By Emily McCluhan

Whether it’s the complete abandon of hurtling down a four-story waterslide or the relaxation of floating in a tube on a lazy river, water parks are a chance to escape the stiff, professional workday. And with many water parks building or enhancing their meeting and conference space, it’s easier than ever to combine business with pleasure.

“One of the most unique things about hosting a meeting at a water park is the opportunity to bring your family and make a leisure experience out of it,” says Leah Hauck-Mills, communications manager with the Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau. “And we have been told time and time again that groups see an increase in attendance that bring their families along.”

The Dells, also known as The Water Park Capital of the World, has plenty of options, but other resorts strewn across the Midwest offer similar advantages. Hauck-Mills says some of the perks of water park convention centers include free parking — since most are not located in met- ropolitan areas — as well as having everything from lodging, recreation and dining all under one roof. And most resorts include water park admission for guests with the lodging.

“Our facilities also have themes and decor that can be more welcoming than a standard convention center,” she says. “It’s just more warm and cozy.”

Hauck-Mills admits that some groups may be intimidated by the idea of hosting an event at a water park, but she notes that many resorts keep the meeting space separate from the water park, so “you won’t see kids in wet swimsuits dragging a towel through your conference area.”

She suggests working with the local DMO to plan off-site activities, allowing your guests to truly experience the destination, as well as requesting visitors guides to send to the attendees in advance to build excitement.

So pack your swimsuit, bring the family and check out these water park options for your next meeting.


Wisconsin Dells, Wis. and Sandusky, Ohio

With some of the largest water parks and conference spaces in the country, Kalahari Resorts offers plenty of options for a vacation getaway for families and meeting attendees.

The Wisconsin Dells property, just 45 minutes from Madison, two hours from Green Bay and Milwaukee, and three hours from Chicago, houses a 125,000-square-foot indoor water park, the largest in Wisconsin, plus an outdoor water park.

Unique features, like the Screaming Hyena, a waterslide that starts 60 feet above the roof and plummets riders through a trap door to the indoor pools below, is just one option for thrill seekers. A lazy river, tree fort and swim-up bar are available for those looking for a different pace.

And when the family is soaked through, Tom Foolery’s Adventure Park and The Arena, a virtual gaming experience, can keep them entertained.

The convention center offers 212,000 square feet of flexible space, making it the largest convention center in Wisconsin. There are more than 700 guest rooms ranging from single rooms to multi-bedroom suites to standalone villas accommodating up to 20 guests.

Hauck-Mills suggests working with the Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau for other off-site activities like Duck Tours that pick up attendees at the resort, a lavender farm tour, private socials on a cruise down the Wisconsin River or winery and brewery tours.

The Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio, is located near the shores of Lake Erie and is easily accessible from Cleveland, Akron, Cincinnati, Detroit and Pittsburgh. The property boasts one of America’s largest indoor water parks at 173,000 square feet and a large outdoor park for endless thrills and floating relaxation. The indoor park also offers one of the first underwater virtual reality experiences in the country, as well as the option to book a lesson to learn how to be a mermaid or merman. An adventure park with a ropes course, zipline, climbing wall and a mini golf course round out the entertainment.

Away from the indoor water, families can rent bikes and explore the Sandusky Bay and Lake Erie shoreline or take a spin through the Merry-Go-Round Museum in a converted historic post office.

Offering 215,000 square feet of flexible meeting space and 890 guest rooms and suites, plus private villas, allows the Sandusky property to meet the needs of all group sizes.


Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

Covering more than 600 acres, the Wilderness Resort located in Wisconsin Dells is home to three properties: Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort, Wilderness on the Lake and Glacier Canyon Lodge. Together, these properties make up one of America’s largest water park resorts, offering four indoor and four outdoor water parks totaling more than 500,000 square feet.

Try out the daring thrill slides and raft rides at Klondike Kavern and Wild West water parks, or relax indoors at Wild Water Dome, featuring an energy-efficient Foil Tec roof that allows guests to tan year-round. Challenge each other to a game of hoops at Cubby’s Cove in the sports pool at Wilderness on the Lake or enjoy the 13,000-square-foot swimming pool at Lake Wilderness, with a lounging island and zero-depth area for toddlers.

Nationally-acclaimed Sundara Spa is located next to the Wilderness Wild Rock Golf Club and is affiliated with the resort, offering a different kind of oasis for guests. A championship golf course and four-star dining ensure that meeting attendees and their families have everything needed for a Northwoods-inspired getaway. Over 1,100 lodging options are available from outdoors-themed hotel rooms to private villas, condominiums and log cabins.

Glacier Canyon Lodge houses the 56,000-square-foot conference center with two ballrooms and a large patio, and a flexible meeting room layout. The Wild Rock Golf Club features a rustic simplic- ity and provides a bar and lounge, plus banquet space for up to 160 guests.


Boyne Falls, Mich.

Although it’s known as a Midwest winter ski destination with Austrian flair, Boyne Mountain Resort also houses an indoor water park kept at a balmy 84 degrees

with pools, a lazy river, surf simulator, waterfalls and a 10-foot water slide. Nestled among the lakes and hills in the northwest Lower Peninsula of Michigan, Boyne also provides year-round outdoor activity options for guests and families from ski lessons to kayaking and fly fishing to golfing on two championship courses.

Off the property is Michigan’s playground with the crystal blue waters of nearby lakes and the quaint vibes of resort towns like Charlevoix, Harbor Springs and Petoskey. The resort is located about one hour from Traverse City, three hours from Grand Rapids and four hours from Detroit.

The 37,000-square-foot conference center at Boyne Mountain offers meeting space for breakouts and large meetings spanning two stories of the main mountain lodge. Over 400 guest rooms, suites and condominiums provide flexible options for families of all sizes.


Alexandria, Minn.

Surrounded by lakes in northern Minnesota, Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center is about one hour from St. Cloud and two hours from Minneapolis/St.

Paul and Fargo, S.D. In addition to the marina where guests can rent motorized and non-motorized boats, the resort also features a 38,000-square-foot water park. Three four-story waterslides await thrill seekers, and a lazy river and whirlpool spa are available for a relaxing float. The whole family can battle it out in the play fort with water blasters, geysers and a basketball shootout.

The main resort offers nature-inspired guest rooms and suites, or the option to spread out in a three- or four-bedroom townhome on Lake Darling, with ac- cess to all of the resort’s amenities. The attached conference center boasts 12 meeting rooms and 28,000 square feet of meeting space.

Explore more of the lake country at nearby Carlos Creek Winery, which also has a brewery, pizza kitchen and food truck for casual camaraderie and team building. Or explore the local lake culture at the Legacy of the Lakes maritime museum.


Rapid City, S.D.

Situated in the heart of western South Dakota, WaTiki Indoor Water Park features 30,000 square feet of body slides, water avalanches, giant twisting tubular slides, a lazy river and hot tub area for kids of all ages.

Five hotels make up this complex with four directly connected to the water park, giving planners plenty of options for guest rooms and meeting space. The Courtyard by Marriott, Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn and LaQuinta Inn each have their own con- ference rooms and catering, but Liv Hotel Group manages planning for meetings and events for each hotel and offers discounted admission to the water park for all guests.

“Many groups take advantage of our limited winter hours — when the water park is only open in the evenings during the week — by booking private water park rentals during our non-business hours,” says Desarae Biggins, sales director with Liv Hotel Group.

When families aren’t splashing, they can venture into Black Hills National Forest, Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore National Memorial or Crazy Horse Memorial, all less than an hour from WaTiki.