I’ve spent a good chunk of my maternity leave mulling how I can successfully combine a baby with a shopping trip to Cardiff city centre. I had visions during my pregnancy of wandering around town, long lazy afternoons drinking tea and meandering around the shops in the arcades that I’ve never had time to visit. And yes, you can do all of these things with a baby. But the baby will probably be crying/bored/you can’t fit your buggy into that fancy tea shop with actual tea leaves.
Like most things baby-related, I’ve finally figured out the perfect solution right at the end of my time off. But mums with babies yet to be born, babes in arms and my fellow compressed-hours-having-it-all mums. Here is my formula for a perfect day shopping with baby in tow.
As all of those baby books gathering dust on our shelves tell us (particularly us preemie mums who had the baby before we could even pretend to read them), babies are so easy and have three basic requirements: to play, to eat and to sleep. Don’t skip a step – you want the magical period of sleep last to get your shopping done or some precious ‘me’ time!
It doesn’t matter if I spend all morning with L at a playgroup or hours of peek-a-boo, he will sleep in the car en route to town and expects entertainment in his new city-centre playground. I can usually get away with a little distraction from the bright lights in shops (Debenhams/John Lewis thank you) and looking at himself in the mirror of lifts (but as much as he’d enjoy it, I’m not riding lifts all day…plenty of time for that when I’m back in work!).
Rhymetime at Central Library is a fab, free way to entertain your baby for half an hour. This is one of the better Rhymetimes that I’ve attended and you need to book in advance as it’s so popular. The lady who facilitates the session is great and makes a fuss of each child. All parents and children sit in a circle and it’s a nice cosy environment. Room on the sidelines for hangers on (dads/grandparents – me watching L’s dad moan about his legs being too long for the circle…). There is buggy bedlam by the lift, so if you’re precious about your buggy (like me) you will have to leave it unattended. I have made a mental note to leave it in the car and swap back from the carrier later (sad right, but I love our Bugaboo). Also means you avoid dashing off as soon as the last rhyme finishes to get in the lift first (also me).
The toddler area at House of Fraser (Howells) Restaurant is often mentioned on Cardiff Mums as THE thing to do when you’re in town. I had a lot of buggy faff trying to find it – it is NOT Café Zest, you need to go to the top floor. I can see the appeal for older toddlers but your child needs to be walking to really enjoy the facilities. I did manage to pass a bit of time showing L a xylophone but he mainly wanted to a) eat the filthy stick and b) get out of my arms and onto the floor.
Soft play at Queen’s Arcade is our winner. It is perfect! And free! The small area is located on the ground floor opposite Bravissimo (who did the best bra fitting I’ve ever had, FYI). It has some lovely bits for babies to play on, particularly a green tunnel with a dome at the top to see the ceiling. L loved lying in it and kicking his legs on the side. His face lit up as soon as I took him out of the buggy and put him on the padded floor – absolutely perfect for a leg stretch after being cooped up. Our last visit backfired slightly as he got too tired for lunch, but this is now a regular stop on our town trips. It is very quiet during weekdays. He enjoyed it as much as fancier soft plays that I’ve spent a few quid on, so well worth a visit.
Update 2019: the soft play area in Queen’s Arcade is now closed. A pop-up soft play operates on an ad-hoc basis during school holidays. Please check the Queen’s Arcade Facebook page for updates.
Cardiff has loads of restaurants and cafes, so there is plenty of choice regardless of your feeding preferences. My priorities for L are a meal that we can both share, plenty of buggy room, helpful staff and suitable highchairs (he can’t sit in wooden high chairs or IKEA-style ones). After a few disasters with wooden highchairs (including falling THROUGH one!), I only ever go to one place for lunch in town with L.
