You’re aware of this phenomenon of indoor waterparks; people head to these enclosed, Technicolor tube-filled spots for a little family-friendly fun when temperatures drop. (And boy, have they dropped!) It’s almost counterintuitive: donning a bathing suit somewhere it’s not actually tropical and sunny — but we’re here to tell you it totally works, and even feels a bit decadent! We recently visited two area indoor waterparks (one’s actually a winter sport/waterpark combo!) and have this to report. Dive in!

It’s Getting Hot — in the Poconos
It is pure coincidence that Pennsylvania’s two new—and outstanding—indoor water parks have names and themes that conjure up hot, dry, desert climes in Africa. The Kalahari Resort draws its inspiration from the owners’ longstanding interest in southern Africa’s vast Kalahari Desert—and their desire to get the place on visitors’ mental maps. Camelback Lodge & Indoor Water Park, called Aquatopia, is named for a set of stunning Pocono Mountain peaks that indeed resemble the back of a camel, an animal known for plodding across the Sahara Desert in northern Africa. Basically, places as far from water as they get! However incongruous the names, both parks offer up incredible slides, chutes, and pools for soaking wet fun in what feels like summertime sun in the middle of winter!

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photo: via Kalahari Resorts Facebook page

Kalahari: An African Oasis in the Poconos
Kalahari itself emerges like a mirage against the undeveloped landscape of Pocono Manor. Its decor features an abundance of fine batik wall hangings, impressive sculptures, gigantic frescoes, maps, and explanatory plaques that harken back to owners Todd and Shari Nelson’s sojourns in southern Africa. Set around an amazing Family Entertainment Center (video games, bowling, air hockey, you name it), fine eateries, and of course a massive and growing 100,000-square-foot water park, this cultural backdrop is an unexpected plus.

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photo: via Kalahari Resorts Facebook page

Great Slides and Relaxing Tides
With phase one of two currently open, Kalahari already features four thrilling raft rides—Anaconda, Wild Wildebeest, Rippling Rhino, and Barreling Baboon—for singles and doubles. Barreling Baboon was our favorite not just because of its length, but because the ride is designed to have different tempos, twists, and drops throughout. For adults and strong young swimmers who are at least 48 inches tall, there are also two no-joke body slides, Tanzania Twister and Zimbabwe Zipper, that swirl you around (up to 40 mph!) and drop you down into deep pools.

For younger children and adults who are looking to lower their heart rate instead of race it, Kalahari has a long, languid Lazy River for all, and a dedicated Kid’s Lazy River in an area that features children’s slides and the interactive Tiko’s Watering Hole play area. The centerpiece Spashdown Safari has several slides for all ages, and water spouts that will drench you when you least expect it. The park also has two hot, steamy outdoor whirlpools that you can access from inside.

What Kalahari currently lacks in the ubiquitous wave pool experience (to come when phase two is complete), it makes up for in the strong, five-foot-tall Flowrider ocean-like wave that will test your mettle on a surf or body board. Hold on tight! Click here for a quick virtual spin through the water park’s main attractions.

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photo: via Kalahari Resorts Facebook page

Kick Back, Snack, and Replenish
Perhaps best of all for parents of young children: strollers are permitted in the water park, so when your little ones have swum and splashed themselves ragged, they can nap to their (and your!) heart’s content in the comfort of their own vehicle!

For mom and dad, lounge chairs abound, or you can rent a cabana in advance where everyone in the family can unwind. Outside food is not permitted in the water park, but you can get good and reasonably priced pizza, burgers, salads, and sandwiches at the cafeteria, the Cracked Coconut patio restaurant, and the the Thirsty Turtle swim-up bar. Children are not permitted at the Thirsty Turtle, but they may play basketball and other aqueous sports in the nearby Lost Lagoon area. You can also order food for delivery from the resort’s numerous other restaurants.

That said, why not go back to your room to catch your breath, then enjoy an outstanding meal at the upscale Brandberg restaurant? It features local Shawnee craft and other artisnal beers on tap, and a well-curated menu that may be different from one visit to the next. If you see the charcuterie platter or baby iceberg salad with blue cheese and bacon, pounce!

