Splash Down at Top Waterparks Across the Midwest
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Orlando is far from the only place to find cool waterparks, and warm weather isn’t required for a good splash in the water. Across the Midwest, there are cozy hotels with indoor waterparks that are perfect for when the weather isn’t quite warm enough to swim outside, and there are also outdoor waterslides and wave pools for summer.
Check out these waterparks in the Heartland, from the country’s oldest in the waterpark capital of America to one inside the Mall of America in the Twin Cities to a tiki-inspired park in Rapid City, South Dakota. Some of these waterparks have on-site hotels, but, if not, we have points hotels to recommend nearby as well.
Noah’s Ark Water Park (Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin)
The Wisconsin Dells, the “waterpark capital of America,” sits 45 minutes north of Madison, Wisconsin, and, as you might expect, offers many places to have fun getting wet. Like, Noah’s Ark Waterpark, a true original open since 1979. It’s America’s largest waterpark, featuring 51 slides, including Raja, which opened last year and is the world’s largest King Cobra dual slide. There are also two wave pools and two lazy rivers. (Regular tickets are $39, $29 for those under 48 inches and over 55 years old. Save $5 with online booking. Admission is free for those under 36 inches.)
Since there’s no on-park hotel, use your Hilton points to stay nearby at Hilton Garden Inn Wisconsin Dells or the brand-new Hampton Inn & Suites at Wisconsin Dells Lake Delton (reward stays at each range from 23,000 points to 50,000 Hilton Honors points per night).
Kalahari (Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin)
Rocking a African-wild-animals theme, Kalahari (a hotel with its own indoor-outdoor waterpark) features surfing on the FlowRider ($30 per person for 60 minutes for two to 10 people; private rentals start at $250 for 60 minutes). Also popular are the lessons in becoming a mermaid and how to fight off a (fake) shark attack ($35 for one to two people for 30 minutes, $30 each for three to five people for 60 minutes), as well as thrill-seeker rides like the Swahili Swirl and a virtual-reality experience. Build in adult R&R at Spa Kalahari, too, or amp up your stay by booking a private outdoor bungalow.
Kalahari resorts are also in Sandusky, Ohio; Round Rock, Texas; and the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Rates start at $269 for a double room for a date in June 2019 with access to waterpark included. If you prefer to purchase a day pass to the waterpark, those start at about $45 per day.
Consider: Holiday Inn Express Wisconsin Dells (from 35,000 IHG Rewards Club points) Hampton Inn & Suites at Wisconsin Dells, Lake Delton (23,000 to 50,000 Hilton Honors points), Hilton Garden Inn Wisconsin Dells (from 23,000 to0 50,000 Hilton Honors points), Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Wisconsin Dells (from 17,500 Marriott points) and SpringHill Suites by Marriott Wisconsin Dells (from 25,000 Marriott points).
Great Wolf Lodge (Gurnee, Illinois)
This chain of hotel waterparks has a location in Gurnee, a northern suburb of Chicago, near Six Flags Great America (which also has an waterpark). A whopping 10 (yes, 10!) dining and snack venues inside the lodge means your family — even the pickiest eaters — will never go hungry. Great Wolf has 113 slippery attractions, including Coyote Canyon (a four-story slide) and an activity pool called Chinook Cove. We found rates starting at $349 for a double room for a date in June 2019, though off-season dates can be much less expensive (plus resort fee).
To access this waterpark, you need to be a guest of the hotel, though a limited number of additional wristbands may be purchased from the hotel if you have visitors, at $50 each. To ramp up your earnings, you can book using your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to earn 10 miles per dollar when booking at Hotels.com Venture through Jan. 31, 2020. (Here’s a peek at the Great Wolf Lodge in Kansas City.)
Six Flags Great America (Gurnee, Illinois)
Not all Six Flags parks have a waterpark, but this one in Gurnee does. Seventeen attractions that get you wet are a nice compliment to the amusement park’s nostalgic rides like Logger’s Run. Your kid can hang 10 with Surf Rider or scream with delight down the Dive Bomber’s five-story freefall, and the whole family can hang out in the Monsoon Lagoon. (Gate prices start at $77 or $57 for those under 48 inches; children 2 and under are free. Save $25 when booking online at least one day before your trip.)
