Archive for March, 2019

Philly’s most underrated tourist attraction is open for the season

March 26, 2019

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The road to Fort Mifflin leads past industrial fuel facilities, long-term airport parking lots and unidentified buildings surrounded by barbed-wire fencing. You’ll edge so close to the runways of Philadelphia International Airport that you might wonder if you took a wrong turn somewhere along the way.

But keep going: the roar of airplanes means you’re almost there. Soon you’ll pull into a small parking lot and walk across pristine grounds to a fortress with a thousand stories to tell.

One of the greatest bombardments of the Revolutionary War took place here in 1777. About 400 American troops garrisoned at Fort Mifflin frustrated British naval attempts to re-supply their occupying forces in Philadelphia. Hundreds of men died and the fort was decimated, but the standoff allowed Gen. George Washington and his troops time to arrive safely at Valley Forge and settle in for the winter. Also known as Mud Island, this multipurpose fort served as a federal prison during the Civil War and an ammunition depot during World War I and II.

Owned by the city of Philadelphia, Fort Mifflin tends to get squeezed out by more well-known historical landmarks like Valley Forge and Washington Crossing. But it’s an important stop on any Pennsylvania history tour, and in recent years, it has hosted renaissance faires, 5K runs and after-hours galas, and played up its reputation as a haunted destination with candlelight ghost tours and paranormal workshops.

Most days, costumed guides and interpretive signs are available to help navigate the grounds, and there are often cannon and musket firing demonstrations on weekends and holidays.

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.

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