As the land of endless summer, it's no surprise that Florida is home to more water parks than anywhere else in the United States. Recently, my kids and I spent our summer testing out wave pools, sliding down speedy slopes, bobbing on man-made rivers and generally beating the heat while having an awesome time. Read on to learn more about our adventures.
Adventure Island, Tampa
We began our watery odyssey on my son Andrew's ninth birthday. He and friend Kevin started out with sister Grace, age 5, and me on the Rambling Bayou (Adventure Island's version of the lazy river) and then ramped up the excitement a bit at Endless Surf (the wave pool). Grace and I spent most of our day enjoying these two attractions. With its waterfalls, misting sprays and shady, rainforest-like landscaping, the river was a big hit with Grace.
Andrew and Kevin moved on to the tube rides and mid-range waterslides, including the Calypso Coaster, the Runaway Rapids and the Wahoo Run.
Throughout the day, the boys gravitated to the base of the Gulf Scream, silently staring up at this steep, scary, high-velocity slide.
It was clearly a game of chicken, and just before we left the park, both Andrew and Kevin conquered their fears and descended, twice, proclaiming it "really, really fun."
Just before we left, Andrew said, "This is one of the best days of my life!"
Adventure Island Observations
- The park is mid-range in size. With 'tweens and teens, you'll likely feel comfortable turning them loose, as long as they travel in groups and check back with you frequently.
- A large beach and pool area called Paradise Lagoon allows visitors to relax and cool off. Guests can jump into the water from man-made rock formations at the top of the lagoon.
Disney's Blizzard Beach, Lake Buena Vista
If you'll pardon the pun, there's something totally cool about a Florida water park that's designed to look like a ski resort. Here, waterslides look like slush cascading down mountain toboggan runs; the "ski jump" is the tallest and fastest water slide in the world; and a "ski lift" carries guests to the top of Mount Gushmore.
Blizzard Beach is huge, and virtually packed with thrilling rides. With a very large wave pool, as well as two areas specifically designed for children (Tikes Peak for young children, with fountains and mini slides; and Ski Patrol, a pre-teen area with slides, bobbing "icebergs" to walk across and a fun rope drop into the water), Blizzard Beach has something to offer the whole family. That said, its forte is clearly rides that appeal to teens and other thrill-seekers.
Blizzard Beach Observations
- Because of its sheer size, you'll want to keep closer tabs on children here. Teens are probably OK to turn loose, but I wouldn't set 'tweens free, even in groups.
- As with all of the Disney theme parks, Blizzard Beach is spotless, beautifully landscaped, and offers plenty of places to grab a bite to eat or shop for souvenirs.
Wet 'n Wild, Orlando
Although it's Florida's oldest water park, Wet 'n Wild has continued to develop new attractions rather than ride the wave of past success.
In the WakeZone's man-made lake, guests can wakeboard, kneeboard or go tubing.
Wet 'n Wild's Black Hole turned out to be the pièce de résistance for Andrew and Tiffany, who discussed it all day long and saved it for last. A twisting, space-themed tube ride in total darkness, the ride rated high with both kids.
Wet 'n Wild Observations:
- Wet 'n Wild's kids' park is impressive, with lots of small waterslides for younger children, plus toddler-sized versions of the wave pool and the Lazy River.
Disney's Typhoon Lagoon, Lake Buena Vista
Along with plenty of sliding thrills, Disney's Typhoon Lagoon boasts one of the world's largest surfing lagoons (two-and-one-half-acres in size) with the biggest waves of any Florida water park (up to six feet high).
There's also Shark Reef, a 362-gallon saltwater reef environment where guests snorkel amidst fish, coral and plant life typically found in Caribbean waters. The water here is chilly, but the view is worth it. After all, when your child's essay entitled "What I Did On Summer Vacation" includes swimming with sharks (albeit docile nurse sharks), his status may rise instantly with classmates.
Typhoon Lagoon Observations:
- Visitors ages 8 and up can take a surf lesson before the park opens.
Wild Waters, Ocala
About 65 miles northwest of Orlando in Ocala, Wild Waters stands apart from other Florida water attractions for its rustic ambiance and off-the-beaten-path appeal. Most of the park, including several rides, is under heavy canopy, with shade from mature oaks.
Though the major rides cater to older elementary-aged to teenaged children, there are several attractions for little ones, including Tad-Pool, the Cool Kids Cove, and the Mini Monster, where a young child can sit on a parent's lap for a gentle sliding experience.
Wild Waters Observations:
- Wild Waters is adjacent to Silver Springs Nature Park, one of Florida's first tourist attractions, complete with exotic and native animals and natural beauty aplenty. A combo ticket is sold for both parks for only $8 more than Silver Springs' admission alone.
Buccaneer Bay, Weeki Wachee
About 35 miles northwest of Tampa, you'll find Florida's only spring-fed water park gushing clear, cool, 72-degree water. This smallish-sized park is a nice add-on to the Weeki Wachee Springs attraction that features the legendary Weeki Wachee mermaids. With a lazy river, a children's water play area, and three slides including the Pirates Plunge waterflume, it's sure to be a family-pleaser. And for every little girl who has ever seen The Little Mermaid and wished to meet a beautiful finned female, it's a can't-miss.
Buccaneer Bay Observations:
- Along with water rides and mermaid shows, the Weeki Wachee/Buccaneer Bay attraction offers animal shows, riverboat rides and SCUBA experiences.
- Toll-road 589 ensures Weeki Wachee is faster and easier to reach than ever before.