Tallest, Craziest, Wildest: The Best of Today's Waterpark Rides
As the weather is finally warming up, waterparks all over the country are making plans for their upcoming season openers. Every big park offers some type of thrilling, stomach-dropping waterslide -- but where can you find the tallest drops, the longest adventures, and the craziest surprises? We're happy to report that they're all located right here in the Southeast region, starting with the "Grand-daddy" of water resorts -- Schlitterbahn.
The Master Blaster Water Coaster
There are currently three Schlitterbahn waterparks in Texas, but the one at New Braunfels appears to be the undisputed king. It was named the World's Best Waterpark in 2012 for the 15th consecutive year by Amusement Today's Golden Ticket Awards.
This is also home of the very first uphill water coaster: the 6-story Master Blaster. Although this hugely popular ride was built in 1996, fans have repeatedly voted it among the best waterpark rides in the world.
Once guests step into 2-person rafts and make their first drop, water injection nozzles built into the bottom of the flume "blast" them uphill for the rest of this wild ride, which darts in and out of enclosed areas. In all, there are 6 uphill sections with the steepest rise at 24 degrees, the longest drop at almost 28 feet, and the steepest drop at 36 degrees.
Other thrilling attractions include Dragon's Revenge, the AquaVeyer conveyer belt lift, and the rapids-filled Falls -- which is billed as the "world's longest tubing adventure" at 3,600 feet and voted the 2011 Golden Ticket best new waterpark ride by guests.
In all, the New Braunfels Schlitterbahn, which is loosely translated as "slippery road" in German, stretches out over 65 acres and includes 17 waterslides, nine tube chutes, the Boogie Bahn bodyboarding ride, and seven children's water play areas.
The park isn't inexpensive, but a nice surprise for the wallet is that it does offer free parking. And although it sells a variety of food and drink options throughout the location, it also allows guests to bring in coolers with their own snacks and non-glass, non-alcohol beverages.
"At the end of the day, we consider ourselves a tremendous value for families," said Winter Prosapio, Corporate Director of Communications at the Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts. "A lot of parks concentrate on how many people they can get on and off a ride but we don't think of it that way. We want you to have an experience with water."
She added that the New Braunfels location is spring-fed from the Comal River, which means that one side of the park has fresh, non-chlorinated water.
"This park feels like a natural outgrowth of the river. And there's a little bit of that feel in every Schlitterbahn," said Prosapio. Their other parks can be found in South Padre and Galveston, Texas and in Kansas City, Missouri. And in summer 2014, the company plans on opening a brand new park in Corpus Christi, Texas.
The Floor Drops Out?? Water Country USA
For sheer anticipatory terror, and the most literal "drop" of all rides, try Vanish Point at Water Country USA in Williamsburg, Virginia. Although the ride technically has 4 slides to choose from, the 2 enclosed options are receiving the most buzz.
Here, guests step into a see-through booth and have just a moment to steel their nerves before the floor vanishes and they plummet straight down into a twisting, turning enclosed water flume.
Jo Lawson, from Richmond, Virginia, said that this was her husband's favorite ride at the park. "He is a huge fan of anything scary and wet. The Vanish Point ride is absolutely thrilling, according to him, and worth several goes," she said.
"When the box opens and the floor disappears, the feeling is just, 'Wow, what happened?' It's the anticipation of waiting for it to open that highlights the fun."
At the top of Vanish Point's 75-foot tower, guests also have the option of choosing one of the two open-air speed slides. After starting out horizontal, the slides immediately drop you straight down.
Lawson added that when she and her husband took a teen to the park last year, he loved Vanish Point as wells as the Nitro Racer's six lanes of side-by-side racing fun. "It just brings out boys' competitive nature."
Although she also enjoyed the Malibu Pipeline flumes, the Jet Scream tube rides, and the 4-person Big Daddy Falls whitewater rafting adventure, Lawson noted that her favorite ride was actually the relaxing Hubba Hubba Highway. Still, this 1,500 foot free-floating ride is anything but lazy as it includes surprise geysers and drenching sprays -- perfect for a hot day.
Water Country USA prides itself on its 1950s and 60s surf theme and has a total of 30 slides and water rides with fun names like Jammin' Jukebox and the Little Bopper's kids' slides. More family-type entertainment can be found at the park's Aquabatics! show, which combines high dives, trapeze tricks, and trampoline stunts.
Summit Plummet - the Country's Tallest Plunge
The country's highest plunge can be found at Walt Disney World's Blizzard Beach in Orlando, Florida. Summit Plummet has a near-vertical drop height of 120 feet (or 12 stories) and propels riders along at roughly 55 miles per hour.
Although the ride can't take world bragging rights (that would go to Insano at Beach Park in Brazil, which has a drop of 135 feet and speeds up to 65 mph), it does offer plenty of stomach-churning action and the type of highly-designed theme that Disney is famous for.
The fictional backstory is that when a freak snowstorm hit the area, the locals built Florida's first ski resort. Of course the snow didn't last long, so the abandoned area was re-purposed as a waterpark.
It only makes sense then that Summit Plummet is designed to look like a very large, death-defying ski jump -- complete with a scattering of "snow spray" as guests plummet down the slope and through a dark tunnel. After riders climb Mount Gushmore, they take off on the freefall body slide for a 360-foot-long run. A digital stop watch at the end displays top speeds.
Other rides at Blizzard Beach include the Slush Gusher and Toboggan Racers slides and the 6-person Teamboat Springs whitewater ride. And as expected at a ski resort, the park even provides a colorful chairlift to ferry guests up the slopes.
Disney's other large waterpark in the area is Typhoon Lagoon, which is home to rides with names such as Humunga Kowabunga and Ketchakiddee Creak, the world's largest wave pool (with up to 6-foot swells), and even a saltwater snorkelling area that allows guests to swim above a coral reef full of tropical fish, stingrays, and even leopard and bonnethead sharks. But don't worry, none will hurt you!
Not to be outdone, SeaWorld Orlando's Aquatica Waterpark offers 36 slides and six river areas. But the star of this park is the Dolphin Plunge, where riders are sent whooshing through clear underwater tubes past real black-and-white Commerson's dolphins.
Dark Bowls, Tornados, and Surfing
But what about the more unusually shaped slides? Blue Bayou Waterpark is located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana next to the Dixie Landin' themepark. It is also home to VooDoo, which is billed as the "world's largest dark Behemoth bowl slide," and Azuka, billed as the "world's largest tornado slide."
VooDoo begins with an enclosed slide and continues into a large, enclosed bowl. The rushing water spins and twists guests until they're finally dropped through a hole in the floor into a splash pool. For Azuka, guests sit in 4-person cloverleaf rafts and are dropped from inside a tunnel into an area shaped like a sideways funnel. Here, guests rush up and down one side of the funnel's walls to the other until blasting out the back into a waiting pool.
What sounds even more amazing is their new-for-2013 aqua loop water slide Mambo, which will actually turn riders upside-down on a full 360* loop!
Another popular park in the region offering big-scare water rides is Geyser Falls in Choctaw, Mississipi, which is home to Mt. Everwet's three 6-story speed slides and Backsplash -- the first 2-person backwards tubing waterslide. And the highlight of the Massanutten Resort waterpark in Virginia is Pipeline, an indoor FlowRider stand-up surfing attraction.
No matter where you choose to cool off this summer, you're sure to find plenty of hair-raising thrills. Of course there are also plenty of other options for those who prefer calmer and more relaxing pursuits. That's why waterparks may be the perfect hot-weather getaway for families: they offer the best of all worlds for those ready for some wet and wild fun.
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