Hotel Online  Special Report


 Indoor Waterparks: Making a Bigger Splash
in North America in ‘07
By David J. Sangree, MAI, CPA, ISHC - 
July 2007

Indoor waterpark resorts have continued to expand throughout North America with 95 open facilities in the United States and an additional 13 open facilities in Canada as of July, 2007. There are 3,643,100 aquatic square feet and 27,230 hotel rooms associated with indoor waterparks as of July, 2007. This family-oriented resort segment has established itself as a viable segment of the travel industry and has expanded well beyond its original Wisconsin base. By the end of 2007, 24 states and five provinces will have at least one indoor waterpark resort. The number of indoor waterparks has grown significantly since their inception in the early 1980s, while the average number of hotel rooms attached to these waterparks has also increased substantially over the years. Between 1994 and 2006 in the United States and Canada, 97 indoor waterpark resorts opened either as new construction properties or as additions to existing hotels. The following table shows the number of hotel rooms and square feet of indoor waterparks that opened in the U.S. and Canada from 1983 to 2006. 


Hotel & Leisure Advisors (H&LA) defines an indoor waterpark resort as a lodging establishment containing an aquatic facility with a minimum of 10,000 square feet of indoor waterpark space and inclusive of amenities such as slides, tubes, and a variety of indoor water play features. Although numerous hotels bill their indoor pools as waterparks, those with less than 10,000 square feet of aquatic area should be categorized as hotels with water features rather than as waterparks. H&LA divides indoor waterpark resorts into two categories: 

  •  Indoor waterpark destination resort 
  •  Hotel with indoor waterpark 
A hotel with indoor waterpark is a hotel with an attached indoor waterpark with 10,000 to 30,000 square feet of indoor waterpark space where the indoor waterpark serves as an amenity to the hotel versus a true destination. An indoor waterpark destination resort is a resort with 30,000 square feet or more of indoor waterpark space and is considered a true destination resort that families visit on a year round basis primarily to visit the waterpark and secondarily because of other attractions or events in the area. The following table summarizes our supply analysis of indoor waterpark resorts. 
The table indicates that there are currently 95 indoor waterpark resorts located in the United States with 32% located in Wisconsin. In addition, there are 13 indoor waterpark resorts operating in Canada, although many other hotels in Canada offer smaller indoor water features with less than 10,000 square feet. Currently, 16 hotels located in Wisconsin Dells, which is known as the “Waterpark Capital of the World,” have indoor waterparks with a total of 4,641 rooms and 748,500 square feet of indoor waterpark space. 

The six largest indoor waterpark resorts located in Wisconsin Dells outperformed the franchise Wisconsin Dells non-resort hotels’ overall average occupancy by 17 occupancy points and the average daily rate of the non-resort hotels by $112 in 2006. The average  daily rate for these properties includes usage of the indoor waterpark. According to their recent SEC filings, the Great Wolf Lodge properties open in 2006 averaged an occupancy level of 63.5% with an average daily rate of $240.04. However, certain properties in Midwestern markets have shown a decline in performance in 2006 due to expanded competition from additional indoor waterpark resorts. 

Hotel companies, investors, and developers in the U.S. continue to explore the potential benefit of affiliating indoor waterpark resorts with a national hotel franchise. Franchised indoor waterpark resorts are more common in Canada. The previous table shows that only 41% of U.S. indoor waterpark resort rooms are affiliated with a national hotel chain, while 77% of indoor waterpark resort rooms in Canada are franchised. Though the non-franchised resorts can benefit from not paying franchise fees, they lack the benefits of a central reservation system and franchise recognition. The following chart shows the affiliation of the franchised indoor waterpark resorts in the U.S. 

Franchised Indoor Waterpark Resorts
in U.S. and Canada
Brand Properties w/ Attached Waterparks % of total
Holiday Inn & HI Express 14 30%
Best Western 6 12%
Ramada 6 12%
Sheridan 5 10%
Comfort Suites 4 8%
Residence Inn 2 4%
Other 12 24%
Source: Hotel & Leisure Advisors, LLC, July, 2007 
Holiday Inn is the only national hotel chain currently offering an indoor waterpark resort prototype to their offering of hotel types. At present, there are 14 Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express properties attached to indoor waterparks, as Holiday Inn has been very open to the idea of allowing franchisees to add indoor waterparks to their existing properties. As of July 2007, there are 17 additional Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express indoor waterpark resorts or expansions to existing Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express properties planned for development in the United States. 

The ratio of franchise to independent indoor waterpark hotels has fluctuated since 1994. The following table shows the number of indoor waterpark rooms that have been added per year by franchised and independent hotels. 

