Last year we took several trips, including a month at the beach, a couple weeks to visit family, and some camping trips, but this year we are focusing more on saving money to build our house so we are taking shorter trips closer to home.
Last week we went to North Texas Jellystone for the first time and we enjoyed it so much that I thought it would be fun to give a preview of what you can expect if you decide to take a trip there (and share a few of our favorite memories)! I’m giggling to myself as I write this because while many people who live in their travel home blog about
all the exotic, breathtakingly beautiful, or fascinating places they’ve been, here I am going to tell you about the one trip we’ve taken this year so far and it was to a campground. Ha! But I for one like to know what to expect before planning a trip and I thought some other people might like to know, too.
For the record, places with lots of activities and traffic are not typically Cowboy’s or my cup of tea. We love nature, pretty scenery, hiking, and just taking our time – this trip was definitely not that, but it was probably the sweetest trip we’ve ever taken together as a family.
The campground has tons of cabins in various areas, two sections for campers and RVs, and a section for tent camping. On the advice of a friend, we booked a red carpet site for our 5th wheel, which means we had a nice large spot on concrete with a covered picnic table and a big stone fire pit near the back of the park. If it wasn’t pushing 110 degrees each day of our stay, we would have definitely utilized the outdoor space more! These sites offer more privacy just because they are off the main roads, but there is zero tree cover or natural shade of any kind, except for the little canopy over the picnic table. Pro tip for you who are considering living in a travel home (so much sarcasm in the “pro” part, but it works): aluminum foil taped over your camper windows and then covered with the shades is a ghetto but fabulous way to keep the inside cooler.
We made good use of our first evening there with a tour of the grounds to see where everything was, a trip to the store to get some groceries for the week, dinner at Chick-fil-a, and later, a trip to the night slides. Pirate’s Cove water park is adjacent to Jellystone and you can get passes as a camper for $15 per person for one day or $25 per person for your stay. The water park is open to the public as well as guests of Jellystone but the night slides are exclusively for campers. They include the 4 largest water slides at the park – a couple of fast, adrenaline-inducing slides, and a couple tamer ones. Cowboy and the kids did the tallest slide (you know the kind that looks 12 stories high and doesn’t look like it has sides and makes you think, “that can’t possibly be safe? Has anyone died on this?” That’s the one) while I sat at the bottom and peeked through my fingers and prayed Psalm 91. If you don’t like extreme heights, going airborne, and losing your stomach from your throat, there is a twirly green slide with an open top that is perfect. There is a height requirement to do the night slides – I forgot to look closely at the measuring stick but if I had to guess, it looked to be about 36”. They are all pretty high up so I wouldn’t want to take a little one up that high anyway (there is a 3 ½ foot pool at the bottom of the slower slides to swim in, though!).
We did not pay for any additional activities during our stay besides the waterpark but there was still a ton to do! You can pay extra to rent RC cars, play paintball, tie-dye tshirts, etc. and there is a breakfast buffet available for around $10/person but we stuck with what was included in the stay. Everyday there is a new schedule of the day’s activities so you can choose ahead of time what you’d like to try to do. My sister recommended I download the “campersAPP” and it was great during our stay! You put in a code for what campground you are at and it will show you the activities, nearby attractions, alerts, etc.
Since it was so hot we took regular breaks to cool off inside and Cowboy and I were water nazis and made everyone drink copious amounts of water, along with shots of coconut water, and water with sea salt in it (latter two for healthy electrolytes and extra minerals!). I’ll share a homemade electrolyte drink that we love at the end of this post that is a great alternative to sports drinks full of sugar and artificial colors.
Our first full day there I thought the kids would sleep in since we closed down the night slides the night before and stayed up late. I was so wrong – they bounced out of bed like it was Christmas morning, ready to go, and they didn’t stop the entire trip. Normally I’d make them stay in bed until a certain time but this was family vacation so we started the day early. Every day. It was exhausting and so, so much fun!
Here are some of the things we did that were included in our stay:
- Basketball at the basketball court.
- Swinging at the playground (there is a larger playground in the sun and a smaller one that is more shaded).
