We usually do our annual Family Vacation Guide to Lancaster in the summer and hit up Dutch Wonderland and Cherry Crest Adventure Farm, but when Cartoon Network Hotel invited us down for a winter visit, we were excited to discover what kid-friendly fun was to be had in Amish Country in winter and year round... and to share with you all, of course!!
Watch our highlights video and read on for more details about each of the attractions, restaurants, and hotels!
Cartoon Network Hotel
Whether you have a lover of cartoons in your home or not, adults and kids of all ages will LOVE Cartoon Network Hotel!!
We were provided 2 nights in the Steven Universe Dream Suite in exchange for our review, but don't worry, all thoughts and opinions are my own and completely unbiased. In full honesty... IT IS AMAZING!!!!!
They have 4 dream suites that can sleep 6: Steven Universe, Ben 10, Power Puff, and Adventure Time. Ours had a private primary bedroom for the parents, a huge bathroom with 2 sinks and a shower, a 6-chair dining table, small kitchen with mini fridge / Keurig / microwave, large living room with 75" TV, and kids room with 2 double bunk beds and a TV in each bed (this didn't have a door, unfortunately, but was off to the side so you could have lights and TV on in the living room and it wouldn't bother kids if deep sleepers like ours, or simply head to your own bedroom and close the door ;)
The dream suite costs quite a bit more than the regular rooms that sleep 2 or 4 people, but are the only rooms inside the main building and are totally worth the splurge IMO! The only negative I have is that because it is right over the lobby, we heard the music pumping down there (they were doing karaoke I think?) on Saturday night til 10pm. It didn't bother me and my kids didn't notice and passed right out, but just a heads up. Nothing some ear plugs or white noise app on your cell phone can't take care of!
Inside the main building, you have the Cartoon Kitchen, regular character meet & greets, a cafe, the gift shop (a dream for Cartoon Network fans!!!), Omnicade (arcade), and the favorite of me and my kids: the Toon Room. Here you can play VR (even 2 can play together in the same game/cube), scavenger hunt, arts and crafts, and more!
They have an outdoor pool and splash area open in summer, and they have a lovely heated indoor pool open year round but you have to go outside to get there and ooooooof it can be cold in winter! It didn't have any locker rooms but we changed in the bathroom, not a big deal. Be sure to BYO puddle jumpers / floaties.
Book your room on cartoonnetworkhotel.com or Hotels.com (affiliate link).
There are a ton of companies out there with "Amish tours" and museums and what not. Some are authentic, others not at all. I ran across LoKal Experiences on Discover Lancaster's website and am SO glad I reached out to work together on a review. The "Unique Amish Immersion Experience" tour we were taken on went above and beyond my expectations in teaching us all about Amish / Mennonite history, culture, and such great tidbits. I never realized how misinformed we are about them! Here are some things I found most fascinating:
Mike, the co-founder of LoKal, is passionate about working with local Amish businesses and families, and giving his clients an authentic, memorable, and fun experience. He took us in his beautiful 14 passenger van to several homes (including one that was featured in the 1985 Harrison Ford movie Witness) and farms and even Down on the Farm Creamery that had the BEST ice cream I've EVER had. (Yes, at 9:45am. Don't judge.) He also had these great ear pieces so you could hear him and ask questions no matter how far back in the van you sat, which was really helpful!
They offer tons of experiences and tours, so you can find the best one for your family - from lunch with an Amish family to a Sweet & Savory tour of Lancaster City, even some craft beer & dive bar options for adults!
Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre
Founded 35 years ago and serving 15,000 guests annually, this 328 seat theatre is a great stop on any family-friendly Lancaster vacation!! Check their calendar to see which performances will be held during your stay! Their main theatre lineup includes Singin' in the Rain (~April 16), Rock of Ages, The Little Mermaid, Chicago, Saturday Night Fever, and Elf the Musical. They also have workshops and performances geared more toward children, which is what we were invited to join! I had no idea what to expect but we went for the matinee lunch and show of Pinkalicious the Musical and honestly, I LOVED IT! The buffet for the kids show wasn't spectacular, to be honest, it was "kid-friendly" foods (think hot dogs and fish nuggets) but it did have a salad bar and yummy cupcakes and cookies! The show itself was one hour and pure fun. The acting, set, and music were top notch, and it was, frankly, HILARIOUS. All 5 of us had a fabulous time!! After the show the cast stayed on stage to take questions from the audience, which was a really nice touch!! It's running through April 15, I really recommend it!!
Choo Choo Barn
If you love model trains, the Choo Choo Barn is a MUST!! It's basically 1 HUGE Lancaster County themed train set in a 1700 square foot room! With over 150 hand-built animated figures and vehicles and 22 operating trains. There are buttons to press to activate different parts. Every 10 minutes the room darkens and the ceiling has starts that light up to simulate nighttime. It's just utterly fascinating to examine every single inch of this place! I wasn't sure if our kids would be bored but they couldn't get enough of it either! There's a zoo, ski slopes, airplane, Dutch Wonderland, a house on fire, a circus, so so so so much to see! SO FUN!! For older kids who need some help focusing, they have 2 great scavenger hunt lists - one for first timers and one for repeat visitors.
