Centrally located within walking distance of Nashville’s most famous attractions—like the Grand Ole Opry and Madame Tussauds Nashville—and just a 10-minute shuttle ride from the airport, the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center has long been a luxury destination in Music City. But last December, the resort added a whole new reason for families to visit: America’s first upscale indoor-outdoor water park, called SoundWaves, a sprawling four-acre, three-level playground filled with one-of-a-kind water experiences.
It’s not easy to describe the scale of this resort hotel in a way that accurately portrays its massive size, but here’s a number that may help paint a picture for you: Gaylord Opryland Resort has 19 different restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. Nineteen! That’s not counting the unique dining experiences available inside the SoundWaves water park. There’s also an upscale spa, of course. A fitness center, as you’d expect. An 18-hole, par 72 golf course. And nine acres of lush, naturally lit indoor gardens with a river running through them.
But for families, the real attraction—the reason for visiting even if you or your kids are not country music fans—is the water park. Here’s everything you’ll want to know about staying and playing at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and SoundWaves indoor-outdoor water park, where I stayed in August 2019.
The Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, which also houses the newly constructed SoundWaves water park, is located 10 minutes from Nashville International Airport. Resort guests can book a shuttle from the airport directly to the hotel. Once at the resort, many of Nashville’s top attractions are just a few minutes away. Both the Grand Ole Opry and Madame Tussauds Nashville are a half mile from the hotel. The General Jackson Showboat—famous for its live entertainment cruises—can be boarded at the Opry Mills shopping center, also within easy walking distance of the hotel.
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It’s worth noting, of course, that the resort is a famous destination unto itself. Food, drinks, entertainment, shopping—it’s all available inside the sprawling complex. If you’ve come for a few days of indoor-outdoor water park fun, you may never want to leave the hotel. With its massive indoor gardens and abundant natural lighting, there’s plenty of room to stretch your legs without ever setting foot outside.
Many of the spacious rooms at Gaylord Opryland Resort offer balconies overlooking the atrium, featuring sparkling views of the gardens and water features, including waterfalls and an indoor river that winds throughout the resort grounds. My family stayed in a stylishly furnished top-floor suite with atrium views, perfect for people-watching and for enjoying the live music performances that often play during the afternoon hours.
With a full-day SoundWaves pass, you can head back and forth between your hotel room and the water park as often as you want, taking a midafternoon break to chill out or catch a movie on your room’s widescreen television. There’s a movie theater within walking distance of the resort, but the hotel’s in-room entertainment features for-purchase movies that are still playing in theaters—a feature that my entire family enjoyed when we settled in to catch a new release one evening from the comfort of our couch.
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For families, the centerpiece of the Gaylord Opryland resort is the new, four-acre, one-of-a-kind indoor-outdoor water park, SoundWaves, which opened in December 2018. The indoor park is open year-round; the outdoor area is open seasonally and usually winds down toward the end of September.
Attractions: SoundWaves is a unique three-level indoor-outdoor water park spread across 111,000 square feet. All the rides and experiences are cleverly named after musical terms. The Rapid Remix, for example, is a four- or five-person indoor ride in which you board a mega raft to rocket down an enclosed “vortex loop” water slide. The Crowd Surfer, another indoor ride, is a two-person high-velocity surfing and boogie boarding experience.
My kids’ favorite indoor offering was the Up Tempo Rapids River, a fast-flowing, 36-inch deep circular river complete with waterfalls and powerful spray features. It’s like a typical indoor water park’s lazy river, minus the inner tubes and with the current cranked up to 10. We spent hours there—and it was a lot of fun. But never fear, lazy river fans: SoundWaves also has you covered with the Down Tempo Lazy River, a relaxing river experience through a rocky cavern filled with LED lights and musical tunes.
Outside, the central attraction is the massive Tidal Track Wave Pool, featuring giant waves that come at you every 10-15 seconds and an outdoor screen blasting favorite music videos from both modern and classic artists. The Beat Drop is an adrenaline-pumping floor-drop ride in which you plunge down a near-vertical tunnel when the floor is literally pulled out from under your feet (it’s both as terrifying and invigorating as it sounds). The Rock’n Racer is a four-lane, 360-degree water slide race track featuring a leaderboard at the bottom to show who finished with the fastest time on each run.
Adults will appreciate the Diamond Pool, an exclusive adult-only outdoor pool for guests ages 18 and up.
Dining: In addition to the 19 eateries and bars inside the Gaylord Opryland Resort, SoundWaves features multiple dining options of its own: Decibels, a burgers and nachos-style joint with typical theme park food; Status Cymbal, an adults-only bar that serves cocktails and munchies; and a variety of food trucks offering everything from frozen drinks to soft tacos.
During our stay, we ate a few lunches at Decibels—try the pulled pork nachos, they’re delicious—and enjoyed dinners and breakfasts at some of the restaurants outside the water park, which feature everything from American to Asian to Mexican cuisine. The food is resort-pricey and generally more filling than mouth-watering, but we enjoyed it well enough. One of our kids is a picky eater, and she found something to like everywhere we went. Cascades American Café features a sizable buffet selection, and kids eat as much as they want for just $8 each.
How to Book: If your plans include a day or more at the water park, it’s best to purchase a SoundWaves Water Experience package when booking your hotel stay at the Gaylord Opryland Resort. Day passes may be offered to general overnight guests based on availability, but those are sold on a limited basis and may not be available at peak times.
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Josh Roberts received a complimentary stay at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel as a guest of the resort. Follow him on Twitter (@joshwhowrites) and Instagram (@joshwhowrites), and visit his website (joshrobertsbooks.com) or Goodreads page to learn more about his forthcoming novel.