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

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.

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

Westerville Golf Center: Well-manicured miniature golf course suitable for all ages

Well-manicured miniature golf course suitable for all ages

A game of miniature golf seems well suited for all ages and occasions. While playing a round with our two children at the Westerville Golf Center, I took a moment to survey the field of players on an warm afternoon in April.

There were timid teens out on dates, rowdy twenty-somethings extending their happy hours, and retirees dressed in their country-club best taking calculated swings amid the course that looks like a small town with wooden houses and white picket fences.

Then there were our children, who like others, carefully selected the colors of their golf balls – green for Max and pink for Rosie – which they soon whacked several times into the water features. They also created their own obstacles by standing like bridges over pathways, enticing one another to knock their ball underneath their opponent’s legs.

  • Westerville Golf Center
  • Well-manicured miniature golf course suitable for all ages
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The Westerville Golf Center we’ve found is welcoming – and tolerating – to all audiences big and small, and has been since it opened at the corner of Schrock and Cooper roads in Westerville in 1970.

Before getting married, Mike and I used to practice our golf swings at the driving range. The facility has covered, heated tees, so you can practice year round. Mike would buy a bucket of balls and attempt to teach me how to properly hold a club and consistently hit balls in a straight line. My lessons typically ended with me hitting softballs at the batting cage instead. Now softball’s a game I understand.

Mike now prefers to take Max to the driving range and rekindle with the rest of the family for a game of miniature golf on one of the two 18-hole courses.

Youth golf lessons are available, but Mike learned how to play the game from his dad and hopes to instill the same love of golf in our son.

For now, though, it’s all fun and games.

Cost for mini golf is $4 for children and $6 for adults. Children 2 and younger are free. Deals are offered throughout the week such as play both golf courses for the price of one on Monday and Wednesday.

Spring hours are 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.

Westerville Golf Center is located at 450 W. Schrock Rd., Westerville. For more information, visit www.westervillegolf.com.

Geocaching in Columbus

GPS hide-and-seek game takes families on exciting outdoor adventures

As Mike and Rosie walked across the field at Antrim Park, they stared down at Mike’s phone. A blue dot was moving across the screen toward a green dot. They began to walk faster until the blue dot nearly covered the green dot, which we all hoped betokened a hidden treasure.

“It’s around here somewhere,” Mike said.

They searched for crevices in a brick wall, thumbing around for a small container.

“I found it, I found it” yelled Rosie, pointing to a small green capsule attached to a tree limb.

Father and daughter gave each other a high five. Rosie then unscrewed the top of the capsule, which bore no treasure – only a miniature scroll. Still, after the 20-minute site search, that was in itself a prize. Rosie signed her name on the paper coil, rolled it back up and returned it to the capsule.

We had completed our first “geocaching” family adventure.

  • Geocaching in Columbus
  • GPS hide-and-seek game takes families on exciting outdoor adventures
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Geocaching is an outdoor-adventure game that originated in the year 2000. Players use a mobile app or GPS device to find cleverly hidden containers (or geocaches) around the world. It’s pretty simple: A geocacher hides a geocache, lists it on Geocaching.com and challenges other geocachers to find it. There are more than 10 million registered users on Geocaching.com.

It’s a fun way to explore your everyday surroundings, where the possibility of a new discovery hides under a fallen tree, near a parking meter or within a short walk of wherever you happen to be.

We’ve discovered that geocaches can come in a variety of shapes and sizes – from a non-hidden structure containing shareable books in a neighbor’s front yard to an earbud-sized magnetic container holding a strip of paper hidden at Whetstone Park.

At minimum, geocaches contain a logbook for finders to sign. (So be sure to bring along a pen.) Some geocaches contain small trinkets for trade – such as rubber bracelets, pretty rocks and even money, as we discovered in one container. If a geocacher takes something from the geocache, they replace it with something of equal or greater value.

Geocaches are put back where they were found for the next geocacher. They’re never buried and shouldn’t contain food or dangerous objects. When we found the tiny scroll at Antrim Park, I made a note about the find on our phone, using the Geocaching app. The green dot transformed into a smiley face, signifying we’d scored one of nearly 2.5 million geocaches hidden around the globe.

So, how do you get started? At its simplest level, geocaching requires two steps: You first register for a free, basic membership at Geocaching.com and you then download the free Geocaching Intro app on your mobile phone.

