Play Centres. I have a love/hate relationship with them. They are great for a rainy day when cabin fever strikes and outdoors isn’t an option. They are also a great place to meet fellow parents for a catch up because the adults can have a sit down, a chat and a coffee, while the little ones head off for a play.
However, so many of them leave a lot to be desired. Not all are overly clean, some aren’t even that practical, while the food and beverages served in some, well, is just downright vile.
I’ve been to play centres in Meath, Galway, Dublin and Kildare and all have their own merits.
In Kildare we’ve visited Joey’s, The Fun Factory and Jungle Den in Naas, we’ve been to Tricky Tricksters in Tougher’s Business Park and we’ve been to Playzone in Celbridge. Other establishments we’ve been to close by include Energy in Rathcoole and the Playhouse Cafe, which is in Lucan Sarsfields GAA Club but can’t really be classed as a playcentre.
So, what’s the lowdown, what are the good, the bad and the ugly? Well I’m not in the habit of simply having a go for the sake of it so I’m not going to target any of them individually because at the end of the day they all have good and bad points.
I’m going to start with the good. Top of the Kildare pile, by a mile, is Playzone in Celbridge. I’ve only been once but the place made a lasting impression. My friend Laura, who is mammy to the gorgeous Matthew, lives in Swords so we picked Celbridge as a halfway meeting point. Aside from the fact that there’s toddler events every morning and it’s spotless, Playzone has a lovely cafe and when they say they offer a healthy option for children’s meals, they do. Also their baby soft play area is the best around. Under twos aren’t allowed in, which is the case in a lot of places but the difference here is, they have a proper gate on it that, for the most part, can only be opened by adults.
One of my bugbears with other places is, there are always older and more boisterous kids in the baby area and it’s impossible to relax for fear of Sarah getting hurt. I really wish the staff in these places would enforce this rule because I always feel bad ordering older kids out. They are not mine to discipline at the end of the day.
Getting back to the food served in play centres. There’s a real divide here. Some are okay, some are downright disgusting and some are brilliant. I visited one play centre in Naas for the first time last week, and while the place itself was brilliant for playing, the food was horrendous. I ordered a panini and chips, Aidan had sausages and chips, while Sarah had lasagne and holy cow, the amount of grease on the food had to be seen to be believed. These days all Aidan eats is sausages and chips and even he turned up his nose at this fare.
There’s nothing more relaxing than sitting back with a cup of coffee or tea that has been served to you and while some of the local play centres serve up lovely hot beverages, others serve muck. And do you know what annoys the hell out of me? Maybe it’s commonplace but in one local play centre I ordered a herbal tea and they whipped out a packet of green tea bags from Aldi and brewed it up. Now there’s nothing at all wrong with the herbal tea range from Aldi but what is wrong is charging €1.50 for a cup of herbal tea when you could probably buy two whole packs of tea-bags for that price in Aldi.
Now that Sarah is over one, she’s actually knocking a bit of craic out of the soft play areas but when she was younger I loved going to centres that had baby bouncers and sit-in activity centres. Most are fine in this regard but there’s one place that offered dirty, ancient and ripped bouncers and activity centres. Is it too much to ask to keep them clean and replace them when they get a bit battered? Surely not.
It’s not all bad though. Joey’s in Naas is great as it’s much smaller than other places, meaning you can sit down with your coffee and still see the kids at all times. which is a great idea. As I mentioned Playzone, is just super, while most of them have toddler activities such as arts and crafts and music classes mid-week.
But to the not so great ones, please, please sort out the food situation, clean up your act, police the baby areas because I bet if you did you’d have even more heads through your doors.