It’s all here! Everything you need to know to keep a wonderful weekend at the famous Kalahari Indoor Waterpark from turning into a waterlogged nightmare. The rooms, the slides, the fancy cabanas, the food, and of course, the dreaded arcade. Your virtual guide awaits!
(Pocono Manor, PA. Early December, 2019)
The first thing you should know is that you’re gonna get wet. Not that you didn’t know that, but whatever you were thinking, think wetter. Like, “April in Seattle without an umbrella” wet. If you’re cool with that, then read on.
This was my first time to Kalahari. I’ve been to plenty of waterparks in my life, but never the “World’s Largest Indoor Waterpark,” a claim I assume they’re being honest about, though I didn’t bring a tape measure to confirm it. I was with my wife and two kids, aged 7 and 9, and I highly recommend a 1-to-1 parent-to-kid ratio, though we were perfectly comfortable(ish) letting our 9-year-old run off by himself a few times.
We reserved a standard room and decided to arrive before noon and take our chances with an early check-in. And whaddya know! We were offered a room right away!… for an extra 50 bucks. It was supposedly an upgrade in that it included a small balcony which, in December, was about as useful as a humidifying space heater in August. The upcharge reeked of a standard move by the resort for probably anyone requesting an early check-in, but I have no way of proving that and the option was waiting until 4pm.
We paid the 50 bucks.
If you plan on showing up early, I would recommend doing the same. The option is checking your bags (free of charge) and heading to the changing room, or just showing up at four. Up to you. The waterpark part of the resort is open until 9:30pm, which is still a full day of “waterparking” even if you opt for the late afternoon arrival.
The room itself was maybe a notch above basic. We had two very comfortable queen beds and a surprisingly comfortable sofa bed. Our kids thought the sofa bed was “fun” so they slept on that. My wife and I opted to each spread out in our own queen beds because how often do you get that chance? “To hell with romance! I want the middle of the bed for once!” There was also a mini-fridge (more on that later) and one of those cheap, little microwaves that somehow works much faster than the big, expensive one you’ve got at home.
The waterpark itself is really well designed. I’m not a waterpark expert (is there such a thing?) but I’ve been to enough of them to know that this one is really impressive. There are different and very appropriate sections for different age groups including an impressively large and well-designed toddlers area complete with almost too-cute tiny slides and adorable activities. And they’re all laid out very thoughtfully so, no matter what their age, your kids can run around seemingly free from even the most helicoptery of parents.
That’s the beauty of it. There are still plenty of strategically-placed helicopter-parent-landing-zones.
There’s a lazy river that was appropriately lazy, a big wave pool that produced very manageable waves, and 2 warm-water swim-up bars in opposite corners for the parents to escape to when the time was right. Then again, when is “the right time” to basically get drunk in a hot tub while your kids are off on their own jumping around in a wave pool?
There are plenty of tables and chairs, but it’s a first come, first serve situation, so… try to be first. The nice thing is that once you set your stuff down, you’re there for the day without complaint or challenge from anybody. I did se one or two arguments, but they were few and far between and it was normally very easy to see who the a-hole was. My experience was also that there’s little if any need to worry about your “stuff” when you’re not sitting on top of it. Though if you must bring your phone, why not get one of those waterproof cases that hang around your neck? I saw a lot of people with those and I sort of wished I had one. You don’t need your credit cards or room key since both are very cleverly linked to your wristband, which is WAY better than losing your key “somewhere near the hot tub,” and leaving your wallet next to the condiment bar because filling seven little plastic ramekins with ketchup is so damn distracting.
FANCY CABANA ALERT!
Like I said, finding a table or at least a couple of chairs wasn’t a challenge for us, but for the slightly excessive among you, there are a number of private cabanas spread around the park. The smallest accommodate 8 people and have a couple of couches and chairs, a mini-fridge, and a flat screen TV, if ignoring your family on vacation is your bag. The price is $399 for the weekend, which is doable, I suppose, particularly if you’re splitting it with another family or two, though I’m not sure if you have to leave it at a certain hour on Sunday, assuming a Saturday/Sunday trip. I can’t do ALL your research! They even have high-end cabanas with private hot tubs for $1299, but if you can swing that, you probably don’t bother researching anything other than perhaps your portfolio.
The first thing to know before you go is that your kid has to be 48” tall to ride on the bigger slides. The rides all had little “You Must Be This Tall to Ride” signs, but unlike most amusement parks, nobody was policing them with that surprising level of self-importance and authority that seem to go with that job. So, if you have a brave 47½” kid, don’t sweat it.
Most if not all of the larger water slides were against the walls and seemingly all of them actually went outside through fully covered tubes for what seemed like at least half the ride. That took up less space inside and made the slides surprisingly long and fun. I’ll spare you the details of each slide since “discovering” them is half the fun. I went on most, but not all, and wasn’t disappointed by any of them. My only warning is that if you go on one of the “family slides,” where you can get four people in one big-ass raft, make sure you’re not the schmuck who ends up facing backward. It will ruin your stomach for the next few hours, at least. Take it from me – the schmuck who ended up facing backward. The cure? A handful of Dramamine and at least three uninterrupted laps around the lazy river.
