Splash and slide your way through the winter blahs at an indoor waterpark resort

By Stacy Tillilie

AAA World Article

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.   

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.

Chill Time: Twelve restaurants provide dining options aplenty, including a signature steakhouse, and the ages-21-and-over-only swim-up bars that serve creative cocktails. Guests can also relax in the halotherapy (salt therapy) room or the spa.

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 can 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.

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 attraction 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.

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.