My husband and I sit at Big River Kombucha’s taproom sipping cans of fermented tea. I like Paddleboat Peach; he prefers Driftless Ginger Lime....
If Hawaii, Disney and even Minnesota’s North Shore are out of the question for you budget-wise, why not scale back a bit — but still have serious kid fun — with a Twin Cities water park staycation?
You’ll spend less on travel. And we’ve found some pretty sweet rates on local winter rooms!
After all, sometimes the best part of vacation is the time away from the laundry, cooking, dishes and other duties. And, let’s be real: When it comes to little kids, all they really care about is the pool anyway.
Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites, Maple Grove » 763-425-3800
This oasis near the Arbor Lakes shopping area is home to a weekends-only, guests-only water park, featuring two tube slides, a toddler area with two mini slides, a floating obstacle course and a 20-person whirlpool. There’s even a lifeguard on duty. You’ll also find lockers, an arcade and a concession stand with an adjacent dining area.
Similar to The Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, the ceilings are painted to look like skies and the walls like ancient buildings. Statues and accents throughout the hotel make this an atypical suburban hotel experience.
The draw: Start your day snow tubing at Elm Creek Park Reserve or ice skating at Central Park and then warm up at the pool here from 4–10 p.m. Fridays, 8 a.m.–10 p.m. Saturdays and 8 a.m.–noon Sundays.
Cost: On a Saturday night in January, two-queen rooms start at $184.29, but the better deals are the suites ($196.64), good if you’re OK with bunk beds. Or try the jacuzzi suite with a separate room with a sleeper sofa, table, four chairs and full-size fridge
Where to eat: Palazzo Ristorante, just outside the main entrance, offers breakfast, dinner and evenings-only room service. Ages 12 and younger can eat free at Palazzo when dining with an adult hotel guest; one adult entree purchase is required. Just off the lobby, you’ll find The Sala bar and cocktail lounge, open 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Dave & Buster’s, TGI Fridays and Chick-fil-A are across the street. OMNI Brewing Co. (which has games and craft sodas for kids) is just three miles north, so you can check that one off your taproom bucket list while you’re at it.
Back-to-reality bonus: You can hit the outlet mall, Costco, Lowe’s or Nadia Cakes (home of the famous Vageode cake) on your way home because they’re all a few blocks away.
Holiday Inn Minneapolis NW, Elk River » 763-656-4400
This hotel doesn’t just boast a playfully themed water park — with three four-story slides, a lazy river, water basketball and a zero-depth play area for toddlers — it’s got a main-level arcade and a basement-level Buddy’s Family Fun Zone, featuring giant billiards, gaming consoles, glow mini golf and more. (And it’s all only 30 minutes from downtown Minneapolis.)
Note: All the attractions are open weekends only and are open to the public. Water park hours are 4–10 p.m. Fridays, 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Sundays. Fun zone hours start one hour later and end one hour later.
Cost: Rooms include water park wristbands; fun zone access for the whole room costs an additional $20. A room with a king bed and a sleeper sofa goes for $159.20 on a Saturday night in January, but you can upgrade to a three-room, sleeps-six family suite that includes two bedrooms — one with bunk beds, one with a king bed and a sleeper sofa (and a separate living area as well) — for $215.20.
Where to eat: You can order pizza and pop poolside from the Pub n’ Grub Snack Bar, which is attached to the Mississippi Valley Grill & Bar, a come-as-you-are casual restaurant located inside the hotel, offering breakfast, lunch, dinner and room service, including sandwiches, salads, apps and comfort-food entrees. Ages 12 and younger can eat free at the restaurant when dining with an adult hotel guest; one adult entree purchase is required.
Back-to-reality bonus: If it fits with your route and you and the kids still have energy, stop on the way home at Urban Air Adventure Park in Coon Rapids (try ziplining!), Zero Gravity in Mounds View (NEW!) or Sky Zone in Maple Grove (coming soon).
Bloomington » 952-854-8200
Across the street from the Mall of America, this hotel boasts an interior courtyard with two indoor pools, one standard and one large wading pool with numerous water features, including a mini slide that looks like a boat — perfect for toddlers.
The draw: Though the water park is open to the public Monday through Thursday, it’s reserved for guests on the weekends.
You can get a free shuttle to the MOA or simply walk one block away to a skybridge that takes you straight into the Radisson Blu, which leads you to the main mall.
