Recommended age 3-12 years
Busiest hours Weekends all day
How much 15RMB/hour, Mon-Fri; 25RMB/hour Sat-Sun
Supervision Required for children under 5-years-old
Definitely the most surreal venue featured here, Action & Fun is decorated with plastic mountains bedecked with foliage, an improbably large two-metre diameter faux tree, Indian-style towers, a dinosaur fossil puzzle on the ground and LED constellations on the ceiling.
While the above may mystify adults, it’s of no consequence for children who seem to love the space. Action & Fun is probably the most noisy play centre on this list, sounding much like a high school gymnasium at break time on a rainy day. The neighbouring basketball court (50RMB/half court, 100RMB/full court, bookings required) packed with kids practicing their three-point shots, influences our description; but other children run hither and zither across the establishment, letting loose and clearly enjoying themselves. Alternative attractions are the drop slide, trampoline tree house and imitation hot air balloon that overlooks the basketball court (because Action & Fun needed crazy activities to match its peculiar decorative elements). Perhaps most fun, though less active, are the Xbox One and Wii video games consoles. On our visit, a big crowd of kids were engaged playing games of Kinnect ping-pong and Mario Kart and clearly enjoying themselves.
Action & Fun is at 3611 Zhangyang Lu, near Jinqiao Lu, Pudong. See full address details
Recommended age 6 months-7 years
Busiest hours Weekends all day, and lunchtimes during the week
How much 60RMB/no time limit; 300RMB/unlimited visits for one month.
Close to Wells Jumping, E-kids Island is found in the Caobao Shopping Centre. It looks a bit of a budget option, but it’s by no means bad, provided family members can stand saccharine Taiwanese-style children’s music – think squeaky vocals and Chinese nursery rhymes sung to the tune of ditties like Baa, Baa, Black Sleep – which blares over the speakers.
Extremely well lit, unlike competitor Fun Dazzle, E-kids glows with a brilliant white radiance courtesy of its many fluorescent tubes. It seems slightly blinding at first, but it lets you see what’s clean and what’s not. Attempting to counter any grime is a solitary woman who cleans up stray hairs and minute debris with, what appears to be, a sticky roller on a long pole. It might not be much but it shows a certain awareness.
The ‘rides’ here are more entertaining than at other centres. There’s the usual mix of ball pools and slides, but E-kids also features a room filled with nothing but balloons, an angled self-moving merry-go-round, LED-lit slides and odd rotating cylinders, which young children are fond of falling asleep in. Should that not prove enough for the little ones, just around the corner are further sources of entertainment such as video and crane games in a separate amusement arcade.
E-kids Island is at 1574 Caobao Lu, near Hongxin Lu, Minhang district. See full address details
Recommended age 9 months-12 years
Busiest hours Weekend mornings
How much 50RMB/child for two hours, parents enter for free; 300RMB/10 sessions (must be used within thee months); 500RMB/20 sessions (must be used within six months); 800RMB/40 sessions (must be used within 12 months)
Supervision Children under 1.2m require an adult to accompany them inside
Formerly in Zhongshan Park, now relocated to the Hong Kong Metropolis mall down the road from tourist hotspot Yu Gardens, Fun Dazzle is an old favourite that’s a little rough around the edges but not an option to forget. The generic mall setting is a little uninspiring, though the additional children’s services in the building, such as Baby Mozart music school and Gybmoree baby spa facilities, provide extra points of interest for parents.
Fun Dazzle itself can be found on third floor – prick up your ears and follow the tunes of Maroon 5 and Taylor Swift and you’ll soon find yourself there. A vague nautical theme runs through the décor with whales, dolphins, turtles and submarines incorporated into the design. It looks a little dated, but in a comfortable and reassuring way, like an old sweater that might no longer be on-trend but still fits well. Adults might wish there was more natural light and lockers for shoes, but the kids running around on the inside don’t seem bothered.
For weary mums and dads, there are tables and chairs to watch from along the sides. On our visits Chinese parents sit nattering away into their mobile phones or watching TV dramas on their iPads.
The activities on offer include all the kids’ favourites: there’s a miniature trampoline, ball pool, slides, climbing slopes, swings and squishy flooring all over so no one need get hurt if they trip over. Although it’s rather quiet outside of Fun Dazzle’s immediate area that doesn’t stop children screaming their heads off; the play area seems to attract less inhibited kids, which is great for making friends.
Fun Dazzle is at 489 Henan Nan Lu, near Zhoujin Lu, Huangpu district. See full address details
Recommended age 6 months-5 years
Busiest hours Weekday mornings
How much 16,680RMB/60 classes; 20,016RMB/72 classes; 26,688RMB/96 classes
Supervision Children under 3-years-old must be accompanied in class by a parent
Founded in the USA in 1976, Gymboree now has 600 education centres in over 40 countries. The focus is on structured learning rather than mindless running around and the company provides classes in music, play and art.
Their Xujiahui branch, which we visited, is a brightly lit, modern and sizeable space with an open reception and play area bolstered by three separate rooms for lessons. Classrooms are large and well appointed with supplies and blocks for kids to have fun with. Painted in warm colourful tones, such as orange, yellow and green, Gymboree branches are always inviting. The lobby area is spacious and has play mats for babies to scramble around on and mini-walkers and puzzles for them to play with. Although the titles are in Chinese, there’s a free library where children can withdraw books to read at home.
