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Top U.S. Water Parks
1. WILDERNESS TERRITORY WATERPARK RESORT AT WISCONSIN DELLS, WI. Near Madison, WI. (55 miles) The Wilderness Territory's most popular ride is the Hurricane: Riders experience the eye of the storm as they rapidly descend through a four-story funnel. Flashes of lightning, rumbling thunder, and drifting fog convey the sense of a full-blown natural disaster. Details 511 E. Adams St., Wisconsin Dells, Wis., 800/867-9453, wildernessresort.com. Kids eat free with adult purchase.Other Wilderness locations A new, 150-acre Wilderness resort in Sevierville, Tenn. Parks nearby Other water parks in Wisconsin Dells: Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park and Noah's Ark. 2. KALAHARI RESORT, SANDUSKY, OH. Near Toledo, OH. (60 miles) Kalahari doubled the size of the park in December 2007. The highlight is the Swahili Swirl. In a four-person inner tube, you'll be ejected from a steep tube slide into a 60-foot-diameter bowl; it's a dizzying three times around before you're sucked down the drain and dropped into a 50-foot-long landing pool. It's like a really fun toilet bowl. To mellow out, relax under the 40,000-square-foot clear Texlon roof, which houses tropical plants and allows guests to catch sun year-round.Details 7000 Kalahari Dr., Sandusky, 877/525-2427, kalahariresort.com. Look for "Beat the Clock" lodging specials on the website. Other Kalahari locations Wisconsin Dells Wis. And a new water-park resort is under development in Fredericksburg, Va. 3. AQUATIC BY SEAWORLD, ORLANDO, FL. Near Tampa, FL. (85 miles) The signature experience here is the Dolphin Plunge, 250 feet of clear underwater tubes that plunge riders into a lagoon populated by charismatic black-and-white Commerson's dolphins. For a split second, you'll feel as if you're swimming with them. Aquatica's attractions include something for everyone: 36 slides, six rivers and lagoons, and more than 80,000 square feet of white-sand beaches.Details 5800 Water Play Way, Orlando, 888/800-5447, aquaticabyseaworld.com. 4. DAYTONA LAGOON, DAYTONA BEACH, FL. Near Orlando, FL. (55 miles) Daytona Lagoon's most hair-raising experience is Blackbeard's Revenge. After you climb the 62-foot tower and mount an inner tube, you'll take a 15 mph, six-story tumble down a twisting, pitch-black tunnel slide. Don't miss the brand-new Kraken's Conquest, either: It's a four-lane, 55-foot-long ProRacer-series speed slide. Friends and families can challenge each other to high-speed, watery showdowns. Details 601 Earl St., Daytona Beach, 386/254-5020, daytonalagoon.com. The park offers a different special each day; for example, every Thursday you can get unlimited use of miniature golf, the carousel, and the rock-climbing wall from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for $10. 5. WATER WORLD, DENVER, CO. Near Boulder, CO. (30 miles) The 67-acre Water World's calling card is the Voyage to the Center of the Earth. Brave riders hop onto inner tubes and journey into the dark—where they're confronted by large, animatronic dinosaurs, including a 15-foot T. rex. If you're scared of the dark, but not much else, the TurboRacer might be more your style: Jump headfirst onto toboggan mats and race your friends down four stories, eventually launching—at more than 20 mph—onto a straightaway to the finish line. Each rider's time is recorded, so you can tell if you're the fastest waterstud in Denver.Details 1800 W. 89th Ave., Federal Heights, Colo., 303/427-7873, waterworldcolorado.com. Families can bring a picnic into the park; parking is free. 6. GULF ISLANDS WATERPARK, GULFPORT, MS. Near New Orleans, LA. (77 miles) The most popular ride here is the Horn Island Blaster water roller coaster. The attraction ferries two riders at a time through more than 500 feet of twists and turns, including some thrilling uphill blasts at angles greater than 45 degrees. Families with young children might opt instead for the Ship Island Wreck, a slide for kids as young as 2. Details 13100 16th St. Gulfport, 866/485-3386, gulfislandswaterpark.com. 7. WATER PARK OF AMERICA, BLOOMINGTON, MN. Near Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN. (13 miles) Given that it's adjacent to the gargantuan Mall of America, it's no wonder that the Water Park of America is a year-round attraction. The highlight is its mile-long indoor Whitewater Family Raft Ride, which propels riders over a river suspended 10 stories above the cars and trucks zipping along Interstate 494. Other standouts include an immense video arcade and the Trillium Spa— the latter for those who would prefer to skip the action.Details 1700 American Blvd. E., Bloomington, 952/698-8888, waterparkofamerica.com. The Radisson, which connects to the park, offers packages that include tickets. 