Chuck E. Cheese’s is a favorite for most children, but for parents it can often be a nightmare, and most certainly the last place they wish to go. It is overly crowded, full of wild children running around, and just complete and utter chaos. It is truly a madhouse full of children. Regardless of these facts, most of us, being the good parents that we are, will submit ourselves to this torture every so often just to please our children, and they do have beer which calms my husband’s nerves when we visit, and the pizza isn’t half bad.

Not so long ago a place called Playtime Party Center opened up in Wentzville, Mo. I happened upon this place by accident, and thinking it was a store with party supplies and went in with my daughter. As we walked in my daughter exclaimed, “Oh! Thank you mama! Thank you!” I then realized that this was not a party store, but a restaurant similar to Chuck E. Cheese’s. At this point I had no choice but to stay and give the place a try, or feel terrible for taking away the surprise that my little four year old thought that I had given her.

It was the middle of the day and the place was empty besides one other family and a few moms watching their children play in the toddler section. This was a nice plus. We could actually enjoy the visit, and I could play a few games with my daughter. We approached the counter and instantly I noticed that the packaging prices were more expensive than Chuck E. Cheese’s, but I thought, well this could be worth the extra cash if the pizza is good, and sanity in itself is always priceless.

We played a few games while we waited for our pizza. The games, like Chuck E. Cheese’s, took tokens, and if you won, shot out tickets to get prizes at the counter. Our pizza soon arrived, and I realized that unlike Chuck E. Cheese’s, the pizza was horrible. It was very thin, and looked like a generic brand thin crust that you might buy at the grocery store. As for the taste, well it might be ok if you like eating cardboard. I could not believe this was the pizza that we received for the prize we paid.

Even with the cardboard for lunch, I was not yet ready to knock the place completely. After all, we could always eat somewhere else, and then purchase sodas and tokens just to let the kids have a fun place to play. After all, they don’t care much about the pizza; they want the games and prizes.

We used up all of our tokens, put our tickets in the muncher, and proceeded to the counter to select a prize. My daughter being as young as she is did not have many tickets. She badly wanted a small rubber duck; unfortunately she was one ticket short of the duck. Now had this been Chuck E. Cheese’s they would have rounded up. They always round up. This place did not, and my daughter had to choose from a wide variety of cheap plastic bracelets. I was amazed that this small locally owned place would allow a customer to come in and spend $40.00, but would not round up one ticket to allow a child to have the prize they really wanted. At this point I knew that this place would have trouble competing against the chain.

On our second visit to this location, yes, I returned a second time, and I brought my husband along. It was dinnertime, and the place was a bit more active, but not chaotically so. We ordered the pizza, and my husband had the same thoughts I did on this, and he isn’t much into eating cardboard either. We proceeded to the game area and helped our little one with games to ensure that this time she would get the duck. When all was said and done, she of course no longer wanted the duck, she wanted something else, and was short two tickets from getting it. Again, Chuckee Cheese always rounds up. If you have 23 tickets they say 25, if you have 38 they say 40. This place would not round up again, and we left with the duck and some other small items. We probably spent around $60.00 this visit.

We vowed to never return to Playtime Party Center, but on a visit from my sister, and begging from my child we took her to play the games. After all, they say that the third times a charm. Well this visit was the nail in the coffin. First, we did not order food, we all ordered drinks, and purchased a ton of tokens, and when I say a ton, I can tell you that we left spending over $100.00.

As usual on this visit, the place was full of moms that had no intention of purchasing anything. This is something I have noticed on each visit. Some of the area moms use the place as a free air-conditioned playground and babysitting service. They sit and chat and let their children run wild through the place knocking over any other children that get in their path. This time I believe that there was a daycare center in attendance. It seemed that there were a lot of children, but only a couple other adults, and these children were the wildest bunch I have seen yet. My daughter was knocked down multiple times, ran over, pushed, and not one adult said a word to these disruptive children.

At this point that it was not safe for my daughter to play on the equipment, and we would go back to playing games. This wasn’t any better. One little boy continued to follow us around, and as soon as my daughter would put tokens in a machine, he would push her out of the way and play the game. At the machine that spits out candy with a crane, he actually reached in and stole her candy. We asked him to stop, but he did not listen, and there didn’t seem to be an adult around that he belonged to. I have to assume he was with the daycare group. We finally formed a barrier around her as she went from game to game, and finally we turned in our tickets, gathered our prizes and left.

I will never return to this establishment, unless it undergoes some major changes. Playtime Party Center really had an opportunity to make something out of itself. It could have been big in this area since there isn’t a local Chuck E. Cheese’s, and it could have been everything that Chuck E. Cheese’s is not. I believe this place will not remain open long. It will surely go under as long as they continue to allow mother’s to use their establishment as a free babysitter, daycares to run wild, and refuse to bend on their prize policy.

As chaotic as Chuck E. Cheese is, and as much as I have always dreaded going into the place, I have never had the problems that we experienced at Playtime Party Center. The madness of Chuck E. Cheese now seems like eternal bliss, and I will gladly drive out of town to visit one verses returning to Playtime Party Center.

On a more positive note, there is a new place opening up in St. Peters, Mo called America’s Incredible Pizza Company. It now has a location in South County, and features a buffet with a wide variety of foods and deserts, plus a game room, and also has miniature golf, bowling, and go-karts. It has multiple themed rooms, and looks to be a promising and fun place. Our family will definitely be visiting the St. Peters location to see how it stacks up against Chuck E. Cheese’s, and it will be close enough to heavily compete with the mess that is Playtime Party Center.

Judy Williams is the St. Louis Parenting Examiner at Examiner.com

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