Last night, I found myself in one of the more awkward situations that I’ve been placed in since starting this site back in 2011. I’d actually written this review right away last night and revisited it today prior to posting, half-considering saying nothing at all. But I have to…
As a writer and reviewer (my first review published way back in 1992… a full 22 years ago), the hope is that you’ll be impressed and be able to share a great experience with your readers. Sadly, sometimes that’s just not the case, and that’s when my own brutal honesty comes into play. I’ll always be honest, and I’ll never sugar-coat it. In the world that I work in, sometimes certain people have a problem with that (advertisers, PR folks – and only a small fraction of them), and I’m fine with that. When tasked with writing about a live event or a “place” – especially one geared toward families – the scope and emotion are a little bit different than when I deal with an album, a movie, or a toy. It’s the culmination of various elements that come together to create that “experience” – and there’s many forces at play (human forces) that can tip the table in sometimes unexpected directions. I don’t want to come on here and tell you that we had a less-than-stellar experience at a local business… but if I told you that it was without major issues, it would be completely dishonest. What I witnessed last night at JUMP AMERICA (880 Lakeside Drive, Gurnee, IL 60031) is an operation that could be great, but was sadly plagued by a shocking level of disorganization, customer service issues, and rampant poor user experiences… mainly for parents. But my kids LOVED it.
Where I find myself in a pinch is that a piece of JUMP AMERICA advertising has already run on THE ROCK FATHER as part of my relationship with U.S. Family Guide and Windy City Kids Guide. I feel bad, not only for the fact that I’ve potentially steered readers in the wrong direction, but also because the reason we attended tonight was that it was supposed to be the “JUMP AMERICA Family Fun Night Blogger Party” – which is just a fancy way of saying that four blogger’s families were supposed to attend the previously-scheduled “Family Fun Night” and review the facility. Take what I do out of the equation, and it was still bad news, and would’ve been worse had I been a paying customer.
With JUMP AMERICA being a Trampoline Park, there is risk involved, and with that comes some required waivers. Already expecting a crowd, I’d already submitted waivers electronically through the JUMP AMERICA website – something I heartily recommend to any who may be planning a visit. Upon arrival, JUMP AMERICA was packed – four lines roped-off and leading toward the check-in counter, while a separate line was going for families to submit their waivers electronically. The lines themselves were an immediate problem, with four lines and no explanation as to why or what they were. Did we have a party line? A pre-paid family pass line? No one had an answer, so we hopped in line and waited just like everyone else. Even though we were there to review, there was no front-of-the-line special treatment, and that’s totally cool because I want to see what YOU would be seeing as a paying customer, so that I can accurately report on the true experience.
After waiting a good 25-30 minutes, I spotted another family in our “party” (Kim from Living With Juvenile Arthritis and her sons) waiting in a hallway near the office. Then, another (Lisa from Oh Boy, Oh Boy, Oh Boy! and her kids) began approaching the counter and it was visibly clear that there was something wrong. Having made it almost to the front, I stepped out of line to see what the deal was, and found that no one seemed to have our reservation or know what was up. In the meantime, a couple of parents in another line got verbal with me for being “a cutter!,” despite the fact that I was just joining our (supposedly reserved) party, and we weren’t even entering just yet. A sidebar to that is that I later approached the Dad inside, and we both shook hands and had a laugh while exchanging apologies (his wife, too) and discussing the JUMP AMERICA situation as a whole. Because, it gets better…
The General Manager, Pat, emerges to speak with the increasingly restless crowd. What better way to command attention then to blow a whistle? Repeatedly.
I will give him credit for remaining exceptionally calm, and in reality, he’s probably a good guy, but this was just not his night. You see, he was aware that we were supposed to be there, but it was a lot of talk with very little action, stating that he wanted to clear the crowd first before letting what ended up being just three families from our group in. It didn’t matter that we’d all waited in line, just like everyone else. “Family Fun Night” is supposed to be a 6-8pm affair, and by this time it was already 6:40pm. In ANY business, a 40-minute wait is beyond unacceptable, and if it wasn’t for the excitement of my two daughters, we would’ve left. I even suggested it, but decided to stay, if only to avoid their disappointment. Finally, we got checked-in, and made our way into a small room for a 3-minute safety video… as I heard other parents starting to get heated in the lobby.
