Pack your swimsuit and your sense of adventure because water parks are not just for children.
Some of the world’s best combine white-knuckle, adrenaline-filled rides with relaxing activities for those not so keen to make a splash.
BEST IN THE WORLD: Aquatica, Florida
The Taumata Racer in Orlando. For fun as a group, grab a mat and challenge yourself against eight others
Orlando may be home to Disney World but water lovers should head to its neighbour SeaWorld (seaworldparks.co.uk), where Aquatica is a brilliant family experience.
WHOOSH: The park features 43 slides, lagoons and rivers.
I’m wrapped in a towel on a lounger in the shade of a cabana, my mobile phone charging at my side, and the staff have taken my lunch order. I should think about heading back to the fun with my two boys, aged five and 12, and my water-loving husband, but this chance to relax is too good to miss.
Aquatica has a fabulous reputation for being the most fun water park in the United States, if not the world. The choice of rides can seem overwhelming and it takes a while to familiarise yourself with the layout of the park. But when you do, there is something for everyone.
Love the beach? There is a stretch of sand the size of Trafalgar Square dotted with loungers facing two wave pools called Cutback Cove and Big Surf Shores.
Younger visitors will race to Walkabout Waters, a brightly coloured expanse of bridges, towers, slides, tubes and wading pool, and Kata’s Kookaburra Cove, with its water spouts, inflatable tubes and a body slide. Ever-present lifeguards reassure nervous parents, while life jackets are available for everyone.
My top attraction was Dolphin Plunge, an enclosed slide through a pool full of Commerson’s dolphins. It’s tempting to keep your eyes shut, but don’t or you’ll miss them playing.
The boys’ go-to ride was Roa’s Rapids, a fast-flowing river loop where the water is about 3ft deep. There was no queue and no stairs, and the only difficult part was actually getting out (don’t be surprised if you find yourself going around a few extra times).
Curiously, for all the noise of splashing and laughter mixed with the distant rumble of rides and excited screams, Aquatica is now the first water park in the world to be a Certified Autism Centre. Staff are trained to assist visitors with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and offer advice and guidance on planning a suitable itinerary.
Rent a cabana if you plan to make a day (or two) of it (they cost from £184 a day). Besides guaranteed quiet and shade, there’s a fridge stocked with water, waiter service, towels, a lockable cupboard and a ceiling fan.
You won’t go hungry here. Banana Beach Cookout has barbecued meats, pizzas, wraps and ice cream on the menu, while Mango Market has sandwiches and salads.
THRILLS: The newly launched and not-to-be-missed KareKare Curl is a zero-gravity water wall with an (almost) sheer drop at the end. For fun as a group, grab a mat and challenge yourself against eight others on the steep Taumata Racer.
EXTRA FUN: The full-body air dryer. Up to five people can stand in a booth to be dried off.
PACKAGE: The Discovery Cove Ultimate Package includes 14 days’ unlimited entry to Aquatica Orlando, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, with free parking at all parks, plus one day at Discovery Cove (with 30-minute dolphin swim experience, meals, snacks and drinks included). It costs from £192pp (seaworldparks.co.uk). Family rooms cost from £72.50 per night at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Orlando at Seaworld (dtresortorlando.com).
BEST LUXURY: Aquaventure at Atlantis Paradise Island, Bahamas
The Serpent Slide culminates with guests heading through a clear tunnel submerged in a shark-filled lagoon
Water parks don’t get more laid-back and luxurious than this. Rent a spacious cabana with pool and beach access, a host and a drinks-filled fridge in these lush 141 acres.
WHOOSH: A total of 18 slides, and a mile-long river ride.
THRILLS: The Abyss features a terrfying 50ft almost-vertical drop in darkness, and on the five-storey corkscrew Serpent Slide, the ride culminates with guests heading through a clear tunnel submerged in a shark-filled lagoon.
EXTRA FUN: An early morning Serenity Snorkel is a peaceful swim in clear waters alongside the rescued bottlenose dolphins.