Aaron & Jessica's Buggy Rides
We had terrible luck with the weather, in the middle of a winter storm when it was time for our reserved time at Aaron & Jessica's Buggy Rides. Despite the wind and snow, they were more than happy to take us out and tell us all about the Amish history and culture. The owner, or "Grandpa," as he said everyone calls him, was our driver and was so great with our kids. He let all 3 pile up front and help him steer the horse. Answering their millions of questions and taking photos with us afterward. I can't wait to go back for a longer ride during nicer weather! They have several tours to choose from such as the 20 minute "Cookie Run" with a stop at a farm stand to the 90 minute "Amish Journey" and private rides as well. Check out their website for hours and more details!
Fulton Steamboat Inn
We already had our accommodation settled for this trip but in all our years visiting Lancaster, we had yet to stop by the Fulton Steamboat Inn! So, I reached out and was delighted to be invited for a hotel tour and dinner! From the moment you see the "steamboat" from the road, til you step foot inside and get immediate "Titanic vibes", it's just one OOOOH after another! It's a truly unique experience and stunning property!
They have an assortment of beautiful rooms, and if going on a couples getaway or momcation, I highly recommend their spectacular rooms on the adult-only sun deck!! They have an indoor pool and jacuzzi, a small game room, a cute playground and pond outside (the Koi fish were wintering but we had fun feeding the ducks)! Dinner was delicious, they had a great kids' menu and coloring activities for them, and we were pleasantly surprised to have pianist Bill Horn playing during our meal! Whether you stay at Fulton Steamboat Inn or just drop in for a meal at Huckleberry's Restaurant, you won't be disappointed! Book your room at fultonsteamboatinn.com or Hotels.com (affiliate link).
Did we manage to squeeze in a TON in just 3 days or what!?!?! We loooooove Lancaster and can't recommend it highly enough for your next family vacation! Are there some must-sees and must-dos we missed? Leave us a comment below!! And if looking for more Lancaster ideas, see our past years' guides below!
Our previous Lancaster Family Vacation Guides:
So you haven't figured out your spring break plans yet? Join the club! With uncertainty around the pandemic and travel safety, many of us have left it to the last minute, and some places are fully booked already. But, it's OK!!! I've got you!! Check out some of my last minute kid-friendly spring break ideas for inspiration and get to planning TODAY!!!
(Disclaimer: this post contains some affiliate links and we earn commission from purchases made after clicking.)
Family-Friendly All-Inclusive Resorts
Don't assume these are out of your budget. While they are definitely a splurge, there are many types of all-inclusive resorts at various price points, so you can definitely find one for you! Head over to hotels.com to see prices and availability (you can narrow your search by selecting "all inclusive" under "accommodation type" and "family" under "themes/types").
Take into consideration all of the "included" things when looking at the price. They vary by resort but typically include room, 3 meals a day + snacks + drinks (some even include alcohol), activities (some even have non-motorized water activities like snorkeling and kayaking), nightly entertainment, kids clubs / camps, etc etc! When you tally it all up, it can actually end up being a great deal!
Don't want to fly? No worries!! We love love LOVE these all-inclusive resorts located right here in the Tri State Area: (click to read our reviews or watch embedded highlights videos below): Woodloch Resort, Rocking Horse Ranch, and Pine Ridge Dude Ranch.
Indoor Waterpark Resort
Prices for these during school breaks can be about 3 times higher than lower peak times of year, but may be worth a splurge if your kids are pool and water slide fanatics! The nightly rate usually includes waterpark access for days of check in and check out (and all days between), and if you consider standalone waterpark tickets go for around $50/person, this makes the hotel rate a bit more understandable.
Great Wolf Lodge and Kalahari are popular chains of waterpark resorts with locations around the country. If you're in the TriState Area, some more local ones include Rocking Horse Ranch (which is all-inclusive and mentioned in the above section), Kartrite, Six Flags Great Escape Lodge, Greek Peak (click to read our reviews for the last 3 or watch our embedded highlights videos embedded below), SplitRock, and Camelback.
Learn to surf and zipline through the jungles of Costa Rica, stay at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, feed giraffes from your bedroom window in Nairobi! The possibilities are endless and SO very exciting!!
Humanitarian / Volunteering Vacation
Vacation with a purpose - arrange yourself or join a group such as Discover Corps, Global Volunteers, or one from this great list on USA Today.
Go somewhere WARM
Mexico or the Caribbean. Central or South America. Anywhere near or south of the equator! Soak in the sunshine and vitamin D! Swim. Snorkel. Whether you go all-inclusive, budget hotel, or rent a house, you'll have an amazing warm escape!
Go somewhere COLD
Most people don't think of going somewhere COLDER for spring break, so you may be able to find a good deal with less competition! Maybe you want to go skiing, go dog sledding and stay in an ice hotel (Hotel de Glace in Quebec is only open through March 12 though, so not applicable for most of our spring breaks), or try to see the northern lights? Would be an (arctic) blast!!
This can mean staying home and planning fun-filled days visiting local tourist spots and doing really exciting activities (check out GROUPON for great deals and inspiration, and Resort Pass for day passes to resorts - from NYC to Florida, anywhere!).
Or you could stay at a nearby hotel and enjoy their pool and jacuzzi and other amenities (hit up hotels.com or hotwire.com to see what's available - you can narrow search by amenities such as pool and family-friendly).
Watch the below video for a recent staycation we did with some super fun local attractions and a night over at a budget-friendly hotel with pool!
