Come on in, the water’s fine
Get wet and wild at expanded and new indoor water parks
Back in the 1990s, when I began writing about parks and attractions, my family and I would visit at least a couple of indoor water park resorts every year, often in January and February. That’s when the parks, which were a new phenomenon, were opening at an impressive clip. Amid winter’s icy and foreboding grip, it was literally and figuratively thrilling to careen down water slides in the balmy, 80-degree confines of the climate-controlled parks.
Our journeys first took us to Wisconsin Dells, the self-proclaimed “water park capital of the world.” It’s where the indoor water park revolution began and took off at places such as the Kalahari Resort and the Wilderness Lodge. As the concept took hold in the Midwest U.S. and spread throughout the country and beyond, I continued to visit and write about the sprawling resorts. More recently, the indoor water park trend has abated a bit, but there are still new resorts opening and under development as well as expansions planned for existing locations. Don your Speedos and nose plugs as we take a look at a few projects.
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The Wilderness has a second location, Wilderness at the Smokies in Sevierville, Tennessee, which recently made improvements to its Wild WaterDome indoor waterpark. The $40 million expansion, which increased the size of the park from 40,000 to 80,000 square feet, includes the new Ridge Runner water coaster. It propels passengers in rafts both down and uphill at speeds up to 29 mph. Ridge Runner is the first to feature Reverse AquaLucent, which creates colorful effects in its enclosed tube sections.
Colorful effects don’t begin to describe the park’s second major addition, Kaleidoscope Kavern Lazy River. Passengers in tubes float through an immersive multimedia tunnel that is bathed in trippy projections, lighting, and audio. According to Pete Tennis, Wilderness at the Smokies’ managing director, the attraction’s designers took inspiration from the natural beauty of the Smoky Mountains and incorporated some of the region’s nature sounds.
Among the scenes that guests can experience are “the sight of dancing fireflies, the changing seasons, the sound of water, chromatic currents, the evolving cycle of life, and my personal favorite, Aurora + Aqua Borealis, where the worlds of water and sky collide as if you are dreaming,” Tennis says.
Kaleidoscope Kavern was created in collaboration with Moment Factory. The Montreal-based company also developed Astra Lumina, a widely inventive and captivating multimedia walk through the woods at Anakeesta, the mountaintop adventure park in nearby Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
In addition to Wild WaterDome, Wilderness at the Smokies offers an outdoor water park as well as a 25,000-square-foot indoor family entertainment center that includes a suspended roller coaster, a motion simulator ride, laser tag, a ropes course, an arcade, and other things to do.
Great Wolf Lodge, which also opened one of the first major indoor water park resorts in Wisconsin Dells, is another pioneer. Great Wolf Resorts has since developed more than 20 locations across the U.S. and Canada and is the industry’s largest operator. It too recently debuted a 40,000-square-foot expansion of a water park at its Pocono Mountains resort in Pennsylvania. New water slides include one with a launch capsule and one that features side-by-side mat-racing.
The chain has new locations set to open this year. Great Wolf Lodge Gulf Coast Texas near Houston will offer a 95,000 square-foot indoor water park, a 58,000-square-foot family entertainment center, and 532 suites. Great Wolf Lodge South Florida in Naples will feature a 100,000-square-foot indoor water park, a 62,000-square-foot family entertainment center, and 500 suites. The company is also building a resort adjacent to the Foxwoods Casino Resort in Mashantucket, Connecticut that is set to open in 2025.
Have you been to an indoor water park resort? Have you gone to one in the winter? Would you like to see an attraction like Kaleidoscope Kavern Lazy River at a park near you?