Wild Water Parks
For some, water parks are the pinnacle of a splashy getaway, ideal for thrill seekers and fun-loving kids alike — especially in the summer months, when it's time to beat the heat. For others, the mere thought of sliding around with half-naked strangers is enough to dampen any vacation.
Wherever you stand, consider that the typical amusement-based water park concept of yesteryear has evolved to include activities and destinations that more closely resemble spas, mountain resorts, floating gymnasiums and even museums. While the United States claims the largest share of waterparks, with over 1,000 and counting, water parks worldwide are emerging that take concepts in engineering, design and family recreation to new heights.
Whether you’re looking for a side trip to a certain wild ride or to soak up a new locale, here are some of the most memorable and innovative water parks worth checking out.
Aquavaventure at Atlantis, Bahamas
Waterslides at luxury megaresorts are nothing new, but most resorts don’t offer 18 different slides. Thrillers at Aquaventure include the “Challenger,” where guests can race each other down twin slides of a Mayan Temple; the “Abyss,” a 50-foot vertical drop in complete darkness to an underground lair of prehistoric alligator gars and fish; and the “Leap of Faith,” offering a 60-foot vertical drop down to a clear acrylic tunnel submerged in a shark-filled lagoon.
Spanning 141 acres, the park also includes 20 different swimming areas and a kids’ water fort. (And if the Bahamas aren’t in your wheelhouse, you can also find the same rides at Aquaventure in Dubai.)
One potential note of caution? In 2008, one of the sharks at the Bahamas location jumped out of the pool onto the waterslide. Staff reported at the time that guests were never at risk as the water park had yet to open for the morning. But you never know, your visit could be different!
Happy Magic Water Cube Waterpark, China
Michael Phelps broke world records here, and now there’s a lazy river.
Once home to the Water Cube made famous by the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the Happy Magic Water Park is an ethereal dreamlike water world designed to look like a scene from the movie “Avatar.”
A colorful feast for the eyes, you might find yourself feeling more like an animated character than a tourist as you make your way through the lazy river, wave pool, spa area and 13 slides, including the Bullet Bowl, Speed Slide and Tornado. Be on the lookout for small dolphins, giant jellyfish, translucent bubbles — all set to lights and music — and crowds: It’s the second most visited site in Beijing, beaten only by the Great Wall of China.
Aqua Fun, Dubai
It’s all about going big in Dubai, so it’s no surprise that Aqua Fun, just off the coast of Jumeirah Beach, is the largest floating water park in the world.
At 2,600 square meters, the aerial view of this massive structure spells out the Dubai logo in English and Arabic. You’ll want to leave your jewelry and ego at home; every participant gets to wear a lifejacket, and with more than 70 inflatable slides, obstacle courses, swings, ramps, trampolines, monkey bars and wiggle bridges, this is a workout that is guaranteed to leave you breathless — and in the water.
Multiple burly lifeguards are on hand to yank you back onto the course, which is all part of the fun. Play as long as you want; your pass only expires once you return to shore.
Area 47, Austria
Set against a backdrop of high mountain peaks on a cool alpine lake in Tirol, Austria, Area 47 is an outdoor adventure arena and integrated water park all in one. Think “American Ninja Warrior” Austrian style, complete with slides, a lakefront bouldering wall, cliff diving, blobbing, zip lines, a water cannon, a wake park and — for those who want more — mountain biking, river rafting, caving and a high ropes course. (In case you’re not already familiar with “blobbing,” it’s where you get catapulted off an enormous floating air mattress and thrown into the water.)
Perfect for active adults and families with teens, there’s enough adventure at Area 47 that it might take a few days to do it all. And yes, you can: Onsite accommodations include lodges, teepees and double rooms, and there are a couple of restaurants, including an Argentinian BBQ.
Surf Snowdonia, Wales
When in north Wales, surf like a Hawaiian. Originally home to an aluminum factory, Surf Snowdonia is the world’s first commercial artificial surfing lake, located in the Conwy Valley in North Wales.
