It’s all you can dream of this time of year: kicking your feet up on a lounge chair and and sipping a cool drink. You long to hear the sound of children’s laughter as they splash and play, their inflated tubes whirling in the lazy river, their hair wet from playing on a spray ground. Your heart aches for that familiar, “Watch me, Mom, watch me!” And so you begin to plan your mid-winter getaway to … DETROIT?!?
Yep. Detroit. Sterling Heights, to be exact. As crazy as it may sound, just a few miles north of downtown Detroit is a stretch of suburban roadway dotted with shopping centers, chain restaurants and anchored by suburban campuses of Chrysler and General Motors, andthe Sterling Inn. This Best Western Plus property–the distinction recognizes the inn’s comfortable updated rooms, unique and very well done restaurant and friendly, personal service–is one of the more unique inns in the area: It has an indoor water park.
First built to serve business guests, the Sterling Inn hasn’t veered from that mission, but rather, added to it: during non-peak business times–summers, holidays and weekends–the hotel caters to families and kids looking to blow off a little steam with an enormous indoor water park.
The Lazy River ends in a whirling vortex–great for generating giggles.The water park has two pool areas: a larger one with a lazy river, a swirling vortex, three-story curving water slide and a ‘zero entry’ edge pool that allows bathers to wade in gradually (just like a beach), and a splash park with a playground where kids, especially younger children, can splash and play. There are two heated whirlpool hot tubs, a full-service snack bar serving pizza, burgers, snacks and drinks, and dotted around the perimeter of the pools are plenty of lounge chairs.
Upstairs from the water park, and with a wall of windows overlooking it, is an arcade full of games. The pool area also has a gym and locker rooms.
Throughout the winter, the water park hosts families on weekend getaways and traveling groups with kids, including teams headed to hockey tournaments or other sporting events. In the summer the Sterling Inn is a destination for families visiting the area and enamored with the idea of a water park at the end of the day–or as a way to spend the day.
The water park has a separate park for smaller kids with slides and a spray ground.Despite catering to these two different groups, the Sterling Inn has worked hard to anticipate its guests differing needs, and does well. The inn’s rooms are comfortable and roomy, with mostly new beds and bedding; the room I stayed in was renovated in 2008 but looked brand new; bed linens were crisply washed and pressed, the mattress was plush and comfortable, similar to beds in more expensive hotels. The bathroom was a standard size with a marble sink top, a standard shower tub and a curved shower rod so the shower curtain doesn’t blow crowd the tub; all great for a business or family traveler.
But the hotel’s designers took the thoughtfulness of the room’s design a step further: knowing that guests would often be of the toddling type, and might even want to bring the water park experience back to the room–whether in wet swimsuits or an in room splash experience in the tub–bathrooms have floor drains to keep water from causing an issue on bathroom floors, and the tub faucets have temperature safety controls to keep water from scalding bathers when it’s first turned on.
The Sterling Inn’s indoor water park includes a zero-entry beach-style pool, lazy river and a three-story water slide.Other nice touches in the rooms are first, the sheer size; rooms are oversized to accommodate a roll-away or just the amount of stuff that families often travel with; there are in-room mini refrigerators that are ample for holding necessities such as formula, water bottles or juice boxes (or a six pack of beer, which when traveling with toddlers might be considered a necessity!), and there’s a nice vanity area outside the bathroom so that more than one person can use the mirror at a time.
The property is large but not overly so; at the rear end is the water park, nicely cordoned off from the meeting areas, front desk and restaurant, which are all at the front of the building, so as not to mix the guest populations uncomfortably. The meeting area has a separate entrance and parking lot, further keeping guests focused on their area of interest in the hotel. And like so many old-school hotel/motel designs, parking is available along the outside of the building, with three entrances available so that guests can park near their cars. This is an especially nice factor when you’re traveling with small kids; getting a three year old to do a quarter mile carpet strut through a hotel can be an all day excursion.
The Loon River Cafe’s North Country feel is authentic, cozy and inviting.For breakfast, lunch, cocktails or dinner, the Sterling Inn boasts one of the area’s more notable restaurants, the Loon River Cafe. Designed in the style of a “North Country” cabin, with shingled walls, arts and crafts details, a stone fire place anchoring the end of the room and hunting and fishing decor, the restaurant is cozy, warm and inviting. And, the food is good. This is probably due to an on-site chef, Ray Hollingsworth, who oversees the menu and food service, ensuring quality and creativity. The restaurant has been so popular that it won distinction as an Open Table Diner’s Choice winner.
Best Western Inn Sterling Inn: Rates from $99/night; reserve ahead for New Year’s Eve, which always sells out
Disclosure: My hotel stay was provided by the Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau, though the Sterling Inn provided me breakfast every day; observations and opinions are all my own.
A TravelingMom contributor since the site's early days, Scotty and TMOM founder Kim Orlando recently launched SheBuysCars, a community built to empower women to be smarter, happier car owners. Prior to SheBuysCars, Scotty was the founding editor-in-chief of Luxe magazine, and wrote for the New York Times, Town & Country, Entrepreneur and Adweek, among others. She is the co-author of Stew Leonard, My Story, a biography of the founder of the iconic grocery company Stew Leonard’s, and developed program content for American Express Publishing’s Luxury Summit, PRWeek magazine’s annual conference and selected Luxury Marketing Council events.