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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Dutch Springs - Bethlehem, PA

The obstacle course and slides
Dutch Springs may be best known for its scuba diving adventures, but the Aqua Park at Dutch Springs is also a popular place to play during the hot summer months.  We headed to Dutch Springs for the first time on a really hot Saturday in July.

We decided to take advantage of their reduced rates after 4 PM on Saturdays and arrived around 5 PM.  The drive there took us through what seemed to be an office park and just as we were about to doubt that we were going the right way, the entrance to Dutch Springs appeared.

We signed our waivers and paid at the ticket office, though both can be accomplished online.  After getting back in the car we gave our tickets at the gate and pulled into a parking space close to the bath house and snack bar.  We quickly changed, put on plenty of sun screen and headed for the water.  The lake at Dutch Springs is from a man made quarry, and it can be very cold water.  I was looking forward to it on this 95 degree day.

After placing our towels on the grass, we headed to get life jackets which everyone is required to wear.  They supply the life jackets and have staff that will help make sure they are the correct fit.  We ventured into the lake, and it was very refreshing!  We first stopped at one of the trampolines, then the climbing walls, and then the obstacle course.

Rock wall with "Fat Boy" in the background
The wibit inflatables can be very slippery, and I quickly realized that I should have brought water shoes.  It was very very physically challenging, though an extremely fun and unique experience.  Finally, my husband decided to do the "fat boy" where you leap off a platform onto an inflatable, which makes the person laying on the end of it fly into the air.

After a total of about two hours, we were tired and ready to head to the snack bar.  After eating and getting refreshed, we headed home for the day.  After experiencing the Aqua Park, I'd recommend it for older children, and those that are adventurous.  Lots of upper body strength helps too!

Things to Remember:
1.  Water shoes would be extremely helpful on the slippery inflatables.
2.  You can take your own picnic lunch, but there's also a fully stocked snack bar.
3.  There isn't much shade in the grassy lake-side area, but I saw many people with tents.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Beat the Heat with Water Fun! - Map to Waterparks, Splash Pads, and Water Falls

It's hot, and I refuse to be stuck indoors like it's winter.  So, the outdoor activities have to involve water, and more water.  I spent hours combing the web for water-full places.

Here's what I found:

Disclaimer:  I haven't been to all of these water fun places...yet!  So verify their existence and operating hours by doing some of your own Internet research.  I hope I covered the hard part for you, by finding these places.  Note that some of them are indoors (yay! no sunscreen needed!) and always check operating hours before venturing out.

Please feel free to let me know if any places I may have missed by commenting on this post.  I hope there are more!

Friday, July 15, 2016

My Top Ten Tips for Hersheypark

Enjoy a less crowded Boardwalk by going in the morning
I've written a blog post about Candylane, Hersheypark's winter season, but after many, many trips to the park since then, I thought I'd focus a post on some of the tips and tricks I've acquired over the past few years.  Don't worry, I'm going to try my best to stay away from the worn out tips like "start at the back of the park" and "get there early".  Wait, I lied.  I'm going to start out with "get there early".  It's the most important one.  Here goes:

1.  Get there early.  This goes for all amusement parks and a lot of other popular places that get crowded.  I read somewhere that on a busy day, for every minute that you get there after opening, you'll spend an additional five minutes in line during your day.  Using that theory, arriving 30 minutes after opening would equal an extra two and a half hours in line.  Whether you believe that or not, get there early, before the gates open.

2.  There's a secret short cut.  Well, kinda.  I guess it's not really secret, but it seems very
The Shortcut to the Hollow
infrequently used, and I love it.  As you enter the park after the gate, to your right is a stroller rental stand.  Turn right there.  It's a beautiful path that leads around Spring Creek, a fountain, and it has awesome views of Skyrush.  The Skyrush train goes right over your head.  After a short (and flat!) walk, you'll come out between the lockers and the Skyrush queue.  You've just made it to the Hollow by skipping the Founder's Way crowd and avoiding the hill by the Comet.  This path is essential at opening, as you quickly leave the masses of people and end up further into the park, faster.

