Go Ape “Worth the Time, the Money, and the Sore Muscles!”
Reviewed by Karen Schwartzkopf
As we were leaving Go Ape, the treetop adventure course in Williamsburg’s Freedom Park, I heard a ten-year old exclaim, “This is gonna be epic!” as he and his mom approached the cabin to register.
His eyes widened to take in all the sights available from the parking lot – which consisted mainly of the somewhat contained Treetop Junior course bustling with little chimps under ten, the forest canopy, and a glorious blue sky. Just beyond the Go Ape cabin, in a natural wooded area, was the Treetop Adventure course, where the family and I had just climbed, hooked, zipped, swung – and climbed some more. And yeah, I’ll say it, “It was epic!”
Of course, we didn’t have that attitude going in. I like to think my husband and I are relatively fit (my husband says I like to think we are ten years younger). The girls are fit, athletes all of them, but not particularly into outdoor recreation. That said, none of us had ever been rock climbing (beyond a few birthday parties at Peak Experiences) or tree climbing. Nor had we whooshed down a 600-foot zip line.
At the start of the course, after we stepped into our harnesses and had them adjusted safely, a team member very carefully and cordially explained the ins and outs of the Go Ape experience. This training station is where we – there were about four families in our group – learned the basic rules (always stay attached; three on a tree platform; one on a crossing) and how to operate the carabiners and pulleys that each of us had attached to our harnesses. Despite this very helpful and patient instruction, I remember thinking this was going to be a lot of work. The instructor had confidence in our family, but paid extra attention to a mom who would be on the course supervising two kids who were having a bit of trouble focusing on his training. I felt like my kids were getting it, and I was impressed by the level of professionalism with which the Go Ape expert handled working with the visitors – all of us at different levels. At this session, it was also fun to chat with a family who had survived, rather – enjoyed, Go Ape in Indianapolis and come back for more outdoor adventure on this beautiful day in Williamsburg. This trip through the park, a few from their party had decided to walk in the forest below the course and have fun watching family members instead of participating.
About a third of the way through the course, the safety strategies and tree-climbing techniques that were awkward at first were coming more easily for all of us. The big gorilla was responsible for the 14-year-old baboon,which meant as a matter of policy he had to check and re-check the clips that kept her attached to the reinforced steel cables before embarking on the next challenge. As a gorilla supervising my 12-year-old baboon, I had to do the same and stay alert to avoid rebellion. She was a baboon on the move! I was comforted by the Go Ape team members below offering advice and reminding us of safety rules and strategies.
Along the way, there are choices to make regarding skill level. Arrows in the treetops point you in an extreme or moderate direction. The extreme challenges require more upper-body strength, as you tend to be climbing ropes and working with nets. We stuck to the moderate challenges for the most part, and aside from sore muscles the next day, managed to feel pretty awesome about our Treetop Adventure. A word of caution: You spend about two to three hours in the trees and near the end of the course (it’s Go Ape’s biggest by the way), a Tarzan swing into a huge spider’s web is particularly taxing. Parents – if you think you want to try at least one extreme challenge, don’t make this the one.
After I booked our entry time, I received an email from Go Ape with info and guidelines for the adventure, which I’m sure were also on the very inviting and easy-to-navigate website. The most important tidbit, however, was this: Feel free to bring gloves. We all had gloves and we found them useful as we made our way over rope bridges and through climbing nets (yes, each of us did go the extreme route at least once). Gloves should be form fitting so they don’t get in the way when you’re hooking and re-hooking your clips to cables around trees to “always stay attached.” We used our rubber-grip gardening gloves and work gloves. Another important note – before you start the course, have everyone visit the restroom. We might have taken the back-half of the course a little quicker than we would have liked, as for the ladies at least, there is no good way to relieve yourself in the middle of a forest.
On the way out, I stopped by the Treetop Junior course to check it out. Here, the little ones are secured to cables throughout using a safety system that allows kids ten and under and at least 39 inches tall lots of freedom on a course about twelve feet above ground. For kids under five, a parent has to come along for the fun. I found myself thinking that a few years back, it might have been good for one of us to take on this course with a little one, while the other one hit the big-time Treetop Adventure with the older kids.
Go Ape isn’t a place you can drop your kids and dash; nor will you want to. There are a lot of things people will say you have to try – at least once – and you leave thinking you really could have lived without that one. For the record, for the family the Go Ape experience was worth the time, the money, and even worth the sore muscles.
Go Ape is situated in Freedom Park where families looking for outdoor recreation can also enjoy two miles of hiking trails and more than 20 miles of some of the best mountain biking trails in the region. To work in the educational aspect, visit the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, explore the site of a eighteenth century cemetery, the Revolutionary War Battle of Spencer’s Ordinary, and recreated cabins showing on the nation’s earliest Free Black Settlements in America. You can also purchase snacks and drinks at the new visitor’s center across from Go Ape.