Just when I think I know Iowa and all of its summer vacation spots, I get proven wrong time and again. This time, our weekend getaway was a quick trip to Waterloo to see a completely new theme park, Lost Island Theme Park. While there, we went to the state’s most popular waterpark, too!
I’m telling you, I think Iowa was keeping this place secret to outsiders. Lost Island Waterpark is a Top 10 waterpark in the Midwest. It’ll impress even the most well-traveled waterpark fan.
Disclosure: Our visit to Lost Island Theme Park and Lost Island Waterpark was complimentary so I could write about it. This post may contain affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Where is Waterloo, Iowa?
Lost Island Theme Park and Lost Island Waterpark are in Waterloo, Iowa, one the state’s 10 biggest cities. It’s located in northeast Iowa, though more central than cities like Decorah. It’s about 82 miles from Iowa City and 130 miles from Des Moines.
From Omaha, expect about a 4-hour drive.
What is Lost Island Theme Park?
Lost Island Theme Park opened in June 2022, likely making it the newest theme park in the Midwest, or at least the closest new theme park to Omaha, Neb. It’s so new, rides are still under construction when we went in early July (giving a good reason to plan a return trip).
The park has an theme about a lost land consisting of five realms; Mura (fire), Awa (water), Yuta (earth), Udara (air) and Tamariki (spirit). It’s incredibly well-designed and imagined, with characters and storylines woven throughout. Rides had connections to the overarching storyline about the inhabitants and baddies found in the Lost Island.
A closer look at the realms:
- Mura (Fire) – The story behind the Mura is that they’re warriors and spiritual guides who are responsible for keeping watch of the most important artifact on the island: The Ora Tika idol. Rides in Mura include Mura Fury, a pendulum swing; Rokava; Shaman’s Curse; and the park’s signature ride, Volcanu: Quest for the Golden Idol.
- Awa (Water) – If you get “Moana” vibes here, that’s not surprising. The realm has a beach, coastal feel to it. The story of the Awa is that they’re nomadic sailors (or once were, now they are content to enjoy island life with their toes in the sand and a drink in hand). Rides include the Sea Swell, a swinging ship; and the iconic huge Ferris wheel, Alzanu’s Eye (ferris wheel). There’s also a small kids’ play area and splash park, plus this is where you’ll find the midway games. And the booze.
- Yuta (Earth) – Picture a rain forest of sorts and you get the general feel of Yuta’s design. It’s all greens and browns and, well, earthy. The story of the Yuta is that they’re the keepers of the forest and friends to all its creatures. This realm appeared to be the most under construction still. When it’s complete, the highlight will surely be the Matugani Launch Coaster. What is open is a fun one: Kukui Station, a bumper cars ride.
- Udara (Air) – Rides in this area are sky high. Which makes sense, since the theme running behind this realm is about a curious people who invented flying machines, among other things. The story: The Udara are a quirky, knowledge-seeking bunch who long to return to the skies where they once lived on a floating city. Rides include Skyborne and the Nopuko Air Coaster.
- Tamariki (Spirit) – This colorful area is perfect for the youngest park visitors. The inhabitants of Tamariki are elusive, magical guardians of the island. Rides include Tuka Tumbler, Ohu Hoppers, and Mama Pezaki. There’s also a large playground with several slides.
While some areas were reminiscent of South Pacific islands and some characters leaned toward Japanese anime, It cleverly avoided any sort of stereotypes or unintentional racists tropes by creating this new world.
Things we loved at Lost Island Theme Park
I’m not going to lie, I’m glad we went during the soft opening because there were hardly any lines. We arrived and walked right up to the park’s extreme rollercoaster, Nopuko Air Coaster.
Tip: I don’t recommend starting at Nopuko, though. My daughter loved the ride, but for us older people, it was a jerky rollercoaster that went upside down way too many times. Ease into that stuff, friends.
I mentioned the design of the place, and that was definitely a highlight for me. I loved the sketches on the walls for Skybourne, one of those tall rides that just drop you free fall for a few seconds and scares the pee out of you.
The ride was in the Udara area, which is the Air element realm. The look of the area was cloud like, airy, with purple mixed in. The music piped in was soothing and fitting. Over in the Mura realm (fire), things were red and orange and radiated an intensity the other realms didn’t have.
In Mura, you’ll find Volcanu: Quest for the Golden Idol, the park’s signature ride. It also had a fantastic design. It was the one ride that had a line for us (maybe 10 minute-wait), but luckily there were interesting things to look at while we wound our way through the line.
The ride itself was also my favorite. It’s a 4D, interactive laser-shooting ride. It’s also in an air-conditioned building, and if you know anything about Iowa summers, you know the you need the AC cranked up in July.
Rides and looks aside, the staff was wonderful. They were genuinely happy to be working at the new park and excited to share tips and secrets with guests. And it wasn’t just the ride attendants that were greeting us, but groundskeeps and midway games staff, too. They were the epitome of Midwest Nice.
