USA & Canada: The Poconos: Mountains, Streams & Heart-Shaped Bathtubs
If you live in the Northeast, you've probably seen commercials for The Poconos -- "The Land of Love," complete with heart-shaped hot tubs. Northeastern Pennsylvania's four-county Pocono Mountains region has been attracting honeymooners since the first newlyweds-only resort, The Farm on the Hill, opened there in 1945. Morris B. Wilkins introduced the nation's very first heart-shaped tub at his resort, Cove Haven Entertainment Resorts, in 1963. Life magazine featured a photo of the tub, and couples around the country developed an uncontrollable urge to bathe in one. The rage didn't die down -- couples-only resorts in the scenic Pocono Mountains today attract about 285,000 lovers yearly.
But there's definitely more to the Land of Love than just funny-shaped Jacuzzis. The Pocono Mountains are a perfect place for hiking, biking, and rafting. Tiny, charming, Mayberry-style towns cluster in the valleys and bed-and-breakfasts dot the region. Simply put, the Poconos offer luxurious, man-made love dens for campy romance -- and churning rivers, crashing waterfalls, and soaring trees for those who prefer more natural stimulation.
What to Do: Resorts
Poconos resorts feel like summer camp and Disney World rolled into one -- you can't help feeling like a kid, eager to get everything in. There's just so much to do. You can easily spend two days without ever leaving the resort grounds (of course, some people spend a week without leaving their room!). At the Cove Haven Entertainment Resorts you've got mountain bikes, paddleboats, rowboats, speedboats, putting greens, hiking trails, swimming pools, and archery to choose from -- and that's just outside. Inside, you'll find ice- and roller-skating rinks, an archery range, tennis, a health club, a whirlpool complete with waterfalls and bar service, tanning beds, miniature golf, basketball courts, pool tables, table tennis, pinball machines -- and those claw games where you try to grab the best prize, which, for some reason, you always win in the Poconos. In addition to the activities, each resort has a social director whose job is to convince you to participate in couples' competitions.
Don't think you get to conk out after dinner, either. Evenings, you'll head to the nightclub for comedians, dance bands, and games. You might luck into a night when someone famous is playing -- Jay Leno and Joan Rivers have played the resorts. But even if it's a band you've never heard of, Cove Haven manages to draw good entertainers pretty consistently. While admission and the late-night snack are free, drinks cost extra -- but they're so cool, you've gotta have 'em. Yes, they've got daiquiris and pina coladas, but then there's also that fluffy blend of frozen Sweet Tarts and coconut topped with three inches of whipped cream; a pink "Passion Potion" that tastes like bubble gum; and a Dreamsicle-like frozen amaretto whip. You usually get dizzy after one sip of wine? Drinking here seems more about ambience than alcohol, meaning you can guzzle with gusto and still think clearly enough to lie about your sex life during the Poconos' famous XXX Newlywed Game (it predates the tamer version you've seen on TV).
What to Do: Non-Resorts
The Poconos Mountains have 150 lakes, more than 100 varieties of trees, mountain-bike paths, golf, horseback riding, and a generous slice of the Appalachian Trail to hike. You can also go whitewater rafting on the Delaware River or in Lehigh Valley Gorge, downhill and cross-country ski, wander through the pristine maze of waterfalls (including not-to-be-missed Bushkill Falls), or pick apples (in fall) and strawberries or peaches (in summer) at Valley View Orchards in Mt. Bethel.
About an hour past the Poconos' western edge, you'll find Knoebel's Groves, a family-owned amusement park that hasn't changed much since the 1950s. Unlike Great Adventure or other mega-parks, Knoebel's has a handful of old-fashioned rides with practically no lines on weekdays; sculpted, tree-covered grounds; and the best pizza of any amusement park in the country. Spend a few hours strolling the grounds, taking photos of the funny, Fred Flintstone-style rides, and eating chicken and waffles (an Amish specialty) at the park's restaurant, which has won awards for the best amusement park food in the country. Best of all: You only have to pay for the rides you try.
Where to Eat: Resorts
It couldn't be easier to have breakfast in bed anywhere else: Each evening, you'll check your choice of pancakes, cinnamon swirl French toast, and/or eggs the way you like 'em on a pink "breakfast in bed" order form and hang it on your door. If you're still hungry (or if you end up with more important just-woke-up activities to tend to, and the food gets cold), you can head to the dining room for breakfast number two.
You're on your own for lunch. Order pizza from the snack bar, or fill up on Poconos Passion Fudge and edible underwear from the gift shop. For dinner, you'll join three other couples you've never met before (like on the Love Boat!) back in the dining room for entrees like London broil, shrimp stir-fry, or pasta. Side dishes are served family style -- passing the potatoes makes for an easy icebreaker. Not that you'll need it -- fellow couples will probably be friendly, married since last Saturday, and more than willing to share their wedding details (and listen to yours).
Where to Eat: Non-Resorts
The best food in the Poconos tends to be at the less dressy, local stops -- and there's plenty of sugary stuff to sample. Don't miss these:
- Pocono Cheesecake Factory: The Baskin Robbins of cheesecake, this roadside factory and stand serves slices in ten flavors, from amaretto to raspberry. All we can say is yum. Sugar-free cheesecake also is available, but why bother? Route 611, Swiftwater; (570) 839-6844
- Callie's Candy Kitchen: Chocolate lovers, listen up: Callie's covers everything in the luscious stuff, from peanuts to strawberries to potato chips (ya gotta try this!). Drop in for a candy-making demonstration. Route 390, Mountainhome; (570) 595-2280
For more info, call the Poconos Mountain Vacation Bureau, (800) POCONOS.