The lure of indoor water park resorts is irresistible, especially for people residing in colder climates who are plagued with cabin fever and suffering amid long, miserable, frigid winters. The parks provide oases of tropical fun in weatherproof environments. Indoor water parks offer many of the benefits of a warm-weather getaway—bathing suit-clad adventures, lazing by the pool, forgetting about snow and ice for awhile—without actually having to get on a plane and getting too far away.
There are dozens of indoor water parks. But not all parks are created equal. And the biggest ones aren't necessarily the best. Conversely, relatively small indoor water parks can pack a lot of watery fun into tight spaces. Which ones make the biggest splash? Before you go shopping for a new pair of Speedos, dive in to these picks for the country’s best indoor water parks.
Best Indoor Water Parks in the Midwest
The indoor waterpark craze started in the Midwest, specifically in Wisconsin Dells, which rightfully declares itself the "Water Park Capital of the World." The town’s first indoor water parks were relatively modest, but once the crowds started pouring in, entrepreneurs began developing some of the world’s biggest and best of the breed. They established the prototype of marrying huge indoor water parks (many of them rival outdoor water parks for the sheer number and quality of their slides and other attractions) to elaborate, large-scale resorts geared to families. Some of the standouts include:
- Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells includes four separate indoor water park buildings which, combined, rank the Wisconsin Dells facility among the biggest indoor water park hotels in the world. The parks boast almost everything water lovers would find at an outdoor water park. And the Wilderness offers some outdoor water park attractions for warm-weather fun as well. The hotel features a wide variety of room sizes and configurations. Its restaurants are among the Dells' finest.
- Kalahari Wisconsin Dells features a cavernous indoor water park that includes all kinds of watery fun such as one of the industry's first indoor water coasters. There are plenty of other things to do, including a 10-screen movie theater, an indoor theme park, a day spa, fitness center, arcade, and a host of daily kids activities such as karaoke, scavenger hunts, and live animal encounters.
- Chula Vista in Wisconsin Dells is one of the largest indoor parks in the town (and in the world for that matter). It is also among the pioneers in the concept of merging watery fun with a family resort. Among its key attractions are the Flyan Mayan uphill water coaster and the Matador Mat Racers, a multi-lane racing slide.
- The Great Wolf Lodge Wisconsin Dells is the original, flagship location for what has become the largest chain of indoor waterpark hotels. As with its other properties, the Dells resort features a rustic, woodsy theme. For thrills, it offers Howlin' Tornado, a giant funnel ride.
In addition to Wisconsin Dells, there are plenty of other indoor water park resorts throughout the Midwest. Some of the best include:
- The huge African-themed Kalahari Sandusky in Ohio boasts one of the world's biggest indoor water parks. But it's not just the size of the property that makes it among the best water park resorts. It has an incredible assortment of slides and rides, and the Kalahari offers a host of activities beyond its world-class water park. It is a veritable family vacation paradise.
- The compact Castaway Bay indoor water park, also in Sandusky, Ohio, features plenty of activities, including the Rendezvous Run indoor water coaster (the resort is run by coaster-crazy Cedar Point after all), an interactive water play center, and a wave pool. Even in the middle of winter, as you gaze longingly at the snowed-in coasters in the distance at the closed amusement park, you could at least have some indoor park fun.
- The Great Wolf Lodge in Bloomington, Minnesota is around the corner form the Mall of America, and the resort used to be known as the Water Park of America. The centerpiece of the park is its audacious 10-story tall water slide complex, which is among the tallest of any indoor water park (and one of the tallest of any water park, outdoor or indoor, for that matter). Enclosed, climate-controlled, translucent tubes send riders zooming outside down 100 feet for a dizzying family raft ride. There are also body and tube slides that zip out and around the huge tower.
Best Indoor Water Parks in the Mid-Atlantic
Like Wisconsin Dells, the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania is home to a number of huge indoor water park resorts. A few of them are part of a chain that originated in the MIdwest water park capital. The Mid-Atlantic region has great water park resorts in other locations as well. Among the best are:
- Like its sister properties in Wisconsin Dells, Sandusky, Ohio (and coming in November, 2020, Round Rock, Texas), the African-themed Kalahari Pocono Mountains features an enormous indoor water park and all kinds of dry activities as well as a large convention and meeting center. A 2017 expansion increased the size of the indoor water park to 220,000 square feet, making it America's largest at that time. It offers virtually every kind of water park attraction, including a launched capsule speed slide, a bowl slide, and a water coaster. The resort offers an impressive array of other attractions, including a virtual reality experience, a 7-D motion theater, and an escape room.
