PHOTO: View from the Sky Ride at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. (photo via Flickr/Sam Howzit)
Winter may still be in effect, (especially in the Midwest), but blink once or twice, and the hot months of June, July and August will be upon us.
That means it’s time to start thinking about ways to cool down.
For travelers with children, water parks can provide the ultimate summer experience. The kids wear themselves out spending long days in the water and sun, while the adults can lounge around the pool deck, cooling down with a drink or two.
Of course, the best water parks have water slides and other attractions the whole family can enjoy. Oh, and a wave pool. Who among us doesn’t have great memories of a wave pool growing up? (That moment when the alarm sounds and the waves start churning seems to epitomize the summer.)
Those on the coast have beaches, and we also can’t discount the fun a lake or river provides, but there’s something about a Midwestern water park and the road trip it takes to get there that has all the makings of a classic summer vacation.
Noah's Ark WaterPark, Wisconsin Dells (Wisconsin)
Noah’s Ark is billed as America’s largest waterpark. (Maybe it really could hold two of every kind of animal in the world?)
Noah’s Ark has rides and slides galore, including multiple inner tube slides for groups and individuals. If you’re really daring, check out Scorpion’s Tail, which is a ten story, 400-foot slide that sends individuals down at 50-feet per second. There’s also the Quadzilla—a four-lane matt race—and the Black Thunder, a completely enclosed (and dark) slide.
For those looking for something a bit more relaxed or kid friendly, Noah’s Ark has multiple lazy river type attractions—including the Adventure River, which features random geysers and waterfalls—bumper boats and more.
Finally, if you’re looking to dry off or just don’t want to get wet in the first place, there’s a 4D theater, an arcade and Hooligan’s Harbor, which is a remote-controlled pirate ship battle.
Kalahari Resort, Sandusky (Ohio)
Kalahari is an indoor water park that has a few locations in the Midwest, including Wisconsin Dells, Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania and Sandusky, Ohio. The Sandusky location seems to be most popular, though, so we’ll focus on the attractions Kalahari offers there.
This is really a resort and waterpark all rolled into one. There are plenty of rooms, suites and even conference rooms available, but you’re not likely to spend much time in them considering all the park has to offer.
Start with the multiple water slides, including Victoria Falls, which has tubes that go outside of the building. Or try the Zip Coaster, which is a group raft ride. Don't forget about the lazy river, jumping water pads, water basketball, a wave pool and a kids area, among other attractions.
There’s also a spot where you can actually go surfing. No, it’s not the ocean, but the Flowrider provides a nearly identical, (and equally as challenging), experience.
Outside of the water, there’s a great interactive arcade and an outdoor Safari Adventures Animal Park, which features everything from camels and rabbits to kangaroos and giraffes.
If you’re looking for an all-inclusive water park vacation, Kalahari is the place to be.
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Cedar Point Shores, Sandusky (Ohio)
Cedar Point is known for thrilling roller coaster rides, and you get some of that same action at Cedar Point Shores—just add waters—which used to be known as Soak City. However, the famed roller coaster park has spruced it up, adding more rides and recently opening the park back up under its new name.
Cedar Point Shores has 16 unique attractions, including multiple heart-racing slides like the Crosscurrent, Fisherman’s Fury (complete with tunnels and many twists and turns), the Lake Erie Nor’easter (completely pitch black inside) and the Riptide Raceway, which is a traditional mat race slide.
If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, try the Point Plummett, a six-story, near-vertical drop inside a see-through tube. There’s also the Storm Surge, a 76-foot tall group raft slide.
For kids, the Waterin’ Hole water park or Breakwater Bay are great attractions, especially since the latter is a half-million-gallon wave pool.
Splashin’ Safari, Santa Claus (Indiana)
Santa Claus, Indiana is known as a winter wonderland, but that doesn’t mean the town shuts down during the summer. In fact, Splashin’ Safari is easily one of the best waterparks in the Midwest.
Splashin’ Safari is part of the Holiday World park, which has two must-see roller coasters: Thunderbird steel roller coaster and The Raven. If you’re visiting just for the splash thrills, though, there’s more than enough to do in the water: The Safari has 16 unique attractions, including eight slides, two wave pools and the Bahari River.
Splashin’ Safari may not have the sheer amount of rides as the other waterparks on our list, but it’s quality over quantity at this one.
For instance, Zinga is an eight-story tall funnel slide in which you spend the first half of the ride inside the funnel before entering the half pipe. Bakuli is a giant raft ride that literally drops off at the end. The Mammoth Water Coaster is seven stories high and over three acres long; it offers some air time on its drops.
And finally, there’s Zoombabwe, which is the world’s largest enclosed waterslide, checking in at almost 900-feet long.
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Hurricane Harbor, Eureka (Missouri)
Missouri is known to get hot and muggy during the summer, which means a good water park could be the difference between a vacation entirely spent indoors (in the AC) and some fun in the sun.Thankfully, if you’re heading down to St. Louis to check out Six Flags, that landmark has an attached water park known as Hurricane Harbor.
It’s well worth the price of admission due to 11 attractions, including eight slides.
The Tornado is arguably the marquee of the bunch: It’s a four-person raft slide that’s seven stories high at the top of the tower. You first experience a 75-foot plummet into multiple tunnels and drops, finishing in a 60-foot wide tunnel that careens your raft around on its walls—much like a tornado would do.
Hurricane Harbor has a trio of single-person speed slides that really live up to their namesake, and there’s also a 30,000 square feet wave pool, featuring an 80-foot tall volcano as well as a waterfall, plus plenty of places for kids to get their water fun on.
The final mention goes to the Bonzai Pipeline, a six-story free fall that starts out in a see-through launcher. The trap door opens up from under your feet.
From that point on, you just hold on for dear life...