The adventure began on a Saturday at 7, when the intrepid team -- myself, my research assistant (aka my dad), a half-dozen towels and seven tubes of sunblock -- hits the highway for Williamsburg.
This watery playground is just up the road from its sister park, Busch Gardens, both owned by beer behemoth Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis. (Each park requires separate admissions, or you can buy a seven-day combo pass -- check out prices on Page 48 or online at www.watercountryusa.com.) Since it's entirely devoted to the aqueous, Water Country has the biggest variety of water rides of the three parks I visited, with some more akin to thrill rides than to slip 'n' slides and some more mellow options, such as the Hubba Hubba Highway. A drift on the gentle current of this slow-moving channel is perfect for younger kids (and a favorite of our grandfatherly ticket-taker that morning).
Busch Gardens and Water Country share a woodsy, well-landscaped aesthetic, and a trip to the water park almost feels like a hike in the mountains, especially as most of the rides require a long climb to the top of a wooden platform. This, I reasoned on one steep climb, was justification to eat funnel cake for lunch. (Yes, the junk food is a big reason I go to theme parks in the first place.) But the climbing is just the beginning -- some of the best rides make you carry your very own vehicle to the top.
Take Nitro Racer, the only ride I saw at any park that lets you go down a steep, bumpy slope face first -- scary indeed. On the six parallel speedway-style slides, riders flop down on long foam mats at the top, waiting for the traffic light to turn green (another grade-school basic). Then the race begins, all six sliders neck and neck on the straightaway, streaming to a splashy finish.
A few rides have conveyor belts to ferry floats and slides to the top, including Big Daddy Falls, a winding slide on a multi-person inner tube that slows to a gentle meander about halfway down, then shoots through a curtain of water and down one last drop before plunging into a pool. Aquazoid, too, is a group ride with twists and turns but with one big difference: It's completely enclosed, an inky, fast and exhilarating ride.
It turns out that these were the kinds of rides we'd find at the other parks as well -- the steep or winding single-person slides, multi-person white-water raft rides and dark, enclosed tube slides. Those were the thrill-ride equivalents; you can also meet your basic splash needs with a wave pool, lazy river and children's areas for kids of various sizes.
Water Country USA has some nice conveniences, including cubbies outside each ride to keep shoes, towels and other belongings dry while you get wet. There are also racks of life vests scattered throughout the park. The ride monitors, like at the other parks, are all certified lifeguards. And though the snack line was longer than for any ride, the funnel cake hit the spot.
-- Christina Talcott, June 2006