TWENTY years after first opening, Belfast's interactive science centre W5 (Who, What, Where, When, Why) reopens to the public this week – just in time for the Halloween half-term break.
Closed since March 2020, W5 used the enforced closure due to the Covid pandemic to transform the attraction, with eight new interactive zones packed with over 250 hands-on exhibits and experiences, covering everything from climate change and nature to media production, built engineering, medical science and much more.
I was fortunate to get a sneak preview of the new and improved W5 last week, with the exception of the under-eights area, which was getting some last minute finishing touches.
Over the Hills and Far Away aims to bring stories to life for little ones with swashbuckling pirates, a fairy tale market zone and an enchanting secret garden amongst the new interactive exhibits.
On our way to W5 my eight and 11 year olds were concerned about whether some of their favourites from previous visits would still be there.
Their worries were allayed when they caught a glimpse of the 3D climbing maze, Climbit, which has been updated to include light and sound installations.
The musical stairs, laser harp, pan pipes, floating balls and many of the construction workstations also still exist, whilst some old favourites, such as the pulley chairs, have been combined into new attractions like the Marvellous Machine on level two.
It delves into the world of mechanical engineering, with fun, hands-on interconnected exhibits using all manner of cogs, gears, levers, and springs to bring learning to life. Scanable QR codes at each attraction can lead to further learning.
So what else is new? And what were our family's favourites?
For my eldest, Noah, it was the Move It engineering and transport design area, where he built a racing car and took on the role of a crane driver offloading cargo in the replica Port of Belfast exhibit.
The new Energise zone, which had a strong emphasis on different types of renewable energy was also a big hit with Noah, who was engrossed in trying different blade designs on wind turbines and was subconsciously learning about chemical reactions whilst creating his own virtual fireworks display.
My daughter Abigail is more of a creative learner, so level four was a big hit with her. The Studio celebrates Northern Ireland as a world leader in the world of television and film production and invites children to try their hand at presenting, camera operating, lighting design, storyboarding and Abigail's favourite - stop motion animation.
Also brand new is Making Sense, which puts your perception to test with a series of optical illusions, visual tricks and multisensory experiences, including a vortex light tunnel and Abigail's personal favourite - The Illusion.
In this immersive 360-degree Illusion Box, projected moving images are reflected in mirrored walls, putting you in the centre of an epic infinite illusion.
Or as Abigail's imagination made her believe, into the middle of a dance video shoot.
Other highlights include daily science shows and The Lost Planet, W5's dinosaur and space-themed soft play activity area for three to 11 year olds.
:: You must pre-book your visit in advance at w5online.co.uk.