I'm pretty sure 'soft play areas' didn't exist when I was a child.
Don't worry, I'm not going to start a tabloid columnist's rant about the nanny state, I just don't think anyone had thought of opening one when I would have been the target audience.
Either that or my parents couldn't bear the thought of spending Saturday in a ball pool and made efforts to avoid them.
Nowadays, we find them to be a very welcome shelter on a wet day. It's certainly preferable to spending an entire holiday completing a jigsaw puzzle in a caravan whilst raindrops race down the window.
We recently tried out the Isle of Wight's newest soft play area, which is called Monkey Madness and which opened at Amazon World earlier this year. It's part of the same company but it operates as a separate attraction to the zoo, so you pay for each one individually.
There seems to be two different approaches to pricing at soft play areas. The first option is that you charge a modest amount for everyone, regardless of age. Parents end up paying a few quid to drink coffee and stare at their phones, whilst children get great value for their ticket.
The second option - which is the one chosen by Monkey Madness - is that you don't charge the parents much (£1) and you cover your costs by charging the kids more (£7.50 for 4-14, £4 for 1-3s at the time of writing).
Most of the time it averages out about the same, but you do end up with winners and losers. A friend who had visited Monkey Madness before us remarked that they thought it was expensive for her and the four children she had brought along (£31 by my reckoning). However, we concluded that it was a bit of a bargain for us with three adults, a six year old and a two year old (£14.50).
We found a table and passive aggressively marked our territory by dumping our selection of bags and drinks bottle.
Our younger one is still in need of a little assistance at these places, so I enthusiastically offered to follow her round. I shall be a little saddened in a few months' time when I'm no longer needed to provide such duties. On the plus side, I shall be able to go back to having the occasional uninterrupted conversation with Mrs Guru.
The signage provided a little confusion, since one list of instructions insisted that parents supervise children at all times, whilst another begrudgingly accepted that parents might need to go on the play area with younger children but that they should definitely stay out of the ball pool.
Nonetheless, we spent a very happy couple of hours exploring the play area which is a really good size and with lots of carefully thought out things to climb over and slide down. I pretended that I wasn't enjoying myself too much and tried to keep up with the younger one whilst admiring the various animals which decorate the play area. The six year old needed no encouragement to race around until she was bright red and eventually realised she might like a drink.
It was also exceedingly clean, which is a real blessing compared to some of the plasters-and-empty-crisp-packet experiences we've had on that mainland.
I didn't get the tape measure out, but I reckon it is probably the biggest soft play area on the Isle of Wight (comment below if you think otherwise). Tapnell Farm's indoor area is bigger as a whole, but the soft play bit isn't quite as big. The play areas on Sandown Pier, Shanklin Esplanade and at JR Zone in Newport are all good sizes but Monkey Madness gives them a good run for their money on scale. It certainly felt spacious and able to accommodate a good number of people without becoming unbearably noisy. Jungle Jim's in Shanklin is cheaper but the low ceilings make it feel a bit cosy when it's busy (see our toddlers guide for more ideas for days out with the naps-and-nappies brigade).
There are still a couple of things which - I think I'm right in saying - are being worked on at Monkey Madness. The toilets at the time were a walk away in the Amazon World Cafe, which would be a faff if you were a lone parent looking after several children. The cafe was nice enough but wasn't quite the latte-and-macchiato experience that parents expect nowadays - the milk was that long life stuff which comes in irritating little plastic pots which don't contain enough liquid to drown a fly.
Still, a definite thumbs up for Monkey Madness which is another decent time filler on an Isle of Wight rainy day. And it's also great to see another Isle of Wight attraction continuing to invest, rather than assuming that people will keep coming back to the same thing year after year.
Don't forget to bring your socks, and keep out of the ball pool please, Dads.
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