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Dom Joly

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

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.