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Adventure Island
Photograph: Shutterstock

The 13 best water parks in Florida

Not all the best water parks in Florida are in Orlando: venture outside the usual for some guaranteed splish-splash fun

By Ian Centrone

When thinking of Florida, images naturally conjure in your mind’s eye—endless coastlines and beautiful beaches, stunning hotels, lots of grandparents, extraordinary food served in splendid restaurants and, most notably, super-fun amusement parks—but not everyone knows that the best water parks in Florida are actually what make the Sunshine State that much more special, crowning it the world’s unofficial water park capital. 

Welcoming millions of visitors every year in search of the quintessential summer escape, most of these destinations are clumped in Orlando and its surrounding tourism pockets, but there are plenty of other under-the-radar attractions sprinkled throughout the state. Some are worth the extra road trip time, while others can certainly be looked past and we’re here to help you figure that out.

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Best water parks in Florida

Blizzard Beach
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Brian M.

1. Blizzard Beach

Where: Orlando

While most water parks follow the same tired tropical theme, Disney’s Blizzard Beach lets guests chill out in a polar-inspired setting. Modeled after a ski resort, the attraction is chock-full of heart-racing attractions, like Summit Plummet, one of the tallest free-fall body slides on earth. Although enormous, the park still gets packed, especially on weekends, and food can get pricey. But between rip-roaring water slides, hair-raising attractions and two designated zones for youngsters (Tikes Peak and Ski Patrol), it’s an unparalleled option for the whole family. 

Typhoon Lagoon
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Joy J.

2. Typhoon Lagoon

Where: Lake Buena Vista

Another brainchild from the House of Mouse, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon offers a slightly more sophisticated water park experience. Spend some time snorkeling at Shark Reef surrounded by colorful coral and live fish, or go for an adrenaline-pumping swim with real sharks. Then, calm your nerves with a signature cocktail, like the Tropical Storm or Blue Typhoon Colada. The food menu also offers creative takes on dishes, like a plant-based bratwurst sandwich and guacamole flight. 

Rapids Water Park
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Ariel W.

3. Rapids Water Park

Where: Riviera Beach

Conveniently located right off the I-95, Rapids Water Park is a beloved treasure for South Florida natives and visitors alike. Although a fraction of the size of its counterparts in Orlando, this is a local legend that happens to be celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Of its 42 attractions, the best are the massive wave pool, the heart-racing Brain Drain vertical plunge and dueling speed slides that tower seven stories high. Hot tip: save money by packing lunch and eating at the picnic area just outside the gates before entering. 

Photograph: Shutterstock

4. Aquatica

Where: Orlando

Serving as the water park extension of SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica is not to be missed. As one of Florida’s most celebrated water parks, the destination offers something for everyone. Visitors can spot dolphins while plummeting through the enclosed racing tubes of Dolphin Plunge; cruise through the high tides and gushing geysers of Roa’s Rapids; or bring the kiddies to the colorful playground of Walkabout Waters. Check out the newest attraction, KareKare Curl, a 50-foot drop complete with a vertical climbing wave wall. 

Buccaneer Bay
Photograph: TripAdvisor

5. Buccaneer Bay

Where: Spring Hill

Buccaneer Bay has been luring nature-loving motorists since 1947. Centered around Weeki Wachee Springs (just 35 miles northwest of Tampa), it’s Florida’s only spring-fed family water park. The real draw is its iconic mermaid show, where Ariel-esque performers enchant visitors with their daily underwater show. Classic rides, tasty snacks and stretches of white sand beach primed for swimming and snorkeling make this a long-standing family favorite.

Volcano Bay
Photograph: Shutterstock

6. Volcano Bay

Where: Orlando

This heavy-hitter is a relative newcomer that first opened its doors in 2017, but it’s already a smashing success. Located within Universal Orlando Resort, it replaced Universal’s former Wet ‘n Wild water park. Modeled around the fabled Waturi islanders and Krakatau (a 200-foot artificial volcano), the high-tech destination uses TapuTapu wristbands that enable guests to pay for goods and hold their place in line. They also allow visitors to interact with the park by lighting up and setting off gushing springs. 

