CARROLLWOOD — Among the colorful bounce houses, sliders and an inflatable obstacle course — and throughout the scaled-down play houses and businesses — children laugh and carry on as if they are at a major theme park. But this isn’t Disney World, Universal Studios, Legoland or Busch Gardens. Welcome to Gator Fred’s.
“Gator Fred’s is a place where children can get exercise and use their imaginations to have fun. We don’t have video games,” says Sandra Medina. She and her husband, Alfredo, own Gator Fred’s, an indoor play space for children at 5360 Ehrlich Road.
One might think that today’s children would bemoan the lack of electronic gadgets at Gator Fred’s, but that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case. Since the indoor play space opened in 2009, the number of children passing through its doors has increased steadily.
Among the seven kid-sized interactive areas are a doctor’s office, a fire station, a supermarket, a veterinarian office, a fitness center and a sports center, all of which make up the bulk of Gator Town. Children can pretend to engage in a variety of roles with each other, using their imaginations to create a world of their own. The inflatables area includes a variety of play options, from climbing and sliding to bouncing and exploring in a soft and colorful land. There is a special play area for toddlers, as well as a variety of coin-operated rides.
Open to children ages 1 through 12, Gator Fred’s is different from other indoor play spaces. It is open seven days a week, and children aren’t limited to a couple hours of playtime.
“If a family has children of different ages, they can come here and all have fun at the same place,” Sandra Medina said. “Once they pay admission, they can play here all day long.”
Although Gator Fred’s employees oversee the play areas to ensure that the children play nice, Medina says that a parent must be present while the child is having fun. Free Wi-Fi and flat screen TVs are provided for parents, so they can still check emails or to watch a game, but the children are spared such electronic distractions.
The snack area features children’s favorites, such as hot dogs, sodas, chicken wings and pizza. Gator Fred’s is a popular spot for birthday parties, and Medina says that she and her staff take care of everything but the cake. Field trips and fundraisers also can be scheduled with the center.
The Medinas emigrated from Venezuela in 2002 and spent their savings on bounce houses that they successfully rented out for parties. In the depths of the recession, the couple pursued the idea of opening an indoor play space. They did some research and developed a sound business plan, but despite their enthusiasm, lenders were hesitant to invest in the venture.
“We took our life savings and maxed out our credit cards and did it ourselves,” Medina says. “Here we are six years later, and Gator Fred’s is the success we knew it would be.”
For information, visit www.gatorfreds.com or call (813) 264-1700.