Explore Your Freedom for Family Fun at Two Attractions in Oaks
Parent-kid outings can be dicey. What kids find "awesome" can leave parents yawning - and vice-versa.
An attraction where parents and their kids can play together is a true find, and luckily, Montgomery County has plenty of sites that fit the bill.
The Oaks Corporate Center features numerous ways parents and their kids can spend the day bonding. For example, both Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park and the Philadelphia Rock Gym feature enough variety, interest and intrigue to keep parents and kids engaged, entertained and giggling side-by-side.
The Sky Zone experience begins with a phone or online reservation for a timeslot. I arrange a visit for me and my three blog-participant daughters: Amanda (21), Claire (16) and Kristin (13).
Safety is a Sky Zone priority; so after initially checking in, trampoline-jumping visitors sign an electronic waiver before springing forth. The pre-jump process can also be simplified by signing the waiver online.
Word of advice: You will be tempted to stow valuables in your car. It's not necessary. Sky Zone provides lockers to hold your essentials.
Sky Zone requires special footwear (Sky Socks), the price of which is included in your ticket. We are all sized and issued a pair, which are cheery orange. The underside features pads that are slightly sticky, preventing slippage.
Footwear in place and pockets empty (a crucial step), we venture into one of the themed zones:
- Open Jump is a sea of trampolines on the floor and the walls, enabling bouncing along as many trajectories as your body can manage
- Ultimate Dodge Ball can be played in two areas, and the balls are specifically low-impact
- The Foam Zone allows jumpers to land in a pit of 10,000 cushiony squares
- Sky Slam puts an interesting spin on traditional basketball, enabling trampoline-assisted dunks of up to 10 feet in the air
Kids under four feet in height also get their own Open Jump area, sequestering them from heavier traffic.
We begin with Ultimate Dodgeball. I have not been on a trampoline in decades, and it takes my knobby knees a little time to acclimate. But before long, I'm playfully winging balls at my daughters, and they are returning fire.
Open Jump is a chance to get some serious air time. I'm content with a simple up-and-down technique, but Amanda, Claire and Kristin are soon doing flips.
Over at Sky Slam, Claire gives it a shot and manages one basket for two rubbery tries.
The Foam Zone is arranged in lanes, and a Sky Zone employee (they are everywhere, keeping a watchful eye, almost like lifeguards at a pool) controls who dives when.
The true challenge of the Foam Zone is extracting oneself from the thousands of blocks. Traction is a little tough, and a fair amount of upper body strength is required to get out of the pit.
Our time at Sky Zone is a real aerobic workout. Before long, the kids are panting and I'm sweaty. For true cravers of cardio, however, the park runs fitness classes that reportedly burn 1,000 calories an hour.
I have no trouble believing it.
We finish with the trampolines, trade the Sky Socks for our regular sneakers and participate in sticking our labels on a giant ball at the front desk.
Directly next door is the Philadelphia Rock Gym.
We enter and immediately gaze upward at a wall that stretches 33 feet to the ceiling of this former industrial building. It is pitted with toe- and hand-holds that each feature a colored ribbon.
Operations Manager Amanda Schwartz greets us and explains their meaning: "These are routes," she says. "They are various ways to get to the top. The colors signify how difficult the climbs are. Blue is the easiest, then green, and so on."
Schwartz says that the sport of rock climbing is universal. "We've had climbers as young as three years old and as old as senior citizens. We have a regular climber who is 83. We've also had athletes from the Paraclimbing organization here, as well as students from the Overbrook School for the Blind."
As with Sky Zone, there is a waiver to sign (understandably), and again, the required paperwork is online. Within minutes, however, all my climbers are signed in and getting into harnesses.
Two types of climbing are available at Philadelphia Rock Gym: Bouldering, which requires enough strength to cling to the surface at angles that approach upside-down, and Top Rope, which is where beginners start.
We line up for Top Rope.
Claire goes first, and Schwartz ties her harness tightly to the rigging using a "...figure-eight follow-through knot." Once Claire is secured, she gets a toehold on the wall and starts pulling herself upward. Schwartz anchors the other end of the rope and watches carefully.
At about the mid-way point, Claire decides she's gone far enough and descends. Schwartz guides her: "Let go of the rocks; grab the rope; lean back; and I'll lower you. All you have to do is straighten your legs and walk down the wall."
Kristin is next, and a combination of added verve and sibling rivalry propels her just a bit higher than her sister.
I glance to her right and watch a climber who can be no more than seven or eight years old scale the wall à la Spider Man. Without a single hesitation and completely fearless, he zooms up.
After Kristin is down and unstrapped, it's my turn.
My start is slow, and I'm soon unsure of where to go next. I look at rocks well above my head and am sure I cannot reach them, but eventually, a pathway begins to reveal itself amid the blue-ribbon holds.
Schwartz is all encouragement: "There's one above you to the right - yes! Good! Keep going!"
I follow her instructions as best I'm able. She tells me "Swap your left foot for your right foot and take your left foot over to continue up."
I find an alternative that doesn't involve the dance step she's recommending, and I continue making progress.
"Good one!" Schwartz calls.
After climbing for a while, I glance downward. I experience no vertigo, but I am rather surprised how little my kids look all the way down there.
Schwartz updates: "You are almost at the top. Keep going."
The rocks on this beginners' route are cupped, meaning it's easy to get my fingers inside them and crawl upward. I suspect the harder climbs aren't as forgiving.
Eventually, I reach the top, and my kids cheer.
Schwartz lowers me, and I can feel my thighs and biceps quivering. But I also can't wipe the smile from my face.
Fist bumps and high fives mark the occasion. We return the equipment and depart. A celebratory lunch at Max & Erma's, in the same Oaks location, brings the day of dad-and-daughter bonding to a close.
The rigors of hitting both the trampoline and the rock wall in the same afternoon hit me the following day, when my muscles are sore. Checking into a luxury hotel nearby - where perhaps a massage at the spa was part of the stay - would have been heaven on earth.