Saturday, February 16, 2008

Valentine's Day in Africa


Amidst the snow-covered tundra of Sandusky, Ohio is nestled a summer getaway unlike any we've ever known. It is a vast, family playground where you are wisked away to the mysterious lands in Africa without ever leaving the Buckeye State. Yet this is no desert. Here, the waterfalls flow regardless of the rainy season. Here, the wave pools, tube slides, and speed slides don't close down for the winter. It is the next best thing to Disney's Wilderness Lodge without actually being in Florida. It is a place beyond your expectations, beyond your imagination, and beyond seasonal limitations. It is Kalahari Water Park and Resort.

Kalahari Water Park and Resort boasts the largest indoor water park in the United States and boy, are they proud of it! Amy and I decided to go up for our first visit to this fascinating water wonderland to celebrate our first Valentine's Day together (sadly, we've been separated by distance for every Valentine's Day prior). We couldn't have asked for a more enjoyable experience!

We arrived Thursday evening just in time to catch dinner at Kahunaville Restaurant and Bar. It continues the African theme in decor but infuses Las Vegas style entertainment like live stage shows and music (all family-friendly). We were surprised to be seated in their V.I.P. hut which reminded us of a combination nomadic yet luxurious tent you'd find in the Sahara -and- a bamboo version of Swiss Family Robinson's Tree House. We were incredibly lucky to have been seated there as the hut-like tent only featured two tables. We were very hungry so we ordered quickly then took the time to survey the rest of the restaurant. As we waited, the DJ was holding a kid's limbo contest on the stage and everyone seemed to really be having a great time.

After dinner, we slipped into our swimming digs and made our way downstairs for an abbreviated jaunt in the water park. After trying out a few tube slides, the Lazy River (#1 on the park map) , and the Wave Pool (#18), the park closed to all guests except for the four folks who had paid for Flow Rider lessons. It is this monster, quarter-pipe wave machine which throws a sliver of rushing water just a half an inch deep right under your feet. Sounds kind of intimidating at first but if you wanna learn how to body board, boogy board or even surf, this is the place to try. Flow Rider lessons are an additional cost to your water park admission but if you are the adventurous type, it is well worth the $30.00/person.

I asked Amy if she would like to give it a try first and initially accepted. Sanity got the better of her, however, and she opted to wait and go after her brave yet more so ignorant husband. Each lesson is 90 minutes in length and after your first five minutes, the instructors start teaching you tricks. Amy was smart and just stuck to riding the wave, trying not to fall off. She got thrown off the first time down the wave and suffered a few bruises as a result but she was a trooper and went back for more. She found her groove that second trip down, but at the end of her ride got thrown back to the top of the pipe again and called it quits. Gotta love her, bruises and all, she kept her smile!

The Flow Rider (#14) was not kind to me either. It gave me a small (well, I wouldn't call it a gash but it's the only word I can come up with right now) gash on my foot after one ride came to a particularly violent end. At one point, the raging torrent nearly claimed my bathing suit as a war trophy. Thankfully, I was able to keep my head and my shorts about me.

I did have some Flow Rider successes though. I was able to pull off some tricks thanks to the instructors' guidance. The first trick is when laying on the board, push the board straight out in front of you and, like a yo-yo, the force of the on-coming water will rush it right back under you. You can also learn to go from laying down to pushing yourself up to your knees and riding the wave that way. Finally, the most difficult trick I was able to land was a barrel roll. I was more successful rolling to my left than to the right but in any event I barrel rolled three times. The fourth attempt did not pan out so well (that's when I almost lost my trunks).

I called it quits shortly after that because I was getting a headache from being thrown around and slammed by the rapids. Overall, it was a great experience and I'm glad Amy and I got to share it.

The next day was filled with water slides, both family and doubles style, wave pools, lazy rivers, speed slides, and (because Amy would like to know if she would recommend Kalahari to her students and their families) a quick stroll through the kiddie portion of the park called Lepard's Lair (#9). It's a very elaborate little complex that reminds me of the playground equipment I used to play on at recess but it incorporates two water slides and a host of ways you can get other park goers soaked. Surprisingly, the parents had just as much fun as the youngsters because they get to experience the Lair WITH their children. Nice idea!

One of the coolest rides at the park is the Zip Coaster (#8) . It is not a completely aqua-powered log coaster (read = like Disney's Crushin' Gusher) but is almost just as fun. It is fast, completely enclosed at times, and gives you the sensation of being on a real, wooden roller coaster from Cedar Point. The line moved pretty quickly and the ride is worth the wait. The only draw back is that it seems to break down periodically.

The other very neat experience that stands out is one of the family-style flume rides called the Swahili Swirl (#19). It seats 2 or 4 people and starts you off in the darkness of the tube. Then, it drops off without warning to gain speed. Finally, it shoots you out into this expansive, 60 foot diameter bowl that swirls you round and round, then funnels you through the tube in the middle of the bowl that empties into the tide pool at the end. The extra thril of the ride is seeing how many times you can swirl around the bowl before being dumped through the center. It is a fantastic ride that had both Amy and me laughing from the get go and didn't stop until they made us get out of the raft.

Kalahari is more than a water park as it offers convention and meeting space as well as other options for land-based fun. If Amy and I have our way, we'll definately be back!

Thank you, Kalahari, for the most fun we've had on Valentine's Day!

It was Beyond our Expectation!


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