Believe it or not, I’m Canadian…but I hate the winter. Some people love dealing with that cold, numbing feeling of the wind chill hitting your face. I’m not one of them. Escaping potential frostbite to go somewhere warm and sunny isn’t really in the cards, either. Luckily, however, there are places not far from me (or anyone else in the Greater Toronto Area) to temporarily get away for some summer-like fun. Places like Splash Lagoon in Erie, PA!
What is Splash Lagoon?
Splash Lagoon is an indoor, Polynesian-themed waterpark, located in Erie, PA. At 80,000 square feet, it’s one of the biggest indoor waterparks in the USA. It’s full of aquatic activities (and more) for people of all ages, set to a tropical theme/design.
Erie, Pennsylvania is located about two hours southwest from the Niagara Falls border (or the comparable indoor waterpark to Splash Lagoon in Niagara, Great Wolf Lodge). This worked out to a three hour drive for us. When travelling with three small kids, this is about as good as it gets, time-wise, for a road trip. It’s almost doable in one drive, without having to stop for bathroom breaks. Also, you can schedule it so that you can hit the road after a meal at home, negating the need to stop for food along the way. Just throw on The Irishman for them to watch, and by the time that it’s almost over, you’ll be there (note: that was joke. I do not advise showing The Irishman to little children).
I mentioned Great Wolf Lodge earlier, because that is more of the go-to waterpark destination, for families in my region. My family has stayed at Great Wolf Lodge several times before, so I will say that Splash Lagoon is different, but in a good way.
The experience at Great Wolf Lodge is pretty immersive, as everything at the resort, from the hotel rooms on-site, to the waterpark, to the decor, to the games and restaurants, all have the same kind of nature-y, rustic theme. The thing is, though, that you really pay for the immersiveness, as an overnight visit can be quite pricey. You also can’t easily obtain day passes only, to visit the park. If you want to get your swim on, you gotta get your sleep on there, too.
Splash Lagoon, on the other hand, is its own standalone place. However, it has three hotels connected to it: Holiday Inn Express, Comfort Inn and Hawthorn Inn & Suites. These have stay and play package deals which include passes to Splash Lagoon. The good thing about these, of course, is that you can stroll from your hotel room to Splash Lagoon in just your Speedo, without having to set foot outside in the frosty winter elements (note: that was a joke. I do not condone unwanted Speedo strolls. Think of the kids, people). If these don’t float your boat, a few of the nearby hotels also offer overnight package deals, and include a shuttle service Splash Lagoon, too. Then, if none of these are appealing for whatever reason, you are able to just buy day passes to Splash Lagoon, and stay somewhere else .
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Erie PA, which is the closest hotel, proximity-wise, to Splash Lagoon. Our stay was complimentary, but the rates online for a stay package were more affordably priced than Great Wolf Lodge. Our room was suitably clean and tidy. Breakfast was included, too. With a family of five, anytime that you have one less meal to worry about is always nice.
One more thing. The Peace Bridge Duty Free store, near the Canadian border, also promotes Splash Lagoon overnight deals, that seemed to be very reasonable, so keep an eye out there, too, when booking a stay.
playing there (water)
Alright, now let’s get to the wet and wild stuff! Over two days, my family experienced almost every attraction. Instead of a typical Splash Lagoon review, though, I’ll break them down for you, by age appeal and appropriateness. And yes, Splash Lagoon does have life jackets on-site, don’t worry.
For KJ Sized kids (re: babies and little kids)
Monkey Shines Island
This play area is in a shallow pool, with seven small slides scattered around it, which have a 48″ maximum height requirement. KJ could go down these by himself, but I still had to hang out at the bottom, to catch him. Some parents took their kids down them on their laps, as an option. There’s also a tipping bucket in this area, and “showers”, as KJ called them.
Adventure Bay is a big pool with basketball nets and balls, along with lily pads to jump on (which were off limits when we were there). While more suited for all ages, little kids can still have fun here, in life jackets, with parents nearby, I think. B and J both commented that the water was colder in Adventure Bay than other areas of the park. Hoops-loving B could have stayed there the whole time, regardless, challenging random kids to one on one games, like he was at the aquatic version of Rucker Park.
