Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Great Escape Lodge - Hotel and Indoor Water Park near Lake George

We did something a little different this weekend. We went to the Great Escape Lodge near Lake George for a night (and a good chunk of two days). We got there in time for lunch at Johnny Rockets, which is in the hotel and was by far the best meal we had there.

Overall our experience was hit and miss. The big hit, and main attraction, is the indoor water park. There's a kiddie pool area with small slides and fun fountains. The lazy river is impressive and quite pleasant. Upstairs there's a structure with all kinds of fun for kids, including a huge bucket that dumps all over everything every few minutes. They also have a "flow rider" where you can ride a boogie board against a current. And there are some large tube slides that start about 4 floors up and go outside the building and back in. Very cool.

It was a lot of fun, especially for the kids. Our children had a good time, and the place was filled with other kids who were obviously enjoying it. Even in the rest of the hotel, we would frequently see kids of all ages roaming the hallways and other areas in an extreme state of happiness. So, despite the criticisms that follow, if you want to take your kids somewhere fun this is a great place to do it.

It is very noisy inside the water park. That seems to be common for indoor water parks so I think you just have to accept that. Something about the acoustics of splashing water and walls I guess.

Having said that, there are glaring flaws that annoy adults. Service at the hotel's restaurants (excluding Johnny Rockets) was horrible. We tried to have dinner at the "Tall Tales Tavern." We waited ten minutes for a table, even though we could see empty tables inside. Then someone from inside walked out, complaining that they'd been sitting at their table for 15 minutes and hadn't been served at all. So everyone waiting left.

Instead we had dinner at the nearby Sweet Basil which was pretty good. They had early bird specials until 7 pm, which include a salad bar with decent variety.

Service was also slow at the "Birch Bark Grill" inside the water park. Waiting 15 minutes to get a soft pretzel just seems silly. The line was not long. It was just slow. There was only one person working the cash register, and he had to do the drinks and hand out the food.

We go to the outdoor park a few times a year, and slow service is a consistent problem at the "restaurants" there too. It's hard to tell from the outside, but it seems like they fail to staff adequately. But this applies only to the restaurants. The water park itself had plenty of people working. Similarly, our visits to the outdoor resort and water park have always been enjoyable except for the food.

I should mention the room. It was large and included two queen beds and a fold-out couch. I'm not sure that's really room for 6, as they claim, but it was ample space for our family of four. The couch is a big plus. On the down side, the TV was small for the size of the room. We paid about $300 for the night, and at that price I expect a 42" flat screen.

The room's heater/air conditioner was also below par. In modern hotels, you choose a temperature on a digital panel and it constantly adjusts the operation to keep the temperature near constant. Not at the Great Escape Lodge, where you choose hot or cold (with low, medium or high fan settings) and adjust a knob for how hot or cold. So first it gets too hot, and then you turn it off and it gets too cold. It was very warm when we went to sleep so we turned it off. Then in the middle of the night I woke up freezing and had to turn it back on. And we were too warm in the morning.

Our final meal was typically inconsistent. We went back to Tall Tales for the buffet breakfast. We did get seated right away, but the room is too small and we kept getting jostled as other patrons tried to get to their tables. The food was not just good, but very good, despite a limited selection. The eggs and bacon, in particular, were excellent. Then there was the glaring flaw - no milk. $15.99 for adults and $10.99 for kids, and no milk? C'mon man!

I do have some practical suggestions if the Six Flags folks read this. First and foremost, keep doing what you're doing in the water park. Maybe a few more tubes for the lazy river and find a few more places for chairs, but if that's all I can find to criticize, you're doing really well on this.

For the Tall Tales Tavern, start by making it bigger. You should be able to expand the space somehow. The section overlooking the water park is too noisy, so maybe you can glass it in? Or use sound-deadening technology? I did a quick search, so here's a gratuitous plug for E-Noise Control. And if you could do that for seating areas in the park too, that wouldn't hurt.

The hallway outside the restaurant seems unnecessary, so kick that wall to the stairway. And take the space where the breakfast buffet and expand the walls around that.

Add more staff to Tall Tales and Birch Bark. Considering how much you charge, you'll make more money by serving quicker and not losing customers. Three other families walked away from dinner when we did, costing you hundreds of dollars as well as damaging your reputation. It didn't seem to be the quality of the staff. They all seemed nice and helpful when we could get them. It's a numbers issue.

One other thing - the resort didn't do enough to help guests find what else is available in the area. We called downstairs to ask about ice skating and the front desk wasn't sure. I called the place they suggested and it didn't seem to be open. West Mountain and Lake George are both pretty close. The resort should work with them and other area facilities to give guests more options.

Again, despite the criticisms, the Great Escape Lodge delivered on what really mattered. Our kids had a great time. And we were happy they did. With all the flaws, we'd do it again.


Since writing this, I realized that one of my kids left a pillow at the resort. We called the resort, they found it, and are sending it to our house for the cost of the postage, about $8. So the housekeeping staff and lost-and-found folks scored bonus points.