This past weekend, my girlfriend and I visited a new-to-us water park, Adventure Island, next door to Busch Gardens Tampa, in Tampa, FL. We’d each been to Busch Gardens a few times, but had never “bothered” to set aside any time for its associated water park. How very, very silly of us. What we found out was that while Adventure Island is not the most thrilling water park, it is certainly in the running for most fun. It contains some great attractions that are distinct from any other water park we’d been to. While we were enjoying the park, we realized that all of the different water parks we’ve been to have pieces that are unique to them, and that if we could just combine those unique pieces, we’d have a pretty impressive water park. With that thought expanded, I hereby present to you, my Ultimate Central Florida Water Park:
- The Surf Pool
- Every water park needs a wave pool. In every other water park I’ve been to, the wave pool is either bobbing waves or very mild repetitive waves. The surf pool at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon puts them all to shame. In this pool, every 90 seconds a giant 6 foot wave swallows park guests and sends them flying – whether they’re trying to ride the wave or not. There is nothing like it in the other water parks.
- Crush ‘n’ Gusher
- The only true “water coaster” found at the Central Florida water parks, Crush ‘n’ Gusher is a must-have. Three separate slides provide for unique experiences. The ascents up the hills on the coasters are accomplished through forceful jets of water pushing the tubes uphill, rather than conveyor belts. CnG’s only failing is that the rides are a little short. It would be great if they could extend each coaster slide by another minute or so.
- Summit Plummet and its Chair Lift
- When it comes to high-speed, near-vertical body slides, look no further than Summit Plummet. The only tall body slide I’ve ever been on in which I’m really very sure I was in free-fall for a moment after pushing off, Summit Plummet is not for the faint of heart. Standing at 120 feet, the slide can be reached by climbing a (Disney-created) mountain, but the most fun way to get there is via the Chair Lift. The lift is taken directly from a ski resort and is in and of itself not particular impressive, but adds loads to the experience, the anticipation of reaching the peak of the mountain to begin your adventure down Summit Plummet.
- Teamboat Springs
- Blizzard Beach’s family raft ride is unmatched, for the simple reason of its length. At 1,200 feet, you find yourself halfway through the ride shocked that you haven’t yet reached the end. It just keeps going. The only downside is that the raft requires at least 3 people to ride. If you’re a single or a couple, you must wait for another small party to join you.
- The Lazy Rivers
- That’s right, Rivers, plural. Unique to Aquatica, there are actually two different “lazy” rivers. Though to be fair, one of them really doesn’t match that monicker. Loggerhead Lane is a traditional lazy river, in which guests navigate the waters in inflatable tubes. It does, however, have a feature that no other water park does, but one that you’d expect from SeaWorld’s water park: part of the river passes by a giant aquarium loaded with exotic fish and other marine life. It’ll be one of the few times you try to fight the current and stay in one place. The other river, Roa’s Rapids, isn’t lazy at all. In this river, you are carried away by a high-speed current. Wearing a life vest, enabling you to float without effort, is truly the best way to experience the river, even for accomplished swimmers. Try to get close to the sides when you near one of the water jets to maximize your speed.
- Ihu’s Breakaway Falls
- A trio of drop-slides, Ihu’s requires a good deal of bravery to experience. Enter a vertical capsule which then seals shut, and listen to a broadcast heartbeat as you prepare to surrender to gravity. At a moment you can’t predict, the floor drops out from beneath you and you fall right into the ridiculously high speed body tube slide. There is also a drop-slide at Wet ’n Wild, but Ihu’s wins for two reasons: it has three separate tubes to experience, and the slides are attractions themselves with twists and turns, rather than just a straight drop down.
From Wet ’n Wild
- Mach 5
- Most water parks include a mat-ride, but for my money, none beat WnW’s Mach 5. There are three separate slides to experience, each propelling you along twists, turns, hills, and dips, as you race head first on your rubber mat. No other mat ride I’ve been on feels as long, and certainly not as fun. Once you reach the exit pool, you’ll want to get right back in line to try the other two slides.
