I don't want to hear another word about global warming. While we personally may not have received multiple feet of snow, it's still been a long winter with plenty of low temperatures and six snow days in a row back in February. The kids have been bouncing off the walls and my eldest daughter has been begging to go swimming or just do something to give her extra proprioceptive input. Yes, that was the exact phrase she used.
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We have a few indoor pools in the county and she takes a lesson weekly at one of them. We tried out the indoor water park feature at the newest county recreation center and I personally was disgusted because the place was not well designed and was filthy besides. It had only been open for a week! I had never been to an "indoor" water park before so I was a bit put off by the experience, especially after talking to friends who have gone to various Great Wolf Lodge locations and have had less than stellar experiences.
So, I was very apprehensive when my in-laws came to visit, treated us to a weekend at the Mountainside Villas and proposed visiting the Massanutten WaterPark for a day. Thankfully, the Massanutten WaterPark is nothing like my local recreation center or the Great Wolf Lodges my friends patronized.
The Massanutten WaterPark is located within the Massanutten Resort. The nearest big town is Harrisonburg which is home to James Madison University. Most people know Massanutten for skiing but a wide variety of other activities are offered throughout the year. We visited during the off season between the end of ski season and the beginning of most of the warm weather activities.
You should keep in mind that the water park is not an inexpensive place to visit. Admission rates are based upon height. All participants 42 inches or taller pay $38 for a day's admission. Children over 2 and under the height limit are charged $26. If you don't want to swim and just sit at a table on the lower level watching the rest of the family, it'll cost you $10. There are reduced admission rates after 5 pm, for timeshare owners (but not renters) and for those who purchase the Massanutten Resort Activity Card (which is recommended if you are staying for a week).
When you enter the facility, you are on the third floor where there is a restaurant and the MerchanDice Retail Store. If you forgot a swimsuit or towel, this is the place to get those items and they even had a large selection of sizes ranging from infants to quite plus sized. Prices were reasonable and not overly marked up. You can get a good overview of the park through the large windows in the store and decide if you want to pay for admission or not. There is no charge other than the cost of playing the games to spend the day at Diamond Jim's Arcade on the second level. The bottom floor houses the water park and admissions.
The water park itself has two main areas: inside and outside. The inside is open year-round and outside is seasonal. The day we spent at the water park was a chilly 38 degrees outside with a constant drizzle interspersed with downpouring rain. It was pretty miserable and we did not mind at all that the outdoor slides, wave pool and activity pool areas were not operating!
Inside, the temperature was rather steamy at 85 degrees but it wasn't like the regular swimming pool where you are enveloped in clouds of chlorine. I think they use lightly salted water. At least I constantly smelled and tasted salt on my lips throughout the day. Lockers are available for $10 ($5 is refunded when you return the key). I liked the availability of family changing areas as well as separate men's and women's restrooms and changing areas. Overall, the entire facility seemed well maintained and clean. There was always someone cleaning the bathrooms.
I'd also be extremely careful about not running and stepping carefully. I saw many slips and falls throughout the day and almost slipped once myself. While I didn't see any serious injuries, there were quite a few kids with scrapes on their knees and backs. Life jackets are available in a variety of sizes at no charge. I also saw numerous lifeguards and other staff everywhere. Someone is always watching you and is only steps away in case of an accident.
As for the water park attractions, there's something for just about everyone but I do feel that the park is very overpriced for young children who are not yet strong swimmers. While my 16 month old was able to go on the lazy river and there was a swing for her, there wasn't much else. She's still very anxious about water. It's a noisy place with a lot going on so it was a bit much. She spent a good part of her day napping on Grandpa's shoulder.
The central attraction of Massanutten WaterPark is Massanutten Meltdown. This is a gigantic water feature which is built like a wooden fort with rope climbing nets, five slides, water cannons to shoot at the rafts on the lazy river, various sized water buckets tipping over unexpectedly that range from small ones you could carry to a huge bucket that soaks everyone who gets anywhere in the vicinity. There are many levels and if you have small children, you may want to accompany them as it's very easy to lose kids in the fortress. At one point, I was looking for my daughter and saw her climbing six stories to one of the more extreme water slides that weren't a part of the fort at all.
My daughter started out on a straight slide that wasn't very tall and graduated to a taller straight slide. After that, she was hesitant about trying the twisty slides but eventually made a friend and the two of them went sliding and climbing together. These slides look scarier than they are as you do not go very quickly down them at all. All of the slides on the Massanutten Meltdown end in a trough of water instead of a splash pool so they are safe even for children who aren't very strong swimmers.
The only feature the entire family was able to experience together was the Blue Ridge Rapids which is a lazy river tube ride. You absolutely have to have a tube with no exceptions. You can choose between a single rider tube, a double rider with two holes or a double rider with one hole. The other side of the tube is closed in so you can seat a baby or small child there. Don't expect to stay dry! Even though there's a zero depth entry, there are pretty strong waves as you work your way into the river. My youngest daughter got drenched and was crying. The current moves you along as you go under bridges (and get dripped on), past the fortress (and get shot at by water cannons), through a cave (and get dripped on by a waterfall), past a whirlpool (which you can go in if you want to time the giant tipping bucket) and then of course, you have to make it past the tipping bucket itself. I highly recommend spending time to figure out when the bucket will tip if you have a small child in your raft. My daughter was absolutely terrified when the bucket dumped on her. There's piped in music that I never seemed to hear anywhere else other than along the back end of this attraction.
