A Family Affair
Any parent will tell you that the keys to successful family vacations are happy, well-entertained children. And resorts that appeal to families have the unenviable challenge of keeping two distinct groups—parents and their kids—with competing agendas completely satisfied from check in to check out.
The solution, according to Kalahari Resort and Waterpark, is to offer an endless catalogue of activities that are easily accessible to every age group. The resort, located in Sandusky, Ohio, near Lake Erie, has gained national attention in large part due to its massive size and its proximity to the Cedar Point amusement park. The resort houses the largest U.S. waterpark under one roof—that’s 173,000 square feet of thrill rides to keep little ones zipping, flipping, and splashing for days on end. The African-themed property also has a 77,000-square-foot outdoor waterpark, a zoo, and an indoor mini-golf and arcade, along with 880 guestrooms, a spa, shops, and a multitude of dining options. “We like to say that you can pull up, park you car and not have to go back to it until you leave,” says Travis Nelson, spokesperson for Kalahari Resorts. “That’s really what’s key: It’s everything on the property so you never have to leave the resort to experience something.”
While the waterpark is certainly a draw for tikes, it isn’t always enjoyable for the adults who bring them. Part of Kalahari’s mission, Nelson explains, is to cater to kids ages 1 to 80. “If you had an 18-year-old, 10-year-old, and 2-year-old, each one of them would enjoy the experience in the waterpark and resort. It is crucial. If you pigeonhole yourself in one group, eventually the kids in that group are going to grow up.” The resort’s adult activities include a full-service spa and swim-up bar at an indoor/outdoor whirlpool, and private whirlpool cabanas. “You need to focus on all of the decision-makers in the family. Kids need to be taken care of, Mom needs to be taken care of, and Grandma and Grandpa need to be taken care of.”
One way to court that return market—which Nelson says is an important part of their business—is to keep changing, renovating, and adding new features. This summer, for example, the Sandusky resort will start welcoming kids to the spa for kid-friendly treatments. The resort also underwent a $22 million expansion of its conference center, almost doubling its size to 215,000 square feet. It may seem strange for a family resort to court meetings and group business, but Nelson notes it’s quite the contrary. “The convention center is vital to our resort, and we could not survive without it,” he says. “The convention center fills the resort with guests when families are in school, so it really helps in keeping occupancy up. Our convention guests actually see up to a 20 percent boost to attendance when they do business with us, because people want to attend so they can bring their families.”
When discussing family resorts, of course, Nelson doesn’t shy away from talking about the large mouse in the room. “We certainly like to think that we can hold our own against Disney,” he says. “We know we can compete with them. What we have over Disney is driving. If you don’t want to get in a plane with little kids, you can hop in the car and come see us.”