LEGOLAND Florida Water Park
Photograph: Shutterstock

7. LEGOLAND Florida Water Park

Where: Orlando

LEGOLAND is the ideal escape for imaginative kids looking for a hands-on aquatic adventure. Sure, it’s teeming with pools, rides and slides, but what sets this water park apart is the opportunity for children to roll up their sleeves and let the creative juices flow. The lauded Build-A-Boat attraction lets little ones build and race their own LEGO watercraft masterpieces in front of crowds of cheering onlookers, while nearby Imagination Station is stockpiled with DUPLO bricks for the youngest rugrats. 

Adventure Island
Photograph: Shutterstock

8. Adventure Island

Where: Tampa

The beauty of Adventure Island is that it’s located just across from Busch Gardens Tampa, making it an easy addition to any family-friendly vacation or a bonafide stand-alone star. It provides a day of non-stop fun in the sun with its Runaway Rapids, Calypso Coaster and Endless Surf wave pool. Be sure to get in line for the new Colossal Curl, a weightless aquatic adventure that combines funnel and wave thrills. Plus, its $39 entrance fee is considered a steal.

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Big Kahuna’s Water & Adventure Park
Photograph: Shutterstock

9. Big Kahuna’s Water & Adventure Park

Where: Destin

Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, Destin is sandwiched between Pensacola and Panama City Beach. While Florida’s panhandle might not be an obvious hot spot for water parks, Big Kahuna’s never let that get in its way. The park’s name is by no means a misnomer: showcasing more than 40 different pools, rides and play areas, the destination is a grand one. Whether you’re flying the Skycoaster or screaming down the five-story-high Jumanji slide in total darkness, Big Kahuna’s will give even the most intrepid adrenaline junkies a rush.

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Shipwreck Island Waterpark
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/ Truong N.

10. Shipwreck Island Waterpark

Where: Panama City Beach

Built in 1983, Shipwreck Island Waterpark is a 20-acre park in North Florida known for its lush landscapes and professionally-trained aquatics staff. The well-kept venue has a homegrown feel that you just can’t find in Orlando. Top attractions include the 500,000-gallon Ocean Motion Wave Pool, a 17th century replica ship where guests zipline from the vessel into a vast lagoon and The Zume Flume—the park’s oldest ride with three slides that converge into an enormous splash pool. Parents also love the budget-friendly, tiered admissions pricing (all under $40).

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Adventure Landing
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/JiMmy P.

11. Adventure Landing

Where: Jacksonville Beach

Touted as the largest family entertainment center in northeastern Florida, an afternoon spent at Adventure Landing equals hours of good, old-fashioned fun. Rides and attractions range from mild to wild, including all of the usual suspects like wave pools and lazy rivers. Groups with mixed interests will appreciate Adventure Landing’s appeal beyond the aquatic: practice putt-putt skills on the miniature golf course, swing away at the batting cages or win big at the mega arcade.

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12. Sailfish Splash

Where: Stuart

The Treasure Coast is a charming stretch along South Florida’s eastern coast popular with the Snowbird community (a group of seniors who flock from “up north” every winter to escape the cold). It’s also home to Sailfish Splash, a hidden gem for water park enthusiasts. It offers a meticulously clean and affordable option to keep the whole family entertained, thanks to attractions like a 1,000-foot lazy river, four-story-tall water slide, 253-foot speed slide, 7,326-square-foot water playground and more. 

Sun Splash Family Waterpark
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Vanessa D.

13. Sun Splash Family Waterpark

Where: Cape Coral

As one of the largest water parks in South Florida, Sun Splash sprawls over 14 acres in Cape Coral. Less than three miles from Veterans Parkway, it draws a steady flow of roadtrippers and locals from March through September. The park is perfectly suited for impatient tourists because of its short lines, given its spacious (but not overwhelming) layout. Admission is also one of Florida’s most budget-friendly, with day passes coming in at less than $20 for non-residents. 

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Photograph: Shutterstock

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