We recently made a trip to the Poconos, PA to visit a water park – but didn’t know which water park we should go to – so we went to all 3 of them! Which is the right waterpark experience for your family? Keep reading our Poconos water park guide & comparison to find out!
From our experience after visiting Great Wolf Lodge, Kalahari & Camelback’s Aquatopia indoor water parks in the Poconos – we felt that Great Wolf Lodge was best for families with young kids, Kalahari would be the best for families with older kids – and Camelback’s Aquatopia was the Goldilocks somewhere right in between!
|Introduction||Great Wolf Lodge|
|Author’s Note / Aquatopia||Kalahari|
Check out our comprehensive comparison chart of these three indoor water parks here: Waterpark Comparison Chart: Kalahari, Aquatopia & Great Wolf Lodge
We recently took a little trip to the Poconos and stayed one night @ Great Wolf Lodge immediately followed by a one night stay @ Kalahari. We have been to both resorts in the past – but thought it would be fun to do a back-to-back comparison. Both resorts are really good choices for water park fun with a family. It is really the other aspects of the resorts and accommodations that will determine which resort is the better choice for your family! We did the empirical research – so you don’t have to!
Author’s Note / Aquatopia
We recently visited (but did not stay at) Camelback Mountain Resort’s waterpark Aquatopia. All three of these indoor water parks (Great Wolf Lodge, Kalahari & Aquatopia) are VERY close to each other, especially Aquatopia & Great Wolf Lodge. If you were to drive from Kalahari, to Great Wolf Lodge, and then to Aquatopia the total distance would be approximately 11.3 miles and take just 26 minutes.
For size reference, Great Wolf Lodge’s water park is the smallest at about 79,000 square feet. Kalahari is the largest at 220,000 square feet and Aquatopia is right in the middle at 125,000 square feet. That’s an AMAZING 425,000 square feet of water parks in a very small geographical area!!
For the lobby it is the same order with Great Wolf Lodge’s lobby being the smallest, Kalahari’s the largest and Aquatopia’s somewhere in the middle.
Water park temperatures at all three is the same @ 84 degrees.
We are planning a stay @ Aquatopia in the near future and will update this post when we do so.
Update February 19th, 2021: COVID-19 has delayed our plans to stay at Aquatopia. We look forward to visiting once this pandemic is behind us and will update this post accordingly.
We are a family of 6 with four kids ranging in ages from 2 – 10 years old. The drive was almost exactly 100 miles for us and we arrived a few minutes after 1:00 pm. We stayed @ Great Wolf Lodge on a Tuesday night and then Kalahari on Wednesday night of the same week. The distance between Kalahari and Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos is a mere 7 miles.
If you want to cut right to the chase – you can jump to the conclusion by clicking here: Conclusion
Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos was constructed in 2005 – and is one of roughly 18 locations for the chain. The Poconos location has 401 rooms and each wing of the lodge has 4 floors. On our previous visit a couple of years ago we felt the place was showing some wear and tear. I am on the mailing list and recently got a promotional offer that indicated the rooms had recently been renovated. So we decided to check it out and see how things had changed.
Kalahari opened in 2015 in the Poconos. There are currently three locations for the chain with the Poconos location being its largest facility. Kalahari is absolutely immense! Each wing of the resort is 8 floors high and it has 977 rooms in total. The resort is currently undergoing a huge expansion that is expected to add 130,000 sq feet of conference facilities to the 100,000 sq feet of existing facilities. Work is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.
Great Wolf Lodge
1. Theming (Theme – ing)
Great Wolf Lodge does a good job of branding and theming (theme – ing) the lodge. Mind you – definitely not Disney level theming or branding – but a good job. The kids do enjoy the characters and overall lodge experience. The theming is carried throughout multiple aspects of the total experience. For example – when booking your accommodations you can select a themed suite, such as the KidCabin Suite – which we did. It is also carried through with the water park experience itself – with some of the attractions incorporating the characters and /or lodge theme. When you check in the lodge they should offer you and / or the kids wolf ears at no extra charge – since, after all – it is the Great WOLF Lodge!…
One of the other simple theming aspects we enjoyed were the 2 Great Wolf Lodge video book stories playing on the resort TV channel. They looped continuously – so they are readily accessible at any time. One is about 13 minutes long and is about Brinley Bear’s fun day and the other is about 8 minutes long and is about the origin of Great Wolf Lodge.
When we were last at Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos we did not stay in a themed suite. We were on the bottom level – and we had a small patio walk out area next to the ropes course. The room was nice and clean – but nothing particularly memorable. This time we were on the third floor and had a balcony. I have read other reviews where people did not enjoy the balcony – but we did.
Our balcony overlooked a very lightly used service road – and then there was an unobstructed view of the forested mountain side. The view felt somewhat private and we really enjoyed it! The mountainous / hilly location complimented the overall lodge theme and it was nice to sit out there with the kids as the weather cooled in the evening. However, it was not a perfect experience – in that the air conditioner vented right out onto the one end of the balcony.