PACKAGE: The park is free for Atlantis guests, where rooms cost from £199 a night. Adult day passes cost from £120 or £78 for children (atlantisbahamas.com).
BEST LOCATION: Thrill, CocoCay, Bahamas
The newly opened Thrill water park is set on an idyllic private Caribbean island, which is part of Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay.
WHOOSH: Two towers with 13 water slides and the Caribbean’s largest wave pool.
THRILLS: The 135ft Daredevil’s Peak is the tallest water slide in North America, and Oasis Lagoon is the Caribbean’s largest freshwater pool. End your day on the 1,600ft-long zip line and cool off with a splash landing.
EXTRA FUN: A swim-up bar lets you enjoy a cocktail in the lagoon.
PACKAGE: A seven-night Eastern Caribbean & Perfect Day cruise on Harmony of the Seas, departing August 25, 2019, costs from £1,054pp, based on two sharing interior stateroom (royalcaribbean.co.uk/perfect-day-cococay).
BEST SLIDE: Aquaventure Water Park, Dubai
Leap of Faith requires guests to climb a nine-storey structure before they are shot at high speed through the temple’s core
Fin-tastic: Leap of Faith riders zoom through a shark-filled lagoon after plummeting down the drop
Beat the heat at Dubai’s largest aquarium and water park.
WHOOSH: 42 acres of rides, water coasters and shark-filled lagoons.
THRILLS: Leap of Faith requires guests to climb a nine-storey structure before they are shot at high speed through the temple’s core, before bursting into a clear tunnel in a shark-filled lagoon.
For Poseidon’s Revenge, thrillseekers stand in a capsule before the floor opens and they drop through centre of a tower at speeds reaching 37mph.
EXTRA FUN: At Shark Safari, you’ll be underwater wearing specialist headgear and will be led through an aquarium with fish, rays and sharks.
PACKAGE: A two-day Mega Pass costs from £62pp (online only) and gives unlimited access. Ocean rooms at the nearby Atlantis, The Palm start at £150 per night (atlantisthepalm.com).
BEST INDOORS: Tropical World, Krausnick, Germany
Germany is home to the world’s biggest indoor water park – Tropical World in Krausnick
Tropical World is the world’s biggest indoor water park. It is located in a former aircraft hangar, within the Tropical Islands theme park near Berlin.
WHOOSH: Water slides, a lagoon, tropical rainforest and sandy beach, all under one dome.
THRILLS: Water Slide Tower is Germany’s tallest water slide.
EXTRA FUN: Enjoy a unique view of Tropical Islands in a free-floating ‘hot air’ balloon.
PACKAGE: Rooms within the dome cost from £103pp per night and include park access. Children aged up to five go free. Alternatively, camping inside the dome in a two- or four-man tent costs from £64pp per night, with park access. Day tickets for the park cost £37 for adults and £29 for children five and over (tropical-islands.de/en).
Beach Park is home to the 65mph Insano ride (pictured)
BEST EXTREME THRILLS: Beach Park, Fortaleza, Brazil
Porto das Dunas resort has the largest water park in Latin America.
WHOOSH: Seven giant water slides, an enchanted river, pools and a beach.
THRILLS: The 14-storey-high Insano has already been voted the most extreme ride in the world several times, and gives awesome views of beach and sea. Thrillseekers reach speeds of up to 65mph in just five seconds.
EXTRA FUN: Get rid of excess adrenaline and ease any tense muscles in the sauna.
PACKAGE: Tickets cost £47 for adults and £44 for children. Junior suites for four at Beach Park Resorts (a minimum four-night stay is required) cost £181 per night (beachpark.com).
BEST FOR BIG KIDS: Siam Park, Tenerife
Siam Park features ten themed rides, a lazy river, a wave pool, rapids and a beach
Being close to the vibrant nightlife of Playa de las Americas, and the number of multi-person rides makes this Thai-inspired themed park ideal for an adults-only group.
