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    Judge’s Comment: “KeyLime Cove offers an island/beach feel with plenty of greenery and visually stimulating colors and spray features! I was quite impressed with the total package submitted by KeyLime Cove. [The way] this facility tailors its staff training curriculum to include traditional aquatics certification coupled with business leadership training [provides] an outstanding combination for developing top-notch staff!”

It takes a lot to make KeyLime Cove Indoor Waterpark Resort in Gurnee, Ill., the “Key West” of the Midwest.

From the décor and amenities to the sounds and smells, this island-inspired family vacation destination provides a complete sensory experience, making guests feel as if they have been transported to another location. It’s a little like a “cruise ship on land.”

KeyLime Cove is located less than an hour’s drive from Chicago and Milwaukee, but bright colors, island style music, palm trees, and Caribbean-inspired menus all simulate a memorable Florida-style vacation.

In the 65,000-square-foot Lost Paradise waterpark, the mix of amenities —including a lazy river, water-slide tower, wave pool and play structure — are designed for all ages.

One key to the resort’s success has been the attention to guest-centric hospitality. Team members might send balloons or cupcakes to a guest room if they hear someone is celebrating a special day, or set up an in-room scavenger hunt for a family that may have a sick child. A child who has lost a tooth might find a small token left in the room by a KeyLime Cove “tooth fairy.”

To best understand how to focus on the details, staff members receive plenty of training. Lifeguards are

given 38 hours of class curriculum — including Ellis & Associates training and additional content — and more than 10 hours of branded guest service orientation. That leads to shadowing a current lifeguard for six or more hours. After that, in-service trainings are offered eight or more times per month.

With 180 lifeguards on staff, communication is key, so a Facebook page was established just for crew members. This allows the staff to interact outside of work.

Operators also communicate with guests and potential visitors through social media. Over the summer, a group of bloggers was invited to experience KeyLime Cove this past summer, encouraging them to let Midwesterners know there’s a convenient and economical alternative to the tropical South that’s right around the corner.