Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Chuck E Cheese: Review

Do you remember visiting Show Biz or Chuck E Cheese as a kid?  I have great memories from visiting those places with my Nonnie (grandma).  I remember large, singing, robotic puppets on multiple stages, lots of kids running everywhere, tokens, video games, tickets, cheap-o prizes, pizza, and pitchers of soda.

I loved visiting these "fine dining" establishments as a kid.  As I think back on those memories now, however - I cringe - I can't imagine WANTING to take my kids to a noisy, greasy, environment to play games and win trashy prizes.  Monkey is 3, Crackers is 20 months now - they're kind of young for this type of fun anyhow, right?

WELL - Tonight we had the opportunity to visit our local Chuck E Cheese in Fort Wayne, IN.  We were treated with a family pass, that includes a large pizza, 4 drinks, and 30 tokens.  As much as I hate to admit it, I was actually pretty excited about visiting and checking this out again.  It was nice to remember those many visits with my grandma.  It was also nice to have so many of my pre-conceptions about what I would find, changed.

SAFETY - was the first thing we noticed as we entered.  We learned that every family gets "stamped" as they come in.  The greeter puts an ultra-violet stamp on each party member's arm, each party gets their own number.  This "secret" number is checked by the greeter when the family leaves, to make sure that no one is leaving with children that they did not come with (I'm not sure how they were certain we didn't leave any children behind though).

CLEANLINESS - was also obviously a high value at the Chuck E Cheese in Fort Wayne.  While we were there, we saw a number of employees roaming the floor and keeping things cleaned.  They cleaned tables, floors, bathrooms, etc.  I did make sure we stopped in to the bathroom to check it out (a review is a good excuse for a pregnant mama with a pre-schooler, right).  The bathroom was moderately clean, there had just been a large group of young elementary aged children racing through it, so I would not expect perfection.

SERVICE - while we sat at our table waiting on pizza, then eating our meal, several employees stopped to make sure that we had been served and see if we needed anything.  They brought out spare plates and a flyer about birthday parties "with pleasure".  We received the type of pleasant greetings that we expect to find at one of the local fast food joints.  The response whenever we thanked someone was, "my pleasure".  (I love that response - it reminds me of when I lived in Costa Rica.... that's another story).

Most of the salad bar
He doesn't LOOK excited, but he could hardly wait to dig in.
FOOD - the food is moderately priced.  It is more expensive than a "regular" fast food restaurant, but not incredibly over priced.  It took 12 minutes from ordering to receiving our food, that's not too bad!  The salad bar (at our local Chuck E Cheese) is only $6.49 for unlimited use.  It looks like a fantastic salad bar, I think I would have preferred it over pizza - but I'm a salad lover.  The pizza was decent, they have a new recipe with more cheese and a different sauce.  I can't say that I really remember the old pizza and have little to compare it with.  It was pretty well covered with toppings, however for some reason there only appeared to be peppers and onions on half of the pizza.  There is a great variety of options for drinks, and free refills.
- another note - Monkey is not always fond of pizza, he's REALLY picky about what he'll eat on it, temperatures, and textures... he ate 2.5 pieces by himself and only quit because he wanted to play.
Monkey on "TV"
STAGE - remember that stage I talked about, the one with the giant robotic puppets.  I loved the shows and music.  There are 3 stages at the local Chuck E Cheese.  Left to right they look like this:  The Studio - a blue wall with a video camera, where children can stand, dance, etc and be "on television" while their adults watch in amusement.  The video screen/control area - they played a couple of videos, veggie tales and something else I didn't recognize, the control area let you see different video clips and even "spy" on people in the main seating area.  Finally on the right hand side, was Chuck E Cheese - the large robotic mouse puppet.  He seemed to be more of a DJ than anything, but the kids were still enamored with him.  
The show
BALL PIT - got you there, do you remember when they used to have those?  I loved the ball pit... unfortunately, I don't think you can find them at any Chuck E Cheese anymore.

GAMES/ENTERTAINMENT - I was SO wrong about Chuck E Cheese not being "little kid" friendly.  There was a whole area of rides and a big climber that my kids loved.  There is still plenty of activity for "big kids" too.  Mr. Crum and I even played some games to earn "tickets" for prizes.  The boys loved trying to help us play games like ski ball and operation.  There was plenty to do and we all had a fun time exploring our options.  All the games (as far as I could tell) were only one token - approx. 25c each (cheaper if you buy them in higher quantities).  

PRICES - As I've stated, the food prices at Chuck E Cheese are moderate - higher than McDonalds, but not incredibly expensive.  We got their Super Combo Pizza (which has 7 toppings), I believe a large was about $20.  Drinks were $1.50-$2 a piece.  To get our meal as a package (with 60 tokens) would run about $36.   Sandwiches are around $6.50, and salad bar is the same.  Chuck E Cheese also regularly offers coupons for the family!  
Selecting Souveneirs
SOUVENEIRS - Remember those cheapo little prizes?  They're still kind of cheap, but my 3 year old thinks that his crazy straw, spinning top, and plastic bug are the best things in the world.  My favorite souveneirs are the ones that we found in the "games" for a token each - photos of the boys on a ride, pictures of us "sketched", and "licenses" with my boy's pictures.  If you spend a lot of money or are REALLY good at games (3 year olds are not helpful at ticket winning games), you can get some other pretty neat stuff too.

PARTIES - Chuck E Cheese offers party packages for your little star - These birthday packages vary in what they contain and flyers can be picked up at your local Chuck E Cheese.  Packages appear to range between $12 and 16 per child, depending on your preferences.  Additional services can be added for an additional cost.  "New packages include a longer reservation time, as well as several new items for the birthday star. Plus, the special boy or girl has the opportunity to step into the Ticket Blaster and grab as many ticket vouchers as they can to redeem for awesome prizes!" says Chuck E Cheese.

My Nonnie was crazy.  She loved her grandkids though and knew that we had a great time when we went to Show Biz and Chuck E Cheese, we had a great time.  I was impressed at the quality of service and the selection of entertainment, as well as the safety measures and cleanliness of our local Chuck E Cheese.  In our current situation, prices would be prohibitive for us to make this a "regular" event, but I do think it's something we may set aside for special occasions with our family as the boys grow.  
I also think it would be a fun date night with Mr. Crum - I'd love to go and have sandwiches or salads, and play games together.  It's kind of silly, but different from our "usual" date night (appetizers, coffee, and a movie at home).