Thursday, January 1, 2009

E. coli Park

Baby, it's cold outside.

Never mind that last winter, we were sailing and windsurfing in the Caribbean. The economy is in the toilet and times have changed. Still, our desire to parade around in our bathing suits in the dead of winter hasn't abated.

So, last weekend, my husband and I loaded up our boys and drove West on Route 80 to Great Wolf Lodge in Scotrun, PA, an outlet town in the Poconos. (Idiotically and pathetically, we kept pronouncing the town "Scotrun," so that it sounded like scrotum, when it is in fact pronounced "Scot-Run," as in "Scot, run!") My brother, Mike, my sister-in-law Nancy and their three boys took their own minivan and met us there.

One of my friends calls the place E. coli park; another refuses to go there because she's afraid of contracting Legionnaire's disease. I don't particularly like crowds, noise or getting my feet wet, but we had nothing else to do this winter break. Nancy and Mike had been there before and swore we would have a good time. Since we would be celebrating Nancy's birthday that weekend, I let her make the reservations and issue the operating instructions.

She told us to pack food---the food in the park was inedible, although there was a Pizza Hut and a Starbucks on the premises, which meant that at least my younger son and I would have our staples. Sis also told us to bring flip flops, and sweatshirts, because the long walk from the water park back to our rooms was going to be chilly. I followed her instructions to the letter, then emailed her sisters to find out what kind of birthday cake she liked. (Cheap, white birthday cake with non-butter cream frosting from the supermarket, they wrote back.)

Great Hall Lodge boasts an indoor-water park, a thermostat set at 84 degrees, and 380,000 gallons of water. Whoo-hoo! In the lobby, you are greeted by warmth and the terrifically strong smell of chlorinated water. With snow on the ground, it was hard to reconcile the heat, humidity and chlorine but there they were. We arrived early Saturday afternoon without incident---the resort is half a mile off the highway and easy to find. Our rooms weren't ready, and our kids were going stir crazy, so the husbands took the five boys into the "Northern Lights Arcade," an enormous dark video game room.

Nancy and I headed to the spa.

My sister-in-law, who is a lot less coddled than I am, hadn't bothered to mention the spa, so we hadn't scheduled massages ahead of time. The nice lady behind the desk said it was unlikely one would be come available for either day that we were there. I immediately felt the tension building in my shoulders and neck so I put my name on the wait list and prayed. There were five people ahead of me---maybe they were all friends and would decide to do something else tomorrow morning!

Nancy and I took seats on the narrow, wooden bench outside the spa, and were just settling in when one of the spa employees asked us to leave. The bench was for the "Scoops" customers---teens and pre-teens who had had the foresight to schedule manicures.

"But we are on the waitlist for the spa," I said.
To my surprise, waiting for massages that existed only in our imaginations actually gave us certain privileges.
"Okay then," the woman said. "You can wait in the Serenity Room."

We could not believe our good luck. Nancy and I grinned at each other, and raced to the Serenity Room. The desk woman graciously asked if we would like tea, but we shook our heads. The soft guitar music and the smell of scented candles were enough. We avoided making eye contact with the half-dressed women there already, and took our places on two lounge chairs. I immediately proceeded to feel serene.

Nancy went to Harvard undergrad and has a PhD, which means she had the intelligence to bring the most recent issues of Star and People. I had brought Megan McCafferty's novel, Charmed Thirds, but that proved too high-brow for me once I saw what Nancy had packed. I grabbed the Star as soon as she went to check if our rooms were ready. They weren't so we spent the next two hours reading about Brangelina and Britney. It was lovely.

Eventually, our rooms were ready. We opened the door to see wolves everywhere---they were woven into the fabric on the pink couch, printed on the wallpaper in the bathroom, and howling, showering, flirting and chasing butterflies on the mural painted near the kids' bunk beds. This was not Virgin Gorda. This was not Beaver Creek! There were dolphins on the bedspread; I hoped the wolves wouldn't eat them. Our stomachs started to growl so we dropped our stuff and headed to the Scotrun Diner for dinner.

Nancy and I tucked into Greek salads and pickled beets, while the men and boys ate sliced turkey, hot dogs and onion rings. The waitress cheerfully brought refills of Sprite, root beer and diet Coke. I ordered a $4 glass of chardonnay, which started out tasting terrible but tasted just fine by the time I was finished with it.

We skipped dessert and headed back to do what we had come to do: Put on our bathing suits and go down some water slides.

