Friday, February 22, 2013

Bounce Safari

I didn't even know there was another bounce place for kids. Of course I know Bounce U, then came Screaming Parties, but I was unaware another had moved in. Bounce Safari crept in right under my nose in Waldwick. Waldwick is like the hotbed of kid activity. Gymboree, Little Gym, In the Swing, Bounce Safari, the Superdome which also houses Music For Aardvarks classes. Next door to that is The Learning Center where Jellybean Junction functions for birthday parties. I love it. They're all close enough to me.

A neighbor had his son's 3rd birthday party there a few weeks ago. I'll start with the pros. It's clean. I'm sure it's partially because it's new, but whatever- I'll take it. I also REALLY like the set up. It seems like it's more for younger kids- I'd say like ten years old and under. I'm sure the bounce things can hold bigger because the parents were in some of them too. But I feel like over ten they probably wouldn't really be into it. I don't know. My kid is four. I'm guessing on the age thing. My point is, if you have littler ones, I feel like this is the best of the bounce places for that. They have stuff for the little ones to play with- hopscotch mat, big blocks, ride on bounce animals, balls, etc. BUT, it's only worth it if you don't have to pay for a kid under two years old, not to bounce, just to hang out and play with the "extras". If that's the case then it's awesome.

They have two bounce rooms. The first one has like five recliner-type seats and a bench for parents to sit. In the second room is my favorite piece of equipment- a large green sectional couch. Perfect. Not every place really has a comfortable place to sit. The kids can totally maneuver the bounce equipment by themselves for the most part. I didn't see any parent that HAD to help their kids much.

The party room is a standard room with a special seat for the birthday kid. The big blue "special chair" is pretty cool.

I definitely thought there was enough equipment/stuff to do for all the kids. I don't know how many kids we had, but it didn't seem crowded and I definitely think they can accommodate 25 (included in party price)-40 (max for parties) kids without it being a problem.

I love that I didn't have to take my shoes off in there. I hate having to do that. I do it with no complaint but it was a nice bonus not to have to take them off. ***But, no high heels/stilettos. Not sure why one would wear those to a kid bounce place but whatever***

Now for my thoughts on what could be improved and/or suggestions:

-The party package brochure needs more detail and clarification. I want to know how long the party is and descriptions of the names they use for the party packages. For instance- I have no idea what the difference is between an Explorer Jr and an Ultimate Explorer package except for cost. Then I see a "Play date" option, but what does that mean? Is that different than a birthday party?

-My friend tried to organize a group outing there for a discounted price. I had no idea what the deal was, that Bounce U was offering something competitive she was trying to match, etc. She just gave me the details and asked if I wanted to come to a Valentines Party there for the kids. Normally, I never cancel a standing date with close family friends. It's a sacred date, for lack of better description. But E had been good, it was friends he hadn't been able to see in awhile and I thought he'd love it. My point is that I would've never just gone there that day had my friend not organized this "party".

She said it was difficult to deal with the owner. I don't know the owner or what transpired between them. I'm just going to give my observations from what I personally experienced. Apparently Bounce U had a Valentine's Deal of an open bounce, pizza, juice, and decorate a cookie, all for $14.95/pp. When my friend asked me to come to Bounce Safari, I just assumed that was the regular price for this kind of deal. I'm not positive but I think it's actually $20 normally. I think $20 is high but I don't go to Bounce U either so I don't know if that is competitive. She told me she saw a deal on Bounce Safari's site that said there was a deal on a certain night for this $14.95 price/per child. She couldn't go the day it was offered but she knows enough people and knew she could get a group together if she could do it on another day. Apparently, she spoke to the owner and he was not very accommodating about it. He didn't want to give us any money off to make it less than Bounce U since Bounce U was offering the cookie thing. I'm putting this part in, even though it sounds like secondhand information, because I know what Bounce U was offering first hand and I know what deal we got at Bounce Safari, so it's firsthand fact what was what and where with the cost.

Most of the kids that we were all going to be registering were between three and four years old. That's who we'd assume we'd be paying for. Even though there are blocks and balls for the little ones, I would not expect to pay for them. When I had a birthday party at Jellybean Junction, they didn't even charge me for kids I thought they would. This year, I had E's party at the Wyckoff Y and they didn't charge me for the kids that were two and under. Sure, they could do some of it, but they weren't really doing enough to get charged the $16.99 for them as real "guests".

I walked into Bounce Safari when my other friend was signing her waiver for her three year old daughter. She has another daughter who is maybe a year and a half. She was asked to pay for the "baby".  I was eavesdropping. I guess somehow it got worked out that the people with second kids 0-2 would just be able to pay an extra $5 for pizza. Turned out she'd asked prior if she could just let the baby eat her older daughter's pizza because her older daughter was allergic. She didn't end up having to pay extra but it just seemed very nickel & dimed. As a business owner myself, I don't like that. We don't do that. We give away parts, throw stuff in, etc- just as gestures of good will/faith. It's good business. Sure, we may lose a chandelier shade here and there, some parts, etc or it doesn't turn into a sale. But, we're very easy to work with, accommodating, and generally well-liked. If I was the owner in this situation, a mom is telling me she's going to bring in 15-20 kids, I'd pretty much give her anything she asked for within reason. That has "future business" written all over it. Parties, play dates, open bounce, camps- whatever they offer, moms are always looking for new places and activities to bring the 0-6 yrs old set.

