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Road Trip! Destination: Indoor water parks

| Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011
The Old West is the theme in this wild and wet Columbus, Ohio, frontier, where visitors can whoosh their way through 12 water slides, including the Raging Bull, Ambush Alley, Shoot Out Racer and Rattlesnake Falls.

Even the most enthusiastic of holiday revelers might be dreading that dead stretch of winter that lurks on the other side of New Year's Eve. Luckily, it's possible to escape the salt and slush for warmer climes without stepping onto a plane.

In the past decade, a network of indoor water parks has proliferated in Pennsylvania and Ohio, offering a tropical getaway that's as close as a 90-minute drive to Erie or a four-hour drive to Columbus, Ohio.

Water parks feature increasingly elaborate and thrilling tube and body water slides whose towering, brightly colored serpentine coils offer the same corkscrew turns, zero-gravity plunges and wild loop-the-loops as their roller-coaster counterparts. While admitting plenty of natural light, most water parks offer a version of a wave pool, a giant "tipping bucket" that douses visitors, and a huge jungle gym-style play area with treehouses, cargo nets and water cannons. They offer overnight accommodations and weekend package deals, whose spas and swim-up bars cater to couples and families.

Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park

A mere 90 miles from Pittsburgh in Erie is a South Seas idyll, where palm trees and tropical flowers luxuriate in the year-round 84-degree heat. This sprawling resort complex includes Wild Waters, a 200,000-gallon indoor wave pool where the breakers reach heights of 6 feet. Fast and furious tube slides include the Big Kahuna, the Cyclone or the Python Plunge. Body coasters include the Black Hole, Shark Attack and the Hurricane Hole, which hurtles riders down a chute at 40 mph and whirls them around in a giant bowl before dashing them into 6 feet of water. The Tiki Tree House features 12 levels of activities, including the Maui Wowie water slide and Tiki Bucket, which drenches those below with 1,000 gallons of water. More low-key pleasures include the Lazy River and the Monkeyshines Island play area for small fry. Three hotels are connected to Splash Lagoon -- the Holiday Inn Express, Residence Inn and Comfort Inn. Details: 814-217-1111 or .

Castaway Bay at Cedar Point

This five-story water park in neighboring Sandusky, Ohio features a tropical Caribbean theme, including palm trees, inland lagoons and a waterfall. Body surf 3-foot waves in the Castaway Bay Wave Pool. Defy gravity on the Rendezvous Run, a water roller coaster that uses water jets to propel riders uphill for 520 feet before shooting them through a twisting maze whose enclosed slide takes them outside the park and back in again. The Lookout Lagoon Family Funhouse is play area that features a 1,000-gallon tipping bucket and four water slides, including the Mango Melee. Castaway Bay has 237 hotel rooms and suites and a day spa, fitness center, arcade, craft and child-activity center and three restaurants. Details: 419-627-2106 or .

Great Wolf Lodge

The theme of the Great Wolf Lodgein Sandusky, Ohio, is 180 degrees north from its tropical counterparts. The facility resembles a rustic hunting chalet in the great north woods, with 271 family-size suites that combine rugged rustic touches with modern comforts. The Grand Lobby features rough-hewn log furniture, stuffed wolf and moose, bristling bears and a huge stone fireplace. The "clock-tower show" features animatronic woodland creatures and trees that come to life three times a day. The resort offers daily "Snow Shows," where it snows inside the Grand Lobby. The water park features eight slides and five pools, including an indoor recreation pool, zero-depth entry children's pool, giant water fort and a slow-moving river. The Soak'n Oak Springs 16-foot soft play treehouse is a favorite for children and adults. Details: 800-641-6653 or .

Kalahari Water Park

The African-theme resort in Sandusky, Ohio, is the largest-indoor water park in the United States. It boasts 900 guest rooms and suites, a spa, several restaurants and shopping. Some multi-bedroom suites can accommodate as many as 44 guests. Warm yourself at the Big Five Fireplace, where sculptures of a cheetah and Cape Cod Buffalo lurk by the big stone chimney. The indoor water park features two FlowRiders, which let guests surf or boogie board on 5-foot waves. The Zip Coaster is a reverse roller coaster with water jets that propel riders uphill. Kids can enjoy the Leopard's Lair and Crocodile cove play areas. For adults, there's a swim-up bar. Overnight stays include admission to the indoor and outdoor water parks for each guest. Day guest passes also are available. Details: 877-525-2427 or .

Quality Inn & Suites Rainwater Park

This Sandusky, Ohio, hotel features the Rain Indoor Water Park, which includes a 50-foot tower where guests can zip down two giant water slides, each more than 250 feet long. Admission is free for hotel guests. It's open daily in the summer and on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the fall and winter. The park is open for extended hours during Christmas and Easter break.The hotel complex features Cedar Lanes, a 32-lane, state-of-the-art bowling center and Lazer Runner, offering extreme laser tag and Spare Change arcade with a golf simulator. Details: 419-626-6761 or .

Fort Rapids Ohio Indoor Water Park Resort

The Old West is the theme in this wild and wet Columbus, Ohio, frontier, where visitors can whoosh their way through 12 water slides, including the Raging Bull, Ambush Alley, Shoot Out Racer and Rattlesnake Falls. Brave souls might take on Blackout Pass, where the centrifugal adventure, begins with them whirling around in a giant bowl like a spider in a bathtub drain. What follows is a furious corkscrew descent that ends with splashdown in the Lazy River. The Kiddie Korral has two small water slides for tenderfeet, who also can shoot their friends with a water cannon at the Rascal Roundup, multistory play area. For those 18 and older, there's a 30-person hot tub. Fort rapids offers 277 tower guest rooms and 60 villa family suites. Details: 614-868-1380 or .

CoCo Key Water Resort at Cherry Valley Lodge

The 50,000 square-foot water park is only one part of this cozy 200-room resort in Newark, Ohio, 25 miles east of Columbus. The water park captures the easygoing tropical ambience of Key West. The Parrot's Perch is an interactive adventure with slides for younger children, water cannons and a tipping bucket. Take a rapid tube ride on the Coconut Grove Adventure River, or relax in the Palm Grotto Indoor/Outdoor Whirlpool Spa. Their three waterslides include the Shark Slam, Gator Gush and Barracuda Blast. A highlight is the Coral Reef Cavern, an activity pool with lily pads, water basketball and an animated coral reef backdrop. Details: 740-788-1200 or .

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