Slip down water slides into tropical lagoons, float along wave pools and lazy rivers, and enjoy balmy 80-degree temperatures – all without stepping outside. Snow or shine, indoor water parks offer summer-like thrills all year long.
For families looking to escape winter weather or want a road-trip water vacation that doesn't require a flight, indoor water parks offer plenty of fun without the expense of a beach vacation.
“Winter can be especially difficult for children, so having an opportunity to enjoy a water park even when it's cold outside is a great way to mitigate seasonal affective disorder (SAD),” says Michal Strahilevitz, Ph.D., Well-Being Educator and Director of the Elfenworks Center for Responsible Business.
“For families that can't afford to go to Florida or Hawaii during the winter months, such parks offer an affordable way for families to let go and have fun during the challenging winter months.”
Situated throughout the country but densely in the Midwest and Atlantic regions, indoor water parks are toasty escapes from frigid days. More than just lodging, many families seek out these locales for what they offer– climate-controlled water play that mimics the carefree fun of a summer afternoon.
“My two young kids are drawn to the beach and pool during the summer, but we have long winters in New Jersey. Luckily for us, there are numerous indoor waterpark resorts within a two-hour drive for a fun, family getaway that's always 85 degrees, no matter the weather outside,” says travel writer Monica Fish.
Splish Splash Any Time of Year
Major resort chains like Great Wolf Lodge and Kalahari are leading the way. These climate-controlled aquatic playgrounds provide inviting 84-degree temps year-round. Glass roofing and walls allow visitors to feel like they're enjoying water rides under sunny skies, even if two feet of snow are on the ground.
“Our family has a tradition of going to a Great Wolf Lodge every winter,” says Iryna Bychkiv, author of Lavender & Macarons. “It's the perfect resort for a weekend trip. With small slides for the little ones, more adventurous water attractions for the older kids, and restaurants on-site, you never have to leave the resort.”
With the largest family of indoor water park resorts in North America, Great Wolf operates 23 locations nationwide. Their resorts are one-stop family vacations, with extensive water parks, suites with multiple beds and kitchen facilities, arcades, mini golf courses, bowling alleys, and more on-site.
Great Wolf Lodge also has multiple dining outlets inside their parks, including the Loose Moose Family Kitchen, which offers a massive buffet with rotating breakfast, lunch, and dinner selections. Expect stations with soups, salads, pasta, carving meats, and desserts.
There is also a bar where parents can enjoy local craft beers on tap or signature cocktails like the “Wolfjito.” With amenities and entertainment options to please every family member, Great Wolf takes the stress out of vacationing with kids.
The Wisconsin Dells
America's first indoor water park opened in 1989 at the Polynesian Water Park Resort in the Wisconsin Dells. With more waterparks per capita than anywhere else and roughly 4 million visitors annually, the Dells has proclaimed itself the “waterpark capital of the world.”
More than 200 waterslides and 16 million gallons of water power some of the Dells' most beloved attractions. With an average high of just 20℉ in January, indoor water park temperatures in the mid-80s mean visitors can relax poolside while feeling like they traded in the Wisconsin tundra for the tropics.
Sankalp Singh, founder of Chasing Whereabouts, agrees. “My family and I were looking for a winter escape, so we headed to the Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells. It was like stepping into summer in the middle of December, with warm water and an exciting assortment of slides that had us forgetting the snow outside.”
The Wilderness Resort is America's largest indoor-outdoor combination waterpark, featuring a 180-foot-long body slide, bumper boats, a wave pool, a spa, and a golf course. Ride the waves at the country's largest indoor wave pool at Wild WaterDom, or try the Midwest's only slide-boarding ride at Klondike Kavern.
When finished, head into town for dinner and a show. The Mexicali Rose offers dining on the Wisconsin River, with fresh margaritas alongside homemade pico de gallo. For magic and illusions, visitors can check out award-winning magician Rick Wilcox at his Magic Theater.
Year-Round Entertainment at Branson
Nestled in the Ozark Mountains, Branson is a popular Midwestern vacation destination known for family-friendly attractions and live entertainment. For families looking to get away, this lively tourist town offers everything from thrilling theme parks to natural wonders.
Branson transforms into a festive winter wonderland from December through February, with many attractions embracing the cold weather with holiday decorations, hot cocoa, and lively shows.
In the heart of Branson, Grand Country's Splash Country waterpark offers a 5,000-square-foot wave pool, two racing raft rides, and a basketball activity pool.
Frequent traveler Eloisa Hife visited Grand Country this winter and said, “It was the perfect antidote to the holiday blues. The indoor waterpark was a blast, especially the thrilling slides, but what truly surprised me was the variety of entertainment. Ice skating in the winter wonderland, catching a live show, and indulging in spa treatments made it a well-rounded escape.”
With thrilling waterslides, relaxing lazy rivers, and wave pools that make you feel like you're at the ocean, America's indoor water parks deliver a summer-like vacation without the need for sunscreen.