Also, an important thing to point out, especially for moms: The bathrooms were so clean. It helps being so newly opened, of course. But, the staff was focused on keeping everything spotless.
Things we’d improve at Lost Island Theme Park
If we could wave a magic wand, we’d age the park 10 years so the landscaping could mature. The park desperately needs tall trees to provide shading, but that will have to come with time. There are a few buildings to escape into for air condition relief, as well as a few water spray grounds, to cool off.
I think the park is still working out the kinks in its food offerings. We stopped at an indoor eatery, called Whalebone Grill, and while the air-conditioned break from the midday sun was wonderful, the food itself was a little disappointing. My husband and I ordered a pulled pork sandwich and grilled chicken sandwich and neither were memorable. No complaints on the chicken nuggets from my kids, at least.
The midway of games was small, luckily, but each game was $3-$5. You’ll need to load a card to play the games before playing. The card loader is not right by the games, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I’m guessing with things still under construction, it will make sense one day.
The prizes were cute, though, and better than your average theme park offering. My kids were dead set on getting axolotls squishamals. Mission accomplished. Each kid won a little pink axolotl, as well as a few assorted other small stuffed animal prizes.
Is there a lot of rides and stuff for kids?
Absolutely. My kids are 10 and 12 and there wasn’t a single ride they couldn’t go on (they’re fairly tall).
For little ones, there are rides throughout that are suitable for them, as well as one realm with rides and a playground that is just for them, Tamariki (Spirit). There were other other play areas, too, including two refreshing water areas in Awa realm (water…obviously). One was a little spray ground.
I’d bring a stroller if I had a toddler, for sure. It’s a lot of walking for short legs, otherwise.
My tips for visiting Lost Island Theme Park
OK, I’ve only been once, so I’m not an expert. These are just a few things I observed while we were there that I think would be helpful to know about for any visiting family:
- Unlike the waterpark, parking is not free. It is $10.
- Bring empty water bottles and fill them up once in the park. This will save you money and also keep you hydrated and cool. There were plenty of water fountains to refill you bottles.
- It’s a good deal to get the Island Hopper Pass, so you can visit both the theme park and waterpark. It’s also a lot less expensive than visiting each place separately.
- However, these two parks aren’t side-by-side and you will need to drive to each of them. But the good thing is that you don’t have to carry your pool stuff with you through the theme park.
Can you visit Lost Island Theme Park & the water park in one day?
Yes, but I don’t recommend it if you’ve never been to Lost Island Waterpark. The theme park is not so large that you can’t fit it all in in under a day. We spent about 4 hours there and felt pretty good about all that we’ve done. And it allowed for the kids to go on their favorite ride twice.
We could have definitely stayed longer so we could have done all the rides, though. But, we really wanted to get to the waterpark (July in Iowa, you guys). We had about 4 hours for the water park and since it was our first visit, we didn’t get to experience half of it.
Was 4 hours tiring and enough to have a fun time? Absolutely. We left wanting to come back the next day so we could try all the waterslides.
I’d recommend getting the two-day Park Hopper pass and taking it easy that first day. You could easily spend a full day at the waterpark.
One more thing to know: Right next to the waterpark in the Lost Island grounds is Adventure Golf, an outdoor putt putt golf center, and go-karts. These are not included with admission to either theme park or waterpark, but are nice added activities to consider. The perk is that both are open later than the parks (until 9 p.m.).
Admission is $8.50 per person for each Adventure Golf and $8.50 per person for go-karts.
How much will a family spend at the theme park?
Theme parks are a splurge, so know that going in. Is it more reasonable than other theme parks? Totally.
Tip: Buy your tickets online. You’ll save a few bucks.
If you follow my advice, and get a Park Hopper pass, expect to pay $55 per person for one day, and $69 per person for two. See? Two days just makes sense.
Kids under 3 are FREE.
Parking at the waterpark is FREE, and it is $10 at the theme park.
Food isn’t cheap at the parks. And they request you keep outside food and beverages out of the park.
We splurged on the souvenir drink cups so that the kids could get free refills all day. They’re $20 though! Bringing your own water bottles is the most economical option. Don’t even ask how much I spent for a beer. But it was so good.
We spent about $60 for lunch, and getting ice cream for a family of four is about $20.
So roughly $220 to visit both parks in one day, plus parking, one meal, and ice cream will cost a family about $325 give or take.
Where to stay near Lost Island Theme Park
There are several accommodations within about a mile of the theme park, and the range is a big one.
- The Nearest hotels: The 3-star hotel, Isle Casino Hotel, is very close to the park. Room rates are higher than almost other hotels in the area, though. There is an indoor pool. Another good option that’s highly rated and near both parks is Holiday Inn Express Waterloo/Cedar Falls. You can find several budget hotel options in the area, as well, on Booking.com.
- Downtown Waterloo option: My family stayed in downtown Waterloo because it seemed like a better location for finding restaurants and things to do after the park closed. Our choice: Courtyard Marriott, a good option since it has a pool. It’s in a former warehouse; it’s always nice to see old buildings given a new life.