Kids Just Wanna Have Fun

A distinguished panel of judges surveys Miami's indoor pleasure palaces and raises a profound question: Who needs nature?

Parents play free at the Discovery Zone, and may enter the jungle to join their children. Such behavior is self-destructive and potentially suicidal, but a few dedicated (foolhardy) guardians occasionally risk it. There have been no recorded cases of overweight moms or dads getting stuck in the tubes, perhaps because the damn things are so hot your own sweat would lubricate your way out eventually. Crawling through the tubes on hands and knees, traversing the mesh bridges, swinging from the trapeze, zipping down the wire and slamming into the padded wall at the end of the line A only adults with a death wish and/or fully paid insurance premiums should even attempt to keep up with the little ones. Take it from our reporter and photographer, whose arthritic joints have yet to recover from their brief forays into the kids' domain.

Discovery Zone was a monster hit with our expert panel for a variety of reasons. Jacqui and Janne enjoyed riding the wire and the trapeze. Michael preferred sliding into the Ball Wade. All four kids disappeared into the jungle maze seconds after arrival and were content to play there for the better part of an hour before even thinking about the video games. Nikki had one complaint: the junctures in the crawl-through plastic tubes were rough, and hurt her knees.

Consensus: Great for kids under twelve, maybe a little too tame for teens. Just as Jeff Richmond predicted.

Malibu Grand Prix
7775 NW 8th Street

While Discovery Zone's size (employees communicate with one another via radio headsets) makes the biggest first impression, Malibu's noise level also makes quite a mark: 117 video games bleep, blip, squawk, and scream for attention A from the coveted NBA Jam to the Sega Galaxy Force flight simulator (Afterburner with more range of motion).

Our distinguished committee immediately dispersed upon walking through the front door, momentarily panicking their adult overseer. Michael ran for the nearest kung fu video game. Nikki, Jacqui, and Janne fanned out to a passel of different games before regrouping to watch each other shoot down enemy planes in the Galaxy Force. From there Jacqui and Janne opted for air hockey while Nikki climbed into a road racing simulator.

But the kids knew the video games were just a tune-up. At Malibu the real fun awaits out back. The complex boasts nine batting cages and an eighteen-hole miniature golf course, but the company's bread and butter is its fleet of bantam Grand Prix racers. From tiny little kiddie carts and bumper cars to intimidating two-seater Virage vehicles, these sleek machines are what really separate Malibu from the other playgrounds. It takes 39 employees to keep the joint humming inside and out.

Height requirements must be met in order to partake of even the smallest cars. You have to be 38 inches tall to drive a kiddie car, 48 inches to rattle your bones in the bumper cars, 54 inches to steer a go-cart, and you must possess a valid Florida driver's license and be over eighteen to slide behind the wheel of a Virage. Three of our judges qualified for the bumper cars and the fourth, Michael, was more interested in riding Galaxy Force anyway.

It is truly remarkable how swiftly three kids who've gotten along splendidly all afternoon can attack each other so viciously in bumper cars. Janne quickly got the hang of the controls in her car and figured out that by backing off into a neutral corner she could come hurtling with a head of steam and do some serious damage. Nikki, Janne's primary victim, never quite mastered the fine art of steering and spent most of the time (when she wasn't being broadsided) literally spinning her wheels. Jacqui quietly but efficiently picked her spots.

Their brief stint as stunt drivers proved to be the highlight of the entire survey. No video game, ball wade, or maze of chutes and ladders compared. "We should have gone here first," panted Nikki shortly after clambering out of her bumper car. If she harbored any ill will toward her friends for pummeling her vehicle, she wasn't letting on.

"I liked the carts," said Janne. "That one ride that we took [Galaxy Force], the one that spun all the way around, went up and down -- it was pretty cool. I liked that better than any of 'em."

Spoken with all the restraint of a true critic.

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