My son recently celebrated his birthday. And of course, with birthday parties, you want something interesting and different for the children. All parents know this and it is the same the world over.  We decided on a Halloween type party with a trip to the London Dungeon. We went to the London Dungeon last year and thought it was a lot of fun. It was more hilarious than scary, with overacted scary characters walking about the place. There were a couple of rides, but nothing really to give you nightmares – or so I thought.

After issuing invitations, I realised that not everyone thought the same as I did. Certainly, not about the horror house that sort of thing. One parent came back and told me that her son absolutely refused to go, and then another parent expressed concern. Now I have nothing but utmost respect for people who don’t want to do what they don’t want to do. But it also surprised me quite a bit. Oh dear, what am I to do with the tickets that I had bought?

We decided that the party must go on, and whoever we invite who would like to come is who we would take. After all, we’re not going to not do what we want to do just because other people don’t want to do what we want to do.  Get it?  It’s a bit confusing, but I think you got it.  Just like I got it in the end. Anyway, my son invited a few of his friends, and in the process we checked that they would be comfortable with the scariness of the London Dungeon. They all seemed fine.

A trip out to the London Dungeon is kinda a big thing, especially when you have 7 kids in tow. We caught the South West train into Waterloo and then the overground to London Bridge. It’s a much faster trip this way than the Underground. Children travelling with adults pay an extra pound each. The tickets I had purchased from Last Minute were General Admissions (after 4.30 pm). Even though I had tickets, we still needed to queue. Okay, I had bought the cheaper tickets, not the priority ones. Priority ones are more expensive, and well, if I was getting those, I would not have had done the London Dungeon as a birthday party experience.

What I wholly and totally underestimated was the length of time to queue. My plan was for 1 hour, the queue unfortunately was 2 hours. Oh lordy! A 2 hour wait with 7 children. How was I going to do this?  In my mind, I saw this birthday party going south – and I don’t mean Spain. I saw disappointed children, I saw us missing the London Dungeon altogether, I saw a very bad mom who bought very bad tickets.  But we started with the “This is the situation because these are the tickets I bought. The queue is longer than expected. It may not be as long as the man says it is. And anyway, we have to wait till 4.30 pm. Let’s see how this goes till then.”

Amongst the questions of “why is the queue so long?”, and “why can’t we buy new tickets?”, and “can we have a Mr Whippy ice cream?”, we managed to get through the first half hour. Some of the children run off and check the queue to see how far we had moved. We’d moved, but not a lot. In the meantime, I was on the phone, rescheduling our dinner reservation at Pizza Express for an hour later, and ringing all the parents to let them know. Thankfully, they were all cool about it.  I did flag to them that my main concern had been some delay, so they were aware of the possibility. I think they were thinking about trains, not queuing, however. I was thinking of trains, but not queuing.

Anyway, using each doorway as a marker of a goal to work towards, sending the children off to different activities such as eavesdropping to hear the screams of the patrons inside, children amusing themselves with stomp your foot games, we inched our way forward.  Suddenly there was only about half an hour to the line.  We could see the cauldron at the entrance. So close, and yet so far. I asked the children whether they still wanted to keep waiting, but of course, the answer was no.

We finally got in.  There was a bit of a queue inside as well, but it didn’t seem as long as we were all through the doorway and the excitement of finally being in the London Dungeon took over.  My next random thought was: what if I bought fake tickets on Last Minute?  (You can tell I am a worrier, can’t you?)

To be honest, this time, I didn’t really experience the London Dungeon. Because it was all dark in there, I was making sure that all 7 children were together.  Oh, did I mention? I had a friend with me also, so 2 adults really helped with looking after the kids and passing the time. Anyway, it’s dark and gloomy in the London Dungeon, as you’d expect. And there were scary people who’d try to “boo” you. And creepy scenes like dead bodies in cages, and rats and things like that. The children loved it.  They knew something “bad” might be around the corner, but spent their energies trying to work out what it was so that they wouldn’t be scared. And they learnt something about England’s gruesome past.

I won’t go into too much detail about each of the experiences we went through. Suffice it to say that I really still think it’s not as scary as their website makes it out to be. Admittedly, they have to say that because I’m sure there’s a small percentage who might become truly afraid. But the simple trick is – for both adults and children – it really is not real. These are just actors who are paid to scare you. The rest of it is just great props, overacting, and theatrics – smoke and mirrors kind of stuff. Really, when I looked at the London Dungeon experience, it is quite amazing how theatrics gives the illusion. And that’s what the London Dungeon is – an illusion of horror.  Take it in that light.

We made it through 80% of the experience, and then we really had to go to dinner at Pizza Express as other parents were meeting us there also, and we were still 2 train rides away. The children were all disappointed.  “But we’ve been in here for only 5 minutes!”  It’s been an hour and ten.  Overall, once they did get in, they all agreed that it was worth the wait, and in the end, they forgot the about the wait. So I’m glad that what they remembered was the London Dungeon, and not that we left because of the queue (which had been my concern 3 hours earlier.)

As mentioned earlier, I got my tickets on Lastminute.com.  I paid 7 pounds per ticket for a General Admissions ticket. With a General Admissions ticket, you have to queue to get in, like anyone else who goes to the London Dungeon from off the street.  They say on the website that you can queue for up to 2 hours.  Believe me, it is 2 hours.  Would I pay 22 pounds for an adult, and 16 pounds for children for a priority entry?  To be honest, I’m not sure.  There was also a queue on the priority line, though admittedly much shorter.  So, I think the premium you pay is for the saving of time, and that depends on how much time you have. (Just need to add these particular circumstances which probably made the queue extra long:  It was a Friday. It was the eve of Halloween. It was the last day of the school half term break.)

I would say that London Dungeon is not appropriate for children 8 and under. It’s more difficult to manage their expectations of reality. If you’re a timid adult and you’re concerned, grow up! It really isn’t that scary, and remember it’s not that real. Remember that medieval England was not that attractive. In fact, it was pretty horrible for most of the population.

Quick plug for Pizza Express. It is a great place for a birthday party, and they were really great attending to 8 children and 7 adults for dinner. Their Piccolo Menu meant that these kids had a sense of “choice” in their meal. I was thinking of ordering pizzas for them, but then I thought with 8 kids, it might get unwieldy. I’ll bet there’ll be one kid who won’t want what everyone is having, and then it will be a case of, “but I want that too!”

Ah, the joys of birthday parties.