Zoombezi Bay: Make like you’re on vacation at Midwest’s best waterpark
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Zoombezi Bay

Make like you’re on vacation at Midwest’s best waterpark

On days when you’re not on vacation, it’s nice to feel like you are on vacation. My family and I recently felt this way on a humid Saturday afternoon while visiting Zoombezi Bay in Powell.

We lounged around in our bathing suits under big umbrellas, staring at cloud formations, while eating giant cookies and sipping Dr. Pepper. We walked barefoot to a massive pool and tackled 4-foot waves. We plopped ourselves into inner tubes and floated down an aqua river with waterfalls and shooting geysers.

In short, we had fun on our regular day off.

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Zoombezi Bay, which opened in 2008 on the former grounds of Wyandot Lake, is one of the Midwest’s most popular waterparks, attracting more than 400,000 water enthusiasts each year.

Spanning 22 acres, it’s got water slides, a wave pool, manmade rivers and a 1,000-gallon tipping bucket. There are attractions for toddlers including Tiny Tides, where they can splash in shallow water around structures of sea creatures. And there’s Cyclone, a colorful contraption that looks to be straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, where rafters transcend a giant funnel at 20 miles per hour. You must be at least 48-inches tall to ride this one.

The waterpark is owned by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, so admission also includes entry into the zoo. On this particular day, we chose to be entertained by water over gorillas and giraffes.

We quickly learned, though, you can’t dress like a beach bum when roaming the zoo. My daughter wore her swimsuit into the main entrance of the zoo and was told to wrap a towel around herself. Zoo guests are required to wear shirts and shoes until they enter the Zoombezi Bay gates, at which point bathing suits and bare feet are acceptable. We also learned the hard (and hot) way to park closer to the zoo entrance than to the waterpark. You’re not allowed to use the convenient parking lot gate to Zoombezi Bay unless you’re a season pass holder to the waterpark. Your zoo pass won’t work here.

Be sure to bring towels, sunscreen, sunglasses, sun hats, bottled water and a change of clothes. I just wish I would have worn flip-flops, as the pavement got hot quick on my bare feet.

Leave beach umbrellas, goggles, squirt guns and flotation devices at home. Lifejackets are complimentary and available at several locations throughout the park.

We arrived when the waterpark opened at 10:30 a.m. and had our pick of prime seats under a sprawling umbrella and shade trees.

Ramp up your vacation experience by renting a cabana. I envied families who relaxed on shaded chaise lounges, pulled chilled beverages from a mini fridge and ordered their meals from personal attendants.

Save money by bringing a packed cooler – however it will have to stay in a storage area in the zoo. You can get your hand stamped while leaving the waterpark and eat your lunch in a nearby picnic shelter in the zoo then return to the waterpark.

If you must lock up valuables, rentals are available starting at $10 per day. Special activities include “Dive-In Movies” on select Fridays, when you can watch a movie from inside Wild Tides wave pool. (See what’s showing.)

For more information and rates, visit zoombezibay.columbuszoo.org.

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Ballantrae Spray Park

Beat heat, dance with 15-foot-tall bunnies

Housing developments tend to look alike with “rows of houses that are all the same,” as the Monkees sang in their 1960s hit song “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”

But the whimsical community of Ballantrae, in the Columbus suburb of Dublin, is a pleasant exception. It resembles an Irish countryside with stone houses, fabricated rolling hills, decorative grasses and hand-stacked, rubble walls.

And then, of course, there are the 15-foot-tall dancing rabbits.

The three statues, titled the “Dancing Hares,” are part of a 32-acre community park at the entrance of the development at 6350 Woerner Temple Rd. The park also contains the Ballantrae Spray Park, an outdoor water fountain that’s a popular hangout for families in the summer.

The fountain is open daily from 10 a.m.-8 p.m., May 26 through Sept. 3.

I enjoy taking my two young children to inspect the rabbits, which have everyday objects embedded in their bronze bodies. We climb the hilltop where the rabbits are perched and play a quick game of “I Spy” before heading back down to the adjacent fountain. “Look, Mommy, a camera,” my daughter, Rosie, says.

We can hear children squealing with delight as they splash in the fountain.

The spray park, which opened in 2002, is a great place for a picnic. It’s surrounded by a lawn containing big boulders, a fishing pond and a jogging path. The center is the earth mound, or hillock, with the dancing hares. In front of the hill is a 125-foot stone-like (it’s really concrete) wall that frames the spray park. Leprechaun faces are carved into the wall and a wave of water cascades from its center.

Rosie and Max like to play in the fountains that shoot from the ground. Water jets change pattern and heights from one foot to three feet. Less-adventuresome children can take their time getting used to the water in little fountains that spew low, frothy water, while thrill seekers can run under the gushing waterfall.

There’s a nearby parking area with public restrooms.

Take a blanket, chairs, towels and toys and a picnic basket. There’s not much shade on sunny days, so bring along sunscreen and an umbrella.

The Ballantrae play area is located across the street from the Dublin Community Pool, which is open only to Dublin residents.

For more information, visit dublinohiousa.gov/parks-open-space/ballantrae-community-park-spray-fountains.

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Splash Pad

Bring bathing suit, towel to spray park in Powell

With so many innovative outdoor play areas cropping up around Columbus, it’s a good time to be a kid in the Capital City. Free, public recreation spaces, such as the Scioto Mile in downtown Columbus and Millstone Creek Park in Westerville, also make it a great time to be a parent.

On a recent sweltering-hot day – the temps well into the 90s – my two young children and I checked out the Splash Pad at a community park called the Village Green in the Columbus suburb of Powell.

Opened in 2005, the mini spray park contains a half dozen colorful water features on a circular squishy rubber surface. There are gentle geysers for bathing your toes and dumping buckets for those who really want to get wet.

