Zero Gravity vs. Jumping Castles

Outdoor event entertainment used to be a relatively simple affair. Whether a kid’s birthday, a craft show, or a local social group’s annual gala, organizers had clear options and they were able to put together solid events without much assistance. Today, however, so many businesses and organizations are competing to arrange the most boisterous, most entertaining, and most talked-about events that finding out what works and what doesn’t, what people respond to and what they shrug off, can be a matter of life-or-death for event organizers. Spend too much on things that people don’t like and that buzzed-about picnic lunch can go from a great investment to a total waste. Book the wrong entertainment and what was supposed to be the most amazing birthday party for your child will be an unmitigated disaster.


Among larger event organizers, there are some pretty reliable options that can generally keep the kids entertained at relatively low cost. The most common is having one or a number of “jump castles,” colorful inflatable play spaces in which kids can run around, bounce, jump, and play games. Another is a so-called “zero-gravity” machine, a large contraption that allows people to strap in and experience the sensation of weightlessness by jumping, bouncing, and flipping to extreme heights. To our knowledge no “compare and contrast” of these two has been done, so for the benefit of everyone struggling to decide what to book for their next event, we’re going to run down the basics on these different approaches and see what makes each of them a unique choice.


Jump castles have been around for a while now, so the practice of having one for an outdoor event is widespread and widely understood. Someone comes over, blows the thing up, the kids run around for a while, and then it’s deflated and taken back. Yet while the activity is pretty uniform, jump castles are a wonderfully diverse category of entertainment. There are jump castles with princess themes, Spiderman themes, old-time train themes: name something that kids like, and somewhere out there is a bright shiny jump castle you can rent to indulge the little ones’ favorite fad. This visual stimulation is great for young kids, and the interactive environment is good for games and socializing, but jump castles have their share of drawbacks, too.


That same socializing aspect that we say can be a benefit can also be a problem: the castles get crowded, and with more people there are more arms flailing, more legs kicking, more fingers poking, and more heads bouncing around, which can be a recipe for complete disaster. One kid jumps at a funny angle and all of a sudden you have a pile of bumps, bruises, and tears that’s just begging for some overprotective parent to have a freak out. Not pretty.


So safety can be an issue. Though you would imagine these things would require some certified adult supervision, part of the trouble with jump castles being so common is that it is not always certain that the 17-year old who was sent to set it up is qualified to monitor nine kids bouncing around simultaneously. And the fact that most adults really can’t (or shouldn’t) use the castles because of size and weight issues means that the age restrictions cut both ways: the youngest children can’t use it because there are no adults to guard them while they play.


Zero-gravity machines are a different kind of entertainment, and since they’re far less common it makes sense to explain how they’re used. These machines are set up in a relatively large space, and each one has a number of stations extending from it, complete with harnessing, into which a person is secured. Once harnessed in, the users experience near-weightlessness as they hang from the bowed, springy extensions, free to jump up and down on large launching pads that help them reach incredible heights in relative freedom. Buoyed against their own weight, the users are able to jump to massive heights or execute aerial acrobatics like something out of Cirque du Soleil, all while safely strapped into the machine.      


Unlike jump castles, zero-gravity machines are basically a solo activity, and so the ability to socialize is limited. There are multiple stations so you can have more than one person using it at a time, but of course the pace is still going to be slower than a jump castle. While that does make it less social than jump castles it greatly decreases the likelihood of injury. Similarly, since users can move about as they please in a jump castle and they’re strapped into a zero-gravity machine, there is also a trade-off between decreased freedom and increased safety. Some people would say being alone makes it easier to experience what the machine can do since you don’t have to worry about others or their safety while you are using it.


Age restrictions are somewhat less of an issue with the zero-gravity machine as adults and children can be safely strapped in, and though very young children probably don’t have the motor skills and larger adults may not fit or may weigh too much, the range of ages that can use the zero-gravity machine is greater than those who can use the jump castle. Related to this somewhat older skewing of those using the zero-gravity machine, there is not going to be the same kind of visual fun for the kids that a themed jump castle brings, though the sight of mommy and daddy flipping around 15 feet in the air may be entertainment enough. And that is part of the consideration as well: if you’re booking entertainment not just for kids but for lots of different people, the zero-gravity machine is definitely the way to go.


The experience of using the zero-gravity machine is what really gives it the edge, since it’s hard for a jump castle to emulate the view you get or the feeling of flying you experience when you’re using it. Of course this is tempered somewhat by some of the drawbacks of the machine. It certainly takes up a much greater space than the jump castle, which can limit the venues at which you can roll it out. It easily fits a roughly 50’ x 50’ space, so without at least that much space to use it may be better to either change venues or book some other entertainment. Also, since these machines must be professionally staffed by two people the increased safety will most likely mean an increased cost, though that depends on your market.


Overall these two kinds of event entertainment have their pros and cons, and each is able to take advantage of its core strengths to provide good value to event organizers, whether your event is a birthday party with 50 people or a large festival with 5,000 people. If you’re on the fence your biggest considerations should be the ages of the people you’re entertaining and the size of the venue, but all things considered equal we’ll take weightless mid-air flipping over a bouncy game of tag any day.

For more information on Zero Gravity, visit Atrevete!