My kids were beyond excited to visit the world’s first Cartoon Network Hotel in Lancaster, PA. They have been begging us to visit since the construction started before the pandemic. We finally decided to spend President’s Weekend at the hotel and see if it was as fun on the inside as it looks on the outside. (We took this trip at our own expense.)
It is important to point out that for our family to truly enjoy any venue, it needs to be special needs accessible and provide accommodations for a variety of physical, sensory, and developmental requirements.
About the Cartoon Network Hotel
Located conveniently next to Dutch Wonderland right on Lincoln Highway, the Cartoon Network Hotel is in a great location to enjoy all the Lancaster kid-friendly activities. There is a mix of suites and typical motel-style rooms available each with a Cartoon Network room theme.
The entire property is themed with all the favorite Cartoon Network characters like Ben10, Finn & Jake, Steven Universe, We Bare Bears, and more. The minute you walk in, you will get a sense that the entire space was designed to appeal to kids and kids at heart.
We read the Cartoon Network Hotel reviews before booking our stay. I also called ahead to get some information. However, it wasn’t until our visit that we could determine how accessible the Cartoon Network Hotel actually is. Our Cartoon Network Hotel review is based on our family’s visit over President’s Day Weekend 2023. Pictures here are from our visit as well as Jenn’s (editor) visit in December.
Our busy family loves to go on trips and adventures. We have learned to find places that will support families like ours that need to work around diagnoses such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism add, visual impairment, and developmental delays.
My extensive experience with my own family and in the special needs community has taught me that there is no reason that my family cannot enjoy going on adventures. We just need to find accessible places that can accommodate our needs. With some prep work and routines in place, we can make any trip enjoyable for everyone. However, I also have learned from experience that certain key accessibility features can make or break any trip.
How Accessible is The Cartoon Network Hotel?
Does anyone in your family or group need an elevator?
If the answer is “Yes”, then think twice about staying in a suite in the Cartoon Network Hotel. All the “Dream Suites” are located in the main building upstairs. I did ask if the hotel had an elevator when I called ahead to book.
Upon arrival, I was shocked to find that the “elevator” in the Cartoon Network Hotel, is more of a “lift” and less of an elevator. It was extremely small. Only 2 people could use it at a time.
To operate the lift, you have to hold a button the entire time, or it will not move. Someone with limited use of their hands, such as our daughter, would need a second person to get downstairs. Further, the elevator requires a third person to shut the door from the outside or it will not start. This meant that my husband or other children had to close us in, then walk down the stairs while my daughter and I rode the lift down.
To get out, the door was sometimes stuck, and required a person to open it from the outside. The lift was very slow, noisy and cramped. For a person who has sensory needs and is unable to climb stairs, I would not recommend staying in a Dream Suite.
Would a family with extra needs be comfortable in the Cartoon Network Hotel rooms?
There are several room types at the Cartoon Network Hotel. We booked 2 different room types. Our family stayed in the Power Puff Girls Dream Suite which is ADA-accessible. All 4 of the luxury Dream Suites are located on the second floor of the main building. (Again, please note the elevator situation described above before booking a Cartoon Network Hotel Dream Suite!)
Cartoon Network Hotel Dream Suites
The Cartoon Network Hotel Dream suite we booked was completely themed in PowerPuff Girl splendor with themed wallpaper, pillows, and rugs. There is also a Ben 10, Adventure Time, and Steven Universe Dream Suite.
Our friends stayed in the Ben 10 suite, so we could see that it was also completely themed in Ben 10 decor. The kids loved the suites! There was a big beanbag chair, a chaise lounge and a sofa.
From an accessibility standpoint, I would say that the beanbag was great for kids who have trouble sitting on traditional furniture. The beanbag was large enough to provide input for sensory-seeking kids.
The sofa and chaise have extremely low sides, which could be a problem for kids who have trouble sitting up. In fact, there was no seating in the room that provided side supports. This means a person who has stability issues would be limited to sitting in his or her wheelchair for meals in the room.
In the dining area, there is a dorm-sized refrigerator, a microwave, and a sink. This would be great for heating up favorite meals or keeping medications cold. A Keurig with coffee pods is also supplied. Besides some plastic and paper cups, there are no other utensils, dishes, or cooking supplies.
Bedrooms & Sleeping Area
The suites have a main bedroom with a king-sized bed. These beds are extremely comfortable. There was no closet. There were pegs to hang your clothing on instead. A dresser with drawers was provided in the main bedroom only. There is a spacious ensuite bathroom that included a roll-in shower with a shower chair and accessible sink.
The other sleeping area was more of a nook with four twin-sized bunk beds. Each bunk has its own TV so we had no arguing over the remotes and the kids could all enjoy their favorite cartoons from the world of Cartoon Network.