If you're in the Tri State Area, you can't go wrong with Crystal Springs Resort in New Jersey. Glorious tropical-esque indoor pool, delicious food, spa, classes and activities, near ski slopes - just perfection!! Click to read our summer & winter stay reviews or watch the embedded highlights videos below!
Disclaimer: We were provided complimentary tickets to Dutch Wonderland and Cherry Crest Adventure Farm in exchange for our promotion, but all thoughts and opinions are our own - we LOVE them, have been going for years, and know you'll love them, too! This post also contains affiliate links, you won't pay more but we receive commission from purchases made after clicking.
We missed our annual trip to Lancaster last summer, we all missed ALOT of things last year, am I right?! But it made our trip this year that much more special! And to top it off, we also met my best friend (and her family) who I hadn't seen in 3 years!! See the WHOLE vacation in this super fun video here, and read on for more details!!
Lancaster is one of our favorite family vacation destinations, for 3 reasons:
1. The landscape
It's absolutely beautiful, so peaceful, with rolling hills and endless farmland! Also, I may be a tad fascinated with Amish culture and lifestyle...
2. Dutch Wonderland
Possibly the best amusement park out there for toddlers and younger kids, with everything from chill rides to exciting diving shows, and even a small water park. There are many rides where you can hold babies and little ones in your lap. By around 2-3 years old, they're tall enough for most rides, at least going together with an adult. My oldest is 8 and finally tall enough to ride the wooden roller coaster with the highest height requirement. My 5 year olds are tall enough for the 2nd highest cutoff ride, Merlin's Mayhem, a super exciting SMOOTH metal roller coaster. Look at the below photo of our first trip in 2017 and our latest trip in 2021 - the kids have grown SO much!!
We're still not out of the pandemic, but I should note that most people at the park were NOT masked, and it did get crowded. The waterpark was too crowded for our comfort (you can see in our video) so didn't venture in there, but other than that we didn't feel uneasy, especially being outdoors. We got there right when they opened at 10am and were able to ride Merlin's Mayhem (our favorite roller coaster) twice in a row without any line and didn't have to wait more than 5 minutes until afternoon, when it got a bit more crowded but still not crazy, for a super nice Sunday in August I was pleasantly surprised!
We just love going back year after year! We haven't noticed any change in rides since we've been going, but it's fun seeing how the kids change each time - what they're excited to ride or see again, and what they're suddenly tall enough to do.
3. Cherry Crest Adventure Farm
We've been going to Cherry Crest for years now and every time they have added new things and expanded and my mind is blown in the best way all over again!! It's basically 25 acres of outdoor adventuring "agri-entertainment" fun on the farm - we're talking HUGE fast potato sack slides (a 6-lane slide is new this year and amazing!!!), jump pillows for kids AND adults, petting zoo, tractor rides, shooting apples and paint balls, Sproutsville kids' town (expanded this year with many new buildings - see the video), and so so so much more!!
Their epic corn maze was voted #1 in the country last year!! Be sure to click here and vote so they win again this year. Above center is an aerial view, this year's 5-acre corn maze with 2.5 miles of trails has a theme of "Hometown Heroes", and throughout the maze you can learn about how local and national emergency services keep our communities safe!
Cherry Crest is open daily through the summer (closed Sundays/Mondays) in July & August, and open Thurs-Sat from September 11 - November 6. Check out their calendar here!
We've stayed at several different Lancaster hotels over the years, you can see them mentioned in our previous annual guides (our 2019 guide, our 2018 guide, our 2017 guide - you can see TONS of other activities and restaurants in those as well).
This year we chose the Wyndham Lancaster Resort and it's our new favorite!! Here's why we loved it:
1. Huge and newly renovated - modern, clean, super nice! We got a pool-view balcony room with 2 queen beds and I was surprised how big it was! Could fit an extra bed but we decided to keep it roomier and just had our 3 kids sleep sideways in one of the queen beds, easy peasy!
2. Great heated zero-entry outdoor pool with lounge chairs IN THE POOL. It was in the 90's when we arrived and the pool was actually a bit too warm, felt good but not refreshing. I've never said that about a pool in my life LOL, it was like a warm bath, would have felt really nice on a normal day in the 70s-80's but in a heat wave, I wanted icey water!
3. Nice indoor pool with 9' deep end, nice for jumping and diving!
**note: NO LIFEGUARDS! You have to sign a ton of waivers at check in.
4. TODDLER ROOM!! See photo below and in our video. My kids are 5, 5, 8 and loved it here. And it was amazing for our friend's 2 year old because he could just roam free with no worries. It's a great space to take your kids when they wake early, to let your partner enjoy a sleep in!
5. Super cute outdoor playground. Note: it's not gated in, so you'll have to stay close to your little ones if they're runners!
6. On-site restaurant, bar, and Starbucks. Pro Tip: the Starbucks has a microwave (our room didn't), it also has a little food pantry where you can buy cereal, snacks, etc.
7. Located across the street from Cartoon Network Hotel and Dutch Wonderland, walkable to many restaurants including Applebees. Very close to the outlets and TONS of stuff! That said, it's in a busy commercial area, not the quiet peaceful areas of Lancaster where we've stayed before.
