Peachtree Mall officially opens indoor play area

You don't have to pretend to be a fast-food customer anymore to bring children to a local indoor play area for free.

Peachtree Mall's version, which Santa Claus dedicated with a red ribbon Monday morning, doesn't have the maze of tubes to the ceiling that are a dream for kids and can be a nightmare for parents. Instead, the play area outside Macy's indoor entrance is 850 square feet on one floor.

The aquatic theme on a spongy carpet includes a stack of faux giant coral for a slide, plus other faux giant sea creatures, such as a ray, starfish and turtle.

Monday's rainy weather wasn't ideal for Santa's sleigh, but it was a fine time for Amber and Mathew Carson to bring their children, 6-year-old Jordan and 20-month-old Lucas, to the mall for a photo with Santa.

"This is great," Amber said as she sat on the soft seats that surround the play area. "Especially when it's cold and rainy, it's a big deal to have a place like this."

Mathew is a drill sergeant with the 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning. Amber works from home.

Cait Freakley, a physical therapist, also is an Army wife stationed at Fort Benning who was thankful for the mall's play area Monday. She watched 22-month-old Will Jr. "burn some energy" as her parents visiting from New York did last-day Christmas shopping. Her husband, Will, is a captain in an undisclosed unit and deployed to an undisclosed location.

And, yes, that's Freakley as in Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, a former Fort Benning commander now retired in Washington, D.C., and serving as a professor and advisor for leadership at Arizona State University.

So if the mall didn't have a play area for Cait to keep the general's grandson entertained, "it would be hard to get any shopping done," she said with a laugh.

That sums up why mall manager Chris McCoy figured the more than $100,000 purchase from Playtime LLC of Englewood, Colo., would be a wise expense.

"I've been here about four years, and we've had several families asking about play areas, so it's been very important to me to get one here," he said.

But perhaps the most significant review was the "two thumbs up" from McCoy's expert analysts: his 5-year-old and 3-year-old.

"Yeah," McCoy joked, "they're the main reason we bought it."