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Review: Wild West showdown at OK Corral in new Northern Ireland soft-play centre

By Jonathan Bell

For today's parents the soft-play, multi-coloured, faint ammonia-tinged innerds of industrial sheds across the country have become a mecca for rescue from rainy days, a break from the that one movie played over and over again or just plain simple escape.

In my day there were two - from what I remember - types of these indoor play areas straddling Belfast. Jungle Jims at the Abbey Centre, which was sadly lost to fire and Indiana Land at the Dundonald Ice Bowl - which Google tells me is still there today.

Apologies to my parents in advance but I only ever remember going to these fun-filled arenas all of three times throughout my entire youth. And always banging my head on that monstrous big slide - the Freefall.

Now there is almost one soft-play area around every corner with a new one springing up as regular as a kid on a bouncy castle.

Global Adventure Play in Ballynahinch is one of the latest to open.

And so, one morning we took a jaunt down to the Co Down centre to meet up with some friends for a play-date. It was ideally placed as inbetween Belfast and their Co Down home for us to all get together.

On arrival the exterior is the usual drab industrial colour - green this time instead of the usual grey - one can expect from them all with a multi-coloured banner the only indication of the wonders that await.

For those interested in meaningless statistics it's a 10,000 sq foot of space. For those interested in how big that is - it's big.

Inside it looks like any other- lots of mums having a chat, lots of dads struggling their way through impossibly tight corners in the designated area for kids.

But there's been a bit of thought put in to the layout.

There's two main play areas. A good-sized toddler zone with a baby area attached, and both with latches meaning the little-ones can play to their hearts' content (and not so you can walk off and concentrate on a tasty bun with a cuppa).

Opposite is the quite-frankly huge bigger-ones play area.

But the clever bit is sandwiched in the middle is the seating area for the parents, meaning you are always close to the action. And overlooked by a big green dinosaur.

The baby and toddler zones are well thought out with the mandatory ball pit and slide, big keyboard and a merry-go-round as well as various sensory panels. The keyboard is programmable so you can listen back to your creations.

The bigger kids' zone is one of the best - and I've been to a few.

It's got multiple zones based on themes from around the world - hence the global aspect. From a Greek sports area, to Nordic Gods, Rome with a re-creation-of-sorts of Michelangelo's Creation of Adam. There's a galactic zone and the Wild West - which with its airguns and endless supply of soft balls for an OK-Corral style shoot-out. Which proved difficult for many of the the kids to tear themselves away from - not to mention the dads.

Of course there's the ball swing and the ball pit and a pitch for mini football. And the not-so-steep-as-the-one-as-my-youth big slide.

And there's a rather cool Mummy's tomb - as in from Egypt - with moving walls to boot. Which was clever and original, at least for me.

There's also port-hole type TVs in both areas which display creatures and fish which caught the interest of the kids as they blurred around the place.

With all theses places, the deciding factor for me is the grub on offer - particularly the coffee. There's got to be something in it for me.

For anyone considering opening one of these places just invest in a decent coffee machine and know how to use it. I can not understand places that serve up pathetically weak coffees. It's the parents you have to win over and to know there's a decent cup of joe on the go is reason enough to get up and go.

The cafe here is in an adjoining room with a partial-glass wall to see into the main area. A good idea I thought if you wanted to separate yours away a bit from the action for a bit.

Being as we were there mid-morning, it was coffees, teas and buns we opted for. There's a full and extensive menu and by the looks of it tasty food if you are looking something more substantial.

The traybakes and buns were delicious and the coffee easily breached my approval levels - so it's a thumbs up, meaning we would go back.

For the kids, it was loved. Kicking and screaming they left with all four giving an average scores of Twenty-eleventeen all round.

There's the usual birthday party option - a Minion dressed as Batman was paraded out while we were there. And for the older kids there's a sports simulation room which allows you to test your skills in famous football stadiums or golf courses. It's in a separate room and probably ideal for older kids looking similar escape but have outgrown running head long into bright red soft walls.

The staff say the place is cleaned every morning and night and every ball every week. And it showed the place was spotless and lacking that ammonia flavour near trademark some can have.

If that standard stays, it'll easily be a mecca for desperate parents for years to come.

For more information visit Globaladventureplay.com

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