We also dropped by Cartoon Network Hotel because I've been curious about it since it opened recently! It looks like it was an old motel that got bought up and gut renovated in a really fun and kitsch way. We peaked into an open room and it was small, no wonder they have a max 4 guests policy. The outdoor pool and splash area look great, and we ate dinner at the Cartoon Kitchen, which looks more like a cafeteria than a restaurant, but we got a private BenTen themed "pod" (3 walled room with a TV at the end of the table) and had fun. The food was good, drinks were strong and yummy, they have a FAB gift shop if you have CN loving people in your life, and they had meet and greet with a couple of characters, however there was a no-touch policy, covid related probably. I definitely recommend either a stay or a meal there!
MORE FAMILY VACATION INSPIRATION:
Looking for a great kid-friendly getaway from NYC? What about traveling back in time!? Then you've gotta check out Wild West City in NJ where we went yesterday for the first time, just under an hour and a half drive from up here in Hudson Valley. For the full experience and all the details, check out our fun highlights reel here:
At Wild West City you are transported back in time to the 1800's Wild West! With live action every 15 minutes on the Main Street - we're talking shootouts (with powder blanks, don't worry - no danger here!!), cowboy horse riding competitions, stagecoach holdups with audience participation, can can dancers and more!)
The Main Street also acts as a living history museum where you can go into each building and explore - bank, jail, saloon, saddle shop, post office, barber shop, one room school house, chapel, and more!
There are a few dining options, including the Golden Nugget (with the usual fast food i.e. not historically accurate LOL, great live music, and booze options for the adults), a confectionary with cotton candy, ice cream and sno-cones, and a pizza parlor (they only space with AC).
Seeing animals in the barn and panning for gold are also included in the admission fee. Fun extras include $6/person stagecoach ride, $5/person train ride, $5/person mini golf, $5/person pony rides, and more.
We honestly had such a fun time!! They keep it "historically accurate", with words that are not PC in today's world ("Indians" for example), and yes, they do shoot, and kill, and the guns are loud (but fake - firing blanks), so consider if your kids will be ok with this. After gloriously and often hilariously dramatic shootouts and "deaths", the actors jump back up and wave, so your kids will quickly understand it's all just playing, of course you should discuss this before, during, and after to make sure they understand it was acting, and how dangerous real weapons are! Safety first!!
LOCATION: 50 Lackawanna Drive Stanhope, NJ
TICKETS: $29.50 for adults, $24.50 for kids, $22 for seniors.
Visit their website for more details.
For more like this from us, visit:
Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by CaliCase but all thoughts are my own and completely unbiased. In fact, I reached out to them because I was so interested in the product, which is often the case for our reviews. I'm no sell out :) I got you! That said, affiliate links follow - we receive a small commission from purchases made after clicking, cuz ya girl gotta eat!
Remember back in they day, those little single use Kodak underwater cameras?? They still exist, and most of you probably believe to take photos or videos in the water you need that or a $500 GoPro. But what if I told you that you could just use your own cell phone. We pay a lot of money for these phones that have amazing cameras, so why not use them!? But how to protect our phones while at the beach, pool, lake, or waterpark?? I'll tell ya how - CaliCase Waterproof Phone Pouch (it floats, too)!!! These are amazing not just for adults and our primary cell phones, but to let your kids have fun shooting photos with their phones or your old cell phone (more on how to use old phones here!)
Watch my full unboxing, demo, and review video here and read on for more details:
In a nutshell, I LOVE our CaliCase waterproof phone cases! They're an amazing bang for your buck and allow you to safely use your phone in and around the water - you can make calls, send texts, take photos and video, everything!! I'll go into more detail about the phone by answering some of the burning questions I had going into this, which you probably are wondering about as well:
Are they really waterproof?
How's the sound and camera quality?
Any other standout features?
My takeaway: Get it. Get it today! You can have your phone close by without having to worry about it getting splashed or dunked. You can even throw a credit card in there, which is what we did at the water park so we had everything we needed right on us! The universal size fit my phone (Motorola G Stylus) and my husband's (iPhone 11) only if we took our regular cases off, the extra large size fit them with cases on, which is easier, so I recommend that bigger size.
BUY YOUR CALICASE on CaliCase.com (affiliate link) - use code "japanfam" to get 20% off!!
Disclaimer: We were provided tickets in exchange for sharing our experience, but all thoughts and opinions are our own.
We moved from Brooklyn to Hudson Valley a year ago, but last summer was pretty much a wash for any kind of theme park experiences. Thankfully everything is opened back up now and we are HERE. FOR. IT!!! Yesterday we ventured half an hour up to Fishkill, NY to spend the day at SplashDown Beach Water Park and had the best day everrrrrr!!! Be sure to watch our highlights video here, and read on for details!!
We arrived at 11AM, got our bags checked, tickets scanned, rented our locker for the day (you get a handy wrist band you simply scan to open the locker), and rented our Cabana, which is an extra splurge but I highly recommend it - it was so nice to have a quiet shaded spot to come back to for a break. There's a buzzer so you can easily call your waiter and order food and drinks to be brought to you. You need a special wrist band to enter the private cabana area, so we felt safe leaving our clothes and water bottles and sunblock and other non-valuables there with no worries, just putting wallets and keys in a locker (in another area). We had a cheese pizza delivered for lunch and it was delicious!!!!
Those 48" and above can do all the rides, though 42" and above can do pretty much do everything, sometimes solo and sometimes needing to pair up with an adult. There are some HUGE and terrifying slides (like Humunga Halfpipe and Megalodon), some medium thrill ones (like Bullet Bowl and Arctic Plunge), and some super chill ones safe for babies and babies at heart (like the lazy river, regular pool, and wave pool), and even some areas just for smaller kids.