We had a cabin themed room for this stay (KidCabin Suite) – and the kids enjoyed it more than I had expected! The “cabin” was towards the front of the room and was semi-private for the kids. It had it’s own TV and was adorned with a lot of cute character images. It felt cozy and definitely complimented the whole lodge theme & experience! From the accommodation standpoint – it was a much more memorable stay!
One of Melani and my pet peeves with regards to hotel accommodations is when there is only one night stand for a queen bed. We are happy to report that there were two night stands with our queen bed!
3. Water Park
We liked the water park @ Great Wolf Lodge! It was a nice touch to have the lodge theme and a couple of characters at the front of the wave pool – which is one of our favorite attractions. The wave pool alternates between wave / no wave cycles. To alert those in the wave pool of the wave rotation starting – it has a wolf howl. That’s theming!
Toddler Play Area
The toddler area of the water park was rather small. Our 2 year old – who would have nothing to do with a life jacket – was able to play in the toddler area and wave pool as long as Melani or I was right with her.
Towel check-out is something new since our last visit. At the towel dispensary you simply swipe your wrist band and the attendant will hand you the number of towels you request. When you leave – make sure to return the towels and swipe the wrist band again – or you will be charged for the towels. Apparently they were experiencing people taking the towels as souvenirs??
Note: There is no Flowrider / surfing simulator attraction at the Poconos location for Great Wolf Lodge. We have been to the Williamsburg Virginia location where there was one – but there is not one @ the Poconos location.
The lobby is big – but not massive like it is at Kalahari! For the volume of people passing through it ( to check-in, check out, shop at the shops and access the activities) it feels a little small and congested. In the center – right past the check-in area there is a large animatronic display – where the nightly bedtime story (The Forest Friends Show) takes place. The sound system is rather poor and the performance is rather loud.
Speaking of loud – There is usually a dance party in the evening – which we found to be extremely loud! I actually made the kids wear earplugs (as did I) to go to this! Why do the adults with hearing damage always make the decisions with regards to volume level! Kid’s hearing is much more sensitive!
5. Food Choices / Selection
There is one primary restaurant on the main level on the left side of the lobby / front entrance. We have never patronized the restaurant – as it does seem expensive. But we generally don’t patronize too many sit down restaurants with 4 kids – with ages ranging from 2-10. Since we are usually there for just one night – we resign ourselves to it being a “pizza for dinner night”.
On the lower level by the entrance for the water park, there is a pizza place with some tables in the lower lobby area. We usually just order a pizza and eat it in our room – with maybe a salad.
Since our last visit to Great Wolf Lodge – they have established a relationship with Dunkin’ Donuts and there is one located on the main floor just off the right of the lobby.
There are a number of other activities available at the lodge. There is a very small – / non-standard sized bowling alley, a miniature golf course, an arcade, MagiQuest, etc… We have done some of the other activities in the past – but only if they were included with our stay – or one of the bundled package passes (Paw Pass, Pup Pass and Wolf Pass). Generally we are there for some water park fun – and that is what Great Wolf Lodge does best – so that is where we spend the majority of our time.
There are other places with better miniature golf courses and a regular bowling alley does a better job for bowling – so we tend not to spend our dollars on those activities when we are at Great Wolf Lodge. Use Great Wolf Lodge for what it is really good at – and skip the rest!
For our Tuesday June 25th, 2019 stay @ Great Wolf Lodge the cost of our room was $209.99 with taxes & fees amounting to $51.59, bringing the total to $261.58. Water park access was included.
1. Theming (Theme – ing)
Klahari is themed and decorated as an African resort. (Remember that Kalahari is actually a desert in southern Africa.) There are some characters for the kids – but they are not really developed and seem to have just been “bolted on” – as an after thought. There isn’t any story that goes along with any of the characters – as far as we were able to discern. This is probably a reflection of the fact that Kalahari is really a convention center – first & foremost – and the water park is just one of the many amenities they offer – albeit – a big one!
Our suite @ Kalahari was HUGE! It had a large walk-in area that had a sink and kitchenette. There were 2 bathrooms – one off the walk-in area and the second one in the master suite. There were a total of 3 TVs – one in the “Family Room” – where the pull out bed / couch was, one in the master suite and one in the second bedroom with the two queen sized beds. We joke that we lost Sophie – our 2 year old – for 5 minutes in the immense suite! Yes – there were two night stands on either side of the bed in the master suite.
Another note worth mentioning – the bathtubs @ Kalahari are huge!
3. Water Park
The water park @ Kalahari is HUGE. There are 2 lazy river type rides, the wave pool is immense, there are 2 hot tubs that are partly inside the building – AND partly outside of the building with a narrow channel to traverse back and forth. It seems that there are parts of the water park that are only staffed at peak attendance. For part of our stay both lazy river attractions were open – and there were other times when only one was open.
The toddler area is very big – with a lot of water-table type attractions and activities for the little ones. Our obstinate 2 year old was NOT able to enjoy ANY of these activities / attractions, or even the wave pool – due to the fact that she refused to wear a life jacket – which Kalahari required children under 4 feet in height to wear at all times when in any water.