3.  Beat the rush.  While sometimes the main gates may open a few minutes before the official opening time, security will stop you further into the park where you'll wait until it is official opening time.  A crowd usually gathers at the gate headed into Music Box Way.  Instead, go into the Hollow and wait with a smaller group to cross the first bridge.  Once the park opens, cross the bridge, hang a left and go through Pioneer Frontier.  You'll eventually meet up with the large crowd from Music Box Way as they race to the Boardwalk / Laff Trak / Fahrenheit, but you'll have walked a good portion of the way in an empty part of the park.

4.  Avoid the lines.  Some rides very rarely have wait times, so ride them only when the park is busy.  First and foremost, Lightning Racer.  A great roller coaster, but high capacity and at the back of the park.  Ride this coaster when the queues for the other ones are long.  Other rides that don't have a line unless the park is crazy busy: Coal Cracker (log flume), Kissing Tower, pretty much any kiddie ride, RXCC, Flying Falcon, and monorail.  These rides seem to always have a line: Fahrenheit, LaffTrak, Comet, The Claw, and Great Bear.  The ride that has the slowest moving line: antique cars (in my opinion).

5.  Save time by using their app.  Not only are the ride wait times listed and updated frequently, but you can also set alerts on your phone for when wait times go under a certain threshold.  The app also has a list of rides sorted by height category, park and Chocolate World hours, and a list of any closed rides.

6.  Water is free.  On hot days, water is your best bet to stay hydrated.  Take your souvenir cup, cause it's the easiest to carry because of the handle.  I often attach it to a stroller or back pack strap, so I don't have to carry it at all.  Pretty much any stand with access to ice and water will fill it for you, free.

7.  Use a meal ticket to get a souvenir cup.  If it's your first trip to the park for the season, and you plan to visit at least a few more times, get the souvenir cup by purchasing a meal ticket.  Since souvenir cups alone cost around $10, for only about $5 more you'll get an entree and a side at many restaurants in the park, including Chickie's & Pete's and Moe's...yum!

8.  Rain policy.  I'm not going to pretend to know what Hersheypark's rain policy is.  Though, if it rains for more than an hour while you're there and rides close, check when you leave at guest services to see if you are eligible for a return voucher.  This, of course, doesn't work for those with season passes.

9.  Go to the Boardwalk first.  If you're planning to go to the Boardwalk (water park), and it's a hot day, go there first.  Most people will get on rides as they make their way to the water park.  This leaves the lines for the water slides short at the beginning of the day.  Tip inside a tip: There are large lockers to store your stuff at the Boardwalk, but there are also smaller, less expensive lockers to just hold your phone and car key.  I've had success with a water proof pouch for my car key and iPhone, and storing my other items in a free cubby.

10.  Stay cool.  We enjoy cooling off during a hot day at the park in the arcade or Overlook Foodcourt in Kissing Tower Hill.  For parents with infants, there is an air conditioned nursing / changing room in Pioneer Frontier.  Use it to relax and nurse, especially if it's a hot day.

11.  Bonus tip: Best Days to Go.  As far as I know, crowd prediction calendars, like there are for Disney, do not exist for Hersheypark.  So, with no official data to support this, here are your best bets for lower crowds: choose cloudy days over sunny days, watch the Hershey stadium and Giant Center concert schedule which can increase crowds, Sundays are better than Saturdays especially Sunday mornings, middle of the week is the best time in the week to go.  In Spring, the park can get crowded with school field trips, even in the middle of the week.  If you're not tied to a school schedule, the best bet is the last week or so in August, after schools start for the year.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Virginia Safari Park - Natural Bridge, VA

Drive-thru Safari and Animal Feeding
Virginia Safari Park is located in Natural Bridge, Virginia.  It is very close to interstate 81, and there are plenty of signs along the highway, leading to the Park.  When arriving, admission is charged as you pull in.  You can also purchase buckets of animal feed and sticks to feed the budgies at this entrance.  We had a long ride to get there, so while we were waiting in line to pay, I took the kids into the gift shop to use the restroom.  We hopped back in the car just in time to start the Safari.

Budgies eating in the Aviary
There is an option to feed from a wagon, but we chose to go through the Safari in our own car.  This can be very messy, but full of laughs and fun!  The animals are very smart, some will stand in front of your car to get you to stop, while others will approach the windows from the side looking for food.  We arrived fairly close to opening, and the animals were very interactive and hungry.  The 4-year-old and 8-year-old kids we had along for the trip were having fun and laughing the whole time.  The animals will eat right out of the food buckets, but be careful because they can take the bucket right out of your hand.
During the Safari, we saw and fed many animals, including ostriches, llamas, deer, elk, pot-bellied pigs, and many more.  The drive-thru portion took about an hour.

