Our son turned eight earlier this summer and his birthday fell during our family’s vacation to Ontario to see my dad and stepmother. We’d toyed with the idea of taking the kids to Canada’s Wonderland for the day but it felt too expensive — especially considering neither kid would be tall enough for any of the “good” rides yet.
Then I remembered my dad mentioning there was a Chuck E. Cheese’s nearby in Mississauga. I didn’t really know anything except there would be pizza and games — I kept picturing the Whack-a-Mole one. I also knew their tagline, probably from watching United States commercials as a child: “Where A Kid Can Be A Kid.” It sounded perfect.
I Googled a three-minute Chuck E. Cheese’s commercial and played it for the kids — they were enthralled. This place was REAL?! They were going to GO THERE?! They were as excited as if we’d planned a trip to Disney World. (Not gonna happen.)
They bounced inside, starry-eyed and could barely hold still long enough to get their kidnapping-prevention stamp. (Parents and kids have their hands stamped with invisible ink codes, so no one can leave without their proper guardian. It’s great!)
Instead of tickets or tokens, they were armed with plastic swipe cards called Play Passes that would work on any of the games or rides.
Once we were safely inside the gate, we turned the kids loose and they bopped around a large room from game to game.
There were classic arcade-style games where you shot basketballs or tried to knock coins into holes. There were ride-on racing games with cars and motorcycles. There were digital games like Crossy Road and Angry Birds. There was even a skipping game where you had to leap over a flashing jump rope projection.
The adults ended up buying Play Pass cards to share so we could play instead of just watching the kids have all the fun. I alternated between Skee-Ball and Deal or No Deal — and preferred the latter because it lasted the longest.
The kids were nothing more than blurs as they zoomed around the room. Sometimes I’d spot of one of them relaxing in a “ride” (the kinds of rides they have in malls) while the other was mercilessly beating plastic gophers back into their burrows. They’d appear at our sides whenever their cards were emptied, and I decided it was best NOT to ask my husband how much he spent reloading them.
After each game, the machine would spit out tickets — usually between two and five, depending on how well we did. The birthday boy actually won 500 tickets in a single game of Angry Birds, which was very exciting.
Even Chuck E. Cheese himself — a furry costume filled with whatever teenaged employee had drawn the short straw — made an appearance every half hour or so. He’d round up the kids for a quick dance and then shower them with free tickets. If you’ve ever watched children desperately scrabble for candy out of a pinata, you can understand how smoothly this went.
When it was time for dinner, we sat down to eat some sub-par pizza and sip pop from disposable cups. TV screens blared a constant stream of Chuck E. Cheese videos, and every few minutes — or so it seemed — we’d find ourselves groaning as we were treated to the surprisingly hip-hop tune “Chuck E.’s Happy Dance.”
“Put your hands in the air as you jump up and down,” we’d find ourselves singing under our breath as we watched the music video for the billionth time. “Then you bop side to side, then you turn around. Then give yourself a high-five! Just give yourself a high-five!”
When we were ready to leave — well, the adults were ready to leave, the kids would have happily lived there — it was time to redeem our tickets. All of our pockets were stuffed, so you’d think we would have cleared out the prize counter.
Um, no. Six people playing games for about three hours earned enough tickets for two bags of cotton candy and a handful of plastic mouse-shaped whistles. #facepalm
Chuck E. Cheese was pricey and somewhat annoying, but I can’t deny that our kids had an amazing time there and are dying to go back. I wouldn’t be surprised if Halifax earned its own location soon, and it would certainly be a good spot to throw a birthday party or just give them a special outing.
In fact, I could easily see myself going with a couple of friends and parking ourselves at one of the booths to drink Diet Coke and eat mozzarella sticks while our kids run around and play — content in the knowledge they can’t leave the building without us. That sounds pretty nice, actually!