What is it?
A colourful padded warehouse, room or area where kids can rampage around without fear of splitting their head open or eating a plug socket.
How much does it cost?
Prices range dramatically. A lot of places are free for under 1s (whoop whoop), but some can be as much as £8 and others try to entice you into yearly or family membership deals. Unless you live next door to one that’s clean, empty and more expansive than the Amazon rainforest, never, ever sign up for one of these.
What’s good about it?
The slides, the ball pits, the crawling around, the see-saws, the bouncing, the games you can invent… it’s a sense-awakening festival of awesomeness, and tots seem to like it too. The exertion leaves your kid begging for sleep and if you can find one that’s relatively empty (tip for North Londoners: Friday afternoons and evenings tend to be very quiet), then it’s probably the best daddy-baby bonding time you’ll ever have. Yup, this is as good as it sounds.
What’s bad about it?
The collective screeching does very little for a hangover. At weekends and after school hours, the number of kids attempting to enter the same ball pit can be borderline farcical. The busier it is, the more likely your kid is to poke someone in the eye/get poked in the eye. The catering is universally woeful. Oh, and there is just about always one slightly strange older child in the babies section.
How’s the hygiene?
In general, it’s pretty good. Although the policing of the ‘no shoes’ and ‘no eating’ rules tends to be a bit namby-pamby. Also, the nearer you get to the changing facilities the more pungent the aroma of soiled nappies becomes.
Is it worth a second date?
The concept of soft play is, but due to its cost, size or clientele the individual venue might not be. Conclusion? Don’t commit too fast. Make sure you and your baby take some time to play the field before settling down into a relationship.