Opening the app reveals a blue dot signifying your GPS coordinates on a detailed map, and lots of green and grey dots that represent hidden geocaches. The geocaches signified by the green dots can be found with the free app, while the ones signified by the grey dots require you to purchase the premium app for $9.99. Reviews of the app seemed to indicate that you then need to pay a
monthly fee for access. We concluded that the free app provided a thorough-enough experience for playing the game.

Geocaching can, of course, get more complicated if you want it to. You can go to great links to hide and find them – in caves or even under water. You can learn the lingo by using words like “muggle” (a non-geocacher) or plot to be the first to find a newly hidden geocache – giving you the right to write “FTF” (first to find) on a geocache log. (Read the glossary here.)

Learn more about geocaching and register to play at www.geocaching.com/play.

Columbus sledding hills

Albeit flat, central Ohio produces some sledding possibilities

Columbus has discovered its world is pretty flat, but that doesn’t mean sledding is out of the question on snow days.

We recently tested three hills at Columbus parks along the Olentangy River that were suitable for small children and downright enjoyable for this mom.

So grab your sled and hit the hills.

  • Clinton-Como Park301 W. Pacemont Rd., Columbus
  • Kenney Park5201 Delawanda Ave., Columbus
  • Olentangy Park600 W. Wilson Bridge Rd., Worthington
  • Villa Nova Ristorante5545 N. High St., Columbus
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Clinton-Como Park
301 W. Pacemont Rd., Columbus

When I first encountered this hill, near the east bank of the Olentangy River, I mistook it for a sacred earth mound. But another Columbus resident perhaps had a better explanation: “I think it’s a dirt pile left over from from construction of the nearby apartments,” he said. This simplification made more sense. The mound, my children found, is descendable from all directions, which made it extra cool for sled riding. From atop you see a steady stream of bikers and joggers, meandering the Olentangy Greenway Trail that follows the river and intersects this 20-acre park. Access the hill by parking along the west end of W. Weber Road, or park at the lot on the west end of Lakeview Avenue, near a playground.

Kenney Park
5201 Delawanda Ave., Columbus

“I had no idea this park existed,” was my first thought upon discovering the sledding hills at Kenney Park, at the west end of Graceland Shopping Center. Located along the Olentangy River, the park contains ball diamonds and a soccer field, the sides of which create delightful sledding hills. Dozens of sledders were using the park when we arrived, zipping down inclines that led into the center of the soccer field. Access the park from the parking area west of the Kroger Marketplace.

Olentangy Park
600 W. Wilson Bridge Rd., Worthington

The 100-acre Olentangy Park, also along the Olentangy River, has multiple sledding possibilities, and when we arrived it appeared that sledders had already tried and worn out every one. The main hill is long and lean, adjacent to the entryway of the park. Other sledding slopes were created on a wooded bank straddling soccer fields. The park also contains a portion of the bike trail, playground and the Winding Adventures Skate Park.

If you’ve worked up a good appetite, visit Villa Nova Ristorante, 5545 N. High St., where children can eat a hearty dish of homemade rigatoni or spaghetti and meatballs for $3.95 ($1.99 on Mondays).

Castle playground in Upper Arlington is full of fun, friendly features

The Wickliffe Playground in Upper Arlington is a study in friendship.

Volunteers in the community built the castle-like playground within a week in 1990 and dedicated it “to children of all ages,” according to a bronze plaque on one of its spires.

Constructed out of plywood and car tires, it’s where boys and girls can engage in adventuresome games of hide-and-go-seek and tag.

  • Volunteers in the community built the castle-like playground in 1990 and dedicated it “to children of all ages."
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The playground is surrounded by colorful benches with positive messages about friendship like “you are amazing” and “treat others kindly.” They’re the works of students from the adjacent Wickliffe Progressive School, known for its art-centered curriculum.

Also on site is a Little Free Library – a birdhouse-like structure where children can borrow and lend books – another friendly gesture by the school.

I learned about the playground from a friend who lives in the neighborhood and regularly visits with her son. I went with my children, who quickly made new friends while traversing a labyrinth of walkways and bridges.

Other neat features include a tunnel of tires, a portion of a walkway that rocks back and forth, and a section that looks like a locomotive. There also are swings that don’t squeak – perfect for swinging alongside a friend.