Cost: Saturday night rates in January start at $159.99 for a room with two queen beds. More spacious fireplace suites ($239.99) include a king bed and a sleeper sofa so you can really spread out. Poolside rooms and poolview/balcony rooms go for $269.99 and $189.99, respectively.
Where to eat: Continental breakfast — served in a welcoming space — is complimentary and includes hot items, breads, cereal, fruit, eggs, yogurt, juice and coffee.
JT’s Food & Cocktails is on site and offers a full menu (including pasta and pizza), a happy hour (all day Sunday and 2–6 p.m. daily), plus room service. TGI Fridays, IHOP and Chevy’s are two blocks away.
Back-to-reality bonus: If you don’t get to Bloomington often, use this visit as your chance to get all your IKEA or MOA shopping done!
Lakeville » 952-469-1134
Were Holiday Inns this nice when we were kids? Start at Buck Hill (15 minutes north) or the Minnesota Zoo (20 minutes north) and end here for a home away from home.
The draw: We love the welcoming lobby and the red-brick courtyard of this water park, which is for guests only and includes toddler-friendly, fountain-style splash features, a larger waterslide and a huge pool with a basketball hoop, plus an extra-large hot tub. And it’s all surrounded by rooms with small walk-out patios and Juliet-style balconies. Yes, this is the smallest water park on our list, but it’s also easy to keep track of your kids!
Cost: A room with two queen beds on a Saturday night in January costs $155.20. Suites ($179.20–$203.20) offer more space and, in some cases, separate-bedroom privacy, a parent win that’s worth the splurge.
Where to eat: The richly decorated and completely attached Rudy’s Redeye Grill on site offers a varied menu of comfort food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, including sandwiches, steaks and brick-oven pizza. Ages 11 and younger eat free when dining with an adult hotel guest; one adult entree purchase is required.
Back-to-reality bonus: If the kids aren’t exhausted, take them 20 minutes north to Rockin’ Jump in Eagan, featuring trampolines, climbing, bubble soccer, arcade games and more.
Bloomington » 844-561-9653
Formerly known as the Water Park of America, this splurge-worthy destination opened a year ago this month as a new-to-Minnesota experience. What was once a Radisson attached to a huge water park (which was open to the public) is now an immersive, woodsy-themed hotel with a water park open only to hotel guests.
The draw: Most of the water features are the same, but our favorites included numerous tube sides, a lazy river, a splash pad area, a floating obstacle course, a bodyboard surf simulator, an activity pool and a huge zero-depth entry area for littles that deepens into a wave pool for bigs.
Great Wolf Lodge, a national chain with 17 locations, caters to families with young children with enough other activities to keep you busy all weekend. That includes a climbing wall, a ropes course, a gem-mining activity, a kid spa, an arcade, a stuffed-character-creation store, a candy shop, a gift shop, an outfitter, mini bowling and — by far the most popular feature of the hotel — MagiQuest, a resort-wide digital scavenger-hunt (best for ages 6 and up).
Free activities include interactive, musical story times, crafts, Wolf Walk tours, kid yoga, “wolfercise,” character meet-and-greets, dance parties and a big Northwoods Friends bedtime show.
Cost: We recommend using the online rate calendars with each room type to find the best deals. On a Saturday night in late January, the best offer we could find was for a basic Queen Sofa Suite (one queen bed and a full-size sofa sleeper) or a Deluxe Bunk Bed Suite (a queen bed and one set of bunk beds), both for $329.99. Need to sleep six? It’s only $20 extra for a Family Suite and you get two queens, plus a sleeper sofa. Water park admission is included, but most activities cost extra. Weekday rates can be found for as low as $149.99 in January.
Good to know: MagiQuest Wands, which kids get to keep, start at $17.99. It costs an additional $14.99 for game activation, which lasts for your entire stay and can be reactivated — with past progress — for future stays. Your kids will want a wand because kids all over the hotel will be running around with them. A Paw Pass ($39.99 per kid) includes MagiQuest and access to some
of the other attractions.
Where to eat: Eight separate areas of the hotel serve food, including a pizza parlor, a pub and a family-friendly buffet. You’ll also find a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Ben & Jerry’s on site.
Back-to-reality bonus: Every kid gets a set of adorable wolf ears to take home.
Amanda Williams lives in rural Minnesota with her two energetic sons and husband. Sarah Jackson is the editor of Minnesota Parent.
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