More than 1 million adults attend camp each year, looking to relive their childhood memories or experience a summertime tradition for the first time.
While kids’ camp attendance has declined, forcing many organisations to shutter their cabins and sell off their land, the number of camps for grown-ups has swelled faster than a mosquito bite, totaling 800 in all. That’s an estimated 10% increase a year over the past 10 years, according to The Wall Street Journal.
And when campfire s’mores and sing-alongs are mixed with “flip cup” tournaments and a bunch of singles cavorting to DJ music, the result is a rowdy sleepaway camp experience unlike the one you may remember from childhood.
I recently attended Club Getaway in Kent, Connecticut, which hosts more than 10,000 adult campers annually, to see what all the buzz is about.
I never went to sleepaway camp as a child. Every June, my lucky classmates left for northern New England and returned two months later with macramé bracelets, tanned skin, and endless stories about 'camp friends.' I felt like I was missing out on this whole other world.
I recently had the opportunity to attend summer camp for adults, which was a lot like how I imagine kids' summer camp is -- except with booze, sex, and gossip.
I spent the weekend at Club Getaway, an all-inclusive sports and adventure resort nestled in the Berkshire Mountains of Kent, Connecticut. While the camp hosts corporate retreats, school groups, and children's camps during the work week, weekends are reserved for adult programming. Over 10,000 grown-ups come every year.
It's been this way since the 1970s, back when Club Getaway was known as 'Club Layaway' among adult campers for its raunchy reputation. (Before that, it was exclusively a children's summer camp.) New owners bought the camp in 2012 with plans to incorporate more wholesome and activity-driven programming.
Each weekend has a theme, such as Young Pros, where 20- to 30-year-olds can network outdoors, and J-Weekend for Jewish professionals. I opt for the Sports, Fun, & Adventure 2-and-a-half-day retreat, which costs around $US560 after tax and tip.
I don't really know what to expect, except a lake, burgers and hot dogs, and a 'Sinners and Saints' party, which I received an e-vite to a few days ago, instructing me to dress accordingly. I'm a little freaked out by the time I leave the office and the twentieth coworker asks me, 'So, like, is this a thing where everyone hooks up?'
Friday at 5:30, I board the Getaway Bus, which transports New York guests to camp. I'm surprised to discover that one-third of the 'campers' come solo and seem eager to make new friends.
The three staffers aboard take turns DJ'ing, strapping wristbands on guests (they have had problems with people trying to sneak in), and filling bottomless cups of wine. When we arrive, a staffer announces that a miracle has happened: We departed with 14 bottles of wine and arrived with 17, even though outside alcohol is strictly prohibited.
I receive my cabin assignment: Mountain View 7. I have two roommates (who asked not to be photographed), both working women in their mid-twenties. One tells me she's 'been single for 23 years' and really hopes to meet someone here; the other already has her sights set on the staffer who carried her duffel to the cabin.
Our cabin fits 4 twin-sized beds (the only kind of bed on the property) and has its own bathroom. Fresh towels and a water bottle are provided, and housekeeping makes the bed daily. This is swankier than I had imagined.
We freshen up and head to the big tent, where the 300 other guests seem to have wasted no time waiting for us. Bluto, director of entertainment and the man of a million costumes, oversees a group taking tequila shots off a surfboard.
We adjourn into 2 large dining rooms to feast on wine, fresh bread, a veggie and potato medley, and chicken Parmesan, prepared by chefs from the Connecticut Culinary Institute. I sat with one couple, one staffer, and 4 solo guests, and quickly noticed that people who sat on the bus together situated themselves at the same tables.
After the meal, everyone takes their time moseying over to the boathouse, where a party is about to start. While some cliques disappear to drink in their cabins and hang in the woods, I head to the dance floor with some new friends.
Inside, the dance party is taking off. I see 20-something girls dropping it low, and high school reunion groups picking it up slow. All seem to be having a ball through the wee hours of the morning, though I call it quits at 2:30 a.m.
I'm up at 8:30 a.m. to get in line for activity sign-ups. The camp organizes dozens of daily activities, ranging from water ski lessons to power yoga to zip-lining to Cards Against Humanity. Only the more popular activities, like trapeze and road biking, require registration.
I head over to the meeting place for rock climbing clinic and find a couple lounging sweetly. Ramon Howard and Claribel Rodriguez, both from New York City, have been together for a year and are here for a more active vacation. 'You can write 'soulmates' in the caption,' Ramon later tells me.
I also meet the very bubbly Susana Ho, a 24-year-old from New York currently studying medicine at Penn State. She's here with a friend from undergrad and definitely made it to the 'cool kid' parties last night.
We hike for 10 minutes up the mountain that overlooks camp, which gave me an opportunity to ask my fellow campers the basics: their names, hometowns, and occupations. By the time we start rock climbing, we're cheering each other on and soothing those who are scared of heights.
Once everyone's had their turn climbing and belaying, we find ourselves asking, 'So, where ya' headed next?' Most of us head to the trapeze together, where I find my roommates and the girls I sat next to on the bus. It feels like a group of friends is beginning to form.
The day is a whirlwind, and not just because most of us are fighting hangovers. I walk the tightrope at the aerial park ...
...and then participate in a summer camp tradition, Colour War. Bandannas are handed out at random to denote 4 teams, and we compete in 3-legged races, water balloon tosses, and other goofy relays.
The water park is almost always open if I want to cool off in the lake, try the slide, or take a waterskiing lesson. Kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes are available for take-out, and there's zero fuss about it. No waivers, no wait lists, and no rental fees.
In every direction, I see people smiling and making instant friends. And you never know where sparks might fly -- although, I'd stay away from the trampoline. 'It has 40 years of sin on it,' one staffer jokes.
No one understands the Club Getaway atmosphere better than Jamie Dalsimer, a business analyst from New York City. Her dad was working at the camp as a water ski instructor when he fell for her mum, a guest. Jamie's been coming to camp with her family since she was a kid. Her friends tease her, 'Show us the tree where you were conceived.'
At 2:30, Bluto, dressed in lederhosen, wrangles the troops for the Pub Hike. We thread pretzels onto yarn necklaces, fork over 10 beer tokens, and follow the sound of the boom box into the woods.
Five kegs are placed along the walking trail that winds around the camp grounds, and we don't step an inch past each marker until the keg's been kicked. The scene in the forest, with 'Turn Down for What' blaring in the background, is surreal.
Shockingly, the party's just getting started. The Pub Hike is followed by the Flip Cup Tournament on the basketball court. This guy seems into it.
Beer pong morphs into dinner which blurs into the Sinners and Saints party at the boathouse. To my surprise, seemingly everyone shows up decked out like it was Halloween at Phi Kappa Psi. I wear white, just in case it's some kind of suggestive code.
The party starts in an all-white room (presumably Heaven) and later pours through the plastic gates of Hell onto a red-lit dance floor. I recognise my friends Susanna, Ramon, and Claribel and join them on stage.
I spot newly formed couples canoodling on the couches that line the perimeter. But truthfully, for every handful of eager-beaver singles looking to score, there's another awesome group of campers -- spanning industries, ethnicities, age, and interests -- who are just there to have a great time.
And that's what made adult summer camp so memorable: the community. It's an intangible that you have to experience for yourself, like when you walk to breakfast alone because you know you'll run into someone, or the first notice an inside joke forming among friends.
And it really hits you the moment you make plans with your new community back in the real world. Which is exactly what I did the weekend after camp.
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