If it’s too cold outside and you just need to get out of the house, kids can explore at open play centers. Across Long Island, family-friendly indoor play areas are filled with challenging mazes, bouncy houses, make-believe villages, sensory play areas, arcades and more. Whether you reserve time slots in advance or just drop in, each center has its own personality. Which center is a fit for you or your family?
Here are five categories to consider. If you have serious cabin fever, plan a trip to one each day for a week of fun.
IMAGINATIVE & INSPIRING
Once Upon a Treetop is an open play center that looks like a village. Small, kid-friendly rooms sit side by side as if part of a neighborhood. There are kiddie cars for children to travel from one room to the next. Owner Antonella Antonacci says with a smile: “We call it our little city.” There’s a make-believe grocery store, schoolhouse, veterinary office, Lego room, transportation station, fire station and bakery cafe. Plastic and wooden toys fill the rooms to inspire imaginative play. The village has a maze, too.
Antonacci explains, “It’s meant to be an imaginative playground. Everything we have going on is based on kids learning through play.”
Though staff members oversee the play center, parents are encouraged to join their children in the village and play pretend along with them. Some parents get together and rent the facility for a large play date; other times, children with special needs drop by with their therapists and enjoy sensory activities in the village. There are classes and events at least once each week that include pumpkin decorating, farm fun activities and cultural holiday celebrations.
Most of the children who come to the center are crawlers through those aged 6 or 7. There’s even a separate section for infants and toddlers with soft toys. Antonacci adds, “We encourage everyone to play.”
COST Starts at $20 per child, adults free.
INFO 151 DuPont St., Plainview; 516-349-1140, onceuponatreetop.com
A-MAZE-ING & BOUNCE-TASTIC
If your kids are bouncing off the walls at home, Active Kidz Long Island might be a better place to do it. Here, they can bop around in a huge room filled with three different bounce houses. One house has an obstacle course where kids can climb ladders and zoom down slides. A second has an arena with soccer and volleyball nets. The third is smaller and best for younger kids: It has small slides, a rocket ship and circles to jump through.
There’s also a huge maze. It has five tunnels, two slides (one for speed, one for twists), numerous obstacles, ropes and mats, and a section where kids walk on a diagonal to get where they’re going. It’s appropriate for ages 1 through 13. One-year-olds can explore inside with their parents. Older kids make friends while climbing around and racing each other to the top.
A play section for toddlers has age-appropriate toys. An arcade is available during open play as well. This fall, check the website for holiday events including Spider-Man Day, and open play based around laser tag, bowling and rock climbing.
COST Starts at $10 for infants, $15 for crawlers, $20 for walkers; one adult free, additional adults $10.
INFO 200 Robbins Lane, Jericho; 516-621-6600, activekidzlongisland.com
HOMEY & HEALTHY
Two intimate open play centers known as Oh My Goodness recently made debuts. One is in Port Washington; the other in Garden City. Both locations are small, bright and have a warm community feel. The owners generally limit open play time slots to a maximum of 15 kids. "Socialization happens here all the time since the space is cozy," says co-owner Katerina Elenis. It’s a great fit for kids 5 and younger.
As soon as you walk in, you’ll notice a winding slide. On the stairs leading to the top of the slide, you’ll find the “clubhouse” (a large room with a pretend kitchen, lots of toys to build with, and railroad tracks). Zip down the slide and play in a book and toy section, or ride on stuffed animal rockers.
In addition to open play times, the owners offer kid yoga, kid meditation and child sound bowl classes. The play area extends into an organic cafe. Elenis says, “We’re really big on health and wellness. Our mission is to educate little ones and their parents about how to live a healthier lifestyle.”
COST Vary, classes may run $30 to $50.
INFO 61 New Hyde Park Rd., Garden City; and 301 Main St., Port Washington; 516-636-5444, ohmygoodnesskids.com
A few years ago, three Long Island moms were looking for a safe, clean indoor environment where their kids could play. They opened their own open play center: Planet Play.
Kids can climb inside a multilevel jungle gym that has two slides, a ball pit with a ball blaster, a swing and obstacle courses. The center also features a make-believe kitchenette, bounce house, toddler play area, basketball space, and arcade with virtual pods. Pod adventures range from Santa rides to roller coaster rides to educational adventures across the human body. While kids play, parents can keep an eye out while sipping a latte in the center’s Cosmic Café.
COST Starts at $15.
INFO 418 Bedford Ave., Bellmore; 516-447-2686
THREE WAYS TO OPEN PLAY
Xplore Family Fun Center has three locations: Safari Adventure by Xplore in Riverhead, Xplore Commack in Commack and Xplore Port Jefferson in Port Jefferson Station. Each has its own features.
At Safari Adventure by Xplore in Riverhead, there’s a hands-on section designed for children with special needs (though everyone is welcome to join in). The area includes a Lego train table where kids can build a race car and race it down a track. There’s a light table with magnetic tiles to create designs, and an “air wall” where kids can toss balls in tubes filled with air and experiment.
At Xplore Port Jefferson in Port Jefferson Station, there’s a sky rail rope course. Kids buckle into a harness and move across a bridge. Xplore Commack offers open play laser tag during scheduled times.
Both the Commack and Port Jefferson Station locations have a Lazer Frenzy Machine. Kids enter a laser station and have fun avoiding and jumping over laser lights. Parents can watch them on a TV directly outside the machine.
All three open play centers have mazes with obstacles galore, infant areas with small slides and climbing activities, an arcade with redemption area, and inflatable slides. The Commack and Riverhead locations also have inflatable dance domes.
During the fall and winter, there will be special activities for Halloween and Christmas, and a New Year’s Eve party. (On Dec. 31 at 7 p.m., the staff will pretend it’s midnight, shout “Happy New Year” and drop balloons from the ceiling.)
COST Starts at $16 for ages 1-2, $23 for ages 3 and older.
INFO Xplore Port Jefferson, 200 Wilson St., Port Jefferson Station, 631-743-9955; Xplore Commack, 54 Vanderbilt Motor Pkwy., Commack, 631-543-8300; and Safari Adventure by Xplore, 1074 Pulaski St., Riverhead, 631-727-4386