If you are seeking relief from the heat and want to have some fun at the same time, there are plenty of outdoor water parks to explore. Most are standalone parks, but quite a few are adjacent to amusement parks and theme parks—and are often included in their admission fees. There are also weatherproof indoor water parks, most of which are family resorts with hotels. They provide year-round fun in climate-controlled settings.
Both outdoor and indoor water parks offer similar types of rides and attractions that typically include basic water slides, wave pools, lazy rivers (and their more aggressive offshoots, action rivers), pools with lily pad walks, basketball hoops, and other activities, and interactive water play structures with sprayers, tipping buckets, and other ways to get wet. Depending on the size of the park, it may offer all of these attractions.
Some of the bigger water parks also include attention-grabbing, marquee attractions. These include slides with wacky features that generally amp up the thrills. Ride designers keep dreaming up new ways to scare and soak bathing suit-clad visitors. Let's run down eleven of the wackiest water park rides.
Watch out for wedgies.
Uphill Water Coaster
Borrowing elements from both water slides and roller coasters, water coasters send passengers in rafts careening up, down, and around water-slicked chutes. Rather than relying on gravity, as is the case with basic water slides, these rides incorporate power-assisted elements to propel the rafts uphill and maintain momentum.
There are three basic types of water coasters:
- The most popular is known as a Master Blaster. It uses strong jets of water for the uphill sections of track, while gravity and a more gentle current of water takes care of the downhill and straightaway sections. The original Master Blaster is Dragon's Revenge at Schlitterbahn New Braunfels in Texas. Many other parks have Master Blaster-type rides such as Crush 'n' Gusher at Disney World's Typhoon Lagoon.
- Another type of water coaster uses magnetic induction technology. Instead of water jets, it uses magnetic strips embedded in the rafts and linear induction motors in the tracks to send passengers uphill. Splashin' Safari Water Park at Holiday World in Indiana has two huge HydroMagnetic coasters. Volcano Bay at Universal Orlando has a wonderful magnetically launched ride, the Krakatau Aqua Coaster.
- A third concept uses fast-moving conveyor belts to catapult its rafts uphill (think of a grocery store checkout belt gone haywire). These are sometimes referred to as Zip Coasters. When the belts kick into high gear, they can make a loud racket. The Kalahari indoor water park in Sandusky, Ohio has a Zip Coaster.
Launch Chamber Slide
Slides with launch chambers have become very popular at water parks. Riders enter the chambers in nearly vertical positions. There is typically a countdown after which a trap door opens in the floor of the chamber to release the passenger. The anticipation and almost 90-degree launch makes these among the most thrilling water park rides. Aqautica, the water park located next to SeaWorld Orlando, has a launch chamber slide complex known as Ihu's Breakaway Falls.
Some roller coasters include inversions, elements that send passengers racing upside down. No water slides include inversions, but some, known as AquaLoops, come close. Riders drop down an enclosed tube to build momentum, then soar up at a 45-degree angle into a loop. Among the parks that offer an AquaLoop is the Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.
Bowl rides come in a variety of configurations. Some are open on top, while others are closed. The ones that are closed sometimes feature a theme and include lighting, music, and effects. Some bowl rides use single- or multi-person rafts, while others forego rafts.
What they all share in common is that passengers plummet down a slide to accelerate before entering a bowl and then swish around a few times before getting dumped out into a splash pool. Bowl rides include Dragon's Den at Splish Splash in Long Island, New York and The Cyclone and Hurricane Hole at Splash Lagoon in Erie, Pennsylvania.
FlowRider Surfing Attraction
The pioneering Schlitterbahn folks have developed a number of water park innovations, such as the Master Blaster water coaster outlined above, that can be found at their chain of parks as well as at other parks. Schlitterbahn also designed the FlowRider, an attraction that generates a steady wave on which participants can surf.
Guests typically use boogie boards and can ride the waves lying flat or up on their knees. A limited number of parks allow stand-up surfing on their FlowRiders, often during special times of the day or week. Some FlowRiders can be configured to accommodate two surfers at once.
True to its name, a funnel ride sends passengers, typically in four-person cloverleaf tubes, into a huge sideways-facing funnel. They soar up and down the walls of the funnel and experience moments of weightlessness. As the tubes lose momentum, a rush of water sends them out the narrow end of the funnel into a splash pool.
Many Six Flags water parks call their funnel rides "Tornado" (which is also the model name that the ride's manufacturer uses). Indoor water parks, including some Great Wolf Lodge locations, offer funnel rides. The rides start and end inside the park, but the funnel itself is located outside. Instead of being open as they are at outdoor water parks, the funnels have caps on them to protect riders from the elements and keep them warm on cold days.
Read a review of the High Anxiety funnel ride at New Jersey's Mountain Creek park.
A mini-funnels ride is similar to a funnel ride but incorporates two or more smaller funnels in a series rather than one giant funnel. The tubes don't climb as high or fall as far along the smaller funnels' walls, and the negative G-forces aren't as pronounced. But the action is more wild, especially since the funnels are enclosed, and riders are in the dark on many of them.
The rides are often referred to as "Tornado Alley." Among the water parks that offer a mini-funnels ride is the Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio.
For sheer exhilaration at a water park, nothing beats a speed slide. They are tall, fast, steep, and designed for, well, speed. Because riders have to launch themselves over the edge of the nearly 90-degree drops, half the thrills come from the suspense of what's about to unfold.
Taking its cue from skateboard parks, halfpipe rides send riders in rafts racing up and down the walls of a U-shaped slide. Like funnel rides, they deliver bouts of airtime as passengers rise out of their seats when the rafts crest the top of the walls. One of the more themed and unique-looking halfpipe slides is King Cobra at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in New Jersey.
Mat Racing Slide
Passengers are issued mats and get into position at the top of the multi-lane slides. When the starting signal is sounded, they race down. Performance has more to do with the weights of the riders than any skill on their parts. Some mat racing slides include scoreboards that list the times of each participant. Splash Works at Canada's Wonderland near Toronto has a mat racing slide called Riptide Racer.
Family Raft Ride
Family raft rides bear the name for two reasons: Their large, round rafts can accommodate a number of passengers—including a family of riders; also, their moderate thrill level can be enjoyed by nearly all members of a family, regardless of age or thrill tolerance. The rafts freely rotate as they make their way through the course. That typically means that at some point, everybody gets a chance to soar through the ride backwards. Families with young kids can enjoy Sky Splash, a family raft ride at Sesame Place near Philadelphia.