Dom Joly: Family holiday centres make me head for the rapids

Related Topics

One of my favourite films ever, if I'm being honest, is 'National Lampoon's American Vacation'. If I'm ever actually asked, then I reply with more sophisticated choices such as '37.2 Degrees le Matin' (Betty Blue) or 'Being There'. The truth, however, is that I love this light comedy starring Chevy Chase travelling across the USA with his dysfunctional family for a holiday at Wally World, a nightmarish Disney-type destination.

Last weekend I went to Wally World well, it wasn't called Wally World, but Great Wolf Lodge and it was child heaven and parent hell. Great Wolf Lodge, in true keeping with the Canadian love of self-enhancing statistics, purports to be "the biggest indoor water-park in North America". Like all these types of places, they are designed with children in mind and completely ignore the needs of the parents. This means that the kids can't get enough of it and you seem like a bad parent when, after 48 times, you eventually refuse to queue up for the Mega-Vortex and head for the bar.

The moment we arrived I knew that I was going to hate the place. In the main lobby a fat man with a fake beard was "entertaining" children, by pretending to be a "moose hunter" and telling loud and dull stories about the "wilderness" the closest to which he'd ever gone was surveying the arid wasteland of his entertainment career. We parents had to join a long and winding queue to check in and hand over our plastic. All around us was a cacophony of robotic bears, wolves and trees singing cheesy songs. Every three minutes or so, large groups of wet Chinese, clad only in tight swimming trunks, wandered through the throng, attracted by the shiny lights of the amusement arcade.

When we were eventually checked in we roamed the labyrinthine corridors trying to find our room we'd gone for a "Wolf Den" and the kids were very excited about it. Upon opening the door, there was an immediate family division.

The younger part of the family my daughter, Parker, my son, Jackson, and their cousin Madde, rushed excitedly into the plastic "wolf" enclosure, complete with bunk beds. Stacey, Grandma and I looked despairingly around the tiny, dark area that was to be our home from home. I felt suicidal and wept quietly in the tiny, dark bathroom.

Meanwhile, the kids were changed into their swimming stuff and demanding to be taken to the Waterpark. This was my job, so I dried my tears, donned my trunks, and, since there were no towels or robes in the room, braved the walk through the packed lobby, down some stairs and into the Waterpark. It was an impressive sight a massive room the size of four football fields, filled with thousands of screaming children and fat Canadian fathers holding huge plastic glasses of beer.

All around this vast expanse stretched coloured pipes and tunnels through which little people were whizzing and sliding and screaming. The smell of chlorine was intense and my eyes started stinging but there was no time for pain we had to queue. Over and over we lined up for rides in which sadistic attendants spun you down long, dark tunnels into great bowls where you spun round until you were eventually flushed out into the huge lake that flowed beneath.

Every ride was terrifying for me but not for the right reasons. I couldn't get that urban myth out of my head the one about some nutter Blu-Tacking razor blades on the inside of the tunnels. Every time I hurtled down one I braced myself for something slicing through my buttocks. I finally gave up and found an outdoor hot tub where children were not allowed. It was about the size of your average living room but it seemed that every desperate father in the place had slipped through the plastic flaps that lead you into it. It would have made a fabulous picture. A thousand depressed dads squeezed together in a steaming hot tub outside an aircraft hangar full of their screaming children being fired down coloured tubes. It was almost Dante-esque.

In the evening we went to see Niagara Falls. I noticed that I wasn't the only one who peered a little bit too long and hard at the barrels that people had used to go down the falls. It seemed a fitting way to go.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The law is too hard on sexting teenagers

Memphis Barker

Obama must speak out – Americans are worried no one is listening to them

David Usborne
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn