I have to admit, before I had kids the thought of Chuck E Cheese’s made my stomach turn a little bit. I rarely went there as a kid but when I did, I remember being horrified by the large mechanical puppets, the giant character mouse walking around, the less than appetizing pizza, and the overall sense of stickiness.
About five years ago, before having kids, we were invited to a friend’s child’s birthday party at the Chuck E Cheese’s in Riva. It was on a Saturday night and the place was packed with families, screaming children, and from the viewpoint of a non-parent, it was utter chaos and confusion. I vividly remember telling my husband I had to step outside for some air because I was having a mini panic attack from all the craziness. Now, with two toddlers in tow, I was again invited to play at the same Chuck E Cheese’s on a weekday with a friend and her two daughters. I was prepared for the worst and ended up being pleasantly surprised.
We arrived right at opening, 11 a.m. and were practically the only ones there. You’re required to go through an entrance gate where each person — children and adults — are stamped with a unique stamp that they check as you exit. It’s free to get in, but all of the games and rides require tokens. Multiple machines sell tokens, or you can purchase them at the food counter. We bought a combo deal that included a medium size pizza, two drinks and 20 tokens for $25. Between both boys, we went through the tokens pretty quickly and ended up using about 20 more tokens, mainly because every game or ride that big brother went on, little brother wanted to go on also.
The boys had a blast with all the fun things to play. The games are split between a toddler area and big kids area, though both my boys enjoyed both sides. They played skee ball, racing games and some of the other arcade games which spit out lots of tickets. There is also a climbing net structure with tubes and a slide, but my 2-year-old, Luke, wasn’t big enough to climb up with his brother. I think Luke’s favorite “game” was the machine that would take your tickets and print out a paper with the ticket count on it. He could have stayed there all day sticking those tickets in one at a time.
Every 30 minutes the mechanical puppet show on stage would do a little show, but it wasn’t as loud as I remembered it. Chuck E Cheese also made an appearance, and James enjoyed giving him a high five while Luke hid behind my leg. We took a break from the fun to eat the surprisingly good pizza. Other menu items included a salad bar and drinks for kids like milk or juice.
We easily stayed for an hour and a half, finally leaving because it was getting close to nap time. The boys were ecstatic to turn in their tickets and pick out a couple trinkets from the prize selection. It helped ease the suffering of having to leave.
All of the staff members were very courteous. The place seemed very clean, and there was no stickiness. It never got crowded, though some families with older kids were starting to arrive around lunchtime as we were headed out. I’ve heard, however, that Friday nights and weekends can be a madhouse there.
I think the trick to having a successful trip to Chuck E Cheese’s with toddlers is to go on a weekday morning or early afternoon before school is out. Also, be sure to check their website for coupons on food, drink and token deals.
If the thought of Chuck E Cheese’s makes you want to break out the hand sanitizer, give it another try, you may just be surprised!
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Mandy Watts is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Crownsville with her husband, Justin, who runs their family business, and their two sons, 3-year-old James and 1-year-old Luke.