Visit during non-school hours or on weekends. Parking is available along the 2400 block of Eastcleft Drive in Upper Arlington.

Introduce youngsters to rock climbing at Upper Arlington park

Sure, Columbus doesn’t have mountains, but that doesn’t stop our desire to climb.

Children and adults can exercise this craving at Reed Road Park in Upper Arlington. That’s where you’ll find four natural looking boulders made of concrete on a squishy surface.

  • Children and adults can climb artificial boulders at Reed Road Park in Upper Arlington.
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The fabricated boulders were installed at the park in 2012 and manufactured by a Canadian company called RockCraft.

Weighing in at about 3,000 pounds apiece and standing at roughly 8 foot tall, the rocks have sculpted holds and ledges for hands and feet. They’re recommended for ages 5 and up as a way to get a physical and mental workout without experience or safety equipment.

My kids just thought they were fun to climb, not knowing they were exercising and improving their confidence with each upward step.

The park, located at 3855 Reed Rd., also has two sand volleyball courts, baseball diamonds, a multi-purpose trail, a picnic shelter, a small playground and restrooms.

Walk on bridge over muddy water in Galena will ease your mind

I like boardwalks. Whether they’re situated at a beach, through a wetland or over a stretch of water, I find these wooden walkways enticing. Plus, they usually signal that there’s something interesting to look at beyond the path.

Such is the case with a 1,500-foot boardwalk over the Hoover Reservoir in Galena, 30 minutes northeast of Columbus. It’s a popular spot for strolls at sunset, offering a view of wildlife, fishermen and kayakers, all drawn to the 3,000-acre body of water.

  • The Hoover Mudflats Boardwalk in Galena is a popular spot viewing wildlife, fisherman and kayakers, all drawn to the 3,000-acre Hoover Reservoir.
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The Hoover Reservoir is formed by the Hoover Dam blocking the Big Walnut Creek in Westerville. It was created in 1955 as a major water source for the city of Columbus.

Columbus Parks and Recreation Department oversees the reservoir and the boardwalk. Water depth in the reservoir is lower in the fall, making the area near the boardwalk more favorable for migrating shore birds such as the heron, egrets, gulls and sandpipers and the occasional bald eagle.

Even though the water gets murky, fall is the perfect time to spy wildlife from the boardwalk and take in the colorful trees. Bring binoculars to get a better view of birds pecking the mud in search of worms and small fish.

Afterward, have a meal at one of the nearby restaurants – Mudflats Bar & Grill or the Galena Diner. We ate grilled cheese sandwiches at the diner, which is open seven days a week.

To get to the Hoover Mudflats Boardwalk, travel northeast on S. Old 3C Road toward downtown Galena, where the road is called Columbus Street. Turn right onto Front Street, just before reaching downtown. The parking lot is on the right.

Learn more about Hoover Reservoir Park at http://columbus.gov/recreationandparks/parks/Hoover-Reservoir-Park.

Smell flowers, wade in a stream, walk a labyrinth

The Gardens at Gantz Farm is more than a pretty space to look at flowers. The Grove City park also is a learning grounds for thoughtful landscaping, a natural play place for curious kids wanting to turn over rocks in a stream, and a fine spot for contemplating life as you twist and turn through a brick-paved labyrinth.

Plus, it’s got a good playground.

  • The Gardens at Gantz Farm in Grove City is more than a pretty space to look at flowers.
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But, like its name implies, Gantz is first a garden. Visitors can pick up a brochure and take a self-guided tour through the gardens, situated alongside a historic farmhouse. Plant species are categorized by usage: cooking, floral arranging, producing natural dyes, making medicines, landscaping and even their pollution-fighting abilities.

My kids, though, were mostly interested in walking the labyrinth. Unlike a maze, the path of a labyrinth has one entrance that leads to its center with no dead-ends. I was delighted to see how much my children enjoyed this ancient, meditative activity.

Rosie and Max also joined other children in a nearby stream. Those, who didn’t join the fun, sat on the grassy embankment and watched others partake in another simple pleasure – flipping over stones in search of snails and crayfish.

The Gardens at Gantz Farm is located at 2255 Home Rd., Grove City. For more information, call 614-871-6323 or visit parks.grovecityohio.gov/gantz.