Last weekend we made our first visit to Kalahari Resorts in the Poconos. Previously knowing nothing about the world of indoor water parks, I am happy to report that I came back as a fan. You only need or want one night at Kalahari. And if you go with a low key attitude and with your kids’ interests at heart (and my below tips in mind), I promise you, that one night at Kalahari will actually be a lot of fun.
Kalahari Poconos is the largest indoor water park in the United States. And EVERYTHING about the resort is big and crowded. This is not a boutique hotel or a serene, relaxing getaway. But what Kalahari brings in size it also brings in action. There is a ton going on inside the walls of Kalahari and, my gosh, is it fun for kids. Their heads will be spinning like a lighthouse as you try to figure out where to go first.
Perhaps the coolest thing about Kalahari and why you very much only need one night there (and I dare someone to want more than one night), is that the resort allows hotel guests to access the water park before their room is ready, as well as after they check out of their room. You get a lot of bang for your buck in that sense and, if you arrive early enough on a Saturday and plan to leave late enough on a Sunday, that gives you two full days of water adventure.
To properly visit Kalahari, pick a non-holiday winter weekend and pack just an overnight bag - you’re not leaving the resort so you don’t need much. On the arrival day, get up nice and early (it’s just about 2 hours from Greenwich) and wear your swimsuit under your clothes. This way, once you check in and get your admission bracelets, you can simply drop your overnight bag in the arrival luggage area and head straight to the water park. Kalahari will send you a text once your room is ready and no need to revisit the check in desk - your water park admission bracelet is also your room key. (And water park admission is included in your room rate).
It’s rather amusing seeing, and then later becoming one of, the people waltzing around the lobby in bathing suit cover ups, while the folks arriving and departing are suited up in winter coats, hats and gloves.
In the Water Park
Kalahari only just opened in the Poconos in 2015 and by 2017, it doubled the size of its water park to a whopping 220,000 square feet - and that does not even take into account the several enclosed water slides that snake around outside, too, to maximize space.
There is something for EVERYONE at this water park. To make this post easier to navigate, let’s start with the littlest guests and work our way up.
Kalahari offers two large dedicated areas for its tiny guests, and both areas are adorable and well removed from the craziness of the water slides. Coral Cove, a pretty pastel sea creature themed area, features zero entry water play perfect for babies and toddlers - there are even baby swings inside the pool.
The other area, Tiko’s Watering Hole, is similarly tot friendly, but with a few slides and a mini-lazy river, this section is probably slightly more appealing to older toddlers and young elementary school aged kids. And on the subject of young ones and safety, note that Kalahari requires that all kids under 48” wear a life vest; and there are tons available throughout the water park.
Probably the most popular attraction at Kalahari for the elementary school aged set is Splashdown Safari, a zero entry splash pad with slides of all sizes and buckets and sprayers everywhere to get soaked with. My older one loved it here and we saw plenty of toddlers here, too, loving the smaller slides and sprayers.
Elementary school aged kids will also love the park’s two Lost Lagoon pools, which are filled with basketball hoops and basketballs. There is also a wave pool in the back of the park that provides the perfect level of excitement for kids.
That brings us to the water slides. Kalahari has A LOT of them. A few are “moderate” and have 42” height restrictions (consider Rippling Rhino or Cheetah Race - both beloved by my older child). Other slides, having 48” height restrictions and some even requiring at least 2 riders per raft, were what this old fart would describe as S-C-A-R-Y.
My husband, suddenly emerging as a Water Slide Professional, hit a lot of these “extreme” slides, including, this one, where the floor drops out from under you to begin the ride. I willed myself onto a few of the scary rides - including my first and likely only, “space-bowl” water slide, Tanzanian Twister, and then had enough of feeling petrified. (Yes, I have learned the lingo and yes a “space-bowl” slide means you zoom through a body slide and then spin around a funnel bowl until you eventually drop through a hole at the center of the funnel bowl into a pool of 7 feet of water. It was intense!)
For adults less crazy than we are, Kalahari also offers tranquil water options. There is a nice, big lazy river that goes through the entire water park, and there are two indoor/outdoor hot tubs (kids age 6 and up are allowed in these, too) that we spent a good amount of time in.
And last but not least, Kalahari has two heated swim up bars for age 21 and over. The better of the two, Paxton’s Grotto, is hidden in the back right of the water park, and it is awesome. If you don’t want to leave your kids to get your drink on (hubs and I each took a turn in the Grotto), there is also a big bar in the center of the water park where you can pick up an adult beverage. We saw lots of adults enjoying said adult beverages in those indoor/outdoor hot tubs.
In the Arcade
There is SO much more than just the water park at Kalahari. My girls might have been even more enamored by the resort’s 40,000 square foot arcade and gaming center. My older one has become quite the arcade connoisseur and let me tell you, the Kalahari Big Game Room is elite level. It has all the best, most modern and high tech video games on offer. And the prize center had some fairly legitimate prizes for which to redeem your points and tickets.
That’s not all!! The arcade level is also home to mini-bowling, glow-in-the-dark-mini-golf, an escape room, virtual reality activities and a 7D interactive movie experience. It is quite literally heaven for kids. Also on the arcade level is Adventurers Club, which has crafts and activities scheduled throughout each day, usually for a small fee. On our trip, we finished off our Saturday evening with 9pm Candy Bingo at the Adventurers Club.
The arcade level is open all day and you (conveniently) pass through it to access the water park. But I suggest saving the dry entertainment area for your evening activity and spending your daylight hours (Ha - what daylight?! This is Vegas for children - there’s no such thing as windows) at the water park.
In Your Room and Dining
While this may not be an adult’s idea of vacation, Kalahari is quite clean and the facilities are quite new. Our hotel room, which was located in the 2017 extension part of the hotel (and I’d suggest asking for the same), was comfortable and somehow actually better than the room we had at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
As for eats, there are all kinds of food options at the resort from quick service to finer dining. The food within the water park is horrible - on the second day we just ate snack food like pretzels for lunch - but on that note, the snack options offered at the lobby’s Marrakesh Market were surprisingly pretty great.
Our Saturday night dinner at Sortino’s Italian Kitchen, also part of the 2017 extension, was serviceable. The dining room was pretty, the service was polite and the menu was appealing. Nothing tasted all that much better than an Olive Garden, though. And don’t worry, parents, Starbucks coffee is sold at the lobby’s Java Manjaro.
Service is somewhat limited throughout the resort - don’t expect turn down service or even bellhops. But staff members are friendly and, again, you’re at a water park, so temper your expectations.
Kalahari is so much fun for kids. It was amazing to see the excitement on their faces. For me, that is reason enough to go back. But I’d be lying if I said my husband and I didn’t enjoy ourselves, too. Winter is long and grueling in the northeast. To be able to feel like you escaped for a weekend without getting on a plane is pretty awesome.