One of our 5 year old twins was too scared to do a solo ride at the start of the day, but after doing several rides with a partner she was ready to try again at the end of the day and SUCCESS! She loved it and begged to ride again and again!!! So, my tip, if you have a more nervous kid like her, do parter or group rides first to get their confidence up a bit, and avoid any potential tears and inner conflict!
They have complimentary coastguard certified lifejackets available throughout the park - for adults (over 90 pounds), youth (55-88 pounds), child (33-55 pounds), and infant. Our kids can't swim yet so having them wear these helped me feel more reassured.
I was really impressed with the lifeguards, too. At the pool, you can see them scanning in very strict grid patterns - each line up and down the pool from one side to the other, the perimeter, and back to start - they obviously have very detailed training and when one of my kids had trouble exiting from a water slide at one point that lifeguard did not hesitate to blow her whistle, jump in, and rescue my little one who had been sucked back to the corner by the current (you can see the action in our video). While she luckily hadn't been in any real danger, it was amazing to see how confident the lifeguards are in knowing exactly what to do. So so so important at any water park, and this was the first time I ever got to see their training in action!
They have changing rooms, bathrooms, lots of dining options inside and outside. We left when they closed at 6pm, after a full 7 hours there, and honestly, still hadn't had enough LMAO!!! It is a SUPER FUN day out and I can't recommend it highly enough!!
LOCATION: 16 Old Route 9 W, Fishkill, NY
TICKETS: from $29.99 - $49.99 per day (half day, weekday, weekend/holiday rates vary), infants 2 and under free (but first visit you must purchase their reusable swim diaper cover for $9.99), $129.99 season's pass.
Quick shoutout to some items that made our day in the sun even better:
For more NY / NJ area reviews and recommendations, be sure to check out our roundups:
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by mifold but all thoughts and opinions are my own. I am not a certified car seat expert, pediatrician, or any sort of professional - I'm just a mom, making the best choices I can for my own family and sharing things I love with others! Please do your own research and use your best judgement about the best car seat or booster for your own children :)
You can usually find an Uber with a single carseat, but for families with more children, sorry, you're out of luck. But... you're not out of luck if you have mifold booster seats!! They're so compact, you can throw a few in your suitcase during a flight, stow some in your backpack while traveling, keep them in your stroller's undercarriage, have your child keep one in their backpack so they're ready to be picked up by your sitter or grandparent after school, and keep a spare in your trunk for when you have carpool duty!
Watch my video below for a full demo, notes about the differences between their Original and Comfort designs, and some safety notes. Then read on for more details, and enter to WIN one in my $1,000 value jackpot Spring into Summer Giveaway (ending April 7, 2021) at the bottom of this post!!
10 times smaller than traditional booster seats, mifold is our family's LITTLE secret to traveling with kids, and I'm sure they will also come in handy next year when our kids are back to school and carpooling to activities! Below you can see the original mifold (in yellow) and the new mifold comfort design (in purple). Let me go over a few key features and what sets them apart!
Below you can see the visual guide that is on the new mifold comfort seats - this is probably my favorite change to the design!! On the bottom right, you can see the little slides used to adjust the width of the seat - super easy to use before or after the child is sitting on it!
Below you can see our kids in their regular car seats on the left (high back booster for our 8 year old, and our 5 year old twins still in their 5-point harness convertible car seats) compared to sitting 3 across in their mifold boosters on the right. mifold allows you to fit 3 across more easily into more types of vehicles (see safety note below).
While we love mifold for being so compact, lightweight, portable, and budget-friendly there are a few safety points you need to keep in mind:
If used carefully and properly, mifold can be an amazing option for many families - for travel, carpool, or even regular use. Don't forget, you can enter to win a mifold booster seat in our $1,000 value jackpot giveaway running through April 7, 2021!!
Enter to win here!!
Disclaimer: We were provided our stay free in exchange for sharing our experience with you. However, below are our honest experiences and unbiased opinions - we TRULY love love love Crystal Springs!!
Crystal Springs Resort in New Jersey is one of my all time favorite family-friendly vacation spots in the Tri-State area! I've been there twice before: as a family in the summer of 2019 and as a #momcation with one of my best mom friends in February 2020 (just before Covid came to town). Put simply, this place NEVER disappoints. From the tropical indoor Biosphere pool to the delicious dining options to unique activities like puppy and goat yoga!!
So, when we were invited back recently for a hosted stay in exchange for sharing with you all what it's like to vacation at Crystal Springs during the pandemic, I jumped at the chance! Well, I put on my mask and jumped from a socially safe distance, that is! Ha!
Check out our highlights videos from our 1-night mini getaway at Crystal Springs, including our outing to nearby Mountain Creek for Snow Tubing, and keep reading for more details and photos of our time at Crystal Springs and what you can expect regarding pandemic safety!!
Crystal Springs is definitely making safety a priority, while still providing top notch service, activities, and dining experiences! If you've been before, you'll notice subtle changes related to pandemic safety, which are outlined in their COVID-19 Statement, and I'll go over the ones that stood out to me below:
Watch the highlights videos from our previous two vacations at Crystal Springs, pre-pandemic:
Disclaimer: Our stay and activities were provided in exchange for our honest review - all thoughts and opinions are my own and 100% unbiased!
