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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

How to fool the kids into an Ikea play date

Getting a new Ikea store in Tampa is enough to make a frugal Momma jump out of her Snuggie and grab a credit card. Normally, most moms would probably prefer to leave the kids home and concentrate. But the nice thing about this Swedish home goods store is you can fool the kids into thinking it's a play date! Other stores could learn a thing or two from Ikea.

Ikea is like Disney World for moms. And like Dizzney, you need to have a battle plan, prepare ahead of Mom_ikeacamp time and know what you don't want to miss. So here, dear Mommas, is our guide to indulging your shopping demons while your little darlings think they are there to play when the store on Adamo Drive officially opens to the public at 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 6. Oh, and by the way, you may already be too late to camp out and line up to be one of the first 100 to get a free chair from the store.

Before you go

It wouldn't hurt to cruise through the Ikea Web site to decide what you really want to shop for. That way you can resist the need to spend hours running around willy nilly like rabid cats distracted by shiny objects such as the bendable chopping boards or a solar-powered desk lamp. Besides, it is virtually impossible to do that anyway since Ikea does its best to direct your path through the store.

Pack the diaper bag with some distractions like Happy Meal toys or something with buttons and lights they haven't seen before to keep them occupied.

Have a well-rested child and a good breakfast (or plan on giving them the 99-cent breakfast there). Certainly plan on having lunch there because there are some great deals in the store's restaurant. More on that later.

Pick your shopping day carefully. The Orlando Ikea is mobbed on the weekend so we are thinking that will be the case here too. You are better off bringing the kids with you on a weekday. Store hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. the first day, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. the rest of the first week, before settling into regular hours of 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.

At the store

Look for the family parking spaces found to the right if you are facing the front door.

The first floor has free lockers, giant family bathrooms and strollers for the taking if you need them. That's also where they have the kids play area, but don't go there just yet.

Grab a giant yellow bag (these aren't for sale) and head upstairs to wander the store's many model home, bedroom and kitchen designs. While you (and the kids) are encouraged not to climb on the mock beds and such, there is one good thing to note: The furniture is secured to the floor so it can't be tipped over. There are play stations scattered throughout so plan on stopping every 15 minutes or so for some play time. (Look up for the Play Area signs hanging from the ceiling for these kiosks).

End that part of the shopping trip at the cafe which has numerous, reasonable kid-friendly offerings -- meatballs, mac and cheese, PB&J -- at 99-cents per serving. Or you can choose three -- an entree, a side of vegetables or fruit, and a drink -- for $2.49. The cafe has free bottle warming stations, kid cutlery and high chairs.

Mom_ikeabath Now it's time to head downstairs for a bathroom break, the kids play area and the real shopping. The bathrooms are roomy, with a nice breastfeeding area complete with a leather chair for you and baby to relax in while big brother or sister color or play at the table in the room. There are even extra diapers if you are caught in a pinch.

The play area is for potty-trained kids who are 37 inches to 54 inches in height, so about 3 to 7 years old. Inside that area is a table and chairs for coloring and crafts, things to climb on, movies and -- shudder -- a ball pit. Ever since I read this blog account of a kid who worked at Chuck E. Cheese, I've never looked at those urine pits the same. If they must go, do it the first day.

Your kids can stay in the play area for an hour -- you get a beeper that starts buzzing when it's time to come pick up your kid or if there is some emergency and you're needed right away. On busy days -- read weekends -- your child may only be allowed in there for about 45 minutes. Mom_ikeaplay2

If you choose not to use the play area, there are still plenty of distractions on the first-floor store level including bushels of 99-cent toys or kitchen gadgets. I would say let them play for awhile and then come back and take them into the store to look around themselves.

Just as you are leaving they hit you one more time with an enticing food offer: a bistro selling 50-cent hot dogs and 99-cent frozen yogurt cones for the drive home.

ATTENTION, all Mommas: If you can get anywhere near the store in the first few days, moms will be treated to free breakfast and coffee on Mother's Day on Sunday. Check here to see restaurant hours.

After you leave

Get on the mailing list for the catalog

The giant blue shopping bag that you bought for 59-cents can be recycled into beach bags, a trunk toy holder, laundry bags or anything else you need to carry.

Learn the lingo of IKEA

We had fun Twittering our way through Ikea last week. You'll have fun too if you have your game plan and make sure the kids are rested before you go. Now -- break!

-- Sharon Kennedy Wynne and Sherry Robinson

[Photos: Martha Rial of the Times photographed folks lining up to wait for the store's grand opening on Wednesday (above) and this Ikea worker putting some finishing touches in the play room (below)]

[Last modified: Thursday, May 13, 2010 11:00am]


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