Since the big mouse came into existence during both my childhood and Lydia's, we hadn't been in... oh, twenty years or so, and had pretty unfavorable impressions of the current state of the store based on hearsay. In fact, a quick Google search brings up all kinds of questions.
The good news: we had a great time. Here's the list of things that exceeded our expectations, and each one is rated on a scale of one to five cheese blocks, five being the best.
- The pizza: edible. When you were a kid, you really didn't care about such things... it was all about the video games. As an adult, you know that you have choices when it comes to pizza, and you're willing to forsake being able to play After Burner Climax for a quality dinner. Chuck has evidently done his homework, because although it's nothing to write home about, it's decent pizza.
- Ten or twelve different soft drink options. Not only did they have the usual suspects on tap, but also the usual kid suspects (several different Hi-C offerings) and Coke Zero, Caffeine Free Diet Coke, and Minute Maid Lite Lemonade. I guess they want Mom and Dad to be able to keep up with the overstimulated young 'uns. They had me at Coke Zero. And unlimited refills!
- A well-stocked salad bar. Many pizza places that have a salad bar will put out lettuce plus pizza toppings: onions, peppers, tomatoes and that's about it. This one had a plethora of choices, and healthy ones to boot. They even had fat free dressing.
- A walkaround Chuck. I assumed that with the evolution of the business, they would have cut back in places that were most expensive, like having someone dress up in a Chuck E. Cheese costume. Chuck made his appearances and brought down the house.
- Video games at 1982 prices. I weaned myself from arcade play some time in the early nineties, and as I did, I remember that lots of arcades were going to three tokens for a dollar instead of four, or all the games would take two and three credits for one play. Chuck has an "every game is one token" policy, gives you four tokens for a dollar, and even gives you bonus tokens for buying in quantity.
- Kid check.At the front of the restaurant is a "kid check" kiosk where everyone in your party gets their hand stamped with a number. When you leave, the hostess checks all your hands under a blacklight to make sure you're not leaving with someone who isn't yours. It's not foolproof, but it is both "better than nothing" and serves as a deterrent to unscrupulous types. And, because I had no idea they were doing it, it gets...
- Clean restrooms. Part of the reason this was unexpected was that it just seems logical that the restroom in a kid's restaurant would be the most difficult to keep clean. I was impressed. Lydia reminded me that the men's room probably gets less traffic... but of course, the customers in the men's room have worse aim... let's just let the discussion stop there and say:
- Happy, helpful staff. Like the restrooms, I expected the staff to be nothing more than half-hearted highschoolers who were just there for the free video games. I couldn't be more wrong. The staff seemed to genuinely enjoy the customers, themselves, and just being there.
- Unexpected freebies. Like the aforementioned drink refills, there were just a couple of nice freebie touches that "plussed" the experience. One of the kiddie rides took your picture while you rode it, hence the scanned picture above of Adam and Alysa. You even get a free unexpected token or two when you place your food order.
There really wasn't anything to write home about that tainted the experience. Oh sure, you had the odd skeeball lane not working, or moment when you thought "could there be any more kids walking right here??" and the food is overpriced for what you get. Maybe it was being around great friends, or maybe it was seeing Adam take his first "carousel" ride (not really a carousel, but you know...) but I think with a certain young man's future birthdays happening smack dab in the middle of winter might predict that a mouse other than Mickey might be getting a few of the Watts dollars in years to come. Just keep the Coke Zero, Chuck!