Go BIG or Go Home by Zina of Let's Lasso the Moon

{ding, ding, ding!}

Suddenly kids are running and screaming, “The pineapple! The pineapple!” For a moment, chaos breaks out as a 10-foot-tall pineapple gushes a whopping 250 gallons of water down upon them. I watch the enormous mini-umbrella bobble back and forth as the bartender makes my strawberry margarita. He scans my wristband as payment, and I smile at the laughter echoing through the water park.

{KeyLime Cove} *Awesome water park resortThis summer our family decided to put the same effort & energy into a semi-local adventure “in lieu of Disney.” Click here to learn how we SAVED when planning so we can SPLURGE on our next family vacation.

Why did we do this? The thing is, I realized some of my fondest childhood memories of Disney didn’t happen at the theme park, but rather at the hotel pool with my family. So for me, personally, the hotel we stayed at was as important as the entertainment. My husband came across KeyLime Cove through this ABC News article, The 7 Top-Rated Family Hotels in the U.S.A. When we read that the 65,000-square-foot indoor water park boasts 6 pools, 12 water slides, a lazy river, and a three-story play structure, I thought, “Awesome swimming pool? Check. TIMES SIX!”

I popped over to TripAdvisor for more information. I was excited to see that in 2012, based on travel reviews, TripAdvisor had named KeyLime Cove the #1 Family Hotel in the U.S. and #2 worldwide as part of their annual Travelers’ Choice ® Hotels for Families list. Still, I admit, I was leery. When cooking, I’m the kind of person who demands not only a beautiful image of the recipe, but also must see 101 positive reviews from REAL moms before trying it with my own family. So, I started reading the KeyLime Cove Trip Advisor reviews; one traveler wrote, “Now we don’t have to go to Florida!” I have one word: DITTO.

Our motto when planning this adventure was Go BIG or Go Home.
We approached this vacation with the same grand style of a Disney trip.

These are the things at KeyLime Cove that turned our vacation into an awesome adventure:

Beach Boardwalk
Step into KeyLime Cove and out of the Midwest. Pastel beach chairs greet you at the resort entrance. Turn into the main lobby and you’ll be transported to an energetic evening on an ocean boardwalk. You’ll find stores with forgotten travel items, swim gear, and toys. A full-menu Starbucks Café, an ice-cream stand, and an amazing candy store made my eyes glaze over {happy, happy, joy, joy}. And the floor piano was played every time we passed through.

Tropical Rooms & Suites
The Florida theme carries through to the hotel rooms and suites. The variety of rooms and suites lets you customize your stay based on budget, amenities, and group size.

So, we decided to splurge and reserve the Toucan 2-Bedroom Suite. Our girls enjoyed having their own private space (they slept on the pull-out couch). My husband and I loved being able to close the door so they could sleep and we could stay up past 9 pm! The mini-fridge, table space, and toaster in this suite are also perfect for families who are snacking in-room to save a few bucks.

During our stay, I had the opportunity to get a tour of the other rooms and suites. ALL of the resort rooms were designed to be spacious, with parents in mind. Simple things, like a drying line in the shower for swimsuits, also made our stay more pleasant. We also had the opportunity to check out two of the presidential suites [Instagram], and as Fancy Nancy says, “Ooh La La. Posh.” Here’s a pic of Rose enjoying the view from the full balcony. The suites were amazing, but a bit out of our price range. That being said, I can see where they’d be perfect for a trip where two families (or an extended family) want to room together.

Nag-Free Entertainment
The resort is constantly offering a variety of specials and packages. We watched the site for a few weeks, waiting for the perfect combo before booking our suite. We ended up getting a package that included a pedicure at the kid’s spa [Instagram], tokens for RipTide Reef Arcade, as well as a painting project at Leapin’ Lizards art center. It was nice to be able to pre-pay for all the activities in a chunk and not have to worry about it throughout the week. It was also helpful because the girls KNEW what to expect. The limit of activities was set and we weren’t constantly bombarded with the, “Can I do this?” and “Can I have that?” nagging that usually comes along with a family vacation.

