Jul 07 2013
With school out for the summer, my kids and I have been finding a variety of things to do. We’ve been to museums, historic sites, state parks, baseball games, libraries, and a waterpark as we find ourselves out and about during the summer months. While many of these stops have some educational or cultural value, some are just plain fun. The Big Thrill Factory in Minnetonka was one of those.
I hadn’t heard of the Big Thrill Factory before we were invited to visit. My first thought was that it was nice to have something fun to do on the western edge of the MSP metro area. So many of our trips into “the Cities” take us into downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul, but it’s good to find something a little closer to home. When I showed my kids BTF’s website and asked if they wanted to go, the answer was a resounding “Yes!” With bowling, laser tag, a ropes course, and other amusements, they were excited to check things out.
We planned our visit for an early-summer Friday, knowing that weekends would be much busier. Upon our arrival at 11 a.m., we picked up our “Ultimate Fun Pack” cards and headed straight to the lunch counter. We wanted to be sure we had full bellies before we started to play. We sampled the pizza, chips & salsa, and chicken tenders and everything got a thumbs-up, though the spiced chips were a bit too spicy for a couple of my kids. While we ate, we watched everything that was going on inside the building so we could decide what to do next.
When looking at the website pricing, the points and passes were a bit confusing, but it began to make more sense once we got there. For the Ultimate Fun Pack, each of us received a wristband that allowed all-day access to the Kids Fun Factory, a large climb-and-slide area. We also had magnetic-strip cards that allowed two hours of access to the ropes course, laser tag, time challenge, and bump ‘n’ spin cars, plus $5 to spend in the arcade. At each station, our cards were swiped to allow access to the entertainment.
We started with the ropes course, where we were suited up in harnesses and set free on the black-light course. Since it was only one story above the ground, even my seven-year-old and I were comfortable with some of the wider platforms, so we did those and then moved on. My nine-year-old daughter, however, did the whole course a couple of times. With thick steel beams a couple of inches under the ropes, it wasn’t scary to let the kids loose to explore the course.
The time challenge is a room with two sides and series of lit-up buttons. When the buttons light up, you run to tap them and see how many you can get before your minute or two are gone. You can play alone, or compete with another person. It’s quite a workout to see how many you can get in the allotted time, and we found ourselves challenging each other to a few more tries.
The bump ‘n’ spin cars are bumper cars that spin, and you have some control over how much they spin. My kids enjoyed them as well.
The big hit of the day, however, was laser tag. Since none of us had played laser tag before, we weren’t quite sure what to expect, but we soon learned that we all liked it. In our two hours of time, we all played three or four rounds, and my ten-year-old managed to squeeze in a few more. Sometimes we were in with a big birthday-party group, and sometimes there were only 10 or so playing. (Up to 30 can play at one time.) Once we got the hang of it, it was fun to be able to play another round to improve our skills.
When our two hours were up, we wandered over to the arcade to play some games, and were at first puzzled as to why we only had a few points left on our cards, equating to just a dollar or two. After a bit, we figured it out: we hadn’t paid careful attention to our exact start/end times for the two-hour amusement window, so when our time wase up, our cards with the $5 for the arcade allowed us to play an extra game of laser tag or time challenge, deducting points from our cards. Because we know this now, if we return we will either use up our arcade points first, or keep very close track of our time in the challenge areas so we have some points left for skee-ball and the other arcade games, which produce electronic “tickets” that can be redeemed at the prize counter.
The kids climbed in the Kids Fun Factory for a while, and soon it was time to head for home. We didn’t have time for bowling, and the outdoor mini golf and trampolines weren’t yet open for the season. We had a good time at the Big Thrill Factory.
Things to know if you go:
- The Big Thrill Factory is located at the corner of Highways 7 and 101 in Minnetonka, in what I believe is the old KMart building. There’s a Burger King in the same parking lot as an alternative to eating inside the amusement hall.
- There are a lot of lights, including black lights, and the noise level is pretty high in some areas. If you have kids with sensory issues, this is something to be aware of.
- We found the Big Thrill Factory to be clean and well-laid-out. There are plenty of benches for parents and grandparents to watch the kids play.
- Staff were friendly and visible.
- Birthday parties sometimes get priority on the amusements for a round. The parties appeared to be very well-organized, with staff members leading the kids to their activities and keeping them busy with games of “gray duck” if they had to wait for laser tag, etc.
- Since we were there at a time that wasn’t busy, we were able to squeeze a lot of fun into our two hours. On weekends or rainy days when it’s busier, having to wait for laser tag or other amusements will cut down on what you can do in the two hours of the pricing packages. Purchasing points for your specific amusements is an alternative to the packages.
- If you choose a package, pay close attention to your start time so you know when your two hours are done.
We found the Big Thrill Factory to be a fun place for school-age kids, and this mom found that she really enjoys laser tag. Our visit there was a success.
Note: The Big Thrill Factory provided complimentary “Ultimate Fun Pack” passes for our family. We paid for lunch and additional arcade games on our own.