By Erin Gardner, Contributing Blogger
Our family took a much needed mini-vacation right before Christmas this past year. We were spending too much time in closed quarters, listening to far too many Christmas carols and if I had to watch Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas one more time, I was going to lose it.
So, in preparation for this little getaway, I made sure all the Christmas shopping was finished and every present was wrapped. This way there would be no last minute rushing around when we returned.
We packed up the car with colouring books and crayons, favourite toys, and as many electronic gadgets as we could to keep our kids happy and entertained. And let’s be honest, to keep Mommy and Daddy’s sanity intact! We even made sure they each had their own set of headphones so Claire could watch her Tinker Bell movie on the tablet, Ryan could play his Nintendo 3DS and Dennis and I could actually talk to each other and listen to our own music for the drive.
The last trip we had made as a family of four was in February 2011, when we went to Kissimmee, Florida with my parents. Disneyworld is the quintessential choice for a kid-friendly vacation; it’s our destination of choice when time and money permits. But if you’re interested in a less expensive, water-filled fun adventure that’s much closer to home, The Great Escape Lodge is a place you should definitely visit.
So, once we left Ottawa and merged on to Highway 416 and headed south to Ogdensburg, we were in full vacation mode. We had a planned stop at McDonald’s for an early lunch once we crossed the Canada-US border. (Boy, did that get Mom and Dad some bonus points!) From that point on, our drive was a pretty beautiful one. The GPS took us on a lovely drive through snow-covered trees and hills in the Adirondacks and there were barely any other cars on the road. We passed through the quaint little towns of Colton, Tupper Lake, Long Lake and Warrensburg. And as we merged on to the large I87 highway, we were only a twenty minute drive away from our final destination.
The Great Escape Lodge is actually located inside the Six Flags Amusement Park resort in Lake George, New York. In the summer, it will be teeming with families taking advantage of the roller coasters and rides. Of course in the winter, the amusement park is closed, but the reason for going to this particular location had nothing to do with what was going on in the Six Flags outdoor park. It was all about what was waiting for us inside the lodge.
Pulling in to the driveway of the lodge was an experience in itself: the outside of the lodge featured a larger than life Santa, sleigh and reindeer and lots of Christmas lights. And inside was more of the same. The atrium boasted a huge, fully decorated Christmas tree, and we later found out that in the evenings kids could sign up for special reading time with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
The lodge also has a Kids Club where kids can make crafts; some at an additional cost. Ryan and Claire both enjoyed colouring their very own Great Escape Lodge souvenir t-shirt! My kids were squealing with excitement and trying to take it all in. But they hadn’t even seen the piece de resistance: the 38,000 square foot indoor waterpark! And believe me, this waterpark caters to children (and adults!) of all ages.
The Tall Timbers Tree House is a multi-story structure that has over 160 interactive water features and three twisting body slides suitable for children 40” and over. Claire, my fearless three year old, put on her life jacket, marched up to the top of the tree house, picked the biggest slide and jumped on without hesitation, screaming with glee until she splashed into the warm water pool at the bottom. The Lodge keeps the water heated to a comfortable 84 degrees – bonus!
Ryan preferred to start his adventure in the Tak-It-Eesi-Creek lazy river. With Daddy in tow, Ryan chose an inflatable two-person tube and once settled, the current carried them around the perimeter of the water park amid mini waterfalls and fountain sprays.
The four of us tackled Avalanche which proved to make my stomach queasy, but was an instant favourite for everyone else. Avalanche is a twisting, turning raft ride for up to four people (in the dark!) and is meant to simulate a white-water rafting experience, complete with a pretty shocking 41-foot drop at the end. And again, my two young children showed no fear – they loved it!
My brave boy, Ryan, who was barely six when we went to the lodge, was the only Gardner to attempt the Boogie Bear Surf ride. I’m sure Claire would have loved to have jumped on a surf board and experience “the wave” but unfortunately she was a few inches too short. Ryan on the other hand, was able to stand up on the board on his second attempt – even if it was for only an instant. Those waves were pretty intense!
The Gardner boys spent several hours having fun going down the 290-foot water slides in their personal inner tube. Glacier Run and Snow Shoe Falls were a little too big for Claire so she and I stuck to Tall Timbers, which was Claire’s – and Mommy’s! – favourite spot to hang out anyways.
The waterpark also caters to families with infants in tow. Tip-A-Kanu-Beach is a shallow beach-inspired pool area that has pint-sized waterslides, a baby swing and surprise fountains.
The lodge has several dining options, but I recommend eating at one of the many family friendly Lake George area restaurants such as Applebee’s or Olive Garden. The prices of the food were decent, there was more variety for children, and the overall quality of the food was great. If you stay in a room that has a kitchenette like we did, then you already have breakfast and lunch covered. The room comes with a fridge, microwave, toaster and coffee maker. Dining in the suite will save time and money when all you want to do is jump into your bathing suit and head for the slides! Lake George has several grocery stores and a Wal-Mart so you can stock up on food and drink items to keep in your room.
An extended stay at a waterpark resort might not be for everyone. And if it isn’t, there are other area attractions that may peak your interest:
- The Adirondack Mountains: The beauty of the Adirondacks simply can’t be missed. And what better way to see them then by boat? We went during the off season so unfortunately we couldn’t experience this unique boat tour. The Lake George Steamboat Company offers a variety of cruises – one of them being an authentic Paddlewheeler! When we go back during the warmer months (because we will definitely be going back!) we will be adding this excursion to our itinerary.
- Outlet shopping: If shopping is more your thing, less than a kilometre down the road from the lodge lies an extensive selection of outlet shops that include such name brands as: Gap, Coach, Gymboree, Banana Republic, Rockport and J.Crew.
- Kid-friendly museum: In nearby Glen Falls, The World Awareness Children’s Museum allows children to explore different cultures using hands-on exhibits such as the Nigerian Marketplace and Japanese Washitsu.
We spent three nights at the lodge, in an impressive Three Queen Suite (with a separate bedroom for the kids!) and we contemplated extending it for a fourth. The kids absolutely loved it, and still ask to go back. And with it being only a four-hour drive from Ottawa, I know we will be planning a second visit in the very near future. A vacation that the entire family can enjoy is a rare thing. Dennis and I enjoyed it as much as the kids did!