|Pictures courtesy of Dave & Buster's Official Website.|
There is one slight exception to the trend. At some point in the last decade or so, entrepreneurs realized that redemption games, arcade machines that give tickets and prizes, still filled a niche that couldn't be replicated at home. In fact, these devices fulfilled the same bad impulses that fuel the gambling desire. Mix in some alcohol and the right atmosphere, and all of a sudden those adults that were raised on Chuck E. Cheese's are throwing away cash for a chance at a giant plush gorilla.
Arcades have spawned the faux casino, and Dave & Buster's are a chain of these little palaces of lesser sins. About a year ago, a location opened on International Drive in Orlando. In theory, it's a great combination, a restaurant and entertainment center designed for adults in one of the biggest tourist cities in the country. Unfortunately, the reality proves far less perfect.
Round 1- Parking
The first challenge when arriving at Dave & Buster's, after braving International Drive itself, of course, is the parking situation. Like many tourist destinations in Orlando, valet parking is available for an extra fee. There would be nothing wrong with this, except for the fact that parking is extremely limited. Even after extra parking spots was next to a nearby restaurant, the tiny parking area is still a miniature demolition derby as cars circle the building, trying to find any space. By the end of the night, cones are placed to create extra unmarked parking spots, and yet it's still not enough.
Once you finally leave your car behind, there's just a tremendous flight of stairs to the main floor. Walking into a noisy, cavernous room, you have the choice of two paths. One leads to food, the other to the games area, but both have their own frustrations.
Round 2- The Restaurant
Round 3- The Arcade
It's a manipulative process, but nothing too sinister or especially new. I'd even say it's a nice alternative to actual gambling, since much less is usually on the line. The problem becomes that without the 21 and over restrictions that casinos provide, Dave & Buster's is infested with children. As the time grows later and the gaming area fills, more families arrive at the same rate as the bar patrons. By 7:00 p.m., the floor is packed by unruly kids and staggering, half-drunk adults, all bouncing against each other trying to find a game that doesn't already have a queue behind it. It only gets worse from there.
So you survive the hordes, manage to play enough games to burn through $50 dollars worth of game points, and have amassed thousands of tickets. Time for prizes! Unfortunately, you may have thousands of tickets, but all you can afford is low quality t-shirt, or maybe a mini crock-pot that retails for $10. If you have kids, you may actually get a few different stuffed animals, though you can be sure they probably cost Dave & Buster's about $2.00 each when bought in bulk.
And Yet I Still Go
It all sounds rather awful. However, I can't deny there's a certain charm to the place, some combination of nostalgia and the thrill of winning, even if all you've won is a useless tchotchke. If you time your visit to a weekday outside of the tourist season, when promotions lower some of the excessive cost to play, it's even possible to avoid many of the flaws. Still, it makes me miss those days when I could visit the arcade with excitement, without feeling like I need to visit the easily accessible bar just to survive.