Thursday, May 28, 2009

ProMom Tips for Indoor Playgrounds

An indoor playground (the chain is Monkey Joe's) recently opened here. It is chock full o' inflatable playthings for kids aged 0 - 12. We made our first trip today, and I'd like to share what we learned.

1) Take older kids.

Beg, borrow, or steal 'em. Unless you have a burning desire to personally experience the bouncy things (and probably get sea sick) yourself, a couple of trusted older kids will safely shepherd your little ones through the inflatable jungle, so that you can sit back and relax. Befriend someone whose kids are 5 years older than your own, and you can have a MomDate while your kids play together.

2) Timing is everything.

Our local indoor playground is open from 10 am - 6 pm. Lunch and nap fall right in the middle of that time period. We arrived around 10:45 and had planned to eat at the pizza joint in the same building (all you can eat buffet) for lunch, but our plan was thwarted when we realized (after we paid, of course) that they don't allow you to leave and return. Bummer! So we ordered a pizza from the concession stand (expensive!). Fortunately, they forgot to order our pizza, so we were able to negotiate with the manager to eat across the hall at Cici's and then return. You may not be so lucky, though. Plan to either go early and eat there (expensive!), or eat a late (huge) breakfast to see them through. Or, have early lunch and nap, and go from, say, 1 pm to 6 pm if possible to get your money's worth.

3) Don't forget your credit card.

The admission was $8 for kids 3 and up, and $5 for kids 2 and younger. Ouch! You can see why we didn't want to eat at the expensive concession stand ($2.50 for a hot dog! I can buy an entire package of 8 hot dogs and buns for $2 with coupons). They have drinking fountains. Make the kids use 'em. I was able to get an empty cup for water ("My kid can't use a drinking fountain yet...") and keep it at our table for drinks.

4) Don't forget, the park is free.

Monkey Joe's and places like that are nice for rainy or snowy weather, but I would never spend the kind of money we spent today on a sunny day, when I could take the aforementioned hot dogs and buns to the park and let the kids play for free. On the other hand, the park is crowded on nice days, and MJ's will probably be deserted. If you want the place all to yourself, go on a nice day. If you want to save money, hit the park on a nice day and save MJ's for wintertime.

5) Amenities

Our Monkey Joe's has a Nursing Room (I'm not sure how I feel about nursing rooms - on the one hand, it's nice that it's available, but on the other I think we need to normalize nursing in public to the extent that specific rooms won't be necessary...) You can't see out from the nursing room - it could really use a one-way window or two-way mirror or whatever those things are called - so if you have kids of a variety of ages, you're going to have to just trust them not to kill themselves or nurse in the open (go for it - I've nursed all over the world for four years and only been hassled once).

There is a smallish area for toddlers with a few toys.

There are video games. Why anyone would pump quarters into machines after paying the outrageous admission is beyond my comprehension, but I guess some people really like video games and don't mind paying for them through the nose. If you really want to do video games, Chuck E. Cheese doesn't charge admission.

There are three or four party rooms that are separate from the main area.

There are nice comfy chairs (reclining glider things) with ottomans for the parents, as well as several tables scattered around. Before lunch we sat at a table, but after lunch we went for the comfy chairs. There were a couple of computers that appeared to be public, also. And a big screen TV tuned to ABC Family Channel with closed captioning. Nice.

They do parties. I did not check the prices. They also offer a "frequent jumper" card. You pay in advance for 9 admissions and get 3 free. I bought one, since I had four kids with me, and plan to use it up this winter.

They really need an on-site Starbucks.

5) Coupons are your friend.

Did I mention that it cost a fortune to get in? Yeah. See if you can't Google yourself a couple of coupons before you go.

6) BYOSocks

You can buy socks there if you didn't plan ahead, but they cost $3.50 a pair!! Bring socks. And be careful because the floor near the bathroom is slick linoleum, and I saw more than one kid wipe out.

What's really ironic about our new Monkey Joe's is that my friend Karen and I were just talking over the past couple of weeks about opening something similar on this side of town. She sent me an e-mail this morning to tell me we were beaten to the punch. Nuts! Oh well, I don't have half a mil to invest, anyway. Although, with the crowd I saw there today, we totally would've made it back within the first year.

