I love Chuck E. Cheese's, but not for the reasons you might think.
Several years ago, when my now nine-year-old son was still enamored of cheap carnival games, shitty pizza raked with rubber cheese and wasting quarters in the gumball machines, he was a certified Chuck E. Cheese fan.
It all started, as it usually does, with a birthday party invitation sent out by parents with no creative bulb in their brains who mistakenly believe that a party at Chuck's place is going to make their lives easier.
Trust me, those parents never thought of the repercussions, like what happens when one of the party invitees gets banned from the "home of wholesome, family fun entertainment," which is exactly how the press release sitting next to me describes Chuck E. Cheese's.
That single infraction led to my son's banishment (and enough tears to fill a lagoon) -- and to the happiest damn day of my life.
My son now carries a badge of honor far more sacred than his blue ribbons from field day.
And I can guarantee you that he won't be entering the chain's "Where a Kid Can Be a Kid" photo contest, although some of you with rugrats in tow may want to.
If so, here's the deal: From now until April 11, Chuck E. Cheese's, in partnership with the Coca-Cola Company, Snapfish and Beaches Resorts, is encouraging shutterbug parents, whose children are members of the Chuck E-Club (that's right; you gotta join the club, but at least it's free), to upload photos of their kids' best moments to www.chuckecheese.com. From April 25 to May 11, visitors to the website can vote on their favorite pics from a group of finalists and win such prizes as a digital camera from Snapfish or gift certificates to Chuck E. Cheese.
The owner of the photo that generates the most votes will win a family vacation to a Beaches Resort (the company has digs in Jamaica, Turks and Caicos) and a bunch of Snapfish swag to haul along with you.
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