Between 2001 and 2005, the number of indoor waterpark rooms added by independent hotels exceeded the number of rooms added by franchised hotels, while in 2006 the figure was nearly evenly split. 

The overall average ratio of waterpark square footage to guest rooms in indoor waterpark resorts varies widely with some larger destination resorts offering as much as 200 square feet of indoor waterpark space per guest room while some hotels with indoor waterparks may offer less than 100 square feet of waterpark space per guest room. In 2006, the overall average ratio for all existing properties in North America was 133 square feet per guest room. 

The increase in the number of guest rooms constructed has kept pace with increases in demand for indoor waterparks in most markets, although in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ohio oversupply issues are beginning to surface. In these states, some properties with indoor waterparks are recording lower rates of occupancy and average daily rate than they recorded in previous years due to increased competition. 

New Construction 

The following table indicates indoor waterpark resorts which opened in 2006 in the United States and Canada. 

The table indicates that 23 waterparks came on line within new resorts or expansions of existing resorts in 2006. A number of properties which opened in 2006 added or expanded waterpark facilities in existing hotels. The largest projects to open in 2006 included the Waterpark of America and Grand Hotel in Bloomington, and two Great Wolf Lodge properties in Mason/Kings Island and Niagara Falls. The Grand Hotel at the Waterpark of America recently announced that it will affiliate with Radisson Hotels in order to boost weekday corporate business. The single largest guest room expansion was the Wilderness Resort's addition of the Glacier Canyon Lodge, a condominium resort hotel with 461 keys, which was built at the same time as the addition of a third indoor waterpark and a new outdoor waterpark area. 
Our research indicates that there are 25 new indoor waterpark resorts or expansions to resorts which are projected to open in 2007 in the United States and Canada. The following table lists these properties. 

Lodge at Storm Lake & Kings Pointe Waterpark Storm Lake IA
The table indicates the properties which have opened or are due to open in 2007. Of the 25 total on the list, 18 are new waterpark additions to existing hotels or room additions to existing indoor waterpark resorts. Based on the number of projects that have recently been financed or have begun construction, we project that the number of new construction indoor waterpark resorts will be higher in 2008. 

Because of the strong performance of indoor waterpark resorts in Wisconsin Dells and other locations, there are many properties considering the development of an indoor waterpark resort. The following table summarizes the indoor waterpark resorts which are under construction or are in planning or development stages. 

The table indicates that there are 273 properties in the United States and Canada which are proposing to add indoor waterpark facilities or are developing new construction indoor waterpark resorts. The list has grown substantially over the past year from 190 properties as of June, 2006 to 273 properties in June, 2007, indicating substantial interest in developing an indoor waterpark project in North America. 

Most indoor waterpark resorts that are currently operational, under construction, and proposed are located in northern states due to a shorter summer season. The previous list includes indoor waterpark resorts known to be in the planning stages or under construction. Of this list, only those with proper planning and financing will be developed. We project a number of these projects will not be developed due to the challenging financing issues. 

Unique Features and Properties 

A number of trendsetting developers are creating exciting concepts in indoor waterpark resort properties. The following bullets describe a few of these projects. 

  • Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio, is slated to open its 93,000 square foot indoor waterpark expansion in December, 2007 with the addition of 288 condominium hotel keys to open shortly thereafter. The $50 million expansion will include an African-themed restaurant and bar and a transparent roofing system that will stream in sunlight. The property will add a 13,000 square foot indoor wave pool. Once finished, the Kalahari Resort in Sandusky will be the largest single structure waterpark in the U.S. totaling 173,000 square feet. It will surpass the Kalahari in Wisconsin Dells, which was the largest with 125,000 square feet. The Kalahari in Sandusky will be the second-largest waterpark in North America behind West Edmonton Mall in Canada. 
  • In June, 2007, Marriott Hotels announced plans to partner with Nickelodeon to create a new chain called Nickelodeon Resorts by Marriott. By 2020, Marriott plans to open 20 such resorts worldwide, which will feature state-of-the-art pools and water slides as well as interactive attractions featuring Nickelodeon's cartoon characters such as Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants. The first project is expected to open in San Diego, California, but details have not yet been released. 
  • A number of ski resorts are adding indoor waterparks, following the lead of Boyne Mountain’s Avalanche Bay project. These include the Silver Mountain resort in Kellogg, Idaho, which will open a 268-key hotel and a 45,000 square foot indoor waterpark in 2007. In 2008, Greek Peak ski resort in Virgil, New York, will be opening the 150-key Hope Lake Lodge indoor waterpark resort with a 23,000 square foot indoor waterpark. 
  • CoCo Key Waterparks have opened at four locations as of July, 2007. These include indoor waterpark additions at the Cherry Valley Lodge in Newark, Ohio; Sheraton in Arlington Heights, Illinois; Best Western Clocktower in Rockford, Illinois; and Sheraton Ferncroft in Danvers, Massachusetts. Additional indoor waterparks projected to open later in 2007 include the Holiday Inn in Omaha, Nebraska, and the Sheraton in Sharonville, Ohio. These projects are being developed by Sage Hospitality, Wave Development and their partners. 

