Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Urine Luck

Kalahari Water Park, Sandusky, Ohio

By any measurement, the indoor water park has finally come of age. I remember tales of water parks when I was a kid, places where pools had perfectly timed, rhythmic waves you could body surf. But such places were far away and were very expensive.

Fast forward to 2007 and there’s three on one single street in Sandusky near the world famous Cedar Park amusement park. One, Castaway Bay, is associated with Cedar Park, the other two are parts of chains, being Great Wolf Lodge and Kalahari Water Park. While the former was the first indoor water park in Ohio, by the time construction finishes on the latter, it will be the largest indoor water park in America.

This is our family’s second time going to the Kalahari, both times at the instigation of other family members which makes it fun for our daughter to have other kids she knows to play with. Indoor water parks are a children’s playground, but they are also flesh pots of the worst kind with all the fashionable young ladies trying to outdo each other in microscopic hanks of lycra and dental floss. Not that that’s a bad thing.

Having not been to any of the other parks, I’m not in any place to judge their merits or weight them dispassionately against each other. What I will say is that if you can put aside thoughts of how terrifically wasteful of water such places must be (consider Atlanta, if you must, though perhaps Gatorade and Coca-Cola is to blame there, no?), indoor water parks are pretty fun.

You also have to remind yourself not to think about how many small children are there, no doubt peeing in the water. If you can find a way to jettison the idea entirely from your mind, you’d feel much better about the whole thing.

The first thing to recommend for Kalahari, after you have managed to turn off your brain about what it is you’re doing, is to look for specials. A decent room in a giant hotel attached to a water park and an immense game room/play area is going to set you back a bit. The special this time that my brother-in-law secured was $199 for two nights, which includes four all weekend passes to the water park. Regular rates will run you at least $169 per night for a room for four with four passes.

The rooms are typical for a hotel room with the usual hotel amenities including microwave, mini-fridge, coffee pot and ironing board, as well as the latest standard feature free wi-fi access. Kalahari, which has over 500 rooms, should consider an upgrade to their internet service as the simple downloading of a music video (in an attempt to answer the pressing question “Did David Lee Roth say ‘A bottle of anything and a glaze donut to go’ or ‘A bottle of anything and a jelly donut to go’?”) just about locked our computer down.

The restaurants and the food service in general, though, should be completely and totally avoided at all costs. Luckily, the Kalahari is accommodating of this and will let you check in with coolers and sacks of food with you. Our first stay, the wife and I both developed mild food poisoning from eating at the overpriced Kahunaville Restaurant & Bar. In fact, overpriced is the order of the day, as most guests are fairly well off and most people are lazy enough that a 3 dollar yogurt cup at the little cafe beats driving out to get breakfast in the morning.

At this particular visit, my in-laws ordered pizza. When my brother-in-law went down to pick them up, they weren’t there and we were told the pizzas had been sent to our room. The rest of us had waited at the room and all the way down to the carryout restaurant, we saw no one carrying pizza. At the carryout place, they didn’t have our pizzas. We had to wait while they remade them.

In our room, however, we had a cooler of beer, we had chips, we had salsa, we had cookies, we had thick cheese and veggie sandwiches. We also had an enormous twelve dollar strawberry daiquiri, courtesy of the bro-in-law, who had bought the glass and contents the night before for twenty bucks. Refills apparently being twelve. I managed well more than half of it without much buzz, either a testament to my exhaustion, my tolerance, or the relatively scant quantities of alcohol provided.

But all of this is just petty carping. The real fun and the real value is in the water park itself. Plentifully stocked with towels, with a water temperature satisfyingly warm enough for comfort’s sake but cool enough that we weren’t in some kind of spa, the park is an enormous room filled with covered and uncovered waterslides that can last as long as thirty seconds, a spray-station tree house you climb to get to smaller water slides, two giant hot tubs (the best one being partially indoors and partially out), a surf pool, and a long slow raft ride called “Lazy River.”

All things considered, I’d have to say that the tree house was my favorite part. This is mostly because it was something my daughter and I could do together, but also because it offered almost immediate gratification. You got on the slides after less than two minutes wait. You could dump large tubs of water on each other’s head via pull-strings. A shallow wave pool at the base of the tree house made for a good place to sit and rest. Plus, every so often, an enormous bucket of water above the tree house would reach its tipping point and would spill out all the accumulated gallons and gallons down on those of us under it.

The bigger, better waterslides mostly involved lines, which are a drag no matter where you find them. But the tree house moved with energy that truly belongs to youth, and it allowed me to really hose down a few prepubescent punks who definitely had it coming in the water wars. One thing you will discover at water parks is that if you are an adult who enjoys playing and not just lying around on deck loungers, you will get thoroughly attacked by children. If you are in the spray area, you will get sprayed. If you go into the dry jungle gym area outside the water park, little boys will pelt you in the face with spongey balls and will do their best to avoid your pathetic thirty-something attempts to return the favor.

All in all, the Kalahari Resort and Water Park is the kind of place that tries to provide you with entertainment and distraction and pleasure at every turn. They are more or less successful in this endeavor, especially if you happen to be loaded. Or if you know people who currently are.

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