Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Family Adventure: Bass Pro Shops & Uncle Buck's Fishbowl (San Jose)

You didn't think I was going to let an event as momentous as the grand opening of Silicon Valley's first Bass Pro Shops store go unmentioned, did you?

While Mr. X (like many, many other men, judging from the crowds) has been eagerly awaiting the store's arrival for months, I personally wasn't all that excited. I've visited Bass Pro Shops before, and aside from the cool aquarium and tons of stuffed animals (nope, not the toy kind -- the actually stuffed animal kind), I didn't really think there was much to interest young kids.

But then I heard about the underwater bowling alley, and I just had to check this place out. So bright and early last Monday morning (four days after opening), Toddler X and I set out into the rain to see what all the fuss was about.

It turns out that the bowling alley isn't quite "underwater" -- though it's magnificently designed to give that impression -- but boy, is it fun! Toddler X and his pals had a blast during our hour on Lane 1 and, of course, we enjoyed checking out the store afterwards. I have a feeling we'll be visiting Bass Pro Shops and the "Fishbowl" again soon.

** Seasonal note: It's confirmed now that Bass Pro will be opening its "Winter Wonderland", with crafts, activities, hot chocolate, and free pictures with Santa, this Saturday, November 14th, at 5 p.m. We visited a Bass Pro in South Carolina a few years ago around the holidays, and they had a great setup -- if they're doing something similar here, it would make for a fun addition to our holiday outing list. I just wish they would've held off until after Thanksgiving to get started. Regardless, I'll keep you posted with details. **

Here's the Bass Pro scoop:

What is it?

Bass Pro Shops is a nationwide chain of stores with pretty much everything a hunter, fisherman, or outdoor enthusiast might dream of owning, all displayed within a massive, log cabin-esque building filled to the rafters with stuffed animals (real ones) and hunting/fishing memorabilia. There are departments for every possible outdoor pursuit, as well as clothing, furnishings, gifts, and toys.

The stores are famous for their large aquariums of (live) freshwater fish from local lakes, rivers and streams, as well as the array of (once live, not so much anymore) animals set against elaborate mountain backdrops around the store. You may have already gathered this from news reports about the Bass Pro Shops San Jose opening, but these stores are just a tiny bit popular.

Our particular Bass Pro Shop in San Jose just so happens to come attached to Uncle Buck's Fishbowl & Grill, which was the primary setting for our adventures on Monday. Uncle Buck's is a casual restaurant with a pretty cool bar set in the center, over which hangs the prow of a sunken ship. On each side of the bar are six lanes of bowling, fantastically designed to give the impression that they're underwater (blue lighting, sea creatures hanging from the ceiling, reef murals covering the walls). Each lane features a little booth area, and food and drinks can be ordered from the lanes.

What is there to do for kids?


The primary attraction here is the bowling alley inside Uncle Buck's. As I mentioned before, there are twelve lanes, six on each side of the bar, and their appearance is pretty spectacular.

The bowling areas are designed to look like docks, with the wood planking changing to a watery blue right at the start of each lane. Your ball will be returned through either a shark, an octopus, or an alligator's mouth, and some of the balls (not the smaller ones, which are blue and green, but the larger ones) are even painted with a fish motif. The overall effect is far more fun than a traditional bowling alley.

Not only is the ambiance cool, but the lanes are decidedly high-tech. When you sign in, you indicate for each member of your party whether they'd like bumpers, and the bumpers automatically rise and fall for that person's turn (a far cry from the bowling of my childhood, where a lane was either getting bumpers or not). The front desk enters the names into the computer for you, but when you arrive at your lane, you have a whole bunch of choices to make, including three different game options (we went with the standard 10 pin). The touchscreen is not entirely intuitive, so take a moment to scroll through the different pages (I think there are three) before you start.

Each set of two adjacent lanes shares a little oval booth area with a padded bench and a shared table in the middle. With three families, we ended up getting two lanes (1 and 2), so we had the whole little section to ourselves (and ended up with a table of goldfish and french fries). If you're bowling with multiple toddler families, perhaps consider getting two lanes next to each other if financially feasible, because I can see the situation being really annoying for any legitimate bowlers (or just adults enjoying some recreation time) on an adjacent lane if the booth area is loaded with toddlers running around and dominating the table.

A great feature for toddler families is the availability of ball ramps, designed for people with disabilities but very useful for little kids (who probably aren't going to have the force to get a ball down the lane independently) as well. You just put the ball on top of the ramp, aim, and let it go (or push it off). Our older toddlers were able to get their balls up on their own after a bit of practice, but do be careful -- these are heavy bowling balls you're dealing with, and yikes, a fall onto a toe could really hurt! The ball ramps are located down on the lanes (no need to ask for one), and I think there's one for every two lanes. We found (physics lesson time!) that the heavier balls gathered more speed going down the ramp and had a better chance of hitting more than just the corner pin.

