Surfari Joe’s helps heat up winter

Published 10:47 am Monday, January 27, 2014

Guests enjoy Pygmy's Pond at Surfari Joe's Waterpark in Watervliet. (Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN)

Guests enjoy Pygmy’s Pond at Surfari Joe’s Waterpark in Watervliet. (Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN)

WATERVLIET —When you open the door to Surfari Joe’s, the heat and humidity almost makes it feel like you’ve stepped off of a plane in the tropics. The sound of kids splashing in the water fills the warm, moist air.

“It feels great in here, doesn’t it?” asked Jan Taber, director of sales at Surfari Joe’s. “The temperature is about 84 degrees all the time.”

In the dead of winter, Surfari Joe’s can provide a much longed-for oasis of weekend fun for the family—without the high-priced plane ticket.

“The people here are taking a little mini-vacation. They are wanting to get away for a couple days, but not using their whole life-savings for it,” Taber said.

Centrally located inside the Fairfield Inn on I-94 in Watervliet, Mich., Surfari Joe’s is a short drive from just about any location in southwest Michigan or northern Indiana.

“We see a lot of people from Dowagiac, South Bend, Granger. We’re just far enough away that they can get out and spend the day having fun,” Taber said.

“They come here, and they have a great time, and people tell us all the time that they’ve had as good a time here as they have had at Disney, fighting the lines and the crowds,” Taber said. “The kids are happy and content, and the parents get to relax, too.”

The waterpark has two levels, with water activities located on the main floor. These include “Pygmy’s Pond,” which is a shallow-water play area designed for smaller children. There, kids can enjoy several slides, water guns, and a big bucket that fills up and periodically dumps water on those playing there.

There are also two waterslides that both kids and adults can enjoy—Rhino’s Rage and Hippo’s Hollow. A “lazy river,” which can be ridden with or without an innertube, connects the landing zone for the slides to a “lagoon” where kids and adults can play in the water. A hot tub, complete with a waterfall, is also located on this lower level.

The mezzanine level provides a full view of the main floor below, with ample seating for parents to use as they supervise their children below.

An arcade and a full-service bar, “The Water Hole,” are also located on this upper level. The bar serves sodas, beer and mixed drinks, and guests can also order finger foods like pizza, quesadillas, and chicken tenders there.

Managers have taken several measures to ensure the safety of their guests. Life jackets are available in both children’s and adult’s sizes, and from six to eight lifeguards are on-duty at all times.

Open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the winter, Surfari Joe’s offers visitors a number of different options for enjoying the indoor waterpark. Hours vary by the day.

First, families can come and enjoy the waterpark during one of the 3 ½- to 4-hour daily sessions, which run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 3 to 6:30 p.m. or 6:30 to 10 p.m. (on Saturdays) for $13 per person. Or, they can spend the whole day playing in the park for $25 per person. More information, including daily hours, is available by calling (269) 463-7946 or by visiting

For those who wish to celebrate a birthday or other special event, Surfari Joe’s offers three party packages, depending on the size of the group. All of the packages include park privileges, pizza, soda, cake, and a designated table on the mezzanine that overlooks the waterpark.

“We have a lot of local people who like to have their birthday parties here in the winter,” Taber said.

Alternatively, guests can buy a package that includes all-day waterpark passes and an overnight stay in the newly refurbished hotel.

Open for about four years now, Surfari Joe’s and the hotel have recently undergone a major overhaul.

“We’re working all the time to continually improve it. It was originally built as a Ramada. Last summer, JS Capitol put $2.4 million into it to make it a Fairfield. We’re a very trendy, upscale, sophisticated Fairfield,” Taber said. “All the carpeting, the linen, the beds—every piece of furniture in the hotel was changed. We’re really proud of it, and we hope that whole the community is also.”

While catering mainly to families, Surfari Joe’s is also open to community groups that wish to have activities there.

“We’re a great place for fundraisers. Youth groups love it,” Taber said. “We work with the community, and we’re a part of the community.”

“Next week, we have a school field trip coming in where kids will learn about velocity and water pressure. So, it’s a teaching time, and then they get to go in the water, and they’re going to have pizza,” Taber said.

Whether it’s a wedding, a birthday party, a fundraiser, or a family outing, Surfari Joe’s provides a place for kids and adults to have fun in a safe atmosphere.

“It’s nice because we see that great side of families. We get to see them having fun and the kids not wanting to go home, and telling us they’ll be back soon,” Taber said. “We want to be about families making memories together.”