Since opening its gates to the public, the Crystal Lagoons® amenity at Epperson Ranch has been a hot topic in and around Wesley Chapel.
Depending upon who you listen to, it’s the world’s greatest amenity, or just a glorified community swimming pool; it’s a great day out with the family, or a money pit; it’s just like the beach, or a charmless knockoff.
Nothing seems to fire up the locals more than lagoon talk. And, while we’re not here to settle the debate, after spending a day there with the wife, two teen-age boys and some friends, I can say this: While pricey, it’s definitely worth checking out.
First off, the lagoon is not an amusement park. It isn’t Adventure Island, a comparison some derisively make. It isn’t a river, it isn’t a lake and it isn’t a beach.
If you plan to look at the Crystal Lagoon through any of those prisms, you will be disappointed.
Here, however, is what it is: a pretty cool and unique nearby getaway with sand, palm trees, crystal clean water and enough food, drink, music and activities to entertain your family for most of a full day.
If you live in Epperson, congratulations. It is a fantastic amenity, and for $25 a month, I say it’s well worth it. It’s a slam dunk, really, unless you’re one of the residents unhappy that the public is taking up some of that beach space, but someone has to pay for the lagoon maintenance until many more of the 4,000 planned homes in Epperson are built and occupied.
If you don’t live in Epperson, your perspective may differ (but remember, it wasn’t built for you).
It is $25 per person to visit, but only $5 if you go with a resident (so make some friends while you’re there!).
The $25 gets you in the door and, if you get there early enough, a spot on the beach, as well as access to the swimming areas of the lagoon.
We heard no complaints about the refreshingly chilly water — now that the summer weather is turning all of our smaller pools into oversized bath tubs — but we did hear a few requests for more, or larger, swimming areas. Parts of the lagoon are roped off for the water obstacle course known as Wibit, and to make room for paddleboarders and kayakers to make their way around the lagoon. The swimming areas did seem a bit small, but that probably all depends upon the size of the crowds the day you visit.
The water is everything developers said it would be — clean, clear and refreshing. The beach area was filled with folks relaxing in chairs, enjoying a beverage and working on their tans. Because the surrounding areas aren’t fully landscaped, the lagoon can feel a bit sterile, but there were a lot of happy faces and energy in the crowds. You may miss the expanse, the salty air and the waves lapping at your feet while walking in the cool sand along the shore of an actual beach, but otherwise, the lagoon does a pretty good impression.
We did wish there was more shade, but personal umbrellas are not allowed. If you can’t find a seat with some respite from the sun, there are shaded areas — in what is called “premium seating” — a few steps away from the beach that will cost you $12 for two chairs and an umbrella, and $20 for four chairs and an umbrella. It’s a gorgeous area, and is a purchase we agreed will be well worth it on our next visit.
The a la carte pricing at the lagoon — yes, even for residents, although they get a discount — can make for an expensive day, and some will find it annoying.
The slide will cost you $10 for the day, not a bad deal for those who plan on using it over and over. A rock wall, which wasn’t open the day we went, costs the same. And the Wibit, which was a huge hit with the teenage boys and everyone else who tried it, is available for $10 for a 45-minute session.
You can buy all three together for $20, which will save you some money, but you might want to skip the rock wall and save your money for an extra session on the Wibit, pictured here (left).
Kayaks and paddleboards are available to rent for $10 an hour. Those who are serious about each might want to skip both — there’s none of the waves, scenery and wildlife that makes saltwater or whitewater kayaking and paddleboarding fun — but it’s great for those who don’t often get the chance and the always-calm waters make it ideal for first-timers.
For example, we have friends who will spend seven hours on Crystal River paddleboarding, and we told them the lagoon might not be for them. But another friend, who is convinced alligators, sharks and snakes will devour her and her family if she joins us on a river one weekend, went to the lagoon a week later on our recommendation and rented a paddleboard and kayak and absolutely loved it, with plans to return every chance they get this summer.
The lagoon does not allow outside food, although you can bring your own water. We brought a large thermos, but were shocked to see bottles of water on sale for only $1. There also were $5 mimosa and bloody Mary specials, beers were between $4-$6 and things like hot dogs ($3) and nachos ($4) were very reasonably priced.
Tampa Sammich, one of the popular food trucks that rotate in and out at the lagoon, was selling Cuban sandwiches — and they were quite tasty — and other grilled sandwiches for $9, grilled cheese and chicken wraps for $6, and canned and bottled sodas for only $2.
Perhaps we have been scarred by the ridiculous prices at concession stands at sporting events — raise your hand if you’ve ever bought a $15 beer — but we found the food and drink at the lagoon to be a bargain, and certainly much cheaper than we anticipated.
The lagoon also has a stage for live bands and DJs, although nothing was playing the day we attended, and a shaded, sunken bar that also offers not only reasonably priced drinks but also great respite from the heat.
One minor nit: the artificial green grass in parts of the lagoon gets amazingly hot, so watch your step. We learned our lesson when starting a game of cornhole.
So, is the lagoon pricey? A little. A family of four that decides to partake in all or most of the activities, and then grab lunch, will spend at least $200. That’s an expensive day trip.
But, bypassing the 45-minute drive to one of our Bay-area beaches, missing the traffic and parking hunt and not having to lug your chair and cooler across the sand might make it a more convenient option at times.
The lagoon may never replace the beach, or a river or lake, or Adventure Island, but it’s not trying for that anyway.
It is what it has been advertised as — a first-of-its-kind-in-the-U.S. amenity designed to sell thousands of homes and keep those local residents entertained.
Is it worth a visit? You bet, if just to say you’ve been to the lagoon.
We have. And, as everyone in our group agreed — we’ll be back.