Question: Who thought it would be a good idea to build a 5,000 square-foot, five-story jungle gym inside a 100,000 square-foot warehouse facility, then set up a coffee stand and charge $8.00 a head to walk through the door?
Answer: Everyone but me, evidently. Here’s why.
We arrived for a birthday party, dropped $20 before they buzzed us in, and proceeded to unwillingly engage in a real-life game of Frogger. If the place’s max capacity was 500, I’m convinced they were at about 750. Children of all sizes ran full-till everywhere. My four-year-old daughter got taken down within the first forty seconds. We’re pretty tough, I thought. We can handle this.
My kids stared slack-jawed at the five-story jungle gym, which called to mind Helm’s Deep (for non-nerds, Helm’s Deep is sort of a medieval fortress). The thing swarmed with little limbs. I think my son asked me if it was safe to go in, but I couldn’t really hear him. I just nodded and hoped my half-smile was reassuring.
We navigated a baseball-diamond-sized area of tables, where legions of oblivious parents worked laptops, sipped overpriced coffee, texted or napped. And the noise, oh Lord, the noise. The acoustics allowed every single scream to ricochet about seventeen times.
We made it to the party table. My kids kicked off their shoes and…vanished, devoured by a sea of small people. I fought down the panicky mommy voice —mayday mayday, offspring compromised— and chatted with the other moms, who looked equally shell-shocked. In a spectacular display of bad planning, our party table was situated directly behind the only freestanding wall in the place – we could not see the tower.
At some point, we all fell into an informal patrol. When I sensed it was my turn, I made my way (not unscathed) to the base of Helm’s Deep. I circled the thing, got my bearings. Three entrances, three exits (two via slide). A boy of about five came running out, hand over eye. I scanned the different floors. No sign of my own children. A girl landed on the padding near my feet. She jumped up, started crying and ran. I started to clock these incidents…on average one every four minutes (not counting the indoor basketball court, which resembled a giant bag of microwave popcorn. My husband can vouch for this, as he was knocked in the temple mid-conversation by a rogue basketball).
I spied my daughter. On the fourth floor there’s an enclosed corridor with a zip line, where one can glide about twenty feet, end-to-end. My daughter laid face-up on the corridor floor, waving her arms and legs as zip-line-ers zoomed overhead. I rolled up my sleeves and headed for an entrance – but then I saw my seven-year-old son (bless him) march into the corridor, give his sister a what-for, and pull her to (relative) safety.
A tearful girl of about four ran past me, shrieking.
Now, I’ve paid $20 for the pleasure of this experience. And I haven’t even begun to recount all the ways in which we’ve likely contracted some mutant strain of the bubonic plague. You know what? I’m not going to get into that. No amount of hand-sanitizer (which management did not make available) could possibly touch all the germs lurking in that place, and it’s really too soon to tell what we’ve picked up.
Long story short, we made it out alive (with one forehead-knot and one poked eye), and we have no plans to return. My kids and I attended not one, but two birthday parties in this place over the weekend so, admittedly, I’m still recovering. Until this week, I have never considered seeking out a sensory-deprivation chamber. If you know where I can find one, let me know.
Am I looking at this all wrong? Are these places fabulous and I just can’t see it? Maybe I just got a dud? What do you think?
Image courtesy of xedos4 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net