- Tetherball – our kids had never played before! It reminded me of the camp I worked at as a teenager. Camp memories are the sweetest.
- I think we successfully volleyed back and forth maybe twice and the rest of the time chased the ball but it was one of the things the kids loved the most.
- Horizontal climbing wall (I love that it is horizontal!)
- Climbing ropes (that you can also swing on).
- Climbing nets (we loved these!).
- Lost Maze (might want to make sure you have water in case your first go takes as long as ours did).
- “Hey, hey, hey!” Ride. There were a few token pieces of hay scattered on the bed of the trailer for effect but this is mainly a “hey!” ride. A camp worker whom you meet beforehand hides around the park and when the hey riders see them, they have to shout, “hey, hey, hey! I see you!” This was so fun and would be a great ride for all ages. There is a wet “hey” ride, too, but we didn’t do it during our stay.
- Firetruck ride. Campers sit on top of a firetruck and are given squirt guns to help put out forest “fires” (wood cutouts of flames in the trees) and help save Jellystone. So fun!
- Train rides (kids only) – They took off so fast but I guess they do it all the time and haven’t had any casualties yet (that is what Cowboy and I decided after we watched them haul off).
- Family Dance Night. A DJ is brought in and he does a great job! Families can dance under strings of outdoor lights to all sorts of songs. Cowboy and I were laughing so hard because at one point the DJ said, “I’m going to play an oldie now,” and he started “Genie in a Bottle.” NONE of the camp workers and many of the campers didn’t know what it was. I’m not old.
- We had a hula hoop competition among our family at the common area. I’m not sure if hula hoops are generally a part of the activity area since we didn’t see them there all the time, but we sure enjoyed them!
- At the common area (the “Backstreet Patio”) there are also outdoor games like ping-pong, cornhole, connect 8, and large Jenga-type building blocks.
- Ice cream at the Bear’s Den.
- Crafts at the Bear’s Den. There are ceramics you can go buy and paint at any time but there are also free craft times for the kids as well as coloring pages, crayons, and a large bucket of Legos and small toys they can play with at the tables there.
- Dunking booth. I have always wanted to dunk someone and now that is checked off my list.
- Movie Night – a camp worker threw out little bean bags and the kids laid down to watch the Yogi Bear movie.
- Yogi Bear, Cindy Bear, and Boo Boo bear wander around the park, mainly showing up during the rides, to greet campers. You have to watch Yogi though, because he tried to take off with our daughter, which she thought was hilarious.
- The Pledge of Allegiance around the flag pole with Yogi Bear. I thought this was especially great!
- Slingshot challenge. Kids take turns trying to launch a water balloon through a suspended hula hoop.
- We didn’t get around to riding bikes or laser tags but I believe both of those are included in the stay as well.
You can get a full list of what is included at their website but this is what we did and enjoyed!
A few words about Pirate’s Cove water park. It was comparable to most water parks I’ve been to (very similar to Hawaiian Falls for anyone local reading this). It has a kids’ area, a pretty awesome lazy river with inlets, and the 4 larger slides. I did not see a wave pool there but we kept so busy with the other areas that I could have missed it. The lifeguards did a really good job – I always appreciate when they are looking out for my kids instead of joking with each other – and it was clean (HUGE plus for a waterpark in my opinion). You are allowed to take bottled waters into the park, but that’s it as far as food/beverage goes.
We did not see any breathtaking beach sunsets or swim in the ocean or hike in the mountains but we made so many precious memories in the short time we were there. I got to write in each kids’ journal and our gratitude journal during a few of the slower periods we had in the afternoons and I realized, or maybe was reminded again, that kids just want time. They want our attention, they want to play with us, they want to be together. I have decided that there is something extra special about trying new, challenging things as a family that is so bonding.
Hopefully that gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect as far as staying at Jellystone goes!
Now for a few of our favorite memories.
Something I have tried to be a lot more intentional about and something we as a family are trying to be more intentional about is facing fear. Like all families, we’ve had our share of trauma and Cowboy and I have not always dealt with it well. We didn’t know how. So now we find ourselves dealing with the affects of it, and for me especially, working to untangle it and break agreement with it. This is probably why a few moments of this trip will always stand out to me.
