Aquadome's Lazy River

DAY 3 — Finally, a water playground that’s as much fun for grownups as for kids.

We’re in the Austrian alps in a town called Lagenfeld, that’s home to the huge thermal-fed Aqua Dome (, where there’s everything from a waterslide for kids (indoor), a pool with water toys for the littlest water lovers, a kids’ restaurant, three giant outdoor hot tubs that look like spaceships cut in half.

The kids seemed to love that you swim in a lazy river from indoor pools to the outside, jump out, run outside for two seconds and then jump into one of these huge heated pools on stilts — with salt water, one with whirlpool and massage and blessedly warm. Inside kids and their parents are playing in the expansive pools under the waterfall and in the kids’ pool that is shaped like a Noah’s Ark and is complete with big waterslide (and a small one in the pool for little ones), as well as other water play features. There’s also a “dry” play area for young children complete with place to do crafts.

The Aqua Dome — with its giant Elephant outside constructed out of grass — is about 10 miles from Solden, the heart of the ski areas in the Oetzal Valley of Austria that’s about an hour from Innsbruck and just a couple of hours from Munich or Zurich. We didn’t even need to take a cab. Our ski pass entitled us to the free bus that connects the villages in the valley. And the price for a family of four is about what it costs for one adult to get into an American theme park — less than $75.

There is also a big hotel at the Aqua Dome, which we learn is the center for “wellness” programs. All kinds of spa treatments are available here too (how about an anti-stress back treatment, a bath with salt from the Dead Sea, or a mud treatment with volcanic clay?

All of the pools except the salt water ones are fed with spa water (sodium chloride sulfate and 5 mg bivalent sulfur). Good for you I’m told.

Did I mention there is day care here? That’s so parents (and those traveling with older teens like me) can luxuriate in one of the most amazing spas I’ve ever seen. A word of caution for those who are modest: most everyone goes au naturel here. In fact, I think my 18 year-old daughter and I were among the only ones in the saunas and steam rooms with bathing suits on.

I worried Mel would be uncomfortable. Instead she said, “It’s nice to see Europeans so comfortable with their bodies.”

We moseyed from a giant steam room with waterfall in the middle — it made me think of ancient Rome. Each of the other saunas and relaxation rooms is themed too — one sauna, for example, looks like an old fashioned log sauna you might imagine in a traditional home. Another was called a “hay” sauna that I’m guessing was supposed to be reminiscent of a farm. There’s a canyon sauna, an herbal chamber, a steam dome, salt water grotto and even an ice cave — should the saunas get too hot. Mel threw an ice ball at me.

We relaxed in the Blue Oasis in padded circular chairs as speakers in the chairs piped in soft music. Mel loved another relaxation area where she stretched out and took a nap. Everywhere, it seemed, were various hot and cold pools (just in case you needed an icy dip or wanted to cool your toes.

There were plenty of exercise classes too — I was tempted to join water aerobics but was having too much fun relaxing. You could take Pilates or yoga. Spinning class anyone?

Outside in the circular-pools-on-stilts you see the snow covered Alps One sauna also has a glass wall so you can enjoy the views while you’re enjoying the heat.

Just in case you get hungry, of course, there are restaurants. I love that you’re given a computerized bracelet to wear that opens and locks your locker, lets you in and out of various areas and enables you to simply give your number to pay for your meal or a drink. Mel ordered cheese spaetzel (translation: excellent mac and cheese). No spa food in this spa, it seems, as everyone around us were indulging in big glasses of beer, smoothies and giant bowls of goulash. All that relaxing makes you hungry!

This place, Mel and I decide, would be as much fun in summer as in winter and the ideal antidote for a sightseeing-heavy trip. That’s what’s so great about Austria, we decide, having toured here last summer — there’s lots of culture — museums, palaces, music. Austria after all is the home of Mozart and the Von Trapp family of Sound of Music fame. But there is just as much opportunity here for learning about a different culture in a different way, whether skiing in the winter or hiking in the Alps in the summer.

You won’t hear much English spoken but on the other hand, everyone understands and can speak some English and is very friendly.

It’s good, Mel and I think, for kids to see that.

I’ve only got one regret today. I didn’t have time for the honey scrub.