When it comes to family vacation destinations within a 3 hour drive from New York City, your options are plentiful. We've actually reviewed many of them (see our "family friendly day trips and weekend getaways from NYC" list here), but our trip to The Kartrite Resort & Indoor Waterpark this past weekend truly blew us away. It was spectacular, non-stop fun and excitement, beautiful, just AMAZING! A must visit for any family in the Tri-State area, honestly!!! Watch our video here and read on for more about what makes The Kartrite so special!
Located in Monticello, NY, The Kartrite is just a 2 hour drive from NYC, making it the perfect weekend destination! The Kartrite hasn't even celebrated its first birthday yet, so everything is beautiful, new, and utilizing the latest technology. Take your room key for example. It's not a key or even a card. It's a wrist band!! The internal chip acts as both your room key and your water park admission! I mean, HELLO! Could they make it any easier!? At the arcade, you add activities and game tokens to your Playopolis card, and any tickets you win go back onto your card - so it's completely cash and paper free! What's more? You can get a card for each member of your family and then pool all the points to one card when checking out and "buying" your kids' prizes.
There are ski slopes and cute towns nearby, but frankly, don't even bother. We spent our entire 3 days at The Kartrite and had zero desire or need to leave the fabulous facilities. At check-in we received a list of the complimentary daily kids' activities (things like STEAM projects, sand art, marshmallow towers, daily movie night in the lobby), and they even have a 3 hour nightly"Kids' Night Out" drop-off program for $55/child. We ended up spending 10am-5:30pm Saturday at the Waterpark, 10am-2pm Sunday at Indoor Adventures area, and the rest of the time either eating or lounging in the room!
It should go without saying, the waterpark is the main attraction. This is why people come to The Kartrite, and for good reason, it's spectacular!! Touted as New York's biggest indoor waterpark, and covered by the world’s largest texlon transparent roof (I didn't realize this and thankfully we didn't burn, but as per their website, apparently you can tan through it, so don't forget your sunscreen!), they really went above and beyond in every way, and entrance is included with your stay at The Kartrite (even on check in and check out days). To top it off, it was the most physically pleasant indoor waterpark we've been to. We've visited many where either the air or the water wasn't quite warm enough, and left you chilled and needing to leave within 2 hours. We've also experienced some where the air was so thick with chlorine that our eyes stung and lungs burned! We didn't experience any of this at The Kartrite! With the exception of the bathrooms being cold and the lunch line being long, everything else was absolutely perfect!
There's an adorable toddler area with mini slides and splash zones, free life jackets for kids, a basketball pool, a great lazy river (never had to wait long to get a single or double tube to ride on), several kiddie water slides, 5 big kid / adult water slides (with minimum height of 42" or 48"), water adventure areas with a dump bucket, and even a well heated outdoor pool that you can access from inside (it was about 25*F when we went, and we were completely warm in this pool outside, until my kids splashed me and got my face and ears wet, then they started to freeze)!
There's no extra fee for their Flowrider (shown above), where you can do indoor boogie boarding, wake boarding, or surfing. Lines can get long for this because they give each rider ample time to have several tries, but it's totally worth the wait. It was my first time as well as my son's first time. After watching many people wipe out (no tears or injuries though) I was incredibly nervous but it was insanely fun!! The staff were super helpful, taking the time to explain how to do it, and if you are doing well they'll guide you from the front on learning tricks while you're still riding. It was amazing!! My son and I both were able to get up onto our knees and we saw others learning to spin the board around. So cool! You can see us in action on Flowrider in this video!
The most unique item at the waterpark is probably the Nor'easter water slide (see giant blue monstrosity above). I've never seen anything quite like it, but unfortunately we weren't able to ride it. There's a minimum height of 48" (our kids are too short), and you must have 2 or 4 riders (and I felt too shy to ask a stranger to ride with me). We did enjoy watching it though, and our 7 year old will definitely be tall enough if we go back in half a year or so! Can't wait!!
There is a cafeteria style grill in the waterpark as well as a bar. We ended up ordering a whole pizza, for $20, which was good for our family of 5. You can put it charges on your room which makes it nice, no need to bring your wallet. There are lockers, I believe from about $15 per day, but I really recommend leaving valuables in your room and bringing a waterproof pouch for your phone so you can keep it on you for quick photos and videos. You do need to wear coverup and shoes between your room and the waterpark, but we just put ours in a bag and left them on a chair. I guess there is always a risk of theft, but it didn't feel especially risky to me.
You can also splurge by purchasing a cabana for the day, which we were treated to by The Kartrite! The regular lounge chairs really fill up quickly around the waterpark, so having a private reserved section was really nice, plus it comes stocked with fruit, snacks, beverages in a mini fridge, and your own waiter by the push of a button!! Of course our kids were most impressed with the 32" HD TV in our cabana, and I was thrilled it had an outlet to turbo charge my phone after taking a full day's worth of photos and videos it was running out of juice! We got Cabana #11 which was right in front of the kids' adventure area, we were able to sit back and relax while still having a great view of our kids. Score!!
If you're not staying at the hotel, you can purchase a Splash Pash day pass to the waterpark for $79 - $99 (children under 2 are free). Great option if you live nearby or just want to drive up for the day!
