At the behest of the in-laws, my wife and I braved the wintry drive down the Interstate 90 to the Greater Erie, PA Metropolitan Area during the holiday weekend. The only reason I know this burg exists is because I'd occasionally go visit friends at Mercyhurst College. Other than that, it's a mere blip on my geographical radar. I often joke that it's what Buffalo, NY would be if we lost all our major sports franchises.
I'd imagine the denizen of Erie sought a variety of ways to draw national attention to their municipality: legalized gambling, a grandiose and useless convention centre or drawing the NFL's Rams or Cardinals franchises. The brainchild of the Erie Chamber of Commerce came in the form of Splash Lagoon, a large, indoor water park in a busy highway-side hotel complex. This self-contained, man-made paradise is surprisingly quite a draw.
I had my initial reservations about paying Splash Lagoon a visit, picturing its clientele to be the regurgitation of every trailer park from Syracuse to Toledo. Also, I wasn't looking forward to baring the beer t*ts in public. The last concern, of course, was the idea of having to eat corporate slop for two days and pay premium prices for the displeasure. It's not that I have a sensitive palate or anything, but I do like to pamper my sense of taste. Logic would also have it that if you were somehow sequestered inside any such structure, a stadium, movie theatre, concert venue or the like, you pretty much leave yourself at the mercy of the proprietors when it comes to pricing. Raise your hand if you've ever paid $6 for a beer, $3 for a bottle of water or $4.50 for a small, grease-saturated slice of sh*tty pizza.
Prior to leaving for my trip, I had several friends and co-workers ask, "Let me know what you think. I was thinking of taking the kids." Since my return, I've gotten the, "How was it? I was thinking of taking the kids," query. Now, I'm all about the public service, and if I can help my dear friends plan a fun filled vacation, I'll offer up advice. I'd hate for anyone to spend $276 (family of four) for admission and accomodations for one night, and not feel they've gotten maximum value for their entertainment dollars. Firstly, I shall give a scholarly look at the homo sapiens that frequent the waterparks (and I'm assuming that any similar park in the United States will yield similar results - as large as the U.S. may be, we're a very homogenous culture). I will then assess the accommodations and culinary & health concerns I'm sure others would have.
The Water Creatures
I would be the last person qualified to critique the physcial attributes of my fellow men. I am about fifteen pounds too heavy to be an Adonis, and my muscle tone rivals that of a chess champion. Regardless of that fact, I had no apprehensions in removing my t-shirt in this place. Comparatively, I felt (and I'm saying this in a staunchly non-gay fashion) like Brad Pitt amid hundreds of physiques that ranged from Tom Hanks in the Philadelphia role to the more frequently sighted John Goodman and the late Chris Farley. I doubt any of the ladies consider this to be a pro or con when deciding where the family should vacation, but from a self-conscious male perspective, nearly everybody's hoss is much, much larger than yours. The sleek, muscular shark is a rarity in these waters. This is beluga 'aqua'tory.
Ladies, as a married man, I know how overly concerned you are about your posteriors. Let me assure you, that the same rule
applies. I didn't know that they made fabrics that could contain such massive amounts of flesh. Thank the goddamned lord. You've got nothing to worry about, because invariably, someone else looks much worse than you in their bathing suits. In fact, at the risk of rocking the boat on the home-front (Honey, this is strictly for research), there were only about a dozen bona fide MILFs (You were one of them, baby.) compared to the hundreds of M.I.W.N.F.I.A.M.Y. (Mothers I Would Never ... ... In A Million Years - those come in all shapes and sizes). Don't get me wrong. I give my girls a little leeway in the LBS. department (I love the big hussies), but some of these lasses haven't seen a salad in years.
Those of you men who are prone to NRBs (Remember Eighth Grade? Getting called to the chalkboard?) have nothing to fear. It will recoil in horror before it decides to get up to take a peek around. Mermaids are in Florida this time of year, leaving Splash Lagoon to the water buffalo. When biology does draw your eyes anywhere, you must avert them immediately, since whatever it gazed upon will get you 10-15 years in the hoosegow anywhere other than West Virginia and Oklahoma.
I'll have to say on the most part, there are a lot of fat little sh*ts around. There were a couple eight year old boys that looked like they outweighed me at age eighteen, when I tipped the scale at a scrawny 128 lbs. Aside from the abundance of girth, there's the absence of manners. When did "excuse me fade into obscurity.
