Is there a more perfect way to spend an afternoon than running wildly through spraying water, squealing with unbridled joy at the thought of the whole summer ahead to play with your friends all day?
Settle down, moms; we're not talking about you.
Your kids, though, are gonna love these water playgrounds around Tampa Bay that we've rounded up for you. So grab your water shoes, the SPF 45, a hat and get going. — the Go Momma staff
Too cool pools
Morningside Pool at Morningside Park, 2400 Harn Blvd., Clearwater, has one of the top children's play areas and a great pool for teens and adults. The pool has two lanes open to lap swim with two diving boards and one giant blue slide to appease adventure-seekers. Then, in the back, there is a fenced-off area that contains an activity training pool with water at no more than 3 feet high and a play area with an animal theme. Kids can ride a whale and turtle, slide down a frog's tongue and be sprayed by a large mushroom. Cost is $6 for adults, $4 for children, but with the purchase of a recreation card, the prices are reduced by half.
North Shore Pool, 901 North Shore Drive NE, St. Petersburg. In addition to the massive main pool favored by lap swimmers, it has a great new play area with three flume slides and a 35- by 45-foot zero-depth entrance for easy walk-ins for children. The area includes water play features like tall fountains and a fun-looking four-bucket splash device that looks like a boat mast that fills up and dumps water on anyone below. Cost is $3 for adults and $2.50 for children under 12.
Fossil Park Pool at Fossil Park, 6739 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N in St. Petersburg. This pool is classic, with a one-meter and a three-meter diving board, two slides that reach around 20 feet tall, a basketball hoop set up in the shallow end and a baby pool option. The water in that pool sits between 2.5 to 3 feet. Cost is $3 for adults and $2.50 for children under 12.
Free misty for me
The Sprayground at Cypress Forest Park, 650 Pine Ave. N, Oldsmar. This is a great little free park for the under-10 crowd. The basketball court-sized playground area is well padded with a rubberized non-skid surface and full of brightly colored, fanciful fountains and misters. There are a couple of water cannons and lots of burbling "springs" that toddlers seem to love sitting on. Two large picnic pavilions provide plenty of shady seating for snacks and down time for moms and dads. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. To get there, take Tampa Road to Forest Lakes Boulevard, go north, just past the Tampa Bay Skating Academy, turn left on Forest Road and follow it to the end.
Kate Jackson Park, 821 S Rome Ave. in Tampa. It's a beautiful park nestled in the heart of historic Hyde Park, with lots of playground equipment, picnic benches and shade trees. Kids especially enjoy running through the fountain, which shoots up water from the ground. It's great on a hot day.
You'll pay for the spray
Explore-a-Shore at the Florida Aquarium, 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa. Great for parents and kids alike, this water feature comes with the added attraction of shark tanks, touch tanks and really awesomely huge grouper inside at the aquarium. But even if you don't go inside, there's plenty to do. The 2-acre outdoor water zone features a two- story, 24-foot pirate ship where kids can fire water cannons at everyone below. A 10-foot eel reef rock structure is perfect for climbing and there's a nice misting tunnel, too. If you have toddlers, there's Shipwreck Shore, which features a place where they can climb on animal figures and a pirate ship replica and not have to worry about being run over by charging 10-year-olds. We saved the best for last: There's a cantina with table service for you 'rents. Just be sure to have a DD if you plan on having that second margarita. Cost is $17.95 for adults and $12.95 for kids under 12.
Lowry Park Zoo, 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa. Not quite the extravaganza of the Aquarium, but the zoo does have lots of cute animals to go along with its water zones. They have two of them: The Manatee Fountain is near the main entrance among tall palm trees with plenty of benches for parents to relax, and the Billabong Fountains play area in Wallaroo Station. The zoo is also hoping that its new attraction called Gator Falls, a log flume, will be up and running soon after experiencing technical difficulties. Admission to the zoo is $18.95 for adults, $14.50 for kids 3-11.
Busch Gardens/Adventure Island. 3605 Bougainvillea Ave. and 10001 McKinley Drive (40th Street) in Tampa. Sure, Busch Gardens is a theme park, but boy does it have a lot of water — from the sprayground at Land of the Dragons for the little ones to the Stanley Falls log flume to the Tanganyika Tidal Wave to the Congo River Rapids. Kids don't even have to ride the Wave; they can just stand on a bridge and get soaked as the ride plunges. Trust us, your kids' sneaks will be squishing in all this cascading water, so invest in some Crocs or water shoes before you go. We've lumped Adventure Island in here, since both of these are pretty expensive water worlds and we found a pretty good deal for a year-long two-park pass online at buschgardens.com if you can swing it: $104.95 for adults, $94.95 for kids 3-9. The Island, of course, is a water fantasy land for kids with lightning fast slides, lazy rivers and wave pools. But there isn't a lot of shade, so factor in lots of sunscreen-applying time.
Worth the hike
Rainbow Springs State Park. 19158 S 81st Place Road, Dunnellon in Marion County. This is a two-hour drive north, but once there you might have trouble deciding whether you want to visit the man-made falls first or just plunge into the chilly 72-degree springs. After the immediate, mind-numbing shock, it can be wonderfully refreshing. The springs are crystal clear, and you can see fish, turtles and places where the water bubbles out of the sandy bottom (at a rate of 450-million gallons a day). The falls and accompanying gardens are remnants of what was once a tourist attraction called Blue Springs, which featured glass-bottomed boats, a monorail and a zoo. Facilities are clean and plentiful, and — pretend like you didn't read this if you don't want to spend more money — there are a concession stand and gift shop. In addition to the big swimming hole, you'll find a smaller wading area for tiny tots and canoe and kayak rentals. And the best part? Admission is just $1. The park also has a new tubing entrance, at 10830 SW 180th Avenue Road on the east side of the river. From there you can rent a tube, ride a tram upriver and then float back to your point of origin, not needing a second car. The float trip is about 90-minutes long. Sounds like a great day in Florida to us.
Several local YMCAs have added water playgrounds to their pools in recent years, including the Northdale location in Tampa. But you'll want to check out membership fees before you pull up to the curb and pile out. Find branches and fees at tampaymca.org on the Web.
Information from Times files was used in this report.