While a family vacation may sound great right about now, those who can't get away do have a reasonable alternative. A plethora of indoor water parks are ready to give staycationers a warm-weather escape without a trip through airport security.
Most waterparks have these features:
• A 50,000- to 175,000-square-foot space, with air kept at either 82 or 84 degrees
• A big main interactive “playground” that is topped by a bucket that dumps water every 7-25 minutes; includes smaller slides, stairs, rope climbs, water cannons.
• Water games like basketball or giant lily-pad leap frogging across the water
• Small or large wave pools
• Kid-friendly hot tubs, (lower temperature, bigger)
• Zero entry pools, slides for younger children
• Chaise lounges and tables
• Plenty for kids to do when they are finished with the water, including arcades. The resorts and larger parks also have shows, kid spas and indoor theme parks.
Most are concentrated in the Northeast where the weather gets coldest and water is relatively plentiful. Elsewhere, the Wisconsin Dells, which bills itself as the "Waterpark Capital of America," may possibly be the most densely populated area for indoor water parks, with other tourist-centric areas rapidly nipping at its heels including Niagra Falls, Minnesota and Canada. Although there isn’t one good site listing all the water parks in the U.S., I’ve made a map of indoor water parks I found for this article.
The three biggest names in indoor water parks are Great Wolf, CocoKey and Kalahari.
Great Wolf offers an immersive resort experience that is great for a family vacation over a short or long weekend. The main advantages include:
• The rustic Northwoods is the theme here, and all the rooms are made to follow this theme. My daughter loved her “Wolf’s Den” cabin that included a “log cabin” style room within our larger room with a bunk bed and her own TV.
• Disney-esque resort experience: The entire lodge is focused on kids, with themed characters and decor, a kid spa (ice-cream pedicures and manicures were popular in our family), an animal-filled tree that comes to life in the lobby (and has a show), an arcade, and a do-anytime electronic scavenger hunt requiring kids to wander around hunting out clues and picking up rewards with a magic wand.
• Only Great Wolf guests are allowed to use the water park to keep from overcrowding.
• Filled with kid-friendly restaurants and an ice cream parlor.
Places like the CocoKey chain are ideal for a day trip or overnight visit. Its theme is 100% tropical Key West, with colorful signage and murals making the Caribbean just a glance and some imagination away. Where Great Wolf has gone all out for kids, CocoKey is more about balancing the comfort of adults and kids. They partner with a value-priced attached hotel that offers packages that include water park tickets.
The one we stayed at in Waterbury, CT, was absolutely perfect for a quick inexpensive weekend from New York. The water park is just big enough to keep the kids busy for a few hours, but not so big that I was nervous about losing them. The Holiday Inn Waterbury far beat our expectations. After a $7 million renovation, the rooms were impeccably clean, the service was better and friendlier than what we’ve had at several five-star hotels, and there were features most adults would have ignored that the kids adored — especially the indoor balconies.
• VERY affordable option; can either stay at attached value-priced hotels, or just get a day pass
• Locals can get annual passes
• Better for younger kids (under 10), much more manageable for parents
• Hotels often offer Kids Eat Free (2 kids per paying adults)
Kalahari is the Vegas of the water park world. With 173,000 square feet, it offers amenities few others can, for a family vacation with some truly unique elements:
• Private cabanas with flat-screen TVs
• A Boogie Boarding “school”
• A super-fast raft uphill water rollercoaster
• Swimming lessons
• Bigger rides like the “Swahili Swirl” — a giant toilet bowl-type ride that rotates you in a bowl until it sucks the tube and you down into the colder waters below
• Animal-safari themed rooms and activities
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Samantha Chapnick is a New York writer who scours international destinations looking for what hasn't been found.