Splash! Navigating the indoor water parks of the Poconos in winter

March 11, 2019

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Indoor water parks have taken on a whole new dimension in the last decade, and the Pocono Mountains are home to some of the country’s largest and best outfits. Big chains like Great Wolf Lodge and Kalahari operate resorts here, along with local stalwarts Camelback and Split Rock Resorts, which have transformed themselves from quaint lodges to year-round family entertainment centers. Here’s a guide to navigating them while the weather’s too cold and inhospitable for outdoor water play. Each one has its own personality.

Camelback Waterpark and Resort

The resort: Upscale, with a family-friendly feel. Scavenger hunts are held in the lobby and there are myriad dining options, from pizza to an all-you-can-eat buffet.

The water park: 125,000 square feet, 13 water slides, 7 pools including a lazy river, and a swim-up bar for grown-ups.

Notable: It’s the only ski resort in the Poconos with a water park, so it’s possible to hit the slopes and slides in a single day. It has the only combination water slide of its kind and one of the longest indoor water coaster slides in the world. The indoor/outdoor hot tub is a big attraction to the young and old.

 

Great Wolf Lodge

The resort: Its wild animal theme and whimsical suites with bunk beds tend to draw families with young children.

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The water park: 79,000 square feet, with tandem tube slides, a wave pool and a four-story treehouse fort.

Notable: The water park is for resort guests only. Don’t expect to see many adults without kids here. Even the spa is geared toward tots with an ice cream theme.

Kalahari Resort

The resort: This African-themed resort caters to both families and couples, offering standard rooms, suites with bunk beds, and honeymoon suites with heart-shaped tubs.

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Water park: At 220,000-square foot, it’s the largest in the Poconos (and maybe America), with a huge water coaster and two lazy rivers, one of which is designed especially for the under-48-inches set. The rides have adventurous names like Cheetah Race, Barreling Baboon, and Wild Wildebeest, but are generally kid-friendly.

Notable: The variety of rides and levels appeal to guests all ages, but especially those with young children. Its two indoor/outdoor whirlpools, and Tiko’s Watering Hole, its large toddler area, both garner raves from families.

Split Rock Resorts

The resort: There are two parts to this long-running inn — the original lodge, which sits by Lake Harmony, and the newer resort, which is about a mile away and home to  the water park, a cinema and bowling alley. It’s more convenient to stay in the resort rather than the lodge if you plan to visit the water park.

Water park: This is the smallest water park of the bunch at 53,000 square feet. It has three slides, a wave pool, and a play structure and only operates full-time in the summer.

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Noteable: The water park is always open to the public and not included in the resort rate. It gets consistent praise for its easy-to-navigate setting and lack of overcrowding.

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Happy FASTNACHT Day!

March 5, 2019

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In honor of these fried-dough and sugar treats, here is a photo from the Pennsylvania Bakery in Camp Hill. Haegele’s Bakery in Philadelphia has special “fastnacht” hours Monday and Tuesday. It’s the only time of the year you can get them here. Laudermilch Meats in Annville opens at 7 AM Tuesday and offers fresh fastnachts “while supplies last.”

Fastnacht is German for “eve of the fast” and stems from the Christian tradition of making “fat cakes” before abstaining from sugar and fat during Lent. German immigrants, many of whom settled in Pennsylvania Dutch country, first brought the tradition to the United States.

Traditional fastnachts use flour made from potatoes and are deep-fried in lard (though many cooks now substitute vegetable or canola oil), then dipped in molasses and dusted with sugar. The tradition is not unlike Pancake Day, Fat Tuesday, or Pascki Day in Polish communities, but I like the local PA folklore that surround the fastnacht, like the notion that the oil they are fried in has magical powers or that the person who eats the last one will end up an old maid or bachelor.

Bakeries all over southeastern Pennsylvania will open their doors earlier than usual on Tuesday, with the expectation of selling thousands of fastnachts by mid-day. Churches, fire houses, and schools also sell their own variations. Even though the ingredients are always they same, everyone has fixed ideas about what makes a perfect specimen. Here is a story that offers a little more history on the fastnacht.

It’s a blissful day for doughnut-lovers

Best bakeshop in the middle of nowhere

February 12, 2019

It’s a long and winding drive to get to Butterscotch Pastry Shop, no matter where your departure point is. You will pass roads and towns you’ve never heard of, even if you’re a local who grew up a few miles away. You may miss the turn if you’re coming from the east because from Flowing Springs Road, the building looks like just another charming late 19th-century home that can be found at just about every crossroads in rural Pennsylvania.

