In summer, Cedar Point amusement park, an hour west of Cleveland, operates the world’s tallest, fastest roller coaster. Come the snows of winter, the gates are padlocked and nearby hotels deserted. But on November 5, Cedar Point hopes to become a year-round scream factory—that’s when it opens the $22 million Castaway Bay water park, where guests suit up and shoot the rapids in a balmy artificial environment, no matter how cold it gets outside. Its new marquee ride: Master Blaster, which employs water jets to propel riders uphill on a twisting, enclosed flume. Only guests at the water park’s hotel are granted admission tickets (a frustrating policy that’s common throughout the industry). 419/627-2106, castawaybay.cedarpoint.com, hotel room and admission from $200.
Two hours northwest of Milwaukee in Wisconsin Dells, the African-themed Kalahari Waterpark Resort is America’s largest indoor slide emporium, with 125,000 square feet (almost two-and-a-half football fields) under one roof. The Tanzania Twister, nicknamed the Toilet Bowl, swishes riders around a giant basin only to flush them into a pool, sometimes headfirst, via a drain in the center. This spring, Kalahari will open a new location on Cedar Point’s doorstep. 877/253-5466,kalahariresort.com, hotel room and admission from $129, day pass $40.
Just two blocks from Kalahari, the Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort is actually three connected parks with different themes. One, the Wild West Waterpark (opened in 2002), has the Fantastic Voyage, a five-person raft trip through a curtain of water and down a twisting tunnel, and the Surge, a wave pool where total strangers drench each other with water cannons and geysers. 800/867-9453, wildernessresort.com, on-site stay required, hotel room and admission from $99.
One of the first brands to multiply across the North, Great Wolf Lodge has four locations, including Kansas City, Kans., and a park in Traverse City, Mich., which opened last year. (Properties in Virginia and Pennsylvania open in 2005, and Niagara Falls, Ont., follows a year later.) At Great Wolf’s resorts in Wisconsin Dells and Sandusky, Ohio, a two-and-a-half-story Aqua Rock Wall challenges barefoot, harnessed climbers to scramble to the top against a cascade of falling water. 866/559-9653, greatwolflodge.com, on-site stay required, price varies by location.
Holding the North American record at five acres, World Waterpark in West Edmonton, Alberta, has innovative rides such as Raging Rapids, a slippery tube chute with a twist: It’s pitch black inside except for flashes of disorienting strobe lights. Should guests forget their bathing suits (or accidentally lose them in the swirling rapids), the park is tucked inside the world’s largest shopping center, the 122-acre West Edmonton Mall. 780/444-5300, westedmall.com, day pass from $20.50.