Picture this: You’re going on a safari, but instead of searching out wild animals, you’re exploring 100,000 square feet of indoor waterpark to discover the fastest, wettest, wildest water slides in the Tri-State area. If this sounds like your idea of a great family adventure, you’re not alone. I’ve been to Africa multiple times, but I received more questions about my trip to Kalahari Water Park in the Poconos than I ever have about my overseas trips; everyone wants the inside scoop on getting wet.
Kalahari is the newest addition to the Poconos’ growing waterpark hotel offerings; a massive hotel, waterpark, and convention center (because conventioneers and waterslides go together like – umm – elephants and ice cream cones?). It’s currently in Phase 1; Phase 2 is under construction and will bring another 200,000 sq ft of indoor waterpark and 1,000 hotel rooms by Spring 2017 (which will then make it the largest indoor waterpark in America!). There’s African theming and décor to go with the Kalahari name—the owners actually went to Southern and East Africa to bring back original art and exceptional Rwandan coffee—although don’t expect Disney-style immersion or cultural programming.
The resort is especially good for teens and tweens for it’s thrilling water slides that are so large they actually start indoors then loop outside the building before dumping their waterlogged riders into the heated indoor pools.
To get an insider’s perspective, I brought my super-excited 12-yr-old son Aidan and his best friend Harry, and my reluctant husband, Ken, for a watery safari weekend. Here’s what we discovered during 36 hours in Kalahari.
Here’s What Kids Love:
The water rides are the key here – bigger, faster, and more complex that what the Poconos have seen thus far, including a FlowRider wave simulator that Aidan and his friend Harry loved, the super-cool Anaconda water coaster that loops in wide undulating circles around half the indoor area, and stomach-lurching Wild Wildebeest, where a 4-seat raft spins its way around a funnel that creates “zero g oscillations” – another 12-year-old boy favorite (both Ken and I sat that one out).
There’s a lazy river that’s got a little zip, two indoor/outdoor hot tubs, one of which is for 21 and over only since it has a swim up bar, and for little kids a mini lazy-river, Crocodile Cove water play area, and a section of graduated slides.
The boys loved, Loved, LOVED the slides here: “WAY better!” they said, than similar hotels. Because we went on a sunny September weekend, we mostly had the place to ourselves; there were truly no lines – so I can’t say how things are when they’re busy. I appreciated the fact that place was spotless and had ample seating. Bonus: There’s a retractable glass roof, and warm days also bring the opening of an outdoor pool with lounge chairs and (another) swim up bar.
Note: You may have noticed the two swim up bars, plus there’s another large bar right smack in the middle of the park, all of which serve 40 oz glasses of frozen drinks with 6 shots of alcohol ($26; $19 for refills – and they’re refilled often the bartenders assured me). The emphasis on big drinks gives the place a decidedly older kid, adult vibe.
This was a highlight of Kalahari (yes, you read that right). Although food around the pool is nachos, pizza, salads, and sandwiches, off the hotel lobby are sit-down options that include Ivory Coast, which has a menu of wings and tasty burgers. For a more upscale experience and truly gourmet options, splurge at Brandberg Steak House. We had fabulous cocktails, excellent Korean-inspired ribs, well-prepared salmon, and a stand out seafood pasta with shrimp and crab. The prices were a bit higher than the other options, but the innovative food and civilized atmosphere was well worth it. When the resort is busy, a large buffet is open for dinner and breakfast as well. We tried it for Sunday brunch and really appreciated the carving stations, made to order omelets, and fresh baked goods. Our sophisticated dinner and buffet breakfast bonanza were Ken’s favorite part of the weekend.
For dessert, check out The Last Stop — it’s right in the lobby, and they make their own chocolates and ice cream — YUM!
Noteworthy Splurge: Spa
Ok, yes – I ditched the waterpark to go get a massage. But in my defense, I did ride the Anaconda, twice, plus plunged down the slippery Zimbabwe Zipper, so I deserved a treat (right?). And Spa Kalahari is lovely – it’s designed to be a true pampering destination; in addition to a full-range of massages, facials, body treatments, and mani and pedis, there’s a water relaxation area with a massive hot tub and steam room and sauna. I enjoyed my massage, and luckily I found a 30% off coupon at the lobby sweet shop – make sure you look around for deal codes in the hotel before you book.
Kids love arcades, and it’s an easy indoor entertainment option. But unfortunately, you CAN NOT get to the water park without walking through 30,000 square feet of large blinking, flashing, dinging, whirring game room. The state-of-the-art machines spit out tickets, and there’s a mega prize room. The boys became obsessed with “winning” toys, which, as you can guess, became pretty pricey – in retrospect, I wish we had sprung for the $30 unlimited card for an hour for them to share; that way we could have wracked up the points and moved on to maybe black-light mini-golf or mini-bowling (both small, but at least eat up a little more time than simply hitting a button).
There are more than 450 rooms here, and that number will increase when the second part of the resort is built. They’re quite large, and feature sinks outside the bathroom and pull-out couches (although there’s a surcharge if you have more than 4 people in a room). We started in the lowest price standard room, which had a view of the parking lot and no balcony. For our second night, we upgraded to a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom suite – which was basically a king room and a double room stacked vertically (so no windows in the king room). This was wonderfully spacious, but oddly designed for families, since you have to walk through the king room to get to the double room. All rooms, regardless of size, have microwaves and refrigerators so you can bring snacks. And I applaud Kalahari’s toiletries recycling efforts.
* Set your watch: There’s FREE cookie decorating every day in the arcade in front of Mirage Café from 3 to 4!
* NO outside food is allowed in the waterpark (ie, you can’t bring coolers, lunch, drinks, or snacks)
* There are, however, ample towels available for free in the waterpark.
* Day passes are available for Kalahari if you don’t want to spend the night– $59 for adults, $39 for kids when I was there (prices may vary though).
*All rooms have microwaves, mini refrigerators, and coffee pots – bring drinks and snacks to stash away in your room for post-waterpark refueling.
* Valet parking is $19 (!!), self parking is free
* Look for coupons at The Last Stop candy and ice cream stand in the hotel lobby – for some reason these aren’t given out with the welcome package and they were significant (30% off the spa for example)
* In addition to room rates, there is a mandatory $20 a day “resort” fee – it basically gets you free WiFi since the waterpark is supposed to be included in your room rate.