Good, Clean Fun In ... The Poconos

Forget images of champagne glass-shaped bathtubs and round beds with red satin sheets. The Pennsylvania resort area offers an abundance of family-friendly fun at reasonable prices

$500 Getaway

March 18, 2007|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Sun Reporter

Say "Poconos" and for many people, the word "gaudy" almost automatically comes to mind.

It is, after all, the place where Morris Wilkins invented and installed the world's first heart-shaped tub in 1963. The Pennsylvania resort area is also a place known as the "honeymoon capital of the world," where champagne glass-shaped spas are sometimes the prelude -- or finale, depending on your inclination -- to a night of romance. And for some odd reason, it's a place that seems to bring to mind sappy family-themed resorts that offer never-ending games of pinochle and shuffleboard.

But if you haven't already heard, that reputation is undeserved.

It's not that a high level of cheese doesn't exist in the Poconos. It's just that the area also offers much more than that, such as skiing, snowboarding, shopping, hunting, stock-car racing, horseback riding, music and dining, and just about any other activity that suits your fancy.

Skip the northeastern mountains of Pennsylvania because of some age-old mischaracterization and you will find that you're missing out big-time on what can be a fun-filled, affordable and relaxing weekend getaway just a few hours north of Baltimore.

With a $500 budget and a sense of fun and adventure in mind, my companion and I were ready to discover what the Poconos had to offer.

Our little wintry adventure started on a recent crisp and cold Saturday, after a long spell of unseasonably warm temperatures. With dreams of snow dancing in our heads, we were hoping that the blast of arctic air would bring with it plenty of snow on the slopes.

The drive up is a bit of a trek at a little more than three hours, but once you make it past Harrisburg, Pa., the scenery alone is worth it as you cruise past hills, expansive valleys, blue ice-covered rock formations and even majestic farms of slow-spinning windmills.

While there are plenty of places to stop and stretch your legs or get a bite to eat, we paused just once to fill up on about $40 worth of gas. Determined to make good time even while we enjoyed the view of the landscape, we packed the car full of coffee and snacks to keep us on the road.

It was a good move since we hit Fernwood Hotel and Resort in Bushkill by early afternoon. Most lodging establishments required a two-night stay, but we found flexibility at Fernwood, where there was a 125-room hotel (not to mention timeshare villas) and several activity centers on 440 acres. Bordered by the beautiful Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the resort boasts everything from paintball adventures for the young and young-at-heart to an 18-hole golf course for those who prefer a slower, less-painful pace. Our one-night stay was less than $260 and included ski lift tickets at nearby Camelback Mountain Resort, which was the clincher for us.

Everything you need

Initially, we had plans to tour as much of the surrounding area as possible. Once we got to the resort, however, we found that what we liked most about Fernwood was that we didn't have to leave the hotel to find entertainment.

We quickly dropped off our gear in the room, then stopped in at the Trolley Stop Pub to relax while we listened to live music -- a nice, burly gentleman crooning soft rock classics. Next, we headed straight for Fernwood's Fun Center, where guests pay $21 per person (or group rates of $19) on weekends for two hours of snow tubing. Despite the fact that we felt a bit dorky being what seemed like the only adults there without a gaggle of kids tailing along, we found sailing down a slippery slope on top of an inflated tire tube to be a wicked good time.

Even better was warming up afterward in the Wintergreens Patio Grill, where a nice big fire and warm drinks brought the feeling back into our numb toes.

Nearly all resorts in the Pocono Mountains offer some sort of ski package in the winter, and most of them have snow tubing facilities right on their property. For those looking for distractions all year long, most resorts such as Fernwood offer activities throughout the four seasons, including horseback riding, canoeing, rafting, and access to swimming pools and fitness centers, as well as live entertainment and other events.

With its close proximity to New Jersey and New York, the Poconos is practically a Hamptons West for such urbanites.

"It's a great place to live, and great place to visit," Brian Antonik, a 34-year-old welder from Stanhope, N.J., said as we watched kids fly down the snow tube chutes outside. "We came up to visit my brother-in-law and everything is so much cheaper here. Plus, there's always something to do."

His brother-in-law, Charlie Eaton, told us the winter season has been a little slow because of warm weather, but resorts have started picking up vacation business again as the temperatures have dropped.

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