I didn't try the Pipeline which is an indoor FlowRider wave where you can try body surfing or even stand up to ride the wave. I saw people taking the brunt of major wipeouts here and was not at all interested. There were multiple lifeguards on duty to assist. Those who enjoy peep shows will get an inadvertent eyeful here as those with bikinis and tankinis probably should not try the Pipeline as tops were coming loose. Just be warned to dress appropriately if you want to try this out.
As I previously mentioned, there is a small children's area called the Frog Pond for tiny visitors. They have a Frog slide where the child slides down the frog's tongue into twelve inches of water. There are also some noodles that spray water and some bouncy swings. My daughter simply screamed and wanted nothing to do with it. I couldn't blame her after getting injured at our timeshare first thing in the morning and then getting soaked on the Blue Ridge Rapids
My daredevil older daughter tried out either Avalanche or Skyline Falls which is an adult version of the twisty slides on Massanutten Meltdown. I'm not sure which one because I was chasing her up six stories of stairs after discovering that she had gone up there and she had already gone down by the time I got to the top. I took Skyline Falls down myself and found it to be a run of the mill enclosed speed slide. I hear that the difference between the two is that Avalanche is in the dark while Skyline Falls allows light in. My daughter enjoyed her approximately 250 foot ride which also ended in a trough of water on the second level.
If you want a longer ride, then you need to take one of the three raft enclosed slides: Country Cooler, Melting Mogul and Peak Splash. It's up to you if you want to ride in a single tube or a double tube. There are no single hole double tubes for these rides. Melting Mogul is completely in the dark while Country Cooler has a green translucent enclosure which allows light in. Peak Splash is supposedly more extreme with fast moving water and multiple drops. I never had the opportunity to try it out and intended to the last time I took my daughter up but a line formed practically out of nowhere and I really had to get down quickly to catch up with my daughter. These rides all end in a splash pool so swimming skills are important.
There are two hot tubs that I came across. There's a huge indoor/outdoor hot tub called Shenandoah Hot Springs near the Pipeline in which children are allowed. It seats at least twenty people inside. The outside portion was not open that day we visited. There's also a smaller adult only hot tub tucked away back near the whirlpool of Blue Ridge Rapids.
The final aspect of the facility that I'd like to mention is food because you aren't supposed to bring any outside food in with you. Still, no one stopped us to inspect the baby's diaper bag which usually does contain drinks and snacks for her. If you do follow the rules, you have many options for dining. We tried two of the choices during the day.
On the water park level, you have one option which is Snackers. You can't eat here without paying for admission to the water park. It's your usual counter service type of snack bar with hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, sandwiches, fries, small salads, chips and Dipppin' Dots ice cream. There's the expected amusement park markup but it wasn't exorbitant. The small personal cheese pizza I had was one of the worst I've ever had but after hours in the water, it didn't matter that the dough was chewy, the cheese wasn't melted and the sauce was cold. It's nice not to have to get changed and just order and eat in your bathing suit. Seating was plentiful with large tables, and oversized heavy chairs with plastic webbing. You aren't supposed to save tables but we were set up at one for the entire day as someone (or two or more) was always there.
For dinner, we ate at the Blue Ridge Buffet which is on the top floor. You have to change out of your bathing suit to dine here. Our table overlooked the Water Park but other areas of the dining room has views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. While this is billed as "fine dining", I definitely would not consider it such. It's not on the level of Jiko or even Boma at Walt Disney World. What you get is a buffet that reminds me of Charlie Brown's Steakhouse on a very bad night. This was more like Shoney's except for a step up since they do have hand carved meats and more choices. It's acceptable, decent food but to classify it as "fine dining" does it a real disservice. Pricing is very reasonable but varies depending upon the day of the week. Our meal ran about $15 an adult and $8 for our older daughter plus drinks.
The food choices were varied including a salad bar, fried shrimp, peel & eat shrimp (with the heads and legs attached which I find perfectly acceptable but many do not), tuna steaks with fruit salsa, chicken ala king, fried chicken, beef stew, prime rib, roasted chicken, macaroni and cheese, various vegetables, breads and a dessert bar with cookies, white chocolate mousse cake and bread pudding. My younger daughter did not like the macaroni and cheese - after tasting it, I discovered it was very bland and somewhat cold. She loved all of the fresh fruit we brought her. My older daughter discovered she loves fried shrimp. My fabulous mother in law thought the beef stew was the best and the seasoning was wonderful for the tuna but it was a bit over dry. I did not finish my mousse cake as there was nothing remarkable about it and I thought the sugar cookie I had was quite heavy on the salt. Overall though, I was reminded of cafeteria food - it was filling but bland and not noteworthy.
The other dining choices also require that you change out of your bathing suit. Java Island is a coffee bar located within the Blue Ridge Buffet. On the second level, Hideaways, a bar, is within the arcade.
While it may not sound as if there were a ton of different attractions, it was definitely enough to keep our group occupied from 10:30 in the morning until 5 in the evening when we decided to stop for dinner. My eldest daughter could have kept going for much longer. I felt as if we definitely got our money's worth for the admission although I still would rather the admission was dropped by $5 or so a person. The management is spending the money on upkeep, sufficient staffing and they are also planning two expansions to the complex. Once our younger daughter has aged a bit and enjoys the water, we'll most definitely be back to enjoy the Massanutten WaterPark again.
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