June 14, 2012 at 8:19 AM ET
If you think that the most exciting rides in a water park still involve a log flume or mat slide, then you, my friend, are all wet. Water-swishing half-pipes, free-fall slides dropping riders from close to 10 stories high, and near-vertical looping slides that shoot riders like cannonballs at 40 mph are just a few samples of how today’s parks are making a splash.
The 70-acre Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels, Texas, lands on our list with its brand-new star of the show — the Falls, billed as “the World’s Longest Waterpark Ride” and offering 3,600 feet of waves, rapids and waterfalls for tubers. And overlooking the Falls are new, cool-looking Treehaus accommodations and suites.
Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, in Santa Claus, Ind., meanwhile, has just introduced the world’s longest water coaster: the Mammoth, stretching a whopping 1,763 feet and using special “hydromagnetic” technology to whisk riders both up and down in circular, six-person rafts. This is a park that’s big on breaking records: The previous longest water coaster, the Wildebeest, is also located here — as is the popular Pilgrim’s Plunge, the world’s tallest water ride, which hauls passengers up 13 stories in a boat-like elevator and then drops them, at a 45-degree angle, to a major splash.
At Disney World’s Typhoon Lagoon, the most highly attended water park in the world, you can snorkel with sharks, bodysurf in 6-foot waves at the nation’s largest wave pool and ride the brand new Crush ’n’ Gusher, a 400-foot-long whitewater raft ride that’s overflowing with steep plunges and hairpin turns.
Other standout parks include Six Flags’ White Water in Atlanta, home to 50 adrenaline-inducing rides including the Cliffhanger, one of the tallest free-fall slides in the world; and Aquatica, at Sea World in Orlando, Fla., where you’ll find 80,000 square feet of man-made sandy beaches, the Omaka Rocka half-pipe, and 250 feet of underwater tube slides that zip you through a pool stocked with dolphins.
But grownup kids aren’t the only ones being catered to by the coolest water parks. Actual little ones, obvious fans of wet and wild fun, are getting some serious upgrades this season.
“Parks that want to attract younger children have been introducing highly themed, interactive play structures that function like water playgrounds,” notes Aleatha Ezra, of the World Waterpark Association, a trade organization for water parks and their suppliers. “They now feature hundreds of interactive spray guns, buckets and showers, and might have multiple slides coming off them, as well as climbing structures and dump buckets.”
Wet n’ Wild in Orlando is all over that trend, opening its new Blastaway Beach in June. The sandcastle-themed wonderland will bring 15,000 square feet of pools, soakers and slides to the 12-and-under set.
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