PLEASE NOTE: This post was written in 2013, and while it should still give you a good overview of the experience, it is also possible that it may contain some outdated information. Please check their website for the most current information, especially about things like schedules and pricing.
UPDATE 2016: Chuck E. Cheese’s in Manchester is no longer using tokens for the games. Now you get a preloaded card that kids can wave in front of the rides/games and it will automatically deduct the cost. So much easier!
Confession time: I loved Chuck E. Cheese’s as a kid, but I had been seriously dreading taking my son there for the first time. I had these visions of loud noise (I recalled all kinds of sirens and bells from my youth) and screaming kids and trying to keep up with Boo as he darted among the flashing lights, all the while fingers crossed that he wouldn’t careen into a much bigger kid, bounce off a video game console and end up with a concussion.
In fact, when we ventured out to the Chuck E. Cheese’s in Manchester, Connecticut a few weekends ago, it was not the first time we’d tried to take Boo to Chuck E. Cheese’s. We’d showed up, hopeful, at the Newington location about a year ago, but I chickened out just about as soon as we walked in the door. Granted, we had arrived right at lunch time on a Saturday, which was probably not the best timing, but the whole situation just seemed too frenetic for a then 18-month-old Boo (and me!).
Fast-forward a year and we were ready to try again. Mostly, I had been intrigued by the website’s promise of a separate toddler area. Really? A whole section of Chuck E. Cheese’s for my toddler to enjoy? This I didn’t remember from my childhood visits.
I wasn’t messing around this time. Chuck E. Cheese’s opens at 9:00 a.m. on Sundays (and Saturdays!), and we arrived just after 10:00 a.m. The Manchester Chuck E. Cheese’s is located in the Burr Corners shopping center (there’s an entrance just up the road from the Buffalo Wild Wings).
Once you’re in the plaza, you just kind of follow the road. As you curve around, look for the David’s Bridal store. You’ll probably see that sign before you see the Chuck E. Cheese’s just because of how it’s positioned. But then you can’t miss it. This is actually the second largest Chuck E. Cheese’s location in New England!
There’s plenty of parking, both in front of the store and around to the side.
Head in through the red double doors. There is no entrance fee, but you will need to stop and check-in right after you enter. A staff member will give you and everyone in your family a unique numerical hand-stamp (don’t worry, it’s one of those invisible ink ones that only shows up under a black light). The purpose of this stamp is to ensure that the family that arrives together, also leaves together (they call this their “Kid Check” program). When you leave, someone will check that your hand stamp matches that of your child. I think that’s a great added safety feature. Plus, with a staff member monitoring the door, you know that your little one can’t easily make a run for it 🙂
So once we were fully stamped, we took a look around to see if we could spot the “Toddler Zone.” It was not hard to find. Just look to your left.
The best part about this area is that it is completely separate from all of the bigger kid activities, which are situated to your right as you enter. So you really don’t get many older kids coming over this way.
The first thing we went to check out was the toddler playscape.
There is also a larger playscape with tunnels that curl around up near the ceiling. This one was a bit too much for Boo. Plus, the way you get up to the tunnels/slide is by pulling yourself up from one platform to another. I think it will be a little while before Boo is ready for this one. But the older preschoolers loved it.
Now, it doesn’t cost anything to play on the playscapes, but all the other rides and games take tokens. So you have to find one of these token machines (or go to the counter) and change your money for Chuck E. Cheese’s tokens. There is one right when you enter and another one down in the big game room. They accept cash (but only the exact bill–i.e. you need to put a $10 bill in to get $10 worth of tokens) or credit cards, but you can only get certain amounts out of the machine. For any amount of tokens (and to pay with any bill or use a credit card), head over to the counter. There is a little plastic cup where you can put the dispensing tokens. Find one in the cup holder affixed to the side of the token machine. Each token is 25 cents (or less if you buy in bulk) and every ride or game is just one token. Trust me, you can have a lot of fun with a toddler in here for only 10 bucks worth of tokens.
