By Travel writer contributor

Explainer: Water parks across the U.S.

    Todd Anderson  /  Disney Cruise Line, Disney Dream
    AquaDuck aboard "Disney Dream" sends riders out over the water in an acrylic tube

    Gone are the days when people were happy to cool off simply by jumping in a lake or splashing around in the pool.

    “The square box pool is dead. No one goes swimming anymore,” said Gary Slade, publisher and editor-in-chief of the industry trade journal Amusement Today. “Kids now want water to interact with them. So you need things like slides, things that squirt and things you have to squirt back at.”

    A growing number of ever-more-elaborate water parks around the country have added new rides where water shoots, squirts, swirls and performs fast-moving, adrenaline-inducing stunts.

    Ready to take the plunge? Here are some new and award-winning water parks and a few offering new features this season.

  • Evergreen Wings & Waves Waterpark

    Image: Wings and Waves Waterpark
    Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum
    The water slides at the new Wings & Waves Waterpark begin inside a real 747 airplane.

    The country’s newest water park opens June 6 in an unlikely spot: the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Ore. Best known for housing Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose, the largest airplane ever built, the museum’s claim to fame may change once the Wings & Waves Waterpark begins sending visitors down one of four giant slides that start inside a Boeing 747 mounted on the roof of a 60-foot-tall building.

    “To get kids’ attention these days you need to more interactive. It’s all ‘Been there; done that; got the T-shirt.’ So we built an aviation and water museum with slides it in,” said the Evergreen Aviation museum’s executive director Larry Wood. Exhibits and artifacts explain concepts such as Bernoulli’s principle, the water cycle and jet propulsion. Rides include the Nose Dive inner tube ride, the Mach One slide that descends 60 vertical feet and a ride that Dave Garske of Hoffman Construction, the park’s builder, calls “a man-screamer. It’s fast and you’re screaming and you’re readjusting your suit when you get to the bottom.”

  • Hawaiian Falls Water Park, Roanoke, Texas

    Image: Mega WaterWorld
    Hawaiian Falls Water Park
    An artist's drawing of Mega WaterWorld, still under construction, in Roanoke, Texas. When finished the six-story water play structure will pump 12,000 gallons per minute through it.

    The three Hawaiian Falls Waterparks in Texas (The Colony, North Garland and Mansfield) will be joined early this summer by a fourth: Hawaiian Falls, Roanoke. It will include Mega WaterWorld, which is billed as the world's largest aqua play structure, with a three-lane racer, a family raft ride, body slides, a 500-gallon and a 1,000-gallon dump bucket and other interactive water features. “Ticket prices for water parks can vary widely,” said Slade of Amusement Today, “but the Hawaiian Falls brand is geared to families and is very economically priced.”

  • Wisconsin Dells

    Image: Scorpion?s Tail
    Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau
    On the Scorpion's Tail water slide, the rider whooshes through a 45-degree angled loop-de-loop at speeds of up to 40 mph.

    In the Wisconsin Dells, the self-proclaimed Waterpark Capital of the World, there are 20 indoor and outdoor water parks to choose from. Among them is the 49-slide Noah’s Ark Waterpark, which bills itself as “America’s Largest Waterpark.” In 2010, the park introduced the Scorpion’s Tail, a 10-story-tall slide that was the first looping tube waterslide in the U.S. and the tallest and largest of its kind in the world.

  • Schlitterbahn Waterparks

    Image: The Falls, at Schlitterbahn New Braunfels Waterpark in Texas
    Schlitterbahn Waterparks
    The Falls, at Schlitterbahn New Braunfels Waterpark in Texas, claims to be the world's longest waterpark ride.

    The family-owned Schlitterbahn chain of water parks includes one in Kansas City, Kan., and three in Texas: Galveston Island, South Padre Island and New Braunfels. The 65-acre park in New Braunfels boasts the world’s first surfing machine and has won the industry’s coveted Golden Ticket Award for Best Waterpark for more than a dozen years. In the world of water parks, there’s no resting on your laurels, so this year the park is introducing  The Falls, a 3,600-foot-long whitewater river attraction said to be the world’s longest water park ride. Once you finish the ride, you don’t have get out because there’s a conveyor belt — the Aqua Veyer — that take you back to the start.

    In addition, Schlitterbahn’s Kansas City water park, which opened in 2010, is already doubling in size with this year’s addition of the region’s only surf ride, a rapids river, two head-first mat slides, a totally enclosed tube slide, a whitewater tube chute and a ride-up Aqua Veyer. 

    “Our goal is ‘play value,” says Jeffrey A. Siebert, comminications director for Schlitterbahn. “We’re trying to build rides and attractions that keep guests in the water instead of waiting in line.”

  • Splashin’ Safari, Santa Claus, Ind.

    Image: World's Longest Water Coaster
    Splashin' Safari
    The world's longest water coaster won two coveted Golden Ticket Awards in 2010.

    Introduced in May 2010, the Wildebeest at Holiday World’s Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus, Ind., lays claim to the title of world’s longest water coaster.  In 2010, the 64-foot tall, one-third-mile long ride won the Golden Ticket Award for Best New Waterpark Ride and the award for Overall Best Waterpark Ride. After a conveyor ride up a hill, each four-person boat makes a four-story drop and then travels up seven more hills, through underground tunnels and around a helix.

    “It is so much fun and one of the few rides in the world for which I'm willing to wait hours for re-rides,” says coaster enthusiastic Martin Lewison, a lecturer in Business and Finance at the Hotelschool The Hague, a university in the Netherlands specializing in hospitality management. “Linear induction motors under the slide shoot your raft uphill! It's amazing and highly refreshing.”

  • Legoland, Carlsbad, Calif.

    Image: LEGOLAND Water Park
    Sandy Huffaker  /  LEGOLAND
    LEGOLAND Water Park won an industry innovation award in 2010.

    Along with Les Trois Forest in Europe and China’s Beijing Water Cube, which previously served as the National Aquatic Center during the Beijing Olympics,  LEGOLAND Water Park in Carlsbad, Calif., earned the World Waterpark Association (WWA) 2010 Industry Innovation Award.

    The 5.5-acre, $12 million LEGO-themed park includes an 850-foot-long lazy river, tube slides as long as 240 feet and the Water Fall, which frequently dumps 500 gallons of water from a 45-foot-tall tower.

  • Disney Dream's AquaDuck

    Todd Anderson  /  Disney Cruise Line, Disney Dream
    The Disney Dream's AquaDuck sends riders out over the water in a see-through tube.

    There’s no reason water parks must be on land.

    The Disney Dream cruise ship set sail in 2011 with both a water park area and a water coaster on board. The first shipboard water coaster, the AquaDuck, is a 765-foot, four-deck flume ride that extends over the side of the ship.

  • Your favorite water park

    Have we missed your favorite water park? There’s a very good chance we did. More than 1,000 water parks have opened in the United States since 2004. Now, water parks and water-themed attractions can be found in hotels, resorts, amusement and theme parks, some zoos and an increasing number of town and city parks. Everyone has their favorite spot, so please share your recommendations in the comments section below.


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