WHOOSH: Ten themed rides, a lazy river, wave pool, rapids and beach.
THRILLS: Naga Racer is a six- lane mat racing slide, while four people can climb aboard a raft to ride the Mekong Rapids.
EXTRA FUN: Sea Lion Island is a gentle, natural addition to this man-made extravaganza.
PACKAGE: A Siam Park VIP all-inclusive adult ticket costs £104 and offers preferential access to all attractions and all-inclusive service at the Beach Bar and Beach Club (siampark.net). A one-bedroom junior suite at the Palm Beach Club in Playa de las Americas costs from £92 per night (palmbeachclubtenerife.com)
BEST FOR NON-SWIMMERS: Olympia Aqua Park, Kyllini, Greece
The Olympia Riviera resort makes it easy to combine water play with time on the beach, in the spa and at beachside bars, cafes and restaurants.
WHOOSH: Hercules and Olympia are the backdrop for eight water rides and watercoasters.
THRILLS: Space Hole is an exhilarating ride in an enclosed tube that spins you out into an open bowl before splashing you into a big water hole.
EXTRA FUN: There is a watersports school here so you can leave with a skill.
PACKAGE: The aqua park is free for resort guests. Seaview rooms cost from £96 a night (rivieraolympia.com/water-park-hotel).
… and you can make a splash in Bognor too!
Since opening in July 1960, Butlin’s at Bognor Regis has been run on a simple principle: ‘a week’s holiday for a week’s wages’. Six decades later, the park still has you covered for a UK family holiday – and all for the price of admission. One payment for accommodation and the resort aims to provide you and yours with an array of activities and entertainment.
Splash, its new £40 million swimming complex, boasts the world’s first helter-skelter water slide (as high as two double deckers) for the more adventurous. For smaller children, there is ankle-deep, bath-warm water with the gentlest of slides. Given the choice, my two children would have spent so much time there that they would probably have developed gills.
The changing rooms are also a triumph – thanks to input from online forum Mumsnet, they now feature underfloor heating.
Butlin’s at Bognor Regis has launched Splash, a new £40 million swimming complex that boasts the world’s first helter-skelter water slide (as high as two double deckers)
On the drier (and still free) side of things is the traditional Butlin’s funfair, a sight familiar to all from childhood: carousels, go-karts and dodgems. Such attractions do not need a flashy update to have the little ones squealing with delight. That the Bognor resort is situated opposite the seashore means a paddle in the bracing Channel, an ice cream and a stick of rock are also within reach, should the British weather behave itself.
But if, likely as not, it doesn’t, then Butlin’s still aims to keep you entertained with a host of indoor shows in the centrepiece Skyline pavilion. Think appearances by Mr Men and Tellytubbies for the youngest, and dancing 7ft robots for the older ones, hosted, aided and abetted by the ever-present, ever-smiling Redcoats. Factor in soft play areas and playgrounds and it all adds up to a lot of fun.
Should you wish to put your hand in your pocket, the options include zip wires, bungee trampolining, mini golf, football camps and dance classes.
Of course, families can’t survive on fun alone and you’ll never go hungry here. Buffet style, all-you-can-eat restaurants offering breakfast, lunch and dinner sit alongside a 1950s themed diner, a Papa John’s pizzeria, a very good fish and chip restaurant, a gastro pub and a Burger King, all on top of the self-catering option.
The newly introduced ‘Dine Around’ option is worth considering. For a fixed pre-paid price per person, you have the freedom to eat two courses (plus alcoholic beverages for adults, unlimited soft drinks for others) at most of the establishments.
After a day of swimming, helter-skeltering and face- filling, the question naturally arises of where to lay one’s head. With a staggering 12 types of accommodation available, there is something to suit all pockets.
The chalets are basic and best suited for those who just want a place to sleep. But there are also three on-site hotels, including The Wave, which has an area full of Xboxes and PlayStations for older children – just in case they are bored…
By James Mannion