Wild Water Waves Pool
Billed as “the largest indoor wave pool in the Eastern United States”, Wild Water Waves Pool was a hit with my fam. Again, while more suited for all ages, KJ did enjoy bobbing up and down on the waves, some of which got pretty big!
The Frog Pond
The Frog Pond is an area with a whirlpool for the family to relax in, and leapfrog fountains for little kids to splash around on. It’s kind of tucked away in a corner, behind the Tree Tops Ropes Course. Not gonna lie, because we didn’t try the ropes course, I didn’t notice the Frog Pond, so we never went in it. #planningfail
The Lava Pool
This is a small pool, with “lava” for kids to play in. Again, not gonna lie, I assumed that it was a hot tub, and didn’t stop to go in. J checked it out, though, with K, and reported back, in her words “the water was not deep, and it was hot, and there were benches nearby, and it was relaxing.”
For B and J SIZED kids (re: big kids)
Tiki Tree House
This is located in the middle of Splash Lagoon, and is a featured attraction. It’s four stories high, with activities like water cannons, and a giant tipping bucket. I’m not sure why, but the Tiki Tree House didn’t seem as good as it probably normally is, during our stay. Some things were not functional, or were barricaded. If fully operational, it appears to be a blast, but I can’t vouch for it, based on our experience.
The Lazy River
This is just as it sounds. Grab a tube, alone or with your kid, and lazily float around the river. It’s a decent size, so you can do a few laps without taking up too much time. Minimal congestion, too, which is sometimes an issue with these things.
WARNING: if you have a mischievous daughter like mine, she will probably steer you towards the waterfall, where you will get splashed worse than a basketball net after a Steph Curry versus Klay Thompson three point contest. I suggest singing the chorus to TLC’s ‘Wateralls’ to alleviate any potential soaking (note: that was a joke. You should obviously sing TLC’s Creep, instead).
This is a big, curvy water slide that actually goes outside for part of it. It’s for single or double riders with a tube, with a minimum 36″ height requirement. Children 36″-42″ tall, like J, had to slide with an adult, though.
Python Plunge is similar in thrillness to the Big Kahuna, and it has the same restrictions and tube requirement, too (though this one is a lot of fun with two riders).
This is a single person body slide, minimum 36″ height requirement. It feels like you’re going pretty fast, and it’s another slide that takes you outside for part of it. The lineup for this water slide was a bit confusing. It’s located beside the Big Kahuna, and I noticed a lot of people were standing in the line for that because they didn’t realize that the line for Shark Attack was separate. In B and I’s case, we made that mistake initially before noticing, once we got to the top, that there weren’t actually any people in line for Shark Attack, so we went right on.
This was J’s personal favorite. From the top of the Tiki Tree House, the whole water slide is in complete darkness. Single riders only, no tube, minimum height requirement of 36″.
Maui Wowie is a bit of a quickie single rider slide, no tube. It shoots you down and around the sharp, sudden turns pretty fast. 36″ height requirement.
B’s fav because, in part, of the toilet bowl effect of going round and round before being flushed out into a pool below. For single or double riders with a tube, with a minimum 36″ height requirement. Children 36″-42″ tall gotta ride with a grownup.
This is like the Cyclone, if the Cyclone was on Red Bull energy drinks. A bit more extreme, as it’s for tubeless single riders, which means you go faster, and end up in a deep pool. For people 48″ and up, who are strong enough swimmers to swim out of the deep pool at the end.
for DA GROWNUPS
There’s a bar upstairs called Island Oasis Bar.
Stay thirsty, my friends.
extra playing there
All of the above attractions are included in your day pass admission. If you want to spend a few more bucks, Splash Lagoon has some other fun ways to take your money. The aforementioned Tree Tops Ropes Course, for example, costs $7 per person. It’s three stories high, of various climbing challenges, for kids and adults (36″ and taller). $7 will also get you a spin on the Aqua Tumbler, a giant inflatable ball that loops you around and shoots water at you while you’re in it.
Upstairs from the park is an arcade. It has a decent selection of games, with the usual selection of prizes to be won when winning tokens at said games. One unique feature, though, was the Hologate Virtual Reality game, which cost $8/person, and looked pretty interesting.
