Wet and Wild Staycation

Sometimes you just have to get away, even if it’s just overnight! As the Upton family discovered, Lancaster is a great place to experience a staycation.

At any given time on Lancaster County back roads, a driver can spot as many plates from states like New Jersey, New York and Maryland as those from Pennsylvania. It is an understatement to say tourism plays a significant part in Lancaster County’s economy. According to analysts at Tourism Economics, nearly 8 million visitors came to Lancaster County in 2013, spending more than $1.9 billion while here. And while it is easy to give the credit for a massive influx of tourists to the plain sector, Tourism Economics reports: “The fundamental motivation driving a visit to Lancaster County … is the destination and the overall experience the area has to offer.”

I grew up here, and without counting my service time in the U.S. Navy and an extended stay at college in Maine, I’ve lived in Lancaster County my entire life. Fortunately for my out-of-state friends, I’ve learned the difference between the real delights of the county and the tourist traps. A staycation was another matter; I had to dig into something I had never done before. Sometimes it’s just as difficult to entertain your family as it is long-lost friends.

If you have been around this county for a while, you will recognize the building at 2100 Lincoln Hwy. East as the old Howard Johnson’s. The brand may be gone, but the iconic orange roof still stands. Several years ago I learned the building housed an indoor waterpark. Inquisitive, and always looking for fun, I gave the Caribbean Indoor Water Park a call – only to find park admission was solely for guests of the attached Budget Host Inn (and the adjacent Wingate by Wyndham). Humbug, I thought at the time … until recently.

My family has become a bit spoiled by water parks over the past few years; they are one of my daughter’s favorite places to visit. We were bitten by the bug during a weekend stay a few years ago at a Great Wolf Lodge, an immense resort chain featuring a massive water park, tons of activities for kids, and a family-friendly environment built for non-stop fun.

So, we planned our waterpark getaway right in our own backyard. I wasn’t expecting too much, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Check-in at the two-story hotel was a breeze. Our wrist bands for the water park were recorded, and I signed the liability paperwork in minutes. After a quick setup/inspection of our room, we donned our swimwear and headed to the water park. Passing through a set of doors and into the chlorine-rich air, we checked in with the main desk attendant and found a series of chairs to call ours – when I say we, I mean my wife and I; the kids were already in the water.

The waterpark consists of four main areas. A tandem, fully-enclosed, tube slide (always go with the blue one) meanders outside and around, eventually whipping back into a 4-foot deep landing pool. There were no lines on this Saturday. The play area for smaller children is near the slides and has a series of obstacles for kids to crawl on and through; this is also where the giant bucket fills near the roof of the establishment and comes pouring out at regular intervals onto the heads of expecting (and some rare unexpecting) guests. The main area is on the other side of the park and takes up the majority of the facility. Kids and adults can play water basketball, have fun in a jet-powered whirlpool, or try and tackle the alligator obstacle course. The last part of the park is devoted to the waterfall hot tub. I wish it was reserved for adults only (supervised children of certain ages are permitted in this area). The jets are wonderful after a day of hard play in the rest of the park.

As I expected with an older building, the Budget Host Inn/waterpark has its fair share of wear and tear. However, it is clean. My room was spotless, with fresh white sheets on each bed and a clean scent. Things like the TV and light switches are antiquated, but again, just as I expected.  (If you are looking for a more modern building, try the Wingate.) Although the park is not inside the Wingate, it is close enough (the two buildings share a parking lot).
While Caribbean Indoor Water Park is no Great Wolf Lodge, it is an affordable and convenient destination for those seeking some splashingly good fun! Essentially, when comparing the standard price of the room with the waterpark package (including taxes), admission to the waterpark costs about $10 per person. Not bad for a day’s worth of fun. The Budget Host also offers packages for Hershey Park, Dutch Wonderland, the Strasburg Rail Road, The Amish Experience and even a Shoppers Package for those of you who can’t get enough of the outlets!

Speaking of outlets, it was nice to have them at my convenience once I realized we had forgotten some sundries (including my daughter’s beloved flip flops) back at the house. After returning to our room in the evening, running for the things we forgot to bring, and enjoying a cocktail the adults brought from home, we headed out for dinner. This staycation also offered me a chance to enjoy one of my favorite things in life – a stromboli from Your Place, which is located right across the street.

It had been many years since I’ve been in Your Place. It hasn’t changed much. The food remains impressive: My son had a crab cake sandwich as big as his head, my wife had some pizza, and my daughter ordered pub standard chicken wings. Of course, I had my stromboli.

The next day we checked out at a leisurely pace – we didn’t have a long drive ahead of us. Before getting in the car, we visited the Dunkin’ Donuts that is located at the entrance to the Budget Host’s parking lot. The staycation was a success … everyone was happy!

Caribbean Indoor Water Park and Budget Host Inn, 2100 Lincoln Highway East, 397-7781 or caribbeanlancaster.com.

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