14 Things I LOVED About The New-And-Improved Friendship Fortress Indoor Playground Facility

A couple weeks back I posted a video tour of a play space called The Friendship Fortress that’s not only local to me, but is also near and dear to my heart. 

And this is because one of my long-time  Play Cafe Academy and Play Maker Society members, Timea, is now the co-owner of the space.

If you’re a longtime listener, or if you watched that tour, you may remember that Timea actually opened her own space first called Tumbles Play Cafe, which I also toured and filmed multiple times. However, she ended up combining forces with this new space, The Friendship Fortress, and turning the Tumbles location into a daycare to help meet the critical needs of parents in our area. 

In this video, I had Timea quickly walk through her space and share all of the updates she’s made since I last toured the Friendship Factory. But what I wanted to do here is share 13 things I absolutely loved about her play space that really stood out to me. 

I, of course, visit a LOT of play cafe and indoor playground businesses, so my eye is just trained to pay close attention to things like inclusivity, accessibility, customer experience- things like that. Especially when a business goes above and beyond in these areas.

When you are doing research for your own space, I would encourage you to visit as MANY play spaces as humanly possible. I promise you, it is WELL worth the time, money, and energy you’ll spend doing so. 

Online photos just can’t compare or act as a substitute for actually being physically IN a space. You can’t tell from online photos or even videos how a layout or how certain aspects will feel in-person, you can’t understand how customers utilize the space, how the flow works live in-person, things like that. And let’s be honest, some photographers are DARN talented. And they know how to show a space in its best light.

So in addition to learning about this one particular play space and understanding what I feel they do really well, I also want you to use this as inspiration for any future businesses you visit. Learn to look with a critical eye and always take notes so you can remember each experience along with your takeaways, because trust me– they all start to bleed together after a while.

And something else I like to do is read reviews and the online sentiment around a business after my visit as well. I don’t do it before because I don’t love going in with a lot of preconceived notions, but it will be interesting to see what consistencies you can identify between what YOU notice and what customers, who may are NOT looking with that same careful critical eye pick up on.

And don’t forget to use AI to help you. In my FREE A.I. training that I made specifically for indoor playground owners, I share how I copy and paste hundreds and hundreds of reviews into chatGPT and ask for a summary of the most common complaints and points of praise. If you’re DEEP into your research phase and visiting lots of spaces, this shortcut can cut down on your time spent evaluating each space SO much.

So go watch that YouTube tour for some context, and I will also link a blog article I created as a companion for this episode so you can see photos of exactly what I mean for each point I make here. Because if you’re anything like me, you need to SEE things in order to understand how they look and work in practice.

But first, let’s talk about what I LOVED about the newly-updated Friendship Fortress.


1) Toddler Area Location

The first big change Timea and her partner made at their indoor playground was moving the baby and toddler area from the back of their business, to the front by the check in desk.

They were having some issues with keeping the older kiddos out, and this really helps them monitor it better and ensure that the guests who are meant to enjoy the space, are able to do so safely, without tons of big kids running around.

They also put it more in a corner instead of in an open area, so that it has walls on 2 sides. This also helps keep the little ones IN, and the bigger kiddos OUT.

They also added a bunch of new toys, which I thought added immensely to the space. I also love that there were windows on the main wall, because we all know how much babies love to observe what’s happening outside. This likely keeps them from becoming too overstimulated by the big kids playing in other areas, and keeps them happier for longer. 

This, of course, leads to parents feeling more value as a result of their visit.


2) Thoughtful, Comfortable Seating

In this baby and toddler area, and really around the entire business, there was well-placed and comfortable seating for parents.

I can’t tell you how many baby and toddler areas I have seen with NO WHERE for parents to sit except on the ground.  I don’t know about you, but this is less than ideal for me, especially if I’m visiting the space because I have already had a rough day with my infant. Please, don’t make me sit on the floor.

I noticed each chair or couch had armrests too, which is another thing many play spaces overlook, but it is SO helpful as a nursing or even as a bottle-feeding mom whose arms get darn tired after a while. Even when they are busy, there is ALWAYS somewhere to sit.


3) New Sensory Room

Another great addition to the Friendship Fortress is their new sensory room or quiet time room, which was formerly used for retail space, which they have now also moved to the front desk area.

This room was darkened and more quiet, with a nice tent, some sensory panels, a bubble tube, and more things to help kiddos (and parents!) regulate a bit when they need it.

Timea mentioned they are still working on getting it JUST right– but as the parent of an Autistic child, seeing spaces like this are so appreciated, and I think she did a great job so far.

And because this space is also very close in proximity to their front desk which is always staffed– Timea has been pleasantly surprised that the space has been respected so far.

