Theme Park Ranger
9:31 AM EDT, August 4, 2011
Nothing brings relief to the dog days of summer like a thorough drenching at a water park. Orlando's all-wet attractions share certain characteristics: lazy rivers, raft rides, wave pools, upscale cabanas and combo-ticket ties to theme parks. Today we dive into distinctive elements of our four full-blown, stand-alone water parks.
SeaWorld's water park, Central Florida's newest, sports a gentle South Seas motif.
•A stand-out for Aquatica is Roa's Rapids, also known as "the crazy river." We suggest grabbing a life vest, lifting feet and going with the flow.
•A recurring theme for its slides is enclosed beginnings. Don't worry. Just glide toward the light.
•Nail-biters are rare here, but there are thrills with the Taumata Racer, a face-first downhill mat ride, and the popular Dolphin Plunge. (Our advice: Check out the dolphins after the ride.)
•More soothing is Tassie's Twisters, which sends you tubing down into a bowl, then into lazier river Loggerhead Lane.
•Did someone say all-you-can eat? Banana Beach Cookout puts out a spread, buffet-style, and it includes a full day of soft drinks.
Details: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; off BeachLine Expressway at Interstate 4 southwest of Orlando; $47.99 adults, $41.99 ages 3-9; 407-351-3600, AquaticaBySeaWorld.com.
The theming is a foot-deep at this Disney World park. Its story is set in post-freak-snowstorm Florida.
•The intriguing ski lift has dual purposes: Transport folks to the top of Summit Plummet and establish a ski-resort atmosphere.
•Theming continues into the children's area called Ski Patrol Training Camp. Kids maneuver themselves across iceberg floats with ropes.
•Overall, the intensity level of the rides is lower than at sister park, Typhoon Lagoon.
•There's seating — and wet folks — everywhere, but for a more secluded spot, try the sandy cul-de-sacs behind the mountain.
•Miniature-golf course Winter Summerland is next door. You won't even need a snowmobile to get there.
Details: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. daily; off Buena Vista Drive near Disney's Hollywood Studios; $46 adults, $40 ages 3-9, free age 2 and younger; 407-824-4321; DisneyWorld.com.
Disney's older water park, near Downtown Disney, has a lush, established feel.
•The action is centered on the surf pool. The shipwrecked Miss Tilly sounds the whistle that indicates an upcoming wave, summoning screaming swimmers to brave the choppy waters.
•I believe Humunga Kowabunga translates roughly into "the wedgie-maker slide." A nice seating area is provided to watch the dramatic drop.
•Crush 'n' Gusher literally has its ups and downs — it's a rollicking raft ride with a roller-coaster feel, thanks to water-jet propulsions.
•There are wet and dry options for experiencing Shark Reef, which actually does have real sharks. You were expecting animatronic?
•Castaway Creek can be overpopulated with tourists and inner tubes, but we've found using the entrance near Happy Landings Ice Cream to be an easy entrance and exit to the lazy river.
Details: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. daily; near Downtown Disney; $46 adults, $40 ages 3-9, free age 2 and younger; 407-824-4321; DisneyWorld.com.
Wet 'n Wild
The International Drive mainstay packs a lot of attractions into a small space and appeals to teens and young adults.
Intensity is high on select rides, especially Bomb Bay, where the floor drops out from underneath your feet, beginning a trek down a nearly vertical slide, just you and your swimsuit. Every rider exits the area with a wide-eyed look and/or rapidly speaking Portuguese.
The sign for Storm suggests you be a strong swimmer because you're going down a chute, around a misty cauldron and unceremoniously dumped out the bottom. It's so disorienting a worker calls out "this way, this way" to flailing Storm survivors.
The park sells express passes that allow front-of-line access for select rides. The price varies — Sunday's charge for unlimited cuts was $40. By afternoon, some waits were 60 minutes.
Piped-in music is more contemporary than the themes found at other water parks. But if you want to hear sounds of the '70s, head to the mouth of the Disco H20 ride, where they are on endless loop.
Parking is across Universal Boulevard, but be careful as pedestrians and drivers alike tend to play a perilous game of chicken.
Details: 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 6200 International Drive, Orlando; $47.95 general, $41.95 seniors and ages 3-9, free age 2 and younger; 407-351-1800; WetnWildOrlando.com
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