I used to go bowling quite often when I was younger. My flat while at uni was just round the corner from one of those big bowling alley/cinema/general entertainment type complexes and I’ve spent many a beer fueled evening wearing silly shoes and not knocking down very many pins with friends before attempting to shoot some zombies and bash gophers over the head with a mallet.
It’s always seemed one of those silly fun nights out that were part of my ‘pre-kid’ life rather than something to do as a young family but recently I was asked to review Bowlplex Dudley who have made some changes to the traditional bowling alley format to make the experience more family friendly. I had visions of T in teeny tiny toddler bowling shoes and couldn’t resist.
Bowlplex Dudley is located in a large leisure and retail park so was very easy to find and there was plenty of parking when we got there on Saturday morning. The lady who welcomed us from behind the desk was really friendly and helpful although she didn’t seem to have a record of our booking and had to go and make some inquiries before we could get started. Once that was all resolved though, she came with us to our lane to help input all the names on the computer, set which of us would have the barriers up, pick our balls etc and away we went.
The boys LOVED bowling. With the aid of the barriers and a ramp to roll his ball down E was able to play without any help from us. Although being a toddler T isn’t great at turn taking he loved pushing his ball down the ramp once we’d lined it up for him and jumped up and down in excitement as it rolled down the lane (often very slowly!) to it’s target. I spent most of the time laughing at Hubs who made no concessions to the fact he was playing against two kids and a woman who is lucky to hit the right lane, let alone a pin, and insisted on adopting the back foot flicking/camp hand combo normally reserved for serious competition. We all enjoyed ourselves but there were a couple of niggles. Firstly, a lot of the ramps were obviously well used and broken at the bottom which made it harder for E and secondly, when a family of 7 arrived 5 minutes after we started they put them in the lane next to us despite there being over twenty free lanes which meant we were all sharing the same computer, seats and ball return and constantly having to stop our kids running in front of each other mid throw which was a bit frustrating having deliberately gone early to avoid it being too busy.
But bowling is not all Bowlplex have to offer. After two games we moved on to their well thought out soft play area. It’s a really good size, not just a little area tagged on as an afterthought, and is split into two sections with one half being more suitable for toddlers/preschoolers and the other for slightly older children. This is great to see as poor old t has often been relegated to a little padded toddler corner in some soft play centers while his big brother runs off and enjoys himself on the big equipment. They claim it is the largest soft play center in the West Midlands although to my untrained eye it didn’t seem as big as some. Either way it’s certainly a big enough. Their press release also mentioned “the giant bowling ball which youngsters can climb inside to enjoy interactive and educational games on iPads” which sounds great but I didn’t see any iPads there so I’m glad I didn’t mention that to E before hand. Their sports hall will now also be the venue for a number of classes during the week, including craft sessions, story time and cycling lessons which I think is a great resource for local parents and they also host birthday parties. The prices are a bit higher than other soft play centers I’ve been to (£4.95 for 1-2 year olds, £5.95 for 3 and over, under ones go free but then the adult has to pay £1.50 if you don’t have other paying children).
They serve Costa Coffee which is a big bonus from Hubs’ point of view and also have squash out for the kids although I wasn’t too keen on giving the boys a drink from jugs that were just left unattended around the building. I’m not normally particularly paranoid about these things but I’d be happier if it were kept, for example, on the end of the bar or on reception where someone kept an eye on it. It was too early for us to eat but I did look at the menu which seemed to cover the usual burgers, hot dogs, pizza etc for fairly reasonable prices. The kid’s meals were £3.50 including a drink, adult’s were between £5 and £6.50 and the large pizzas were £8.75.
The final part of our trip involved letting E loose on the various amusement arcade machines. There were a big selection of games aimed at older children and adults but the were a few he could do and he enjoyed winning the tickets which he then got to swap for a little toy when we’d finish.
Overall we enjoyed the morning at Bowlplex and would happily go again. Having said that, in total family bowling for the four of us and entry to the soft play area would have been £45 (without any food and drink) and for me that puts it into the ‘treat’ category rather than something we’d do regularly and I’m not quite sure it lives up to that price.
- Easily accessible
- Really friendly staff
- Excellent soft play facilities
- Good range of games machines for older children
- Reasonably priced food
- Bowling equipment a little old and worn
- Prices a bit on the high side