Last spring Go West Young Mom brought you a sneak peek of Otter Cove Aquatic Park in St. Charles. If you haven’t visited yet this summer, this review will help you decide if you want to squeeze in a trip to the area’s newest pool complex before Labor Day.
LOCATION: In James O. Been Community Park on the corner of Peck Roads and Campton Hills Roads in St. Charles, about 2 1/2 miles west of downtown St. Charles.
AMENITIES: A completely fenced-in, zero-depth-entry toddler pool; a zero-depth-entry “activity pool” for general use; a deep pool with diving boards, lap lanes and drop slides; a zero-depth-entry lazy river; a body slide and a raft slide; access to thee splash park; concession stand; family restrooms; lift chairs for swimmers with special needs.
HOURS: Through Aug. 14, the pool is open weekdays from noon to 8 p.m., Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. For Aug. 15 through Aug. 23, the pool is open weekdays from noon to 6:30 p.m. and on weekends from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. From Aug. 24 through Sept. 4, the pool is open weekdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and weekdays from noon to 6:30 p.m. On Labor Day, it will be open from noon to 7 p.m. for the last day of the 2011 season. Click here for more info on hours.
RATES: Non-residents ages 15 and under pay $12; non-residents 16 and over pay $13.50. Those rates include entry to the adjacent Otter Cove Splash Park next door. If you want to go to the splash park, you’ll stay in the facility and pass through a staffed gate and be given a wristband. Note that you can still visit the splash park on its own: Non-resident children pay $6 for the splash park and adults get in free. But paying those rates at the splash park will not allow you entry into aquatic park. Click here to check resident rates and info on twilight swim rates.
GOOD FOR: All ages, since three of the pools are zero-depth entry. The slides and lazy river will appeal to big kids, the toddler pool is a wonderful option for babies. But it is indeed a big complex, so it would be hard for a mom with multiple young children to keep an eye on all of them at all times unless they stayed close. The few times I've visited, it's certainly been less chaotic than trips to Turtle Splash in West Chicago and Splash Country in Aurora.
My daughter and I have visited Otter Cove Aquatic Park three times this summer; the first time we stayed five hours (including a playdate with friends in the splash park) and the next two times we stayed four hours. So yes, we’ve had a lot of fun there.
Obviously the aquatic park is shiny and new and modern. The family restrooms are a great option, and I’ve never had a problem finding a chair, either. I’d like to see more chairs in the shade, but I might be in the minority position there.
The general-interest “activity pool” is zero-depth entry and about 3 ½ feet at its deepest. It features a toddler slide (a frog) and a couple of water-play features. It is much like the large pool you’ll find at other park district pools. Same for the short drop slides into the deep pool; you’ve seen similar slides before.
What really sets Otter Cove apart is the toddler pool and the lazy river. My waterbug 2-year-old daughter loves the freedom the toddler pool gives her. Of course I stay close by – but because the water is never over her head (it’s 2 ½ feet deep) – I can give her a bit more room to roam than in the activity pool. The toddler pool also has a dedicated lifeguard, a few features that dump and spray water at the kiddies, and is enclosed by a wrought iron fence.
The lazy river is even more unique. The only other nearby public pool I know of with this feature is Splash Country in Aurora. Otter Cove’s lazy river is 600 feet long, 12 feet wide and 3 feet deep. The current carries swimmers in inflatable tubes slowly around a giant loop. What fun!
Now, when I visited Splash Country on an admittedly very hot day this summer, we waited 20 minutes for an inner tube to become available. I’ve never waited at all at Otter Cove.
You can choose between a traditional single tube; a double tube; a single tube that has a seat in the middle – keeping the swimmer above water (good for young kids); or a double tube, in which the front tube has a seat in the middle. The latter two types of tubes were added after my first visit, and they are great addition. The first time we visited, I had to try to hold my squirming toddler above the water in a double tube. On our most recent visits, she’s more secure in the seat in the front of a double tube, and I get to actually relax and float along right behind her.
Otter Cove Aquatic Park does not make for a cheap day. A family of four non-residents would pay about $50 in admission fees. I’ve used a “buy one, get one free” coupon we received each month in those coupon packs some of you probably receive in the mail. The twilight swim is another option – it’s only $5 per person, but I think that rate might go away when the pool’s more limited hours begin Aug. 15.
My recommendation: If you’re going to Otter Cove, make it count. Expect to spend much of the day there, make sure the weather is sunny and there’s no chance the pool will be closed for inclement weather. But of course that means food, which leads to the other drawback …
You can’t bring your own food into the aquatic park, yet the concession stand is very meh. Not impressive at all. It offers typical food – nachos, hot dogs, pizzas, hamburgers, sandwiches, pretzels, ice cream, etc. You’ll pay $3 for a hamburger, $1.75 for a soft pretzel and the quality is well, pool food. But the worst part is that every time I’ve visited, they are out of something on the menu, or quite a few things. One night, a customer in front of me was exasperated when she was told the stand was out of everything she asked about, including the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. “So you don’t let me bring any food in here, but you don’t have anything I can feed my son for dinner?” she said.
One alternative: You are able to re-enter the aquatic park if you get a hand stamp at the Admission Office. So you could bring a picnic lunch or dinner, leave it in your car and then go out and get it and eat it in James O. Breen Community Park or on one of the picnic tables near the concession stand’s outside windows.
Finally, on one time I visited, the toddler pool was closed and another time the lazy river. I gathered this was because of staffing issues. If your kids have their heart set on one of the pool’s special features, it might be wise to call the pool’s office before you leave to make sure that feature is not closed for the day: 630-513-4377.
THE VERDICT: If the weather is hot and you have some money in your entertainment budget, make a trip to Otter Cove Aquatic Park before the summer is over. I’ve taken family members there and friends from ‘burbs closer to the city, and everyone has been impressed. I think you will be, too. You might even see me, floating down the lazy river!
Note: We took lots of photos of Otter Cove. Check out our Flickr album to see more!