Aquatica--Sea World's Waterpark
Published: April 1, 2008 at 8:52 AM
Aquatica is billed as "Sea World’s Waterpark," and there are definitely some touches at Florida’s newest waterpark that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. There are also some attractions that you could find in just about any waterpark in America. The park is situated just across the street from Sea World, and coaster fans will undoubtedly be taunted by Kraken as its trains roar a few hundred yards beyond Aquatica’s boundary.
My wife and I, along with my new underwater digital camera, spent Sunday in the new park. Our day started just before the 9:00 AM opening time with the realization that perhaps park designers did not expect large crowds, as the small entry plaza was overflowing with people, a fact that was further exacerbated by the slow entry gates. This was a crowded but not capacity attendance day, making the long lines somewhat disconcerting. We made our way into the park, and proceeded to the locker rental area. Lockers at Aquatica can be rented for $8 (small) or $10 (large) on an all-day basis with $3 returned in the form of a park gift card (good at either Aquatica or Sea World) when the locker key is returned. Towels can also be rented for the day for $4, which includes a $2 deposit also returned as a park gift card. Sorry passholders – no discounts on rentals.
As with most waterparks, it’s important to stake your claim to a beach chair early in the day, and Aquatica is no different. A majority of the chairs are located near the dual wave pools, but there are others scattered around the park that may not have the convenience or sandy beach, but may provide a bit more seclusion. Also, guests can rent a cabana for the day, most of which are located behind the wave pools. Cabana rentals include towels, assorted non-alcoholic beverages, and lockers for $150 per day ($175 from Memorial Day – Labor Day). While that may seem expensive, split between 4 people, it may be a convenient way to ensure some privacy and comfort on busy days. We bypassed the luxury and comfort of the cabanas, and instead chose a pair of beach chairs under a shady palm tree.
Aquatica has a number of attractions including five waterslide complexes, two wave pools, two river-based attractions, two kids play-plexes, and two animal attractions. The trademark waterslide at Aquatica is Dolphin Plunge, which is an enclosed slide that sends riders through a tube that shoots through a tank filled with Commerson’s Dolphins.
Even without the plunge through a dolphin tank, the slide is a lot of fun, but the trip past swimming dolphins is so quick that you might not even notice, as evidenced by this video.
Taumata Racer is a set of 8 racing slides that start off enclosed, but end with an exciting race to the finish.
Walhalla Wave and HooRoo Run are a pair of large raft-based slides that are both exciting and worth a try. Tassie’s Twisters are a pair of identical slides that I affectionately call "toilet bowl" slides. These slides can be fun, but tend to be really low capacity because it takes almost one minute to reach the bottom. Whanau Way is the final slide complex that consists of a pair of enclosed slides that are both very different but very fun. Of the slides, Whanau Way was my favorite. There are also smaller slides located in Walkabout Waters, a pretty standard play-plex with cargo nets, splashing buckets and water cannons. A series of even smaller slides can be found at Kata’s Kookaburra Cove with a number of attractions designed for the smallest of swimmers. Roa’s Rapids is a not-so-lazy river that is best experienced wearing a life vest (inner tubes are not allowed) with a strong current that carries riders through twists turns, past geysers, and waterfalls, and through "speed zones." Loggerhead Lane is a pretty standard lazy river, but offers exclusive views of the dolphin tank and a tropical aquarium.
Finally, there are two distinct wave pools, Big Surf Shores and Cutback Cove. The name would suggest that Big Surf Shores would be the more advanced of the two wave pools, but it produces medium-sized, very regular swells, which Cutback Cove has larger, more organic waves that vary depending on where you are in the pool. Both pools were nice, but Cutback Cove was definitely the better of the two.
Guests also have a number of dining options ranging from snack bars to an all-you-care-to-eat buffet. Since we were spending the entire day at the park, we chose the all-day buffet at the Banana Beach Cookout for $19.95. The buffet can also be purchased for a single meal for $12.95. The buffet includes assorted fruits, pudding, pasta salad, potato salad, cole slaw, corn on the cob, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, hamburgers, hot dogs, BBQ chicken wings, and assorted fountain beverages. The food was all very good and the buffet provided more than enough variety to satisfy our appetites for two meals. For guests not wanting to go the buffet route, there are two other main restaurants, Mango Market with wood-fired pizzas and assorted cold cuts, and Waterstone Grill with hot sandwiches and wraps.
There are number of great things about Florida’s newest waterpark. The Dolphin Plunge is an experience that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Cutback Cove produces some of the most realistic surf I’ve experienced in a wave pool. The Banana Beach Cookout is a great value for guests planning to eat two meals in the park or who may want to snack throughout the day.
However, the park is not without its faults. The Dolphin Plunge is very cool, but guests whiz through the dolphin tank so fast, they probably won’t even notice that they’ve slid through a tank of marine mammals. Most of the waterslides are pretty generic in design, and the park does not have any speed slides (like Summit Plummet at Disney’s Blizzard Beach). The park also lacks an entry area large enough to accommodate guests waiting for the park to open. Aquatica could also use some more animal exhibits if it is going to market itself as "Sea World’s Waterpark."
Despite the negatives, Aquatica is definitely an enjoyable waterpark, and should be competitive with Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Its marquee attraction, Dolphin Plunge, will keep guests coming back for more, but some additional unique experiences will be needed in coming years to tackle Disney’s Orlando waterpark supremacy.