|By Don Lehman, The Post-Star, Glens
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Feb. 7, 2006 - Editor's note: The Post-Star asked staff writer Don Lehman to review Great Escape's new hotel and indoor water park on its first weekend of operation. Lehman, along with his family, stayed over Saturday night.
QUEENSBURY -- There's something strange about walking into a hotel lobby in upstate New York on a February afternoon and being met with scores of people in wet bathing suits and towels.
There's also something strange about hurtling down a water slide and emerging from a warm pool to spy a large pile of snow 50 yards away in a parking lot.
At first, it's kind of tough to put aside a North Country winter to frolic in the warmth of The Great Escape Lodge's new indoor water park, located across Route 9 from the Great Escape.
But it takes only minutes to brush off the chill and begin enjoying the region's latest tourist attraction, especially with two eager young ones freaking out with excitement.
All in the park seemed to be running smoothly during its opening weekend, my family -- wife, 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter -- and I found out.
The water and air are warm enough to enjoy slides, pools and other attractions for hours, even when a cold front is blowing through the region outside. None of the staff could give me the exact temperatures, but I'm guessing the air and water were both 80 degrees or so.
Toddlers to adults all have activities geared for them, from a 1-foot-deep pool with slides and fountains for the youngest, to an indoor body-surfing ride (dubbed the first of its kind in the Northeast) and three enclosed water slides for more daring visitors.
The slides extend outside the building, but there's no noticeable temperature difference as you twist and turn through the darkness before being propelled into a pool inside the park.
The body-surfing ride had the biggest lines, but even then there was no more than a 10-minute wait. Lines were small at all the other rides. And despite the fact all the rooms were sold for the weekend, the park did not seem crowded at all.
The Tak-it-eesi Creek, which allows tubing and swimming in a 32- to 44-inch-deep river with rapids, waterfalls, fountains and sprinklers, was a particular hit with my young ones, with the water slides of Tall Timber Treehouse a close second.
Not all was as well in the adjoining hotel during its kickoff weekend, where an apparent lack of staff led to trouble getting guests into their rooms in a timely manner Saturday afternoon and evening.
A number of angry guests could be seen confronting management in the lobby early Saturday night, with a manager at first telling them entrance to their rooms was being delayed because some visitors were late checking out.
However, a clerk later attributed the problems to a lack of staff to clean the rooms, saying, "I've got managers up there cleaning rooms."
Despite the opening-weekend problems, the hotel staff was very cordial and professional, and offered coupons for free meals to those who were inconvenienced.
It's not until you make reservations that you are told about what we found to be one of the biggest incentives to a stay -- booking a stay for one night actually allows you to use the water park for two days.
For instance, if you arrange to stay a Saturday night, you are allowed to arrive as early as 9 a.m. Saturday to use the park before checking in to your room at 4 p.m. Checkout time the next morning is 11 a.m., but you can stay to use the water park all day that day as well.
It didn't take long to learn about what may be one of the water park's biggest drawbacks.
The fire alarm went off twice early Saturday evening, sending guests -- including some in wet bathing suits and towels -- out into the chilly evening.
My family was dry and dressed at the time and outside for only a minute or two, until it was realized it was a false alarm. But an alarm on a sub-zero night could be serious trouble for the bathing-suit-clad pitched out from the balmy water park.
As I write this Monday morning, the Queensbury Central Fire Department was being sent to another fire alarm at the lodge.
The four-story, 200-room hotel is Adirondack-themed throughout, with a giant moose head looming from a wall in the lobby across from a big fireplace. Rooms have stone countertops, which seemed out of place across from faux-wood bed headboards.
A pair of snowshoes was affixed to a wall in our room, near a rustic wood entertainment center.
There were signs the hotel was still a work in progress, such as guest laundry rooms that weren't open and a shortage of beach towels in the water park.
The former Coachman restaurant, newly remodeled and attached to the hotel but renamed Trapper's Adirondack Grille, also was turning away would-be diners Sunday night because of staffing issues.
Our meal there was very good, though. My wife called it "the best meal I've had in a long time." Entree prices range from $14.95 (fettuccine Alfredo) to $25.95 (filet mignon).
Room service in the hotel was surprisingly affordable for a Six Flags venture, with $25 getting a large pizza, 10 chicken wings and a 1-liter bottle of soda delivered to a room.
Our stay, including a $60 dinner at the hotel's Tall Tales Tavern, a continental breakfast and $10 for a locker rental, cost $401, taxes and gratuities included.
Our room's base price was $279 per night for two adults and two children; the room included two queen-sized beds and a pull-out couch.
The hotel has been running $189-a-night specials, but none were available Wednesday when we booked a room for Saturday.
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