There are a number of outside attractions as well that were all shut down, of course, because it was 29-degrees out. I don’t even like skiing when it’s 29-degrees out. But I imagine that access to these activities would make it even easier to fill your days without constant exposure to what I assume are mind-boggling levels of chlorine and unmentionable levels of urine.
The biggest shock was how manageable the lines were. Maybe we were there on an off day, but we definitely didn’t end up wasting huge chunks of time standing around dripping on to stairs as we plodded up them one step every ten minutes. Quite a relief, indeed. Probably the longest wait was for something called the “Flowrider” but it was worth it. That’s the ride that looks like a wave and you can boogie board on it or even “surf” on what looks more like a wakeboard. The upside to the relatively long wait is that the Flowrider is not only fun to do, it’s fun to watch while you’re waiting to do it. Beware, however, because when you fall off (and you will) the wave shoots you to the back of the ride with startling force. I saw a few kids who thought that was the fun part, but my 9-year-old wanted off the ride the first time it happened to him because it freaked him out. Different strokes. As for me, the force just sort of twisted my neck up a little, but these days that happens to me when I reach for a sandwich.
Speaking of which…
I’d heard about the food being very expensive and mediocre, but it wasn’t over the top or terrible, at least compared to a county fair or a ski resort or the always questionable hamburger stand next to your local batting cages. We had chicken tenders and a chicken caesar wrap, both with fries, both totally passable, and both for 9 bucks. I’m pretty sure burgers and hot dogs were about the same. Reasonable enough. I assume a soda was some stupid price like $4 or something, but why are you drinking soda? That shit is poison. Just bring water.
SIDENOTE: Even the person taking our order said “don’t try the onion rings.” So… maybe don’t try the onion rings.
After going back to the room for a shower and some regular, non-soaked clothes, we had dinner inside the resort. I recommend that. You can always go back to the waterpark afterwards if you’re that ambitious/crazy. There are a few mid-level options, but we chose the “B-Lux Grill & Bar,” without ever getting an explanation as to why they decided to reverse the standard “Bar & Grill” moniker. Again, it was a bit pricey but nothing unexpected or outrageous, and the pulled pork sandwich was actually very good. There are also a few more “upscale” dining options, but if you’re going to Kalahari for the dining experience, perhaps your bigger issue is whether or not you should move out of whatever neighborhood you live in. The best thing is that the park doesn’t seem to mind if you bring your own food and drinks, though I’m sure they’d frown on mixing your own margaritas at your table. But were you really going to do that? My advice: pack a lot of food. I believe every room has at least the aforementioned mini fridge.
- TAKE NOTE: If you actually put anything in the mini-fridge, first pull it away from the wall and turn the temperature down. There’s a little knob on the back. Ours was set on the max, and within a couple of hours the stuff we had in there was already starting to freeze.
Oh, the arcade! The Mother F-ing arcade! Is there a more miserable place for parents than “the arcade”? This parent says no, with the possible exception of a three-hour-long school production of The Wizard of Oz in which your kid landed the roll of “Tree #4”.
The thing is, this arcade was particularly awful. The games are even louder and pricier than usual and once you get in there it’s harder to get out of than an Ikea on a Saturday. And even though you get an inordinate amount of “winning tickets” for even the lowest possible Skeeball score, those tickets are basically worthless since the actual prizes (supplied, I assume, by the Acme Shitty Prize Company Outlet Store) all look like they would disintegrate in your hand within a minute of having criminally overpaid for them. There was, however, a little bouncy ball my daughter picked out that actually provided some fun, particularly considering we got to toss it around down the impossibly long hallways of the hotel. Bottom line, not even Skeeball is worth this headache. But if you have kids, good luck staying out of there, particularly since you have to walk through it to enter and exit the waterpark! Classic! There’s literally no other entrance or exit, though crashing through a window did occur to me at one point. Like the park itself, I admit this little trap was also “well designed,” but with the subcategories of “sadistic” and “unforgivable.”
I mean, they have one, but… come on.
Checking out was the same as pretty much any hotel: Just leave a fiver on the pillow, forget that your phone charger is still in the wall, and walk away. You don’t even need to sign anything. Just let them shock you with the news when you get your next statement. But here’s a not-so-little tip: get downstairs early to get a luggage cart. If you trust me on nothing else, trust me on this. Come 10am and on, finding one is like looking for a needle in a haystack with the sun in your eyes and 20 other people willing to die to get their hands on that needle.
Once you get your stuff downstairs you can leave it with “luggage storage” and head into the waterpark for the rest of your stay – through the MF-ing arcade, of course. AHHHHHHHHHH!! There are changing rooms with showers, so you don’t smell like chlorine and you-know-what for the ride home. That’s a plus. And in the end, it’s surprisingly easy to pull your car right up to the front and load it up. And the best thing is, you don’t have to go through the arcade to do it.