My favorite, though, is a spray tunnel with water jets spewing from all directions. I giddily ran through it with my 2- and 4-year-old at least 10 times to keep cool.

We arrived on a Friday afternoon and stayed for three hours, leaving as the park grew crowded with parents bringing their children after work.

My children spent equal time at the water area and the adjacent playground. Their fun was punctuated by the occasional passing of a nearby train, exciting my son Max most.

We wore bathing suits, and I brought water bottles and towels for regular face wipings.

The water park is situated near the city’s municipal building at 47 Hall St. The new building resembles an old train depot and houses the Powell police department. It contains nice, clean bathrooms, a drinking fountain and a vending machine with cold energy drinks.

The attractively landscaped park, open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., also includes a bike path and a stage for community concerts.

We left feeling exhausted. But for those desiring a sweeter ending, there is a nearby Jeni’s, Rita’s and Handel’s for ice cream in the surrounding quaint downtown.

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Scioto Mile

Trip to downtown fountain refreshes body, spirit

A craving for cold water and warm thoughts about downtown Columbus enticed my family and me to visit the new Scioto Mile, including the reworked Bicentennial Park.

The Scioto Mile, which opened on July 7, is a $40 million investment by the city of Columbus as part of its ongoing effort to revitalize the downtown area.

Managed by the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, the park stretches a mile along the Scioto River, extending from the Arena District on the north end of Downtown to Whittier Peninsula on the south. It features the John W. Galbreath Bicentennial Park, a 4.7-acre space including a 15,000 square-foot water fountain and a restaurant called Milestone 229 at 229 Civic Center Dr.

My family and I arrived on a Sunday, when parking meters are free. We easily located a parking spot a few blocks away from the fountain and walked, following the sounds of rushing water and children’s laughter. We rounded a corner at Milestone 229 and got our first glimpse of the fountain and surrounding green space.

“I want to swim, I want to swim,” shrieked my 4-year-old daughter, Rosie.

Rosie and her brother, Max, explored water spouts that sprung from the cement and spraying water from several metal structures that looked like halos and another that resembled a big crown.

I found it heartwarming to see so many kids and adults finding common ground and happiness while splashing in a fountain.

If you stick around until after dark, you can see the fountain illuminated by colored lights.

We walked north along the river toward the Santa Maria, passing new benches and bench swings. Rosie liked the fish fountains. She grabbed a penny out of the water and I told her it was somebody’s wish. She threw it back and said “I wish that I was a beautiful princess.”

As the sun set we could hear a lone bagpiper playing a melancholy tune from the steps of COSI (The Center of Science and Industry) across the river.

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The Homestead

Get into water-gun battle around wooden fort

Entertaining youngsters and cooling them down on a hot day is easy at the Homestead in Hilliard. That’s because the 44-acre park, at 4675 Cosgray Rd., is full of fun things for kids to explore, including a wooden fort with water guns.

The Homestead, operated by Washington Township Parks and Recreation, offers an array of recreational activities for people of all ages and abilities. The park has a farm-like atmosphere with white picket fences, a pair of barns, apple trees and a 2-acre pond stocked for fishing. There’s also a covered bridge, a train station and a caboose.

The play equipment, though, is what attracted this mother of two young children. We recently visited the park on a warm, drizzly afternoon, which proved to be a good move since the rain appeared to keep others indoors.

The wooden Fort Washington looks like the set of a Western movie, except it’s child-sized. There are three water hoses with trigger-activated nozzles. Two are located at the base of the fort and one is on top, which makes for a good three-way water battle.

My kids didn’t seem too interested in getting wet. They just liked running barefoot on the pebbles and ducking in and out of passageways throughout the fort.

Near the fort is another play area with water features for children ages 5 and younger called Norwich Toddler Farm. Bordered by a picket fence, this area contains wooden cutouts in the shapes of farm animals, little slides and shallow water troughs, best controlled by adults.

The Homestead also has basketball and sand volleyball courts, horseshoe pits, and two playgrounds linked by a tunnel that my kids enjoyed more than the slides, swings and climbing apparatuses. A third play area is wheelchair accessible.

Circling the property is a paved path, which links to the adjacent the Heritage Rail Trail that stretches 7 miles from downtown Hilliard to Plain City.

For more information, visit www.wtwp.com/parks-and-recreation/facilities/the-homestead-park.

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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/.


Easton Town Center

Fun to be found around Easton Town Center’s fountain

Children love to play in outdoor water fountains during the summer heat. Central Ohio has several public fountains where kids can cool off, but only one that offers major shopping, dining and entertainment opportunities.

Many people regard Easton Town Center as the preeminent shopping destination in Ohio, in large part because its developers have tried to attract families. A good example is a playful fountain near the Brio Tuscan Grille and Cheesecake Factory restaurants.

The popular attraction has several water jets that shoot up from the ground in pre-programmed synchronization. Children donning bathing suits jump and play while parents relax on the sidelines in the shade where concrete benches align two sides of the space known as Town Square.

The square also contains a grass lawn where you’ll find beach balls, ice cream vendors and an outdoor train exhibit. The cement walk adjacent to Townsfair Way contains a family chalk-drawing area where kids can pick up a fat stick of chalk and create colorful artwork, then wash themselves off in the fountain.

Town Square is a great place for Easton visitors to take a break from shopping, although it’s not a good idea to leave kids there unsupervised. Traffic flows steadily around the square.

Easton also offers:

• More than 130 stores, including Macy’s, Nordstrom and Tiffany & Co.

• Dozens of restaurants offering just about everything you need to please your palate.

• Several nice hotels, including the Columbus Hilton, one of the top-grossing hotels in the region.

And if the weather suits your fancy, be sure to dip your toes in the fountain.

For more information, visit www.eastontowncenter.com.