What do you get when you combine campfires, s’mores, and sing-alongs with “flip cup” tournaments and a bunch of singles dancing to house music?
The answer is Connecticut’s Club Getaway, a summer camp for adults, one of many in the US. Those looking to relive their childhood memories (or experience this rite of passage for the first time) can pay more than $US500 for a weekend of summertime traditions and friendship-making.
Last summer, I joined the 1 million adults who attend summer camp for grown-ups each year. It’s an experience I won’t soon forget.
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 as if I were missing out on this whole other world.
Last summer, 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 of Kent, Connecticut. While the camp hosts corporate retreats, school groups, and children's camps during the workweek, weekends are reserved for adult programming. Over 10,000 grown-ups come every year.
It has 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 opted for the Sports, Fun, & Adventure two-and-a-half-day retreat, which cost about $560 after tax and tip.
I didn'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 before, instructing me to dress accordingly. I was a little freaked out by the time I left the office and the twentieth coworker asked me, 'So, like, is this a thing where everyone hooks up?'
Friday at 5:30, I boarded the Getaway Bus, which transported New York City guests to camp. I was surprised to discover that one-third of the 'campers' came solo and seemed eager to make new friends.
The three staffers aboard 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 happened: We departed with 14 bottles of wine and arrived with 17, even though outside alcohol was strictly prohibited.
I received my cabin assignment: Mountain View 7. I had two roommates (who asked not to be photographed), both working women in their mid-20s. One told me she had 'been single for 23 years' and really hoped to meet someone here; the other already had her sights set 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 and a water bottle were provided, and housekeeping made the bed daily. It was swankier than I had imagined.
We freshened up and headed to the big tent, where the 300 other 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 adjourned 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 sat with one couple, one staffer, and four solo guests, and I quickly noticed that people who sat on the bus together situated themselves at the same tables.
After the meal, the campers took their time moseying over to the boathouse, where a party was about to start. While some cliques disappeared to drink in their cabins and hang in the woods, I headed to the dance floor with some new friends.
Inside, the dance party took off. I saw 20-something girls dropping it low, and high school reunion groups picking it up slow. All seemed to be having a ball through the wee hours of the morning, though I called it quits at 2:30 a.m.
The next day, I was up at 8:30 a.m. to get in line for activity sign-ups. The camp organised 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, required registration.
I walked over to the meeting place for rock-climbing clinic and found a couple lounging sweetly. Ramon Howard and Claribel Rodriguez, both from New York City, had been together for a year and were there for a more active vacation. 'You can write 'soulmates' in the caption,' Howard later told me.
I also met the very bubbly Susana Ho, a 24-year-old from New York studying medicine at Penn State. She was there with a friend from undergrad and definitely made it to the 'cool kid' parties the previous night.
We hiked for 10 minutes up the mountain that overlooked camp, which gave me an opportunity to ask my fellow campers the basics: their names, hometowns, and occupations. By the time we started rock climbing, we were cheering one another on and soothing those who were scared of heights.
Once everyone had his or her 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 as if a friend group was beginning to form.
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 denote 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, paddleboards, and canoes were available for takeout, and there was 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 stayed away from the trampoline. 'It has 40 years of sin on it,' one staffer joked.
No one understood 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. Her friends teased her, 'Show us the tree where you were conceived.'
At 2:30, Bluto, dressed in lederhosen, wrangled the troops for the 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 the walking trail that wound around the campgrounds, and we didn't step an inch past each marker until the keg had been kicked. The scene in the forest, with 'Turn Down for What' blaring in the background, was surreal.
Shockingly, 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 morphed into dinner, which blurred into the Sinners and Saints party at the boathouse. To my surprise, seemingly everyone 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 (presumably Heaven) and later poured through the plastic gates of Hell onto a red-lit dance floor. I recognised my friends Susanna, Ramon, and Claribel and joined them on stage.
I spotted newly formed couples canoodling on the couches that lined the perimeter. But truthfully, for every handful of eager-beaver 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 was 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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