While the girls enjoyed all of the activities, collecting tickets from the arcade was definitely a highlight of the trip. It was also the perfect opportunity for me to slip some math into our vacation.

Worry-Free Fun
One of my favorite “worry-free fun” features of the hotel was their wristbands. Not only did it get us in to the water park, it worked as a door key and a payment option. It was nice to leave my wallet in the room when swimming, getting a morning Starbucks coffee, or ordering a drink at the pool bar. The convenience of prepaid entertainment, combined with the high-tech wristbands, was AWESOME.

The pH Value of the Pool Water Is the Same as a Human Teardrop I’m not kidding you. Crazy.

We had the opportunity to meet with ecological expert and Chief Engineer, Robert Williams, for a behind-the-scenes tour of how the park runs. (Public tours are available each weekend.) KeyLime Cove’s state-of-the-art ozone disinfection system provides impeccable water and air quality. He explained, “Ozone destroys 99.9 percent of bacteria, viruses, spores, fungus, and mold. It leaves the water sparkling clear and fresh.” Ozone is 200 times stronger than chlorine but has no effect on skin or hair.

A few other cool facts:

The air in the pool area is completely refreshed every 20 minutes.
All of the pools are regulated within a half of a degree of the water park’s standard 84 degrees.
They are serious about making this a tropical getaway— Climate Centers give public digital readings of the pool’s water temperature, the air temperature, and humidity level to ensure your experience is quite literally perfect.

The best part of the tour? My daughter Rose got to turn on the wave pool!

Top Notch Water Safety
Since our girls were toddlers, we’ve always made learning to swim a top priority for our family [Read Raising a Little Fish]. I once saw a child at a local pool being rescued while his father was less than a foot away with his back turned. Accidents happen within seconds. That is a very scary thought for parents. While on our behind-the-scenes tour, we also got to meet the manager of the Aquatics Staff. It was reassuring to know that each lifeguard gets over 38 hours of training before setting foot in the pool area. After that, they get an additional 4 hours of training every month.

The team is held to a rigorous 10/20 standard. The guard has 10 seconds to recognize a guest is in trouble and 20 seconds to make it to the swimmer for a rescue. I admit to being a bit skeptical as he explained this rule, wondering how they could make such a bold statement to parents. He went on to explain that the staff is constantly tested by internal management, as well as an outside certified life guard service. They take realistic life-sized water dolls and send them down the slide. The minute the doll hits the water, the timer begins. So, if you do book a room at KeyLime Cove and notice the lifeguards seem very intense, if you see them pacing their zones and refusing to make eye contact, realize it is because they are doing a stellar job of keeping families safe.

The Tiny, Ever-So-Important Details
I am a person who enjoys small details. I was an Instagram fanatic during our stay. There were so many little things that made me smile: a short neon counter and sink for kids, polka-dot wallpaper, ornate door handles, floral bathroom sinks, outdoor water fountains, and green trash receptacles. Such niceties made all the difference on our stay.

{KeyLime Cove} The details…

The Shuttle
One of the best perks of KeyLime Cove is you can park your car and enjoy front-door shuttle service to Six Flags Great America and Gurnee Mills. The resort is literally across the street from both. Our girls loved the fancy shuttle, and my husband and I dug the hassle-free transportation. It saved us a huge amount of stress. The fact that we also saved $21 a day in parking fees from Great America alone was awesome, too.

Are you and your family in need of a Midwest tropical getaway, too?
For reservations, visit

Lake County has a great collection of family adventures, including: Six Flags Great America Theme Park, the Chicago Botanic Gardens, Gurnee Mills, Rink Side Sports, Discovery Museum, as well as outdoor lake activities. Finding the perfect fit for your family can be challenging. So if you have any questions about KeyLime Cove or our adventures in Lake County, let me know. I’d be happy to help.

– Zina

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