10 Water Parks That Are Actually Fun for Adults

Lazy river, but make it fashion.

people in the wave pool in front of a giant volcano at a waterpark
Volcano Bay at Universal Studios Orlando | MIA2YOU/SHUTTERSTOCK
Volcano Bay at Universal Studios Orlando | MIA2YOU/SHUTTERSTOCK

During 2020, the world collectively bemoaned the loss of a lot of things: Dancing. Traveling. Hugs. Spending entire summer afternoons at water parks, surrounded by screaming children and bobbing like apples in crowded wave pools.

OK, probably not the last one so much. But around the country, there are a number of water parks that are genuinely just as fun for grown-ass adults as they are for kids, with thrills like beer halls, daybeds, and lazy river swim-up bars all on offer. Plus, many of them are back on the table for summer 2021, with plenty of safety measures in place and just as many good times as before. Don’t give up on your childhood just yet—across the US, here are the best water parks for adults.

Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center
SoundWaves | Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center

Nashville, Tennessee
This upscale park goes beyond concession stand food
Water parks have never been known for their cuisine. Soft pretzels, soggy pizza, and plastic trays of tortilla chips drowning in pools of nacho cheese—lukewarm, if you’re lucky—are usually par for the course.

That’s what makes Nashville’s SoundWaves, the Gaylord Opryland Resort’s indoor/outdoor park, such a standout. Beyond upscale, modern attractions (think interior temps of 84 degrees year-round, a state-of-the-art wave rider, and adults-only bars and cabanas), you’ll find fare that suits more mature tastes, including lobster rolls, poke bowls, sliders, and Mexican-style paletas in flavors like blackberry mint and strawberry jalapeño, as well as house-made bread and honey made from onsite beehives. The grub is spread out across a restaurant, two food trucks, and an adults-only upper level lounge with its very own bar and infinity pool. (As a heads up, the park’s outdoor attractions are only open on weekends after August 7, 2021, and will close for the season after Labor Day. Indoors, the party goes on!) [Grab your tickets here.]

Kalahari Resorts
Photo courtesy of Kalahari Resorts

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Take a break from slipping and sliding with some Wisconsin-made craft brews
If you’ve ever tried to get a beer at a certain pizza joint with a mousy mascot named Chuck—where “a kid can be a kid”—you’ll know that beer at theme parks can often only aspire to be Miller Lite or an MGD, at best. Kalahari, however, proves that family-friendly and quality brews don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Located in the delightfully cheesy Wisconsin Dells, aka “The Waterpark Capital of the World,” Kalahari is home to a beer-focused restaurant called the Wisconsin Brew Pub. Create your own flight and sample the state’s finest suds, including pours from New Glarus, Port Huron, and Lake Louie Brewing, then take to the resort’s African safari-themed slides (we see you, Zimbabwe Zipper and Swahili Swirl). Over at another famed Wisconsin Dells water park, Noah’s Ark, the beer offerings are more limited throughout the summer, but the park does host a hop-filled final hoorah for its last weekend of the season. The annual Arktoberfest is a celebration of all things Wisconsin, including polka, sausage, and, yes, craft beer. [Grab your tickets here.]

a water slide winding past a hotel, pool, and palm trees
Tidal Cove brings Miami's upscale vibes to a water park | Tidal Cove

Aventura, Florida
Short lines, strong cocktails, can’t lose
Imagine a swanky South Beach day club complete with the occasional live DJ, all-white private cabanas, and frosé served all day long. Now add waterslides. That’s a pretty close approximation to the experience at Tidal Cove, a water park attached to a Marriott about half an hour north of Miami.

Here, you’ll live like a jet-setting adult and play like one of their overindulged children, feasting on A-plus bar food, strong, fruity cocktails, and plenty of high-quality people watching. Lines are never long (daily admission of $95 or more will do that), so you can shoot down the trap-door Aqua Drop or get weightless on the Boomerango and barely have time to recover before your next climb to the top—a good reason to relax in the lazy river, grab a drink, and catch your breath. [Grab your tickets here.]

people sitting near the wave pool at Mandalay Bay
Mandalay Bay is 11 acres of fun | Roig61/Shutterstock

Las Vegas, Nevada
A triple threat oasis in the middle of the action
Though Vegas lies smack dab in the middle of the Mojave Desert, there’s no shortage of watering holes in town. And while you’ll find a pool at just about every hotel on the Strip, we’re elevating Mandalay Bay to water park status because of the resort’s aquatic trifecta: a wave pool, a lazy river, and a beach (manmade, of course).

Spread across 11 acres, Mandalay Bay Beach makes it possible to frolic in waves, nurse a piña colada while drifting along in a tube, and let loose at a DJ-powered pool party, all within striking distance of a full casino. Music lovers should also check out Mandalay Bay’s summer concert series, which is hosted in the pool area and is crawling back to a full schedule post-pandemic. Anyone looking for a bit more privacy can head to the resort’s adults-only offshoot, Moorea Beach Club. There, guests can reserve an array of poolside daybeds, cabanas, and even a private pavilion with its own pool, waterfalls, and wet bar. [Grab your tickets here.]

Covid-19 Note: Due to current restrictions, Mandalay Bay’s pool may hit capacity and require guests to sign up for a virtual waitlist.

people floating down the lazy river at Zoombezi Bay
You can go for a swim and a safari at Zoombezi Bay | Zoombezi Bay

Columbus, Ohio
Make it a twofer at this combination water park and zoo
Zoombezi Bay has the distinction of being the only large-scale water park in America attached to a city zoo—which means your admission also grants you access to the Columbus Zoo and all its animal friends.

