warden's suggestion we use our phones' torch function – but instead we stepped from blinding sunshine straight into the pitch darkness of 'abandoned church ruins'.
Struggling to see anything at all – I could not even see my husband even though I had my hand gripping his shoulder – Clara let out a piercing scream and us grown-ups fumbled clumsily for our phones.
By this point Clara was ready to abandon the exploration, but we persuaded her to continue into the indoor maze.
I don't want to give anything away but with surprises around most corners, various challenges and the noises of terrified adults screaming in the group ahead of us, I am amazed we made it back out into the sunlight in one piece.
But make it we did – and with a real sense of achievement for young Clara that she had pushed through her fear.
Her well-deserved reward was free time on the extensive adventure playground.
It has always amazed me how children can be so entertained by playgrounds. Clara would happily have run up and down the rope bridges to the slide all day had we not eventually dragged her over to the new and interactive Valley of the Dinosaurs walk.
Part of a £350,000 investment for 2022, the interactive and immersive Valley of the Dinosaurs walk only opened at the 85-acre park at the end of May.
The valley features 50 animatronic and static dinosaurs in an adventure which transports visitors back in time to a land where dinosaurs roam.
Thanks to an accompanying ROARR! app, visitors are able to get up close to Jurassic creatures including triceratops, a 12-metre-long Brachiosaurus and a Maiasaura family complete with two babies and a nest of eggs.
At the valley's entrance we were greeted by a statue of the park’s Norfolk-born explorer Cornelius Weston Smythe, where we read he was also the founder of Valley of the Dinosaurs and had vowed to protect and keep the dinosaurs inside safe.
Along the walk we found plenty of opportunities to take photos as well interactive AR points to bring the journey to life, while at the end a magic mirror allows visitors to join dinosaurs for a photo.
After emerging from the Valley of the Dinosaurs we were perfectly situated to explore the secret animal garden – and to queue up for a close-up encounter with Adriana the boa constrictor.
Clara had met – and held – a much smaller snake at the park when she was about 18 months old. Given Adriana's size Clara was not able to hold her, but she had ample time to touch her skin and learn about her.
Then we walked through the gardens and past the lake – where feed for the ducks is available to buy – before heading to the predator high ropes course.
I was desperate to try this, having been wearing flip flops when I last visited ROARR! – closed toe shoes are a requirement – and instead had to watch Clara and David tackle the course. This time, I had come prepared (wearing trainers) and was determined to join them.
After a short queue and safety briefing we were soon on our way up the steps and on to the Predator course.
It is surprising how, as an adult, these things can phase you more then the youngsters. Clara and most of the other children seemed to almost skip along the various tightropes, wobbly bridges and bars which stood between us and the exhilarating zip-wire which marked the end of the course.
I, on the other hand, felt my breath catch in my throat as I took faltering steps across every challenge. Until, that is, the zip wire. Then, I took a run up and off the platform to whizz across to the finish. So did Clara, which was an improvement on her 2020 attempt when she lost momentum half-way across the zip and had to be helped to safety.
Then we took the Neanderthal walk back up to the park's upper area, as Clara was determined to have plenty of time at Dippy's splash zone.
The splash pad features slides, fountains, cannon shoots and every child's favourite – a giant bucket which tips out vast quantities of water at regular intervals.
You've never seen a child shed her normal clothes and get into a swimming costume so quickly as Clara preparing for Dippy's splash zone.
She ran straight in, complete with beaming smile, arms open and ready to experience some wet and wild splash pad fun.
After 20 exhausting minutes, she emerged wanting to be wrapped in a towel almost as soon as the sun disappeared behind a cloud for the afternoon.
The splash zone only closes for the winter season or when the temperature goes below 10c, but it is definitely more enjoyable for the children when East Anglia is experiencing some of its warmer weather.
We decided to head to Dinomite indoor play to warm up, where I was able to enjoy a welcome coffee break as Clara raced around the soft play – confidently tackling steeper slides than during our previous visits.
Indoor soft play was followed by outdoor play at Pterodactyl's treehouse and more time on the adventure play area.
Having experienced most of ROARR's attractions on previous visits, we were only sad we had not had time to visit Dippy's theatre – the 228-seat auditorium was only opened in 2021 so we have not seen shows or met the characters there before.
However, there are only so many hours in the day and we felt we did quite well to pack so much in to our afternoon.
And that's part of the beauty of ROARR!, it really does have something for everyone to enjoy – even if you think dinosaurs are not your thing.
For further information and to book tickets, go to www.roarrdinosauradventure.co.uk