I'm 28 and I unabashedly love summer camp. I seek out books about it and watch movies set there. I still regularly reference the 11 summers I spent at sleepaway camp as a kid, which hold some of my favorite memories from growing up, and keep in touch with friends I made there.
So when the trend of adult summer camps began to take hold a few years ago, I was intrigued. A chance to shed my responsibilities and spend a weekend knotting friendship bracelets and swimming in a lake? Sign me up.
But at the same time, the concept seemed too good to be true. Was it even possible to recapture the magic of going to camp as a kid? Would it just end up being a bunch of adults drinking too much?
In July, I decided to finally to see for myself what all the hype was about — and honestly, satisfy my longing to relive the youthful fun I remembered from childhood. I signed up for "Young Professionals Weekend" at Club Getaway in Kent, Connecticut, where I joined around 250 adult campers (the average age is 36), for three days and two nights of ropes courses, Color Wars and free-flowing alcohol.
It cost $479 for the weekend, plus $69 for a round-trip bus ride from New York City. With taxes and fees, I spent a total of around $630 upfront.
From arts and crafts to costume parties to sleeping in a cabin again, here's everything I did over the course of the weekend.
The party started before we even arrived at camp. On the three-hour bus ride (that should have taken two) from New York, wine and liquor flowed freely and music blasted as everyone got to know each other. My seatmate, Keyana, was also traveling solo and we bonded over our shared excitement to finally see what the adult summer camp hype was all about.
We arrived at Club Getaway on Friday evening at around 9 p.m. Surrounded by a thick forest on one side and a small lake on the other, the heart of the camp was lined with wooden cabins and large fields of grass. Inflatable slides dotted the lake, and campers drifted between the lodge, known as the Mountain House, and the boathouse below, where a happy hour of light bites was offered outside.
I exited the bus and collected the key to my cabin, as well as an orange wristband that marked me as part of the camp's "Cheers" package. For an extra $100, the Cheers package allows guests unlimited drinks for the weekend. You can also choose to buy a bar card for $30, with individual drinks running anywhere from $5 to $10.
I dropped my bags off in my cabin, Valley View 19, which overlooked an open field. Club Getaway offers both two- and four-person cabins, equipped with twin beds. Each cabin also has its own bathroom, and blessedly, air conditioning, which was more than I could say for my Brooklyn apartment at the time.
The rustic setting also offered something else: A break from technology. We kept our phones, but there were no TVs or computer screens.
I was placed in a two-person cabin and ended up not having a roommate. At first, I was a little disappointed. How would I make friends without an automatic buddy built in? But by the end of the weekend, I cherished having space to myself and saw it as a stroke of luck.
After settling into my cabin, I headed directly to dinner, which also took place at the Mountain House. I sat next to Keyana as well as a couple who got married at Club Getaway and were back to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary.
The food did not disappoint: We passed around platters of steak, roasted potatoes and green beans, which I gladly filled up on. The camp also served complimentary wine with dinner, so I treated myself to a glass. I could already tell that this was an environment unlike anywhere else. While the concept of adult summer camp might sound gimmicky to some, to me, it was a fulfilling blend of old and new.
Throughout the weekend, I felt like I was back at the summer camp I attended as a kid, conquering the ropes course, frolicking by the lake and laughing with new friends. Yet it was still a uniquely adult experience, choosing to dressing up for themed parties and chatting with strangers over drinks and food.
After dinner, things transitioned into a black light dance party in the next room. Watching friends and couples break it down on the dance floor, I became extremely aware of the fact that I was alone.
I felt a twinge of awkwardness as I walked around the room, unsure of what to do with my hands. I leaned over to another woman who also stood on the outskirts of the dance party to say hi. "Are you also here alone?" she asked me. She introduced herself as Malini, and we instantly bonded. I introduced her to Keyana, and the three of us agreed to meet up the next day for activities.
Waking up Saturday morning, I felt like a kid on Christmas. I was both excited by the potential activities the day held and overwhelmed by the sheer number of them. Would I be able to fit in everything I wanted to see and do?
I decided to jump-start the day by attending an 8 a.m. hike before breakfast. It was quick and easy, but moving around and breathing in the fresh air energized me to take on everything camp had to offer. More importantly, I let go of some of my anxiety that it would be a lonely weekend. In addition to Keyana and Malini, I began to make more friends.