It is important to note that this sleeping area does not have a door. It is completely open to the living room area. This could be a concern for families where children have different bedtimes.
My kids were fine at their current ages, but when they were younger, it would have been a safety concern for the children to have undeterred access to the dining area and living room. In our case, one of our children with extra needs needed to sleep in a dark environment, while the other preferred light. So, not having another sleeping area with a door was also a problem.
There was another very tiny bathroom off the dining area with a tub/shower combination, that would not accommodate a wheelchair or even an assistant to help someone who needed it. The combination of the lack of a door and the tiny main bathroom made changing a challenge with four kids.
The rugs and upholstery in our suite were stained and not clean. Bear this in mind if you have a crawler or a sensory-seeking child who spends a lot of time on the floor. Of course, my kids did not even notice this and were thrilled with the fun touches in the room such as the bright colors, the themed shower curtains, and the character throw pillows.
Regular Themed Standard Rooms at the Cartoon Network Hotel
The regular show-themed rooms are all located outside of the main building. Guests need to leave the building to access motel-style rooms. Again, they are very creatively decorated with themes from their favorite shows. My kids were delighted by the decor.
To access these rooms, there are sidewalks that are suitable for a wheelchair. However, there is no way to access the upper rooms except via a staircase. Families with physical challenges, kids who elope, or people who need extra luggage or equipment, should bear this in mind when booking a room. Definitely request to be on the bottom floor.
Also, note that many of the rooms are quite a distance from the main lobby. Keep this in mind as well. The rooms include a minifridge and coffee maker as with the suites.
Are the Cartoon Network Hotel restaurants suitable for Families with Special Needs?
Cartoon Kitchen and Bearista Cafe Hours and Menu Highlights
The dining situation was puzzling to say the least at the Cartoon Network Hotel. Given my family’s complex dietary needs and allergies, we did not choose to use the Cartoon Kitchen.
The full-service Cartoon Kitchen restaurant offers themed food selections (mostly just the names of the food), and the kids can watch cartoon characters make their food.
The hours are limited and there seemed to be a long wait when we were there. There did not seem to be a way to reserve seating, however, this may be different during peak times.
If your family is not the “sit down” type, the Bearista Cafe is available. Again, there was a long line that would not have been conducive for a child who has difficulty waiting. The food at this cafe was mostly not themed.
The Bearista Cafe was more of a coffee and sandwich shop. Again the hours were extremely limited. When the cafe is closed, guests are limited to buying snacks and drinks from vending machines. So, come prepared.
The management seemed to be fine with people bringing in their own food and eating it in the cafe when there was no service available. This seemed to be the case quite often. There was a microwave for reheating food, and plastic utensils were available there as well.
Are the pools at the Cartoon Network Hotel Special Needs Accessible?
PowerPuff Splash Pad and Outdoor Pool
Since we went in February, the outdoor pools and facilities were closed. I will say that they looked very fun! My kids and our teenage caregiver were amazed at the PowerPuff splash pad and all the Cartoon Network theming at the outdoor pool. There was a concession stand outside for pool guests, but it was closed during our visit.
There are a few large grassy areas by the pool available for kids who need space to run. Parents can sit and watch their kids run and play from a section of benches in the outside yard. We took the opportunity to allow our kids to run off some steam at night. The open area is safe from traffic, and it was fun to just let our kids run around and be kids for a while.
Indoor Pool at the Cartoon Network Hotel
The indoor pool is in a separate building at the back of the property. Please note that it is quite a walk from the main building through the outdoor pool area to get there. A paved sidewalk makes for an accessible path for wheelchairs.
Once inside, the theming is less present in the indoor pool area. There is a large pool, a hot tub and a small kiddie pool. There is also a vending machine, a bathroom area and a ping pong table.
Some of my kids really enjoyed the ping pong and befriended other kids in a friendly game. I did see a Hoyer lift to access the pool and the adult hot tub. However, there was no lift for the kiddie pool. This was a problem for a mother who struggled to get her son into the pool. There are handrails available.
I did not swim in either of the pools because the water in the pools was very cold. My kids did not seem to mind and enjoyed splashing and playing in the water.
Seating at the pool was not adequate for the crowd on the weekend we were there, nor were there enough tables to store our things.
There was a lifeguard on duty who seemed most concerned with making sure that no child under the age of 16 goes into the hot tub. I am unfamiliar with state regulations, but I will say that we do not find this to be the case at 2 other hotels that we frequent in the Lancaster area. So, be aware that the under 16 rule is strictly enforced at the Cartoon Network Hotel hot tub. There is a clear line of sight from the hot tub to the pool.
Unfortunately, there were not enough towels available for guests. I think because there are not enough tables for belongings. People were trying to hang the towels on the backs of chairs, and they would drop onto the wet floor. The towels were very small so people needed 2 or 3 to dry off before walking outside.