Kalahari Resorts
250 Kalahari Blvd.
Pocono Manor, Pa
570-580-6000
Online: kalahariresorts.com

Aquatopia Overview 4

photo: Camelback Mountain Resort

Camelback Resort
For the deluxe winter sport/waterpark fun experience, Camelback Mountain Resort, lodge, and Aquatopia indoor waterpark is hard to beat. Also located in the Poconos, Camelback is home to a ski resort with 34 trails of varying difficulty; the largest snowtubing park in the country; a “Mountain Adventure” park home to ziplines and a 4,500-foot steel track Mountain Coaster, and a 125,000-square-foot indoor waterpark which features 19 slides and rides, seven pools and a transparent roof for natural light all year round. (The new waterpark has already acquired some fans: Aquatopia won #1 Indoor Waterpark Resort by USA Today’s 10Best Reader Choice Awards just four months after opening.)

There’s more: the lodge and waterpark complex also houses Arcadia, which offers indoor fun options such as a ropes course, rock climbing, laser tag, mini golf and tons of arcade games of all kinds for all ages. Visitors can also drop in for some paint your own pottery projects, or hit a spa — there are adult and kid’s versions here.

photo: Camelback Mountain Resort

Play In the Snow — or Never Go Outside!
Needless to say, there’s plenty to do here, and it’s easy to see why families come and set up camp for a few days of chilling out in every sense of the word. The clincher is the relatively new Camelback Lodge and Aquatopia Waterpark complex, which opened in May of 2015. The sprawling indoor space allows guests of the lodge to stay, splash and eat without ever having to leave.

Those who want to hit the slopes, whoosh down the snowtubing course, or get in some thrills on the ziplines or the Mountain Coaster can hop a shuttle to these nearby attractions.

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photo: Camelback Mountain Resort

Chowing Down at Camelback
The cuisine at Camelback ranges from the casual family-friendly buffet at the centrally-located Hemispheres (one of the most varied and tasty buffets of its kind that we’ve sampled), to the more upscale and cozy Trails End Pub & Grille, which also serves as a ski in/ski out restaurant at the base of the slopes.  Neptunes, a bar/restaurant located just outside the waterpark and off the main lobby, serves sushi and other bites, and quick and fast meals (burgers, fries, chicken strips, etc.) can be grabbed at spots like the waterpark, the tubing course, etc. (There’s even a swim up bar/restaurant in Aquatopia if you feel like indulging in that scenario.)

photo: Camelback Mountain Resort

Activities for All Ages & Families
It’s hard to get more family-friendly than Camelback. The resort offers activities for kids of all ages while also providing convenience for parents, and most everyone is there to hang with the family, so there’s little attitude and lots of tolerance.

While the mountain isn’t Aspen, it’s got trails for advanced and beginner skiiers alike (as well as snowboarders), lessons for the inexperienced, night skiing — and yes, snow! (Trivia: its snowmaking power could cover Giants Stadium with one foot of snow in 24 hours!)

The Snowtubing Park is lower-impact, but still fun, a perfect activity for smaller kids, while the Mountain Coaster (a car on an elevated track) is surprisingly thrilling. Aquatopia provides a range of areas as well — the toddlers and little ones can splash around in some kiddie areas and take on small inclines, while older kids will enjoy tackling the many higher-octane slides, learning to “surf” on the Bombora Flowrida or braving the wave pool. For adults, there is the swim up bar we mentioned, as well as a “hot springs” jacuzzi feature with both indoor and outdoor areas. Think you’ll spend the day? Cabana rentals are available, too.

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Camelback Resort Lodge and Aquatopia Indoor Water Park
301 Resort Dr.
Tannersville, Pa
570-629-1661
Online: camelbackresort.com

Have you visited Kalahari or Aquatopia? We’d love to know what you think! Tell us in the comments below!

—Cheryl de Jong-Lambert