I will always remember me being terrified of the kids doing the giant slide. Our youngest (Sunshine) was dead set on doing it – she knew she could and she did not waver once in wanting to. Cowboy and I were both hesitant but finally conceded and when the kids and Cowboy were at the top, I sat at the bottom and prayed and tried not to have a panic attack (for real). They all came rushing down that slide with huge smiles on their faces, telling me how much fun it was, and when they got off, Sunshine leaned in to me and whispered, “I was so scared I peed at the top.” At first I laughed, but as I thought about it, I realized she got it. She got that fear is not something you have to hide from but something you can face and walk right on through to get to what is on the other side. My tendency is to avoid things that make me feel uncomfortable but watching her do the opposite and come out smiling was profound for me, as was the fact that she knew she could. And really, we all can. It is the belief that we cannot that is so debilitating. She was scared to do it but she knew she could and in her mind, she was going through that fear to do what she wanted to do, no matter what, even if it meant she wet herself on the way.
And I will also always remember when Ro was scared to go over the top of the climbing net to come down the other side. We told her that the worst part was at the top, but once over, you realize there wasn’t really anything to be scared of. But that is so much easier said than done and you don’t really see the truth of it until you’ve already started to act on it. Cowboy went up to meet her and patiently talked her through. It took a long time to get her over, but she did it, we all cheered, and then Cowboy immediately said, “Great job, now do it again.” He knew if it was allowed to become a stronghold in her mind, she would be scared next time something like that came up.
It reminded me of how experiences plus emotion creates strong neural pathways and if you walk away from an experience thinking, “that was hard and I almost didn’t make it,” that pathway (that belief and pattern) in the brain is entrenched a little more and it will feel dangerous next time that situation comes up. And just like that, you have a stronghold. Second Corinthians 10:4 says we are equipped to fight against and tear down strongholds, but how much easier it would be to not let things become strongholds in the first place! Cowboy helped guide her through it again, and then again, until she was going up and over that climbing net by herself the rest of the trip. I needed that reminder. I am so thankful that Cowboy didn’t just settle for, “you made it!” but pressed for, “now, do it again.” That will always stick out to me. Do not let fear become a stronghold. Do it afraid. And then do it again.
I will always remember family dance night, how Little Stet was dressed like a Christmas tree in red and green and learned to hula hoop and hula hooped the night away with the most intense look on his face. How Sunshine for once was reluctant to dance but couldn’t resist her daddy’s efforts for long and was soon all in with him. How Cowboy picked me up and swung me around while I laughed until I couldn’t breathe as I pleaded with him not to drop me.
I will always remember our family basketball that the kids proudly labeled with our family name and asked all of us to sign.
I will always remember to pee before I enter a maze.
I will always remember standing way up high, waiting to go down the tame slide, and feeling the breeze blow across my face and thinking, “this isn’t so bad” (because heights have always scared the tar out of me – that is a Cowboy saying). And then gliding down the slide with water gently rushing around me and being able to look up at the stars and think, “God, You are good. I’m glad I didn’t miss out on this.”
I will always remember the feel of the kids in my arms as we played in the lazy river, the look on Cowboy’s face as he watched our kids belly laugh and the look on his face when he glanced at me after watching them and that, “gosh, I love them” look passed between us, the way our little Light Giver watched over her siblings at the water park, the workers who made the rides as fun as they were, little eyelashes splayed out over sunkissed cheeks as the kids slept, and all the many, many times we laughed.
We are home again but the kids have yet to take their wristbands off and are asking when we can go back again – I hear Christmastime is a fun time to go!
What is the best family trip you’ve ever taken? What made it the best?
Here is the homemade electrolyte drink recipe I said I’d share! It is great for hydration and immune support without a lot of the junk that most store-bought electrolyte drinks have. If you are a Ningxia Red drinker, feel free to add a splash for an extra boost!
Homemade Electrolyte Drink
8 oz. water
1 tsp. raw honey (local, if possible)
1/8 tsp. Pink Himalayan Salt
The juice of half of a fresh lemon
Optional: fresh squeezed orange juice
Mix it all together and sip away.
Stories shared with our kids’ permission.
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