Monday-Morning Moving: America’s 5 Best Summertime Waterparks

By Natalie Rivera

Like anything else, not all waterparks are all they’re cracked up to be. Long lines, poor service and even poorer hygiene can turn a family waterpark vacation into a major disappointment (though adults can always find amusement in an impromptu spot-the-bad-tattoo contest). The bluest waters in the world aren’t going to keep Junior from starting a tantrum if he’s too short to go on the Toilet Bowl of Doom.

Parents know that just because a waterpark is a household name doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for a family outing, which is why we’ve compiled a list of some of America’s most family-friendly (and fun) waterparks. Rest assured these waterparks know how to please every member of the clan, from the lazy-river fanatic to the free-falling daredevil.

Noah’s Ark, Wisconsin Dells, Wis.: If you love the smell of chlorine in the morning, Wisconsin Dells is the place for you. The Dells have four major-major waterpark resorts – Noah’s Ark, Mt. Olympus, Chula Vista, and the Kalahari – and 17 other hotel-resorts that offer some level of water activities, all in about 10 miles of Wisconsin River environs. Each resort has its advantages – Chula Vista has golf and other amenities for the grownups, Mt. Olympus has a full amusement park attached, Kalahari is better in the winter – but Noah’s Ark is the place to go for summertime water fun. The self-described (and probably justified) Largest Water Park in America, Noah’s Ark features 51 (yes, 51) slides, which might prompt the challenge-takers in your tribe to try every one of them.

For those who live life on the edge, the Scorpion’s Tail is the ticket. It’s a 10-story, 400-foot long nearly vertical waterslide that’s basically a free fall accompanied by a little bit of water, just for show. It sends you plummeting down at more than 50 feet per second, and it’s sure to have you screaming at the top of your lungs, to the embarrassment and horror of your cousins waiting their turn. For the little tikes or anyone of adult age that bravely admits to being chicken, Noah’s Ark’s two wave pools and surfing simulator might be more enjoyable than the “big-boy” rides like Black Anaconda, Black Thunder, Bermuda Triangle, and Point of No Return. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re scared, people.

Dollywood’s Splash Country, Pigeon Forge, Tenn.: First, a few housekeeping notes on Dollywood and Pigeon Forge. Dollywood is Dolly Parton’s amusement park, and it’s not far off the Dolly Parton Parkway a/k/a U.S. 411, which connects Sevierville and Pigeon Forge in the Great Smoky Mountains country south and east of Knoxville. And yes, the Dolly Parton Parkway has many peaks, valleys, and curves. Ahem. (The DPP also happens to be the best place in the country to buy a complete set of dishes by the side of the road, but that’s another story.)

Dollywood’s Splash Country is definitely a down-home waterpark, but that doesn’t mean it’s not open to change. With recent additions like RiverRush, Dollywood’s first water coaster, and its classic water-rafting slides, Dollywood’s aquatic attractions provide plenty of thrills while giving you unmatched views of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Splash Country’s 23 water rides and two children’s playground areas are more about comforting southern hospitality (albeit done to a level of Country Bears kitschiness) than chest-thumping biggest-scariest-wettest braggadocio. That theme is carried through to the non-water portions of Dollywood and the Dollywood cabins, which will tempt you to make that getaway weekend into a full week of adventure. And if you get burned out on Dollywood’s hi-how-y’all-doin’-ness, the Smokies are amazing. And thankfully unspoiled.

Water Country, Williamsburg, Va.: Water Country is a firm believer in “out with the old and in with new”— somewhat ironic at a destination built around hanging onto the 18th-century old at the expense of the 21st-century new, but whatever. With its recent addition of the Colossal Curl, the country’s first-ever funnel-and-wave raft attraction, Water Country is quickly turning into the nation’s go-to water park.

Committed to meeting everyone’s needs, Water Country stands by what it calls its “KIDsiderate Promise,” which comes in the form of a kid-oriented section of the park filled with rides and activities tailored to children. Adults, don’t pout; there are just as many cool grown-up rides as there are cool kid ones.

Just like at Dollywood, at Water Country water is only one part of the equation. Busch Gardens Williamsburg and its selection of scream-inducing coasters is just around the corner, and once you’re through that you can get cultured up at Colonial Williamsburg, giving you a complete and balanced equation with only a slight lingering smell of chlorine.

Enchanted Forest Water Safari, Old Forge, N.Y.: If you haven’t visited New York State and you have an image of the rest of the state basically being an extension of New York City, you’re in for a surprise. New York State is very different from New York City, and the Enchanted Forest Water Safari owes much more to Dollywood or Wisconsin Dells than it does to the Big Apple.

New York’s largest theme park is located in Adirondack State Park, which is a plus right there. It opened in the ‘50s with a modest staff of 35 and an even more modest ticket price of $1 for adults and 25 cents a child. Now with more than 50 attractions and more than 50 years of great service and smiles, Enchanted Forest Water Safari is just as much part of New York as the bright lights of Times Square.

The park’s 32 rides include a variety of slides, plus a wave pool and the obligatory lazy river, but the fun just seems to be more fun here. It’s hard to describe unless you try it for yourself. By not striving to be over-the-top more, the Enchanted Forest somehow is more. And that’s a great thing.

Wet ‘N Wild, Orlando, Fla.: Sometimes mainstream is mainstream for a reason, and that’s definitely the case for Wet ‘N Wild. The famous water park has locations all over the world, including Brazil and Australia, and for some very good reasons – the newest and safest water attractions, plus a sense of what makes a waterpark fun.

In the case of Florida’s Wet ‘N Wild, that includes the four-abreast Aqua Drag Racer, which has a 65-foot vertical drop spread over 360 feet of twisting track, the six-story Der Stuka and Bomb Bay free-falls, and the famous Disco H20, a tub ride that takes you back to the ‘70s by having you float underneath a collection of lights, disco balls and funky tunes.

The other thing about an Orlando waterpark: On a typically steamy Florida summer day, hitting the water at the end of a slide feels sooo good. That thrill is worth the price of admission.

Natalie Rivera is a freelance writer who encourages you to follow her @byNatalieRivera.


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