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February 24. 2014 7:28PM

School vacation

NH indoor entertainment centers see Christmas-like business


Branka Cvokic of Hooksett shares a few minutes of fun with her 19-month-old God son, Edis Jusufovic, at NUThin' But Good Times in Merrimack. Hundreds of area children and parents flock to indoor play centers to get out of the cold during February school vacation week. (RYAN O'CONNOR PHOTO)

Each February vacation, New Hampshire parents have a dilemma on their hands.

Many pack their bags and travel south, toward warmth and sunshine, while others throw the skis and snowboards on top of the car and head north into the mountains.

Though many Granite Staters are determined to get away for the week, others choose to hunker down at home and enjoy some downtime.

Inevitably, those who choose "option C" find themselves with an acute case of cabin fever, and that's the reason that drives business to several family-oriented indoor fun spots each year.

"Vacation weeks for schools are our equivalent to Christmas time for retailers," said Kelly Pearson, co-owner of Cowabunga's in Hooksett. "It's the weekends and vacation weeks that we really shine. We see tons and tons of people, parents and children alike, coming through our doors, and yes, it can get kind of chaotic, but we do everything in our power to make it as fun an experience as possible."

To accommodate the increased crowds, Pearson said "New Hampshire's largest inflatable playground" is staffed up for the week and has opened all three gyms for public play (typically two areas are for private parties). Else from Disney's "Frozen," is scheduled to make an attend Cowabunga's Family Fun Night on Friday from 4-7 p.m.

Lisa Campbell, owner of NUThin' But Good Times in Merrimack (near the Bedford line), said her giant indoor playground kicks off each vacation week with a parents night out from 5-9 p.m. on Sunday.

In addition to normal open play each day, hours will be extended until 8 p.m. Monday and Friday for fundraisers to benefit James Mastricola Middle School and Autism Speaks. And Kenny the Panda will be at NUThin' But Good Times from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday. Vacation week concludes Saturday with a family movie night from 5-7 p.m.

Right down the road from Cowabunga's in Hooksett, The Space Entertainment Center is showing off its new card-based system (no more tokens) to pay, eat and play.

As an added incentive, manager Char Dobson said those who play laser tag at The Space Entertainment Center during February break receive 10 game credits for the price of five. Unlimited-ride bracelets are also available for $25, she added.

"I know a lot of people are taking advantage of the great skiing this season, but we're hoping to see some of that extra business this February Vacation, too," said Dobson. "We definitely staff up for the week. No matter what the weather is like, people still want to get out and many of them come here."

Operators at all three children's play centers say all the wintery weather this season hasn't necessarily hurt business, but Pearson said she's keeping her fingers crossed that the snow holds off for a week. "We always hope for just the right weather, not too warm, but not snowing either," she said. "We live in New Hampshire, so people are used to the snow, but it does have the potential to keep people at home, so we obviously hope the weather holds out and the roads stay clear."