Home » Wet ‘n Mild: 6 Underrated Ways to Beat the Central Florida Heat

    Wet ‘n Mild: 6 Underrated Ways to Beat the Central Florida Heat

    Fievel's Playland from afar

    Summer is fast approaching in Central Florida and that means one thing – ice cream melting at speeds previously thought impossible. With most of the covid restrictions pulled or in-process, the parks will soon look like mouse-eared moshpits once again. There’s always Dole Whip, Freestyle machines, and air-conditioning, but even those have been earning their own considerable queues lately. Should you or anyone you love find themselves in desperate need of cooling off, these underrated means of external hydration might come in handy.

    Fievel’s Waterslide

    Fievel's Playland from afar
    Image: Flickr, user: Roller Coaster Philosophy (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

    Even the wait boards seem to forget about ol’ Fievel. You’ll only notice him at the very end of the list, right before the attractions repeat.

    Since its grand opening on July 5th, 1992, Fievel’s Playland provided an overdue and now long-winded response to criticism that Universal Studios Florida didn’t have enough entertainment for kids. It has survived flashier offerings like A Day in the Park With Barney, gone toe-to-toe with upgraded contemporaries like Curious George Goes To Town, and outpaced the cultural footprint of its own source material.

    And it’s still a good time.

    KidZone may strike theme park scholars as a sore thumb starting to bruise, but its accidental dead-end serves a purpose. No matter where little ones want to play, parents can keep them reasonably cornered and their freedom reasonably free. By design, Fievel’s Playland appears small to passersby. Modern grown-ups with guests in the target demographic might not even realize there’s more to it than the oversized spigot and expected teeter-totters. Modern guests of any age might not even realize it’s home to the Studios’s first, last, and only water ride, discounting Jaws.

    As a flume, Islands of Adventure has it beat. As a slide, Volcano Bay leaves it in the dust. But as an oasis in a concrete desert, it does the trick. It’s daring enough for kids seeking a challenge – three stories tall and 200 feet long – and wet enough for parents seeking relief.

    The bad news is most of the water goes straight to the hindquarters. The good news is there’s never much of a wait.

    Camp Jurassic

    Camp Jurassic heights
    Image: Flickr, user: Roller Coaster Philosophy (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

    With the opening of the shiny, new Velocicoaster, Jurassic Park has never been busier. The first floor of the Discovery Center, once a quiet place to take a break and learn about genome sequencing, is now an epicenter of frantic activity. But it’s the island’s other playground that remains underappreciated and, more tragically, underexplored.

    Camp Jurassic is tricky. It’s the evolutionary descendant of Fievel’s Playland. The choke point for parents to catch their kids is even tighter. The grounds, even more hidden. Any given rider on Pteranodon Flyers might not even realize there’s more to it than the queue. But that’s the game – as soon as you start wandering, it never seems to end.

    Caves lit only by the glow of unmined amber. Familiar footprints that inspire unnerving noises from the underbrush. Slides, nets, and look-out towers. Oh my.

    But there are also two water features, obvious and otherwise, that make due on those August afternoons.

    On one side of the mountain range, a showdown awaits. Dilophosauruses lie in wait on the jungle floor. Tranquilizer turrets stare them down from a guard tower. It doesn’t matter who shoots first – there will be no (dry) survivors.

    The real treat, however, is on the other side of the mountain range, in more ways than one. Inside Camp Jurassic’s tallest peak there’s a cavern. Keep following the tunnels and you can’t miss it. What’s still very possible to miss is the geyser. Past spelunkers might’ve walked right over and never even noticed.

    When you come to the net bridge that disappears into volcanic steam, ignore your instincts and take a load off halfway across. Sometimes the effect isn’t working. Sometimes it takes a second longer than you’d expect. But before too long, those bubbling vats below will blast you right in the undercarriage.

    How wet is it? Enough to provoke subhuman sounds of disgust from those caught unaware. Loiter accordingly. The scenery alone is worth it.

    Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges

    Bilge-rat Barges entrance
    Image: Theme Park Tourist

    Rare is the ride that keeps a short line purely out of cowardice. There are but two kinds of Islands visitors, those who have braved Bilge-Rat Barges and those who get in that short line.

    Unlike the catty-cornered Ripsaw Falls, there’s not much to see from the sidewalk. The starboard view from Me Ship, The Olive provides a peek and a warning – feel free to soak passing riders but note their preexisting saturation before the water cannons.

    Without having any metrics on hand, it’s still a verifiable fact that this is, gallon for gallon, the wettest attraction in Central Florida. Factoring out splashdowns, it even beats some dedicated water slides.

    In true Universal fashion, Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges was, is, and remains the biggest, baddest, and best raft ride around. Expect anything less than an above-ground drowning at your own peril. But the sacrifice is worth it, provided the forecast is hot enough.

    The queue casts you as collateral damage in the latest tiff between life-long rivals Popeye and Bluto. It starts out as switchbacks for “Popeye’s Paradise Cruises,” only for a few well-placed obstacles to divert visitors into “Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges.” If you know the relationship of these galoots, then you already know the plot forwards and back, but the details here are among the most overlooked in the park. There’s charm before the carnage and, if you spin the right way, during.

