More than one million adults attend camp in the US each year, looking to relive their childhood memories or experience a summertime tradition for the first time.
While kids’ camp attendance has declined in recent years, forcing many organisations to close their cabins and sell off their land, the number of camps for adults has swelled faster than a mosquito bite, according to Grownupcamps.com. There’s a camp for every type, from Camp Rosé All Day to the more traditional Camp No Counselors, which appeared on “Shark Tank.”
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. In 2014, at the onset of the summer camp for adults boom, I attended Club Getaway in Kent, Connecticut, to see what the buzz is about.
I never went to sleepaway camp as a child. Every June, my lucky classmates left for the Northeast and returned two months later with macramé bracelets, tans, and endless stories about 'camp friends.' I felt as if I were missing out on this whole other world.
In 2014, I 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. While the camp hosts corporate retreats, school groups, and kid's camps during the workweek, weekends are reserved for adult programming.
In 2014, over 10,000 adults attended Club Getaway.
It has been this way since the 1970s, back when Club Getaway was known as 'Club Layaway' among adult campers for its raunchy reputation. The camp came under new ownership in 2012. The plan was to include 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 opted for the Sports, Fun, & Adventure retreat spread over two-and-a-half-days. It cost about $A750 after tax and tip.
I didn't really know what to expect, except a lake, cook-outs, and a 'Sinners and Saints' party, which I received an e-vite to a few days before, instructing me to dress accordingly.
I was a little freaked out by the time I left the office for camp and the 20th coworker asked me, 'So, like, is this a thing where everyone hooks up?'
On a Friday at 5:30, I boarded the Getaway Bus, which takes New York guests to camp. One-third of the 'campers' come solo and seemed eager to make new friends.
The three staffers aboard the bus took 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 arrived, a staffer announced that a miracle has happened: We departed with 14 bottles of wine and arrived with 17, even though outside alcohol is strictly prohibited.
I received my cabin assignment, Mountain View 7, and met my roommates (who asked not to be photographed). One said she has 'been single for 23 years' and really hopes to meet someone here; the other set her sights on the staffer who carried her duffel to the cabin.
Our cabin fit four twin-size beds (the only kind of bed on the property) and had its own bathroom. Fresh towels were provided, and housekeeping makes the bed daily.
After freshening up, we walked to a big tent where the other 300 guests wasted no time waiting for us. Bluto, director of entertainment and the man of a million costumes, oversaw a group taking tequila shots off a surfboard.
We followed into two 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 noticed that people who sat on the bus together situated themselves at the same tables.
After the meal, the campers meandered to the boathouse where a party was about to start. Some cliques disappeared to drink in their cabins and hang in the woods. I headed to the dance floor with some new friends.
The dance party took off. Twenty-something women dropped it low, and high school reunion groups picked it up slow. All seemed to be having a ball through the wee hours of the morning. I called it quits at 2:30 a.m.
I got in line at 8:30 the next day for activity sign-ups. The camp organizes dozens of daily activities, including water ski lessons, power yoga, zip lining, and Cards Against Humanity.
Only the more popular activities, like trapeze and road biking, require registration.
At the meeting place for a rock-climbing clinic, I met a couple lounging sweetly. Ramon Howard and Claribel Rodriguez, both from New York City, had been together for a year and came for a more active vacation. 'You can write 'soulmates' in the caption,' Howard said.
I met the very bubbly Susana Ho, a then medical student at Penn State. She came with a friend from undergrad and definitely made it to the 'cool kid' parties last night.
We hiked for 10 minutes up a mountain, which gave me a change to ask my fellow campers the basics: their names, hometowns, and jobs. By the time we started rock climbing, we were cheering one another on and soothing those who are scared of heights.
Once everyone took their turn climbing and belaying, we found ourselves asking, 'So, where ya' headed next?' Most of us walked to the trapeze together, where I found my roommates and the girls I sat next to on the bus. It felt like a friend group was forming.
The day was a whirlwind, and not just because most of us were fighting hangovers. I walked the tightrope at the aerial park ...
... and participated in a summer camp tradition, Colour War. Bandannas were handed out at random to indicate four teams, and we competed in three-legged races, water balloon tosses, and other goofy relays.
The water park was almost always open if I wanted to cool off in the lake, try the slide, or take a water skiing lesson. Kayaks, paddle boards, and canoes were available for takeout, and there is zero fuss about it. No waivers, no wait lists, and no rental fees.
In every direction, I saw people smiling and making instant friends. And you never knew where sparks might fly -- although, I'd stay away from the trampoline. 'It has 40 years of sin on it,' one staffer joked.
Jamie Dalsimer, a business analyst from New York City, said her dad worked at Club Getaway as a water ski instructor when he fell for her mum, a guest. Jamie has been coming to camp with her family since she was a kid. Her friends teased her, 'Show us the tree where you were conceived.'
At 2:30, Bluto, dressed in lederhosen, gathered the troops for a Pub Hike. We threaded pretzels onto yarn necklaces, forked over 10 beer tokens, and followed the sound of the boom box into the woods.
Five kegs were placed along a trail that surrounded the campgrounds, and we didn't step an inch past each marker until the keg had been tapped. Music blared in the background.
Surprisingly, the party was just getting started. The Pub Hike was followed by the Flip Cup Tournament on the basketball court. This guy seemed into it.
Beer pong faded into dinner, which blurred into the Sinners and Saints party at the boathouse. To my surprise, tons of guests showed up decked out as if it were Halloween at Phi Kappa Psi. I wore white, just in case it was some kind of suggestive code.
The party started in an all-white room and later poured through the plastic gates of Hell onto a red-lit dance floor. I recognised my friends dancing on stage and joined them.
I spotted newly formed couples canoodling on the couches. But for every handful of eager singles looking to score, there was another awesome group of campers -- spanning industries, ethnicities, ages, and interests -- who were 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 you first notice an inside joke forming among friends.
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