Weather: It’s indoor so that is, for once, gloriously irrelevant.
We went to our local in Watford so i will be basing the rest of the review on this one for ease, but I imagine these things are usually placed in similar locations thanks to the strip-mall-ification of our society so I hope this post will generally apply to most Rock Up locations.
All equipment (basically a harness) is provided. Sessions are an hour long but you do need to be there half an hour before for the safety briefing. Alternatively you could fling your brood through the door late and panting , like I did, as I always find that the best way to start any activity is with the anxiety sweats.
It is a bit pricey - about fifty quid for the four of us for an hour but the kids were so knackered that they slept well for over a week, so I think it more than paid for itself in the long run.
Climbing. That’s it. Strictly speaking it’s not rock climbing or even climbing-wall climbing. Rock Up is very much its own thing. I did a bit of climbing in my twenties and enjoyed the zen-ness of it all; the need to plan before moving, the importance of breathing, the gradually attained sense of achievement - but this place knocks all of that into a crevasse. The climbing walls here are pleasingly bonkers. There are some very simple ones, some fiendishly difficult ones and some bastard ones that look easy until you try them. There are walls you can race up, some with timers so you can race yourself and others that are just plain odd. It is lots of fun. You basically wander the floor until you see a wall you fancy (or just one that is free, depending on how busy it is) and then stick your hand up until someone in a bright yellow t-shirt attaches your harness to the rope and then up you go.
The kids are brilliant at all of it. Every single one of them was able to ascend merrily right to the top like the monkeys they are. Getting down does take some getting used to. There may be a few wobbles at the start as you need to let go of the climbing wall and hold onto your harness to rappel down and this is deeply counterintuitive. Kids may need some verbal encouragement to let go for the first time but they soon get into the swing of things (pun very much intended). I, however, did not. For the entire hour I spent at least two minutes faffing about at the top of each wall as my hands refused to let me let go - they clung onto that wall like sticky buds on a school jumper. it It is a singular sensation, when your brain and your body fundamentally disagree.
I also need to give a special mention to the staff. They definitely earn their pay as they have to constantly patrol the floor and hook up harness for for everyone before they can climb. Every staff member we met did this efficiently and courteously, they were kind to the kids and I didn’t see even one raised eyebrow or a single smirk as I hauled myself up like King Kong on the Empire State Building (the stop motion version). Their professionalism is to be commended. You really do need to leave your sense of shame at the door if you’re going to enjoy this one. Being trussed up like a chicken and puffing like a steam engine is not a good look for me.
Coffee: I am sure there is coffee here but there is a fantastic independently coffee shop called Ocean Bell just outside the shopping mall (hang a right out of the mall doors) which does superb coffee to soothe the soul and bring reward to aching limbs. Very very recommended.
Food: Rock Up Watford is excellently placed in the foodarium end of the mall and there are a host of mid-end, child-friendly restaurants only minutes away - Nando’s, Chiquito’s, Wagamama’s, GBK. Basically mass produced fat and salt with a range of seasonings from whichever continent appeals to you most. Perfect for a family day out.
Grounds: The whole point is to stay off the ground so this is utterly irrelevant.
Accessibility: To be honest, unless they run specific relaxed sessions I cannot think of any kids with additional needs that I know who would be able to tolerate this. I feel it would be very stressful and it is definitely not for the physically impaired. Sorry.
Overall: A really fun family activity if you are feeling a bit flush.