Indoor waterpark resorts have emerged as leisure destinations for families looking for a convenient weekend getaway or vacation. In the 1990s, the indoor waterpark resorts were located in the Wisconsin Dells region, but growth continues throughout the United States. As with the amusement park industry, owners and operators of indoor waterpark resorts have discovered that in order to attract new families to their facilities and keep their repeat guests coming back for more, they need to continually work to add new components and keep the concept “fresh.” We project that the average size of indoor waterparks constructed will continue to increase as customer expectations increase. We project continued development of indoor waterpark resorts in the northern United States as they offer an attractive year-round leisure opportunity for families and attractive investment returns for developers. However, with the substantial growth in supply in the segment, we recommend thorough feasibility analysis be performed for projects to ensure that the project's return on investment is adequate for the development. 

This article will also appear in the World Waterpark Association’s 2007 Water Leisure & Lodging publication which is available prior to their annual convention held in October, 2007. 


David J. Sangree, MAI, CPA, ISHC is President of Hotel & Leisure Advisors, a national hospitality consulting firm. He performs appraisals, feasibility studies, impact studies, and other consulting reports for hotels, resorts, waterparks, golf courses, amusement parks, conference centers, and other leisure properties. He has performed more than 1,000 hotel studies and more than 100 indoor waterpark resort market feasibility and/or appraisal studies across the United States and Canada. 

He was formerly employed by US Realty Consultants in Cleveland and Columbus, Pannell Kerr Forster in Chicago, and Westin Hotels in Chicago, New York, Fort Lauderdale, and Cincinnati. Mr. Sangree received his Bachelor of Science degree from Cornell University School of Hotel Administration in 1984. He became a certified public accountant in 1989. He became an MAI member of the Appraisal Institute in 1995 and a member of the International Society of Hospitality Consultants in 1996. 

Since 1987, Mr. Sangree has provided consulting services to banks, hotel companies, developers, management companies, and other parties involved in the lodging sector throughout the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. He has spoken on various hospitality matters at seminars throughout the United States and on Good Morning America. He has written numerous articles for, and is frequently quoted in, magazines, television, and newspapers covering the hospitality field. 

He can be reached via telephone at 216-228-7000 or via e-mail at

Best Western Pzazz Fun City Holiday Inn with Indoor Waterpark Elmhurst Sheraton Chicago NW Coco Key Indoor Waterpark Arlington Heights IL Double JJ Ranch Indoor Waterpark Rothbury MI Waterpark of America and Grand Hotel at Mall of America Bloomington MN Best Western Edgewater Duluth MN Holiday Inn with Indoor Waterpark Lakeville MN Six Flags Great Escape Waterpark Resort Queensbury NY Holiday Inn Fort Rapids with Indoor Waterpark Columbus OH Great Wolf Lodge Mason/Kings Island OH Cherry Valley Lodge with CoCo Key Waterpark Newark OH  Bridges Bay Indoor Waterpark Resor t Arnolds Park IA Silver Mountain Resort's Silver Rapids Kellogg ID Best Western Clock Tower CoCo Key Waterpark Addition Rockford IL Splash Universe Wana Waves Indoor Waterpark Resort Shipshewana IN

Hotel & Leisure Advisors, LLC 
14805 Detroit Avenue 
Suite 420 
Cleveland, Ohio 44107-3921 
Phone: 216-228-7000 
Fax: 216-228-7320 
Web Site:

Also See: Number of Indoor Waterpark Destination Resorts Grows in 2007 / David J Sangree/ February 2007
Indoor Waterpark Resort Numbers Increase in ‘06 / David J. Sangree / August 2006
Financing Your Indoor Waterpark Resort / David J. Sangree / September 2006
Appraisal and Market Analysis of Indoor Waterpark Resorts / David J. Sangree / September 2006
Indoor Waterparks and Hotels - Year end 2005 Overview / David Sangree / February 2006
Indoor Waterpark Resorts Continue Impressive Growth in ‘05; a Viable Segment of the Travel / David J. Sangree / January 2005
Indoor Waterpark Resorts Expand Nationwide / David J. Sangree / April 2004

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