Comparing Indoor Water Parks (near NYC)

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Indoor Water Parks near NYC
For the past decade (since 2006) our family has spent our summer vacations at indoor water parks near NYC.  Every year I look for a comparison guide.  Every year I don't find the kind of information that I'm seeking.  This year I've decided to post a comparison that includes the details that I care about.  I hope that this information is helpful for you too. 

Our Family

Our Family
We are a family 5 (6 when we travel).  We represent a WIDE variety of age ranges and interests.  The youngest of us us 10 years old.  The oldest is a senior citizen.

Mom (Me) - loves shopping, outdoor adventures like zip lining, crafts and swimming.  Prefers a full service resort.
Dad - Loves video games and and activities he can do with the kids.  Picky eater.
Oldest son (teenager) - loves video games and big arcades.  He's open to outdoor activities and is willing to try just about anything.  He needs a resort with lots of other teenagers or a teen club.   
Middle Son (tween) - loves arcade games and water parks.  He'll participate in some resort organized activities but prefers to explore with his brothers.  He likes meeting other kids but prefers the company of his siblings.
Youngest Son (grade school) - Loves ALL sports, water parks and arcades.  He's happy with resort organized activities or exploring with his brothers.  Enjoys being outside and meeting new kids.  VERY picky eater.
Additional Travels - We usually travel with a 6th person.  When the boys were younger is was my sister, my mom or a babysitter.  These days its a school friend of my teenage son.  We choose our additional traveler based on our destination.




Camelback Resort
Our Hotel Needs

Activities - We always need a resort with a LOT of different kinds of activities.  If the water park is the main/only activity, then the hotel is not for us.  We also need an arcade with lots of activities/games for the kids.  By boys are champs when it comes to winning tickets in games of skill. We prefer hotels with both adult and kid centered fare.  Cooking classes, pottery painting, spa or other activities on site are preferred.

Food - We need to be able to cook in the room and also have good restaurant options on site.  We have a couple of picky eaters so having alternate food options that I can cook is best.

Room/Bathroom - We need a suite that will house all of us in one space (no adjoining rooms).  There needs to be at least 1 bedroom.  Two bedrooms are preferred.  Two bathrooms are a must!  I am a total room snob so certain things are essential for me to enjoy the stay.  My room (the master bedroom in the suite) must be a real bedroom with a door.  It must also have a proper dresser, room to walk on all sides of the bed, a bathroom separate from the kids, a television and natural light (a window).  My husband would be happy with a cot in the corner.  I am the room snob, he's a picky about food.  I understand that some people are not as high needs as I am and that's fine.  This comparison will reflect our families preferences. 

Location - We live in the NY tri-state area (North Jersey).  I commute into the city each day via public transportation. I know how to drive and I'm happy to drive but I don't enjoy long car trips.  Any hotel we chose will need to be within a 3 hour drive of NYC.  We also need shops, restaurants a grocery store and other activities near by.

Length of stay -  When we visit a resort we typically stay about 4 days (3 nights).



Comparing The Big 3 Resorts
At last count there were approximately 15 water park/family resorts within a few hours of NYC.  Some are small to mid size hotels with a water park attached (like Coco Keys).  There are full service family resorts without water parks (like Woodloch).  Then there are full service hotels with large indoor water parks (like Great Wolf Lodge).  I will compare the big 3 full service water park hotels + 1 more.

Great Wolf Lodge

The first indoor water park we ever visited was Great Wolf Lodge.  It was love at first splash!  I was 8 months pregnant with my youngest son and we loved everything about the experience.  We visited the resort every year for the next 5-6 years.
Activities - Great Wolf has plenty of activities for younger kids.  My children were perfectly satisfied with this resort until the oldest reached about age 9.  After that he was flat out bored!
Food - The food was fine.  Not gourmet, but adequate and kid friendly.  It was the kind of food you'd get at Applebee's.
Room - The rooms were spacious and kid friendly.  When our boys were small we got the suite with bunk beds.  As they got older we upgraded to the Majestic Bear Suite.  The bigger room was MUCH nicer and had lots more space.  The larger suite is also ideal for cooking in the room.  The larger room only had 1 bathroom but the large living/cooking area made for a much more comfortable experience.
Best Features:  Great Wolf had the best master bedroom of all the resorts.  The Majestic Bear Suite offers a large food service area so you can order food in and eat comfortably or hang out and play games.
Worst Features: The resort offers so many coupons and deals that the crowd has gotten to be pretty down market.  The property has begun to show its age.  During our last visit the room showed a LOT of wear and tear.
Pro Tips:  Stop at the Weiss market down the hill and stock up on snacks for the room.  Do an Internet search for coupons/deals to get the best prices.  Visit during midweek or other off peak times to avoid crowds.  Ask the front desk for menu's.  Lots of local restaurant deliver to the resort.
 


