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Take the plunge at Aquatica, SeaWorld's new waterpark

ORLANDO — The designers of the new Aquatica water park call their signature ride the Dolphin Plunge for a reason. You plunge 250 feet through clear tubes, shoot past a tank full of Commerson's dolphins and splash down at the end in a shallow pool.

On the Saturday we visited, Sean and Alexis, the two 9-year-olds in our group of five, couldn't wait to try it. They stood for more than half an hour in the line that snaked up the stairs to the top. When they emerged at the bottom, dripping and happy, we asked them what they thought.

"Awesome!" they both shouted.

And did you see the black-and-white Commerson's dolphins swimming past at the end? Well, no. Alexis said she only saw a wall. Sean said he thought he saw something, but he was going too fast.

They didn't seem to mind.

Our mission this day was to try out Aquatica, the new 60-acre aquatic amusement park built across the street from SeaWorld that had its grand opening earlier this month.

What we found was a place that offers plenty of family fun, but just misses living up to the Busch Entertainment Corp.'s hype. Still, it compares well to other water parks, such as Disney's 13-year-old Blizzard Beach.

We arrived not long after Aquatica opened that day, bringing along three kids ready to test as many of the 36 water slides, six rivers and lagoons and more than 80,000 square feet of beach area as we could pack into about six hours. We went through the bag check (no food or drinks allowed), slathered on sunscreen, rented lockers for our bags and headed out.

Our first stop, the 15,000-square-foot Walkabout Waters, offered something for all three kids. For 6-year-old Cameron, there was a shallow pool for splashing around and swimming. For the older kids, there was an elaborate network of ladders, rope bridges and slides where they could explore, shoot water cannons and get doused by two gigantic water buckets that tipped every five minutes or so, dumping their load from about 60 feet up.

After the Dolphin Plunge, we all grabbed floats and took a trip on Loggerhead Run, a lazy river that takes you past the dolphin tank slowly enough so the kids could finally see them. It's not as long as the Lazy River at Blizzard Beach, one of two Disney aquatic parks in nearby Lake Buena Vista, but it was fine.

Next to Loggerhead Run is a ride officially known as Tassie Twister. Sean and Alexis dubbed it "the toilet bowl" because that's what it looks like. Sean enjoyed it so much the first time, he talked his mom into going with him the second time. They rode down the hole backward, with Mom screaming all the way.

Despite its name, Big Surf, one of the park's two wave pools, offers only gentle swells. The other one, Cutback Cove, churns out a series of monster curls. Naturally the kids liked Cutback, with waves that lifted them off their feet and let them body surf back toward the shore.

The roughest ride we tried was Roa's Rapids, an "action river ride'' that immediately whisks you into its strong current, propelling you through a circuitous course with turbulent rapids. We made the 6-year-old wear a life jacket and were glad we did. The kids all enjoyed it, but it left us grownups huffing and puffing.

What we didn't realize going in was that the ride has two exits. One of the kids got separated from the rest of us, and though there are lifeguards all around, it took help from a passerby to reunite us. Next time, we're using the buddy system on that ride.

The smartest thing we did was buy wristbands that entitled us to an all-day, all-you-can-eat buffet of beef and veggie burgers, hot dogs and barbecue chicken (not to mention some sweet banana pudding) at the Banana Beach Cookout — and there's no limit on the soft drinks.

Although signs weren't always clear and asking directions didn't necessarily put you in the right place, we still had a good time. Maybe as the year rolls along, the park will have worked out the kinks that kept Aquatica from being an A-plus.

Craig Pittman can be reached at (727) 893-8530 or Sherry Robinson can be reached at (727) 893-8305 or

Aquatica by SeaWorld

Where: Aquatica is across the street from SeaWorld on International Drive between Central Florida Parkway and State Road 528, Orlando.

Hours: Open 10 a.m. daily or 9 a.m. during peak season, year-round. Closing hours vary.

Tickets: One-day pass is $38.95 (plus tax), $32.95 for ages 3 to 9. Free for 2 and younger. Combination tickets with affiliated parks, such as SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, and Florida resident discounts available. Check online at

Parking: $10 for cars, motorcycles and minivans. $12 for RVs. $15 for preferred parking, $7 for pass holders.

Dining: The park has three restaurants. The best deal is the all-day, all-you-can-eat Banana Beach Cookout, $19.95 for adults, $9.95 for kids. One meal there is $12.95 for adults, $7.95 for kids. There is also the grab-and-go Mango Market for pizza, chicken fingers and fries; and the WaterStone Grill, offering sandwiches, wraps, soft drinks, beer and wine. You cannot bring food, coolers, glass containers or alcoholic drinks into the park.

Rentals: Lockers are $8 for small, $10 for large. Towels available for $4 deposit. When you turn in the keys and towels, you get Aquatica cash back, good in their shops.

Life vests: Free for adults and children.

Cabanas: Equipped with a ceiling fan and refrigerator with soft drinks, juice and water. All-day locker rental included. Maximum capacity is seven. $150 or $175 during peak season for up to four people. $30 for each additional guest.

More information: or call toll-free 1-888-800-5447.

Ride highlights

Dolphin Plunge: Signature ride takes you down 250 feet of tubes and through the Commerson's dolphin habitat. Must be 48 inches tall.

>> Taumata Racer: Riders go head-first on a mat down an eight-lane, 300-foot slide that includes a 360-degree turn and tunnels.

Big Surf Shores and Cutback Cove: Side-by-side wave pools; Cutback Cove has up to 5-foot swells; Big Surf Shores has gentler waves.

Tassie Twister: Flume sends single or double tubes into a bowl, spinning riders out onto Loggerhead Lane. Riders must be able to hold onto the handles.

Loggerhead Lane: Meandering river takes riders past habitats for Commerson's dolphins, birds and fish. Life vest required for kids under 48 inches.

Roa's Rapids: 1,500 feet of rapids go past geysers and through waterfalls. Novice swimmers should wear a life vest, which is required for all riders under 51 inches.

Hooroo Run: Rafters fly down a six-story, 250-foot triple-drop slide. Must be 42 inches tall.

Walhalla Wave: Four riders on a raft go down six stories and 600 feet of enclosed tunnels and turns. Slightly slower than Hooroo Run.

Whanau Way: Riders on double inner tubes go down five-story slides with drops, curves and water "curtains." Must be able to hold onto handles.

Walkabout Waters: Interactive 15,000-square-foot water playground with slides and water cannons. Height restrictions vary by slide.

Kata's Kookaburra Cove: Water area for the the smallest ones with fountains, rides and slides. Adjacent to a baby nursing area. Must be under 48 inches tall.

Take the plunge at Aquatica, SeaWorld's new waterpark 04/23/08 [Last modified: Saturday, April 26, 2008 7:43am]
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