PHILADELPHIA - If you live in the chilly Northeast, you'll be able to vacation in your bathing suit this winter without flying to Florida or Jamaica.
An indoor water park has just opened in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, a convenient drive from Philadelphia, New Jersey or New York, and another will open shortly in upstate New York's Adirondacks region.
Great Wolf Lodge opened its 78,000-square-foot indoor water park in Scotrun, Pa., in late October, and Six Flags is scheduled to open the Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom in Lake George, N.Y., in February.
There are 68 indoor water parks around the country, but the majority of them are in the Midwest, according to David Sangree, president of Hotel & Leisure Advisors, a consulting firm. Wisconsin Dells, Wis., which is considered the water park capital of the world, has 18 indoor water parks.
But the concept has been slow to take hold in other regions, with a few exceptions. Great Wolf opened one in Williamsburg, Va., earlier this year, and Pennsylvania has another indoor water park, Splash Lagoon, in Erie, in the northwestern part of the state.
Like all Great Wolf resorts, the new Poconos lodge has a rustic backwoods theme. With 401 suites in a log-sided building, an arcade, a spa, restaurants and fitness facilities, it boasts all the amenities expected of a full-service family resort - with a price tag to match. Rates range from $189 per night in the offseason to $564 for a luxury suite during the peak holiday season.
The main attraction is the water park, an enclosed, 90-foot-tall space with 11 slides, a wave pool, a winding river and whirlpools. "Fort Mackenzie," a 12-level wooden fort, features a gigantic bucket at the top that dumps nearly 1,000 gallons of water a minute on guests standing at the base.
Great Wolf's co-founders, Bruce Neviaser and Marc Vaccaro, saw their first indoor water park in Wisconsin Dells some years ago. Driving past what was then called the Black Wolf Lodge in Wisconsin Dells in the dead of winter, they saw a full parking lot, stopped in and fell in love with the concept, according to Great Wolf Resorts' CEO John Emery.
Neviaser and Vaccaro bought the lodge in 1999 and renamed it Great Wolf. The company, which is based in Wisconsin, has opened five Midwest resorts since the late 1990s. It also plans to build resorts in Niagara Falls, Ontario; Mason, Ohio; Chehalis, Wash.; and Grapevine, Texas, by 2007. It ultimately hopes to open 20 to 25 resorts at a rate of two per year.
The Poconos were chosen for Great Wolf's first indoor park in the Northeast because of the area's "multigenerational history" as a vacation destination and its proximity to New York and Philadelphia.
"We are really happy at the number of people who have discovered the property already and booked reservations," Emery said, declining to provide specifics.
The resort is also offering tie-in promotions with the nearby Camelback Ski resort in Tannersville, Pa.
Officials predict the resort will give a boost to Poconos tourism, which is on the rebound after dropping off in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Already, Great Wolf's arrival has prompted other resort companies to take a fresh look at the region, said Robert Uguccioni, executive director of the Pocono Mountains Vacation Bureau.
"After Sept. 11, we had a downturn," Uguccioni said. "I was getting tired of talking to the press about why a place closed. I feel very happy to be talking to the press about a place that's opening."