Then, we parked our car and walked through the Village.  This portion had a kangaroo pen where you could feed and pet the kangaroos, a place to feed giraffes (they ate special food) and goats, a penguin pen, and the aviary.  If you like birds, the aviary is full of colorful parakeets that land right on your arms, shoulders, hands, and anywhere they can!  They loved the feed that we brought in, and it was a very unique and fun experience.

Things to Remember:
1.  Ask for extra buckets at the cashier.  Then, use the extra buckets to put a smaller amount of feed in to offer to the animals.  They will most likely eat all that is offered and you'll run out of food quickly if you offer full buckets.
2.  Your car will need to be vacuumed after the Safari, as the animals are not neat eaters!
3.  Arrive close to opening, so the animals are hungry and active.

Friday, July 1, 2016

ClimbZone - Laurel, MD

One of the many climbing walls at ClimbZone
ClimbZone is one of the few places in the country that use the Clip 'N Climb system for recreational wall climbing.  It is a new attraction developed in New Zealand and beginning to be seen more in the United States.  Kids as young as two years old, and even adults, can participate in climbing, as long as they are within the minimum and maximum weight.  The climbers wear a harness and are clipped onto a pulley system on the wall.  When they want to come down, they kick off the wall and are slowly lowered down to the floor.

We traveled to ClimbZone on a Sunday morning to check out their wide variety of unique climbing walls.  ClimbZone is located in a new industrial park in Laural, Maryland (a half hour southwest of Baltimore) and was very easy to find.  There is also plenty of parking in front of the building. We arrived a few minutes after the facility opened that day and had the place practically to ourselves for about a half hour.  After that, the facility quickly began to fill with both kids and adults.  There was a wide-range of people of different ages trying out the numerous walls.

Climbing "Mount Rushmore"
When you first arrive, there is a practice wall where an employee will show you how to properly clip your children onto the wall, and they will put on the harness for you.  The system is quite easy, and since we've done Clip 'N Climb before, our tutorial was quick.

Some walls are easier to climb than others, and my four-year-old struggled with these walls more than she does with some of the easier ones at Spooky Nook Sports.  She was very excited about these walls though, because they are colorful and very creative.  These are just a few of the themes of the walls:  Mount Rushmore, United States, Tetris, soccer, haunted house, tornado, skatepark, etc. In addition to the walls, there are also two inflatables, and an area for children 3 years and younger to crawl around and play.

Things to Remember:
1.  Wear comfortable clothes and shoes for climbing.
2.  Waivers need to be filled out and that can be done online before you arrive to save time.
3.  Reservations are accepted and may be needed during the weekend or other busy times.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark - Poconos, PA

Major water slides - water coaster and Venus slydetrap
Aquatopia indoor water park and the attached Camelback Lodge was completed in 2015 and offers a wide variety of fun activities.  The main attraction, Aquatopia, is an enormous indoor water park that boasts seven pools and 13 slides, including the longest water coaster in the U.S.  We choose to go to Aquatopia, out of the several indoor water parks in the Poconos, because it seemed to have the most large slides that a 42" child could ride.  Many other water parks' slides required the riders to be at least 48", and my 4-year-old had just hit 42" barefoot.

Entrance to the water park is automatically granted when you stay at Camelback Lodge, and an overnight stay of at least one night is actually a requirement for entrance.  When staying one night, you may enter the water park at 12:30PM on the day of check-in, and you have access to the water park for the entire operating hours the next day.  When arriving, each guest receives a wristband that must be worn for the entire stay.  It unlocks the hotel room, gives access to the water park, and can be used to charge items and food to your room.  It's actually quite convenient to not have to carry a room key, cash, or credit cards with you while in the water park.
Entrance to the lodge

If your room isn't ready when you arrive, you may use the changing areas immediately to your right as you enter the park.  We planned ahead and backed a pool bag separate from our overnight luggage, so that we could just grab that bag to take to the water park when we arrived.  Also, upon entering the water park, don't forget to grab a stack of towels that are available on your left.  It's also great to not have to deal with wet and dirty towels in your luggage, since they are provided by the hotel.