From the hike, I headed straight to breakfast where a full buffet of options was set up, including an omelet bar, pancake station and entire tables of pastries and fruit. I took a seat with my hiking friends. As Club Getaway veterans — one person had attended more than 30 weekends — they suggested that I go on the camp tour to get a feel for the space.
The tour gave me the lay of the land and allowed me to meet even more people. I learned that the camp has a program where former campers can come back as volunteers throughout the summer. They get to attend camp for free in exchange for teaching classes and facilitating activities. They aren't counselors — more like friendly faces who love the camp experience. They made sure I was never awkwardly standing alone with no one to talk to, but I never once felt like they were only making conversation with me because they had to.
After the tour, I met up with Keyana and Malini, and we decided to check out the ropes course together. For activities like these, which require advanced safety training, the camp has full-time, trained staff members take the lead.
As we walked over, I couldn't help but have flashbacks to when I was 10 and spent two full hours sobbing at the top of a 50-foot-high ropes course, paralyzed by my fear of heights. But I was ready to put that phobia behind me. "This weekend will be different," I told myself. I wasn't going to let my fear stop me from trying new things.
I took a deep breath, put on a harness and climbed up. The first part was easy: A short obstacle course of swings and rope ladders. Next, however, we wandered over to the Geronimo Free Fall. The name says it all: The attraction is basically a suspension cable that holds your weight while you drop through the air. Despite my tour guides calling it one of the most fun things to do at Club Getaway, I was skeptical. I knew I would be strapped in, but I wasn't too keen on jumping off a 40-foot-high platform. My anxiety began to snake back in.
"You're not scared," I told myself. I climbed up, closed my eyes, counted to three, listened to my new friends cheer me on — and stepped off the platform.
In a single second, I felt a rush of both exhilaration and fear, and the next thing I knew, I was floating gently back to Earth.
After that, I was ready to tackle anything. I did it! I jumped! I couldn't believe the same girl who shook with tears at the top of the ropes course as a kid had not only hopped off the platform, but enjoyed it. I glided through our next few activities, which included zip-lining, a vertical obstacle course called the Pine Climb, and a mixology class, which was the first activity of the day to take place 100% on solid ground.
Around 2 p.m., everyone was corralled to lunch in the camp's open air tent, which featured another well-stocked buffet. I loaded up on ribs, pasta and made-to-order salad. Of course, I also went back for a full plate of desserts, which included brownies, cake and chocolate chip cookies.
As lunch wound down, Color Wars started up. The entire dining hall was divided into three teams: Blue, yellow and red. We competed in a series of relay races and team games. I'm not much for group sports, so I mostly cheered from the sidelines. Still, it was fun to be part of the action, and I appreciated the nod to the traditional summer camp rite of passage.
From there, Keyana, Malini and I trekked over to our trapeze lesson. When I signed up that morning, I was more nervous than excited. But after conquering the ropes course, I knew I could do it. The trapeze class cost an additional $25, but it was something I had been wanting to do, and similar classes in Manhattan cost almost $100.
We got lucky and it ended up being just four of us, plus three instructors, which made for a semi-private lesson. After going over safety procedures, commands and proper form on the ground, we climbed up to the platform and swung from the trapeze one by one.
I went last and looking down from the platform for the first time, I felt almost dizzy. Everything in my body screamed, "Get me down from here!" But I had jumped off the Geronimo! I had zip-lined! You're strapped in — there's no reason to be scared, I told myself.
And one more time, I got over my fears and I jumped.
It was exhilarating. I was too distracted by the rush of the fall to be able to follow the instructor's commands on the first round, but the second time I was able to both swing upside down on the trapeze and backflip off of it. It felt like an out-of-body experience. I couldn't believe I had done it.
Once again, my elation propelled me forward. At the Woodstock-themed happy hour that immediately followed our class, Keyana invited me to sing karaoke with her. Normally, I'd decline, or at least imbibe a bit of liquid courage first, but to my surprise, I agreed to sing not one, but two songs. It didn't matter that I was nervous. No one cared that I don't have a great voice. We had fun reprising early Taylor Swift hits, and that's all that mattered.
Post-shower and nap, the activities were starting to wear on me. But despite my exhaustion, I was ready for dinner — and the much-anticipated "Heaven and Hell" party, which we had been told about ahead of time. I went with a simple costume: Red shorts, a black t-shirt and a pair of glittery devil horns. Most of the other campers keep things low-key as well, but a few people went all-out with their outfits, donning capes, gowns and full-sized red tridents. Plastic ones, of course.