8. SPLISH SPLASH, LONG ISLAND, N.Y. NearNew York City, N.Y. (73 miles) The most popular offerings pitch you into darkness to up the thrill factor: Dragon's Den, Barrier Reef, Hollywood Stunt Rider, and the super popular Alien Invasion. The last ride begins by blasting your four-person raft down a steep slide before spinning it out of control and launching it into a dark pool. For raw intensity, try the Cliff Diver—you'll drop eight stories in three seconds. 'Nuff said.Details 2549 Splish Splash Dr., Calverton, N.Y., 631/727-3600, splishsplashlongisland.com. 9. MOUNTAIN CREEK WATERPARK, VERNON, N.J. Near Trenton, N.J. (89 miles) Vertigo, a fully enclosed water coaster, cannons riders around tight curves in total darkness. Passengers on the park's signature ride, High Anxiety, drop four stories in the dark before entering into a funnel at breakneck speed.Details 200 Rte. 94, Vernon, N.J., 973/864-8444, mountaincreekwaterpark.com. Season-pass benefits include two bring-a-friend-for-free days and free parking. 10. RAGING WATERS, SAN JOSE, CA. Near San Francisco, CA. (50 miles) The 23-acre Raging Waters includes the winding, 60-foot-long Blue Thunder/White Lightning tunnel slide, and the newest attention-grabber, Dragon's Den, which catapults a two-person tube through darkness before a sudden, gut-wrenching drop into calmer waters. Details 2333 S. White Rd., San Jose, 408/238-9900, rwsplash.com. Other Raging Waters locations San Dimas (near L.A.) and Sacramento, Calif. (season passes are good for all three parks). 11. WET 'N WILD EMERALD POINTE, GREENSBORO, N.C. Near Raleigh, N.C. (78 miles) Wet 'n Wild is well-known for its speed chutes like Daredevil Drop, with a hair-raising 76-foot plunge, and Double Barrel Blast, a ride which ends abruptly in midair—launching you from a four-foot edge before you hit the pool. Contrary to its name, Wet 'n Wild also lets you skip the water altogether: The Skycoaster combines the thrills of bungee-jumping and hang gliding, allowing up to three people at a time to experience the sensation of flying without getting even a little soggy.Details 3910 S. Holden Rd., Greensboro, 336/852-9721, emeraldpointe.com. Wet 'n Wild offers various promotions throughout the summer, from Girl Scout Day (June 20) and Home Educator's Day (August 20). 12. SPLASHTOWN WATERPARK, SAN ANTONIO, TX. Near Austin, TX. (80 miles) The 20-acre Splashtown features more than 50 rides and attractions, from simple wave pools to true screamers, such as the five-story Hydras tube-slide tower and the aptly named Wedgie, a precipitous speed slide that tugs on your trunks like an 8th-grade bully as it fires you into the pool below. Details 3600 N. I-35, San Antonio, 210/227-1400, splashtownsa.com. Special events include magic shows and "dive-in" movie screenings. Parking is free.Parks nearby Other area parks include Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels, Texas. If you find yourself in Dallas, Bahama Beach is an option. 13. SIX FLAGS WHITE WATER, ATLANTA Near Athens, GA. (73 miles) The nine-story Cliffhanger is one of the world's tallest free falls. It's so high that just peeking over the top might be thrill enough. But the signature ride is the Tornado, an intense four-person inner-tube nosedive of greater than 50 vertical feet—all while 5,000 gallons of water swirls around you. Details 250 Cobb Pkwy N., Marietta, Ga., 770/948-9290, sixflags.com/whitewater. Other Six Flags locations Six Flags has many Hurricane Harbor water parks adjacent to existing amusement parks; locations include Gurnee/Chicago, Ill.; Arlington, Tex. Eureka, Mo.; Jackson, N.J.; Valencia/Los Angeles, Calif.; Agawam, Mass.; and Largo, Md.
