August 2011: You may not need a water park day. Massive, kid-friendly hotel pools attract guests, and many Orlando resorts now have swimming pools waterfalls and slides and fountains because they look great on websites and in brochures. They hope kids will see the picture and say, “Oooo, Mom, I want to stay there.”
Still, older kids and teens want a full-fledged water park. In fact, Disney World built their two water parks based, in part, on surveys suggesting that they appeal to the young adult-teenager demographic – the people too old for Mickey and too young for “a fancy dinner out.”
At their core, all water parks have the same thing: A bunch of tubes that use gravity and running water to take barely-clad humans from “up there” to “down here.” Some wet slides require an inner tube; some require an inner tube and friends; some require nothing but a human body. Most parks also include some kind of wave pool to simulate the ocean, and a “river” that flows around the park, which can be enjoyed in an inner tube. All have heated pools. The rest – tropical atmosphere, winter atmosphere, ocean atmosphere – is just details.
Orlando has four major water parks. Each description here should help answer the question: Why would I choose this water park over the others? To get a better idea of the specific rides at each one, click on the link that goes to the host website.
Disney’s first water park (not counting now-defunct River Country), Typhoon Lagoon has all the trappings of a tropical island, albeit one, according to the Disney-created story, struggling to recover from a recent typhoon. It has lots of sand, the largest wave pool of the bunch, and a medium-sized salt water pool where you can swim with sharks.
A bizarre water park – meant in a good way – Blizzard Beach takes on a winter theme. The main hill is a ski chalet; the chutes for bathing-suit-clad swimmers are, theoretically, melting sled slalom courses; and a chair lift with fake skis takes riders to the top of Mount Gushmore. Water parks are a bit bizarre anyway, so if you have a sense of humor and appreciate Christmas carols played year round, park a lounge chair here.
Orlando’s newest water park, Aquatica (at Sea World) also has a tropical theme with bold colors. While Typhoon Lagoon mimics an actual tropical paradise, Aquatica features a slightly cartoon version. The big drawing card here, though, is the sea animals. While Typhoon Lagoon offers a small sea creature attraction, Aquatica incorporates animal life into many rides and rest areas. The signature ride, Dolphin Plunge, has two enclosed tubes that slide through a pool inhabited by Commerson’s Dolphins, though you pass through the water so quickly that you don’t have time to look.
Located in the heart of busy International Drive, Wet ‘n Wild cannot compete with the atmosphere of the other three water parks. The style is dressed-up municipal pool – lots of concrete and tables decorated with winsome, generic fiberglass figures. However, Wet ‘n Wild surpasses all of them in the number and style of rides. Somewhat smaller in size (less walking), it includes a toilet bowl thing where you drop through a hole in the middle, a black-tube slide without light, and even a small lake in which overheard bars pull riders in a kind of faux waterskiing.