- The Storm
- A body slide with a twist – a really big twist, actually. After you exit the long steep straight way, you are dumped into one of two circular receptacles, where you’ll make several revolutions, completing multiple 360’s. When your momentum finally subsides, you’ll slide toward the center of the bowl, and then free-fall several feet into the pools below. It’s fast paced, exciting, and disorienting (in the best way possible). It’s so much fun, actually, that I fail to understand why the other water parks don’t have one.
From Adventure Island
- Key West Rapids
- At first glance, this appears to be a standard single-rider tube slide. And it starts out very much like that. You go down a brief hill and around the corner, and then seem to land in the exit pool. Except… it’s not an exit pool. There is another team member there, who gives you a helpful shove toward another hill, and you repeat the experience. And again. And again. This multi-level tube slide is the first one I’ve ever experienced (though I’ve heard from a friend a similar attraction existed at Disney’s River Country water park before it closed). It was completely unexpected and made for a great experience.
- Runaway Rapids (or at least their queue)
- As we explored the park, we saw a collection of five body slides emptying out into a single pool. But we couldn’t see where the queue was. We asked a nearby guest if she knew where to get on the slides, and to our surprise, she pointed to the other end of the pool, where a running stream was exiting into it. Yes, for this attraction, you actually climb up through streams of running water and rockwork (with a couple staircases) to get to the top of all the slides. The body slides themselves are good, not great, but the experience of climbing through what appears to be just a themed rockwork area makes this attraction a very fun experience. My ultimate water park would have its water slide attractions reachable not through regular stairs and obvious paths, but through this themed area including the running water streams that you walk through.
- Paradise Lagoon
We nearly skipped this set of attractions, because it looks for all the world like a kiddie-area. Indeed, we only went to it because my girlfriend wanted to do the rope-walking-on-floating-islands thing you see at many parks’ kiddie areas. (We saw adults in line to do it, so figured it wasn’t age restricted like at most parks). When we got there, however, we discovered two other fantastic – and yet completely simple – attractions in this area. First is an area of the pool reserved for cliff jumping. It’s as simple as can be – there is a ledge about 10 feet in the air, with a stop/go light. When the light turns green, you jump from the ledge into the 10 foot deep pool below. That’s it – just jumping. So simple, and so obvious…. so why doesn’t any other park have it? I have no idea, but my ultimate water park would!
The other attraction we found at Paradise Lagoon is a pair of very short tubes/slides that you jump into, which you’re only in for about half a second. They then also dump you out into the deep water of the pool. The only reason for the slides’ existence seems to be to get you away from the wall. It’s such a quick experience, but so much fun.
From Discovery Cove
(Okay this one may be cheating a bit, as Discovery Cove isn’t really a water park, as much as it is an all-inclusive all-day resort-type experience. I’ve previously written about my visit here, if you’d like to check it out)
- The Grand Reef
- I could spend hours in DCO’s Grand Reef. Actually, scratch that, I have. It is a gigantic lagoon filled with thousands of fish, rays, and other marine life. Guests don a shortie wetsuit or a neoprene vest, grab their included snorkel gear, and dive on in. You can swim with all the fish, getting up close and personal with them. You can dive down below the surface into the valleys and through the manufactured reefs. No restrictions, no directions you have to go in, no time limits (other than park operating hours). It is fantasic. And that may be just the right word for it – “fantastic”, as in “from a fantasy”. Because there is no way a real ordinary water park could afford the time, budget, and care that has to go into that lagoon. But you know what? This Ultimate Central Florida Water Park is my fantasy, so I’m including it!
If you take nothing else away from this post, here’s my main point: Even if you have a favorite water park in central Florida, you are absolutely cheating yourself if you don’t experience the others. On your next vacation (or, if you’re local, your next free weekend) make it a point to visit one of the water parks you haven’t been to yet. Chances are you’ll find some great attractions you didn’t know existed, and will have a wonderful time. Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach, Aquatica, Wet ’n Wild, and Adventure Island are all individually great parks and I think not a one of them will disappoint you.