The next time you're stuck in stop-and-go traffic on the San Diego Freeway--and even if you're not--consider really getting bumper to bumper: The bumper boats at Palace Park in Irvine are a gas, and the kids'll love bumper bowling at Irvine Lanes.
1 to 1:20: The pink palace itself houses video games, a McDonald's, in case your blood-sugar level lags, and a play land for children under 12 ($5 all day; must be accompanied by an adult).
High scores at Skee Ball, a game like bowling, can earn you tickets redeemable for such prizes as friendship rings (two tickets) or rainbow pencils (10). But, hey, when we say Skee Ball's good, clean fun, we mean Irvine- clean! You can trade in 4,000 tickets for a Black & Decker DirtVac hand-held vacuum.
Video games include Robo-Bop, "high-voltage fun," which was mercifully out of order; Ribbit Racin', in which the first frog to cross the finish line wins, and the Simpsons game: Three guys gang up and knock down Marge, who asks, "Where's Lisa?" and "How's my hair?" She vanquishes her enemies with--yes--a vacuum cleaner!
1:20 to 2:20: The Family Super Saver at Palace Park is recommended: $12.50 includes 18 holes of miniature golf, one car and one boat attraction, and $2 in tokens.
There are actually three miniature golf courses that incorporate the obligatory windmill and pagoda but also more fanciful structures such as a blue, gold, orange, purple, green, pink and mauve Turkish castle complete with bulbous roofs.
The courses ($5.50, children under 5 free) are not quite state-of-the-art.
"They need those little stands so you can write your scores," noted one Santa Ana woman.
And either I've gotten bigger, or the holes have gotten shorter.
2:20 to 2:40: The scenery's great at Palace Park's Thunder Road Race ($5).
On one side is a princess-pink fairy-tale miniature-golf castle, on the other the still futuristic-looking Park Place office buildings. And you can pity the gridlocked drivers on the freeway as you fishtail around curves with the pedal to the metal.
"Slow down, slow down, slow down," intoned one young man, whose job that apparently is, but many riders lurched into one another before they ever left the parking lanes. "It's not bumper cars; you got one warning, then we take you off."
Once on the track, competition can be fierce, and races really develop. When you're way out in front--or back, as the case may be--concentrate on getting those fishtails just right; it's a Zen thing. The line can range from zero to 60 minutes long, but the ride lasts six or seven. There's also a Li'l Thunder Road ($3.50) for drivers 44 to 60 inches tall.
2:40 to 3: You can bump all you want at Splash Island bumper boats. Enter through the colorful prowl of a pirate ship. A sign warns that you may get wet.
"Twenty people pinned me under the fountain," said Dan Walloch, 12, emerging as I was going in.
"I should have taken off my shoes," lamented Jimmy May of Lake Forest, celebrating his 13th birthday. "You might want to take off your shoes," he added, wringing out his T-shirt.
I didn't, but I wish I had. It's not that you may get wet, you will get wet, and in my case absolutely, totally sopping wet. It's guaranteed that the other boaters will pin you, ram you and splash water into your craft. You can also get yourself dizzy sick, if you want, by spinning your boat the whole time.
In fact, Splash Island is the funnest thing going at the park--until you get out. The ride lasts about five minutes, but if nobody's waiting, they'll apparently let you keep going.
The park has batting cages ($1 for 20 pitches, $15 per half-hour) and a Lazer Runner tag game that opened Saturday. But at this point you'll either want to put on dry clothes--if you don't you'll be followed around by the smell of gasoline--or go inside, or both. Luckily, I had my bowling shoes in the car, so I headed next door to Irvine Lanes.
3 to 4: Irvine Lanes has 40 lanes, a league office complete with league coordinator and junior coordinator, upstairs party rooms and its own snack bar. Oh, and, of course, a video game room, this one including Alien versus Predator, in which the progenitors offer up such Nintelligent imperatives as "Take this, you scum bag!" and "It's time to hunt!"
During the day, kids 8 and under can play bumper bowling ($2 a game); they can't throw gutter balls because the gutters are blocked by air-filled rubber tubing. Adults can rent lanes, unblocked, for $10 an hour, or $2 a game (less for seniors and juniors). Rates go up nights, weekends and holidays. Shoe rental is $1.75.
Palace Park opened July 8. And the still-pristine Irvine Lanes?
"About 12 years ago," said desk man Brian Maurer. "Nobody knew we were here till that place opened."
1. Palace Park
3405 Michelson Drive
Open Sunday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1 a.m.
2. Irvine Lanes
3415 Michelson Drive
Open Sunday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Parking: Palace Park and Irvine Lanes share a large parking lot.
Buses: OCTA bus 65 runs north and south along Culver Drive with stops at Michelson Drive. Bus 78 runs east and west along Michelson Drive (with stops at Harvard Avenue) only during peak hours.