Speaking of the wave pool – we did find the buzzer alert to notify guests of the beginning of a wave cycle to be very harsh and not conducive to the relaxing atmosphere that should be associated with a wave pool.
The Lobby is one of the things I, and everyone in my family, really liked about Kalahari! Yes – it is HUGE – but it is also laid out well and serves as a destination itself within the resort. You enter Kalahari through a massive glass revolving carousel door and there is plenty of room for people to get where they are going – whether it is to check-in, get food, get to the water park or any other number of destinations. There is a huge fireplace towards the back of the lobby that is adjacent to a huge window that overlooks the water park. There is also a fountain near the middle of the lobby with chairs and tables to sit and eat. The lobby is ringed by various shops – and the floor has wonderful decorative murals inlaid in the marble (I’m sure these are probably decals??).
5. Food Choices / Selection
There are a lot of food choices @ Kalahari – of which we have only sampled a few. This is another thing that I think Kalahari does well – and it makes it a little easier to satisfy everyone and their differing tastes with so many food choices. As I mentioned earlier – with 4 kids ranging in age from 2 – 10 we are not very often dining in @ a restaurant.
What we usually do @ Kalahari is claim a couple of tables next to the fountain in the lobby and while one of us stays with the family the other runs around to the different food venues to obtain the items we desire to assemble a meal. Lately we have been hitting the snack bar (Pizza Pub) down in the arcade – for the burritos and then the store (Marrakesh Market) right at the edge of the lobby for some of the soups. Both are reasonable attempts at having a meal on the healthier side….
Kalahari features a number of signature sit-down restaurants (Sortinos Italian Kitchen (Italian food), B-Lux Grill & Bar (Burgers & Shakes), Double Cut (Steakhouse)…. We have not yet patronized any of these establishments.
After the meal – there are plenty of places like the pastry shop, coffee shop or ice cream shop that have many enticing desserts for the children. We have patronized several of these places, if not all – and the kids highly recommend them!
There are quite a few activities to engage in @ Kalahari. Other than the water park & arcade – our family hasn’t really tried out any other ones. As I mentioned above – when we go to Kalahari (or Great Wolf Lodge, for that matter)- we are going for some water and swimming fun. So the water park is what we usually focus on. It is also something that Kalahari does well . We can engage in many of the other activities closer to our home (and probably at less expense).
With that being said – it does appear that the ropes course and zip lines are something that we may try in the future. The setting for them seems nicer, and they seem more elaborate than the ropes course offered @ Great Wolf Lodge.
For our Wednesday June 26th, 2019 stay @ Kalahari the cost of our room was $249.99 with taxes & fees amounting to $66.09, bringing the total to $316.08. Water park access was included.
Great Wolf Lodge
If you want a very kid-centric experience from top to bottom – we would recommend Great Wolf Lodge. Great Wolf Lodge is the best for younger kids – because it has the most charm and does a better job of “theme – ing” with it’s characters throughout the entire experience (lodging, dining & water park) compared to either Aquatopia or Kalahari.
The kids really enjoyed the cabin themed suite – which was adorned with a lot of cute character images. They also enjoyed the Wiley & Friends video stories that you can find on one of the dedicated TV channels. It is the smallest of the 3 indoor water parks in the Poconos, Pennsylvania. It is especially better for younger kids – ones who don’t want or need a life jacket!
Great Wolf Lodge has more charm and we enjoyed the lodge theme & the characters. We also enjoyed the balcony. However, having fewer food venue choices and adult amenities limits your stay to a very kid-centric experience.
If you are looking for more of a balance between kid activities and adult luxuries – Kalahari has a wider range of offerings that will appeal to both adults and children. Kalahari is the biggest of the 3 and has a wider range of offerings that will appeal to both adults & children.
At times Kalahari actually felt a little too big for us. But having a wide variety of restaurants and foods was great! Likewise – the lobby is magnificent! Kalahari has the largest indoor water park of the 3, and is the largest resort located in the Poconos.
Aquatopia is somewhere right in-between Kalahari & Great Wolf Lodge by almost every measure! It is in the middle in terms of the size of it’s indoor water park and in number of rooms at the resort. The fact that Aquatopia ALSO has an outdoor water park (Camelbeach) and it’s nightime illumination make it unique. Camelback’s Aquatopia seems to strike a particularly good balance for children in the 10 + age group and is the best waterpark for pre-teens and early teens.
I asked everyone in the family – if we are going back down to the Poconos and staying at one of the resorts tomorrow night – where would you want to stay? (assuming same accommodations we had for this past trip) and this is how they all answered. (GWL = Great Wolf Lodge & K = Kalahari)
If you would like to read a little more about our trip down to the Poconos you can do so here: Adventure Update # 018: My Tricycle is Very Very Fast!
If you have visited all three waterparks in the Poconos – please let us know which one YOU liked best!
If you’re looking for other vacation ideas – check out our Family Travel Tips for Niagara Falls! It is a wonderful family vacation spot that offers a lot of adventure & nature!