With an innovative hydrodynamic wave-generation mechanism developed by the Spanish-based Wavegarden, the lake can generate three different-sized waves (beginner, intermediate and advanced) at a rate of about a minute apart, and up to 52 surfers can surf at one time.
Surf lessons are offered in 90-minute sessions (including dryland instruction) and when you’re not surfing, you can check out the “Crash and Splash” lagoon (a floating obstacle course with cute helmet-wearing British people and blobbing) and, for the little ones, a “Soft Play Shack” with an adjacent café.
Onsite glamping dome-style pods provide cozy accommodations with access to après-wave hot tubs and a sauna.
Citta Del Mare Holiday Village, Italy
Where else can you slide directly into the Mediterranean?
Located in the province of Palermo, Sicily, the Citta Del Mare Resort Village includes the “Toboggan,” the highest water slide in Europe, a series of four slides and three pools carved into a cliff reaching the sea. There’s also a shallow reflecting pool perfect for little ones, an Olympic size pool surrounded by a lush landscape and plenty of onsite activities.
Citta Del Mare is a huge all-inclusive resort, and though reviews are mixed when it comes to accommodations and food, the setting can’t be beat. Water features are exclusive to hotel guests, and be aware: The slides close for riposa (Italy’s siesta time) every afternoon.
Splash Island Water Park, St. Lucia
If you can’t find a Crossfit to your liking on vacation, you might as well set your sights on the first open-water floating sports park in the Caribbean.
Set on the popular Reduit Beach in St. Lucia, Splash Island Water Park offers a floating obstacle course complete with a trampoline, climbing wall, swings, monkey bars, a slide, hurdles and a double rocker. Not all of the floating activities are connected, which means individuals and groups can spread out a bit, and the water is shallow enough so participants can stand for a game of water volleyball.
Like other courses, this one is manufactured by the German watersports company Wibit Sports GmBH, and lifeguards are on hand to assist participants. Reduit (pronounced “red-wee”) Beach is a gorgeous white sand beach with clear water and plenty of nearby bars and restaurants, making this an ideal spot to spend an afternoon.
Tropical Islands, Germany
Thirty miles south of Berlin, inside a massive 16-acre former airship hangar, is Germany’s Tropical Islands Resort, the world’s largest indoor water park.
With themed areas inspired by Bali, Thailand, Borneo and Samoa; multiple pools, lagoons and slides; a full-service spa; a sauna complex; a “tropical sea”; and the largest indoor rainforest in the world with nearly 50,000 plants, Tropical Islands can host up to 8,200 guests at a time.
Tropical Islands is open around the clock, every day of the year. Divided into two main areas, each with its own admission price, you can move around by paying an additional daily charge, with extra fees for mini-golf, the water slide tower, evening shows and overnight accommodations.
New to the resort is an outdoor area called Amazonia, a year-round waterworld with lavish heated-swimming pools, massage pools, bubble lounges and swirl seats.
World Waterpark at West Edmonton Mall, Canada
Located inside North America’s largest mall, World Waterpark is the world’s first-ever indoor water park and the second largest — at over 655,550 square feet, it’s about the size of four football fields. The park boasts 21 different slides, including the first water slide in Canada to have a 360-degree loop.
Also worth window-shopping: the world’s largest indoor wave pool, surfing, flow riding, zip lining, the tallest indoor bungee tower, tube rides, hot tubs and toddler play structures galore. Three new thrill rides have electronic launch systems where the floor drops from underneath you — sending sliders up to speeds of 40 miles per hour.
When you’re ready to dry off, the one-of-a-kind Fantasyland Hotel in West Edmonton Mall offers unique theme room accommodations.
Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, New Jersey
It’s all about the King Cobra ride. This first-of-its-kind attraction featuring two dueling racing slides opened at the Six Flags in Jackson, New Jersey, in the summer of 2012, and a new one is opening this summer at Noah’s Ark. Start off with a heart-pounding figure eight before twisting and plunging 25 jaw-dropping feet into the cobra’s giant head.