Class length varies depending on age: for young children classes are kept to 45 minutes, whilst for older kids they are extended to 90. Although babies from as young as six-months-old are allowed to start music classes, art classes are restricted to those 18-months or older, in order to avoid tots eating things that they shouldn’t. Play classes are aimed primarily at the youngest children with a focus on sensory exploration. Once-a-month children can participate in Gymboree’s outside activities which have included making ice cream at Cold Stone and even learning how to be a fire fighter.
Gymboree is at 333 Tianyaoqiao Lu, near Ciyun Lu, Xuhui district. See full address details
Kerry Parkside Adventure Zone
Recommended age 3-12 years
Busiest hours Weekend afternoons
How much 8,500RMB/year membership; 300RMB/child, no time limit, if visiting as a friend of a member.
Supervision Required for children under 5-years-old
A favourite of Pudong expatriate families, light floods into the Adventure Zone from the windows that overlook the apartments and compounds of Century Park. Perfectly climate controlled, which can’t be said of every play area on this list, the Zone is oddly serene given the number of children present. It seems only the best behaved rug rats get treated to time here.
There are two separate play areas, divided by age group. The first, at the front, is for children aged five and under, who should be accompanied by an adult. The focus here is on climbing equipment and there are plenty of levels for kids to scale. Tables are positioned around the edge where parents can sit, relax and keep an eye on things. Soft crash mats cover the entirety of the floor in this area, preventing any bumps and bruises.
For older children there is a more exciting play area towards the rear. The highlight here are two scarily sheer drop slides. The first is a relatively gentle 50-degree descent, but its companion is a daunting 90-degree straight plunge down. Even adults will think twice about give it a go (apparently it's a rite of passage for new members of staff) and kids under seven-years are forbidden to even try. Elsewhere are the to-be-expected ball pools, cargo nets and climbing apparatus. The sack slide ride is another standout as it’s especially good for parent/child rides since mum or dad can hold on tightly from behind – it was incredibly popular during Time Out Family's first issue cover competition photo shoot.
Kerry Parkside Adventure Zone is at 1388 Huamu Lu, near Fangdian Lu, Pudong. See full address details.
Recommended age 3-12 years
Busiest hours Fri-Sun mornings
How much 100RMB/child, all day
Supervision Mandatory at all times
Despite separate areas of the building housing Little Bugz being developed over the summer, which led to the location looking somewhat unpromising, that hasn’t stopped this 2014 newcomer becoming a hit with downtown parents. It opened its doors in April, founded by a Singaporean mother looking for a safe, clean play area for her child. Unable to find one that met her standards she created Little Bugz in Xuhui district. The exacting standards of its founder has attracted a largely expatriate clientele, who make up 80 percent of the customer base.
Although not the largest play area in our roundup, Little Bugz has everything you’d want and expect. There are swings, slides, ball pools, sand pit and bean bags to nap on. There are some high tech features as well. Little Bugz has installed EyePlay, a virtual indoor playground that allows players to interact with colorful graphics and sounds projected onto ﬂoors or walls, and is one of only handful of places in China to feature the software.
The space was created by a French designer and the wooden features of the play area give the space a quality, organic feel. The large windows and plants hanging from the ceiling further the feeling of an inviting natural environment. Parents will be happy to sit down and work, taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi, and enjoying the soothing classical music that plays over the speakers.
The café is noteworthy, too. The coffee (latte, 30RMB) is decent and a range of fresh juices (apple, carrot, watermelon, pear, all 30RMB) are a healthy alternative not often found at other play areas.
Little Bugz is at 285 Jianguo Xi Lu, near Jiashan Lu, Xuhui district. See full address details
Recommended age 2-12 years
Busiest hours Weekends and afternoons
How much 50RMB/child for one hour; 100RMB/child for three hours; 20RMB/adult.
Supervision Not mandatory
Snuggled on the third floor inside the Star Mall Walking Street, Wells Jumping is a play centre with huge swathes of the floor converted to trampolines. Another newcomer, it opened in February, established by a Korean company (the stack of Korean fashion magazines in the café area mark it out as a favourite of the Korean expat community) and it claims to be the largest jumping area in the country.
Colourful lockers in pastel chades of blue, green and yellow stand by the entrance for storing items. The three massive trampoline areas are like runways and kids hurtle down them with abandon seeking to gain air like a plane. Even adults will find it hard to resist giving it a go. They are allowed on, but are not supposed to jump in case they cause an accident due to their size; nonetheless the temptation will be strong, as Time Out Family can testify.
Away from the trampoline flooring there is a traditional play area with a spiral slide, cargo nets to climb, and obstacles to dodge. A café area sits at the back of Wells Jumping, so parents can relax if they want to leave their kids to it. The free Wi-Fi is handy and there are plenty of food and drink options. The menu includes the standards: latte (28RMB), spaghetti Bolognese (50RMB) and French fries (15RMB), for instance.
Wells Jumping is at 532 Caobao Lu, near Hongxin Lu, Minhang district. See full address details