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Splash-tastic Indoor Water Parks

Ask any child what he wants to do on vacation, and you'll hear one answer more than any other: swim! So it's no wonder indoor water-park resorts have become one of the hottest new travel trends. We're not talking about two-turn slides like the one at the town pool. These places are full-fledged water fantasy lands: Consistently around 82 degrees, with a zero percent chance of rain, they're fail-proof all year. Check out what you need to know to make the most of your visit:

1. Surf before you book: Discounts are common on resort websites year-round.

2. Think about the day of the week you'll check in: The crowds swell on weekends and on school holidays.

3. Try hitting the slides first thing in the morning, then bolting in the midafternoon, the craziest time of day. Head for the park again when everyone else is at dinner to take advantage of the late hours. All stay open until at least 8 p.m., some until 10 p.m.

4. Agree on a meeting spot with your kids in case someone gets lost. (The twisty-turny nature of the structures, coupled with the blast they're having, means it's easy to get disoriented.)

You're sure to have an escape to remember at these destinations...

Great Wolf Lodge
(11 locations around the country, plus one in Niagara Falls, Canada; Greatwolf.com.) This log-cabinesque behemoth started the craze. Its range of activities (aquatic and otherwise) makes the resort a crowd-pleaser.

The draw: A four- to eight-story tree house with soakers aplenty; some locations have a funnel slide, called the Howlin' Tornado, that slings the whole crew around on a four-person tube. National Geographic Kids has sponsored a Cub Club for little landlubbers. And for too-cool tweens, there's the gr8_space computers (with Internet access on approved sites only) and Wii games, all to the sounds of a live DJ. Lisa Bain, a mom of two from Rockville Centre, NY, says her 12-year-old and friends found it "way cool." 

The lowdown: The rustic, woodsy lodgings are part of the deal -- only those who stay get access to the water park. The prices include passes for every day of your stay, including the days of arrival and departure, so plan accordingly. The onsite food's not the highlight, though, so consider taking advantage of the mini-kitchen in the room.

 

Key Lime Cove
(Illinois; Keylimecove.com) This 65,000-square-foot island-themed indoor water park is a tropical paradise any time of year. 

The draw: The Pineapple Bucket! The ginormous fruit rocks suspensefully and tips when it's full of water, drenching the giggling gaggle of kids below. It was a favorite of Catherine Holecko's then 5-year-old daughter. "I loved seeing her shriek and run away from the cascading water," says the mom of two from Neenah, WI. The Lazy River adds built-in downtime, too. 

The lowdown: The park is close to Six Flags and a massive mall, so when you feel like drying out, you're covered.

Wilderness Resorts
(two locations: Wilderness at the Smokies in Tennessee; Wilderness at the Dells in Wisconsin; Wildernessterritory.com) These huge resorts offer fun on a (really) large scale, so you'll have more options (and more breathing room).

The draw: At Wilderness at the Dells, four -- yes, four -- indoor parks are included in the price of a room. At Wilderness at the Smokies, you'll find poolside cabanas, the area's only surf-rider, and access to an aquarium (with sharks!) nearby.

The lowdown: Check the family-focused specials on the website, like free kids' meals with adult-meal purchases.


Kalahari Resorts

(locations in Wisconsin and Ohio, and a new park in Virginia is under development; Kalahariresorts.com) Think of this kitschy African safari-themed adventure palace as the Vegas of indoor water parks (in a good way). 

The draw: Your gang will like the Safari Adventures (see ostriches, zebras, and even a giraffe!) at the Ohio locale nearly as much as the water rides. At the Wisconsin park, a six-story indoor Ferris wheel ups the fun factor, too. Colleen Vanier, a mom of two from West Allis, WI, says the dining here is a treat.

The lowdown: We laud the smart design of the resort -- it's spread out, so it's never super loud, a boon if you're trying to get a cranky kid to take a nap.

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