Each year, my husband and I drag ourselves (and half the contents of our house) on a few family-friendly getaways—to amusement parks, water parks, and theme parks. And no matter where we go, it's the same thing: The kids love it, and we endure it for the sake of seeing our munchkins grin from ear to ear.
Most recent case in point: our trip to Great Wolf Lodge Indoor Waterpark in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. My kids love water parks—and I myself love a good waterslide. But the thought of being at an indoor water park for a long weekend surrounded by shrieking children had me somewhat dreading the trip. I began thinking that there had to be a happy middle ground—a way to make a vacation at a totally kid-centric spot like an indoor water park more adult-friendly.
As I started tossing bathing suits, swimmies, and flip-flops into our suitcase, I became determined to turn this kid-tastic trip into one that allowed for some grown-up fun, too. And guess what? Mission accomplished. What follows is my Indoor Water Park Survival Guide for parents.
Splurge on the biggest hotel room you can afford. Maybe that means getting a suite and sticking the kids on a pullout couch while you have your own private bedroom. Maybe the kids get the bedroom and you sleep on the couch. Maybe you get adjoining rooms. Or maybe you get a room with a balcony so you can sit down and shut the door. The point is to carve out some separate space for both you and the kids. On this trip, we were in a Wolf Den suite, where the private bedroom is a big kid-themed room with bunk beds and a TV set. So, as the kiddos enjoyed (and slept) in their own space, my husband and I enjoyed the in-room fireplace while catching up on an in-room movie on the other TV. It actually felt like we were on vacation.
Pack grown-up snacks. This time, as I tossed together my mandatory travel bag of snacks for the kids, I decided to slide in a bottle of wine (tip: bring a screw-top so you don't have to worry about finding a corkscrew), some St. André cheese, and Carr's crackers. My plan: After the kiddos were tucked in, instead of just texting and posting status updates on my phone, my husband and I would sneak out to the balcony and had a relaxing time while we recounted the events of the day.
Leave your bikini at home. It's tempting to pack your favorite cute suit and cover-up. But you're not heading to Barbados; you're going to an overly chlorinated kiddie pool. Bring an athletic, well-worn one-piece that you don't care about. Believe me, it's not a fashion show at indoor water parks, and once you witness a two piece–wearing mom wipe out on a water slide, you'll be glad your swimsuit choice was more utilitarian. Plus, a little extra fabric might keep you warm while you wade in knee-deep water or wait to get on a slide. Come to think of it, a full-body wet suit wouldn't be inappropriate. "¨
Make a "me time" agreement with your partner. Of course you don't want to miss out on any of the family fun. But when you and your partner are both "on" all day, you're both equally depleted by the end of the day. The antidote: some pre-arranged "me time" for each of you. My husband and I split up for about an hour or so each day so we could recharge our batteries. I got a massage at the spa; my husband spent time in the gym, catching up on True Detective while he worked out on the elliptical. "¨
Go in the summer. There's a good reason to head indoors and ride waterslides when the weather is at its warmest: It's cheaper to go now than during the winter "high season." It's also less crowded, so in addition to saving some cash, you'll save your sanity and spend less time in line. (Less time waiting = happier kids!) If you can swing it, go in the middle of the week to reap even bigger savings. And all that money saved adds up to a spa treatment for you. (See "me time," above!)
Hit the buffet. Yes, it's cheaper to bring your own sandwich fixings to make in-room, but then you've got to fix sandwiches, and what fun is that? For me, vacation means as little cooking as possible, sandwich assembly included. And because the kids could easily help themselves to more of whatever they wanted and then watch cartoons, my husband and I were actually able to have a conversation over dinner. "¨
Plan out-of-water activities, too. Most kids can swim until they turn into shivering, blue prunes, but you'll probably reach a point where enough is enough. Waterslides are, of course, the main attraction, but lots of water parks have other cool, non-wet offerings worth checking out, including laser tag, outdoor zip-lining, and more. I was glad I checked out the outdoor ropes and obstacle course to give our water-logged littles (and myself!) a break.
Give them a ride. After a day of nonstop swimming, my kids were exhausted—and so was I. The last thing I needed was to carry one of them back to the room. Most indoor water parks connect the hotel to the action areas, but it's a good idea to bring a stroller or even a wagon to load everything—like souvenirs, water bottles, cover-ups, and swimmies) into. Even if your kids are well past the age of being carted around, at the end of the day they'll be happy to have a fast ride back to the room. And the quicker you get back to your big hotel room, the quicker you can break out your bottle of wine and block of cheese, and start enjoying your—yes, your—vacation.