Other group-ride favorites at this water park include the Tornado, a wild rush of 5,000 gallons of water a minute, where you and three other friends twist and turn 75 feet down a 132-foot tunnel; Reef Runner, a wide open-topped chute; and Big Bambu, a terrifying ride in complete darkness, followed by a six-story drop at the end.
There are plenty of other things for families to do as well — but then again, you could always just stand in line and keep doing the King Cobra ride.
Noah’s Ark, Wisconsin
If you’re into water parks, like really, really into water parks, the thing you need to know is that Wisconsin Dells is home to the largest concentration of water parks of any place on earth. The concept of the indoor water park was pioneered here, too.
If you only have time to choose one, Noah’s Ark is the largest waterpark in the U.S. with 49 waterslides, two giant wave pools, two endless rivers and four children’s water play areas covering 70 acres.
Of Biblical proportions: The Scorpion’s Tail at 10 stories high with a near vertical loop; the Black Anaconda, a quarter-mile of terror as you get swallowed whole; and, new for this year, Raja, the newest King Cobra slide.
Afterwards, hurl yourself over to the Dive-In 4-D Movie Theater.
Aldeia das Águas Park Resort, Brazil
You could always just climb the 234 steps, take a look at the amazing view, and back out. A reported 1 in 20 riders do just that; others pray.
Kilimanjaro at Aldeia das Águas Park Resort, just outside of Rio de Janeiro Brazil, is arguably the tallest and most terrifying ride you can find. Riders say the near vertical 164-foot drop is so steep, you don’t even “feel” the back of the slide until you’re close to the bottom.
It took 60 workers 100 days, a 100-foot crane and a million dollars to build Kilimanjaro in 2001. It went on to enjoy “world’s tallest” status for nearly 17 years until the 17-story-high Verrückt, the German word for “insane,” was opened in Kansas. That ride, though, closed after a 10-year-old boy tragically suffered a fatal neck injury.
Aldeia das Águas Park Resort, where the Kilimanjaro slide is located, is an enormous water park and resort with 17 pools, a wave pool, dozens of slides, a hotel, a convention center, restaurants and a car track.
Siam Park, Spain
Located in Costa Adeje, a coastal suburb in the Canary Islands, Siam Park has Thai roots — it was opened by Her Royal Highness the Princess of Thailand, no less — and the Siamese and Thai buildings are the largest collection outside Thailand.
Built on a hill in a sprawling lush landscape, it’s easy to see why Siam Park was voted “World’s Best Waterpark” by Tripadvisor in 2015. There’s a wide variety of slides and activities — a wave pool with the highest waves in the world, a six-lane racing slide, a river rapids ride, the longest lazy river in the world and twin ProSlide Cannon Bowls, one moving clockwise and one moving counterclockwise depending on whether you are a double or single rider.
Because most of the slides follow the landscape’s natural terrain, they are therefore lacking many of the prominent, ahem, eyesore-inducing structures common in most water parks.
Wings and Waves Water Park, Oregon
Wings and Waves, an educational waterpark in McMinville, Oregon, boasts one truly memorable attraction: a rooftop slide that zips riders through a real Boeing 747.
Other fun touches include single or double inner tube rides like Tailspin, Nosedive and Sonic Boom. And the multiple-level Aquaplay is topped with a helicopter and themed like an Oregon forest, complete with forest fire education, Smokey the Bear and water guns.
At the adjacent Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, visitors can participate in exhibits, flight simulators, movies and other attractions.
Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park
Blizzard Beach puts a cool twist on water parks, literally: The theme here is snowy winter.
Cheekily named rides include Slush Gusher and Snow Stormers, and visitors can get around — appropriately — via chairlift.
A standout thrill? Summit Plummet, one of the world's tallest, fastest freefall body slides.