If a family is using it, another family knows to hang back a moment and wait until they are done. And people have also been great about keeping the space calm and quiet, which is a welcome juxtaposition from some of the more stimulating areas in the facility.


4) Photo Area and Backdrop

Right near that sensory area, they have a fun photo space with a neon sign that I thought was really fun.

Any way to prompt people to take and share pictures inside your facility is a WIN in my book.

Plus, for private parties, this can be used as a cake or dessert backdrop and as an opportunity to capture those really special moments.


5) Review Incentives

When you’re inside of the Friendship Fortress, you can’t help but notice the large sign that’s asking for feedback.

I absolutely loved this, because not only is it asking specifically for feedback (it’s not just flatly asking for 5-star reviews, which some businesses do, and which always leaves a bad taste in my mouth)-- but it also provides an incentive.

If a customer leaves a review and shows a staff member, they get a free cup of coffee.

This is one of those small benefits of having a cafe that REALLY makes a big impact in the end. Parents LOVE coffee, and a cup of coffee is extremely inexpensive to produce. So using this as an incentive is a highly effective (and COST effective!) way to get more reviews for your business.

And if you are in an area with lots of places to bring kiddos or have parties– this is EXTRA critical because Google reviews specifically can dramatically improve your SEO– or the place your business falls in search results when someone is looking for an indoor play area or to book a party.

So although reviews can often seem like a nice-to-have, they can also mean a HUGE increase in revenue. According to Google, it's estimated that the first five organic Google results account for 67.6% of all the clicks​, which is a major piece of the pie. So if you are under that number or if you’re on page 2, this is absolutely something I would recommend doing right away.

And I love how Timea added a QR code to make it even easier for customers to leave a review right as they are standing there, in just moments.


6) Visual Signage

Another sign I took notice of was Timea’s visual sign showcasing various emotions. As someone whose son was nonverbal until age 5, and who still has very limited communication, these visual aids are extremely helpful.

And she also gets bonus points for putting this right outside the sensory room.

When my son is in a very overstimulating environment, especially one that’s new to him, he can regress substantially in his communication skills at the moment.

So again these can be incredibly helpful as a caregiver, but also to any parents whose kiddo is learning to speak or who can’t read quite yet.


7) Kiosk Cafe Ordering

Another recent addition that has helped The Friendship Fortress decrease their payroll cost WHILE increasing sales is kiosk cafe ordering.

I talked all about this strategy in episode 58 of The Profitable Play Podcast, but placing a kiosk at her cafe counter has helped reduce staff overwhelm, improve speed in which orders are served, and also makes the customers experience more enjoyable.

The kiosk is right in the center of the play area, so parents can use it WHILE keeping a close eye on their kiddo, regardless of where the child is. And it’s an extremely quick ordering process, so they can place and order then go right back to playing until their order’s ready.

8) Lots of Menu Options Available

The Friendship fortress, in addition to making ordering even easier, has also expanded their menu to include high-profit items that customers love like pizza, sandwiches, and ice cream.

They also recently decided to NOT allow any outside food or drink, which was a policy they coordinated with their menu expansion, which has also skyrocketed sales and allowed them to be more food-allergy friendly in the process.


9) Combination of Gross-Motor, Fine-Motor, and Imaginative Play

Play spaces designed with a combination of gross-motor, fine-motor, imaginative, and sensory play options are crucial for fostering comprehensive child development. Gross-motor activities, such as climbing and scooting on play vehicles, help build strength, coordination, and balance, essential for physical health and development​​. 

Fine-motor activities, like using magnatiles or playing with other smaller objects, enhance dexterity and hand-eye coordination, which are vital for daily tasks and academic skills like writing​.


Imaginative play, such as role-playing in a pretend village or playing dress-up, nurtures creativity, problem-solving skills, and social-emotional development by allowing children to explore different scenarios and perspectives​​.

Sensory play, involving tactile experiences like light or tactile play, supports cognitive growth by helping children process and understand the world through their senses, which is particularly beneficial for developing language and motor skills for young children​.

Integrating ALL  these diverse play options ensures a well-rounded developmental environment that addresses the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional needs of children, all in one play space.

I often see play spaces lean TOO heavily into ONE area of play, which not only leaves out so much of what is crucial for young minds and bodies, but also leaves many kids out just in terms of what they can do or what they prefer to do, depending on their age, personality,  developmental stage, and even just their mood that day..


10) Lots of Security Cameras

Look up pretty much anywhere in Timea’ place and you will notice a camera. While to many, this may seem like overkill- but in a time where it’s TOUGH from a legal and risk standpoint to be a business owner, especially of a kids play place, I deem it an absolute necessity.


If there is an accident, the outcome will rely heavily on whether YOU as an owner or your staff (who you are responsible for) were negligent in any way. 

