My family has been enjoying a winter getaway to indoor water parks each of the last five winters. Our first was to Great Bear Lodge in Sandusky, OH. The subsequent two trips were to the same park, now renamed Great Wolf Lodge. Sandusky, OH, home to mega roller coaster park Cedar Point, has no less than three indoor water parks now. Cedar Point now has Castaway Bay. Kalahari opened a huge resort. Our fourth trip was to Kalahari. This year we spurned Sandusky, OH to try Splash Lagoon.
Kalahari, Great Wolf Lodge and Castaway Bay are resorts that are all self contained: hotel rooms, restaurant, game room, various activities centers, gift shops, and of course the water parks. I had two things against these resorts. One if for all the money I spend on the rooms, there are no frequent stayer points. Okay a nit, but it’s there.
The other is logistical. These mega hotels have herds of people attempting to check-in at roughly the same time funneled through one big front desk and lobby. Kalahari’s disneyesque lobby is a bit better suited for this than Great Wolf’s, but it’s still a herd mentality. These parks are expensive so some amount of logistics follows this form. The logistics run like this.
Arrival is timed to make maximum use of the water park. So arrival is usually before rooms are available. That drives the following arrival drill. Pull up to front lobby. Unload family and strategically packed swim bag. Park car in stadium sized lot. Check in at front desk for wrist bands for water park entrance. Change clothes and stuff street clothes in rental lockers.
Between 3-4pm, someone has to change back into street clothes, return to the front desk for room assignment, return to car, drive car back to front lobby (along with the hundreds of other guests doing the same drill.) Unload luggage unto luggage cart. An unhappy (to be away from the water park) child guards luggage cart while car is returned to the stadium sized parking lot. Keep in mind its winter, so this is frequently bone chilling and sometimes involves snow removal. Just the thing after coming from a humid 80 degree water park!
Check-out isn’t much better. Again the water park is available all day to people checking out, but check-out is usually rigidly enforced as house keeping has a monumental task to turn the rooms around for another night. So the luggage is placed back on a luggage cart, the car is retrieved from the stadium sized lot, loaded with luggage and returned to the stadium sized lot. Did I mention it’s winter? Then clothes are again stuffed in yet another rental locker for a morning and lunch in the park. Then clothes are changed again in the locker room and the car is retrieved from the stadium sized lot to load the family.
Why all this background? It sets the stage for why I liked Splash Lagoon so much. Splash Lagoon is a water park with many adjacent hotels. By indoor walk way there is a Residence Inn, a Holiday Inn Express and a Comfort Inn. You pick the type of hotel you want. Each has its own parking lot and its own front desk. There are other hotels available by courtesy shuttle, but that requires the rental locker thing. These hotels serve not only the water park, but “normal” guests as well. That stretches out the traffic through the front desk.
The best part is my wife is a frequent business user of Marriot properties. So the Residence Inn recognizes her as a VIP of sorts. That allowed a bit earlier check-in and extended check-out. While we had to do the rental locker drill on the way in, the room was ready for a 3:00pm respite. We were able to keep the room until 1:00pm which was enough time to swim in the morning, have lunch in the room, change in the room and make only one trip to the car. The car was parked 10 spaces from the lobby door and the distance from the lobby to the room was a normal hotel’s distance, not a trek to the back forty, so the in and out trips were easy.
Splash Lagoons water slides rank right up there with the Sandusky parks. However the “tree house” structure at Kalahari and Great Wolf rank above Splash Lagoon’s with the kids.
A hint for the battle scarred. We plan our winter getaway for a Sunday night to a non-holiday Monday. Our school district has a teacher conference day the Monday after Martin Luther King day, so the kids don’t miss school. This makes the visit a non peak night. That means the rates are a little lower. The parks have shorter lines, particularly on Monday mornings. Also because there are fewer people checking out Monday morning, the resorts are emptier, and there are fewer people checking in Monday, that means requests for a early check-in and late check-out are more likely to be granted. Even the Sandusky mega resorts can often add an hour to check out in this case. But that doesn’t get one to noon.