I actually had no idea these existed at The Kartrite. I'm used to seeing giant arcades, but this was so much more! This massive play center on the first floor consists of:
Basically, you purchase each activity and/or credits, they all go onto your Playopolis card and you scan it for each game or activity. You can buy packages as well, which reduces individual costs. I highly recommend this, so you just go out and have a huge fun day rather them deliberating over individual costs. Just splurge and treat your kids, and yourself!! For example, the "Voyage Pick Four" ($50) package includes 80 arcade credits and you chose 4 of the following: Climbing Wall, XD Theater, Bowling, Laser Tag, Virtual Reality, Rope Course. Family members can share a card too, in case you want each kid to do 2 of those activities.
There were several restaurants to choose from and we honestly enjoyed every meal (well, "enjoyed" may be debatable since dining with 3 overtired cranky kids is always a struggle), but the food, service, and atmospheres were great! The kids' menus seemed to be the same at each restaurant though, so not as much variety, but if you have non-picky kids they could share items off of the adult menu perhaps. Then again we have pretty picky eaters. We ate at Bixby's Derby the first night, which had an upscale yet cozy vibe with huge tall-backed booths (besides looking really cool, I think they do well to absorb noise)! We ate at Harvey's Wallbanger the second night for dinner and the third day for lunch. It's very casual American bar/grille type atmosphere, with some booths and many high tables (I was nervous but our kids didn't fall out, thankfully). They all have crayons and coloring placemats with fun activities like dots and boxes and tic tac toe to keep everyone occupied without screens - hooray! For both breakfasts we got the buffet at Eat. Eat. Eat which was delicious!! A huge variety of food from pastries to omelet station, waffles, bacon, you name it, and 3 and under eats free there!
The rooms are definitely in tune with the stylishly modern design of the rest of the hotel. They have 1, 2, and 3 bedroom suites. We got the "Two Bedroom Grand Corner Suite" which has an 8 guest max occupancy and at 966 square feet it's actually bigger than our own home in Brooklyn, which had its first open house while we were staying at The Kartrite!! The kids got the bedroom with 2 queens (the twins cuddled up in one), and us grownups took the master bedroom with a King and attached bathroom. The living room featured a his and her sink bathroom, sofa bed, Keurig, mini fridge, and balcony. I've seen some suites with bunk beds, too! So definitely search for the set up that'll work best for your family! On our first night, the kids took forever to settle down, not going to sleep until after 9pm, and were up from about 4:30am due to excitement. It was a disaster!!! The next night was much better after an exhausting day at the waterpark, and they slept til 6:30am without waking us up!! Hooray for 2 bedrooms and a living room, plenty of space and doors to block out sound!! Rates very greatly by type of room and day / season, but I've seen as low as $127/night for a family of 4 (don't forget, that includes waterpark passes for every day including check in day and check out day)!!
I'm not even sure who will be making it down here to the end of the post. I'm thinking most of you have already clicked over to The Kartrite's website to book your vacation!! But in case you're still here, thank you for sticking it out til the end!! Would love to hear your thoughts on The Kartrite - have you been there before? Planning to go? Have another family-friendly vacation destination we should review!?!? Comment below and we will love you foreverrrrrrr!!!
Moms, I think we can all agree that we love our kids more than life itself. We'd be lost without them. They're everything! But... sometimes... we need a break. Am I right?! A break from the monotony, from the pressure to be doing everything for everyone, from the whining and fighting. Basically, from being a mom. Needing a break doesn't make you a bad mom. I would argue in fact that taking a break actually can make you a better mom!
This break can come in the form of an hour at the gym, a mani pedi at the salon, or a kid-free lunch with some friends. Maybe you already do this regularly, maybe not, but if you're ready to take it to the next level, taking a full day and night away (or a full weekend, or gasp, a whole week!?), you might just find yourself fully recharged and ready to embrace those kids and your many duties at 100% again. Not just that, but getting away and out of your typical setting can give you a real chance to reconnect with yourself, to remember who you are beyond "mom", "wife", "domestic engineer". Remember when you actually had interests and hobbies, before they were taken over by your duties of meal planner, butt wiper, laundry doer, and booboo kisser. It's time to find and nurture those interests again! Let this blog post serve as your inspiration and motivation, a little nudge to treat yourself and plan your own mom getaway!!
I became a mother just over 7 years ago. It took me 5 years to take my first night away. I know... crazy! Our twins had just turned 2 years old, my husband was alwaysssss working, and I was so overwhelmed and stressed out. I had a mini breakdown (mommy tantrum??), got some amazing advice from my twin mom squad on Facebook (love them!!) and decided to heed that advice by booking a night away!! I went solo, to Atlantic City (weird destination, I know, but Tropicana hosted me and it was amazing - read about that trip and watch the video here).
Fast forward 2 more years and I was more than ready to do this again. Except this time, I didn't want to go alone. I wanted a relaxing but FUN momcation!!! So I reached out to the oh-so-amazing Crystal Springs Resort, because we had visited as a family over the summer and luuuuuurved it (see that blog review & video here), but I was itching to go back without kids! They offered to comp my stay again, in exchange for me covering my wonderful momcation! I invited one of my best mom friends, Rhianon of Brooklyn Boy Mom (together we have SEVEN CHILDREN!!! Me 3 and Rhi 4). See how much fun we had in this video and keep reading for more details!!
Why Crystal Springs for your Momcation?