But he loved the games. We found this fun game where you use the mallet to hit the button and make colorful balls “jump” into the dog’s mouth. We played this one MANY times. Boo even won some tickets (which you can trade in for prizes–more on that later).
There was a similar game that involved basketballs. And one where Boo got to play a piano with giant keys.
He tried his hand at some real basketball too. Although, he needed a little boost.
This frog game was a big hit.
And we even got a visit from Mr. Chuck E. himself.
Boo is also newly obsessed with cars (or anything with wheels for that matter), so he really got a kick out of this pint-sized driving game. His legs were a little too short to reach the pedal, but he loved turning the steering wheel.
There are booths all around the toddler area, which is super because it means you can have a seat and watch the kiddos play. This is actually the case in all three of the different play areas. We did notice that every single table in the whole place had a “Reserved” sign on it though. Despite the fact that they were all empty and there weren’t that many people in the building. That was a little confusing.
So I got the scoop. First of all, the “Reserved” signs will only be out during the weekend, so if you go during the week you probably won’t even see them. And it’s more like they are being preemptively reserved for when the place gets busier and there is a wait for tables (just like at any other restaurant). How will you know if there is a waiting list for a table? Well, they will tell you when you come in. If no one mentions it to you when you arrive, you can assume that any open table is fair game, sign or no sign (obviously, just don’t go sit over in the clearly marked birthday party area; that tends to tick off the folks who have paid to have their party there). The signs just help to keep things orderly when the place is hoppin’ so people who have been waiting for a table are not displaced by someone pouncing on a recently vacated booth.
We were about ready to get ourselves some lunch, but we thought we’d take a little tour of the rest of the place before eating, just in case Boo was feeling less benevolent as the day wore on.
Here’s a shot of the middle section. This is kind of like a transitional section between the area for small kids and the area for big kids. We did see some preschool age kids playing in here, but we didn’t find much for Boo. The equipment is bigger and the game consoles are higher up from the ground.
Straight past this area is the big game room. You can also find a place to hang coats and some high chairs over here. Oh, and there’s a ramp down to this slightly lower level, so you can navigate a stroller pretty easily if you need to.
This room is pretty serious. You aren’t going to find much for the toddler/preschool crowd in here. Although, Boo did seem to enjoy watching all the colorful lights on the various machines.
And hubby and I couldn’t resist a game of Skeeball. Although, Boo kept stealing the balls.
Hubby beat me by 1000 points. Unfortunately, a rematch later did not yield better results 🙂
Now it was time for some pizza. Chuck E. Cheese’s actually serves a variety of meals these days, including buffalo wings and even a salad bar.
But we still went with the pizza 🙂
You order at the counter and they give you a number to place on your table. Then, when your food is ready (they make the pizzas to order), someone will bring it out to you.
Oh, by the way, we thought it would be a great idea to sit right over near the toddler slide so Boo could play if he got antsy before hubby and I were finished eating. Turns out that corner is also a popular place for other adults to stand and watch their kids climbing and crawling through the giant playscape, so we pretty much had someone’s backside brushing up against our table at all times. You’ve been warned 🙂
We only ordered one pizza, but it did take quite a while for it to come out. And at 11:30, it still wasn’t that crowded in there. A good thing about our table was that it had a view of the stage where the puppet band wakes up and plays every 10 minutes or so. Boo got a kick out of that. You can also see all the tables set up for parties over there.
I also noticed this sign on the table, which says you can order a birthday cake at the counter to be delivered to your table by Chuck E. himself. An impromptu birthday party! I love that. So parents, if you ever need to throw together a last-minute birthday celebration, just head to Chuck E. Cheese’s and the kiddos will think you planned the whole thing 🙂
This is a good time to mention that although the noise level was high (as expected) with all the music and the TV’s and the kids playing, I don’t think there was anything really offensive about the noise. No wailing sirens or annoying dinging bells from the games. It wasn’t really any noisier than your run-of-the-mill sports bar or even some regular restaurants. I was pleasantly surprised.
Finally, the pizza arrived, and it was worth the wait. To tell you the truth, my expectations were not that high. But this was really good pizza!
