by Michael Blanding
Two words: Kahuna Laguna. For 35 years, the Red Jacket Mountain View Resort was a typical White Mountain resort, catering to generations of families journeying up to take advantage of ski season in the winter or cool mountain air in the summer. Then in 2006, everything changed with the construction of the largest indoor water park in New Hampshire, complete with four ginormous water slides and a plethora of aqua-activities for every age.
The water park instantly made the resort a magnet for families with young children, squeezing out the random honeymooners to make it a family-focused resort. And this has its advantages for vacationers with kids, who never need worry that their kids are running amok and disturbing the childless — allowing parents the chance to kick back and truly relax. The staff is well-practiced in keeping kids entertained, from the water park to the dining room, which features surprisingly good cuisine. It’s all so comfortable, guests may be tempted to stay inside the resort and never leave.
But then they’d miss the benefit of the resort’s name, Mountain View, which it more than lives up to with panoramic views of the Whites from the main dining room and a magical cupola accessible from a spiral stair that’s a favorite with the kids. The resort’s location in the heart of the White Mountains makes it a perfect stepping out point for family hikes, snowshoeing, outlet shopping, skiing and the adventure and theme parks next door. Whether you stay inside or venture out into the surrounding wilderness, the kids are guaranteed to leave totally tuckered out — and what better can you hope for from a family vacation?
Our Editor Loves
- In the heart of the White Mountains
- Indoor water park with huge slides and wave pool
- Nightly bonfires and paint-your-own ceramics
- Theme Park
- Water Parks
- Water Sports
- Family Room 5+
- Game Room
- Kids' Pool
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Onsite Dining
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Red Jacket Mountain View Resort features a total of 164 rooms in a mix of styles, from economical family rooms to full-blown townhouses. The entire resort was redesigned with a pleasing palette of slate blue and gold, with clean, comfortable furnishings. Beds are comfortable, if not heavenly, and all rooms are equipped with small flat-screen TV's (about half with DVD players) and mini-fridges.
The most coveted rooms for families are the 12 Loft Rooms, which contain a separate loft area -- more like a clubhouse for kids with two twin beds and their own TV. Don't be surprised to see a "no parents allowed" sign at the foot of the ladder, which should suit both sides just fine. Also great for families are the 8 Alcove Rooms, which implements the same idea on one level, with a separate alcove area with twin beds for kids. Cribs and rollaways are available for an additional cost.
In 2013, the resort opened four "Presidential Homes" named after the mountains in the Presidential Range -- each containing four bedrooms, full kitchens and living areas done in a stylish modern decor with granite countertops and wood-burning fireplaces. The homes are perfect for two families traveling together or a multigenerational party, with plenty of room to stretch out, as well as a separate game room complete with a Ping-Pong table in the basement.
A few years ago, a random hurricane in Hawaii ginned up a tidal wave that carried a friendly monkey named Keeko all the way to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Such is the less-than-convincing creation myth that heralded the arrival of the Kahuna Laguna and its simian mascot to the environs of North Conway. Kids won't be left scratching their heads for long -- they'll be running headlong to climb three stories to the top of the four massive waterslides that form the main attraction of this 40,000-square-foot water park. Two of the slides require inflatable tubes; the other two are ridden bareback. All of the slides are supervised by incredibly attentive staff members, and, after riding the slides, your kids are sure to scream they're "awesome!"
In addition to the waterslides, the Kahuna Laguna features lots of other fun water activities for all ages -- including a wave pool that is 5 feet in depth, a dedicated toddler area, a splash-and-spray playground, and a 25-person hot tub for adults. Be forewarned: the heated pools with their attendant chlorine haze can get a bit oppressive after a couple of hours, after which you'll be left pining for cool mountain air. Know ahead of time that a 48-inch minimum height requirement is strictly enforced for the waterslides (42 inches for kids accompanied by a grown-up on the tube slide).
Red Jacket doesn't offer a formal kids program, but during summer and vacation weeks, it plans a number of daily activities for children, including scavenger hunts, story time, movie nights, cookie decorating and Wii tournaments. In addition, a former tavern on the property has been outfitted with a ceramics factory, in which kids can pick out and decorate a design of their choice for a nominal fee. During warmer months, the resort also offers an outdoor pool that ranges from 3 to 10 feet in depth and during the summer, guests have access to the mini-golf course on the adjacent Fox Ridge resort.
