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The Wider World of Disney

Family-oriented clubs offer fun and games for kids 10 and younger. Parents can play too, and the design has a lock on child safety.

April 30, 1998|LAURIE K. SCHENDEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The best way to eat a Mickey Mouse pizza, according to 3-year-old Hayley Goldberg, is to nibble the cheese off the mouse ears first, spread the sauce evenly across the chin, then devour the crust by making a hole in the middle and working your way out.

Hayley is a big Mickey Mouse fan, but she doesn't seem to mind that Mickey doesn't hang at Club Disney, the newest addition to the Disney entertainment empire. She's just as happy to hip-hop and flip-flop with the other kids in the Mouse House Dance Party or make her own "mouse-terpiece" in the Character Creations craft area.

Though Mickey Mouse will remain in residence at Disneyland, Club Disney, like everything else with the Disney logo, still asserts the Walt Disney standards. That means clean, family-oriented fun where imaginations are stoked and a cheerful demeanor is mandatory.

"If you like Disneyland, you'll like this," said Jean Turner, taking a breather in the Club Cafe as her grandchildren bounded through the 20,000-square-foot West Covina facility. "Me being the terrific grandma that I am," Turner said with a laugh, "whatever they want, they get."

What Kilah Turner, 7, and her brother Kaibric, 10, apparently want is contained beneath the sorcerer's hat, a trademark that adorns Club Disney facilities in Thousand Oaks and West Covina. Although the West Covina site just opened in January, the Turner children are already logging their fourth visit.

Kilah and Kaibric seem most enchanted by the Colorageous Climber, a two-story configuration of tubes, tunnels and a 30-foot slide, and the Mouse Pad, where two dozen computers contain software geared to ages 1 and up, which is manipulated by a computer mouse the size of a grapefruit. Among the programs to choose from are "Baby ROM" for ages 1 to 4, "Dinosaurs" and "Hercules" for ages 4 through 8, the "Pooh Storybook" and others.

Turner believes the place is ideal for her young grandchildren because there is plenty to do, they don't have to compete for space with teenagers and, best of all, it's close to home.

The lack of community-based attractions is the main reason Club Disney came into existence, said Paula Dumas, director of sales and marketing. For decades, the Walt Disney Co.'s only entry into retail entertainment was Disneyland. Although the theme park may be the "happiest place on Earth," it's not a place where adults are likely to take their charges every weekend--or even once a month.

So Disney's new regional entertainment division set out to create a reasonably priced neighborhood play center for children 10 and younger and their guardians. One of the goals was to offer things that parents could do with their children.

That option exists because most of the games, for instance, require two or more players. The computers offer 21-inch screens and two seats per terminal, so there's plenty of room for parents to assist their kids--or vice versa.

If your kids are Disney fans, a lot in Club Disney will look familiar. Some of the activities are themed to Disney films, including "The Little Mermaid" and "Winnie the Pooh." The "Now Playing" section has props, film clips and related displays from a popular Disney film--currently, it's "Flubber." (In June, the interactive exhibit will change to feature "Mulan's Land of the Dragon.")

Club Disney is already on some children's birthday wish lists. Two-hour parties--with a choice of five themes--include pizza, beverages, a cake (made by the Cheesecake Factory), a private room, playtime and a take-home accessory for each child; the club even sends out the invitations. The themes comprise "Disney Princess Tea," "Toy Story Search Party," "Poohrific," "101 Dalmatians Bow Wow Bash" and "Hercules Hero Hurrah." (Parties start at $250 for 12 kids.)

"Everybody liked how the walls light up and the music played [when the cake was brought in] . . , and the food was great," said Michelle Tunzi, whose daughter, Megan, celebrated her 6th birthday with a "Bow Wow Bash." "I would do it again."

In another room, Joshua Escobar and a dozen of his friends wore green helmets and swarmed over the birthday cake, looking like a company of hungry "Toy Story" army men. Joshua's parents stood by smiling as the 7-year-old sat in the biggest chair--a regal-looking purple throne--in the center of the room.

After cake and games in the "Toy Story" party room, the "soldiers" marched into the Applaudeville Theater, where a befuddled Merlin performed a magic show.

Club Disney is also open to school and other groups. On Friday and Saturday nights in May, the facility will host "Club Disney After Dark." From 4 to 8 p.m., a $10-per-person admission charge will include pizza and a beverage, a screening of "Sleeping Beauty" and playtime.

Even with all the toys, games and activities at the clubhouse, some parents are most impressed by the safety precautions. The security system requires every visitor to wear a wristband. On departure, the exit gate is unlocked only after the child's wristband is scanned and shown to match the adult's.

Since the first Club Disney opened in Thousand Oaks in February 1997, the response has exceeded all projections, Dumas said (policy prevents her from providing attendance figures). Plans were already in the works to open several other clubs by the time the second Club Disney opened this year in West Covina. About 100 more clubs will open across the country "as fast as we can build them," Dumas said.

BE THERE

Club Disney, Eastland Shopping Center, 2851 Eastland Center Drive, West Covina; 120 S. Westlake Blvd., Thousand Oaks. $8; ages 1 and younger, free; seniors, $7. Call for party and group rates. (888) CLUB-DIS.

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