Since there’s no hotel on property, stay nearby at Courtyard by Marriott Chicago Waukegan/Gurnee or SpringHill Suites Chicago Waukegan/Gurnee (both are Category 3 hotels within three miles of Six Flags Great America and start at 17,500 points per night).
Venetian Waterpark (Maple Grove, Minnesota)
Flaunting its Venetian theme right down to the streetlamps and building facades, this 25,000-square-foot indoor waterpark (with two waterslides, a toddler area, basketball hoops and floating obstacle course), helps you cash in on IHG Rewards Club points — and you never have to leave the property, since it’s also home to the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Maple Grove/Arbor Lakes (from 35,000 IHG points per night, fourth award night free if you have the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card). Your hotel stay includes admission to the waterpark.
In addition to the waterpark’s concession stand, there is a casual restaurant in the hotel serving a breakfast buffet and family-friendly options like pizza for dinner. Dave & Buster’s is within walking distance. Maple Grove is 18 miles from downtown Minneapolis. Note that the waterpark is open Friday to Sunday most weeks, with additional days available during select weeks.
Surfari Joe’s (Watervliet, Michigan)
Imagine 18,000 square feet of waterpark fun — enough to keep you busy all weekend. On an upper deck above two slides, the Zambezi River Run and Lino’s Lagoon activity pool, the Water Hole Grill & Bar serves up kid-friendly foods and glasses of wine from local vineyards for the adults. Because the connecting hotel, which opened in 2018, is a Fairfield Inn & Suites, you can also redeem Marriott points for your stay. A room with two queen beds starts at 17,500 Marriott points per night, which is a great deal compared to the paid rates than can go north of $200 per night. (Here’s how to earn 100,000 bonus Marriott points until April 24.)
Castaway Bay at Cedar Point (Sandusky, Ohio)
Most people know Sandusky for its outdoor theme park, Cedar Point, but there is also a 38,000-square-foot indoor waterpark with a tropical theme at Castaway Bay. White Adirondack chairs are lined up at the shoreline (lapped by waves!) and provide a comfy spot to keep an eye on the kids as they zip down a tube slide or splash in the pool. A Quaker Steak & Lube on site, a breakfast buffet and a deli, make meal time easy.
Castaway Bay has 237 rooms and family suites. Rates were $259 for a double room for a date in June 2019, with an easy-pay option of $43.17 for six payments if you wanted to spread out the cost of the stay.
The Holiday Inn Express & Suites Sandusky, where a room with two beds starts at 40,000 IHG Rewards Club points, is just across the bay. This means you could use an annual 40,000 award night available from the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card.
Big Splash Adventure (French Lick, Indiana)
Overnight accommodations at Big Splash Adventure make a visit to this 40,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor waterpark a breeze. If it does get warm out, the retractable roof pops open. Of the 10 attractions, one is adults-only (Palm Cove, a hot tub) and the others are family-friendly. These attractions range from Pirate’s Plunder (a body slide) to Buccaneer Bay, a three-story structure housing 10 platforms and 50 interactive play features. Rates were $199 for a double room with two-day waterpark passes included for a date in June 2019. (Waterpark day passes are available for $24 for those 46 inches and above, $19 for those below 46 inches and seniors 60 years old and over. Children 2 and under are free.)
Nearby points hotels include: Best Western Plus French Lick (from 24,000 points), Days Inn by Wyndham Jasper (15,000 points) and Holiday Inn Express & Suites Jasper (from 15,000 IHG points).
Great Wolf Lodge (Bloomington, Minnesota)
In 2017, the waterpark inside the Mall of America transitioned from its previous ownership (Water Park of America) into the Great Wolf Lodge brand — with a new look after a $30 million renovation. Entirely indoors, there are 11 water activities for all ages, from the zero-depth Cub Paw Pool to the four-story Wolf Rider Wipeout. Eight restaurants on site take care of the hungry. There is a climbing wall and ropes course (in Great Wolf Adventure Park) for older kids, and a bowling alley. Rates were $249 for a double room for a test date in June 2019.
Just like at the Great Wolf Lodge in Illinois, you can book your stay via Hotels.com to earn rewards, but you generally must stay at the Great Wolf Lodge in order to play in the waterpark.
