The Best Kids' Water Parks (and 5 Tips to Survive Them)
The promise of spending a hot summer day at a kids' water park is sure to put a grin on any child's face. Not so much with parents. Experienced moms know water park safety is only one of their concerns—others include keeping expensive electronics out of the water, finding a way to feed everyone, and generally managing to stay sane in the midst of all that splashing.
In other words, it's going to take some planning.
To help you pull it off, we checked out the offerings at some of the best water parks for kids in the U.S. And we also turned to a few real-life moms for their advice on how to survive the day at the water park, boiling their tips down to the five most important. But don't thank us now—thank us when it's over.
The Best Water Parks for Kids
There are countless kids' water park deals available on Groupon, but these spots stand out as some of the best water parks in the US. Read about their features, check out their user ratings, and shop for discounted tickets below:
Shipwreck Island Waterpark - Jacksonville Beach, FL
The Deal: Admission packages starting at $27
Groupon Rating: 4.9/5 with 1,067 reviews
Features: Pirate's Play Village with slides and water cannons; 720-ft. lazy river; 500,000-gallon wave pool; four extreme slides, including the 40-ft. high Eye of the Storm; a Kiddie Cove for toddlers
Summer Waves Water Park - Jekyll Island, GA
Groupon Rating: 4.8/5 with 3,463 reviews
Features: Shark Tooth Cove kids' zone with slides, pool, and 360-degree seating for parents; six slides including the Flash Flood, a twisting 350-ft. double-inner-tube slide; Frantic Atlantic wave pool; Turtle Creek lazy river; kid-friendly Splash Zone
Splash Kingdom Waterparks - Canton, TX and Other Locations
The Deal: Group admission packages starting at $39
Groupon Rating: 4.7/5 with 839 reviews
Features: Each of the five Texas and Louisiana locations has its own layout, but the Canton park features: Kids' Kingdom with 11 slides and 10 inches of water; thrill slides such as the dark and twisting White Lightning; a four-lane mat racer slide; 1,000-ft. lazy river; wave pool
Raging Waves - Yorkville, IL
The Deal: $22 for admission for one ($31.99 value)
Groupon Rating: 4.5/5 with 3,996 reviews
Features: 10+ thrill slides, such as the four-person Wonambi tube slide and the high-speed PJ's Plummet, which reaches up to 40 mph; Kangaroo Falls kids' area with water cannons, slides, and rope bridges; enormous 25,000-sq.-ft. wave pool; quarter-mile lazy river; 600-ft. family raft ride
Noah's Ark Waterpark - Wisconsin Dells, WI
TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5/5 with 2,092 reviews
Features: More than a dozen "kiddie and gentle" rides, such as bumper boats, two endless rivers, and multiple play areas for small children; 8 thrill rides, including the 10-story Scorpion's Tail with a nearly vertical drop; family raft rides, mat racing, and wave pool
NOVA Parks Waterparks - Alexandria, VA and Other Locations
The Deal: Family passes starting at $14
Groupon Rating: 4.5/5 with 1,241 reviews
Features: NOVA Parks is actually composed of five different parks throughout Northern Virginia. At Great Waves Waterpark in Alexandria, you'll find: five open and covered waterslides; 17,500-sq.-ft. wave pool; Kids Zone; giant splash pad. There's also mini-golf, batting cages, and a play structure at the affiliated Cameron Run Regional Park.
Tips to Surviving a Day at a Kids' Water Park
1. Apply sunscreen early and often.
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it's easy to remember the initial application and then forget all about it until you have some little tomatoes on your hands. As Micaela, the mother of a 7-year-old, says, "Sunscreen is number one. Just reapply often, because it washes off and wipes off from toweling off." As for the spray-on vs. lotion debate, Micaela seems to have settled it in the simplest way possible: "I use both types." Hard to argue with that.
Another mom, Rachel Z., follows her own mother's example. "When we were kids, my mom always had us check-in with her at certain times," she remembers, "like when the lifeguards had their break."
2. Invest in good swim goggles.
After a burst blood vessel and a few minutes of panic this summer, Eileen (mother to a 3½-year-old and a 6-year-old) learned a valuable lesson: if her kids are swimming or playing with water toys, they should wear swim goggles. Her friend and fellow mom, Abi, is also an optometrist who's seen bad results from kids getting hit in the eye in the water, so goggles are a must on her list. "Goggles also help keep the chlorine out," Eileen notes, and it doesn't hurt that they take your Instagram photos to a new level of adorable. Speaking of social media...
3. Save the Instagram and Facebook posts for later.
While it's tempting to want to document every minute of the fun on social media, it's also not worth it. Eileen recalls a moment last summer, when her entire family was sitting right by the pool and her daughter still managed to slip silently into the water. They got her out immediately, but she uses it as a reminder that, when you're with your kids around water, you should always "be intentional." In other words, play with them and stay off the phone!
4. Arrive later to avoid the smallest kids.
Rachel K., who has a 3-year-old son and an infant, knows that they aren't everyone's favorite company in the splash pool. Her advice? "Most young kids nap in the afternoon. If you want to avoid them, go after 1 p.m." It's safe to say Rachel and her boys would have already had a full day in by that time. (Of course, larger parks like those on our list below tend to have designated areas just for younger children anyway.)
5. Investigate the concessions options ahead of time.
Again, bigger water parks will generally have many, many food options to chose from. But it's still worth looking into beforehand, whether to plot out your plan of attack or see if you'll be able to save money by bringing in your own food and water. In any case, it pays to be prepared. Eileen puts it best: "Kids at the pool get hangry."
This article was originally written by staff writer Alison Hamm, and has been modified by our editors.