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My son received this for Christmas just after his first birthday and now, at the age of nearly four, he still plays with it on a semi-regular basis. I have been inspired to write this review by the fact that he's got it out today and is happily playing away as I type. Ideally he'd like to 'upgrade' to the ELC Big City Garage (as, in typical pre-schooler style, he asks me if he can have it every single time we go into the Early Learning Centre), but he still gets some enjoyment out of this.
The ELC Whizz Around Garage is a chunky, brightly coloured plastic garage which needs to be slotted together and to have the stickers stuck on it. Assembly doesn't take very long at all, but as usual with toys for little ones, there is a lot of packaging and getting it out of the box was a bit of a challenge. Why is it that you spend more time trying to un-twist all those little ties than actually building the toy? And it always takes twice as long when you've got a little one who is eager to see what it's like when it's all put together. The garage has a lift which goes up and down setting off flashing lights as it goes, two different ramps (a spiral and a steep slide-type one), petrol pumps and a car wash underneath - perfect for toddlers to build their imagination through playing with the three chunky plastic cars provided. There is also a heliport on the roof of the lift section. The colour scheme for the one we have is turquoise, green, yellow and red which I would consider a very non-gender specific colour scheme, however, you can now also buy this garage in pink.
The garage is marketed as being for children aged between 12 months and 3 years. I would suggest this is exactly right although, in my experience, most children will play with whatever is put in front of them and will adapt their play dependent on their age / abilities. When he was younger, this was undisputably my son's favourite toy. He got hours of amusement from putting the chunky plastic cars into the lift, moving the lift up to the car park at the top, and then letting them run down the slopes. Now he plays with it in a more imaginative way with a constant stream of story-telling coming out of his mouth - the chunky plastic cars it came with have mainly been discarded in favour of Lightening McQueen and friends.
In my opinion, the biggest advantage of this garage is the strength and durability of the plastic. As previously stated, we have had this garage for over two and a half years and it has been played with frequently in that time, but still looks in fantastic condition. It is very strong - my son (like many boys of his age) will occasionally sit or stand on it and it doesn't break. The cars that accompany the garage are also very good quality - they are made of a robust plastic and link together with magnets. ELC also sell additional sets of vehicles in the same style - we have a set with different types of truck (cement mixer, breakdown truck and tipper truck) and a set with planes and a helicopter - the helicopter definitely complements the garage as it can land on the helipad. The other main advantage is that it is a toy which children can play with in different ways as they grow - at the moment, my son is playing with it with his Cars toys making up some complicated story and my six month old daughter is lying on her front next to him eating one of the plastic cars!
Although the plastic itself is very durable, the garage does come apart very easily. We are constantly having to put the lift section and ramp back together after a bout of over-enthusiastic play and it does get frustrating for toddlers when this happens. This does seem to be a common issue with ELC toys (the space rocket and the moon base are exactly the same) and I suppose it does prevent it breaking 'properly' and not being fixable. The only other disadvantages is that it takes up a lot of space - although it comes apart easily, this doesn't make it any easier to store and that ours will occasionally make a random noise in the night when you open the bedroom door (even though it is on the other side of the room.... poltergeists maybe?)
This garage costs £40 at ELC and comes with 2 plastic cars (I'm sure we got three with ours!), but there are almost always discount codes and offers available for ELC so you should be able to get it cheaper than that. Initially, I thought that was relatively expensive but it has been played with so much and lasted so well, that I now believe it was well worth the money.
I would recommend this product because toddlers seem to love it so much. It is easy for them to play with, the additional vehicle sets from ELC add to the enjoyment levels and my son has definitely got lasting enjoyment from this garage. I particularly like the fact that it promotes imaginative play and is suitable for a range of ages, probably good if you have siblings close together in age. We are now keeping the garage for our daughter to play with when she is old enough to actually play instead of just putting the cars in her mouth. I definitely won't be buying her it in pink though, I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the obsession with having 'pink versions' of everything and there is absolutely nothing gender-specific about this garage at all.