Then we had this whole bizarre interaction having to do with the pizza. Every kid was supposed to get one piece. I get that. But there was pizza left over. Either, it was going to go in the trash or the guy was going to take it home? I don't know. It's not like they could re-serve it to other people. There was enough for some of the kids to have more. But it got into this whole weird explanation by the girl working the "party" about how they all have to get the same amount, blah blah. We (the moms) were just standing there like, "What? Seriously?". Sure, sometimes there is enough for everyone to have seconds and sometimes there isn't. You want it, speak up and if you snooze, you lose. There was like half a pie left- which meant in kid slices, there was approximately eight? The owner had come in and told the friend who organized it that they could finish the pizza. The employee working the party was not told this information I have to assume. She first said the kids couldn't have anymore pizza. We knew there was some left over. I'm sure she was just doing her job as she was told. But it was WEIRD. Who does that?? If kids are hungry, just feed them if there is food. It's not like kids or parents were throwing down over extra slices. Everyone there KNEW each other. We're all friends or at least friend-LY. If I had gotten one for E and my friend's son A had wanted one and he didn't get one, I would've just cut E's in half and called it a day.

It just seemed like it was not an easy or smooth booking. It's not all "Do you know who we are?" but the truth is this- we're all local moms. Not only are we local and moms, but some of these girls have 3-4 kids EACH. That's a lot of potential patrons. The current trend is to have all birthdays out in these play places. Now there are a ton of them. So you have to be competitive for everything. Even if your sole edge is just being nice or accommodating. Throw us a coupon for our next visit! Make us feel like you want our business again. Some of us are mom bloggers (me!) and write about every place I go to- from hair dressers to cake to play places. I know for my business, I much prefer positive, awesome reviews online vs seeing something not so great go up into cyberworld for eternity. Some of the moms are members of a local Junior Women's League, a bunch of those moms there are in Newcomers & Neighbors, MOMS Club, and some are crossovers from other groups, school, or religious organization. We all talk, compare, review, and spread our thoughts. If you're in any kid biz in the area, I'd think any business would want to use that to their advantage and I just think in a few ways, the owner of this place misses the mark.

That's not to say they can't or won't work out the kinks. On the pro side, I'll say that there were a good number of staff engaging the kids. There was a guy employee who I thought did an exceptional job keeping the boys engaged. I didn't catch his name. Maybe someone reading knows. I think he was the only guy working. Staff is HUGE at these things. I wasn't thrilled at all with my party staff at one of the parties I did at another place. The staff needs to have very strong personalities dealing with kids this age.

A small suggestion would be to put some hooks or a set of cubbies against one of the walls in each room. I wanted my handbag with me, but I didn't want to leave it on the couch or floor because of the many little ones there. I don't know what's in my bag at any given time but it's probably not all kid friendly. It would've been cool to be able to put it higher up in a cubby so I didn't have to drag it around. I didn't mind letting my jacket stay hung up outside the bounce rooms, but I wouldn't have left my bag out there.

The prices seem on par or actually better for birthday parties than similar places, especially with what is included. The brochures I took are a little confusing. They don't say how long the parties are. The birthday party we went to last week (not the Valentines event) was 3:45-5:30. Usually parties are an hour and a half with the option to upgrade to two hours. I'm not sure if an hour and forty-five minutes is standard or something the hosts asked for. This is important because I felt like there was way too much time left for eating. Normally, at these places, they leave them just 25-30min to eat and then some of the places, like My Gym and Kids U let them go back and play for any remaining time. I don't need that, but then cut down the food time to twenty minutes. They can't sit still for any longer. They're used to either leaving right away after cake or going back to play. Because it felt so long, they were just kind of sitting around because it was too much time and E was bothering me about going back to the bounce area.

***I see the website does have a little more info on it, and the parties are an hour and forty five minutes.***

All in all, now that I've seen the prices, I would definitely consider having a party there. From the brochure, it looks like they have a lot of cool add-ons to the parties. I haven't done the math to see if those add-ons are more or less expensive than doing your own thing but it all looks competitive enough. For all the parties, they're private (no other parties going on at the same time), the kids get pizza & juice/water, a cake & goody bags. Other add-ons that are included or available depending on the type of party are group photos, different dessert options, and a gift for the guest of honor. They also have a RIDICULOUS (in a good way) sized menu for adult food. You can't bring in any of your own food though except cake or allergy related food. I don't love that because if I can get a better deal on adult food, I want to be allowed to do that. 

I can't/won't put in here some of the other things told to me about the experience in the organization of this Valentine's event. I try to be fair and like I've said- I try not to put too much secondhand information unless I know it for fact- like the Bounce U vs Bounce Safari price/package/event info given out publicly. But that's precisely the crux of this whole review. Word of mouth is HUGE. I think it's a very cool place, just some of what I've been told coupled with some interactions I had and what I saw might give me some pause. Definitely check it out though- it's nice to have another bounce option besides Bounce U and Screamin' Parties.

***If anyone who was there, with firsthand accounts, wants to add their thoughts in the comments section, please do so.***

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