Saturday, February 19, 2011
What it is: On the face of it, Ikea is a furniture and housewares megastore, famous for spreading Scandinavian style throughout the world. But have much more than furniture and housewares, it also has a full-service cafeteria, sells Swedish food specialties, and, the part our kids love the best, Småland: an excellent drop-in child-care center. Parents shopping at the store can drop off their potty-trained who measure 37-54" tall at the play area for an hour at a time, up to twice within the same day. Inside the Charlotte Småland, caregivers log in children and put their shoes inside cubbies, handing parents a buzzer in case they need to be contacted, along with a check-out card and a check-out time. Once inside, kids can jump into the ball pit, climb and clamber around the play equipment (they have a climbing wall into a TV loft) or do crafts. Parents can be contacted by buzzer throughout the gigantic store.
In the store proper, the upstairs has dozens of display areas for affordably-priced furniture, including really fun and smart children's equipment and furniture. Downstairs has vast shelves of housewares, from pots and pans to artwork and houseplants. The cafeteria serves numerous meal options, from light snacks to square meals, usually around $5/adult and $2/kid. Most adults go for the Swedish meatball plate, which comes with mashed potatoes, gravy and lingonberry sauce. Kids pick two sides and a drink, served in kid-friendly plastic dinnerware. They usually also offer baby food jars. The cafeteria has a kids' seating area with a TV, as well as a bottle warmer, kid utensils, a microwave, and lots of high chairs.
Why we like it: Before having kids, we liked Ikea well enough. Now we have children, we adore it, and our girls, aged 3 and 5, beg for a day-trip to Ikea every few months. Ikea's Småland was the first place my eldest, at 3, ever let me leave her without a moment of hesitation or apprehension. We plan our days carefully, leaving early to arrive at opening time (they are open Sundays too). We log the kids in for a first hour and mostly browse without buying, making lists instead. We then get the kids, and head for a lunch break (our girls love the meatballs, the fries, the mac n cheese and the steamed veggies, along with the lingonberry juice on tap). It's so nice to have lunch someplace obviously set up for families with children. Then we check the kids back in, and spend a second hour actively buying. The kids' section upstairs near the cafeteria is always worth a visit, whether we need bigger items or not, we always pick up art supplies. When we pick up the kids the second time, it's naptime, and my kids sleep soundly all the way home. Another tip: if you see something big you just have to have and can't fit into your car, Ikea can work with you to deliver in the Triangle area, for us in Durham it was a flat $40 fee for everything, with three deliveries a week (and you won't be able to get this deal just by ordering online or by phone).
What would be better: Obviously, if it were closer to Durham. Door-to-door, it takes us exactly two hours to get there, but the Charlotte Ikea is right on I-85 before you reach the center of Charlotte.
More info: The general Ikea website is http://www.ikea.com/us/en/. The Charlotte Ikea page is at http://www.ikea.com/us/en/store/charlotte. Be sure to check on events, they occasionally run "kids eat free".