Thinking of trying Bellaboo’s Play and Discovery Center. Here’s what families should know.
Every year during Christmas break, we travel to Northwest Indiana to visit my family. Winters are harsh in this region perched on the southern shores of Lake Michigan, and my 4- and 8-year-old daughters and their preschool-aged cousins get restless when they’re stuck indoors for days on end at Grandpa and Grandma’s house because of cold weather and snow. So last month when we made our annual trip to see family, we planned a day for the kids to burn off steam at Bellaboo’s Play and Discovery Center.
Bellaboo’s Play and Discovery Center
Bellaboo’s Play and Discovery Center, located at 2800 Colorado Street, Lake Station, Ind., is part of Three Rivers County Park near Chicago. It’s a large play center geared toward kids age 9 and younger, with reasonable admission prices (our family of four paid $24 to get in on a non-holiday weekday), and it’s comprised of multiple themed rooms that include a water play room, a room with wooden train sets, a construction toy/building block room, an art room, a reading room, a face painting room, and an infant and toddler play room. One of the more popular areas is the child-sized village with a pizza parlor, grocery store, animal hospital, dress-up area, and kitchen. There are some seasonal outdoor activities we’ve never tried that are available during the warmer months, including pedal toys, a sand play area, and a garden area.
Another hit with the kids is the large play structure with slides similar to a McDonald’s Play Place, and there’s a ball pit. (Be sure your kids are wearing socks.) The balls in the ball pit are regularly cleaned when kids throw balls through a bull’s eye target on the wall, which connects to a pipeline that funnels balls through a machine filled with cleaning solution and then funnels the balls back into the pit through another pipe. The ball cleaner wasn’t operating the day we were there.
|Making “kid champagne.”|
Also, several times a day, a cooking activity takes place. Children sit on stools surrounding a long, low counter and are given basic ingredients to construct a snack. My daughters made “kid champagne” for the New Year by scooping vanilla ice cream into cups of blue Kool-Aid, then gently blowing with a straw to make it bubbly. Seats for the cooking activity fill up fast, but if you don’t get in during your first attempt, staff hand out tickets so kids are guaranteed a spot during the next show.
Bellaboo’s doesn’t allow outside food and drinks, but food is available for purchase in the café, with dining tables and booths located in the center of the building and all the themed play rooms lining the perimeter, so – in theory at least – you can easily watch your kids wherever they go.
Menu items are reasonably priced and include pizza, deli sandwiches, salads, nachos, and hot dogs, as well as a variety of drinks and snacks like chips, fruit, cheese, cookies, and ice cream. While the food quality is fine, nothing on the menu is unique or adventurous except for possibly The Bat Cave, a sandwich served warm with turkey, ham, bacon, cheddar cheese, tomato, and lettuce, with a tangy onion sauce. The sauce makes the sandwich. My husband and I recommend it!
We visited during Christmas break when kids are out of school and crowds are more likely, but for the most part the facility seemed able to accommodate high numbers of patrons. While it did get busy especially during the late morning and early afternoon, it never got so crowded that my kids couldn’t play and enjoy themselves, and the adults in our group were mostly able to find spots to sit on the padded benches located in all the play rooms. The women’s bathroom was another story, where the toilet paper ran out in two stalls and the paper towels overflowed all afternoon from the trash cans.
This was my family’s second visit to Bellaboo’s, although it’s been a few years since the first visit. We thought this year was a good time to get another visit in since the facility is geared toward kids 9 and younger, and my oldest daughter is approaching that upper age range. It won’t be long before she’ll outgrow some of the attractions and will be the one helping her younger sister and cousins. For the time being, Bellaboo’s is a fun place to take all of our kids, especially on cold winter days when they’ve exhausted all the toys and movies in Grandpa and Grandma’s house.
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Editor’s Note: View all posts in our Family Trip Tuesday series at this link.
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