Spring Travel 2006: Warning: Kid Zone
We arrived later than we’d expected—seven-ish on Saturday evening, having spent what seemed like six days caught in a Poconos traffic jam—and so we immediately found ourselves facing the Continental Divide of family vacation decisions: Which to have first, food or fun?
My wife Kate and I, at the point in our lives where food is the fun, quickly eyeballed the restaurants inside Great Wolf Lodge, the new resort just off Route 80. Our girls, Hannah and Sarah, clearly had other ideas. “Noooo,” they whined simultaneously, their tiny voices blending together in a way that would remind you of the Indigo Girls circa 1989, or perhaps a small pack of coyotes.
“We want to go to the water park,” proclaimed Hannah, stomping her foot.
“Yeah, the water park,” said Sarah, who does not really know what a water park is, but certainly knows a good opportunity to pout when she hears one.
Kate and I sighed. We couldn’t really blame the coyotes. When you’re six and three and you’ve spent the last several hours riding in the back of a car, much of it with your father muttering that “Poconos traffic jam” is an oxy-freaking-moron, and now before you is the chance to put on your Dora the Explorer bathing suit and Blue’s Clues flip-flops and splash around in an indoor water park the size of your average Canadian province … well, let’s just say that foremost in your mind are not thoughts of macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets or even a nice glass of chardonnay.
This newest location of Great Wolf Lodge, opened last fall, is pretty much a kids’ dream vacation brought to life: a 78,000-square-foot indoor water park (the largest on the East Coast) attached to a 401-room, four-story hotel done in an architectural style best described as “Western hunting lodge,” or perhaps “big-ass Lincoln Log.” The resort is part of a chain based in the Midwest, and the overall vibe is unpretentious and wildly kid-friendly: There are nightly story hours (in pajamas) for little kids; a massive video arcade for big kids; crafts and activities of all kinds; a wandering mascot named Wiley; and, of course, suites containing bunk beds that are perfect for pushing your little sister off of.
So what of our food-or-fun dilemma? As it turned out, there was a 45-minute wait for dinner at the lodge’s two restaurants—the cafeteria-style Loose Moose Cottage and equally casual Camp Critter Bar & Grille—so we quickly got on our swim gear and headed for the water park. Now, I’m no expert on this topic—the last water park I visited was in Ocean City, Maryland, in 1979, which I’m pretty sure was not long after water itself was invented. However, the multicolored, climate-controlled version at Great Wolf certainly got my attention. There are slides and rides for varying ages and varying degrees of wussiness, from Cub Paw Pool for little ones to Coyote Cannon, which features a 40-foot plunge.
No wonder we spent a couple of hours inside the park on Saturday night, and a couple more the next day.
Was Great Wolf the ideal getaway for Kate and me? Not exactly. Though there is a 3,300-square-foot spa, and the comfortable guest suites are equipped with up-to-the-minute amenities like Internet access, the dining had a certain summer-camp quality to it. And as my wife noted, it was hardly her dream to stand around in her bathing suit watching a three-year-old while the entire world stared at her thighs. What was refreshing, though, was the absence of that anxiety you sometimes feel traveling with kids in more adult venues, ever fearful that their whining and horseplay will ruin some 60-year-old’s good time. At Great Wolf, whining and horseplay are practically required.
And there is, finally, the chance to connect with your own inner kid. On Saturday night, Hannah and I climbed to the top of Alberta Falls, a three-story tube ride that actually twists outside the building before reentering the park. We hopped on a float and plunged forward. Was I ready for the steep drop? Sure. The twists and turns? You bet. The fact that all of this happened in complete, utterly terrifying darkness? Not even close. As I let out a noise I don’t believe I’ve ever heard myself make—it fell somewhere between a joyful screech and a petrified howl—I wondered if the girls would be interested in forming a trio.