Two days of family activities in Sioux Falls

One of the children's areas at the Buccaneer Bay water park in the Sioux Falls Ramada. (Photo by Seth Tupper)

One of the children's areas at the Buccaneer Bay water park in the Sioux Falls Ramada. (Photo by Seth Tupper)

SIOUX FALLS  “I think I’m full of this pool.”

That’s what I told my 4-year-old daughter after our third adventure in the Buccaneer Bay indoor water park at the Ramada Inn & Suites in Sioux Falls. She often says she’s “full of” something when she means to say she’s sick of it, and I employed her special brand of language in hopes she would understand it.

My ploy didn’t work. Over the course of our two days in Sioux Falls, we probably spent four or five hours in the water park. Our daughter and our 1-year-old son loved it, and my wife and I loved seeing them love it, even though we could have done with an hour or so less of pool time.

The Ramada served as the home base for our two-night getaway to Sioux Falls. Over the course of those two days, besides doing lots of swimming, we also took in the zoo, ate and played at Chuck E. Cheese’s and visited the Empire Mall.

Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum

We arrived around noon on a Monday, had lunch at a Subway and went to the Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum.

Our daughter gets up close and personal with a goat at the Great Plains Zoo. (Photo by Seth Tupper)

Our daughter gets up close and personal with a goat at the Great Plains Zoo. (Photo by Seth Tupper)

In my experience, South Dakotans tend to overlook the Great Plains Zoo. They think of it as being small-time in comparison to other zoos in the multi-state region, including Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo. To me, a good zoo is a good zoo, and the Great Plains Zoo is a good one. It has all the animals you’d expect to see, such as tigers, giraffes, bears, monkeys and alligators, and it has other amenities including a farm-animal petting and feeding area for kids, a carousel, and a trolley ride. Beyond all that, the zoo is very easy to find and is located on beautifully spacious and wooded grounds that provide plenty of shade and shelter from the wind.

We spent about two hours wandering the grounds until it was naptime for our 1-year-old, and during that time we saw most of the zoo. Our kids especially loved the penguins and the carousel ride. For our 1-year-old son, a large water feature near the animal-farm area seemed to be the main attraction. He would have been content to splash his hands in that water for hours.

The cost for the four of us to enter the zoo was about $20. We spent an extra $4 on tickets for the carousel.

Ramada Inn & Suites Buccaneer Bay Water Park

The 160-foot water slide at Buccaneer Bay water park in the Sioux Falls Ramada. (Photo by Seth Tupper)

The 160-foot water slide at Buccaneer Bay water park in the Sioux Falls Ramada. (Photo by Seth Tupper)

After leaving the zoo, we checked into our room at the Ramada. We splurged and rented a double-suite room, which cost us about $300 for two nights. We typically wouldn’t consider spending anywhere near that much on a hotel room, but since this was only a two-day trip and the room was right next to the water park, we decided to cough up the extra cash. We also figured that the two separate rooms would help everyone sleep better — the kids in their room and us in ours. The only snag in the plan was that the two queen beds were both in one room in the back part of the suite, so the kids got the beds, and my wife and I slept on the pullout couch in the other room. If I were to do it over again, I’d ask about other room configurations. It would have been nice to have had a real bed in the front part of the suite for us.

After checking in, my wife relaxed in the room while our 1-year-old napped. Our 4-year-old daughter and I went swimming for a couple of hours.

The indoor water park at the Ramada is absolutely great for kids. The facility has five distinct areas: a shallow pool for small children that features a slide-laden pirate ship, a smaller slide off to the side and lots of cascading water; a small, deeper pool for older kids and adults with a basketball hoop and lots of basketballs; a winding, 160-foot water slide that’s fast enough to thrill kids and adults alike; a larger swimming pool that’s comparable to most basic hotel pools; and two hot tubs.

Our daughter, who has always been very tentative in the water, was afraid to go down any of the slides at first. I coaxed her into going down the little slides with me, and eventually she went down them by herself. She was curious about the big slide, so I told her we could climb the stairs and have a look. At the top, a little girl who was probably 6 or 7 told my daughter that even though the slide looked scary, it was really fun. My daughter wasn’t ready to brave it yet, so we went back down the stairs and kept swimming.

Eventually, we were walking along the pool deck when my daughter looked at me with a grin and said “I want to try that big slide.” She went down the slide on my lap and loved it, and dozens more trips down the slide followed. Later, our 1-year-old also went down the slide on my lap and my wife’s lap.

Other activities

After swimming on that first day, we cleaned up and went to Chuck E. Cheese’s, which the kids loved. We paid $35 for a large pizza, drinks and enough game tokens to last about an hour.

Later that night, we put two exhausted kids to bed in their own queen beds, and we suffered through a night on the very uncomfortable pullout couch.

We had anticipated doing some activities on the second day, but being so exhausted from the first day, we just lounged around. We went swimming in the morning, then went to the Empire Mall food court for lunch and let the kids blow about $8 on the 75-cent kiddie rides in the mall.

Then it was back to the hotel for more swimming. We ordered supper from the hotel’s Castaways Bar & Grill, which was very good and cost about $40 for the four of us.

After eating supper, we browsed the hotel’s movie rentals on the TV. The price to rent a movie was a stunning $16, and we couldn’t bring ourselves to pay that much. So, I pulled out my laptop, borrowed an ethernet cable from the front desk, plugged into the hotel’s free Internet, initiated a free one-month trial with Netflix and streamed a “Curious George” movie. Immediately afterward, I canceled the membership (sorry, Netflix).

That night, being exhausted again from all the swimming, we were all asleep by 9 p.m.

It was only a two-day trip, but we did so much that it felt like a week. Had we possessed the energy and time, we could have visited other family friendly attractions such as Falls Park, the Kirby Science Center, the Sertoma Butterfly House and the Outdoor Campus. Now that we’re “full of” the Buccaneer Bay Water Park, maybe we’ll hit those other spots next time.

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