Indoor Fun for Kids - Ikea
On a cold day, heading to Ikea is probably not your first thought. But when you've exhausted typical options, the Swedish palace of flat-packed home furnishings offers cheap fun. The stores are built for kids, especially those younger than 6.
By the entrance is the ball room, or Smaland in Ikea-speak, where you can leave children for supervised fun for up to one hour, subject to a few restrictions. Children must be potty trained and 37 to 54 inches tall, which roughly covers kids ages 4 to 11.
For the littler ones, there is Ikea's kids' section, where they can test products by taking a ride on an Ekorre rocking moose or shimmying through a Speja tunnel. My then-20-month-old and I had a grand time trying out adult furniture, too, taking turns sitting on sofas and mattresses as if we were two Goldilockses with no bears to scare us away.
Of course, the true test of a place's kid-friendliness is how easily it meets your child's basic needs. On that score, Ikea beats most public spaces. It has changing rooms in all the bathrooms, not just the women's, as well as a separate family changing room with an armchair for nursing.
When it's time to eat, the cafeteria is stocked with such kid favorites as chicken fingers and juice. It also has highchairs, bottle warmers, baby food and a play area with bead roller coasters, fun house mirrors and other diversions to keep your child occupied while you eat in relative peace. Plus, there are wide parking spots close to the entrance for expectant moms and those with strollers.
Ikea is not for everyone. It can be uncomfortably crowded. And you may find yourself walking out with a 17-piece set of plastic food containers that you don't really need. But if you time your visit accordingly (weekdays or weekend mornings) and avoid the siren song of 99-cent oven mitts, you'll be back for more.
-- Annys Shin
IKEA 10100 Baltimore Ave., College Park (Metro: College Park); 301-345-6552; open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sundays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. 2901 Potomac Mills Cir., Woodbridge; 703-494-4532; open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sundays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. 8352 Honeygo Blvd., Baltimore; 410-931-5400; open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sundays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Free.