Having video evidence can significantly protect you in these instances, which can make-or-break a business. 

Security cameras can also significantly reduce miscommunications between staff and customers in an indoor playground business by providing clear and objective records of events. 

With security footage, any disputes or misunderstandings regarding incidents, such as injuries or behavioral issues, can be quickly and accurately resolved by reviewing the video evidence​. 

This transparency helps ensure that both staff and customers feel confident that any concerns will be addressed fairly and accurately. Moreover, the presence of cameras can enhance accountability among staff, encouraging adherence to safety protocols and proper conduct, which in turn fosters a safer and more trustworthy environment for customers​ (Root & Branch)​. 

By offering a reliable way to verify claims and clarify situations, security cameras help maintain smooth and positive interactions between staff and customers, ultimately improving the overall experience at the indoor playground.

11) Themed Play Equipment

Having themed play equipment can make an indoor playground experience more memorable by creating an immersive and engaging environment that captures children's imaginations. 

Themes, such as pirate ships, space adventures, or in this instance, castles and fortresses, provide a cohesive and captivating backdrop for play, encouraging children to dive into make-believe scenarios and storytelling​. 

This imaginative engagement not only enhances the fun factor but also supports cognitive and social development as children navigate the themed settings and interact with peers in role-playing activities.


 The distinctive and visually appealing themes make the playground stand out in the minds of both children and parents, ensuring that visits are not just enjoyable but also memorable, fostering a desire to return and creating lasting positive associations with the venue.


12) Lots of Sanitizing Stations

Just like security cameras, you really can’t look around The Friendship Fortress without spotting a sanitizing station. Having numerous sanitizing stations is crucial for an indoor playground business as it promotes a hygienic and safe environment, crucial for the health and well-being of both children and their caregivers.

 Frequent sanitization helps to reduce the spread of germs and viruses, which is especially important in settings where children, who are often more susceptible to infections, are in close contact.  


This measure not only protects the health of visitors but also builds trust and confidence among parents, reassuring them that the facility prioritizes cleanliness and safety​.

Additionally, easily accessible sanitizing stations encourage good hygiene practices among children, teaching them the importance of cleanliness from a young age.

Overall, maintaining a high standard of sanitation helps to enhance the overall experience, ensuring that families feel comfortable and safe during their visits, which can lead to higher customer satisfaction and repeat visits.

And I love how these are colorful and movable, adding to the aesthetic and flexible nature of these stations.


13) No Wasted Space

 You’ll notice while watching the tour, but Timea and her business partner have really gone above-and-beyond in terms of utilizing every square foot of their space to better serve their customers. From a hidden magnatiles station within the climbing structure to a sensory-stepping path to strategically placed bounce houses and imaginative play items, you can absolutely tell this space was designed BY parents, FOR parents. 


Even though my kiddos are 7 and 9, so on the older end for this particular space, they could have fun for hours here– because everywhere you turn, there’s a new hidden surprise you probably missed your first pass.


14) Outdoor Play Options 

Having a bonus outdoor play area is highly beneficial for any indoor playground business, as it offers children the opportunity to enjoy fresh air and engage in different types of physical activities that may not be possible indoors. 


Outdoor play areas can include larger, more dynamic equipment and natural elements, such as sand, water, and grass, which stimulate children’s senses and promote gross motor skills. 

This variety enhances the overall play experience, making the playground more appealing and versatile.  

Additionally, outdoor spaces can accommodate a greater number of children, reducing congestion and providing a safer, more comfortable environment​. 

Parents are likely to appreciate the flexibility of both indoor and outdoor options, which can cater to different weather conditions and preferences, leading to higher customer satisfaction and increased repeat visits. And this is especially true for locations like New York, where it’s reality tough to drag people indoors during the few warm months we have. 

The combination of air conditioning and outdoor space make visits much more enjoyable, and reduce the seasonality of a play business.

Timea also uses this outdoor space for summer camps, which is another major revenue stream for their business and another way she reduces the seasonal risk of her business.

Finally, having an outdoor area can differentiate the business from competitors, making it a more attractive destination for families seeking a comprehensive play experience. And this area is VERY competitive when it comes to indoor play- so this one is MAJOR.

Alright, I hope you enjoyed this deep-dive on the Friendship Fortress and gave you some fresh inspiration for your own space, whether you are still in the planning phases or looking to reinvigorate your facility like Timea did.

So let me know if you have any questions and remember– GET OUT THERE this summer and visit as many spaces as you can while the travel weather is nice and while your kiddos are out of school.

Even if you’re already open, it always gives me a burst of motivation and energy when I visit a cool space I haven’t been to before– and I ALWAYS learn something new or have a great takeaway to apply to my own business.


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