SINGAPORE - The first time Teddy Liu visited Kiztopia indoor playground in August last year, he was one year old and too young to go down the slides by himself.
A year later, on July 30, he was back in action and raring to go, clambering up the toddler play structures again and again.
"He likes it a lot," says his stay-at-home mother, Ms Amanda Woon.
The Lius had wanted to return to the centre in Marina Square earlier this year, but found themselves stuck at home when the circuit breaker and phase one of reopening shuttered all attractions.
They felt assured enough to return after Ms Woon, 30, watched Kiztopia's Facebook video detailing its new hygiene protocol. "They do their due diligence quite well," she says.
Indoor playgrounds like Kiztopia have begun to reopen after over four months of closure during the pandemic and operators are cautiously optimistic about business picking up as restrictions are progressively lifted.
However, the sudden and extreme disruption has caused a trail of casualties, most famously KidZania Singapore on Sentosa, which exited in June after four years here.
Others that have closed include Cool De Sac at Suntec Convention Centre and Playolah, which had branches in Katong, Yishun and Bukit Panjang.
Over the last decade, indoor playgrounds have grown in popularity among parents looking for a comfortable venue for their young children to expend their energy.
A check online reveals that there are at least 30 such indoor playgrounds, which range from small set-ups in malls to SuperPark Singapore, a 40,000 sq ft local outpost of an international indoor activity park that caters to both children and adults.
Unlike the small play areas provided by mall developers as a pit-stop during shopping, such indoor playgrounds tend to be larger, with themed zones, paid entry and, often, an edutainment aspect. Some also have cafes where adults can enjoy me-time or attend to work while their kids play.
The trend has spawned innovations such as Airzone, which claims to be the world's first indoor suspended net playground, as well as Buds by Shangri-La within Shangri-La Hotel Singapore. The latter is now open only to hotel guests and members.
During the closure, bigger indoor playgrounds kept themselves busy in various ways, with some offering activity ideas and content on social media and upskilling their staff.
Now that they are back in business, they are keen to promote safety measures over and beyond those prescribed by the SG Clean quality mark for attractions.
Pororo Park Singapore, Tayo Station and Amazonia Singapore have run videos on social media showing how they clean and disinfect their equipment thoroughly. Amazonia has also limited adult access to several of its play features and slashed capacity from 180 people previously to 30 a session now.
Amazonia's chief executive and founder Rany Moran says that as restrictions lift, it is expecting strong demand in its party room bookings. "Our facility was opened last year after a full redesign and renovation. We have added trampolines, a massive interactive video wall and a new toddler play area along with full new themes," she says.
Operators have also launched discounted reopening promotions to entice families.
Waka Waka, for instance, bundled tickets with a kiddie meal or ropes-course admission to make up for the fact that children can no longer enjoy unlimited play on weekdays. Where it used to charge $588 for a no-frills party for 10 kids, it now has an all-inclusive celebration package at $300 for up to five children.
This strategy has "worked well" for the four-year-old playground, which reopened during the July school holidays, says Ms Shalini Sarah Sathyamoorthi, its marketing communications executive. It has also capped capacity at 70 people, even though it is allowed to have up to 100 under government guidelines.
Judging from the pent-up demand at reopened venues, parents still look to indoor playgrounds for family outings, virus or not.
Ms Carolyn Chia, general manager of Pororo Park Singapore and Tayo Station, says they are fully booked most weekends, with a capacity limit capped at 25 per cent.
"Of course, this is a far cry from the past where we used to operate at about 80 to 90 per cent of maximum capacity during weekends," she notes, adding that Pororo Park used to accommodate 304 people at a time, and Tayo Station, 216 people, before the pandemic hit.
Similarly, Kiztopia was sold out during the recent long weekends on Hari Raya Haji and National Day, says its general manager Heidi Tian.
A spokesman for HomeTeamNS, which runs T-Play at Bukit Batok and an upcoming branch in Khatib, believes there is still a place for indoor playgrounds in the post-Covid-19 world. Such spaces are "designed for children to play in safely, with structures and play equipment often padded to absorb the impact when children fall or bounce around".
The crisis has also given at least one player the impetus to think big.
Kiztopia, which turned one in June, launched flagship stores on online shopping platforms Lazada, Shopee and Qoo10 during the circuit breaker. Besides entry tickets, it sold merchandise featuring its 11 intellectual property-registered characters, Ms Tian says.
The playground is also reaching out to pre-schools and enrichment centres to sell its school care packages and exploring mini programmes on social media app WeChat for Chinese-speaking families. This month, it will launch a healthy corn cereal snack, Magic Crunch, featuring its characters.
Such initiatives will "seamlessly integrate both the offline and online experience for kids. This is so that they can bring home the Kiztopia experience, beyond the time spent in the physical playground", she adds.
What to expect at venues
As with other reopened attractions, it is important to book your tickets online and secure your play session before you head down with your child. Remember to take along socks as well.
Parents should also be socially responsible so that all children can enjoy indoor playgrounds safely, says Dr Mohana Rajakulendran, a consultant paediatrician at Parkway East Paediatric Clinic.
Postpone your visit if you or your child has mild symptoms such as a runny nose, cough, fever or diarrhoea or if you are recovering from them. Make sure your child wears a mask during play, although toddlers below three can don face shields, she adds.
Finally, sanitise your hands and your child's hands frequently during breaks in play.