Not long ago, this was an antiques shop owned by the beloved Antiques Roadshow host Richard Wright, who grew up in the area and died in 2009. In 2017, the owners of the acclaimed Birchrunville Store Café across the street turned it into a daytime showcase for exquisite desserts and sandwiches.

Once you get there, you will never want to leave. The place retains the warmth and charm of Wright’s emporium, with a fireplace, custom wood tables, and decor that includes repurposed rolling pins, copper pipes and tractor seats. Then there’s the food: flaky croissants, light-as-air souffles and the signature butterscotch muffins served with warm butterscotch sauce. A changing roster of open-faced sandwiches and salads rounds out the lunch menu.

I can’t think of a better place to spend a cold Sunday morning, but things get even more inviting in springtime or early fall, when you can enjoy your coffee and treats outside on a table next to Birch Run creek.

Info: Butterscotch Pastry Shop, 406 Hollow Rd., Birchrunville; phone: (610) 827-0900. Open Thursday through Sunday.

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Alexander Hamilton’s Philadelphia

January 17, 2019

Can’t make it to Puerto Rico for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s reprisal of Hamilton?
Check out the next best thing: a 5,000-square-foot exhibit on the Founding Father’s time in Philadelphia. It covers his first duel, work as the nation’s first banker, notorious affair with Maria Reynolds, and other key elements of the award-winning Broadway musical. Kids will love the step-by-step demos of artillery firings (volunteers welcome) and the hands-on “Balance of Power” exhibit, which invites them to weigh in on the power shifts between the federal and state governments based on which blocks of powers they put on a scale.

“Hamilton Was Here: Rising up in Revolutionary Philadelphia” runs through March 19 at the Museum of the American Revolution in Old City.

Still can’t get enough of the self-taught orphan from the Caribbean? A few blocks away, the National Constitution Center has extended the run of “Hamilton: The Constitutional Clashes That Shaped a Nation” exhibit through 2019. which explores his prolific writings and impact on the Constitution.

Follow Exploring Pennsylvania on Twitter @Lark215 and Facebook @ExploringEasternPA for regular updates on the Keystone State. The 3rd edition of Explorer’s Guide: Eastern Pennsylvania is coming soon!

Ben Franklin Museum Gets a Makeover

September 12, 2013

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The Ben Franklin Museum has a new look. Gone are the dusty marionettes, the Bicentennial-era mirrored hallway, and the old phones that let you “call” historic figures like George Washington and hear them praise Ben. In their place, the National Park Service has created an interactive, tech-savvy place that tries to capture the multifaceted spirit of the influential Philadelphian in a way that appeals to both kids and adults. (For example, you can play a computerized interactive armonica, then see the real one that Franklin invented in the 18th century on display nearby.)

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The renovation took two years and cost $23 million. Thankfully, the Ghost House that outlines the spot where Franklin built his Philadelphia house is still there, just outside the museum’s entrance. Also, don’t miss Franklin’s Printing Office and Bindery, and the B. Free Franklin Post Office, a Colonial-themed operating post office which stamps your postcards with the same imprint used in 1775 by Franklin, the nation’s first Postmaster General.

The Finest (and Shadiest) Mini Golf Course in PA

July 21, 2013

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Miniature golf in 90-degree heat doesn’t sound very appealing. But it’s a whole different story when the course is in the middle of a mature forest, thoughtfully designed around mountain streams, waterfalls, caves, and floral landscaping that rivals Longwood Gardens. I missed Village Greens Miniature Golf in my PA book travels, but I’m endorsing it wholeheartedly now after my parents and niece visited this past week and attested to both its shady coolness (the seniors) and its overall coolness (the 9-year-old). It’s in Strasburg, near all the train attractions, and about a 20-minute drive from downtown Lancaster. One course (Orange) has 18 holes and the other (Gold) 23 holes — either way, you’ll pay less than $8 a person and get a challenging and unique experience out of it. Cap your game with a stop at the air-conditioned Snack Shoppe for soft pretzels and thick milkshakes.

Chem Heritage: A Great Museum You’ve Never Heard Of

June 23, 2013

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I recently wrote a story for the Independent Traveler website on 12 Great Museums You’ve Never Heard Of. Philly’s Chemical Heritage Museum made the cut, though I had a hard time choosing just one from Eastern Pennsylvania. There are so many unique, unsung places that are worth a look, from the Mercer Museum in Doylestown and the Mutter in Philadelphia to the Charles Demuth Museum in Lancaster. In the end, I chose CHM for turning such a seemingly mundane topic (the chemical and molecular sciences) into a sleek and fascinating experience (the periodic tables NEVER looked this good in junior high). Despite its free entry and location in the middle of some of Philly’s biggest tourist sites (Independence Hall is around the corner), it has managed to stay under the radar and is rarely crowded. As the weather heats up, it’s the perfect place to cool off and learn something to boot.

