PLUG INTO THE POCONOS By: Manny Velasquez-Paredes
Originally published in Connextions Magazine Issue 19: Travel Lite
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to simply unplug - unplug from the everyday, from work, from technology, from - dare I mention it - Facebook! But as a working parent, it is extremely important to disconnect from the world and simply enjoy your family.
For the past three years, my husband and I have taken our kids on mini-vacations to the Poconos at least twice per year. It is just under five hours drive for us, so we leave the house early so we can beat traffic and (hint) the kids are usually still sleepy, which means they’ll probably fall asleep after 45 minutes into the trip for at least another hour or so, which makes for a calmer ride.
As a same-sex couple with kids, we have stayed at different hotels in the area, some more expensive than others, and have never encountered any issues because of our sexual identity. There are some budget hotels/motels where you can stay, just remember that the quality of place is directly proportional to the cost of the rooms. We stayed at this place once where we asked the front desk to change our room because the original room was simply unacceptable - stains, dirty walls, and a toilet seat that didn’t fit properly. Eventually, we settled on another room. Just remember if you are not satisfied with the room or any of the amenities at the hotel - speak up and let them know right away, most places will try to help you. Mentioning things like “are you on Facebook, TripAdvisor or Yelp?” might help you with your request. The first thing I do after checking-in to our hotel, is to turn off my cell phone - which trust me it is probably the hardest thing for me to do - but it is a conscious decision I made so I could enjoy my time with the family.
The Niagara Falls of Pennsylvania
The best way to unplug is to plug into nature and if you don’t mind hiking and climbing, then Bushkill Falls, which is known as the Niagara Falls of Pennsylvania, is really the place to visit! Opened to the public since 1904, Bushkill Falls is located on about 300 acres of land in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
The falls are 1200 feet above sea level, and include 8 waterfalls and over 2 miles of hiking trails, bridges and walkways. The drop from the top of the Main Falls to the bottom of the Lower Gorge is about 300 feet and it’s an absolutely breathtaking view and cell phone signal is extremely spotty - so leave them in the car or your room’s safe. But, please bring a camera - preferably a waterproof one so you don’t need to worry about it getting wet.
To read the entire article, please visit Connextions Magazine Issue 19: Travel Lite
(Originally published: Connextions Magazine Issue #12)
In order to escape what can only be described as “one of the rainiest and coldest springs” I can remember, my partner and I packed our kids and drove to a water park in the Poconos, where we booked a Kid Kamp Suite at the Great Wolf Lodge. The drive from Long Island, New York to Pennsylvania was a very uneventful one, since we are now experts on what to bring with us on long road trips to keep the kids occupied. Amidst the kids’ DVDs, leap pads, and etch-a-sketchers, I usually pack snacks, juices, water, sandwiches, fruits and sweets, anything to keep everyone happy and engaged.
I always say that my partner and I are “outlet junkies,” because we love shopping and are always looking for deals and sales. So on our way to the water park, we couldn’t resist and stopped at the Crossings Premium Outlets Mall, which is about five minutes away from the lodge, and the only thing we bought was lunch. I would not recommend this mall at all. I felt the prices were actually higher than those in New York, but it gave us the chance to stretch our legs and waste some time and energy.
As usual, we didn’t let our kids know where we were going, because we love to see their surprised faces as we arrive to our destination. Upon driving up the hill into Great Wolf Lodge we were greeted by huge water slides sticking out of the building and the kids put every toy away and excitedly focused on them and expressed their desire to climb each slide. Great Wolf Lodge is a massive water park with over 79,000 square feet of water rides and slides, including flabbergasting slides for the adults or zero-depth entry areas for the little ones. The indoor water park is always a wonderful 84 degrees and there are plenty of areas where everyone can get splashed and even smashed – yes, there is a bar inside the water park and another one in the restaurant!
our first night I checked on him every couple of hours. I was incredibly surprised he slept like a big boy and did not fall off the bed, and this is when I realized my baby is growing up so quickly and has already begun his own journey in life.
The next morning they woke up and got out of bed and ran into our room to wake us up, which was absolutely an amazing experience for us, because we are usually the ones who wake them up. The breakfast buffet, which I recommend purchasing during the booking process, was great. I had read online some comments about people complaining about the food, but everyone in my family enjoyed all of the options available, the freshness and tastes of the foods. I strongly recommend the create-your-own omelet area, where the chef will create your favorite omelet, and by the way they have feta cheese if you ask for it! During breakfast, we were delightfully surprised when Violet, one of Great Wolf’s mascots, came around our table to greet the kids and for photo ops. So have your cameras ready, because you just may encounter Violet, Oliver or Wiley. By the way, Shutterfly.com has an awesome deal with Great Wolf where you can receive book of pics as a gift, make sure to get the card with the code for your free book from your room.
After breakfast, we relaxed by the Great Clock Tower in the Grand Lobby for story time, which is repeated three times throughout the day. We then went to the water park and this is when I realized just how brave and fearless my little girl, Jaslene, has become. In the water park, Jaslene decided she wanted to try the water slides, so we started with the kiddy slides, and suddenly she was doing belly slides and wanted to try the bigger slides, so we did! My little four year old princess was pulling me to take her to the Totem Towers, which is described as “twin three-story slides offer[ing] the fastest escape route out of the Fort Mackenzie tree house.” So we did, I got a wedgie and felt I was about to fly off the Totem, but she was sporting a huge smile and a desire to go again. So we did – several times later, I asked Jose, my partner, to swap with me. Back in the kiddy pool and slides, Max was having the time of his life and I was able to catch my breath! In case you forget your waterproof camera, the lodge’s shops have plenty of stock available. Virtually every area of the water park is supervised by lifeguards and we felt extremely safe, also life-jackets are available free of charge on a first come, first serve basis.
This destination opened my eyes to the journey my kids have already started and how we, as their parents, have given them the tools necessary to begin their journey and for them to take control of their own path. This is such an important lesson for Jose and me to learn, because we are currently in the middle of the adoption process and have faced a few obstacles lately, which at times has been stressful for us and needed to learn this lesson. We had such an amazing experience, that we decided to return a couple of months later for Fathers’ Day.
The staff was absolutely awesome; they have games to keep the kids entertained throughout the day, and make balloon animals. Kids and adults can get magic wands and go on scavenger hunts throughout the lodge and even battle a dragon in MagiQuest games located all over the lodge. There’s even an ice cream-themed manicure called Scooops Kid Spa, an arcade, a pizza place, a sweets shop, a bowling alley, miniature golf, a spa and gym for adults. The fun never ends at Great Wolf Lodge. If you go, say hi to Bill the General Manager, Brieanna the Front Office Manager and Michael the Manager and let them know that Manny from Connextions Magazine highly recommends this place.
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