After lunch, we surveyed our ticket stash. Boo actually won a whole bunch of these himself (despite his literal “hit or miss” strategy), which is kind of nice.
Then we headed over to the prize counter to let Boo cash in his winnings. The prizes are divided into age categories, which is helpful. So you can get an idea of what prizes will be okay for a toddler without having to inspect them all yourself. The small prizes are mostly plastic doo-dads or little boxes of candy, and they have their “price” in tickets displayed nearby.
In what I’m sure is a classic (and frequent) rookie mistake, we tried to take our actual tickets to the counter to cash out. Oh no. That is not how things work anymore. Now there are these ticket counting machines that chomp up all your tickets and spit out a little slip of paper saying how many tickets you put into the machine. (I don’t know what was going on with my camera at this point, but every shot I took of this machine was blurry–I think the camera was ready to call it a day too.)
Anyway, there are two of them located in that middle section, one positioned near the entrance to the larger gaming area and one tucked behind the row of booths at the other end. So don’t make our mistake and let your kid pick out his prize and then have to walk away without it to get your tickets counted while trying to explain and apologize and fend off a tantrum. Yikes.
Of course, the first go-round Boo had selected this little green rubber frog.
When we came back he decided he wanted a tiny purple car.
I almost had a heart attack when I saw that the car was 80 tickets and we only had 77. But thankfully, they round up 🙂 I was told that even if we only had 71 tickets, they would still round up to 80 for us. That’s nice. Of course, if you consider how much it actually costs to win the 77 tickets, well, we probably could have bought 100 tiny plastic purple cars with that. But Boo was so proud of himself. That’s priceless, right?
Before we left, a quick tour of the restrooms. There are two: one just past the food counter (straight back from the entrance), and another one in the back left-ish corner of the big game room. And there is a changing table in both the men’s and the women’s rooms.
By the time we headed out around 12:30, it was starting to get pretty crowded. But the timing worked out just great for us. A little playing, a little lunch, and a happy toddler with a new little toy who was ready for one big N-A-P. See, even the adults get a prize here 🙂
Chuck E. Cheese’s
82 Buckland Street, Manchester, Connecticut
Phone: (860) 649-4150 or (860) 649-3857
Get directions here:
Hours & Admission:
Monday-Thursday 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Friday 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Admission is FREE! Each game is 25 cents or less (in tokens).
Tips & Things to Bring:
- FREE admission.
- Most areas are very stroller-friendly.
- Restrooms with changing stations.
- Credit cards (and cash) accepted for token and food purchases.
- Bring exact change ($10 or $20 bills) or a credit card if you want to use the automatic token machine. Otherwise, you can purchase tokens at the counter.
- The toddler/preschooler area is completely separate from the “big kid” areas, although, there isn’t a gate or anything so kids can still come and go freely. There is only one way to “escape” though, so that helps keep everyone corralled.
- This is a restaurant, so as a general rule they are not encouraging you to bring in your own food. However, it’s fine to bring in say, a coffee or some snacks for the little ones.
- They start serving food the minute they open the doors (so yes, you can order a pizza at 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday if you are so inclined).
- Click here to see a full menu.
- According to the menu, they serve beer and wine for the adults (we actually saw some pitchers of beer go out to tables, but we did not see the wine).
- Order your food and drinks (free soft drink refills) at the counter; someone will bring it out to you and clean up the mess once you’re done.
- There are some desserts you can order off the menu, but there’s also an ice cream vending machine serving classics like ice cream sandwiches, bars, and cones.
- Check out the value deals listed on the menu that include food and tokens for a special price.
- You can save a little dough by clicking here to find coupons for your location.
- You can also sign up for their Email Club for more special deals.
- Consider having your next playdate here. There are plenty of tables where the adults can congregate and supervise while the kiddos play.
- Host your child’s next birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Click here for more information.
- Looking for more to do in this area? Other nearby destinations that we have written about include the indoor play area at The Shoppes at Buckland Hills, Buffalo Wild Wings, Nevers Park Walking Trails and Boundless Playground, and Ted’s Montana Grill.
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