My advice would be to bring your own towels. We brought “Snuggies” to wear back and forth to the pool. They ended up being a gamechanger for the long, cold, wet walk back to the room.
Cartoon Network Hotel Activities
Cartoon Network Store
As soon as you walk into the lobby, the Cartoon Network Store will draw your kids like a magnet. The colorful merch is all displayed at kid level so they are immediately drawn to it. Prices are what you would expect, but there is a very wide and varied selection of essentials for your trip, and awesome adventure gear that you probably would not see anywhere else except online.
At the Cartoon Network Hotel, there are daily craft stations throughout the day. Guests can opt to do these ala carte or pay $20 per child to partake in all of the 5 or 6 craft activities. Some crafts are provided at no charge. The price for other individual crafts varies from about $5 -$8 per craft. Note that you have to buy a ticket at the front desk for said activity, then present it at the location of the craft.
Most of the crafts were located in the lounge area, lobby area, and in the restaurant. There were small lines at each station, but the wait was not more than a few minutes.
My kids were happy to decorate a cookie, but we opted out of the rest of the crafts because they were just regular craft kits that had nothing to do with the Cartoon Network or the Characters. For example, we thought maybe they could make Amazing World of Gumball pillows or Ben 10 pillows. But, the $8 pillow craft was just a square of solid felt, that kids would cut, stuff, and tie.
The cookies were a circle with some frosting and gummies to put on top. This is a missed opportunity for all the fun crafts they could do with everyone’s favorite cartoon characters! Further, many of the crafts would not be accessible for kids with dexterity issues. The waiting and lack of seating could be a challenge for kids who struggle with standing around.
Powerpuff Yourself Station
There are 4 stations in the kids’ activity center where kids can create a Power Puff avatar of themselves. They sit down at a station, answer a few questions, pick an outfit for their character, and then the screen reveals a computer-generated Power Puff avatar complete with characteristics that match the child. Guests can have that image emailed to themselves.
There were character appearances. My kids were so excited when Darwin appeared! A schedule of the appearances would be helpful so we could plan around them.
The characters are in full costume and do not speak or interact much. It might be helpful to explain that in advance to your child. The costumed characters are about the size of an adult. Many kids find this less daunting than some of the bigger ones like at Disney or Sesame Place. But the characters were a great photo op of our character craze weekend!
The website talks about virtual experiences in the Toon Room. This is a lounge where they had a large screen TV and some virtual reality pods.
We did not see anyone using the exclusive virtual reality pods (except to house the pillow-making station) while we were there. Jenn’s son did experience them during her December visit.
Elsewhere in the Toon Room were interactive coloring stations where kids could color a picture and scan it. The image is then animated and projected on a large screen. My smaller kids thought this was totally cool!
Ben 10 Omnicade Arcade
There is a game room with some arcade games called the Ben 10 Omnicade. We tend to stay out of these types of venues because of the sensory overload and the expense. Our friends went in and had fun playing video games. You can use your credit card to pay, which is convenient.
My kids had fun with a free activity called “Hide and Seek”. Basically, they are given a list at the front desk, and they search for characters in the hotel lobby scavenger hunt style. It was a good activity to do while we were waiting to go to dinner.
8 Ways the Cartoon Network Hotel Can be More Accessible and Inclusive
Overall, the Cartoon Network Hotel is a fun, and kid centered property. For families whose kids love to experience what they watch, it could make a totally rad vacation. The hotel website lists the Cartoon Network Hotel as ADA accessible. I am not qualified to assess whether they meet the ADA accessibility standards.
I do feel that there were some very key areas that could be addressed to make the hotel more comfortable and serve families with special needs better.
- The elevator needs to be upgraded and updated. It is completely inadequate and a safety concern.
- A schedule of the character appearances should be published to allow kids who need advance warning to know when to expect their favorite characters. Also, to allow parents to remove children who are not comfortable with costumes before the characters arrive.
- Adding adjoining rooms or sleeping areas with doors in the accessible rooms would be helpful.
- Having staff to assist with virtual activities so they could be used.
- Training staff to speak to children with disabilities. Many looked past them.
- Having more food choices, and keeping food venues open longer.
- Upgrade the laundry facility to take credit cards or include a change machine.
- Offer reservations at the restaurant to cut down on waiting and allow for better scheduling.
Would I return to the Cartoon Network Hotel with a family that has extra needs?
I would like to return to the hotel with my family in the summer. I think my kids would enjoy being so close to Dutch Wonderland and enjoy the outdoor pool area. However, I would most likely try getting 2 rooms with bunk beds instead of the Dream Suite. The elevator was too scary and the stairs were too tenuous. Plus, for the high price, I just don’t think the suite offered enough privacy or functionality.
For more articles on inclusive and accessible family fun near New Jersey please visit our Accessible & Special Needs Family Fun series.