When temperatures soar – and they’ve been soaring this summer – you could go jump in a lake to beat the heat. If you’d like some thrills along with watery chills, however, head to a water park.
Most parks offer the usual suspects such as body slides, tube slides, lazy rivers, and wave pools. Many amp up the thrills with rides that incorporate crazy-tall heights, nerve-wracking speeds, wacky elements, and other intriguing features. Let’s run down 12 of the nation’s top water park attractions. Warning: Side effects may include bathing suit malfunctions or wedgies.
Summit Plummet at Blizzard Beach in Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Fla. and Deep Water Dive at Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville, Ky.
Instead of sitting in a raft with others, as some slides require, riders brave The Mouse’s 120-foot-tall speed slide, Summit Plummet, by lying on their backs and going it alone. In 2014, Kentucky Kingdom opened a similar body slide, Deep Water Dive. It doesn’t offer Disney’s Alpine theme, but it sends riders diving at 70 degrees down 121 feet – one foot more than Summit Plummet.
The Scorpion’s Tail at Noah’s Ark, Wisconsin Dells, Wis.
The huge water park was the first in the country to get in on the recent looping water slide craze. Riders climb up 100 feet, lie on their backs, cross their arms and legs, and shoot down a steep enclosed tube. They then soar up and around a 360-degree loop that doesn’t exactly send them upside down (the park describes the experience as “nearly vertical”), but nonetheless throws them for a loop.
Zero-G, Canyon Cliffs, and Bombs Away at Mountain Creek Water Park, Vernon, N.J.
Another 100-foot-tall looping water slide, Zero-G ups the ante by including two loops. One of the country’s first water parks, Mountain Creek (which has also been known as Action Park) predates the manufacturers that now provide most of the industry’s slides and other rides. In its early days, the park had to design its own attractions, which often took advantage of its mountainside setting. Two of its earliest attractions remain and are among the most unique offerings at any park. Riders on the Bombs Away body slide rev up to speed before the slide abruptly ends, and they drop 18 feet straight down into a splash pool. On Canyon Cliffs, visitors can skip the slide altogether and simply jump from a height of 23 feet into the drink.
Ihu’s Breakaway Falls at Aquatica, Orlando, Fla.
It’s the Orlando area’s tallest, steepest, and longest multi-drop slide tower. But what really get pulses racing on Ihu’s Breakaway Falls are the launch capsules (another recent trend at water parks). Riders get into contraptions that look like something out of a sci-fi movie (“Beam me down, Scotty!”) and wait a few nervous beats for a countdown. Perched 80 feet in the air at an 80-degree angle, they plunge at breakneck speed when the floor breaks away. About halfway down, passengers take a sideways detour as they navigate a helix.
Massiv Monster Blaster at Schlitterbahn Waterpark, Galveston, Texas
The family that operates the Schlitterbahn chain of water parks invented the uphill water coaster, which uses water jets to propel rafts uphill, and debuted the first one at its flagship location in New Braunfels, Texas. In 2016, it opened Massiv Monster Blaster, the world’s tallest water coaster. Starting at a height of nearly 82 feet, the ride blasts passengers through a series of turns and airtime-filled hills.
Mammoth at Splashin’ Safari, part of Holiday World, Santa Claus, Ind.
At 1,763 feet, Mammoth gets the nod for the world’s longest water coaster. Instead of water jets, hidden hydro-magnetic motors send its mammoth six-passenger boats uphill after plunging down seven drops during the three-minute ride. It is one of two water coasters at the huge park, which is included with admission to Holiday World theme park.
King Cobra at Hurricane Harbor, adjacent to Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson, N.J.
Passengers in two-person rafts race through enclosed tubes before being deposited in a half-pipe. Themed to look like a humungous, coiled snake, the rafts soar back and forth towards the cobra’s head and his menacing fangs.
Voyage to the Center of the Earth at Water World, in Federal Heights, Colo.
There are more thrilling rides at Water World, but how many water parks send visitors back in time for encounters with dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures while floating in tubes? Voyage to the Center of the Earth uses animatronic characters and other storytelling elements more typically found in theme park dark rides.
Castaway Creek at Typhoon Lagoon in Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
The speed slide, Humunga Kowabunga, and the water coaster, Crush ‘n’ Gusher, get adrenaline pumping at Disney’s water park. The laid-back Castaway Creek is on the other end of the thrill spectrum. But the meandering ride is an especially lovely and well-themed lazy river. It may be the country’s longest as well. Circling the entire park, the 2,000-foot-long journey passes waterfalls, lushly landscaped, rainforest-like settings, and a cavern beneath the park’s signature Mount Mayday.
USA TODAY Network