Toledo "hearts" its zoo babies
Just in time for Father's Day, Ohio's Toledo Zoo today opened its cutting-edge redesign for a children's zoo: Nature's Neighborhood. Open year-round and free with regular zoo admission, Nature's Neighborhood helps kids learn about animals and nature while they play games, often mimicking the actions of the very animals they're studying. A classic example: At the new Guinea Pig Exhibit—the zoo believes it's the largest in the world—kids can watch the little creatures go up and down little slides. Next to the exhibit is a kid-size slide for the little ones to play on. At Home Sweet Home, set up like a real house, kids learn all about taking care of household pets, with dog, cat, and bird training demonstrations and the chance to see zoo staff making treats for their furry pals. The kitchen features a "catwalk" above the cabinets where felines can roam—and hide inside the cabinets when they want privacy. In the "bedroom," kids can hold and learn how to groom guinea pigs and also dress up in face paint and costume likenesses of their favorite animals, including birds and zebras. Keep an eye out for the special bookcase, which slides aside to reveal the secret passageway to the Forest. There, kids can learn all about insect hierarchy by dressing up like worker and queen bees, and gardener and soldier ants. Then they can experience the creatures' habitats by crawling in and out of a giant honeycomb and up and down a kid-size spider web. There's also an aviary, with a special branch that's half inside the aviary and half outside it, allowing children to sit on the same perch as the colorful birds. Outside, there's the Backyard. Kids can splash around in the stream and test different materials to see what works best to dam up or divert the flow of the three-inch-deep water (don't worry, it's pool-quality water). At the nearby beach, kids can put on "animal feet" and make deer, raccoon, and duck tracks in the sand. At the gift shop, KC's Corner Store, kids can "Build a Conservation Animal." Similar to Build-A-Bear Workshops, only focusing on animals that the zoo is working to save through conservation efforts, the store allows kids to create their own polar bears, penguins, cheetahs, and more—with a portion of proceeds benefiting the zoo's conservation program. Zoo admission is $11 for adults and $8 for kids; visit on Father's Day and dads get in free with their children. And if you're into zoo babies (who isn't?), the Toledo Zoo in April welcomed a newborn white-naped crane. Zoo Babies 2009! Vote for your cutest baby
Belize travel tips from a pro
Few travel writers know Belize like Joshua Berman, who's most recently written for us about its specialty chocolate tours. Berman's just out with an updated edition of a travel guide to Belize from the travel publishing house with the best reputation for Latin America coverage: Moon. We recently spoke with Berman about all things Belize. Q: What has surprised you most in your research on Belize? A: Two things that have never ceased to amaze me: (1) how much sheer geographical, biological, and ecological diversity there is in an area smaller than the state of Massachusetts, and (2) how so many distinct cultures—more than eight languages spoken!—exist in a population of only 300,000. It's truly hard to fathom this until you see a group of typical Belizeans chatting on a street corner. You'll see Creoles, mestizos, Rastas, Chinese, Mennonites—or all of the above—chatting in one easy circle. Q: So, where's the best place to hang in a hammock? A: Out of range of falling coconuts. Seriously, it's a documented cause of death. Otherwise, I like to hang my hammock on Glover's Reef Atoll or anywhere along the Macal River in Cayo. Q: What's a great nature appreciation experience to have in Belize? A: I think the Lamanai archaeological site packs the most natural bang for your buck. Not only are there vines, orchids, and fig trees carpeting 1,000-year-old Maya pyramids and more recent colonial sugar mills, the journey to and from the site includes a phenomenal birding trip up and down the New River. My advice: Always take the night hike, no matter how tired you are from the day's adventures—I've seen more wildlife during guided nighttime nature walks and boat rides than on day trips. Q: What's the best way to get off the beaten path in Belize? A: Easy—buy a bus or plane ticket from Belize City to Punta Gorda (PG). Tourists rarely include southern Belize in their itineraries, even though there are fantastic accommodations there, from homestays to luxe. There are upland villages, ruins, and caves in Toledo—plenty to do to make it worth the trip. Q: Tell us about the 8th edition of the Belize guide book for Moon. A: There is a new list of voluntourism and other less-than-traditional ways to visit Belize. These are alternative travel opportunities which include field research and volunteer programs, and trips specifically for teachers and veterinarians. Travelers can work directly with botanists, archeologists, and marine biologists, or help out with community projects like housing construction and trail building. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL On the Chocolate Trail in Belize
