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Cherry Valley Lodge

Upscale lodge plus indoor water park equals double the pleasure

When the chill sets in, we seek out warmth. And family fun. One nearby getaway that can accommodate us is CoCo Key Water Resort at Cherry Valley Lodge in Newark, 25 miles east of Columbus.

The 50,000-square-foot water park is done up in a Key West theme and radiates 84-degree heat year round. The park is small compared with many of those in northeast Ohio, but we found that it boasts a lot of bang for the buck, in large part because of the lodge.

Cherry Valley has always been one of our favorite nearby overnight spots. The former training center of State Farm Insurance morphed into a top hotel for business and leisure travelers some time ago, with its 200 rooms and 16 suites, fine-dining restaurant, arboretum, botanical garden and large, airy lobby.

CoCo Key, open now for almost three years, adds a jolt of fun. One great thing about the water park is that it’s isolated to the rear of the lodge. Those familiar with Cherry Valley who do not want to use the water park will find that it’s mostly unobtrusive.

My family of four stayed in a roomy suite. The large living area had a desk, dining table and four chairs, couch, television and kitchenette with a sink and a microwave. A small refrigerator in the cabinet under the television was very convenient, and we appreciated it not being stocked with a lot of high-priced impulse items.

Our bedroom had a big, comfy bed, and the bathroom was huge. It had a Jacuzzi tub, and its commode was hidden around a corner. Nice touch.

The suite was expansive enough for all of us to do our own thing. Max crawled on a blanket on the floor, Mike watched football on the television, Rosie played with the unplugged phone, and I sat at the table with my feet up on a cushioned chair.

After a while we headed to CoCo Key and had a blast. My two-year-old and I found plenty to do in an area called Parrot’s Perch Play Island. It’s kind of like an oversized outdoor play set with the added perk of squirting water. Rosie and I climbed through the maze of activities. She liked controlling the flow of water with the turn of a wheel or the squeeze of a trigger. I liked sliding down a slide with her and splashing into a shallow pool of water.

Activities for older children include getting wet under a huge bucket that dumps 300 gallons of water every 15 minutes. You also can play basketball in an activity pool, grab a tube and slide down a twisting water slide, or float in a lazy river. I was pleased to see that there were plenty of lifeguards on duty, even though my daughter required my constant observation.

CoCo Key also offers a snack bar, a gift shop and an arcade with more than 40 games and ticket redemption service. The lodge has a traditional pool, fitness center and full-service spa, as well as fine dining and casual eateries. We had a nice lunch at the Lounge Pub next to the lobby, and for dinner we munched on Pizza Hut pizza from the Callaloo Grill at the water park.

Check-in time at the lodge is at 4 p.m. and checkout is at 11 a.m. Note that you can arrive early to take advantage of a full day at the water park and leave your belongings in your car, lockers or behind the check-in desk. The water park is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends. Showers and lockers are available.

For more information, visit www.cherryvalleylodge.com/coco-key/.

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Pigeon Roost Farm

Pick pumpkins, pet animals, play outdoors

Nothing says autumn like a well-groomed pumpkin patch. When the calendar turns to October, I always go looking for a place to pick up a few jack-o-lanterns to be.

This year my family discovered Pigeon Roost Farm, along Rt. 40 in Hebron, Ohio. Seeing my 2-year-old daughter’s face light up as she wandered among the pumpkins and frolicked at the farm’s extensive playground assured me we had hit upon a gem.

The 80-acre farm, located at 4413 National Road SW, offers a cornucopia of fall delights that draws nearly 35,000 visitors a year. Most pumpkins cost 35 cents a pound. You can pick your own in the field or select a pre-picked specimen or two. Just stack them in one of the many provided self-serve wagons, which doubled as a stroller for Rosie.

Ralph and Janice Jutte run the farm. They opened it to the public in 1980 to teach their children to work hard. Back then the business was a self-serve melon stand positioned under a tree. They later named it Pigeon Roost after the carrier pigeons that frequented the area in the past.

“It’s our intent to provide a positive farm experience and give younger generations an opportunity to spend time on a working farm,” Ralph said.

The farm has a bounty of beautifully displayed pumpkins, gourds and squash, straw bales and corn shocks. There’s an old barn full of crafts for sale, and another offers creepy toys including bloody fingers, plastic vampire fangs and rubber bugs. Other items for sale include honey, bath products and a variety of snacks.

There are lots of friendly animals at the farm, including goats, chickens, rabbits, sheep, turkeys, peacocks and even camels. We chuckled at Billy Goat Hill, a raised wooden plank where about a dozen goats jostle for position. I did have a brief run-in with Martha the pigeon, the patch’s mascot, who briefly mistook me for a roost. But I survived.

We were very pleased with the accommodations for children. At the top of that list was the Great Pumpkin Fun Center, a playground with more than a dozen attractions, including a corn maze, a hay tunnel, a pick-your-own pumpkin patch and two side-by-side slides that follow the grade of a hill. Admission to the playground is $6, free for those under 2 years old.

Pigeon Roost is open daily from 10 a.m.-7 p.m., from September through November. There’s a $3 charge for weekend hayrides. We visited on a Monday, when business was brisk but the farm wasn’t too busy. We can’t wait to return.

For more information, visit www.pigeonroostfarm.com.