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Take A Breath, Take Your Kids . . . And Enjoy!

April 22, 1993|MAX JACOBSON | Max Jacobson is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition.

Sometimes, that three-hour getaway will be a family affair, meaning that Mom, Dad and the kids require suitable diversion. Family Fun Center in Fountain Valley is aimed squarely at the kids, since getting them focused can relieve a parent's impatience like nothing else.

The complex consists of a miniature golf course, a kiddie big top, a go-cart track, batting cages and a lively restaurant called Bullwinkle's, things that appeal to the vestiges of childhood in practically anyone. It's best to come here on a weekday, when crowds are smaller and the facilities are more accessible. If you decide to ride the go-carts, it is generally advisable to come after 2:30 p.m. The track is run by students, and they often show up for work only after completing their school day.

11 to noon: Face it. You're a duffer. Most people are. Therefore, 18 holes of miniature golf should take you from 45 minutes to an hour. It should also deflate any illusions you have about having a talent for the game of golf itself, which Mark Twain once described as "a good walk, ruined."

The thing is, though, anyone can play this game, from 5-year-olds to grandparents; it's a great equalizer. You will be given your own brightly colored golf ball and hopelessly mawkish version of a putter (well, c'mon, with a rubberized hitting surface, you didn't expect graphite now, did you?) plus a score card to keep track of your results.

The course is colorful and imaginative--meaning holes that are designed to be a combination of fun and frustration. Each hole is different and eccentric; some have sloping surfaces, others require hitting around or through obstacles. You'll hit into a rocket ship, a tiger's mouth, around corners, down hills and through trap doors that have the annoying habit of slamming shut the instant your ball reaches them.

One thing to notice is how competitive this all gets, how close to the bone. It's fun to observe people nudging that ball ever so gently away from the obstacles to get a better shot at the hole. Or to listen to a foursome arguing over the score card. But there's no substitute for the thrill of victory, the pure satisfaction of a hole-in-one, even one that is totally accidental. It's almost satisfying enough to make someone want to take up golf.

Noon to 1: Now that you've worked up an appetite, go indulge at Bullwinkle's, a Chuck E. Cheese imitator I find surprisingly good. Everyone who eats here gets a few tokens for a game room filled with arcade-type games, so the kids aren't forced to start climbing the walls while they are waiting for their pizzas, the specialty here.

This is a lively place with a Western-style main dining area highlighted by a water show and, you guessed it, a talking moose. The room is booked solid at noontime for birthday parties, so if you want a respite from the screaming and shouting, you can dine in Dudley's Den, next to the game room.

Start with a salad from the well-endowed salad bar, stocked with items such as marinated mushrooms, artichoke hearts and pepperoni, in addition to the usual suspects. Then, try one of the made-from-scratch pizzas, available "stuffed" (sort of a double crust, turned inside out,) or in the pan.

My favorite would be the BBQ beef and bacon, with a sweet smoky flavor, and the rest of the foods are all right, too, especially hero sandwiches, good, meaty burgers and chewy homemade cookies priced at only 35 cents apiece.

1 to 1:30: Now it's time for the boys to show off in the batting cages, which are always jammed up. I got jammed in one of these, too, by a 50-m.p.h. fastball, about half the speed of the one Nolan Ryan throws. Shheesh. The rules are simple: You must wear a helmet, and there's only one batter per cage. Choose between slow, 40, 50, 60 and 70 miles an hour. And if you do get lucky and hit one into the net, remember this: That 70-mile-an-hour fastball that fans most of us wouldn't even be a change-up in The Show.

1:30 to 2: The Kiddie Big Top is where you find gentle rides for tots. Attractions include a mock airplane ride, a pirate ship that swings back and forth, a small Ferris wheel and a giant apple around which children rotate in little cars shaped like bunnies. It's all pretty cute.

But then there are the nearby bumper boats, a separate ride, where people bash into each other in a miniature lake. This is serious stuff, especially if you go with your brother or sister. Personally, I'd rather get caught cheating at golf.

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