Belize: Answers to your vacation FAQs
Here's a Q&A; with Eric Wechter, the editor of Fodor's Belize, 4th edition, and Lan Sluder, the author. Wechter is also the Belize expert for Fodor's 80 degrees initiative, an interactive planner for finding a warm-weather escape best suited for your personality. Why are airfares to Belize so high, and how can we find cheaper flights? Air service is somewhat limited and is mostly from a few hubs in the United States. To find the most affordable flights, stay flexible on your dates, avoid peak holiday travel (around Christmas and Easter), and sign up for Internet specials and e-mail fare alerts on the airlines flying to Belize—currently Continental, American, US Airways, Delta, and TACA. Another option is to fly into Cancún, which usually has good air deals, and bus to Belize. We want to spend time at the beach and also in the jungle. Where should we go? On a first and relatively brief visit to Belize, sample the best "surf and turf" by splitting your time between one of the popular beach areas—Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Hopkins, or Placencia—and the rest in the Cayo, which has the largest concentration of popular mainland activities. Is Belize a safe place to visit? The best answer is "Yes, but…" Most visitors say they feel quite safe in Belize (except, they say, in some areas of Belize City). Tourist Police patrol areas of Belize City, Placencia, Ambergris Caye, and elsewhere, and many hotels and jungle lodges have security guards. Out of the hundreds of thousands of visitors, the numbers who are victims of any kind of crime is perhaps a few hundred. So, while this is still a developing country, enjoy yourself and follow standard travel precautions: Don't wander into areas that don't feel safe; avoid deserted beaches and streets after dark; and don't flash expensive jewelry or cash. Be aware that there have been a few carjackings and robberies on remote roads or at little-visited parks and Mayan sites; travel in a group or with a guide to less popular places. Got any tips for visiting the Mayan Ruins? Altun Ha, the ruin closest to Belize City, gets crowds of cruise ship day-trippers; so if you go, try to avoid days when there are several cruise ships in port. On your visit to Tikal (in Guatemala), stay at one of the three lodges at the park if possible—you'll be able to visit the ruins early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when howler monkeys and other animals are active and most day visitors have left. What about mosquitoes? Pack plenty of bug juice with DEET. Mosquitoes are especially bad around Cerros and at the ruins near Punta Gorda. How physically fit should I be to enjoy an adventure vacation in Belize? Adventure vacations commonly are split into "soft" and "hard" adventures. Hard adventures, such as strenuous jungle treks and extended caving trips, usually require excellent physical conditioning and previous experience. Most hiking, biking, canoeing-kayaking, cave tubing, snorkeling, brief cave tours, and similar soft adventures can be enjoyed by persons of all ages who are in good health and are accustomed to a reasonable amount of exercise. A little honesty goes a long way—recognize your own level of physical fitness and discuss it with the tour operator before signing on. I want to try something fun and different, but not too challenging. Any suggestions? An activity you'll find in few places outside Belize is cave tubing. You drift down a river, usually the Caves Branch River in Cayo District, in a large rubber inner tube. At certain points the river goes underground, and you float through eerie underground cave systems, some with Mayan artifacts still in place. The only light is from headlamps. Where are the best areas for spotting exotic birds? Once you see toucans at Tikal or the hard-to-find motmot in the Cayo, you're sure to get caught up in the excitement of searching for some of Belize's 600 species of birds. Many Belizeans know all their local birds and where the best places are to find them. Crooked Tree, Chan Chich at Gallon Jug, the New River and New River Lagoon near Lamanai, and much of the Toledo District in the Deep South are wonderful areas for bird-watching; keep your eyes peeled to the treetops and don't forget your binoculars. Of all the incredible outdoor options, what's one experience I shouldn't miss? Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) is more than a caving experience. It's a visit to the Xibalba, the Mayan underworld. You'll see ancient Mayan artifacts and human skeletons. While not cheap (a guided, full-day tour starts at $82, or BZ$160, per person) and requiring a little hiking and swimming, the ATM trip is one-of-a-kind. Many visitors consider it the highlight of their entire Central American experience. Due to the risk of damage to the cave and to the priceless Mayan artifacts there, we're not sure how much longer the Belize government is going to permit access to ATM. Go, while you have the chance. You won't regret it. MORE Belize travel tips from a pro, Josh Berman On the Chocolate Trail in Belize
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