With much of the United States in the throes of cold temperatures and icy snow, a weekend at a water park is just what the doctor ordered for families that have been cooped up since Christmas. We scoured the country for hotels that have on-site water parks that are fun for both little splashers and thrill-seeking teens. From Wisconsin to New York to Tennessee, there's a waterslide -- or surf simulator -- with your family's name on it.
One of three hotels on the enormous Wilderness Territory property, which also includes freestanding cabins and condos, the Wilderness Hotel is a great pick for families. There are no fewer than eight (!) water parks — indoor and outdoor — with numerous slides and lazy rivers on the property, as well as an on-site shop selling souvenirs, an indoor play area, zip-lining, go-carts, and mini-golf. Additional fees apply to some of the attractions (but entrance to the water parks is free), and only registered guests are allowed, meaning that crowds aren’t usually a problem. The WildWater Dome has one of the only (adults-only) swim-up bars in Wisconsin and a huge atrium roof means there’s plenty of natural sunlight in the 70,000-square-foot indoor water park year-round. It’s an excellent place to hide out from Wisconsin’s notoriously brutal winters, and gives seasonal Noah’s Ark some solid competition.
For water-loving families that want a break from Disney World and don’t want to drive to the beach, Flamingo Waterpark Resort is a solid option. One downer is that there’s an extra eight-dollar charge for guests to access the water park, which seems silly as non-guests aren’t allowed. Kids under the age of 10 are most likely to be impressed by the several colorful waterslides, zero-depth kids’ pool, and lazy river with free tubes. Two-gated pools are a nice touch, as is a tiki-bar and outdoor cabanas for changing and naps. As far as accommodations, Family Suites have animated character decor and wooden bunk beds.
The water parks at the Wilderness at the Smokies Resort aren’t just a tacked-on amenity, they’re an over-the-top thrill-seekers paradise — and admission is included in the room rate. Two new (seasonal) outdoor slides were added last year: Wild Vortex, a 39-foot vertical, free-fall drop, and Cyclone Racer, a four-lane, water dragway for aqua races. There’s also an Adventure River and a 12,000-square-foot wave pool. Families can rent tricked-out cabanas with flat-screens for the day or just use lockers. Indoors, there’s even more aquatic fun year-round: a surf simulator, tube slides, a second wave pool, and a 1,000-square-foot hot tub. Shuttle busses take guests from the water parks to their rooms, which have traditional style and updated dark wood furniture.
For those who want to combine Minnesota’s biggest mall with Minnesota’s largest indoor water park, look no further than the Radisson Hotel Bloomington by Mall of America. Two major caveats: there’s an extra fee to use the water park, and it isn’t open everyday. The Eagles Nest is a huge 10-story waterslide, and there’s a large pool with built-in basketball hoops, and a lazy river. Fort Snelling play area dumps a giant 500-gallon bucket of water every two minutes, while the surf simulator is popular with tweens. Free shuttles take guests to the Mall of America. Rooms consist of basic chain decor, but some have bunk beds for families.
Though the pool and hot tubs are free for guests to use at Hope Lake Lodge, there’s a pesky charge to use Cascades Indoor Waterpark, which is also open to the public. Fun facilities for older kids include Basketball Cove, two hoops for water basketball, and Big Bear Falls, which features a 500-gallon deluge bucket that shoots water out in a large circle. A 30-foot-wide, 13-foot-tall waterfall pours water into the Whitewater Wave Pool. For younger kids, Little Bear Falls shoots small bursts of water and air bubbles. Rooms have lodge-like decor inspired by the Great North Woods, and some include fireplaces and DVD players.
For families lucky enough to live or vacation in beach-heavy Hawaii, a water park may not be the first amenity they have in mind, but Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort provides a fun respite from the sand and saltwater. The Wailea Canyon Activity Pool offers no fewer than nine swimming pools connected by a maze of lazy rivers and waterfalls. Five waterslides are on the tame side, but a rope swing and a water elevator are sure to excite older kids. For grown-ups, there’s a gorgeous adults-only pool with a swim-up bar and tiered waterfall. Huge rooms have a Victorian parlor-meets-sugar-plantation aesthetic and include balconies with ocean or garden views.
Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa redesigned its Splash Mountain water park into Splashtopia, a free facility for the exclusive use of hotel guests. The water park is surrounded by a 424-foot lazy river and has two twisting, 100-foot waterslides. An artificial sandy beach leading into a shallow pool is a safe place for little ones to splash, and nearby cabanas and Splash Grill provide shade and snacks (for a charge). Water-play zones shoot and sprinkle water, and a cliff-side hot tub offers a place for parents to relax. Rooms are understated and neutral; most guests spend their time outdoors.
The Crooked River Water Park at Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa is more natural looking and relaxed than the usual theme park-style facilities. The highlight of the park is the 1,000-foot flowing river pool, enjoyed from floating tubes. There’s a two-story waterslide, a children’s pool, and an adults-only pool, along with an activity pool and two whirlpools. Guests can get a respite from the Texas sun on two decks underneath Pecan trees next to the Crooked River. Old Buck’s Place serves burgers and snacks. The rooms here are modern with Southern accents and granite in the bathrooms.
There’s only one indoor water park in Myrtle Beach, and it’s at the Dunes Village Resort. Elephant-figurines squirt water from their trunks and there are rafts shaped like cars for traversing the Lazy River. The Wild Winding Waterslide and Speed Slide will appeal to older children, and there’s a yellow-and-orange Silly Submarine with water fountains and buckets of water dumping from overhead. A small kids’ pool and an adults-only pool offer spaces to swim. Studios and condos range from outdated to fully renovated with kitchens and ocean views.