In the last week of January, the Omale family snatched a great weekend on the occasion of the birthday of their five-year-old son. Two weeks to the date, Omale Senior had asked me over the phone to suggest a good birthday treat that would make a big impression on a child. Without thinking, it jumped out of my mouth: An outing at an amusement park.
Of the three recreational centres I recommended, he randomly chose one because of its fanciful name. In the end, the one he settled for was utterly satisfactory. The family spent a whole day and a night there, returning home on Sunday night.
Late into the night, the exhilarated father spent considerable time on the phone to regale me with a blow-by-blow account of their experience. Hey, I thought the treat was for the kid! Obviously, the adults helped themselves to a good time too.
“Junior made me promised to take him there during vacation,” he said, adding, “Even me, I am looking forward to it.”
Bottom line: It was a fantastic family outing.
As the Omales found out, throwing a birthday party for a kid is great––taking the young one to an amusement park takes it to a whole new level.
Recreational parks are rich veins of leisure of a contemporary city. In Lagos––a city jam-packed with man and machine; a congested city where life moves at a dizzying speed; a city whose terrible traffic and the attendant stress pressure parents and reduce their idea of children leisure to indoor or compound party where they binge on Jollof rice, cakes, coke and cookies––amusement parks are part of the leisure menu.
Despite the city’s grotesque gridlock, Lagos’ adult population has worked out ways of taking care of themselves. Built into their daily schedules is a full bouquet of means of pleasuring themselves: picnic at the beach, evening soiree at upscale bars or restaurants, a weekend getaway at spas and hideaway resorts, self-indulgence at a swanky beauty parlour––or occasional ‘quickie trysts’ at the fleshpots of Allen Avenue.
For the little ones, amusement parks are a blessing. Thankfully, in the 20 million throng population and choked landscape, amusement parks and recreation centres found their own niche, silently blossoming. Why they thrive is no secret. There is an insatiable yearning for leisure. At present, there are no less than 30 recreations centres across Lagos State. Good enough, the parks are not concentrated along the same axis. They are broadly scattered across the Lagos landscape.
Popular ones by their names––such as Fun Factory, Funtasticaland, Funplex or Funtopia Water Park––suggests they are fun places for children. Others (such as Rosellas) have fanciful names. While they are by no means Disneyland or Legoland parks, some of them are by no means substandard and their amenities more than make the child’s day. They all come with standard indoor games and outdoor rides, bouncing castles and slides.
Individuals, companies and communities have made a significant investment in recreation infrastructure in the past few years. A few have continued to undertake periodic renovation and innovation of the facilities. For instance, the seven-acre Apapa Amusement Park, built in 2008, was closed for three years and reopened in 2015 after a comprehensive makeover that transformed it and expanded its capacity and diversity, adding a slew of outdoor and indoor games, 7D cinema and arcades to its inventory.
Dreamworld Africana also went through the same cycle. Established in 2010 and reopened in 2013, the 10-acre recreation facility one of the main amusement parks in the city. The park provides many attractions to keep visitors excited, notably a good variety of rides, swings, carousels and Go Karts.
Hi-Impact Planet amusement, a theme park and resort on the outskirts of Lagos is a model of the trend. Located in the corridor of Ogun State, it is visible to anyone travelling along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. Its giant Ferris wheel has the ‘London Eye’ effect against the skyline of the highway. Since it’s opening to the public in December 2015, the resort has been a big draw for kiddies and their parents from near and far. On public holidays, that sector of the highway where it is located is busy and bustling like a beehive as parents and children troop there to catch some fun. It has proven to be a one-stop wonder for world-class fun for the young and old, with top-notch entertainment through games, rides and other playground attractions. While its giant Ferris wheel and animatronics are a great crowd puller, it is the provision of accommodation for parents to stay over that is really its marketing masterstroke.
Children parks in nature reserves are a refreshing experience. Try Lufasi Nature Park. The reserve has a corner in a large clearing for children’s park. The small amusement park, canopied by tall trees, has exciting, colourful playground equipment.
Some leisure centres try to combine fun with stimulating activities that help to develop kids’ intellect and genius. An example is Mindscape Children’s Museum. It’s a lovely place for kids to visit to immerse themselves in fun and learning all the way.
Just as well, Gelah Park and Recreation Centre that has a music school is a good incubation for musically gifted children and teenagers.
One observable trend: Recreation centres are becoming more family-oriented. This explains why they are becoming a big hit. Most amusement centres continually increase their value-added services and side attractions principally to appeal to adults. Now billiard, table tennis, bars, food court, accommodation, laundry and gym are common features of leisure places. A few parks even have an executive lounge, where patrons can (to use the words of the resort) “unwind and enjoy good music, fine wines and world-class games like bowling, table soccer and snooker.” Such developments have blown away the misconception that great weekends are only achievable in exotic resorts.
I had a couple of outings last December. The first social was at a kiddies park in the Lekki axis. There, a few adults I met spoke about the utility of the modern amusement park.
Mr Davis is a middle age banker with a young family. “Weekend is about the only time we have a get-together as a family,” he said. “We usually go to either of the two parks closer to our home. I play lawn tennis while the twins get busy in the playground. At the second centre (which we patronize every other week), my daughter is taking lessons in music there. There too, my wife and her women association use the place as the venue for their fortnightly get-together. We practically spend our day here––have our lunch and dinner at the food court, do our laundry if need be, we watch premier league matches (and I have cold drinks). Sometimes, I go to a quiet corner and do some paper works. The family returns home around 9 pm and we prepare ahead for Sunday’s church time, before going to bed.”
For Dennis Osarhemein, park time is catch-up time among his circle of friends. “The obvious option is weekend hangout in clubs and bars. But there are times such outings are jaded and you want a change of scene. The park environment offers a variety, a different vibe.”
A third respondent, an educationist harped on the importance of recreation and leisure to the physical growth and psychological health of children.
She also dwelt on the sentimentality of it: “Just when you think you are an adult, amusement park has a way of rousing the child in you. You bring the kids around and suddenly you want to try the swing or the seesaw or jump into the pool. If you are depressed, instead of going to a bar to drink beer, try a timeout at an amusement park. You’d come away feeling younger and worry-free.”
My second timeout was at a leisure park in Ketu axis, where I met a 70-year-old woman who brought her grandchildren to the park.
She brought a time perspective to the rise of leisure parks in Lagos. “When we were growing up, there used to be zoos and cinemas. Both have died out. Then attention shifted to beaches. The beaches are gone, too; most have been reclaimed and turned into housing projects. But parks are coming back strongly now, especially since 2000.”
She added: “The culture is developing. It is going to flourish.”
The economics of recreational centres are complex. Many are pricey, a few are low budget. Whatever their tariff scheme, parks in good locations are veritable cash cows––that was the gospel according to Akin Bashola, an investment banker, who came around to chill with his girlfriend.
“The next big money I hit, I am going into this business big time,” he sounded off. “Lagos State has more than 10 million kids and there are not enough amusement parks. The leisure sector is one of the new areas for investment in Lagos.”