September 6, 2011

Taking the Plunge at Brownstone Discovery Park

If you're a Connecticut native like me, you'd likely never imagine that a cool place like Brownstone Discovery Park would be hiding anywhere near this neck of the woods.

Who knew gigantic inflatable
floating toys were this much fun?
This Labor Day weekend, I spent a day with friends and family at Brownstone - located in the very centrally located town of Portland, Conn., on a random backroad by the Connecticut River - and had a total blast.

If you have kids and are looking for an all-family activity - and even if you don't have kids (because I don't), you would be amazed by the fun you'll have here.


Today's Stefcations Highlights:

  • What You'll Find: Adventure water sports galore. Seriously awesome fun for all ages.
  • Where You'll Find it: Brownstone Exploration & Discovery Park, 161 Brownstone Ave., Portland, CT
  • When to Go: Memorial Day Weekend - October. Check their site for specific hours.
  • What It'll Cost: $18 apiece for the daily swimming pass. Or, spend $28 a person for access to all of the adventure sports. I assure you, it's far more fun than you've had in a while.


I preface all of this with the fact that you can't be a stick in the mud and still expect to enjoy this place - at the very least, you have to be up for getting wet. And at most, you may need to get over any long-held fear of heights. (If you really ARE a stick in the mud, don't drag your companions down with you. You can just sit on the dock and watch the action - which, I readily admit, was also quite entertaining.)

The Awesomeness of The Blob (and other activities)

What adds to the cool factor is that Brownstone is actually a former quarry, now filled with water and all kinds of crazy contraptions for the adventurer in you, including a monstrous floating rock-wall "iceberg" that you can climb and subsequently slide down, a waterslide, multiple ziplines, a floating trampoline, a wakeboarding area, a kayaking area, and my personal favorite - what we were calling "The Blob."

The Infamous Blob, from afar. This surely doesn't
come close to doing it justice. The best view is certainly
from the end of the diving board.
Essentially, The Blob is a giant cylindrical inflatable toy that's floating on the surface of the water, tethered to a tall platform, much like a floating log. Crazy people like me must then rock-climb a vertical wall to the top of the platform, then position themselves at the end of a diving board before jumping down onto The Blob.

If you land it just right, you'll be situated perfectly to climb to the end of The Blob, at which point the person in line behind you will then descend next from the diving board, landing on the opposite end of The Blob, launching YOU into the air. God help you if you someone nearly twice your size follows you onto The Blob, which is precisely what happened my first time around. As I floated weightlessly in the sky for what felt like 10 full seconds, screaming involuntarily the whole way, all I could think was: This thing is the best invention. Ever.

Again, the fabulousness of Brownstone is that it's great for people of all ages - at least from what I saw today. I was swimming past 8-year-olds that were happily shouting hello to me and telling me how awesome a time they were having. The only real limits have to do with weight: I believe you've got to be at least 50 lbs. to enjoy the park, and there's a limit of 250 lbs. to take part in a few of the activities, like ziplining.

The cost of a pass? $28. The hilarity? Priceless.

A daily pass that will gain you admittance to all of the "adventure" sports (cliff jumping, swimming, ziplining, waterslide, wakeboarding, scuba diving, and large inflatable toys - the fun of which should NOT be underestimated) will cost you $28. (The park happened to offer a special this Labor Day weekend for $20. Yay, us!) Call me crazy, but the admission price for places like Six Flags or Lake Compounce is considerably higher than that ($35.99 a person at "the Lake" last time I checked); plus, at those other places you'd have to pay extra for parking. Here at Brownstone, not only is parking free, they've got a shuttle to bring you down the road and drop you off at the gates.

The other option at Brownstone is the general swimming pass, which includes swimming, kayaking, hiking, and biking, and costs $18. But come on, face it, you'd really just be wussing out.

What To Bring

  • Food (There's a concession stand, but you are invited to leave a cooler with food and drinks on the dock and chow down after exhausting yourself in the water. Just take note: No alcohol's allowed on the premises.)
  • Waterproof camera (You'll totally get some hilarious and unique shots. I did not see ONE unhappy child there ... And there were a lot - I mean a LOT - of kids on the premises.)
  • Waterproof sunscreen (For the love of God: Reapply, reapply, reapply.)
  • Bathing suit (Seems obvious, but I saw a girl wading into the water in jeans. ???)
  • Water shoes (You technically can wear flip-flops out there, but they'll almost surely come off during all these wacky activities. Old sneakers would even suffice.)
  • Towels
And no worries about your valuables. These people have even thought of keyless lockers. You can lock and unlock your locker with a special plastic bracelet - complete with crazy compact microchip - that you can purchase at the entry gate. The lockers are situated in a hut at the end the dock before you enter the water, where you can also change into your bathing suit if you like. Completely awesome.

Me (second from left) with friends and fam.
Look at those happy, smiling faces.
And one last FYI: Apparently you can rent the floating gazebos - complete with picnic tables and much-coveted shade - that are scattered across the property for birthday parties and other private events. How utterly jealous I am of kids today...

I can't recommend this place highly enough. It will exhaust even your most hyperactive child, and even those who despise exercise will actually have fun working all the muscles you didn't know you had, while easily burning calories. My last piece of advice is to get there right as they open for the day like we did, since the park can only accommodate so many people, and when it's crowded, it can't possibly be as much fun. Check it out before the season ends in October. Ready, go!

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