Most indoor playgrounds carry the same price tag in the Greater Toronto Area (around $8) but not all are as exciting or worth the dollars you spend.
I will rate them according to the following criteria:
Play - This will be the excitement and creativity criteria. Are the play structures exciting? Are they dull and repetitive? How creative is the set up? Is there enough space to play? Can children of various ages play at the same time? On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being worst and 5 being the most exciting.
Cleanliness - ever get the feeling you need a bath, after you've visited the indoor playground? Do you smell old socks and poo in certain areas? Are the toilets filthy? How often do they clean their toys? On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being worst and 5 being the cleanest.
Staff - Are the staff hostile and inflexible, or are they fun and accommodating? Sometimes kids are on special diets and staff will not let you bring your own food in. Sometimes if kids are loud they keep telling you off. Is staff discriminatory in any way? Sometimes a bad experience with the people working at the playground really spoils the fun. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being worst and 5 being the friendliest staff.
Safety - Are the structures deflating and falling apart? Are the toilets always out of toilet paper and flush not working? Is something always broken in there? Are the balls in the ball pit squished and pointy giving you scrapes and bruises? Nothing worse than jumping in to a ball pit and landing on a pile of squished, pointy balls! Are there exits in the back which are unmanned and kids (especially autistic ones) can wander outside without being noticed? On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being worst and 5 being the safest.
Let’s get started on the very first one that we have been to a various times over the past 2 years.
IKEA SMALAND - ETOBICOKE
I wasn't going to review this as it is free, but why not.
The IKEA SMALAND we have experienced is ONLY the one in Etobicoke. This review does not reflect on the SMALAND's of other stores in this city.
Play: 2 out of 5. Considering it’s free, and it has a time limit of 30 minutes, I think it is OK. There is one coloring and drawing station, some toys and a small play area. Not much here to do for the autistic kid for more than 15 minutes. They also have height and age restrictions. Not for a broad range of ages or abilities.
Cleanliness: 4 out of 5. It is possibly the cleanest indoor play area you will find.
Staff: 0 out of 5. I did not specify a zero rating, but I will invent one, because that is how bad they are. I understand the job has a high turnover, but until summer 2011, every visit was a negative experience because of staff. The last time I went I complained to the customer service people. I doubt anything came out of it. Incidentally my son’s therapists have also complained about this particular store's SMALAND, when they took other autistic kids there. Staff here are afraid of children with special needs.
Safety: 4 out 5. It is so safe that even you cannot go inside to get your own child. That puts some people off, but it is a bonus for the child with autism who often cannot even tell someone their name or answer the question "Is this your mommy?” There are two staff watching the children and usually only one entrance/exit. But what use is safety when they discriminate against children with special needs? Special needs are considered a safety hazard at the SMALAND, judging from the attitude of staff.
That gives IKEA SMALAND ETOBICOKE a disappointing 2 out of 5. Hey, if you didn't have a good time at the Smaland, all is still not lost; you can always try the cheap, tasteless food upstairs.
Just leave the kids home and do IKEA for what they are good at - cheap household stuff, that looks great and has a increasingly short life span. I got two cute looking lamps from there just last week for just $10 on sale!!