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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Germantown Indoor Swim Center - Germantown, MD

While doing a massive amount of Googling looking for indoor water parks, I came across a few unique community pools.  It feels like there is way too long of a time during the winter when we don't get to go down water slides and splash in a pool, so I am always looking for a great place to play in the water indoors.  We've been to a few indoor water parks, including Great Wolf Lodge in Texas and Sahara Sam's Oasis in New Jersey, but I was looking for some less expensive options.

I found a few community pools that I am hoping to check out this winter:
  • Cub Run RECenter in Fairfax County, VA
  • North Arundel Aquatics Center in Glen Burnie, MD
  • Rollingcrest-Chillum Splash Pool in Chillum, MD
  • Germantown Indoor Swim Center in Germantown, MD
Largest of 3 pools at Germantown Indoor Swim Center.
Notice the water slide entrance in the upper right.
I was particularly drawn to Germantown Indoor Swim Center because it had many water slides that I thought would cater to the ages of the kids we would be taking to the pool, a 3-year-old and 7-year-old.  Since it's almost a two hour trip for us, we decided to go on a weekday during Christmas break.  I was nervous about how crowded it would be, so I called ahead.  The woman I spoke with confirmed my fears, she said that the previous day's afternoon crowd was the biggest she's ever seen.  With this information, we decided to go to the early swim time that started at 11:30 AM on that particular day.  The pool facilities were following a special holiday schedule all that week.  

A portion of the splash pool.
The girls' favorite slide is in the upper left.
We arrived around noon, and while the pool was busy, it wasn't overwhelming.  We went downstairs to the locker rooms to change into our swim suits.  I would assume you could bring your own lock for the lockers, but I didn't see anyone using one.  When we went out to the pool, I was happy to feel that the water was warm, and so was the air.  The 7-year-old immediately went down the smallest slide, which is in the shape of a clam.  The 3-year-old eased her way in by playing in the small fountains in the kiddie pool area.  We tried to get her to go down the clam slide, but it had water shooting out at the top.  She is quite the dare devil, but doesn't like it when water shoots at her.  The 7-year-old tried out the tunnel slide, which is short, but fast.  The 3-year-old followed her, and when my husband caught her coming off the slide, he said she was going pretty fast.

Next, the 7-year-old and I raced down the double slide, and then I went to try the two big water slides while my husband stayed with the girls who wanted to splash around in one of the larger pools.  The height requirement was 48", and the 7-year-old just missed it.  I noticed they were checking heights at the top of the big slides.  For my first ride down the big slide, I sat up as I went down and it was pretty slow.  Next time, I laid down and got a nice, fast ride.  Finally, we went to the last slide we hadn't tried in the corner of the splash pool.  It has one turn in it, and the girls must have gone down this slide thirty times.  They loved it.  I was able to sit on the side of the pool and watch, while my husband caught the smaller child each time she came down.  This slide was just the right size for them!

When we decided to leave after almost two hours both kids were sad to go, but very tired!  I got the kids changed back into their clothes, and I let them stand under the hair dryers while I got dressed.  We went back upstairs, and I noticed that there was a nice viewing area with seating.  It was a perfect place to snap a few photos of the pools to remember our trip.

Things to remember:
1.  Get ready to catch your younger children at the end of the slides.  They come fast!
2.  Towels can be brought to the pool deck and hung on a hook.
3.  I was told by front desk staff that there are free lockers for your valuables upstairs.  Ask about that if you'd like to lock up your phone or wallet.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Hickory Falls - Hanover, PA

Hickory Falls Family Entertainment Center is located along Broadway (Route 194) in Hanover, PA.  It's easy to get to from the traffic circle in Abbottstown along Route 30.  We have been here several times, and we can find something new to do each time.

There is a mini golf course, indoor play area, water wars, laser tag, go-karts, rollerball bowling, snack bar, and an arcade.  The arcade games are very interactive and mostly involve throwing a ball, spinning a wheel, or picking up an object with a claw.  There are game cards instead of tokens, and the game card also collects the amount of tickets won from the arcade games.  The tickets can be redeemed for the usual arcade prizes, though I noticed a decent amount of popular Frozen and super hero items.

After playing the arcade games, the kids (3 and 7 years old) spent about 20 minutes in the indoor play area.  There's one long twist slide that exits the structure and another two slides within the play area. There's a rope swing and trampoline-like areas, which the kids seemed to love. There's only one entrance and exit that's gated, making it easy to keep track of your kids.  There's also a bar with several chairs facing the play area, where parents can relax, eat, or check their messages while the kids play.

Hickory Falls also has a unique indoor/outdoor go-kart track.  This track was added within the last year or so, and it uses electric go-karts.  The track can be closed to the outside and form an oval, or it can be extended to the outdoors in good weather.  I really enjoy driving these electric go-karts, they just seem so much smoother and cleaner to me than the gas ones.