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Child’s Play at the Art Museum

May 24, 2013

I normally don’t relish the thought of taking my two rambunctious boys inside the awe-inducing walls of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But this summer there’s an exhibit that should appeal to the child in us all. Design for the Modern Child is all about kids — through the eyes of some of the world’s top designers. Items on display include a 1965 hobby horse, shadow-puppet wallpaper by British designer Victoria Cramsie, and a giant house of cards designed by Ray and Charles Eames (of chair fame).

Also premiering is a custom-built, sustainable Cardboard Cubby House designed by Australian architects Bennett and Trimble. It will be on display in the atrium of the Perelman Building (a short walk from the main building; see photo below), where kids can explore it and learn to build themselves from plans provided by the architects. The exhibit runs through mid-October, so there’s plenty of time to catch it. Nearly in tandem with the design exhibit, the kid-friendly ArtSplash program debuts June 28 and runs through Labor Day.

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Get Ready for FASTNACHT DAY

February 12, 2013

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In honor of these fried-dough and sugar treats, here is a photo from the Pennsylvania Bakery in Camp Hill. Haegele’s Bakery in Philadelphia has special “fastnacht” hours Monday and Tuesday. It’s the only time of the year you can get them here. Laudermilch Meats in Annville opens at 7 AM Tuesday and offers fresh fastnachts “while supplies last.”

Fastnacht is German for “eve of the fast” and stems from the Christian tradition of making “fat cakes” before abstaining from sugar and fat during Lent. German immigrants, many of whom settled in Pennsylvania Dutch country, first brought the tradition to the United States.

Traditional fastnachts use flour made from potatoes and are deep-fried in lard (though many cooks now substitute vegetable or canola oil), then dipped in molasses and dusted with sugar. The tradition is not unlike Pancake Day, Fat Tuesday, or Pascki Day in Polish communities, but I like the local PA folklore that surround the fastnacht, like the notion that the oil they are fried in has magical powers or that the person who eats the last one will end up an old maid or bachelor.

Bakeries all over southeastern Pennsylvania will open their doors earlier than usual on Tuesday, with the expectation of selling thousands of fastnachts by mid-day. Churches, fire houses, and schools also sell their own variations. Even though the ingredients are always they same, everyone has fixed ideas about what makes a perfect specimen. Here is a story that offers a little more history on the fastnacht.

It’s a blissful day for doughnut-lovers

Pennsylvania’s unique B&Bs

January 15, 2013

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Pennsylvania has more than its share of interesting bed & breakfast inns. At the 1870 Wedgwood Inn (pictured above) in New Hope, the innkeepers proudly point out a trap door leading to a tunnel that was once part of the Philadelphia-Quaker Underground Railroad network before leading guests to their elegant, Victorian-era rooms. At Hamanassett in the Brandywine Valley, guests can play pool amid antique dolls and games and learn how to prepare Azerbaijani cuisine in the former home of the quartermaster general serving Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.

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Landhaven (pictured above and below) in Barto may win the title of the state’s quirkiest B&B with Four Seasons-worthy bathrooms in the middle of nowhere. Once a general store and post office for tiny Huffs Church, Landhaven is now a five-room inn with pastoral views and rooms with luxury touches that you might expect at a five-star hotel but not necessarily in an unincorporated community in rural Berks County. While the inn has been open since the late 1990s, it is perhaps best known for hosting intimate live music performances in a large room filled with Windsor chairs, watchmaker’s cabinets, and 19th century U.S. postal guides. Donna Land, who has worked as a recipe tester and consultant for Campbell Soup and other companies, runs the place with her husband Ed, a former news film and videotape editor who may be the only B&B owner to have won two Emmy awards and claim custom decorative blacksmithing as a favorite hobby. They have fixed up the rooms with handmade quilts, period furnishings, and antique fixtures that Ed has salvaged and restored. The concerts, which include local and national acts, are the marquee attraction for many guests, who love the casual BYO environment and boxed dinners for under $10 (the Lands also serve iced tea and cookies gratis). John Jorgenson, guitarist for Elton John, is a regular performer, and upcoming acts in winter include folk singer Tracy Grammer and blues legend Chris Smither.

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There’s not much do in Barto, though the hiking trails of Green Lane Reservoir are nearby, and Donna will direct you to a wonderful rock and mineral shop, Bey’s, down the road. Crystal Cave is about 20 miles away, and the inn sits pretty much smack in the middle of the antiques markets of Reading and Allentown. As Valentine’s Day approaches, I can’t think of a better way of celebrating than with a concert followed by a peaceful night’s stay at this unique B&B find.

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