The original Madame Tussauds carries the weight of legend. It’s over 250 years old, and the Marylebone Rd premises, close to Regent’s Park in London, is where Madame Tussaud herself settled after coming on tour from France with her lifelike waxworks. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but when I visited, in a school half-term with my eight- and almost-six year old, we had a surprisingly fun time.
I say surprising, because Austin and Gwen know very little about celebrities. At a push they could probably recognise Donald Trump and members of the British royal family, but that’s about it. And Madame Tussauds is all about famous people. Room upon room is filled with eerily convincing waxworks of actors, sports stars, royals, writers, politicos and musicians. Visitors mill around the mannequins, taking selfies or snapping their family posing next to the public figures. Another twelve Madame Tussauds are dotted around the globe. Most of them opened after 2000, in as far-flung places as Shanghai, Washington DC, and Blackpool, UK.
It helped that we didn’t have to wait too long to get in. The queues at Madame Tussauds are long, but Attractions Tickets Direct had offered us Big London cluster tickets – four major attractions bundled into one, with priority queueing at each. We still had to wait outside, but the combination of our priority tickets and early time slot (10.15am, shortly after opening) meant that we passed through the doors within ten minutes. And, once inside the opulent, movie-star studded first room, Austin and Gwen quickly entered the selfie-snapping spirit of the place. Never mind that they had no idea who most of the waxworks were supposed to be. They darted around, demanding I take shots of them with any models who took their fancy.
I enjoyed watching what the kids made of the mannequins. Austin was characteristically irreverent and cheeky, pulling faces and making bunny ears behind the heads of the rich and famous.
While Gwen nestled into her favourites.
Both children made a bee line towards the Bollywood section, which was quieter than the rest of the hall.
Gwen was very taken with Katrina Kaif. I had to stop her from burying her fingers into the mannequin’s belly button, and tugging on her spangly dress.
We moved on from the movie stars, who were in the most popular room. It was interesting to see who was in, and who was out of the grand Madame Tussaud’s hall of fame. I remember a waxwork of Kylie Minogue caused a stir a few years ago, when visitors had to be stopped from groping her scandalously raised bottom. Poor old Kylie is nowhere to be seen these days. Instead, there’s a big section dedicated to hit TV talent show The Voice, where you queue to sit in the coaches’ seats, and press a button when you like the sound of a contestant, singing on a huge screen behind you.
The modern British monarchy were popular, as was Donald Trump – mostly with people making rude gestures around his head (this is Britain, after all). The crowds thronging around him made it difficult to get close.
The two Youtubers in the place didn’t seem to be pulling many crowds, though, even though they were set next to a phone-charging point. People seemed more interested in posing with Shrek, ET, and in walking past an enormous animatronic King Kong, who spat out real water, according to Austin (I bypassed this section with Gwen, who was scared by the noises he made. It’s aimed at over-8s).
Not all of Madame Tussauds was a hit, though. We paid £5 each to go into the Sherlock Holmes experience, which was structured in a similar way to Shrek’s Adventure, another London Merlin attraction. You enter in groups, and walk through detailed rooms where actors perform a story in front of you. The information about the experience said that it wasn’t a scare attraction, but parental guidance was needed for children under ten. I asked a staff member whether it was scary, and he told me it wasn’t. But the bloody severed leg on the floor of the second room was too much for our Gwen. We had to ask an actor to take us out. Madame Tussauds did refund our money, but it would have been helpful if the advice had been a bit clearer.
Anything with even a hint of a scare was a no-go after that. The Spirit of London Ride, where you rolled round through the ages in black cabs, wasn’t fun for Gwen because of the sections showing scenes from the Great Fire of London, and the Blitz in WWII. We decided not to venture into the auditorium for the 4D Superheroes film. It was a shame, because the Sprit of London ride was nicely done, and judging by the 4D experience at Shrek’s Adventure, the superheores film was likely to have been enjoyable. But Gwen had had enough.
My top tip would be to wait until your children are a little older than Gwen (almost six at the time), expecially if they’re sensitive. At eight, Austin was a good age to enjoy the place, but we couldn’t see it all because of the parts that were too scary for Gwen. Madame Tussauds is an attraction with more to it than just waxworks, but your children do need to be old enough to appreciate it properly.
Madame Tussauds London is on Marylebone Road, just a couple of minutes away from Baker Street underground station. Baker Street is on the Bakerloo, Circle, Jubilee, Metropolitan and Hammersmith & City lines. You can also travel there by bus, or via Marylebone train station, which is a 12-minute walk away. The Transport for London website has more information.
Attraction Tickets Direct invited us to visit Madame Tussauds and other London attractions on their Big London cluster tickets. At £54 for adults and £44 for children between three and 15, the tickets save around 50% of the cost of walk-up entry to the attractions. As well as Madame Tussauds, the cluster tickets give you entry to The Coca-Cola London Eye, SEA LIFE London Aquarium and Shrek’s Adventure at any time over 90 days. You need to visit Madame Tussauds first to activate your ticket. The cluster tickets are a good way to plan ahead and beat some of the longer queues that can build up at these attractions.
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