Debenhams ticks all of our boxes, every time. A huge baby changing room with an adult toilet, two chairs and enough room to do a dance with your buggy if needed. A delicious carvery meal with generous portions, so I can feed L and not starve myself in the process. He loves nibbling on some meat, sharing my veg and I can spoonfeed him some mash if he’s feeling particularly lazy. There are several high-back booths where I can breastfeed L without too many stares and he can kick about on the seat next to me if needed. The buggy parks nicely alongside too. But the biggest perk for us is the wonderful baby cradles they offer (below), in addition to the normal (evil) wooden highchairs. The cradles are suitable for babies up to 20lbs and are simply perfect for L’s weird high-chair aversions. The staff are very helpful and always offer to take my tray to the booth/grab cutlery etc. They have plastic cutlery, a bottle warmer and microwave available for customer use too.
Although not for us (highchair woes), I also had a good experience in Milk and Sugar (Windsor Place). Good range of healthy food that babies could share (sweet potato jacket was delicious) and the staff couldn’t do enough to help me with L.
This is my ultimate goal in town – quality time with L, feeding us both and then a long nap for him to help with his brain development, protect his immune system…and time for me to chill. I personally try and get any shopping done asap so I can catch up on texts, read a book (ha – carry a book in my bag at least) or waste my time writing this blog. I’ve been on the hunt for a coffee shop with Wifi that actually works for months. I had some recommendations from a post on Cardiff Mums, but perhaps I’m just Wifi-challenged but I can’t get that bloody Cloud to work. Ever. It hates me. I just want somewhere with a comfy sofa, Earl Grey on tap and a bog standard Wifi like I have at home.
Through trial and error (and lots and lots of overpriced tea), I’ve finally found my spot. So please don’t steal my sofa when I share it with you…we love Coffee Heaven on St Mary’s St. The window tells me it’s an independent coffee shop, so no corporate tax guilt, and the Wifi is superb. Friendly staff, plenty of Bugaboo space and reasonably priced tea. If you avoid the lunchtime rush, it’s relatively quiet in the afternoon. They also have some seats outside on St Mary’s St – I can vouch for it being a suntrap as I’ve just squinted my way through most of this post on their patch. L has a 90% sleep success rate here but they do have wooden highchairs available and changing facilities if needed. But hey, follow my advice and you too can enjoy a child-free (ish) few hours in (Coffee) Heaven!
Okay so I may have told a little white lie. Yes, L does sleep for hours in the afternoon when we go to town. But there are some other boring things we have to do along the way too. I’m probably repeating what you already know, but for anyone who’s planning a trip to Cardiff (does this mean you’ve found my blog on Google?!), here are some basics:
- Parking – we tend to just splurge on the John Lewis car park, particularly if I have a lot to buy. It’s reasonably priced for a multi-storey car park and you pay-on-return which means you don’t have to wake up a napping baby. If I’m staying a long time or doing something the other end of town, we park at the Richmond Road pay-and-display bays as there are always spaces whatever time of day we arrive. We’ll usually do a quick loop around the side streets too as there is sometimes off-road spaces available for free.
- Baby changing and toilets – Matalan has nice clean baby changing facilities, huge toilet rooms but I particularly like the big feeding pods. I have been known to use them to breastfeed L and then eat my lunch too (#budget). My mum has also used them to bottlefeed L (back in the amazing days when he’d actually accept a bottle…sob) as she felt comfortable being alone and concentrating on his feed. We’ve both had random people stumble into the pods though so not one for the conservative breastfeeder.
- John Lewis also has good feeding facilities, with separate stalls and chairs. They do have signs for ‘bottle feeding’ and ‘breast feeding’ which I find a bit odd. We might do different things with our boobs but last time I checked we had the same bums to sit on a chair. And I always get irrationally concerned that I’ll get told off for breastfeeding in the bottle feeding seat.
- The new JoJo Maman Bébé in Royal Arcade is very baby friendly and there is a nursing area just outside the changing rooms. They also have a large toilet with space for buggies. They also have a colouring table with crayons for older children. But don’t blame me if you end up buying something in there…inevitable.
Play, eat, sleep and enjoy your trip to the city centre!