Aqua-filled Memories at Aquatica
There was a moment at Aquatica, SeaWorld’s Waterpark in Orlando, where I felt like water was oozing from my pores.
I had just gotten slammed with a very, very large bucket of water (see photo below) and was dripping wet. This bucket is part of Walkabout Waters, an attraction aimed mainly at children, although you’ll find just as many adults going through the labryinth-like maze of water torture (er, water fun).
As I walked through Walkabout Waters, with water dripping off my body and the shallow pool at the bottom of the attraction bringing water to my knees, I could spot upcoming water attacks from park guests who had water guns and were aiming them at me. And no, these were not children. An adult man showered me with an aqua attack, smiling in delight afterward.
Aquatica is part of and adjacent to Sea World. It opened in 2008 and is owned by Blackstone Group, which purchased SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, and a few other parks from Anheuser Busch in 2009 in a $2.3 billion+ deal. Water parks are a big business in Florida. They add one or more days of fun (and spending) onto your visit to an existing favorite park, such as SeaWorld or Magic Kingdom–and that’s exactly what water park owners are hoping will happen. To quote the headline of a New York Times article, “Just add a water park, and watch revenue climb.” The top 15 water parks in the U.S. attracted 11.8 million visitors in 2006, according to an industry report.
In Orlando alone, there are at least five major parks where you can get drenched till you drop, including Aquatica, Wet ‘n’ Wild (the first outdoor water park in the U.S., built in 1977 and attracting an average of 1.3 million visitors a year), Disney’s Blizzard Beach, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon, and Discovery Cove. This doesn’t even include larger hotels in Orlando that have add-on water attractions.
So what does Aquatica and its 3.3 million gallons of water, 36 slides, and six rivers and lagoons add to the mix? Its connection to SeaWorld gives it more of an animal-tie in. Near the park entry, you can see Commerson’s dolphins swimming and training–in fact, Dolphin Plunge has see-through slides where at one portion where you plunge through the dolphin’s swimming area. These unique dolphins look like mini versions of killer whales. You can also see macaws as you walk through the park. The park has an Australian/South Seas theme as a “shout out” to the animals it features, but it felt weird to hear park announcements in Australian accents.
On our visit to the park during a recent Friday, the park seemed clean and staff seemed helpful. Attractions were busy, but we didn’t go through any insufferable lines. My 7-year-old son and I were able to concentrate on having fun at Cutback Cove (one of two wave pools), Roa’s Rapids, Walkabout Waters, and Kata’s Kookaburra Cove, the latter two of which are geared more toward children and have age-appropriate slides. Of course, the park features plenty of large slides for the older and the braver, including HooRoo Run and Whanau Way, among others.
If you’re planning a visit to Aquatica, keep these tips in mind:
–Compare admission prices online. I saved $6 buying my adult ticket ($41.99) online versus at the gate (a child’s ticket is also $41.99), and we didn’t have to stand in line when we arrived. If you’re a Florida resident, check for related discounts. If you plan to visit Aquatica or SeaWorld frequently, an annual pass may be a better deal. The annual pass includes free parking, saving you $12 a visit.
–If you don’t want an aerobic workout, don a life vest when you visit Roa’s Rapids. This fast-moving rapid experience can make your heart work a little harder as you swim or jog along with the rapids. After four times around, I needed a break. Per my son’s urging to do it some more, we put on life vests, and I was able to float along with the rapids–a less adventurous but more relaxing experience.
–Select your food carefully. Although the French fries my son and I ate from Mango Market were tasty (and surely artery-clogging), the veggie wrap I ordered lacked flavor. Fresh fruit helped liven up our lunch and add some healthiness. We later had a pretzel and a churro for a snack, both of which were yummy. Aquatica lets some outside food in the park (mostly snacks and drinks). In addition to its eateries, the park also sells picnic packages.
–Establish a meeting place. Some of the attractions, such as Walkabout Waters, are huge and somewhat confusing to navigate when they’re busy. You can easily get separated from your children or others in your party. Before my son and I explored the attraction, I pointed out to him where our towels were (“under the big blue umbrella beside the Walkabout Waters sign”) so in case we got separated, we’d have a meeting place. Of course, I told him he could ask someone who works there for help as well.