Trekking Out To The Poconos

ImageGenInstead of pointing the car out East to the forks of Long Island, my family and I decided to face the other direction and have an adventure one warm August weekend.

We had heard of a legendary complex rising just beyond the Delaware Water Gap and the New Jersey border with Pennsylvania—a complex so big that it’s already billed as the largest water park in the Poconos with a current 100,000 square feet of water madness. But that’s just the start of Kalahari Resorts and Conventions, which opened in Pennsylvania this summer, the latest from a firm with successful parks in Ohio and Wisconsin already under their belt. Guests can already see the extensive work being done to double the size of the venue and, once complete, Kalahari is destined to become America’s Largest Indoor Water Park—quite something!

America has a love affair with largest, so if you have any kids aged baby through teen, you should simply resign yourself to the fact that you’re going to follow Route 280 to 80 from the Lincoln Tunnel pretty much due west. While you’re driving west, you’ll be heading to one of the United States’ premier tourist destinations with around 45 million people within a three hour drive of Mount Pocono.

Resignation’s not bad—in fact it’s all good. There’s a reason why families take their kids to Disney or Sesame Place or Universal. It’s rarely about the parent—and all about the kid. We went for a Saturday night stayover, our room paid courtesy of Kalahari, with a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old. The 5-year-old’s verdict, with a huge smile on her face, was that Kalahari was “awesome” and she wanted to know if we could live there permanently. The 2-year-old was a little less loquacious, but he had to be pulled out of the splashy pools where he spent hours just turning around and around and giggling.

Kalahari’s busy and from 11am-5pm, the lobby is chock a block full of folks either checking in or out. There are currently just under 500 guest rooms, which again will double after construction is complete. Although we didn’t explore, there is a convention center built adjacent to the hotel, no doubt to get midweek and off-season non-family business. Most of the water park is indoors, although there is currently one outside pool with a bar for grown-ups. Inside the park is a network of all the super-fun things you’d expect, from giant to little tots slides and chutes, waterfalls, lazy rivers, buckets of water tipping on your head, and water sports.

We tried out two of the three restaurants while we were there (the third is a buffet), the Brandberg (a bit more upscale) and Ivory Coast (served, casual)–all of which, of course, were more about keeping kids happy with classics like mac-n-cheese and burgers than anything else. But most families aren’t coming for a foodie experience. Hot tip: The pizza is so popular they are still using the recipe from the restaurant the park owners ran when the first got into the hospitality business.

Room prices start at $249 per night, although we stayed in a two-room set-up, which is quite common in the hotel, which prices just over $500 a night. For New Yorkers, while a day pass may be tempting (they cost between $29-49 per person per day), I would strongly recommend that you stay at least one night, maybe two (beyond that, you have to be a very dedicated family of mermaids/mermen at this stage of the resort’s development). Although hard to believe for those who have headed east to the Hamptons on summer weekends, the traffic heading west is almost as bad in parts, especially as you cross the state line. You should allow yourself 2-2.5 hours each way (including inevitably getting lost on 95 near Newark Airport).

And, oh, did I mention the African theme? Yes, the Nelson family, who owns the Kalahari parks, are great Africanophiles. Pictures of their trips to the Great Continent are on the wall and I, for one, was actually impressed at their apparent commitment to authenticity and at least a little non-obvious Africa theme. The carved woodwork at the resort is actually rather fetching.

It’s a thumbs up!

To learn more, visit kalahariresorts.com/pennsylvania!

Richard Burns writes regularly about traveling with children for New York Family

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