Under the spastic flashing of an electronic disco ball, a birthday girl and her entourage are doing the hokeypokey. The bartender squeezes lime juice into our drinks, flips the wedges into the air and snares them — pow-pow — in his shaker. Gonzaga’s basketball team is losing to Tennessee on the flat screen, and the DJ is calling for requests. On the other side of the Kahunaville window, the biggest indoor waterpark in the nation lies silent and waiting.
We’ve come to Kalahari Waterpark Resort to see if the rumors are true. I’d heard the park’s recent renovations were scheduled for December completion, that there was a swim-up pool bar in the works, that the new cabanas were out of this world. But isn’t a waterpark a waterpark no matter where you go?
If life is really wasted on the living, then waterparks — with their acres of hollering kids, waterslides and bars — are wasted on the youth.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We all know you’ll have fun if you take the kids to Kalahari. Thanks to a renovation that added 93,000 square feet to the park’s interior, there are enough options in slides and water features for anyone you bring, from granny to grandchild. Forty-two inches is the minimum on most slides, so even your tall 4-year-old will get to take part. The small-kids zone, with its tree house vibe and all the bells and water guns that make kids go gaga, is plunked right at the entrance, and that section alone is as big as some other waterparks I’ve seen. Everywhere you look, there are shallow-water areas for the littlest toddlers.
But try this — don’t take the kids. Bring your spouse, your significant other, your girlfriend or boyfriend, and look at the park through grown-up eyes.
After my traveling companion and I brave the Cedar Point-long check-in line and politely squeeze past the family units laden with kids, swim paraphernalia and stress, we open a door into a secret world: Kalahari for adults.
It’s the same park, but without kids, the priorities are so different. We head straight for the biggest slide we can find and ride it on a tube built for two. We discover that the swim-up bar is real, and located inside a huge hot tub (and you have to be 21 just to get into the water). A tiny canal leads outside to more steamy water and a waterfall. Couples sit in groups of two or four, their drinks resting on tiled tables rising out of the water, chatting and relaxing. There are no lifeguards blowing whistles, and no one splashes us.
After a drink or two, though, we can’t wait to get back on the slides. Giggling like kids, we head for the so-called toilet bowl rides, and we don’t have to ask anyone’s permission. We don’t have to stop for bathroom breaks or snack breaks or temper tantrums. We end up hitting at least three times as many slides as the last time I spent a day at an indoor waterpark (there was a napping-age child on that trip).
The toilet-bowl slides shoot you out of a tube into a huge bowl of water. You swoop around the bowl a couple of times, then
whoosh! you drop down into a pool below. One is built for single sliders, the other requires a tube on which two, three or four can ride. We witness one dad wait in line solo with his two-man tube, only to get to the top and be turned away. When we splash down at the end of the slide, we see him pleading with his young son to ride with him. The kid, however, doesn’t look like he’s going to budge.
It’s this way throughout our day at the park: We skip from one end of the park to the other (more than three acres of water rides and activities in all), hit the wave pool till we get bored, race each other to the bottom of the mat slides, oblivious and in love in a sea of parents focused on their kids. It feels incredibly liberating.
Later, we shower and change in our room, then lounge around for a while, enjoying the electric fireplace and the flat-screen TV. We get a kick out of the Kalahari channel, with its three rotating real-time views of the park. And when we head down for a late dinner at Kahunaville Restaurant & Bar, the hostess smiles at us, one of the few couples without kids to arrive, and seats us in VIP.
At 11:30 each night, the restaurant becomes a nightclub. The bartenders amp up their arsenal of tricks (yeah, it’s one of those bars) and the tables are cleared out of the way for a makeshift dance floor. While hundreds of youngsters sleep in their beds upstairs, locals, off-duty employees and hotel guests party until 2 a.m. every night of the week.
In the morning, we drag ourselves down to the pricey-but-exhaustive breakfast buffet, and impulsively decide to hit the waterpark one more time. Paul wants to surf again (there are two simulators in the park, one for surfing and one for boogie boarding) and I want to ride the “water roller coaster.” Maybe next time we’ll book a couple’s massage at Spa Kalahari, or rent one of the deluxe cabanas that contain the ubiquitous flat-screen TVs, plush chaise lounge chairs, wait staff and iPod docking stations. Then again, next time we’ll probably have a kid with us. Sigh.
If You Go get romantic:
Room rates at Kalahari range from$149 to $799 and include access to the waterpark. The Valentine’s Day Show Your Love Spa Package is $399 per night (check www.kalahariresort.com
for availability), and includes a couples massage, chocolate pedicures and an in-room movie. 7000 Kalahari Drive, Sandusky; 1-877-525-2427