Camelback Resort


CAMELBACK/AQUATOPIA

After we gave up on Great Wolf, we found Camelback Resort.  There's no question that Camelback is my favorite of the resorts we've visited.  There was a wide variety of activities for the entire family and the arcade was amazing.  Everyone in the family was busy all day and we slept very well.
Activities - The amount and variety of activities are what makes this property a winner for me.  I never set foot in the water park and still had a wonderful time.  My husband and children rode all of indoor water park rides and spend hours in the arcade.  I visited the pottery painting shop twice and screamed by way down the zip flyer.  This resort has 2 water parks (1 indoors, 1 outdoors).  There is traditional zip lining (from tree to tree) and the zip flyer (4000' feet down hill).  You can take a shuttle bus to the outdoor adventure center and explore various activities there.  My teenager (who hates everything) loved the amount and variety of offerings.
Food - Breakfast was GREAT and a good value. We typically had lunch in the room (I bought hot dogs, and other lunch type food from Weiss Market down the hill).  Dinner was just so-so.  After eating at the main restaurant, we ate the rest of our meals at local restaurants or had food delivered.
Room - The room was nice and spacious even though there were no dressers for our clothes.  Our suite had 2 bathrooms (YAY) but there was very little storage in the bathroom.  Shampoo bottles and other necessities ended up sitting on the floor.  When the kids were not playing and exploring the resort there was plenty of space for them to lounge and be comfortable in the room.
Best Feature:  The activities and breakfast.  Concierge was very helpful.
Worst Feature:    Housekeeping was pretty lax.  Nice, but not thorough.  We came back to the room one day to find a shoe sitting in the middle of the floor after they'd cleaned.
Pro Tips:  Visit the Weiss market down the hill for snack and alcohol for the room.  Visit the concierge to discover what activities are right for you and your family.




Kalahari

KALAHARI

Last year Kalahari opened a Virtual Reality Arena and my teenage son HAD to try it out.  He brought a friend along with us on vacation and they loved it!  Our room was very nice and had LOTs of space.  The arcade was "super cool" according to my younger sons and husband.  I particularly enjoyed the restaurants at this property.
Activities - Kalahari has Gorilla Grove for zip line and other outdoor activities.  The weather was not great during our stay so I can't comment on them.  The area seemed nice (if small).    My arcade was HUGE and there were lots of places to eat on property.
Food - The restaurants at Kalahari were very expensive but the food was top notch.  We could not get enough of the calamari from the Italian restaurant.
Room - I have VERY mixed feelings about the rooms.  I prefer a family suite that feels like an apartment instead of like adjoining hotel rooms.  We also need open space for the kids to run around and play.  We ended up booking the hospitality suite.  It was a great deal and had lots and lots of space.  The suite featured 2 bathrooms which was very nice and we had massive floor to ceiling windows in the living room.  There was a large meal prep area as well as 2 refrigerators, a microwave, formal dining room area and wrap around balcony.  This was the nicest room we've stayed in by far.  BUT - the master bedroom had no windows or natural light.  This might not be an issue for some people but it was a big deal for me.  With the master bedroom door closed it felt like sleeping in a tomb.  Another strange feature of the room was the state of disrepair.  There were several broken fixtures in the room (bedside lamps didn't turn on, window shades didn't go up, there were broken drawers in the kitchen).  Considering the age of the property there was a surprising amount of disrepair.  When the ceiling fixture in the master bedroom stopped working we called the front desk.  Two VERY NICE engineers showed up and eventually got it fixed.  Their customer service was second to none.  They were so good in fact that I wrote down their names so that I could reference them personally in my Trip Advisor review.  Jason and Mike from maintenance were awesome.  So was Terry from housekeeping!
Best Feature:  Our Room/the hospitality suite (aside from the master bedroom).  The food.  The staff! The artwork around the resort was AMAZING!  This property is filled with African Art.
Worst Feature: State of disrepair of some features in the room. Wristband wallet requires a large deposit per person.
Pro Tip:  If you're a larger family, consider the hospitality suite.  It's a lot of additional space for the same price as a regular 2 bedroom suite.


Bathroom at Kalahari
Overall Comparison:
Best Activities - Camelback
Best Room - Kalahari
Best for Little Kids - Great Wolf
Best Food - Kalahari
Best Breakfast - Camelback
Best On site Shopping - Kalahari
   

Hope Lake Lodge
Price
Because prices vary greatly I have not put a lot of focus on the prices of these resorts.  They are not cheap.  All 3 resorts offer discounts (military, AAA, returning guests, etc).  Expect to pay $100/person/night for each member of your family for the room.  Food, of course, will be extra.  Water park passes are included with the room.  Other activities are extra.  Shop around the Internet for coupon codes or other deals.  After you book your room if you find a discount or coupon code, call the resort and they will give you a credit.   

Budget Conscious Option
I understand that vacations are a luxury that not everyone can afford.  There is 1 more resort that's full service and budget friendly.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I have not visited this property but friends of mine have gone and they say it's fine.

SplitRock Resort offers activities for the entire family all year long.  Some of the rooms even include a full kitchen.  Expect to pay approx $40/person/night before any discount.  Be sure to search the internet for discount codes before booking. 



One Other Resort to Consider


Hope Lake Lodge
If you're willing to travel a bit further, you should also consider Hope Lake Lodge.  This property is off the beaten trail for us.  It's about 4 hours from NYC, which is about twice as far as we're willing to travel.  Despite the distance, it's a really beautiful property!   The water park is small, making it ideal for younger children, and the  staff is very friendly.  The food is VERY good plus there is a full kitchen the room.

Ledge Rock Suite

We stayed in the Ledge Rock Suite which was like a small home or nice apartment.  The kitchen was fully stocked with dishes, full size refrigerator, pot, pans and a stove.  When our children are older and there is less of a need for an action packed vacation, I will definitely visit again.

Hope Lake Lodge


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