We ended our trip to Hickory Falls by choosing prizes from the arcade and taking a few more turns at the candy pick-up machine.  We have a few dollars left on our game cards, so I'm sure we'll be back soon.

Things to remember:
1.  Bring socks for the play area
2.  Hickory Fall often runs specials during the week.  Check their website and Facebook page for details.
3.  Game cards are reusable.  There is a nominal fee to get one, so hang on to yours for next time!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Hersheypark Christmas Candylane - Hershey, PA

It was a seasonably mild late December day (after Christmas), so we decided to take our 3-year-old and a 10-year-old to Hersheypark Christmas Candylane.  Before we left for the park around 4 PM, I checked Hersheypark's app on my iPhone and confirmed what I thought - it was a busy day at the park.  During the winter, a handful of rides are listed with wait times on the app.  This includes the Dry Gulch Railroad, the Claw, Kissing Tower, and a few more.  During the summer, the rides with wait times listed in the app are mostly reserved for the popular roller coasters.

When we arrived at Hersheypark, our original plan was to go to Chocolate World first, and hopefully the park would clear out a bit after we rode the Factory Tour ride and got a bite to eat.  "Bad choice", as my 3-year-old would say.  As we entered the Chocolate World main doors, I could see that it was jam packed - pretty much the busiest I have ever seen it.  The Factory Tour line was spilling into the retail space.  It was difficult to walk.  We quickly turned around and headed into the park, which was very busy as well.

We skipped the rides in Founder's Circle and went down into the Hollow.  The Hollow is where the Comet roller coaster is located, as well as the Wave Swinger and two new rides for 2014, the Teacups and the Sweet Swing.  We waited about 15 minutes to get onto both the Sweet Swing and the Teacups, and they were a hit with the 3-year-old and 10-year-old.  During Christmas Candylane, the Hollow is also home to the "NOEL!" light show, which is a must see while at the park.

After the Teacups, we stopped at the bathrooms near Skyrush, the newest roller coaster, also located in the Hollow.  I prefer these bathrooms because they are also the newest in the park.  The kids saw the Granny Bugs ride after visiting the bathrooms, so they rode them.  Granny Bugs was located toward the back of the park in Midway America until around September of this year.  When the construction of Laff Trakk (the new indoor roller coaster set to open in 2015) started, the three kiddie rides, which my daughter loved, were removed.  The removed rides were Pony Carts, Granny Bugs, and Mini Train.  Granny Bugs is temporarily located in the Hollow, and I have been unable to locate Pony Carts and Mini Train.  Rumor is that Mini Train has been put in storage indefinitely.  That saddens me, because it was one of my daughter's favorites.

Everyone was hungry at this point, so we went to the Overlook Food Court to get a bite to eat.  All of the lines were long and slow moving.  Luckily the kids were in decent moods, and we chose a seat outdoors, since the tables inside the Food Court were full.  It was a fairly mild night for December - temperature in the mid-40s, so eating outside wasn't horribly cold.  We got our typical meal of chicken tenders and fries.  I love Hersheypark's fixings bar which includes lettuce, pickles, onions, and tomatoes.  They also have honey mustard in ketchup-style pumps, so I pile the fixings and honey mustard on the chicken tenders.  It makes for a fairly big meal from just two tenders.

After dinner, we stopped at the group of kiddie rides near the Food Court.  I got on the Frog Hopper twice with the kids.  That is always one of their favorite rides.  Next was Convoy (trucks), and then the Red Baron airplanes.  While the kids were on the airplanes, I ran (literally) over to Kissing Tower Hill to check out the line for the Kissing Tower.  The Hersheypark app indicated that the wait for the Tower was 45 minutes, but I found this hard to believe with this high capacity ride.  The crowd at the park also seemed to be clearing out a bit, and it was after 7 PM.  When I saw the line for the Tower, I became an instant believer in the 45 minute wait accuracy.  The line spilled out of the regular queue, past the reflecting pool, and down the hill a bit.  I decided not to even mention riding the Kissing Tower to the kids.  Instead, after the airplanes we headed back toward the main entrance to the park.

The 3-year-old happily got on the Swing Thing, a small version of the Wave Swinger.  Since the 10-year-old was too big for this ride, I headed to the Wave Swinger back in The Hollow with her,  I was pleasantly surprised that the line for Wave Swinger was not long.  We got on the next cycle of the ride, and it was cold, but fun!  After that, we left the park and went back to Chocolate World.  We rode the Factory Tour this time, though we "waited" to get on the ride about 15 minutes.  I say "waited" because the queue can be set up to be so long that it feels like you're just walking the entire time through the line.  We made funny faces as we always do for the ride photo, and I was happy to see that the candy they were giving out at the end of the Factory Tour was my favorite, Kit Kats.