Raging Rivers Waterpark (Mandan, North Dakota)
Spanning four acres, Raging Rivers Waterpark is entirely outdoors, with new attractions added on a regular basis. Four years ago, the Aqua Play area debuted, with about 60 interactive games and toys in the water, such as water canyons and pull ropes. Two tube slides and two speed slides are joined by an 800-foot-long lazy river. Concessions are on site. (Day passes are $15, $12 for kids under 48 inches and seniors 62 and over, and $8 for spectators and nonswimmers. There’s also a special $10 twilight rate from 4pm to 8pm every day. Children 3 years and under are free.)
Points stays nearby include: Radisson Hotel Bismarck (from 38,000 points), Country Inn & Suites by Radisson (from 38,000 Radisson points), Holiday Inn Bismarck (from 20,000 IHG points), Hampton Inn & Suites Bismarck Northwest (24,000 to 40,000 Hilton points) and Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Bismarck South (from 7,500 points)
Splasher’s of the South Seas (Grand Forks, North Dakota)
Connected to Canad Inns, hotel guests receive a reduced price to enter Splasher’s of the South Seas ($9 instead of $23 per person). Within this 40,000-square-foot waterpark, there’s plenty to keep kids of all ages happy, from the East Australian Current (basically a lazy river) to a Kids Play Area in the water to the Rarotonga “cannonbowl” slide for kids with an adrenaline streak. Garbonzo’s is the resident pizza joint, within a family entertainment center with arcade games. Rates were $169 for a double room for a date in June 2019.
For a points stay nearby, consider: Hilton Garden Inn Grand Forks-UND (20,000 to 30,000 points); Hampton Inn & Suites Grand Forks (22,000 to 30,000 points); Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott East Grand Forks (from 12,500 points); Springfield Suites by Marriott Grand Forks (from 12,500 points); Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Grand Forks, ND (from 38,000 points); Staybridge Suites Grand Forks (from 25,000 IHG points); and Holiday Inn Express & Suites Grand Forks (from 30,000 IHG points)
WaTiki Indoor Waterpark & Resort (Rapid City, South Dakota)
This 30,000-square-foot waterpark is connected to hotels including the Fairfield Inn and Suites and the Residence Inn by Marriott Rapid City, which is a Marriott Category 5 property (requiring 35,000 points per night). Rates include free hot breakfast, and there’s a full kitchen in the room to whip up snacks and light meals. At the waterpark is a Starbucks café, a pizza restaurant and Sliders Bar & Grill, alongside water-soaked attractions like Sink Hole, Maui’s Body Slide and a lazy river.
Instead of spending 35,000 Marriott points per night, you could also use a Category 1-5 certificate available each year from cards such as the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card or Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card.
Castle Rock Resort & Waterpark (Branson, Missouri)
Branson, one of the Midwest’s most popular destinations for family entertainment, is home to this waterpark, which is both indoors (including lap pool and a couple of three-story slides, one of which is a closed tube) and outdoors (open seasonally with a 500-gallon tipping bucket, waterfalls and kiddie pools with rain showers). A 600-foot-long lazy river indoors is an ideal spot to chill on a winter day. Outdoors, you will find a multilevel sundeck filled with places to relax and rest. Rates were $139 for a double room for a date in June 2019.
Grand Harbor Resort & Waterpark (Dubuque, Iowa)
This whimsical indoor waterpark features a lazy river, two giant whirlpools, rope ladders for kids to climb on and, of course, waterslides. A Tony Roma’s Restaurant and Lounge in the resort might satisfy your food needs, but if not, there are plenty of fast-casual options within the East Dubuque region, including Jimmy John’s and an A&W. Rates were $179 for a double room for a date in June 2019. If you just need a ticket to the waterpark, the rate varies by day, but starts at around $8 to $12 per person.
Nearby points hotels include: Hilton Garden Inn Dubuque Downtown (27,000 to 30,000 points), Hampton Inn Dubuque (22,000 to 30,000 Hilton points), TownePlace Suites by Marriott Dubuque Downtown (from 17,500 points), Holiday Inn Dubuque/Galena (from 25,000 IHG points) and Best Western Plus Dubuque Hotel & Conference Center (from 20,000 points).
If your family is looking for a waterpark in the Midwest, this list should more than get you started in the right direction, even if you are hoping to travel using your points.
Get some more trip-planning information here:
- The Best Hotel Chains for Families
- The Best Hotel Credit Cards for Families
- Orlando’s Best Hotel Waterparks
- 6 Tips for Surviving a Road Trip With a Large Family
- Tips for Staying Safe at a Theme Park
Featured photo by kali9/Getty Images
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