By the time we were ready to enter the actual play area, Pat pulled me aside to have a private chat. He asked me to review the place “objectively,” and gave me the sort of Spider-man speech about “power and responsibility,” and how being “the media,” that I have “the power to hurt or help the business.” He’s absolutely right (his speech was one oft-used), and there’s that double-edged sword again. I don’t want to blast a local business… but I can’t tell folks that we had a great time. There was also some (a lot of) blame-shifting to his “assistant,” and repeated mention that this was their “busiest Saturday in two years,” a fact I doubt when I see Instagram photos like this one from their own account, posted just two weeks ago. They’ve seen crowds before, I just can’t say that they know how to handle them. As Pat continued to express concern as to what I will say about JUMP AMERICA here on my site, I made it crystal clear to him that I will be 100% honest about my experience, and thus far – it hasn’t been good. And then the door behind us bursts open, and another angry customer starts having a go at Pat… and I leave to join my family.
The two-hour, Saturday “Family Fun Night” is supposed to be a four-pack of tickets and a pizza for $45. The pizza is brought in from a local Rosati’s franchise, and while it wasn’t a part of our deal (no dinner for us), families that ordered pizza were having their own set of problems. In fact, those who ordered plain cheese found their pies arriving at 8:01pm (would JUMP AMERICA shift blame to Rosati’s for that?). There’s few things worse than antsy, hungry kids, and that’s just what was being served up for many last night. The comedy of errors continued with a couple of quarters lost to a jammed-up rental locker, followed by a beverage machine that was only selling water – which is what we wanted, but anyone attempting to order a pop would see their bottle drop to the bottom of the machine, but get their money refunded. Additionally, the baby/tot area was constructed not of commercial materials, but of off-the-rack gates and tunnels like that you’d find at Target or Toys R Us. I wish I’d photographed it.
Despite all the hassle, my girls loved the actual trampoline jump experience. With a variety of trampolines broken-up by age group, there was plenty of fun to be had. The foam pit was a hit, and bigger kids seemed to be enjoying the dodgeball and basketball courts. Oddly enough, for all the chaos getting into the place, the actual arena didn’t feel very crowded. It was actually pretty comfortable. So in terms of the actual trampoline portion of JUMP AMERICA, it’s as-advertised.
While we only stuck around for about an hour or so, the old-school journalist in me popped up for a few, and I sat down with some other families to get their thoughts on the JUMP AMERICA experience. I spoke to the guy who I’d seen yelling at the manager earlier, and he felt “discriminated against” after being left with his boys in the safety video room while a mother and her daughters had been allowed to skip the video, having pointed out that they’d seen it before – as this Dad did as well. He asked me if I’d been in the line mess out front, which I certainly had.
I spoke to a few others, including the folks who thought I was trying to cut in line, and the stories where the same: they’d been to JUMP AMERICA before, and the service has been a mixed bag from average to poor… but the fact that their kids love the place keeps them coming back.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
There is potential here for a solid family facility, but the staff needs more training (though there were a few real nice kids there, too) and they have to get measures in place to properly handle a crowd. What I saw tonight was a lack of leadership, and an organization scrambling just to get by. It reminded me of the “stress test” that Jon Taffer does on BAR RESCUE – and JUMP AMERICA failed.
As of today, I can’t recommend JUMP AMERICA, but truly hope that they find their way. It’s a rare reminder of why I like to review in-person experiences anonymously, as then I don’t have to deal with employees trying to twist my arm, along with having to tell people flat-out that I report what I see. It’s embarrassing for them, and embarrassing for me. I left the noise and commotion over 12 hours ago and my head still hurts just from thinking about it. But the girls have already asked me to go back… and I’m dreading it, because I know that we probably will.