Do you know about The Late Shows? It's a FREE late-night culture crawl in Newcastle and Gateshead on Friday 18 and Saturday 9 May 2018. Museums, galleries and other spaces in the North East are open after hours.
We booked our tickets to Geronimo Festival back in January, when this blog was just a twinkle in my eye. It looked fun, different to anything we'd been to before and handily it fell on the same weekend as my toddler's second birthday. Last year we'd had a small party which ended up being a surprising amount of work, so being a fuss-free celebration it ticked all of the boxes. The review i'd found of the previous year was pretty positive, so we went ahead and booked up. It wasn't cheap, but as we were visiting just before the toddler turned 2 we only had to pay for two adult tickets, which including car parking cost us about £45. My sister and her family joined us too, costing them almost £90 for the day.
Getting there: We set off, raincoats in hand on a wet bank holiday Sunday. I optimistically checked the forecast every 20 minutes, but it was due to rain all day. It wasn't just the weather dampening our spirits either as a search of the twitter hashtag #geronimofest detailed 90 minute waits to get into the car park, and more alarmingly queues in the rain of up to an hour to get through the gates. Thankfully this was one of the few times that being perpetually late has played to our favour, as when we arrived at about 11:30 all of the queues had passed and we got straight into the carpark and waited about 10 mins to swap our tickets for wristbands. Getting in had been fairly straight-forward, although by the time we arrived the stewards directing traffic looked fairly shell shocked and didn't attempt to hide it when greeting us. They responded to any of our questions by telling us to ask at the gate, and I half expected them to curl into the fetal position if I asked again where we should park.
Once through the gates the festival started as it would continue. Chaotic, busy, weird and on occasion wonderful. Large grass covered letters spelled out Geronimo, and we joined the rest of the crowd who could spot an instragramable moment when they saw one, in climbing over them for a photo op. Looking around the grounds we could see lots of marquees, outdoor events and people, lots and lots of people.
There weren't any signs detailing the different areas, and we hadn't been given a map or program when we entered the festival, so we started an exploratory walk around the grounds. This resulted in 8 people walking off in different directions, sticking their heads in various marquees and joining queues without really knowing what they were for. Due to the differing ages of our respective kids we decided to split up from my sisters family so we could get a bit of a grasp about what we wanted to do.
I'm not sure we ever really succeeded with this aim, but that isn't to say that we didn't have fun. We really did. However I was left with the sensation that due to the poor organisation of the event we missed out on some of the attractions we would have enjoyed.
Attractions: Between our two families we had 5 children ranging from 10 years old to 4 months, with the exception of the baby who slept through a lot of it, they all found something that they loved. The toddler was enthralled by the baby disco, bouncy castle, and musical performers who were dotted around the festival.
My 4 year old niece had a talent of picking the biggest queues to have fun in. She spotted the helter skelter when we first went into the festival and her parents naively joined the queue. An hour after we'd left them to explore my sister texted me to say they were still in the queue for the slide! Later, after another parent had kindly pointed us in the direction of the face painters, we joined the huge queue and waited about an hour. Thankfully Maggie made such a cute little dog that we thought it had been worth it, but this was an example where the poor organisation really had an impact on the day. The Sunday event was sold out, which prior to the festival left me feeling both smug that we'd got our tickets in good time, and slightly anxious that there were going to be too many people for it to run well. Sadly I think that this was the case. We were frequently left asking why the organisers hadn't managed to cater for the huge number of people visiting. Apparently 15000 tickets were sold. Yet we spotted only 2 face painters.
Where the festival seemed to excel was with the older children's activities. This was probably because the fewer number meant there were almost no queues for some of the things they were interested in. They went on a large zip line at least 6 times each, and although they were slightly too small for the giant jump where they would have landed in a huge inflatable pillow, if they'd been big enough for this, we saw there were no queues for this all day. They also took part in a graffiti workshop creating images with spray paint and templates which they both loved.
Shows: Due to the ages of the kids with us, the only show we were really interested in was Mr Tumble. Therefore we didn't spend much time around the stages where there were various performers from CBBC throughout the day. I saw on twitter that there were lots of complaints about kids being unable to see the shows due to the height of the stages, and we did find that when Mr Tumble came on the stage it was difficult to catch sight of him. But having been to festivals before this was something that I was expecting. It was a shame that the large screen was located so far from the stage, but apparently this was due to the poor weather. I spoke with another mum who had seen lots of the shows, she said that she made sure she arrived at the stage early and that her kids had got a good view. We didn't bother to wait in the queue for the circus, but we heard that this was worth the 45 minute wait and a really good show. There were lots of performances which took place within the crowd, and were very good. We happened to catch a few minutes of a sheep sheering show, which was much funnier and more entertaining than it sounds, and we saw giant puppets, a princess on a beautiful white horse and too many other performers to mention throughout the day.
