by Kellie Abrahamson
The first time I heard about Jungle Quest was from my six year old son, Zeke. Upon watching their commercial he raced into the room declaring “I know where we’re having my birthday party.” At the time his birthday was 10 months away, but this fact didn’t stop him from insisting I go to the website and check it out. I complied and found myself intrigued by this unique family attraction.
Jungle Quest originated in Littleton, Colorado in 1994. Unlike other children’s entertainment complexes, the facility had no video games or junk food, just climbing walls, zip lines and Burma bridges. Even without tokens and sugary treats (or even a sign out front for the first 13 years in operation), the 3,000-square-foot adventure zone attracts 30,000 kids each year. In 2004 a second Colorado location opened and just last year a third popped up right here in the River City. Phil and Cindy Isaacson own the 10,000-square-foot Jacksonville facility and have hired a patient, experienced staff of people to attend to their clientele including General Manager and ropes course guru Daniel West.
Not able to wait until Zeke’s birthday, the kids and I piled into the car and headed over. Upon entering Jungle Quest and receiving their wristbands, Zeke and my eight year old daughter Isabelle sat down to watch the “Laws of the Jungle” safety video. While Izzie moved on to the next step, putting on her climbing harness, Zeke rushed to my side in a tearful panic. Apparently his fear of heights overcame his initial excitement. After my assurances that everything would be ok fell on deaf ears, we entered the Jungle, Isabelle raring to go, Zeke clinging to my leg. The first elements we encountered were three massive treehouses accessed by rope bridges. Isabelle took off up the bridge and zipped down one of the twisty slides before I could unwind her brother from my leg. Eventually, after hauling myself up the ropes and calling down words of encouragement, Zeke joined me in a treehouse. Next Isabelle wanted to try the zip lines.
At this point I should confess that I am one of those moms that gets knots in her stomach when her kids wander out of sight and nervously gnaws at her nails when they climb too high on the jungle gym. But despite the over-protective side of me, I found myself completely at ease at Jungle Quest. The staff is incredibly attentive and patient with the kids and they take every precaution to ensure every little adventurer has a fun but safe time in the Jungle. Employees go through a series of training sessions to learn how to harness participants correctly, work each position on the floor, manage the flow of kids at each element and numerous other intricacies. The Jungle Quest management team doesn’t fool around with safety. Sending your kids off a 15 foot platform might seem unfathomable to some (myself included, at first) but it’s actually a lot safer than you might think.
“In terms of the unique elements of Jungle Quest, like the zip lines, the fears that people have of kids hitting the floor, no way, it’s not gonna happen,” says West, who also serves as the facility’s Director of Safety and Compliance. “The way that someone’s going to get hurt is what would happen if you went to a playground… There’s no greater risk coming here of anything than [there would be] walking down the street, especially the zip lines and the climbing wall. The number of injuries that occur per participant on a rock climbing wall or zip line are miniscule compared to roller skating or bumper cars or go karts.”
My fears allayed, Isabelle took to the zip lines like a pro and made her way back to them a dozen times during our visit. Next she tried her hands (and feet) at the rock walls. The 20 foot-tall structure is separated into five climbing areas, each more challenging than the last. Izzie stuck with wall three and scaled it twice, ringing the bell at the top and rappelling down with a proud grin. Next she took on an element unique to the Jacksonville Jungle Quest: the Big Bridge. Made up of wood and rope and suspended about five feet off the ground, adventurers must use balance and coordination to make it from one side of the Jungle arena to the other. Isabelle found the Big Bridge to be one of the more tricky elements but, upon meeting another girl her age, the new adventure-seeking buddies challenged themselves by seeing who could get across fastest and made the journey multiple times. Never in my wildest dreams did I think my daughter, a girlie-girl through and through, would take to Jungle Quest with such enthusiasm. She really showed me her inner-adventurer and I couldn’t be prouder.
And what about Zeke? He spent most of our time at Jungle Quest traversing the treehouses but we did coax him into a harness. While we couldn’t get him to try the zip line, Daniel did work with him extensively and, with his help, my boy crossed the Big Bridge! Small steps like that are what Jungle Quest is all about.
“They’re working on their bodies, their minds, their self-esteem and everybody walks out a foot taller than when they came in,” says Isaacson.
Jungle Quest is located at 4616-1 Sub Chaser Court just across the street from the Yorktown Gate at NAS Jax. Adventurers can drop-in to play anytime the facility is open but birthday parties for kids ages 5-12 are a big draw too. Party packages are available for parents to choose from with rates comparable to other kid favorites like skating rinks or Chuck E. Cheese. Groups like scouts, churches, camps, sports teams and schools also frequent the Jungle. Although the facility is primarily for kids, private parties like family reunions and corporate retreats allow adults to get a taste of the fun. For more information or to book your next event, visit www.junglequest.net or call 779-7572.
If you go:
Drop In Play: $15 per adventurer for one and a half hours. Wear close-toed shoes & long pants.
Welcome to the Jungle!
by Kellie Abrahamson