There's no lack of other family-friendly activities off property. The White Mountains abound in hiking opportunities, including a 3-mile flat path to Pudding Pond behind the resort. For an only slightly more challenging hike, try the mile-long hike to Diana's Baths, a hike to a string of natural swimming holes. The closest mountain for winter skiing is Cranmore Mountain, for which Red Jacket offers discounted lift tickets, and which also offers a summer adventure park with a ropes course and mountain coasters.
The resort has several dining options, all of which are a cut above what you might expect from the average family resort.
Champney's Restaurant and Palmer's Red Ridge Grille
On the resort property is Champney's Restaurant, which features a jaw-dropping view of the White Mountains, as well as the more casual Palmer's Red Ridge Grille. In practice, however, both menus are available at both restaurants. Both menus are also highly decadent and heavy on cream -- which is sure to delight the kids (and secretly the parents). A recent standout on the Champney's menu is chicken in puff pastry smothered in boursin cheese. The hands-down crowd pleaser at Palmer's is the homemade potato chips with a trio of dipping sauces, including gorgonzola cream, horseradish dill and bacon ranch.
Every morning, the resort features a buffet for breakfast with all the fuel you'll need for a day of hiking -- scrambled eggs, pancakes and an omelet station -- as well as a la carte menu items. On some nights, the dining room offers special menus, too, including prime rib on Saturday night, a "taste of the valley" menu with local offerings and an Italian buffet night.
Tiki Tide Cafe
The water park offers its own restaurant in the Tiki Tide Cafe, which serves a mix of fast food including burgers, chicken fingers and nachos. In the summer, a poolside restaurant offers the same menu.
All restaurants offer plenty of distractions for the kids, including crayons and a coloring book menu. Palmer's also has a selection of board games for after dinner relaxing with the kids (and a drink from the bar).
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Kids will love the special cupola, accessible up a long spiral stair from the dining room that offers an unparalleled panoramic view of the surrounding mountains (okay, grown-ups will love it, too!).
The resort has a small, but well-stocked fitness room in the pool house with a range of free weights and machines.
Red Jacket doesn't provide babysitting referrals -- if that's something you'll need, you'll have to arrange it in advance with an outside vendor.
The Art of Smart Timing
The resort is open year-round, with three distinct seasons -- summer, foliage and skiing -- in reverse order of desirability. December through February are the hot months, reaching a fever pitch by the mid-February break, when the resort's proximity to Cranmore, Wildcat, Attitash and Bretton Woods makes it a magnet for the slope-side set. The Conways are also rightly famed for having some of the best foliage in New England -- along with attendant activities of antiquing and outlet shopping. Expect to pay top dollar around Columbus Day Weekend and the weeks surrounding. Summer is almost equally desirable for those looking to escape the heat with some cool mountain air and splash inside and outside.
For those looking for a bargain vacation, it's all about the shoulder seasons between these coveted times -- basically March through May, when the snow has melted but the summer heat has yet to show, and late-August and September when the kids have gone back to school but the foliage has yet to ignite.
Also look for a number of packages that the resort offers for special savings, including discounted lift passes at Cranmore, water park admissions and tickets for nearby Storyland.
The nearest airport is in Manchester, New Hampshire, which is served by most major airlines, and is a scant two-hour drive from North Conway. Cheaper flights may be available to Boston's Logan International Airport, the regional airline hub, which is still only two to three hours away from North Conway, depending on traffic.
For those planning on spending most of their time at the resort, Concord Bus Lines offers bus service from Manchester to North Conway; a number of airport shuttles also make the trip in-season.
For Mom and Dad
For times when you are feeling overwhelmed by the onslaught of children at the water park, the resort includes use of the swimming pool at the Fox Ridge Resort next door -- which offers a more relaxing swimming experience in the large indoor lap pool.
The Spa at Mountain View offers a range of services, including Swedish, aromatherapy, hot stone and couple's massages, signature Mountain View facials (including a man's facial to combat razor burn) and seaweed wraps. For the younger set, the spa offers teen facials and a special "Cinderella" mani/pedi, which includes a choice of a hand or foot massage with accompanying polish.