Lanes are generally rented by the hour (though they do have a 1/2 hour option), regardless of the number of games you play or the number of people playing. A timer is included on your monitor; the time starts running when the first person bowls and automatically stops when the hour is up. Prices are as follows:

You also must wear bowling shoes, and if you don't have your own, that means renting. In our group, they required shoes even for moms who didn't plan to bowl because they'd be out there helping their toddlers. The shoes are all brand new, and the toddler ones are ADORABLE! I think they have down to a size 7 for toddlers. Bowling shoes are $3.25 per person, and if you've forgotten socks, you can buy them for $4 per pair.

One warning: the shark/octopus/alligator ball returns look really cool, and are really tempting for toddlers to explore. MAKE SURE that your kids know not to put hands into the ball return, and not to touch stationary balls in the return area when other balls are coming out -- smashed fingers are no good!


Staying within Uncle Bucks, there is also a restaurant that appears to be pretty toddler-friendly (casual atmosphere, kids' menu, plenty of high chairs and visual distractions). The food is likely not too healthy (judging from the adults' menu -- I didn't check out the kids' menu), but some chicken fingers and french fries once in a while never killed anyone. There is waiter service at the bowling alley lanes (and a wide variety of tropical drinks from the bar), or you can opt for a table in the restaurant proper for lunch or dinner.

Exploring the Store

Bowling at Uncle Buck's was both fun and draining, but as good as heading home for nap might have sounded, we couldn't leave without taking a wander through the actual Bass Pro Shops store itself. Similar to the other Bass Pro Shops I've visited, the store is massive, with high ceilings and a hunting cabin aesthetic, and it features section after section of outdoor goods, lots of little gifts/kitschy items, clothes, furniture, shoes, ATVs, boats, and more. 

The centerpiece of Bass Pro Shops -- and what will be the draw for many families with kids -- is the wide aisle leading to the large aquarium at the rear of the store, and of course, the aquarium itself. The aisle is lined on both sides, at rafter-level, with elaborate mountain scenes populated with stuffed deer, elk, bison, etc., and ducks and other birds soar overhead. At the rear, surrounding the aquarium, are craggy mountains with animals arrayed on rocks and precipices.

The aquarium itself is pretty neat, though not as extensive as at another Bass Pro Shops store I've visited. (I'm guessing they plan to add more fish.) There's a huge glass wall that kids will enjoy standing against to watch as the freshwater fish (types present in local lakes and rivers) pass by just inches away, and benches for parents to relax. On Saturdays at noon, stop by to watch them feed the fish -- always a fun spectacle in any aquarium. 

Another thing Toddler X enjoyed was following some of the animal foot/hoof/claw/whatever prints embedded in the ground, starting near the water and spreading out from there. It's fun to try to identify which type of animal made each set of prints.

In terms of goods sold, the store also has a lot that would interest a child. Toddler X couldn't get enough of this huge fish stuffed animal ("I caught one that was thiiiiiiiis big!"), and his buddy loved the display of kids' sunglasses. There is a toy section with a mix of different outdoor-inspired toys, a camping section with tents assembled, and a fishing section with nets that Toddler X loved (in fact, a small fishing net was his gift last time we visited a Bass Pro in South Carolina a few years ago).

One final point of interest (final for us, as we originally entered via the Uncle Buck's door -- for most people, this will be the first thing they see) is the massive hunting lodge-inspired main entrance room, with very high ceilings decorated with hunting trophies, rocking chairs, hunting and fishing memorabilia and books, and a huge fireplace surrounded by comfy couches. I'm sure this spot would be very relaxing if you didn't happen to have a 3 year old with you.

***Important Final Note***

Based on what I've written above, this probably goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: don't go inside the Bass Pro Shops store if you can't stand the sight of stuffed and mounted animals and don't like to be in the same room as guns.

This is a store designed for hunters and anglers. There are dead, stuffed animals mounted everywhere, beginning in the entry hall and continuing throughout the store. They have a large hunting section where they sell firearms. If these things make you queasy, or you're not comfortable with your child seeing them, then this is not the outing for you.

That being said, you do not have to enter the Bass Pro Shops store proper to visit Uncle Bucks for the bowling and food. There is a separate entrance between the store and the restaurant/bowling alley, so if the store is not your speed, just head for that entrance to make your way into Uncle Bucks. As far as I could see, there was no hunting memorabilia inside Uncle Bucks.


Location: Bass Pro Shops is located at 5160 Cherry Avenue in San Jose.

Hours: Regular hours are 9:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 10:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. on Sunday. There are extended hours throughout the holiday season.

Website: Here you go.


I would recommend this outing -- at least the Uncle Buck's Fishbowl aspect of it -- for anyone with an older toddler/preschooler (at least 3 years) who would like to try bowling. With the cool atmosphere, comfortable sitting areas, cute toddler bowling shoes and convenient ball ramps, the Fishbowl is an excellent place to bring your child for his or her first bowling experience. The only negative? Any other bowling alley will be a letdown after this.

Worth checking out. Happy rolling!

Knocked down one pin -- yessss!
If you enjoyed this post, please consider shopping via my Amazon link. Thank you for your support!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Hmm...what to do today?