I found Keyana at dinner in the open air tent and sat with a crew of both familiar and unfamiliar faces, including an arborist who fascinated me with stories about his job protecting hundred-year-old trees and a fellow Marvel enthusiast who was willing to chat about all things Spiderman.
"Just wait, soon this whole place will be a dance party," my friend Lee told me as dinner finished up. I was confused: The party was here? Outside?
I had expected more decorations and fanfare.
As it turned out, that was just the pre-party. A performer climbed on stage with a guitar and spent an hour cycling through a series of costumes, which corresponded with the songs he covered, from Guns N' Roses in a shaggy blond hair metal wig to Britney Spears in a plaid schoolgirl skirt. People got up and danced, sang along and finished the dregs of the wine we were served at dinner.
When it was over, everyone paraded down to the boathouse, where we entered a room draped in white linens. Men in angel wings danced on platforms while airy pop songs akin to Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven is a Place on Earth" blasted through the speakers.
A few songs in, more sinister sounding music came on and the white curtain in the middle of the room dropped, revealing a second room behind it, decked in blood-red light. As staffers guided us around the perimeter of the room, the curtains hanging from the center parted, revealing our trapeze instructor from earlier.
He flipped and tumbled through the air on aerial silks, performing a show reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil. I stared in wonder as he effortlessly glided up and down the silks, twisting and turning and leveraging his body weight the entire time.
When the show concluded, everyone crowded into the middle of the room to dance to a parade of throwback hits from the early 2010s. The music transported me back to college. I could have been anywhere: Here at Club Getaway in my late 20s dancing to Calvin Harris, or in the basement of a fraternity party in Syracuse, New York, with house music pumping through the speakers. I let my surroundings fade away and briefly indulged the mindset of my carefree 21-year-old self.
Although the partying and unlimited access to alcohol made adult summer camp decidedly different from the kiddie version, it never felt like the sole focus. In fact, I barely found myself reaching for drinks. The combination of heat and excitement was already enough stimulation for me.
Others certainly chose to partake and the bar was never without patrons. But I never felt a sense of pressure to drink or judgement for choosing not to. Like the rest of the activities, alcohol fell into the choose-your-own-adventure vibe of the camp. If you wanted to spend the weekend drinking, you could, and you wouldn't be alone. But choosing to stay sober was fine, too.
Saturday night ended with a quintessential camp activity: Roasting s'mores over a bonfire while another performer crooned rock classics on his acoustic guitar. One of my favorite parts of the weekend was the camp's attention to detail. These small things — the post-dinner entertainment and live music during the campfire — weren't necessary, but enriched the experience.
Saturday's jam-packed schedule finally hit me, and I opted to sleep in on Sunday morning instead of heading out for another early morning hike. That was okay by me — I wanted to enjoy the last day of camp, not sleepwalk through it.
After breakfast, I spent the morning making friendship bracelets and floating in the lake. At one point, a group of us rode on the banana boat, which filled me with a swell of nostalgia. The camp I attended as a kid had one as well, and although the ride didn't feel as crazy this time around, it was still delightful to zip across the lake.
I loved that there wasn't a sense of cliquishness at Club Getaway. As I hung out by the lake on Sunday, I felt like I had an entire group of people to talk to and hang out with.
Part of that can be attributed to the environment: Group activities, open seating for meals, close quarters. But part of it is the type of people who chose to attend the camp. It seemed as though everyone was open to talking to new people and getting to know each other.
And it wasn't just those of us flying solo who were looking to make friends. Even people who came together sought out new friendships. Looking back, the activities were fun, but the people were what made the weekend worthwhile.
I could have spent hours longer floating on a raft in the sun and chatting with other campers, but before I knew it, it was time to eat lunch, pack up my cabin and board the bus home.
For me, Club Getaway was completely worth the money: It provided the perfect blend of nostalgia, excitement and a sense of belonging.
That said, I don't think adult summer camp is for everyone. As an extrovert who thrives on being around people, I jumped right into the thick of camp. But for others who crave time to themselves and prefer to meet people in a more low-key environment, it's probably overwhelming and exhausting.
But as we traveled in exhausted silence to New York, I was already looking forward to going back next summer.
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