Number of "excuse me"s given - 2
Number of instances when "excuse me"s were warranted - 82
The offences ranged from pushing past you on some of the water attractions to not looking where they were going or darting around you in doorways.There were various occasions when I had to put out a defensive forearm to keep my two boys from getting barrelled over by some impetuous sh*tbag from Gowanda. I'll admit there were a couple I saw coming that impelled me to line my duffel bag up with their face. I did this without compunction, regardless of age (though I tended to spare those under nine) and gender.
I went as far as to compliment the parents of the two or three kids who did say "excuse me."
Me - You've got some polite kids, there. That's the first 'excuse me' I've heard all day.
Other Dad - Thanks. I beat it into them.
If we were near a bar, I'd have bought him a beer or a highball.
Aside from the usual unruliness we've come to expect from your children, there's the water guns and booby traps we didn't expect. Fine. I understand it's a waterpark, so I'll take a couple of squirts in good humour, but when your little cretin mans the water cannon for more than six minutes, bombarding complete strangers (mostly adults), it borders on insolent. (*note to park - The rest of the park has heated water. Why do the water cannons have cold?)
The Water Attractions
Normally, I don't do well with gravity, so I tend to avoid it. Carting along a two and four year-old precluded my sampling out the slides. My wife managed a couple. Fun and bumpy. I tried one myself, with the O-Dog riding shotgun. Fun and bumpy. We were relegated to the shallow kiddie pools and the 'family pond.' The water is heated and seemingly clean. Seemingly. I'm no biologist, so I might not be qualified to expound here, but we are usually on top of the Fletchmonster's diapers. When we got back to the hotel, (after the periodic checks - "Fletch, did you poo-poos?" "No."
and a couple of peeks) we found a waterlogged swimmy-diaper with a full load. We don't know when the load occurred, but it seemed to have been submerged. It didn't look like it escaped, per se, but what do I know. Considering how many diapered babies there were in the place (shudder) I'd have to say the Fletchmonster's bowel movement was an isolated instance.
Then there's the case of the 'closed family pond.' I couldn't help but to recall the Snickers Bar gag in Caddyshack and was not about to put the boys in there without a full breakdown from the staff. It never came, and we didn't stick around enough to see it re-open.
Overall, the boys had fun, and that made it sort of worthwhile. Then again, from my boys perspective, the bathtub is the place to be in the Prego household.
The Grub & Crib
Breakfast - Continental breakfast seems to be the best way to go here.
Lunch - The standard fare - greasy fries, pizza & those crappy little ice cream pellets - are readily available. Sensible spenders should stick to the pizza - $13 for a large, cheese greasy wheel with the added charges for the toppings. There's a bar there, but no bar food, so you have to bring the slop from the food court downstairs. I can understand this inconvenience, since this is a family-fun place and all that, so all the young swingers are rolling elsewhere. This is the best place to eat, though, if you have a couple of young ones, since it's away from all the chaos (and you can wash the crap down with some good swill.)
Dinner - Here's where my wife and I vehemently disagreed. I like to go off the beaten path when it comes to dining. I'd rather venture out, and find a local establishment for a freshly prepared meal. Okay, Erie PA is not exactly rich in haute cuisine, but it's worth a try. The Mrs. argued that it was cold outside.
Mrs. - Why get the kids all bundled up to drive out to eat when everything's right here?
Me - Because all these yokels are going to eat 'here' too.
She won. Waiting for a table for twenty was going to take nearly two hours, so the extended family was split up at Boston's "Gourmet" Pizza. Gourmet to whom? Having been pizza'd out, I tried the Shanghai Shrimp pasta dish. No self-respecting Asian would prepare this meal, much less eat it. Mrs. Prego wasn't too fond of her bowtie chicken concoction either. The kids are always fussy at restaurants, so the fact thet Fletchmonster spit out the 'dino-nuggets' while the O-Dog barely looked at his is not an indictment of Chef Whitey.
Finally, the hotels. Comfort Inn, Econolodge, Residence Inn... Two beds, clean, TV. What else do you need to know?
There you have it. Depending on where you are on the socioeconomic scale, this might be your bag, or you wouldn't be caught dead there. Speaking of which, I was recognized by one person. I'm guessing this place has a high anonymity factor for upper middle class and beyond. Also, considering the population from where the park draws, you might not necessarily run in to your mechanic here, either. Ultimately, it's about the kids... and if they're into this sort of thing, it might be worth gritting your teeth for one or two weekends a every couple of years.