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Every Major Orlando Water Park, Ranked

3. Typhoon Lagoon

 chad_sparkes, Flickr (license)

Image: chad_sparkes, Flickr (license)

Disney’s best water park also happens to be the first major water park it ever built. The wonderfully tropical Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon features incredible body slides, relaxing lazy rivers, and an envelope-pushing water coaster.

But the real centerpiece for Typhoon Lagoon is its massive, innovative, and intense wave pool.

Spitting out waves that average six-feet in height, the wave pool at Typhoon Lagoon isn’t in the same class as those you might find at your regional water park. It was one of the first wave pools created specifically with the intention of producing surfable waves. And, if you pay for a special early entry pass to the park, you too can have the opportunity to surf on Disney’s manmade waves. If it’s your first time, they offer lessons too.

But what ultimately pushes Typhoon Lagoon over Blizzard Beach for Disney’s water parks is its renovations over the years. In the mid-2010s, Disney added the Crush-n-Gusher water coaster to the park. And, in 2016, it closed the former Shark Reef area of the park to make way for a new family slide. In all, the park is ever changing while still offering thrills in a beautifully themed environment. For Disney, it’s tops.

2. Aquatica

 rollercoasterphilosophy, Flickr (license)

Image: rollercoasterphilosophy, Flickr (license)

Whatever you think of SeaWorld, in 2008, the company decided to take a big swing. 

Eight years after launching the boutique mini-park Discovery Cove next door, SeaWorld wanted to expand its offerings in the hopes of competing with Universal Orland and, yes, Walt Disney World nearby. To do that in a serious way, the company would need to expand the resort’s offerings to include a water park.

But, not content to simply open up a standard park similar to what was on offer around the country, SeaWorld decided to go all out. What they built combined nearly every element thrill-seekers wanted to see in such a venue: high tech slides, new slide concepts, and innovative theming.

The result was Aquatica — a gorgeous and massive water park that pushes the envelope for water slide design and water park experiences. Purely in terms of slide technology, Aquatica is arguably the best water park on the East Coast. Its innovative take on the mat racer concept is a visually-appealing ride that guests can’t wait to board when they see it unfurling on the horizon. Its raft and body slides include funnels and half-pipes and all of the crazy creations that didn’t seem possible even as recently as the 1990s.

But the biggest ride on offer was also SeaWorld’s show piece: Dolphin Plunge. This slide didn’t just give guests a thrilling speed slide — it also included a plexiglass tunnel that slid guests through a dolphin habitat.

Combining thrill rides and wildlife put SeaWorld’s Aquatica on the map, and for a decade, put it on the top of the water park charts. That was, until a new competitor showed itself across the street.

1. Volcano Bay

 phguereta, Flickr (license)

Image: phguereta, Flickr (license)

In 2015, Universal shocked the world when it announced it would be building a third theme park at its Universal Orlando Resort. Unfortunately, many were offended when that third park wasn’t the rumored third theme park gate featuring new intellectual properties and roller coasters — but rather, a water park called Volcano Bay.

Expectations quickly rose to absurd heights for that new water park, even on the heels of that reveal. Universal’s fanfare about this water park being “a theme park” created an impression that it would be something truly special and unique. So, when it opened in 2017, it did so to mixed reviews.

As time passes, however, and as the infamous crowds start to fade slightly, what is clear is that Universal built the best water park in the country. It’s just not clear if it’s actually a “theme park.”

If you take it at face value, however, you’ll find dozens of slides, splash areas, pools, and areas to relax — all of which feature high-tech ride concepts and impeccable theming. Universal truly created a transporting space that makes you forget you’re standing just a few feet from one of the busiest stretches of interstate in the country. The centerpiece, Mount Krakatau, towers over the rest of the park — giving it a grand scale and remarkable sense of place.

The rides are world-class. The theming is remarkable. The technology is impressive. The only negative mark on Volcano Bay is that it’s too crowded — which, in other words, means that it’s just too good. Too many people want to enjoy it.

Sounds like the No. 1 water park to me.

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