Totem Towers at Great Wolf Lodge
Photo courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge.
You know it’s coming: the freeze-your-face-off wind chills, the trudge-to-and-from-work-in-the-dark commutes, and the pack-yourself-into-a-parka apparel. That’s why winter is a great time to get going to any of our nation’s ever-expanding trove of indoor waterparks, where it’s always balmy, bright and bathing-suit-attire-appropriate. So, ditch your snow boots for a pair of flip-flops, trade in your ice scraper for a pool noodle, and immerse yourself in the weatherproof fun at three of the country’s best indoor waterpark resorts.
The Smoke that Thunders at Kalahari Resorts
Courtesy of Kalahari Resorts & Conventions.
Take the Plunge at Kalahari Resorts
Claim to Fame: America’s largest indoor waterpark (under a single roof) in Pocono Manor, Pennsylvania, makes a massive splash with some 220,000 square feet of tube slides, raft rides, surf simulators, zero-depth-entry water play areas, spas, a lazy river, a wave pool and more. Dry attractions also abound, from virtual-reality games to escape rooms to a 7-D motion theater. Threaded throughout are Africa-themed décor and attractions inspired by owner Todd Nelson’s love of Africa, a continent he has visited regularly over the past 20 years. The resort showcases handcrafted artwork and original music that help support African artists and craftspeople, and visitors can purchase authentic items at the resort’s Africa-themed market.
Cool Factors: Kalahari is the country’s first waterpark to debut an innovative Underwater Virtual Reality Experience, allowing participants to don a headset and snorkel to explore the wonders of the ocean or even the marvels of space. Kids and adults alike can take mermaid/merman swim lessons, including being outfitted with the apropos tail. FlowRider surfing lessons are offered, too.
Courtesy of Kalahari Resorts & Conventions
Chill Time: Twelve restaurants provide dining options aplenty, including a signature steakhouse, and the ages-21-and-over-only swim-up bars serve creative cocktails. Guests can also relax in the halotherapy (salt therapy) room or the spa.
Room to Stay: Accommodations comprise nearly 1,000 guest rooms, including three-bedroom family suites and Big Five suites with a master bedroom and four additional bedrooms. (Day passes are available for those not staying overnight.)
All Over the Map: Currently under construction, a new Kalahari resort in Round Rock, Texas, is slated to open in 2020. When complete, the 223,000-square-foot waterpark will take the title of America’s largest indoor waterpark from its sister resort in the Pocono Mountains. Kalahari has two other locations as well: one in the Wisconsin Dells and another in Sandusky, Ohio.
Photo Courtesy of Wilderness Resort
Make a Splash at the Wilderness Resort
Claim to Fame: Flowing across some 600 amusement-steeped acres in the Wisconsin Dells—The Waterpark Capital of the World, home to 21 waterparks—America’s largest waterpark resort features four indoor waterparks as well as four outdoor waterparks. Among the boatload of highlights are a 400-foot-long lazy river at Klondike Kavern; a see-through roof that allows guests to tan year-round at the Wild WaterDome; bumper boats at Wild West park; and a lily-pad rope challenge at Cubby’s Cove designed for little ones.
Dry attractions include go-karting, laser tag, a virtual-reality gaming arena, a sky ropes course and more. Can’t choose which waterpark to visit? No problem: guests have access to all four for one price (special experiences in the parks cost extra).
Cool Factors: The Wild WaterDome boasts the country’s largest indoor wave pool, sprawling 21,133 square feet and generating waves up to five feet. Also, Klondike Kavern touts The Hurricane, a four-person family raft ride that propels riders at a 45 degree angle down a 58-foot drop and into a funnel at 20 miles per hour, as well as the slideboarding-powered Claim Jumper Challenge, a waterslide/video game in which riders use a controller to press colored buttons that correspond to changing colors that illuminate the slide as riders zip by.
Chill Time: Guests can play a round of golf at the Wild Rock Golf Club or get pampered at the luxurious Sundara Spa. Those ages 21 and over can also partake of the adults-only pool with an indoor/outdoor swim-up bar.
Room to Stay: The resort’s 1,000-plus lodging options include guest rooms, villas, condos and cabins at The Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort; two- and three-bedroom condos overlooking a lake at Wilderness on the Lake; and upscale condos at Glacier Canyon Lodge. (Day passes are not available.)
All Over the Map: A sister property, the Wilderness at the Smokies Waterpark Resort and Family Adventure Center in Sevierville, Tennessee, is home to the 66,000-square-foot Wild WaterDome indoor park (and two outdoor parks), replete with thrill slides, a wave pool, a family raft ride and a surf simulator, as well as 713 mountain-modern guest rooms, villas and condos. (Day passes are available.)
Photo courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge.
Ride the Wave at Great Wolf Lodge
Claim to Fame: North America’s largest family of indoor waterpark resorts leads the waterpark pack with a whopping 17 resorts in the U.S., plus one in Canada. While the resorts vary in size and amenities, the Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, Texas, goes big with 80,000 square feet of water play—from body slides and raft rides to a wave pool and a lazy river—and dry attractions galore, including a laser maze, a 4-D theater, a Build-A-Bear Workshop featuring the Great Wolf Kids characters, and interactive games in which guests journey through the resort using a special wand or compass to unlock adventures and treasures. The resort recently underwent $12 million in renovations to the guest rooms and Grand Lobby.
Cool Factors: One of the latest innovations in waterpark attractions headlines here: the bowl ride. Teens will love the Howlin’ Tornado, a four-person raft thrill slide that sends riders swishing into a six-story funnel, and the Coyote Cannon, a single- or tandem-tube ride that drops riders 40 feet into a water-jet-propelled vortex in just seconds before plunging them into a pool below. While younger children have plenty to keep them happy in the waterpark—think a water fort treehouse, a lily pad and ropes challenge, and jet ski-style ride-ons equipped with water cannons—they’ll also delight in resort entertainment such as The Great Clock Tower Show, starring animated woodland characters; Great Wolf Kids character appearances; dance parties and nightly story time in the Grand Lobby.
Photo courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge.
Chill Time: A relaxing way to cap the day is with Wine Down Service, presenting a menu of expertly paired sweet or savory foods and wine. Guests can also indulge in a massage, facial or mani–pedi at Elements Spa Salon, which caters to adults and offers special spa treatments for teens. The younger set can get spoiled, too, with mani–pedis and facials at the ice cream-themed Scooops Kid Spa.
Room to Stay: The 605 recently refurbished suites provide 12 accommodations styles, including suites with cave-, tent- or log cabin-themed private sleeping alcoves; sleeping areas with bunk beds; two-bedroom suites and accessible suites. (New this year, a limited number of day passes for day-trippers are being offered at all stateside Great Wolf Lodge locations.)
All Over the Map: With so many Great Wolf resorts, chances are there’s one within a life preserver’s throw in Baraboo, Wisconsin; Sandusky and Mason, Ohio; Traverse City, Michigan; Kansas City, Kansas; Williamsburg, Virginia; Scotrun, Pennsylvania;
Grand Mound, Washington; Fitchburg, Massachusetts; Concord, North Carolina; Garden Grove, California; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Bloomington, Minnesota; LaGrange, Georgia; Gurnee, Illinois; Scottsdale, Arizona (opening in September 2019); and Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. A second location in California is in the works—this one in Manteca in the San Francisco Bay Area—with an anticipated opening in mid-2020.
So, what are you waiting for? Last one in is an icicle!
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 edition of AAA World.