Sunday, February 28, 2010

PARTY WITH A MOUSEFUL OF KIDS

Been to Chuck E. Cheese lately? We hadn’t, not for about 25 years, when the place first opened in San Ramon and we had young kids. Back then it was Kids’ Birthday Central. That part hasn’t changed, although there are more options today, what with Super Franks, Boomers, The Jungle, Party Palooza, and dozens of other packaged party places in the area.

The original Cheese House is long gone, but there’s a new and improved one in Dublin that’s brighter, safer, and louder than ever. I know because I had to spend two hours there attending my two grandkids’ combined birthday party. Bradley was turning five and Stephanie was celebrating her first birthday, so my son and daughter-in-law decided to keep it simple this year and opt for a dual party package at the Big Cheese.

When we entered the place, we were met by a security staff member who stamped the kids to make sure each one went home with the right adult. Once we were cleared, we headed over to the party room, filled with nearly a dozen tables, all decorated with festive party ware. Immediately we played a game called “Search for Right Table” and nearly joined the wrong party until my son found us.

My husband and I were each given a grandchild to watch. Tom got the one-year-old, I got the fiver. We were also handed some Cheese Chump Change to use on the various kid-level games located in adjoining rooms. Little Stephanie played a mean game of “Whack a Mole” with her bare hands, while Big Brother Bradley nailed berserk dinosaurs, drove high-speed race cars, and wildly tossed basketballs. When he’d won enough tickets to exchange for a ten-cent rubber spider, he ran off and disappeared into the giant “hamster trail” overhead. I didn’t see him again until it was time for pizza.

After seemingly hours of play time, one of the Cheese Hosts announced the commencement of the party pizza. Hoards of kids ran to their respective tables for a slice of cheese pizza and some lemonade. During the meal, Chuck E. and his band played popular songs at ear-piercing decibels, and the Mouse Himself presented each of the guests of honor with inflated crowns filled with game tokens.

Bradley beamed at the attention from the Cheesemeister and wore his crown with pride for the next five minutes. Meanwhile Stephanie, clueless to the festivities, grabbed handfuls of the chocolate cake sitting in front of her and smeared it over her face as if it were foundation makeup. I don’t know how much went up her nose, but she seemed to enjoy finger painting with the stuff, and I wasn’t about to interrupt her birthday fun.

Leaving half-eaten pizza slices and frosting-licked cake behind, the kids took off again for more games, more tokens, and more rubber spiders. At that point, having forgotten to wear ear plugs, take Tylenol, and dress in chocolate-colored clothes, and Tom and I decided to sneak out.

The party was a success, the parents were pleased, the kids were delighted, and the price was right. For a quick and easy party, these package places are the way to go. I’m thinking of hosting my husband’s next birthday there. He loves pizza and Whack a Mole.

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