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5 Great Orlando Water Parks
Immerse yourself in watery worlds at Orlando’s unique themed water parks.
Universal's Volcano Bay features an impressive 200-foot volcano that looms over the park.(Gerardo Mora/Getty Images)
Except for regular afternoon summer thunderstorms that unload like the second flood, Orlando, Florida, can boast near year-round sunshine. That makes The City Beautiful a prime location for water parks. If you need to cool your jets after slogging through sweaty theme park crowds, take some suggestions from local experts on these world-famous water parks.
Universal’s Volcano Bay
Grand Opening of Universal's Volcano Bay (Gerardo Mora/Getty Images)
Orlando’s newest water park (ahem, pardon, water theme park, as Universal calls it) erupted onto the scene in May 2017 to oohs and aahs and a bit of rumbling. “Volcano Bay has a lot of wow factor to it, but it's also whimsical and fun,” says Richard Tribou, travel editor for the Orlando Sentinel. “Universal really tried to set the bar high and maybe those who loved Wet 'n Wild [Universal Orlando’s recently bulldozed water park] will be able to embrace this as their new favorite water park.”
The legend of Universal’s Volcano Bay centers on lost Polynesian sailors, the Waturi, who followed Kunuku, the golden fish, to their new volcanic home, Volcano Bay. Krakatau, the 200-foot volcano that looms over the park, is impressive, as is a 125-foot near-vertical body slide. Unique to central Florida is the Krakatau Aqua Coaster, which uses linear induction motor technology (magnets) to pull your four-person canoe up and down big splashing drops.
The water theme park is also the first to feature virtual line technology – its TapuTapu wrist wearable reserves ride times for guests and (presumably) eliminates the in-line wait. However, high guest attendance and the limitation to a one-ride reservation has caused various snafus, including attendance caps, long wait spells between ride reservations and, the bane of TapuTapu, long lines. It’s a young island that's still sorting out growing pains. Here's a suggestion: Visit Volcano Bay in the off-season to experience the truly magnificent environment and rides without the typical water park hassles.
Check the website for up-to-date information on hours. A one-day ticket to Volcano Bay costs $67 for adults.
Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park
Since the demise of the water park godfather, Wet ‘n Wild, Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Water Park takes the mantle of central Florida’s oldest still-standing water park. The premise is that a huge typhoon tore up the island, leaving all sorts of shipwrecks and detritus that happen to make a fun water park.
“Typhoon Lagoon has been here one of the longest [opening in 1989], but it’s got some of the newest attractions,” says Jeff Silsbee, guest experience manager at Disney's Port Orleans Resort French Quarter and former director of guest services at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando. “Miss Adventure Falls is a big family ride that you don’t even have to wait in line for. You just hop on the rafts, and it brings you up the queue.” For suffocating thrills, Humunga Kowabunga boasts a five-story, 60-degree drop down Mount Mayday. Typhoon Lagoon has a unique experience for surfers: giant, curling waves in its massive wave pool. OK, the surf breaks are not quite giant, but you can reserve a morning session in the wave pool before the park opens, which gives you 100 decent waves to surf for you and 24 of your friends.
[Read: 7 Great Orlando Theme Parks.]
Check online for up-to-date information on hours. A one-day ticket that's valid during the summer season is $62 for adults.
Discovery Cove(Courtesy of Discovery Cove Orlando)
Not every Orlando water park experience is about flumes and raft rides. Discovery Cove, which bills itself as an all-inclusive day resort, focuses on hands-on interactive aquatic animal experiences in a faux-natural lagoon setting. Swim and snorkel with (or in close proximity to) rays, otters and sharks. The pinnacle encounter is the dolphin swim experience, where you can hang onto the dorsal fin of a friendly bottlenose dolphin and let it tow you through the water like a shipwrecked sailor.
“Hands down, Discovery Cove is one of the best values and one of the most inclusive experiences,” says Anna Duncan, former concierge supervisor at the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes. “Discovery Cove only allows 1,300 people in the park per day, so it’s never overcrowded. You can swim with dolphins, you can snorkel with stingrays, they have a coral reef and everything for the day is already included. And it includes admission to SeaWorld and Aquatica.” Though pricier than most of the water parks (a day resort package without the dolphin swim costs upward of $169), the experience includes all food and drinks, which can add up elsewhere. Plus, hugging a dolphin is priceless.
You can check in at Discovery Cove as early as 7:15 a.m.
Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park
Frozen is not a word you usually want to associate with a water park, but Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park – a once-famous ski resort that’s suffering from warmer temperatures, according to park lore – is coated in melting snowdrifts, icicles and icebergs, resulting in toboggan runs, ski slopes and long jumps becoming flumes, tube rides and lazy rivers. Don’t worry – the water’s warm for swimming.
“I love Blizzard Beach,” says Sandra Ferrarese, chief concierge at Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort. “They have different activities for everybody. You can go with just your bathing suit and flip-flops. When we visited, we put everything in the locker, and we bought a gift card, which can get wet. That’s all you need.” Rides include the wedgie-making 120-foot drop from Summit Plummet and the lengthy family-size tube ride Teamboat Springs. In summer, guests can join in the Frozen Games hosted by characters Kristoff and Olaf from Disney’s "Frozen" and see other characters at meet-and-greets.
[Read: The 6 Best Places to Shop in Orlando.]
For current information on park hours, check online. A one-day ticket that's valid during the summer season is $62 for adults.
Aquatica, SeaWorld’s Waterpark Orlando
Aquatica, Orlando, Orlando, United States. (Photo by: Godong/UIG via Getty Images)
(Godong/UIG via Getty Images)
Live animals set Aquatica apart from most water parks. Shoot down the Dolphin Plunge in clear tubes right through a pod of Commerson’s dolphins, which look like a mini Shamu. Other thrillers include the six-story, three-person HooRoo Run raft drop and Ihu’s Breakaway Falls, with a drop-out floor that sends you into an 80-foot plummet. Even the usually slower attractions may catch your breath.
“Aquatica has my favorite lazy river ever, which is really not a lazy river. It’s a not-so-lazy river,” Tribou says of Roa's Rapids. For a slower float, Loggerhead Lane transports your tube through dazzling aquariums.
Check park times by visiting Aquatica's website. A single park ticket costs $39.99 when you buy ahead of time online.
To experience more of what Orlando has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.
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