- The Great Wolf Lodge Pocono Mountains features an uphill water coaster, a large wave pool and an extended complement of water slides and other rides. Like the other resorts in the chain, it also offers the Cub Club, with a daily schedule of craftsmaking, storytelling, and other activities, and a MagiQuest interactive attraction.
- Splash Lagoon in Erie, Pennsylvania has a great assortment of slides and water rides. Its colorful tropical theme offers an inviting atmosphere, especially during the area's long, cold winters. Unlike most indoor water parks, which are connected to a hotel, Splash Lagoon is affiliated with four adjacent motels and hotels.
Best Indoor Water Parks in the Northeast
There isn't a concentration of major indoor water park hotels in any one place in the Northeast as there is in other parts of the country. But there are some great resorts to escape the often brutal winters spread throughout the region. They include:
- DreamWorks Water Park in East Rutherford, New Jersey will be the country’s largest indoor water park when it opens in late November 2020. It is part of the massive American Dream complex, which is opening in phases and will include the Nickelodeon Universe Theme Park, an indoor snow park with real skiing, a skating rink, an aquarium, and loads of other attractions, as well as tons of shopping, restaurants, and more. DreamWorks Water Park will include the world’s tallest indoor body slide, a huge wave pool, luxury cabanas, and many other slides and features. Unlike all of the other parks on our list, DreamWorks is not directly attached to a hotel. American Dream’s plans call for a hotel within the center at some point in the future, however.
- The Six Flags Great Escape Lodge in Queensbury, New York is located across from The Great Escape theme park. The indoor water park hotel is open year-round and provides off-season (as well as in-season) fun. Although it is comparatively small, the water park packs in a lot of fun including Boogie Bear Surf, a FlowRider wave simulator, a (surprisingly long) lazy river, and a family raft ride. You can catch some rays year round since the park's roof is made from transparent materials.
- Jay Peak Water Park in Jay, Vermont is located at one of New England's most popular ski resorts. The 50,000-square-foot water park known as The Pump House offers the usual gaggle of slides and other watery diversions including La Chute, the first indoor AquaLoop. Riders enter a launch capsule, freefall almost straight down in an enclosed tube, and propel up into a 360-degree loop.
Best Indoor Water Parks in the Southeast
Probably because it's fairly temperate year-round in the southern part of the country, there aren't many indoor water parks. But there are some in the region that you would want to check out, including:
- Great Wolf Lodge Williamsburg in Virginia is near Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Colonial Williamsburg. As with the other Great Wolf properties, it is ideally suited for families with pre-teens. Among its attractions are a surfing simulator and a funnel ride. Families will enjoy the spacious suites, top-notch accommodations, and abundant amenities.
- Wilderness at the Smokies in Sevierville, Tennessee features a special translucent roof that allows sun in and tanning year round. The park also offers a thrilling rides such as Wild Vortex, an extreme slide that includes a vertical free fall and reaches speeds up to 40 mph. In addition to the water park, guests could enjoy Adventure Forest, an indoor "dry" park that includes a ropes course, laser tag, mini golf, and a climbing wall. Nearby, the company that runs the Wilderness is opening a separate outdoor park that will have the clever name, Soaky Mountain Waterpark. It is scheduled to debut in summer 2020.
Best Indoor Water Parks in the Southwest
There are some smaller indoor water parks elsewhere in the southwest region. But, like everything else in the state, Texas has a couple of huge, feature-filled parks.
- At 80,000 square feet, Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine is a Texas-sized water park. Among its many attractions are a bowl slide, a funnel ride, wave pool, activity pool, lazy river, two whirlpool spas, and an interactive play structure with tipping bucket. The large resort has a range of other family activities as well.
- Kalahari Texas is scheduled to open in November 2020. At 223,000 square feet, it will be a tad larger than its sister park in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. It will include a ton of slides and rides, including a Flowrider wave simulator for boogie board surfing, a mini funnels ride, and a speed slide with a launch chamber. It will also offer all kinds of other fun attractions, including a virtual reality arena, an outdoor amphitheater with entertainment, and a huge arcade.
Best Indoor Water Parks in the West
There aren't as many indoor water park resorts in the West as there are in the Midwest, nor are there as many large, attraction-packed ones. But there are a few places to check out, all operated by the Great Wolf chain.
- Great Wolf Lodge Grapevine in Texas has a number of attractions including the Cannon Bowl, in which passengers soar down a tube, enter a bowl, and swish around a few times before getting dumped out into a pool. In addition to the water park, the resort has a huge arcade, on-site restaurants, a fitness center, and two spas, one for adults and one for teens and tweens.
- Great Wolf Lodge California in Garden Grove is located near Disneyland. Its rides include River Canyon Run, a family raft ride in a large, enclosed slide, Wolf Tail, a 360-degree loop that starts with a launch capsule, and Wolf Rider Wipeout, a surf simulator.