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Issue Date: January 2004 Issue

Making a Splash

Erie's indoor water park offers waves of fun for the kids -- and a return to youth for you.

Where to Stay:

Holiday Inn Express & Suites
8091 Peach St., Erie

Room packages start at $289 per night and include two queen beds, two-person whirlpool bath, fridge, microwave and four water-park passes. Service was great here, even going above and beyond when we experienced car trouble.

Where to Eat:

Damon's Grill
7165 Peach St., Erie

Great ribs, lots of TVs and plenty of commotion (just in case your kids haven’t expended all their energy)

Maybe there really is a Fountain of Youth. If so, then Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park Resort in Erie, Pa., has found a way to tap into its magical qualities. What else could explain the whir of adults splishing, sploshing and water-sliding in the resort's 400,000 gallons of aquatic fun?

Well, it could also be Splash Lagoon's tropical appeal, which flies smack in the face of Northeast Ohio's frigid winters. Signaled by illuminated green palms at the resort entrance and large, colorful fish statues scattered about, Splash Lagoon is an oasis of water slides, pools and family-friendly activities.

Do yourself a favor and check in early at one of the three hotels connected to the water park (a fourth is located across the street). A heated drive means no snow at the front door, no matter how much of the white stuff you drove through on I-90 to get there. Though your room isn't guaranteed to be ready until 4 p.m. (many are ready sooner), you can get a wet start by checking your bags and changing in the park's locker rooms. Be sure to pack your swimwear in a separate bag.

Splash Lagoon swirls with the colors of a South Pacific island theme. Orange, blue and aqua tubes twist and curl four stories up. Yellow and red slides wind like monstrous, gangly arms from the 12-level, centerpiece tree house and its huge Tiki Tipping Bucket. Two tropical birds act as greeters — drawing kids like grass skirts at a hula — as you enter on the second-floor mezzanine.

It won't take long, however, for their attention to turn to the din of activity below. When you venture to the first floor, a bit of advice: Get soaked quickly — or someone else will do it for you.

We picked the menacingly named Big Kahuna for our baptism. The totally enclosed chute is perfect for younger children riding tandem with a parent: not too fast, but thrilling all the same as it takes you outside the park and then back in, twisting through the darkness before spitting you out into a landing pool.

Once that was conquered, we took on the Cyclone, which pitches you downhill through an enclosed tube before emerging like a rogue Cheerio into a huge open cereal bowl where you make a couple of speedy swirls, lose momentum and — whoosh — are sucked into another chute and out into the Lazy Crazy River.

Now, let's get something straight: There's very little that's "lazy" about this river. Sure, you float along, propelled by a rather strong current, but along the way you're doused in an underpass and squirted by kids at strategically located water-gun stations. In fact, the pace of the entire park is a bit frenetic — kids darting here, an unexpected dousing there — but all in the name of fun.

While the aquatic area is 45,000 square feet, it's packed with things to do. (Our only complaint is that the stairwell that feeds the three main waterslides is too narrow, causing even grown men to act a bit childish and push their way through for less-crowded lines.)

That said, it's easy for every member of the family to have a favorite. The Rugrat set will love to frolic in the large Monkey Shine Island area. Don't worry about the name; the kid-friendly pool, with a zero-depth entry, includes waterspouts, dumping buckets and two small kid slides.

Older kids can climb, squirt and slide their way up — and down — the 12-level tree house, which offers any number of faucets, water guns and dousing contraptions to wet the willing or unsuspecting. Two cool body slides — one totally enclosed and one open and tame — make getting to the bottom easy.

For the daring, there's Hurricane Hole. The body slide accelerates you through a curving tube and into a huge orange bowl at posted speeds of about 40 mph (yeah, it's fast) until you drop through a huge hole and plunge — disoriented — into a churning pool.

The more athletically minded may enjoy playing basketball in Adventure Bay, which has eight hoops and a host of other aquatic challenges: crossing the pool on a series of floating logs or just relaxing on an alligator's back.

With so much to do, it's easy to tire quickly — and work up an appetite. You can even stay by the pool and order from the Laguna Grill, which offers hot dogs, burgers, sandwiches, fries, pizza, ice cream and beer.

The fun doesn't end when you finally feel waterlogged. There's a clicking, buzzing, put-you-right-in-the-middle-of-the-action game room with everything from Skee-ball to an awesome, virtual-reality Tsunami Deluxe Motion Simulator. Free activities such as coloring contests, a magic show and sand sculptures provide a calming diversion from the rest of the fun.

And when Mom and Dad need a break, they can relax in the Island Oasis Bar or — and you'll love this — order room service from Applebee's, Damon's and Quaker Steak & Lube.

Yes, this getaway is mainly for the kids (at least that's the excuse we'll use), but that doesn't mean Mom, Dad and even Grandma and Grandpa won't rediscover their inner child here.

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