We couldn't leave Chocolate World without getting some ice cream, which is sort of a family tradition for us.  The ice cream line was moderately long, but moved very fast.  We used our refillable milkshake cup, which saves us $3 every time we get a milkshake!  After ice cream, we went back to the car to go home.  The kids were asleep before we left the parking lot.  Even with the large crowds, we had a fun evening.

Things to remember:
1.  Bring tissues!  My kid's nose runs like a fountain in the cold weather; she doesn't even have a cold.  I always forget to bring tissues and end up using napkins or a glove to wipe her nose.
2.  If lines are long in Founder's Circle at the front of the park, save those rides for when you come back on your way out of the park.  Near park closing, these lines tend to get shorter.
3.  Your reusable souvenir cups from the 2014 season are still usable.  I always attach mine to my belt loop until we fill it up.  I hardly know it's there, but it's probably not a great fashion statement!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Roadside America - Shartlesville, PA

Roadside America is a miniature village of trains, houses, people, and animals - practically everything you could find in small town America in the early to late 1900s.  The building that houses it is situated along Interstate 78 in Shartlesville, PA, north of Reading and west of Hamburg, and it's been there since 1953.  Since we were in Reading for the day, we visited because our 3-year-old missed our local miniature train display this Christmas, so we visited Roadside America to make up for it.  There is an admission charge, and we had to wait approximately five minutes before we entered the room with the miniature village, because the "nighttime show" was in progress.  While waiting, we browsed the gift shop, which was full of toys and gifts items which led me to saying "please don't touch" and "put that down" repeatedly to my daughter. 

After the short wait, we entered the room with the village, which is set up with a circular path around the display.  There is a lower path and a higher one.  We couldn't decide whether it was best to take the lower one, since our 3-year-old would be able to see it better up close, or the higher one, where we could get a better perspective of the whole display.  Buttons to run trains, trolleys, lights, animals, and cable cars are located on the lower and upper path, and pushing these buttons is what my daughter enjoyed doing the most.  It took us approximately a half hour to walk around the display and try out all of the buttons.  Had we not had a child with us, we may have taken more time and read each description in the brochure.  Each description matched with the numbers around the display and gave a fact about something in that area.

For the nighttime show, everyone settled into the two steps of bleachers at the far end of the village.  Lights are dimmed, music plays, and the Statue of Liberty lights up.  It is short, so my daughter was able to sit through the entire show.  After that, we pushed a few more buttons, and then headed out the door.  Restrooms are located in a small area beside the gift shop.

Things to remember:
1.  There are two high viewing platforms on both sides of the room.  Check those out!
2.  It's quite nostalgic; a good place to visit with the parents or grandparents.
3.  Don't walk around during the night time show, it really does get very dark during certain parts.

The Works - Wyomissing, PA

Right outside of Reading, in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, is The Works.  Housed in an old industrial plant, the building has been completely renovated into an entertainment and restaurant complex.  The main reason for our visit on a mid-December Saturday afternoon was for Ballocity, which is a multi-level playset full of things to climb, slides, and ball canons (the balls are very soft).  When we arrived slightly before 11:30, it had just opened.  I thought it might be busy on a Saturday, but it didn't get overwhelmingly crowded while we were there.  The wristbands for Ballocity are purchased on the first floor, in the game room area.  Ballocity has a small toddler area for children 2 years old and under and a large section for older children.  There is a staff member stationed at the entrance of Ballocity, who checked wristbands and made sure children were of the appropriate age for the toddler area.  It's difficult to see into Ballocity, and therefore hard to know the exact whereabouts of your child.  To help with this, there are cameras inside Ballocity that are broadcast on TVs in a lobby with tables.  Also, Ballocity only has one exit, so your child would have to walk past the tables to get out of the area.  Restrooms are closeby, for those last minute potty emergencies. 

The gameroom on the first floor had a wide variety of games, some that I have never seen before.  Two games that we were excited about were the four-way air hockey table and the huge connect-four game.  There's even a small bowling alley and an interactive dark ride.  A separate area houses go carts, called "Slick" Willy's Karts, and a snack bar.  I got a small drink at the snack bar and had access to unlimited refills while we were there.

Before we left, we sneaked a peek into the restaurant, which wasn't open yet on that day.  We also could not resist one of the huge cookies at the small bake shop near the main door.  Next time, maybe we'll try the go carts.

Things to remember:
1.  Bring socks for Ballocity.
2.  Dress the kids in layers if it is cold outside, so when they get hot playing in Ballocity they can easily adjust their amount of clothing.
3.  Bring a book or iPad!  You might actually get a few minutes to relax while the kids play.