We're a family of Wisconsinites traveling to Boston to drop me (the oldest son) back off for college. My brother and I were in charge of finding something fun to do on the way. A waterpark sounded fun, and so we started looking for an indoor place in the Ohio area (note that we went in January). When we read the reviews for the Great Wolf Lodge, we saw phrases like "family friendly", "good service", and "great for my young kids". That didn't sound too appealing. But then there was the Kalahari. Here are a few things we read on this blog and what it meant to my college-aged brother and I:
"the lifeguards are inattentive and talking to each other" - means that the lifeguards won't yell at you for having fun
"the food is expensive and tastes bad" - means that smart people can sneak in their own treats or order out while everyone else subsidizes the cost of a nice hotel for you
"the hotel has a terrible record for safety" or "my kids and I got hurt on the rides" - means the rides are awesomely fun and exciting
"crowded and slow" - means don't go when everyone else does
"bad service" - means there are opportunities to get your bills reduced if you're a patient and persistent person
With all this in mind, we left out these details and quickly convinced our parents that the Kalahari was the place to be. Being the cheap family we are, we called a couple times until we were offered the nice rate of $180 + tax for our one night stay, a Thursday night in January.
Upon arrival, we were expecting a crowded entrance, no carts to be available, and long check-in lines (based on the reviews on this site). Instead it was empty, there were tons of carts, and we got our room in three minutes, including a free upgrade to the biggest hotel room I've ever seen (3 beds, 2 TVs, 2 baths, and a fridge/microwave). The people were also very friendly. The beds are very jumpable (don't break or shake when dived upon) and the place was very clean. Our room was very close to the waterpark.
Then we ventured our way to the water. We looked for the things that other reviewers had pointed out, like poor signage and inattentive lifeguards, but neither seemed like an issue. They also seemed way overstaffed for the amount of people there. And there were a good number of families, and not too many rowdy kids like ourselves.
As we went for the slides, we immediately recognized the "toilet bowl" that seemed to bother other reviewers. Going down was incredibly fast, a little frightening, and you got spit out a big hole in whatever orientation your body happened to be in. If you're an incompetent swimmer, you might not do so well. If you're tall like we are, there is a reasonable chance of whacking your head on the shallow 6'6" bottom. I recommend putting your hands over your head like a diver if you're falling down the hole head first. I also recommend arching your back or wearing a shirt to prevent your back from becoming raw the next morning. Note that this ride is actually called the "Tanzanian Twister" as denoted by three different signs on the way up.
The two slides next to it are also pretty fun, but there were no signs telling you to get a tube or what kind to get (as a general rule, its helpful to be observant of other people for 30 seconds before doing something and it will be much less confusing...or just ask a nearby lifeguard). Note that these slides are much more fun with more mass, so if you're a group of 2, find a new friend or two (the bigger the better) and go together on a yellow 4 person tube.
The wave pool is amazing for all ages. If you get close to the wave making wall, it’s fun to jump over the top of the waves and crash down on the other side. If you get closer to the shore, you can have fun just getting whacked by giant waves. Note that this hurts the next day. Another fun thing is to ride on a tube from the crest of a large wave all the way to shore.
The basketball areas are large, and there are many. Each has plenty of hoops, balls, and tolerant lifeguards. This means you can have a fun and relatively violent game of water basketball with your brother and get a great workout. I highly recommend it.
That night we tried to subvert the expensive food by ordering some pizza hut. Don't worry about having a phone book, just use 1-800-GOOG-411 for Google's free 411 service. Unfortunately I ordered the wrong pizza and not enough of it, but otherwise it was reasonably priced and super easy to pick-up at the main entrance.
While trying to watch some college football, we noticed that one of our TVs wouldn't turn on and that the free wifi was down. They sent a repairman 15 minutes later for the TV. When he walked up to the TV, he unplugged it and plugged it back in. Apparently, it goes into a faulty power-save mode that it can’t break out of. It would have been easy enough to just tell us to do that over the phone, but after reading these reviews, we didn't expect competent or informed operators at the front desk. They also had no idea what was wrong with the wifi, but my computer know-how told me their router probably needed to be restarted and I doubt they had any idea how to do that. Later that night, we couldn't get the TV to turn off, so hopefully the next guy doesn't mind that his room came with an unplugged TV.
When we woke up the next morning, we felt like old men with scraped up bodies (toilet bowl ride/wave pool), sore legs (basketball), and cut wrists (they give you ONE wristband for your entire stay so you have to sleep with it -- don't put it on too tight, or better yet, rip it off at night and go to the desk claiming it fell off on a ride and that you need a new one). But after seeing a few rides on the hotel TV channel that we hadn't seen in the park, we knew we had to keep exploring despite the soreness.
The first new thing we found was the body boarding. A 3omph wall of water pushes you up a 20' wide slide while you try to body board. With almost no line, we got to do this almost continuously for a half hour. Depending on who is working, they may not mention that a 3omph jet of water can de-pants (guys) or de-top you (girls). I HIGHLY recommend tying your shorts very tight or having girls wear a shirt (they have one available) to prevent the necessity or shielding your bare bottom from the world with a body board. Other than that, this is the most fun attraction in the park and is worth the admission fee by itself.
There is also the "Zip Coaster" (appropriately named) that takes two riders and fires them into a tunnel and around a few turns and drops before slamming into an abrupt finish. This is fun and only hurts if don't prop your rear up a little bit (otherwise it's not so great).
As the final stop, there is the indoor/outdoor hot tub. This is a great place to nurse your minor injuries and relax. if you're young and single and looking to meet new friends of the opposite sex, go at night. If you're with your brother, you both have girlfriends, and you're sore from riding the toilet bowl too many times, go in the early morning to avoid awkward conversations.
Overall, we had a phenomenal experience. For under $220, we had two days for the family at a great waterpark, stayed in an awesome hotel room, and ate some sausage and mushroom pizza. The waterpark is empty on a school day, so I recommend pulling the kids out of school for a good day of fun (such as stay Thursday night, skip school Friday). Take the cheapest room they have and hope they're under filled and you get an upgrade, and if you don't, oh well. Also don't buy their overpriced and questionable food; instead bring in your own food and order takeout. If something is broken, use some common sense to try to fix it, and if that doesn't solve it, just go back to the waterpark or go to sleep. My last recommendation is to make your stay for only one night, which gives you two days of free passes. Trust me, after two full days, your body has taken a beating and you won't want more. Good luck on your reservation, and make your decision to stay based on a balanced review (like this) and not on the rants of a few angry folks. Have a good time!
(Update from a few days later: it took 2-3 days to stop feeling sore, and I still have some scrapes from the waterpark. Well worth it though!)
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.