The massive wave pool was the first stop for the 4-year-old and 8-year-old.  Life jackets are required and provided for those under 48".  There are also a few dozen tubes to float in, and an alarms goes off before the waves begin.  We chose to sit by the wave pool, since most of our time was spent there.  The major slides are located one floor up, and the lazy river winds through the section below the slides.

There is a wide variety of slides, which kept the adults and kids busy.  Some of the more conventional tube slides didn't have any lines.  The water coaster probably had the longest line, and though the Venus Slydetrap line looked to be the longest line, it actually moved quickly because several people could fit in the large rafts.  The mat slides had some cool light features in them.  Every slide we went on was really, really fast.

An overview of the park
Other favorite areas of the water park were the basketball hoops and the obstacle course.  This area is also near the three story water structure, which has several smaller slides on it.  The top slide has a 48" height requirement, and actually ends with sliding around a "bowl".  Then you get up and walk to the stairs that take you back up onto the platform.  This was a unique ending that I had never seen on a water slide.

After a long day at the water park, there are several other activities at the lodge for children.  Climbing walls, pottery painting, an arcade, and mini golf are just a few additional things, and each day they have different crafts to do at particular times.  Since we were only there for two days, we didn't get a chance to try everything.

Things to Remember:

1.  Take your child's barefoot height into consideration.  Even if they are 42" in a regular amusement park with shoes, they may not hit that height barefoot.
2.  The water coast requires a double tube, even if you're going on it alone.  There is a sign that says this, but it is easy to miss.
3.  If it's a really sunny day during the summer, bring sunscreen!  You wouldn't think about it because you're indoors, but the ceiling is all glass.  There are signs posted around the park reminding guests that it is possible to sunbath and get sun exposure while indoors.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Clip 'n Climb at Spooky Nook Sports - Manheim, PA

We visited Spooky Nook Sports in Manheim, PA on a Monday in the early afternoon.  It was the week after Christmas, so they had special holiday extended hours for Clip 'n Climb while the kids were out of school.  I called ahead to make sure that my 4 year old met the weight and age restrictions for climbing.  Luckily she did, because I had already shown her photos of the climbing walls, and she was very excited.  I also checked to make sure they didn't have a full session at the time we were going.  It sounded like it was a popular activity for groups to do, so it can fill up at certain hours.  We used the specific GPS address at the bottom of their web page to navigate to this part of central Pennsylvania that we've never been to before.  The parking lot for Spooky Nook is humongous, just like the size of the building.  We found a fairly close spot and entered the building.
Clip 'n Climb is immediately to your right when using the main entrance of Spooky Nook.  Everyone climbing during that time checked in at the top of the hour.  They then did a quick tutorial of how to clip your children and other safety instructions.  It takes a few times clipping on to fully get how to twist and unlatch the clip, but it became easy quickly.  Everyone spread out to find a wall that they wanted to climb, and even though our hour session was busy, we hardly ever waited for a wall.
Some walls were definitely harder than others, and my four year old quickly found ones that she was particularly good at and could make it close to the top.  Several walls have different ways in which they can be climbed to make them easier or more difficult depending on your climbing skills.  In addition to walls, there is one climb that is several tubes, arranged like steps, that can be walked up.  On this climb, a staff member must help you.  My four year old tried to do the tube steps, but they were just too far apart for her to step from one to the other.  I saw several older children accomplish this climb fairly easily.
Leap of Faith
There is also what they call the "leap of faith".  On this equipment, you climb up a pole and then stand on a small platform.  There is a punching bag that you jump out and grab on to.  They can move the bag closer if your child can not make the full leap.  This one also requires special help from the staff, and it has a special cost associated with it in addition to paying by the half hour or hour for the wall climbing.

My four year old climbed for a half hour and that seemed to be plenty before her arms got tired.  Older children in our group stayed for the full hour.  We took a break and crossed the hall to the food court.  We purchased some nachos and drinks at the snack bar and settled in to a large seating area where we could still watch the climbing.  After that, we explored the rest of the building a bit.  We stopped at the arcade and also watched a few sports games on the large indoor courts.

Things to Remember:
1.  Call ahead to make reservations for your climbing time.  Also, ask about age and weight restrictions, if you have concerns.
2.  Have your child wear really comfortable clothes and shoes.
3.  Make sure they visit the restroom before their climbing time.  Since it's limited amount of time, you don't want to waste it in the restroom.