Author: Jeff and Stephanie Sylva
Tags : Blogs, Kids, Multigen, North America, Pennsylvania, Teens, USA, Water & Themeparks, Weekend & Short Break
Families in the New York and Philadelphia Metro areas have just a short drive to Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains to get in on all the “Splashtastic” pool fun at three indoor waterpark resorts. Almost overnight, the Pocono Mountain region has become a major player in family indoor waterpark resorts, as Camelback Lodge and its Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark and Kalahari Resorts and Conventions opened in 2015, joining Great Wolf Lodge, which opened in 2005.
Three waterpark resorts – which one to choose?
Some might think that having three indoor waterpark resorts within just a few minutes' drive of each other is redundant. But we found that each of these resorts has carved out a particular niche that will be attractive to different families and their particular needs and desires for a great family getaway.
All three of the resorts have attractive accommodations with a variety of suite configurations that will suit any family. The resorts all have large, exciting waterparks with a wide variety of water slides, lazy rivers, family hot tubs, and wave pools (Kalahari’s wave pool is scheduled to open with the resort’s Phase II development in the spring of 2017). Camelback and Kalahari both have FlowRiders. FlowRiders offer a unique surfing or boogie boarding experience, but are not really for the timid. All of the resorts offer both adult and kids’ spas and cavernous family game rooms, as well as mini golf and various other attractions. Families will experience great family dining options at each of the resorts.
Beyond the water slides and wave pools
What differentiates these resorts are the activities and attractions beyond the waterparks, which in turn determines the resorts’ target audiences. The resort with the most varied offerings is Camelback Mountain. In addition to its highly-praised Aquatopia waterpark (USA Today recently called it the “Best Indoor Waterpark in the Country” on its “Ten Best” list), Camelback Mountain Resort boasts Pennsylvania’s largest outdoor waterpark, Camelbeach.
Although we didn’t try every one of Camelbeach’s slides and attractions, we can personally attest to the park’s claim that their 37 “rides, slides, and attractions range from mild to wild.” An interesting feature of Camelback’s Aquatopia is actually its roof -– it is made with Texlon, a transparent material that allows for year-round tanning in a comfortable, continuously-maintained 84ºF.
Winter Fun at Camelback
When the weather turns cold and the Pocono Mountains get blanketed with snow, Camelback Mountain’s Ski Resort gears up for family skiing, riding and snowtubing at the country’s largest snowtube park boasting 42 lanes. The new Camelback Lodge offers ski-in/ski-out access, the only such accommodations in the Poconos. The Lodge’s ski-in/ski-out restaurant and pub, Trail’s End, has an outdoor patio for mountainside dining and outdoor firepits. We can’t wait to experience après ski here.
Camelback Mountain Adventures has a number of other adrenaline-pumping activities such as the Treetops Adventure Courses (100-plus aerial obstacles), 4000-foot Twin Flyers ziplines, 1000-foot dual ziplines, Pennsylvania’s only Mountain Coaster, and Mountain Segway Tours.
With such a line-up of active attractions and activities, Camelback Mountain Resort is the best choice for families with teenagers looking for some heart-pumping thrills. From our experience we can’t argue with Snow East magazine’s claim that Camelback is “the most interactive resort in the country.” Nor can we dispute the resort’s own tagline of “Countless Adventures – One Resort.”
From the African plains of Kalahari
The Poconos’ other new family waterpark resort, Kalahari Resort, offers families the same exciting indoor waterpark attractions as the other two, and is poised to become the country’s largest indoor waterpark with the 2017 opening of its Phase II development, which will nearly double the size of the existing waterpark (and the number of accommodations) and will include a wave pool.
The Kalahari waterpark boasts similar heart-pumping slides and attractions as Camelback’s Aquatopia and Great Wolf, a retractable roof (allowing fresh air to circulate and direct sun tanning), and a huge indoor/outdoor hot tub with swim-up bar. During the summer months, a large outdoor pool is available.
Kalahari’s waterpark has also received some high praise – Conde Nast Traveler called it “The World’s Coolest Indoor Waterpark.” Certainly a subjective statement, but the pervasive African theme in the waterpark and throughout the resort is indeed pretty cool.
Directly reflecting the experiences and inspirations of the Nelson family (owners of Kalahari Resorts), African art and hand-crafted artifacts, purchased by the Nelsons during their 23-day trip to Africa, are found throughout the resort. Rwandan coffee beans are served in many of the food services and restaurants; and many of the resort’s souvenirs are sourced from local artisan communities throughout Africa.
In order to fully appreciate Kalahari’s African theme and the source of its inspiration, we suggest that you take the time to view the various video programs documenting the Nelsons’ African experience available on the resort TV channel. The programs are educational but also enthralling, as they relate some of the family’s unique and exciting adventures in Africa.
An exquisite spa experience
One feature where we think Kalahari leads the two other resorts is the spa. Spa Kalahari and Salon is first rate, quite possibly one of the finest spa facilities we have experienced. Adults will love the relaxing environment Spa Kalahari offers -- but kids can also enjoy some of the Spa’s splendor with one of the Junior Spa Packages, which also includes a complimentary scoop of ice cream and a gift. Camelback Lodge and Great Wolf Lodge also have wonderful adult spas; but they also have separate kids’ spas – Scooops Kid Spa at Great Wolf and Oasis Kids Spa at Camelback - both of which include a complimentary ice cream treat as well.
Kalahari Resort’s activities and attractions beyond the waterpark are offered through a partnership with The Inn at Pocono Manor. Kalahari guests can enjoy bike rentals, archery, BB gun and 5 Stand gun ranges, fishing, horseback riding, cross country skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and dog sledding with Manor Sports.
Kids’ Clubs and family activities – a Great Wolf specialty
Two of the resorts, Kalahari and Great Wolf, have organized kids’ club activities. The Adventurers Club at Kalahari offers a variety of daily craft activities, games and contests, a morning family hike, and an evening story time.
The Clubhouse Crew at Great Wolf Lodge involves kids in an interactive adventure while exploring the lodge. “Great Wolf Kids” offers a variety of daily activities, many of which are free. In the evening the Grand Lobby is packed with kids in their PJ’s for Story Time and the chance to meet and greet one of the Great Wolf Kids six costumed characters.
Story Time may be popular with the kids at Great Wolf, but an even more popular activity -- one that some parents may say borders on obsessive –- is MagicQuest. This fantasy-themed scavenger hunt employs kids as Master Magi in an adventurous journey throughout the resort to gain magic powers using their personal magic wands to befriend pixies and battle a dragon. And just in case your kids have pretty much completed all the levels of MagicQuest, there is also Compass Quest and Shadow Quest; the adventures are endless!
Family time = precious time
With a target audience of families with children 13 years old and younger, Great Wolf Lodge’s activities and attractions are designed to have families enjoy their time together. The appeal to younger children is also evident in some of Great Wolf’s accommodations offerings. Themed suites such as Kid Cabin Suites, Wolf Den Suites, and Kid Kamp Suites come outfitted with bunk beds and private TV’s in the kids’ uniquely-styled sleeping area.
In addition to its very popular indoor waterpark, Great Wolf Lodge offers Howlers Peak Ropes Course next to the outdoor pool and firepits, which are used for the marshmallow roasts each evening (weather permitting). Young kids also love the Lodge’s Creation Station, where they can create their own stuffed animal.
So, which Pocono indoor waterpark resort would we recommend? Each of the three has great, exciting waterparks and a wide variety of activities beyond. Rates for accommodations and meals are comparable. A family’s decision will depend on the ages of the kids and what types of activities in addition to the waterparks they are looking for.