We did it: our first vacation as a family of four and we survived. And actually we did more than survive–we had fun!
With my final days of maternity leave ticking away, we wanted to try something new and get away. So Mr. Bunches did some research and we ended up at the Camelback Resort and Lodge in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania. It’s a brand new hotel at the base of a ski mountain with a huge attached indoor water park and also a separate outdoor water park.
The drive was 4.5 hours from home, which ended up taking us about 6 hours since we took a long pit-stop at a mall in Scranton (needed some lunch and leg-stretching). Both kiddos did great on the ride though, for which we were super thankful (we should probably just write a thank you letter to Apple for inventing the iPad).
Once we finally arrived, we were excited to check-in and get to our room. Since we arrived right at check-in time (4 PM), we figured we would be golden–no waiting. Yeah, so we were wrong. Mr. Bunches had to wait in line for 45 minutes before we even could give our name and start the check-in process. And then we found out our room still wasn’t ready! We had to wait another 45 minutes before it was. So in that respect, Camelback has some work to do. The lobby was overrun with families waiting for their rooms to be ready and we watched that same scenario play out every day we were there. The good news is that, upon check-in, even if the room isn’t ready, you’re given your wristband for Aquatopia, the “largest indoor water park on the east coast.”
Which was good since once Mini B saw this from the lobby, she wanted in!
So we got Mr. Bunches and Mini B suited up while Baby B and I stayed dry. Of course, by the time all that happened, our rooms were ready. Go figure.
And since all kids love hotel rooms, we actually headed there first. Got ourselves a “King Bunk Suite” (there are something like 20+ different room types at this place), and the layout of this room was awesome. A semi-private small room with two bunk beds and a TV for the kids and then a large bedroom with a king bed and Queen pullout sofa bed. There was no door on the bunk room but the layout still worked well.
Mini B loved it and got her first taste of a big girl bed!
And of course Baby B pretty much loves anything, so he was happy too.
The resort was brand new, so everything was exceptionally clean and still in good working order (although I’m not sure how long it will stay that way given all the action this place was getting–kids galore plus water plus skiing in the winter–yikes!).
Only lodge guests were permitted at Aquatopia, but there was also an outdoor water park (Camelbeach) less than a mile away (with free shuttle service). Each resort guest was given a voucher for one day at the outdoor water park (which costs $39.99/adult and $29.99/kid so if you pack your hotel room with 8 people, then the cost of the room doesn’t seem so high once you factor in the cost of one day at the outdoor park).
We mainly stuck to the indoor water park and only spent one overcast morning at the outdoor one (skin cancer on both sides of our family makes for difficult relations between the sun and me).
Aquatopia had a lot to offer–a super shallow area for babies and toddlers (depths of 6 inches to 1 foot), a mixed shallow area for both little kids and older ones (max depth was about 3 feet with most of it being around one foot), a wave pool, lazy river, a bunch of monster water slides, an indoor/outdoor hot tub, a swim-up bar for adults, and a surfing simulator. Mini B loved the wave pool and the baby area, but Mr. B and I definitely liked the water slides and lazy river best.
The outdoor park was definitely more chaotic and a lot more spread out (it’s at the base of the Camelback Ski site), but there was also a lazy river and a fun toddler area where Mini B actually braved a tube slide (until she was all done when she flipped over on her 15th ride).
The lodge/resort was a bit lacking in walking-around space. Anyone who knows Mr. B knows that he loves his walkabouts, but there really wasn’t much room here. Even the lobby seemed cramped and a little ‘womp-womp,’ especially given that it was brand new.
And there really wasn’t any outdoor space to speak of. We had visions of kicking around the soccer ball in an open area and/or walking on some trails in the mountains, but there was really no space. The front of the resort is a parking lot and the back has a steep drop-off. So we had to settle for walking around the parking lot . . .
and just looking at the ski slopes. And yes, she’s in her pajamas. Because it was a vacation and that’s what you do on vacation.
So that was a bit of a disappointment. But we couldn’t complain too much–Mini Bunches loved the indoor water park. So while she played, Mr. B and I alternated playing with her. And when Baby B napped and it was Mr. B’s turn to get wet with Mini B, then I got to do a little R&R:
These pictures make it look like we had the place to ourselves, but trust me–we didn’t! It was crowded. And living in Buffalo for four years has made us forget what crowded looks like. We weren’t thrilled with the reminder. 😉
As with all kid-focused resorts, there was of course a gift shop with lots of overpriced stuff. Mini B fell in love with this little guy so by the end of the trip we rewarded her good behavior and let her bring him home. She named him “Puppy Dog”. She’s nothing if not literal.
Restaurants were also disappointing. I guess when the aim is to please the masses, then it makes sense to offer just the basics (lots of chicken fingers, fries, and pizza), but again we had some hopes for at least a few more grown-up offerings. Hemispheres, the buffet restaurant, wasn’t bad–at $22.99/adult and kids 3 and under free, we were able to piece together a decent meal that didn’t consist of only fried options. And Mini B loved it, especially once she saw the desserts!
I’m a true believer in at least sampling all things chocolate . . .
Once we tapped out of soaking our ankles all day (Mini B’s favorite area was only 6 inches deep), her next request would be to play games in the arcade. The loudest arcade ever, that is. But we enjoyed it too and tried our best to win as many tickets for her as we could. Although we had to repeatedly explain to her that the “claw” games were dishonest and not worth trying. Oy.
Of course, we never actually won that many tickets, so our prize choices were always limited to the lowest possible ticket levels (that’s what happens when you let a 3-year-old try skeeball and half the balls end up thrown into the tank of the neighboring duck game; shockingly that type of skill is not rewarded with copious amounts of tickets).
All in all it was a great trip, albeit not exactly what we had envisioned. Would we go there again? Sure, but I think only if we could convince some family or friends to go with us. The convenience factor of having our hotel room steps away from a kid-tastic attraction is something we think would be ideal for a group vacation with others: kids get to have fun and parents get to minimize logistics. And while the dining options were subpar, there was a grocery store only a 5-minute drive away and each room had a mini-fridge and microwave. And the true test was this: Mini B didn’t want to leave. She pretty much thought it was the best place on earth–to her, it was basically like being at Disney. And so for us it was a win too.
Plus, she liked picking out snacks for the car ride. Seriously kiddo?!