If you’re like my family, you can expect to spend $20 at the arcade, for the joy of watching your kids win about $1 worth of tokens, which they will then argue about because they want to each cash it in for a different toy. B played one of those claw pickup games, and somehow ended up winning so much candy that even Milton Hershey would have been like “dang, homey”.
During our trip, The FlowRider, a wave simulation ride similar to ones seen at other theme parks, was not operational.
You are not allowed to bring outside food to Splash Lagoon. However, there is a restaurant on site called Laguna Grill. It serves the expected theme park foods like burgers, pizza and chicken fingers. One kind of odd thing was the ice cream stand. It’s nearby to the Laguna Grill, but to order a cone, you have to place the order at Laguna Grill, and then go to the stand to get your order. However, there was never anyone working at the stand, so you had to wait for someone who wasn’t busy at the grill to come over to scoop your order. K and the kids actually waited a half hour for an order that we placed (it was really good ice cream, admittedly, and almost worth the wait).
Hooch and Blotto’s Sports Bar& Grill is also connected to Splash Lagoon, and it’s a great place to go for a change of pace of the waterpark. While we didn’t partake in any food, the menu was pretty tasty looking, and there was nice selection of craft beers featured, which I may have had one or two of. We did hit hit up the lanes there one night, to play some bowling. No shoe rentals required, and small balls with bumpers in the lanes available, so it was very kid-friendly. At the end, though, you might leave the prohibition-themed restaurant with the same thing on your mind as B did: what’s with all the moustaches?
Beyond these options, there are several restaurants a couple of minute’s drive away. Because, as I have noted before on here, we are kind of suckers for chains that aren’t near us, we went to Applebee’s one evening. It was delicious. Come to Hamilton, Ontario, Applebee’s. Sheesh.
this, that and there
Some closing points about Splash Lagoon. Staying at the Holiday Inn Express did allow us to walk back and forth to the waterpark and our room swim-ready. However, I did duck my head into the change room on hand, and it looked really clean. The closeness also meant that we could just leave our stuff in the room. Otherwise, a locker might have been needed, which are available on the premise, for various prices. As an option, there was lots of tables and seating around, which people would claim by leaving their stuff on.
Towels, unfortunately, are not available, unless you want to buy them at the Surf Shop store upstairs, so you gotta bring your own.
Parking is free.
In terms of staff, everyone that I encountered was friendly, and helpful. There were plenty of lifeguards on hand, too, at every attraction.
getting out AND ABOUT there
I mentioned above about doing other stuff as a change of pace to Splash Lagoon. In terms of things to do in Erie,PA, it is a nice little city, with some cool options to keep you and your family busy, if you want to take a break from the water.
I loves me a good children’s museum (yes, even more so than my kids sometimes), so I, uh I mean we, really liked The expERIEnce Children’s Museum. Located about 10 minutes away from Splash Lagoon, it’s three stories high, along with an outside play space. Each floor focused on a different play-inspiring theme: creativity, explore, and imagination. I do think that it’s a bit more suited for smaller kids. B’s ten years old, and was more into goofing around with his brother and sister than most of the exhibits. However, J and KJ both had a lot of fun, especially on the imagination floor pretending to be doctors, grocery store clerks, and firefighters. The expERIEnce Children’s Musuem is definitely a nice place for kids to safely run around and blow off some steam, while learning a thing or two, in the process.
If you want to blow off some steam, in the offline retail variety, Erie is also home to the MIllcreek Mall. It’s one of the largest mall complexes in the USA. Even with the Canadian dollar being where it’s at, there were some good deals to be had there, especially on clothing (there’s no sales tax on clothes in Pennsylvania, to boot).
For the sports fan, Erie, Pennsylvania is also home to teams like the NBA G League’s Erie Bayhawks and the OHL’s Erie Otters. Neither were in town during our stay, unfortunately.
While we didn’t do a heck of lot of sightseeing and exploring in Erie, PA, what we did see and do was very worthwhile. Splash Lagoon, in particular, was the obvious highlight. When it comes to affordable road trip destinations where you can pretend to get away to somewhere tropical for a day or two, put Splash Lagoon at the top of your list.
Until the next one, peace!
Disclosure: though our accommodations and experiences during our stay were covered by Visit Erie, all opinions expressed are my own, as always.