At Zoombezi Bay, you’ll find 14 world-class waterslides including the SoundSurfer, which allows you to pick a music genre and light show to accompany you on your twisting, turning ride. But the real draw for Central Ohio grown-ups is Croctail Creek, a 21-and-over lazy river complete with a swim-up bar. You can grab a footlong fruity drink and float the afternoon away, completely oblivious to the world around you. Conveniently, it sits next to the park’s children’s area, so parents can trade off who takes Junior to Baboon Lagoon and who sips cocktails in the water. [Grab your tickets here.]

COVID-19 Note: Due to the pandemic, some dining options at Zoombezi Bay may be closed.

people on the lazy river and tube rides at Schlitterbahn New Braunfels
Schlitterbahn New Braunfels | Schlitterbahn New Braunfels

New Braunfels, Texas
Stash your stuff (ahem, beer) in easily accessible bungalows
Destinations like the Maldives, Seychelles, and Bora Bora boast overwater bungalows—but you only have to fly to Texas for over-water park digs. Dubbing itself “the world’s best waterpark,” Schlitterbahn’s seven Treehaus Luxury Suites come outfitted with full kitchens, living rooms, and hand-carved furniture and overlook both the water park’s lazy river and an actual river, the Comal. The park offers seven different lodging options, making it the best in the country for a multi-day escape.

After checking into your suite, you can lounge by a heated pool in a biergarten, then head down racing slides, double-loop body slides, and pretty much every other kind of waterslide you can imagine. There is simply no water park with quite as much going on, so planning more than a day is probably your best move. [Grab your tickets here.]

COVID-19 Note: Due to current restrictions, reservations are required for single-day guests. More info here.

people gathered around and swimming in a river surrounded by red rock cliffs
Slide Rock State Park in Sedona, Arizona | Fotoluminate LLC/Shutterstock

Sedona, Arizona
Nature’s handiwork yields a super-fun, high-speed slide through gorgeous terrain
Most water park action takes place outdoors but are you catching “fresh air” when the scent of concession-stand mozzarella sticks and chlorine wafts between your waterlogged nostrils? For an outdoor adventure in the truest sense, ride the 80-foot slide in Sedona’s Oak Creek Canyon. Rather than PVC, this chute is naturally carved into red rock, made slick by algae, and powered by a current that empties into a large swimming hole. In addition to the slide, there’s a half-mile stretch of Oak Creek that’s open game for taking a dip. You can also pack a picnic, go trout fishing upstream beyond the water recreation areas, and hit the park’s hiking trails. Additionally, keep your peepers peeled for javelinas—wild pig-like creatures that are native to the area (something you’ll never see at manmade parks). [Grab your tickets here.]

people swimming in front of a fake volcano at Volcano Bay Universal Studios
Volcano Bay Universal Studios | Mia2you/Shutterstock

Orlando, Florida
Get your adrenaline pumping with 125-foot plunges
We’re not trying to sound like a Young Life recruitment meeting here, but sometimes you really don’t need a ton of alcohol to have a good time. Case in point: Volcano Bay, where they’ll get you intoxicated the old-fashioned way: with good ol’ reliable terror.

We’re talking about the park’s signature slide: the Ko’okiri Body Plunge, the tallest body plunge waterslide in America. The 125ft trap door ride drops you at a 70-degree angle down a volcano and past the lesser humans relaxing in the swimming pool below. The park also has two other 125-foot slides, which don’t drop you nearly as fast but are no less adrenaline-inducing. If you need something to calm your nerves after all that death-defying, you can hit up the Dancing Dragons Boat Bar, which’ll hook you up with enough liquid courage to try it again. [Get your tickets here.]

Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park
Photo courtesy of Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park

Denver, Colorado
Take a psychedelic journey down technicolor slides and rides
Even you, an intellectual, must occasionally crave a drop down a 65-foot speed slide. When that moment arrives, there’s Elitch Gardens and its Epic Mega Wedgie ride. After they’ve sufficiently gotten their swim trunks in a bunch, artistically-inclined water lovers can hit Meow Wolf’s Kaleidoscape, a mind-bending ride experience that comes with your waterpark admission. The Santa Fe-based art collective’s ride at Elitch Gardens has been described as “a mind-bending journey” and “an odyssey of creative discovery,” and if it’s anything like what we’ve seen them do in the past, you won’t want to miss out. (Before you head out, know that the park is only open on weekends and closes for the season after Halloween.) [Grab your tickets here.]

Belton, Texas
Going out just got wetter
The coolest bar in Belton, Texas has a dress code: swimwear required. That’s because the bar is really Summer Fun, a water park about 60 miles north of Austin. From June through August, the park hosts “Adult Night” every other Saturday. Exclusively for a 21+ crowd, the nights include live music, bikini dance parties, and plenty of lazy river action clear through midnight. As an added bonus, the evenings are BYOB and admission is only $20, so you don’t even have to splurge on amusement-park pricing. Play your cards right and your new “going-out clothes” just might include a pair of sultry aqua socks. [Grab your tickets here.]

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Matt Meltzer is a contributing writer for Thrillist. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.
Amelia Mularz is an LA-based travel and lifestyle writer who has worked for Vogue, New York magazine, The Knot, and HGTV Magazine, and contributed to Travel + Leisure, National Geographic Traveler, and Harper's Bazaar.