LOCATION: Just a 90 minute drive from NYC, you'll find yourself in the beautiful northwestern New Jersey foothills at Crystal Springs Resort! It's not a bad drive either - I hadn't driven in over 6 years and was terrified but totally did it - easy peasy!! The hotel and grounds are simply beautiful (no wonder they host countless weddings, reunions, and conventions year round!).
Both times I've stayed at Crystal Springs Grand Cascades Lodge, we've been provided with a Suite, which I highly recommend. Having a full kitchen and living room is so nice and makes lounging around and being lazy at your home away from home a terrific option! Go out to one of their many restaurants when you want, or order pizza or make your own meals when feeling lazy. We stopped at a grocery store on the way up so that we'd have stuff for breakfast and snacks and what not. Our Suite had 1 king bed room, 1 huge bathroom (with L'Occitane toiletries - niiiiiice!!!), a pull out sofa in the living room, a fire place, a balcony, washer and dryer, and a full kitchen (well, minus a microwave - oops, we had to take our popcorn home!!)
They have many options to choose from, whether looking for quick and casual or fine dining for a special occasion. Between the visit with my family and this more recent momcation trip, I've eaten at every one of their restaurants except for their seasonal farm-to-table al fresco Chef's Garden (I'll be back next summer for that one, to be sure!!) and they're all outstanding! You can't go wrong!
Since we couldn't go to their 4-star Restaurant Latour last time (no kids under age 12 allowed), I wanted to make sure to check it out this time (reservations recommended, so plan ahead). Boy oh boy am I glad we did!! Their head Sommelier led the wine tour we took at 3pm, so we were even more excited to head over that evening and request the wine pairing menu ($55) with our 4-course meal ($115) . They also have 7-course, but despite each course being fairly small, we were stuffed by the end of our 2 hour dining experience!!
I'd never done a wine pairing before, and basically know nothing about wine. I actually hadn't a clue that wine choice can either make or break a food. Making the wrong pairing is comparable to drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth - yuck! The sommelier will choose the perfect wine for each of your courses (guests choose courses independently, the table doesn't have to agree), coming over to the table personally to explain about the wine and pour it for you. It was such an incredibly luxurious treat for me, who is more of a 2 slices of pizza and a hard seltzer once a month kinda gal. Because I'm not used to this kind of gourmet dining, I have to be honest that the menu was a wee bit intimidating, but our waitress was the sweetest thing and helped make us feel at ease while handling all of our many questions!
I'm sure the menu options change frequently, but for an idea of what to expect, here's what I ordered and the wines they paired for me (everything tasted as amazing as it looked!!!!):
Course 1: Roasted Crones (gnoccheti, fermented garlic, sunchoke) with Grgich Hills (Fume Blanc, Napa Valley California 2016).
Course 2: Venison (creamed turnip, preserved wild berries, juniper) with Cascina Fontan (Barbera d'Abla, Pieomonte Italy 2017). This was my first time having venison, and you never know what you're going to get with "gamey" meat, but it was absolutely delicious! To my unsophisticated palette it was like an extremely soft and delicious piece of steak.
Course 3: Rohan Duck (chestnut, persimmon, black seed vinaigrette) with Stokes' Ghost (Petite Sirah, Monterey County California, 2015). Talk about a piece of art, how about this plate!?
Course 4: Chocolate Ganache (coffee, buckwheat crumble, hazlenut), with l'Abricot wine and a platter of Turkish Delight! Yum. Just, omg, yum.
Oh, and we can't forget the most amazing and visually pleasing bread basket everrrrrr!!!! Hello activated charcoal bread, like, what!? So neat (and soft and yummy!!), with spreads like beet and garlic - ohmahgerrrrrd y'all!!!!!
We ended up doing 3 days and 2 nights at Crystal Springs on this most amazing Momcation. We stayed up "late" (still asleep before midnight), slept soundly without being pulled out of bed in the middle of the night to escort a little one to the bathroom, binged Netflix in bed, ate amazing food without hearing our kids whine about how disgusting it is, lounged poolside, sweat it out in the sauna and jacuzzi, cuddled with rescue puppies while kinda doing yoga but really just wanting to play with puppies, and even did our first TikTok ha!!!
Arrived home to a shockingly neat and tidy and quiet household - so impressed that my husband got laundry done and got the kids to clean up before I came home!! The kids were so cuddly and sweet, didn't throw a single tantrum for a whole hour after I arrived hahahaha!!! Seriously though, I feel so friggin' refreshed and ready to be the best mom I can be!!!! But I also can't wait to go on my next momcation...
So, are you inspired to book your own Momcation yet!?!? You really can't beat Crystal Springs for the destination - no matter what you're looking for, you'll find it there! They have really fun packages too such as "Robes & Rose Girlfriends Getaway", "Mom's Midweek Spa Day" and more! So get on it - gather some friends and get you on a mom getaway!! Be sure to check back in to let me know how it went (better yet, shoot me an email and maybe I can join)!!!
About Me ^_^
I'm a NYC metro area mom blogger living in NJ with my Japanese husband & our 3 kids (twins plus 1). This blog is chock full of product reviews, family travel guides, and giveaways galore! It's also home to Bay Ridge Families, and several guides focused on kid-friendly activities and guides to South Brooklyn, Hudson Valley, and New Jersey, as well as family-friendly destinations beyond the NYC area (check the menu bar!)