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Dive into top 5 U.S. waterparks

By May Monten, Contributing writer
Published On: Apr 10 2012 02:36:27 PM CDT
Updated On: Aug 12 2013 09:17:03 AM CDT
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With summer in full bloom and the mercury rising, the nation's thoughts turn to ... water parks. There are more than a thousand water parks in the United States, and more open up every year. With their cool water, shade, mix of thrilling and relaxing rides, abundance of food, and activities for kids and teens, it's no surprise that water parks have become so popular. In these pages, you will be introduced to the best water parks in the country –- the largest, the most visited, and the most award-winning. You will learn where you can find a tropical beach in the Midwest, where you can snorkel with sharks, and where you can go ice-skating in a water park in the winter. Whether you are making plans to go or are just armchair traveling, thinking about water parks should bring a splash of refreshment to your day.

Typhoon Lagoon

Disney's Typhoon Lagoon, part of Walt Disney World in Florida, gets high ratings from visitors.It has nine water slides, some mild and some wild. The fastest and scariest is Humunga Kowabunga, where brave visitors can drop five stories down in enclosed slides, falling almost vertically, in the dark. Yikes. One of Typhoon Lagoon's most unusual attractions is Shark Reef, where you can snorkel with real sharks. No, there aren't great whites. It wouldn't be nice for the attractions to eat the customers. The sharks here are the more mild-mannered leopards and bonnetheads –- and, one hopes, they won't be too hungry when you arrive. The park also has one of the world's largest wave pools, raft rides, and tame areas for little kids. It's not hard to see why this is one of the most visited water parks in the world.

The Beach Waterpark

The Beach Waterpark is a 25-minute drive north of Cincinnati, Ohio. Everything you would want on a tropical beach is here -- real sand, palm trees, waves, lounge seats, cabana waiters, and volleyball games. Slides and rides include the evocatively named Typhoon Twist, Volcanic Panic, Aztec Adventure, and the Cliff, where courageous souls drop five stories in three seconds. On the tamer side, there's a slow-moving inner-tube river ride and an area for little kids. Special events include "dive-in movies," which you can watch while floating on an inner tube or relaxing in a beach chair, teen dance nights, a reggae music festival, and days when you can bring your dog. The park is also open part of the winter for ice skating and toboggan sliding. There's a petting zoo in the winter, pony and carriage rides, and a miniature train.

Noah's Ark

Noah's Ark Waterpark in Wisconsin is the largest water park in the country. There are 49 slides, a spectacular water coaster, two wave pools, four rivers, four kiddie areas, miniature golf, a 4-D theater, and bumper boats. With all these things to do, you might want to stay more than one day. No problem. There are plenty of hotels, motels, campgrounds, and even log cabin rentals in the area. If 49 waters slides and all the other goodies in Noah's Ark just aren't enough, you can keep on going at the many other water parks in the area. Wisconsin Dells, where Noah's Ark is located, has so many water parks, both outdoors and indoors, that it is known as "the water park capital of the world." It's a must-visit area for avid water-park fans.

The Wildebeest

The Wildebeest, the longest water coaster in the world, opened this season at Splashin' Safari in Indiana. Riders in four-person rafts travel over eight hills, through two tunnels, and around a helix, at speeds as fast as 36 feet per second, with drops as long as 38 feet. Other thrilling rides include the seven-story tall Bakuli, the eight-story tall Zinga, and the ten-story tall ZOOMbabwe, the largest enclosed water slide in the world, which takes riders through sudden drops, twists, and turns, all in total darkness. People looking for a more relaxing experience can float down the park's Congo River in an inner tube.Splashin' Safari is the largest water park in Indiana. It is located in the town of Santa Claus, a name that's unusual, but easy to remember, for the location of a summer attraction.

Schlitterbahn

Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort in New Braunfels, Texas, won the Golden Ticket Award –- the Oscar of the amusement park industry –- for Best Waterpark every year since the awards were first given in 1998.In 2009 Schlitterbahn got 60 percent of the votes, blowing the competition out of the, um, water, with their closet competitor, Splashin' Safari, floating far behind with 14 percent. Schlitterbahn also won a Golden Ticket for Best Waterpark Ride for Master Blaster, a water coaster that sends riders three stories down, three stories up, through a twisting tunnel, around a figure eight, and then down in a spiral. The Congo River Expedition, another Golden Ticket winner (Best New Waterpark Ride) uses dazzling special effects to immerse guests in a rainforest world as they ride the currents down the river in an inner tube. Waterpark lovers will want to check this park out when only the best will do.

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