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Discovery Zone: Memories of a Ball Pit

Discovery Zone was always that place we saw on TV and never actually went to visit.

My brother and I lived in the inner city and were sadly impoverished, so places like Chuck E. Cheese, Disney World, Six Flags, and Discovery Zone was always out of our grasps and we kind of accepted it. At least we had the McDonald’s with the playground a few miles away from us.

In either case, we finally were taken to Discovery Zone when I was twelve years old, and it was quite the chaotic good time. The Discovery Zone we went to was on the second floor above a department store and you had to take steps up to a wide lobby that opened up in to families and kids running back and forth to their individual parties and trips.

I was only ever able to get to Discovery Zone twice, but both times were times of my life. Discovery Zone was intimidating when you stepped in and looked up at the monstrous construct filled with tubes, mazes, ball pits, and everything else, but as a kid, you could go wild in there. Being around so many kids was a part of the fun and the annoyance. Being by yourself in the big maze would get boring after a while, but also dealing with other kids pushing to get ahead in various elements of the DZ pen was also irritating. You take the good with the bad.

In either case, Discovery Zone was great, and my cousins made it so much more fun and funnier than I ever imagined. One of the last times I went to DZ my older cousin joined us for the party and being a clown by nature, he made it a riot to play there. Imagine being out of breath from laughing so hard and running around, and you’d seen my predicament. My cousin fed off of laughs he gave people, so he never let up. Our DZ had this huge rubber band ladder in the Spider Room where you climbed up in to to get to the top like a spider-web, and he would let himself fall dropping to the ground like a marionette without his strings.

Suffice to say I could barely hold my bladder after the first two times he committed the physical gag. Another great moment had my dad, who could be mistaken for a full grown bear in jeans, following my six year old sister in to the tubes, and getting jammed in the tubes while crawling with her. After a while he was so exhausted he stopped in the middle of the plastic tubes while kids muttered “Excuse me mister” as they climbed over him to get to the next corner of the tube.

One of the last times playing at DZ is one I’ll always remember because after using the bathroom I lost track of my brother and cousin who were running around the course frantically. I went my own way, and wouldn’t you know it? I got lost in the tubes. “Got lost” is naturally kind of a hyperbole, because you couldn’t actually get lost in those courses.

However, twelve year old me definitely was “lost” as I spent a good twenty minutes going through the tubes and just couldn’t find my way out. I recall looking out the window and seeing my dad and started banging and calling for her for help. It took a second for me to realize I was panicking literally over nothing and started back tracking before I finally made my way back to the entrance. It’s probably one of the goofier moments of panic in my life I always laugh at whenever I think back on. It only goes to show how deep and complex those DZ courses were, as they went on for a while.

Some of my favorite elements were the long slide I went down only once because of the steep drop, and the primary ball pit that all the kids played in. My uncle, who was a teenager at the time, always spent his time in the big ball pit and would wrestle with me and my brother and cousins. His energy was always so infectious, after twenty minutes he’d be wrestling with a bunch of the other kids who’d jump on him and he’d feign terror and toss them in to the piles of balls. There was even a hoop on the corner of the pit where kids would throw balls and my uncle would lift the smaller kids up allowing them to throw balls in to the hoop.

I would leave DZ every time sweaty, worn out, and with my shins all black and blue, but it was great. I always found it kind of annoying that everyone always snuck a ball home with them as a memento rather than, you know, merchandise.

I mean everyone always had it in their mind that one ball wouldn’t hurt, but then you saw about eighty people sneaking a ball away. The ball pits likely had thousands of balls, but if you get five hundred people a week taking a ball home for the heck of it, I can only imagine how nightmarish the stocking would have been for the pits. The Discovery Zone closed down around 1998, and I was pretty crushed, suffice to say. I only went there twice, once for a birthday party, and it was about as fun as the commercials made it out to be.

DZ has become one of the signs that you were a bonafide nineties kid, and I’m happy I kind of earned my stripes by going twice and having a blast, twice.

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Superman Posted on Jul 24, 2017 at 04:16 PM

I've got plenty of fond memories of Discovery Zone. I loved those mazes as a kid. Like your family, mine never could have afforded a trip to Disneyland, so I guess Discovery Zone was in a way "my" Disneyland.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Jun 22, 2017 at 04:44 AM

I feel like I was just 1 year too old to have taken advantage of the fun promised by DZ. I remember the commercials, but it always struck me as a place for little kids, so I never gave it a chance. Probably missed out on a great time and settled for family fun center/arcade entertainment.

Vaporman87 Posted on Jun 21, 2017 at 09:18 AM

I have a similar fondness for Showbiz Pizza. I read about your memories at DZ and I can feel myself back in Showbiz experiencing many of the same things. Also, I love this line: "...my dad, who could be mistaken for a full grown bear in jeans..." LOL

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