The good news was we didn't need suntan lotion. The bad news was the water park looked like a moist airplane hangar, filled with toddlers in turquoise swim diapers, pale, tired-looking fathers, and thirtysomething pregnant women, strutting around in bikinis, pushings strollers. Everywhere there were empty Pizza Hut boxes, and plates of half-eaten French fries.

Now, I am family friendly. But this was just a little too much friendly family for a Saturday night. Every time I see little kids, wet diapers and a body of water, I want to grab a hot shower and a big bar of soap. I felt the effects of the wine dribbling away. What was I doing here? When was check-out? I prayed for strength, or at least a sense of humor.

None came. While my sons and their cousins ran up the steps of the Hydro Plunge Coaster, I complained to my husband that the place was hot and smelly. He told me to stop acting like a spoiled brat. I couldn't argue the point, so I lay down on a lounge chair and tried to get myself excited about going down a water-filled roller coaster after eating a pound of feta cheese and a plateful of beets. I groped for the NY Times magazine, and read George Carlin's obituary. Finally, I pleaded a stomach ache and headed back to the room to nurse my bad mood with the Times real estate section. No one missed me. My kids returned to the room wet and exhilarated.

"Mom," they yelled. "You have to try the Toilet Bowl!"

Our older son claimed the lower bunk because of his cold, which would have been fine if our younger son hadn't refused to sleep on the top bunk, which he called "scary." It was hard to argue that point, so we rolled out the pull-out couch, and hoped that the sheets on it had been changed since the last family had vacated the room. With our kids two feet away from us on the couch, we slept fitfully. I cursed the economy, the nasty bacteria that procreate in warm water and animals that sleep in packs.

Dawn broke. We went to Nancy and Mike's room to celebrate Nancy's birthday over breakfast. Nancy was at the gym, so Mike and my husband took magic markers and wrote "Happy Birthday Nancy" on the five boys' backs and stomachs. When Nancy returned, the boys lifted their shirts, and we ate cupcakes, drank lattes and watched Nancy read her cards. Then, we headed back out. I don't know if it was the caffeine or the birthday buzz, but when my husband offered to take me down the "Toilet Bowl," (aka the "Hydro Plunge"), I said yes. The two of stood on line for fifteen minutes or so, alone for the first time in 24 hours. Because there was no place to leave our glasses, we were both wandering around the water park half blind. We hoped our kids were okay, wherever they were.

"You know, I was looking at you from behind and I thought your butt belonged to a much younger woman," my husband said.
"Really?" I was suspicious, but flattered.
"I like your pink bathing suit," he said and smiled.

My pink bathing suit is four years old and I have worn it at least fifty times. I have no idea what my butt looks like and I am long past the age where I will wear a bikini or push a stroller. But for that moment, my husband had rocked my world. There was no place I would rather be than Great Wolf Lodge.

Our turn on the Toilet Bowl line finally came. We stuffed ourselves into two tiny, circular spaces on a inflatable plastic raft. The water propelled us down a steep roller coaster, and landed us in an enormous "bowl." Around and around we went---whoosh! It really was like a toilet bowl! Then were we were "flushed" down into a pool. I got a mouthful of water. I tried not to think about what might be microscopically swimming around in it. Still, the experience was breath-taking. There's nothing like a rush of speed to flip your mood switch. We were having fun so we headed over to "Coyote Canyon" for more of it.

For lunch, my brother surrendered to the smell of warmed-up, water-park food and treated us to pizza, turkey wraps, onion rings and fruit salad. I walked back to the table, happily eating my fruit salad. Everything was going along swimmingly (excuse the pun) until some kid tipped a large bucket of water on my head---and the fruit salad. I almost cried. Then I remembered my sister-in-law's birthday cake, which I had stored in "The Bear Paw," a fudge and ice cream store off the lobby. I could almost taste the creamy frosting. I ran to get it. I grabbed plates and plastic forks from the Pizza Hut counter and ran back to the park.

When we revealed the cake to Nancy, she looked genuinely happy. The nine of us sat around a tiny plastic table, dripping in our bathing suits, and warbled happy birthday. Then Nancy packed up her stuff and headed to the outlet mall, our big and little boys ran back into the water, and I wrapped a towel around myself, and closed my eyes. It wasn't the Caribbean, but it was close to home.

Happy New Year.


  1. These places abound in the Wisconsin Dells, the water park capital of the world. Yes, THE WORLD.

    If you had tried the wave pool for any length of time, you could have gone to sleep at night, under your wolf blanket, feeling just like you were on a cruise ship.

    Next time!

  2. Thank you for reading this blog. I love and appreciate your comments. As long as my kids demand it, we will go to water parks. But I'd rather be napping on the beaches of Long Beach Island.