You plunk down $6.50 for 20 minutes, then hang a brightly colored pad that resembles a flotation device around your chest and shoulders. Laser gun in hand, you step into a maze, try to get your bearings, and start firing at other players -- up to 30 at a time per session -- who also have you in their sights. Loud music (oddly enough, we heard classical piano blaring over the speakers one day instead of the usual thrashy stuff) helps the disorienting effect.
There are numerous nooks and crannies in which to hide -- or, if you're the aggressive type, from which to spring. It all ends in a flash, and a computer printout tells you how many humans you've shot, and how many have shot you. What a blast.
On Saturdays, children under 12 eat free all day, from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. (on a kid-per-adult ratio). And every day of the week, youngsters are greeted with balloons, crayons and gifts -- like a Hooters cup, beads or a Frisbee. The offer's good at all Valley locations, but we prefer the Ahwatukee Hooters, where the management refuses to show kid-unfriendly pay-per-view boxing and other rough-and-tumble television.
No worries. There's good scenery elsewhere at this establishment. Just keep the kiddies away from the hot wings.
Readers' Choice: McDonald's
For infants, we're partial to the Fattamano layettes. There's a full line of Baby Lulu dresses and onesies -- with wonderful hats to accessorize -- for the girls, and Lucky jeans for the boys. We also love the Piggy Brand line of comfy cotton dresses, pants, tees and pajamas -- bright, simple colors and fun patterns, just right for playing and snoozing.
If you've got a few pennies left over, the store also features fun, hard-to-find toys, and our very favorite baby-product-for-Mom, a full line of diaper bags by Petunia Pickle Bottom.
We love the theater because of the amazing skills of the puppeteers. Each puppet is meticulously created and manipulated to be incredibly animated and lifelike, often to the point of making us forget that they aren't moving on their own. Our favorite is the Peter Pan series -- the Peter puppet is just about the coolest thing we've ever seen on strings. Yeah, the kids love it, but you'll enjoy it as much as they do.
The theater's on-site gift shop offers a selection of puppets from complicated to simple, as well as how-to videos and books -- in case you get the puppet bug yourself.
Bring the baby along, but don't bother to take the diaper bag. In your room, you'll find a mini-bar stocked with milk, juice and zwieback crackers, and a crib with a diaper pail filled with essentials like wet wipes and non-essentials like stuffed plush rattlesnakes, coyotes and other animals reminiscent of the Sonoran Desert. The staff will attach an infant bathtub to the room's marble tub, and they'll spell out your baby's name in colorful sponge letters.
Need a jogging stroller? No problem. A portable playpen? You got it. Leave your room and baby can frolic on the playground, which includes a sandbox, jungle gym and picnic tables. Or feed the ducks and koi in the 11 million gallon Necklace Lake.
Leave the jars of Gerber spinach at home, too. The Phoenician's chefs will create a low-fat, high-vitamin menu based on your child's age and personal tastes.
You and baby will never want to leave.
If you're not a Web surfer, call the folks at2littlemonkeys.com and they'll set you up with a private viewing in their Scottsdale showroom. Now that's what we call service!
Even if you are used to the supercharged energy of your average under-five-footer, it's nice to get a break every now and again. There are so many things to do in this place, even super-hyperactive kids (or parents or friends of parents) aren't going to get bored for at least an hour or two. The amusement park is 27 acres of bumper boats, pretty serious mini-golf, driving ranges, go-carts, kiddy go-carts, video games (where if you win a thousand little tickets you can buy a plastic parachuting soldier or a Chinese finger trap), batting cages (our personal favorite), volleyball and, of course, food. The staff even plans birthday parties. It's child caretaker heaven -- you never have to leave, except when it closes.
Readers' Choice for Best Kids' Fun at a Price Spot: Castles-n-Coasters
Readers' Choice for Best Kids' Free Fun Spot: Tempe Town Lake