Do you have an indoor playground where you live? What are your ProMom tips? Also, if you're local to me and want more specific information, e-mail me.


Maggie said...

You Know You've Lived In LA For Too Long WHEN: you scratch your head at an $8 admission to a kids play place & a $2.50 hot dog...sounds like a bargain!

...But thank GOD other places really aren't like here. It's easy to forget and think I'm actually living in a "real" place. Thanks for the reality check ;)

Anonymous said...

We have a Monkey Joe's and Party Time Play House. We go to party time play house for two reason. 1.) closer to home 2.) family owned and always way less busy. My advice would be to go when it first opens. If you go much after that to our Monkey Joes the kids are forever getting knocked down by much bigger kids with bad manners. :) Mandy

RobMonroe said...

Looks like a blast - but I agree with Maggie that this sounds like a bargain. I would spend less there than at Ikea!

(And socks for only $3.50 is about $8 less than I spend on a pair of socks for me... Sad, I know.)

Adelas said...

We just took our 15mo toddler to a similar facility near our house (I live in N. Dallas area). We discovered that if you arrive within 4 hours of closing time, the admission price is reduced (admission normally same as your place, reduced to $5 and $3 for big and little ones, respectively).

Also, ours has free wifi (too bad I don't have a laptop) in the parents' area along with the TV, but no nursing room.

We went there thinking that we'd be able to stick the munchkin inside the toddler play area and let him play while we watched, since it adjoins/butts up against the parent sitting area. Unfortunately, the toddler area DOES NOT have a gate and is open to the rest of the building... so we spent the entire time chasing him around. This totally defeated our purpose in going (we really thought he would be contained).

However, between the regular play area and the surprise toddler-bounce-house-area he was SO HAPPY and SO EXCITED that we swore we'd have to bring him back.

I think Amy's advice is perfect- take bigger kids you can trust to watch the little ones. I'm sure we'll be going back with the 11 and 12 year old stepdaughterss when they're in town this summer, and assign a baby rotation (i do 15 minutes, then the 12 year old does 15 minutes, then the 11 year old, then i'm back on duty again) and I think everyone would be happy.

Cathie said...

There is not a Monkey Joe's here in Grammaland, but a few towns over there is a JumpZone. Also at the local mall there is another place, but I cannot remember its name. I've been to the JumpZone a few times. They do not have televisions or computers or even anywhere comfortable for parents to sit. There are just a few hard benches throughout the place. They have loud music blaring to cover the sound of the pumps inflating the jumps. This makes it difficult to talk to anyone that is not right next to you. These things aside though, the kids LOVE it there. The prices are comparable to MJ's. One nice amenity is they sell slushies. You buy one slushie for around $2.50. It comes in a sturdy cup. Then, refills are just a quarter. You can save the cup and bring it back on subsequent visits also, for .25 cent refills. The facility is clean and well maintained.

As for the inflatable playground in the mall... I haven't been there with D, but I did stop by to look around. It also looks clean and well kept. You can leave for one hour and then return, with the idea that you are going to get something to eat. If you have a babysitter (18+), it would be great to take the kids there, leave them with the sitter, and have some fun shopping at the mall. You canNOT leave children there withOUT an adult.

As for tips... your advice is very wise, Amy. I would only add a reminder to parents to dress their children in sweats/exercise/dance clothes. Clothing with lots of buttons and zippers is a bit uncomfortable when you land on it in the jumps.

morganna said...

We don't have chains here, just local mom & pop operations. My only addition to the tips is to make sure, if you have little ones, that the tubes are all accessible by adults. One of the playgrounds here doesn't have a lot of access from below, and my friend's daughter (2yo) was trapped by an older boy (maybe 4yo) who started hitting her, and my friend couldn't reach them. Everyone was fine (older boy's mom came over), but now we only go to the one with lots of places for adults to reach up into the tubes. (We don't know any older kids to take along, but that's a great idea!)

Anonymous said...

I have heard a lot about this place. I wish we have the same here. I'm sure my kids will love inflatable bounce houses and other inflatable structures. But you're right, it would be best if there are older kids around to "babysit" the younger ones. I wouldn't want to do all the bouncing myself!