By Saundra Amrhein
On the dash up the flights of steps to reach the top of the water slides at this Naples water park, there are the hesitant mothers, the loud-talking teenagers, the excited pre-teen boys dripping wet and running on the balls of their bare feet. And then there is William Grant, 41.
Having left his own two children safely in the care of his wife by the kiddie pool here at Sun-N-Fun Lagoon water park near Naples in Southwest Florida, he is like a big kid himself, making loop after loop, 38 feet up the steps and down the slides, and now dispensing of advice on each one’s qualities to two newbie adults – one of whom is afraid of heights.
Two of the slides at the Sun-N-Fun Lagoon are completely enclosed, he advises. A third is completely open, a fourth is a little of both, and a fifth calls to be ridden on a big inner tube. Grant’s overview during the trip up the steps is barely complete before a lifeguard is yelling, “Go!”
Whoosh! On one of the slides, a curtain of water greets you at the entrance of the tube, and then it’s a plummet into darkness and your bare back against a film of running water that – with gravity’s help – carries your prostrate body straight down, the air coming fast into your lungs in quick breaths – unless, like many people, you are screaming.
And then you’re turning-this-way-that-way-this-way-that-way-again – with no warning because you can’t see, until – plunge! Water rushing up your nose as the force of the fall dunks you several feet under water in the pool below. Somehow you are on your feet, and just like Grant, you’re hooked. It’s back up the steps for more.
A second slide offers a similar experience, while two others provide dips and a fifth, called the Sea Lion, requires an inner tube that will whisk you down the slide, where at the bottom you are deposited on a lazy river that meanders slowly through the park, passing buckets of dumping water.
“We were looking for different stuff to do,” says Grant, now back at the beach chairs with wife, Alice, 42, and their 4-year-old daughter and 9-month-old son. In town from Atlanta visiting Alice’s parents, the family returned to the park after having found it on a previous trip, the only water park in the county.
At the Naples water park, in addition to the water slides and the lazy river – officially called Sunny’s River and traversing a total of 1,250 feet – there is Family Falls, a four-feet-deep pool with water falls at the center; Turtle Cove, a type of playground pool for kids ages 5 to 12, with water pistols, floating lily pads and a mesh rope overhead for an obstacle course; the Tadpole Pool for toddlers; and the Dolphin Dive and Lap Pool, with a diving board as well as lap lanes for adults. Across from the concession stand there is also a splash playground that features water fountains shooting up from the pavement.
“He loved those,” Grant said, referring to their toddler son. They had done the local restaurants and the beach but the family-friendly water park gave them a fresh way of staying wet and beating the heat, a nice change of pace from the shore.
“You get kind of tired of the sandiness of it all,” Alice Grant says of the beach.
Nearby at Turtle Cove, children and teenagers are waiting in line to take their turn at a challenge leaping across the floating lily pads without falling into the water. Most are unsuccessful, failing in spectacular fashion – some while trying to sprint across until they slip, fly up through the air and crash down in the water. Others wobble, lose their balance and fall.
But one determined little girl has a plan. Six-year-old Chloe Spagnoli floats from one lily pad to the next, and though she falls, she pulls herself up from the water onto the next one, then the next one, making her way down the line to the other side of the pool – even while her father, Bill Spagnoli, trains a water pistol on her to distract her.
“You’re mean!” Beverly Spagnoli, Bill’s mother and Chloe’s grandmother, calls to her son, laughing. “She worked so hard.”
Bill Spagnoli and Chloe are in town from California for a visit.
“We thought this would be terrific for her,” Beverly Spagnoli says of the Naples water park.
Chloe loved the water slides, says Bill Spagnoli. And she loved the water challenge, heading back into the line for the lily pads. They planned to visit the adjacent children’s museum the following day. But for now, Chloe is soaking in the sun and water.
“We were trying to do as much outdoors as we can that’s exciting for her,” Bill Spagnoli adds. “This is just what the area needs.”
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