Things we missed out on: Annoyingly we did miss out on some of the things that we would have been interested in, and I think that the poor information and planning on behalf of the festival was to blame. We stumbled upon the under three area after we'd been at the festival for a few hours. Here were a group of tents offering tumble tots sessions, soft play, and music and dance classes. We were informed that all of the tumble tots sessions were fully booked, which was frustrating as we hadn't been told on entry what sessions needed to be booked in advance. In all fairness the tumble tots staff member told us that we could wait at the door and when people started leaving that they'd let people in on a one in one out basis, but we decided just to explore the rest of the festival instead of waiting. As we left the festival we spotted the woodland area which we hadn't seen at all whilst we were inside. I think that my nephews would have really enjoyed playing in this area where there were nets in the trees to climb on, but there had been no signposting to this inside so we didn't see it until it was too late.
Toilets and Baby Change: I saw some negative comments on twitter about the baby change facilities, but again I think this must have been due to poor signage. There was what I thought were very good provision for baby change within the under three areas, but we didn't see one sign throughout the whole festival letting people know where they were. Baby change was within a marquee, with at least 8 changing tables, with hand gel, baby wipes and nappies available if you found yourself separated from your change bag or running out of nappies. There was a breastfeeding tent there for people who wanted to have somewhere private to feed their baby, but again we just stumbled upon this as opposed to seeing any signs. There were toilets scattered around the event, and some did have long queues. However other areas didn't have any queues at any point throughout the day so we always used these. They did run out of toilet paper half way through the day which was annoying.
Food: This was another area where the queues were a nightmare. Until about 3pm it looked like each food queue would be at least an hour. That was whether you wanted a full meal, or just a cup of tea. It was frustrating and again left us feeling like the festival hadn't managed to adequately prepare for the number of tickets sold. There were places to eat foods if you'd brought picnics such as a small undercover picnic table areas, and we saw lots of people eating their picnics in the tents. However usually the ground wasn't covered so it didn't look particularly comfortable.
Overall: Perhaps this review has been overly negative, as overall we did have a brilliant day. There was so much to see and do, and it was really quite different to anything that we'd been to before. I almost wished that we'd arranged to stay in Leeds and had tickets for the second day, as I think having gleaned the knowledge we had from day one we could have had an even better time on a return visit. I think we easily could have spent another 5 hours at the event and still had things to do. I think this is where the organisers need to listen to the feedback on twitter, facebook and the various blogs which have been written about the event. The variety and type of attractions and events put on throughout the festival was brilliant, but there needed to be more of them so that people's lasting memory of the day was about the excitement of what they did do, instead of just waiting in queues all day long. They also need to provide people with more information, through adequate signage, information packs and actual staff who are working for geronimo as opposed to being part of a specific attraction.
Tips for anyone going to Tatton Park at the end of the month or going to Geronimo 2017:
- Expect traffic and queues to get into the carpark. Think about heading a good hour before the start time, or to arrive an hour or so after to miss the worst of it.
- Bring your own food, flask and waterproof picnic blanket. Don't waste any of your day in the huge queues for food.
- If the information provided hasn't been improved, then try and spend the first half an hour walking around and covering all of the ground, putting your heads in as many tents as you can to work out just what is inside, whether you'd be interested in it, and if so if it needs to be booked in advance.
Would I recommend it? This is a tough one, as I thought that it was a brilliant event, but that there are so many areas for improvement. I think that I would personally return next year, hoping that the organisers have learned from this year, and using the knowledge that I have from this year. But I would be wary of recommending it to anyone else until I'd seen that improvements had been made. I hope that the organisers can dust themselves off and think about the improvements which can be made for next year, as I think Geronimo has the potential to be something really special. The quality and variety of shows, attractions and events were excellent, they had thought of something for everyone. However there just weren't enough for the amount of people who had bought a ticket.
Did you go to Geronimo Festival 2016? What were your thoughts? Do you agree? Think that the smoke filled bubbles at the event went to my head? Please leave us a comment with letting us know what you thought of the event.