    Bilge-Rat Barges is too often written-off as the Islands fire hose when it’s really a high-water mark of its kind, pun appropriately intended.

    Kali River Rapids

    A family onboard Kali River Rapids
    Image: Disney

    The reputation of rapids afflicts more than just Universal.

    Kali River Rapids commands longer lines than Bilge-Rat Barges, but that’s more FastPass inflation than demand. Most mornings it’s a walk-on. Most afternoons it stays under an hour. Best of all, depending on your disposition, it won’t make your clothes damp all day.

    Whereas Bilge-Rat Barges is necessarily expressionistic, Kali opts for an understated naturalism. More than any other attraction in Animal Kingdom, it feels like a seamless, inobtrusive extension of the scenery. What little plot there is hides in the margins, on walls full of authentic imports, between posters for legitimate Bollywood blockbusters.

    Short story long, loggers have set their sights on the Chakranadi River. Befitting the park’s ecological mission, this is bad news for rafters and worse news for the jungle. There’s more to it – keener eyes can chart the entire business history of “Kali Rapids Expeditions” – but that’s all the ride proper really needs. It’s as simple as Popeye, but not quite as engaging.

    If there’s a fault to Kali, it’s that not much happens. After the starting lift hill, rafts bob around gentle turns, reach the charred logging camp, fall, and bob back to the station. The forest fire used to actually have, well, fire, but that’s been turned off for a while now. The only real novelty is the 25-foot drop.

    But don’t underestimate that view.

    Kali feels like a Jungle Cruise with the animals missing, likely a leftover from its earliest designs as a waterlogged Kilimanjaro Safari. The point is less the thrills than the serene spirit. Jasmine and ginger are piped in with the mist. Mount Everest, added seven years later, fits the horizon like it’s always been there. Elephant sculptures make pedestrian-controlled soakings almost classy.

    It’s a lesser rapids ride by attraction standards, but still a peaceful way to cool off on days when all the air-conditioned activities already have triple-digit waits.

    Journey to Atlantis

    Journey to Atlantis from afar
    Image: Flickr, user: Roller Coaster Philosophy (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

    Much like the sunken city itself, time has not been kind to Atlantis.

    It opened in 1998 as the first shot in a war it soon thereafter surrendered. Journey to Atlantis was the first major-league themed attraction in SeaWorld history. It wasn’t just a log flume. It wasn’t just a roller coaster. It was both. Suddenly the animals were not the only stars.

    Suddenly SeaWorld had to deal with special effects.

    The original plot of Journey to Atlantis was simple enough – the golden seahorse guides wayward travelers from the waterways of Greece to the submerged plazas of Atlantis, all one step ahead of the evil goddess Alura – but the execution was fragile. So fragile, that any two effects conking out could leave riders in the dark, sometimes literally. It was confusing, scary, and disarming from the outside, a lethal recipe last seen in ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. Though it doomed that attraction faster, Atlantis limped on.

    Effects disappeared. So did lines. Roller coasters overtook themed entertainment as SeaWorld’s other draw. In 2016, the neighboring Kraken added virtual-reality headsets. Rumors swirled about a decade-overdue refurbishment to Atlantis, bringing it in line with the new narrative. An extended refurbishment closed the attraction not long after.

    It reopened as a ghost of its former self.

    Any and all special effects left standing were removed. The foreboding soundtrack, as well as a confounding cameo from Danny Elfman’s Beetlejuice theme, was replaced with study music from the recently shuttered A’lure show. The effect is less frightening, but more unnerving; it’s impossible to miss the massive medusa head hanging over you in the dark.

    To date, there’s no plot besides the tide.

    Still, Journey to Atlantis is one-of-a-kind. Even in Orlando, no other park has attempted this kind of hybrid. Though the theming is gone, likely forever, the bones are worth excavating. It’s become an archaeological site unto itself, what could’ve been and what almost was.

    And, as advertised, it does still get you wet. The bonus here is that you also get a little A-C out of the deal.

    Leapfrog Fountains

    Leapfrog Fountains outside the Imagination pavilion
    Image: Theme Park Tourist

    From the most complicated hydration system to the simplest.

    There’s little more to these than the technology in a basic drinking fountain, though in light of recent events it should be emphasized that this water is not for drinking. This is strictly for imagination.

    The effect is Epcot history, as old as the Imagination pavilion. There’s no fanfare or unnecessary artifice to it – the fountains just are. They’re easy to miss, too. With the Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival moved in for the foreseeable future and Journey Into Imagination with Figment still only dreaming of refurbishment, there’s not much reason to go poking around behind the upside down waterfall.

    The reward for wandering is peace and quiet in a park that just lost a lot of both, at least in the front half. The only sounds are the hush of fast water and the New Age background loop. If nobody’s around, you get to watch the leapfrogs leap in crystal-clear arcs. If anybody wanders the same way, you may get to watch them take a leapfrog to the back of the head.

    Kids will run themselves ragged figuring out the pattern. Adults will tolerate them long enough to forget the pattern. Fun is had by all. Even if you don’t intend on studying them for long, it’s worth passing under the fountains just to appreciate their beauty. Just be warned that other admirers may soak you with a bad ricochet. Then again, that’s the refreshing part.