Deals at playgrounds
While several indoor playgrounds have closed down because of the Covid-19 crisis, those that reopened are wooing families with enhanced safety measures and promotional deals.
Here is what you can expect at some of the bigger playgrounds that have reopened.
Revamped since March last year, this nine-year-old centre now has four time slots for two-hour play at 9.30am, noon and 2.30 and 5pm.
Admission: There is a 10 per cent discount until the end of this month. Toddlers below the age of three now pay $24.30, while older kids up to age 14 pay $33.30. One accompanying adult enters free for every child ticket purchased.
Birthday parties: Its party-for-5 package costs $481 and includes a two-hour celebration in a private room, individual portions of food for kids, a party host, a gift for the birthday child, access to its SuperPlaygym, trampoline ball pit and toddler gym, an Impact Wall session and other benefits.
Info: Amazonia website
This 18,000 sq ft indoor playground in Marina Square boasts 11 characters that helm its 18 play areas. It offers three time belts for three-hour play a day: 10am and 1.30 and 5pm. Up to 120 people can enter for each session and each play area has its own maximum capacity as well.
Admission: Under its SG55 promotion, two adults and two children aged one to 12 pay $55 until the end of this month, instead of the usual rate of $76. Children younger than 12 months old enter for free with every paying child and adult.
It is closed on Tuesdays.
Birthday parties: You can customise a "lite" birthday package, which includes family admission tickets for up to five individuals, a birthday present, return admission tickets and a meal at its new Kith Kiztopia MS cafe - a collaboration with the popular Kith Cafe chain.
Info: Kiztopia website
PORORO PARK SINGAPORE AND TAYO STATION
Fronted by characters from two South Korean animated series, these centres span about 10,000 sq ft each. The five-year-old Pororo Park in Marina Square has three daily play sessions at 10.30am and 2 and 4.30pm.
Only 74 people can attend each two-hour slot.
Two-year-old Tayo Station at E!Hub in Downtown East has the same schedule on weekdays. On weekends, it has an additional play slot at 7pm. Its current capacity is 54 individuals.
Admission: At Pororo Park, toddlers aged 12 to 23 months pay $24.50, while older kids up to age 12 pay $29.90. Adults pay $6 each. At Tayo Station, toddlers pay $16 on weekdays and $20 on weekends. The rate is $24 and $28 respectively for older kids. One adult enters for free.
Babies below 12 months old enter for free at both playgrounds, but their parents must pay for an adult ticket.
Birthday parties: There will be new packages for Tayo Station at $350 and Pororo Park at $450, for up to five children. Details will be available on its website soon.
Its playgrounds are located within the HomeTeamNS clubhouses in Bukit Batok and Khatib. The transport-themed T-Play Bukit Batok turns five this year, while T-Play Khatib will open its 7,000 sq ft facility this month.
The 4,200 sq ft Bukit Batok playground has three play slots on weekdays at 1, 3 and 5pm. On weekends, public holidays and school holidays, it opens four sessions at 10am and 12.15, 2.30 and 4.45pm. All slots are two hours long.
Up to 35 people can enter during each time slot at Bukit Batok. The Khatib outlet will allow up to 50 individuals when it opens.
Admission: At the Bukit Batok branch, members of the public pay $16 a child from Mondays to Thursdays (except during public and school holidays) and $20 on other days. Rates are cheaper for T-Play members, HomeTeamNS and Safra members, and Passion Card holders. One adult can enter for each paying child. Prices for the Khatib branch are not available yet.
Birthday parties: Both playgrounds do not offer party packages currently.
Info: HomeTeamNS website
Spanning some 12,000 sq ft, this four-year-old indoor playground at annex@furama sports a safari theme and has a rope adventure course as well. It takes in no more than 70 people at each two-hour session, with slots at 10am, noon and 2, 4 and 6pm.
Admission: Weekday rates start at $18, while those on weekends start at $23. These are valid for children aged 19 months to 14 years old. Babies aged nine to 18 months pay $15 (you can purchase baby tickets onsite). Two adults enter for free on weekdays with every child ticket purchased. On weekends, one adult enters for free. It is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Birthday parties: Birthday celebrations for up to five children are allowed, but adults must wait at the in-house cafe. For $300, you will receive a cake, helium balloons, individual servings of party food, goodie bags, a private party room as well as play time.
Info: Waka Waka website
Playeum closes Gillman play centre
Playeum has shut down its Children's Centre for Creativity just shy of the venue's fifth anniversary next month. The premises in Gillman Barracks have been shuttered since late March because of pandemic safety measures.
The safe space for open-ended play had welcomed around 26,000 to 30,000 individuals every year, including children from low-income families and those with special needs, says Ms Charlotte Goh, Playeum's executive director.
All seven staff will remain and will soon operate from The Common Ground, a co-working space.
Playeum started in 2008 as a series of pop-ups before it raised enough funds for a physical home in 2015. As an arts charity, its social mission was to use play to "build 21st-century transformative skills", says Ms Goh.
Since the circuit breaker, the Playeum team has been engaging families through its regular Playeum at Home series on Facebook and Instagram and teaching early childhood educators about learning through play, among other initiatives. It also has a makers' cart at Our Tampines Hub offering free activities on weekends, which just reopened.
The charity is also in talks over a possible new space, which will be available in about two years' time.
Ms Goh says she is excited about the possibilities of it becoming "a hothouse for innovation, something beyond just a visitor centre".