If your kids love the water park, they’re in luck this summer! Loads of new parks are opening across the country, with slides, thrills and waves galore. So whether you want to bounce aboard a floating “aqua park” or take the plunge on the tallest slide on the open sea, read on for our list of the best water attractions opening in 2018.

Aqua Park at Orlando Water Sports Center - Orlando, FL

American Ninja Warrior meets summer camp at the lake with this spectacular floating obstacle course that lets kids (and grown-ups!) climb, balance, monkey bar, slide and jump their way through a series of floating challenges. The massive course sits atop one of the Watersports Complex's two manmade lakes (about 20 minutes south of downtown Orlando). Participants will swim a short way out to the starting line, then test their walking-on-water skills for 50 minutes at a time. Any kid (ages 6 & up) who loves a good challenge will want to do this again and again. 

Insider Tip: Want to throw the coolest summer party ever? The entire obstacle course is available for parties and private rentals. 

Opened March 24

Online: aktionparks.com/orlando-watersports-complex

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photo: Great Wolf Lodge

Great Wolf Lodge Illinois - Gurnee, IL

If you've never been to any of Great Wolf's sprawling indoor water parks, now's your chance to try it out with this brand new property about 50 miles south of Milwaukee. The all-in-one resort is sure to be a hit with locals and tourists alike, with 12 slides, including "The River Canyon Run," an immersive 476-foot-long family raft ride (it's one of the longest enclosed family raft rides in the country) featuring customizable lighting and projection effects. There are also two "activity pools," a lazy river, a wave pool,  a water play area—plus a smaller water play area for toddlers. When you're all dried off, the hotel also has an arcade, mini golf, a small bowling alley, an indoor climbing wall, a ropes course, multiple restaurants and a spa. 

Note: Just like every other Great Wolf resort, you need to book a room at the hotel to use the water park. But given that each room (rates as low as $199 a night) includes water park passes for everyone in your brood, it's actually a pretty good deal. 

Insider Tip: Take advantage of pre-opening discounts here

Opening: July 1

Online: greatwolf.com/illinois

Big Rivers Waterpark - New Caney, TX

Cool off amid 40 acres of water park featuring the largest interactive play structure in Texas, with eight slides and more than 300 water elements. Not to mention the wave pool, lazy river, "Hatchling Hill" area for smaller kids and splash pad for kids who aren't yet swimming. And stay tuned: An expansion in the fall will introduce six high-speed slides including two raft rides, a six-story spiraling slide, a seven-story drop slide, a tube slide and a six-lane racing slide.   

Opens: June 29, 2018

Online: bigriverswaterpark.com

photo: Outagamie County Parks/ Wibit Inflatables

Plamann Park Inflatable Aqua Park - Appleton, WI

If you're anywhere near Plamann Park Lake (it's about 30 miles southwest of Green Bay) in Appleton, Wisconsin this summer, a day at this small, sandy beach might be worth the drive. The park—which is known for its 257 acres of scenic hills and trails, as well as a children's farm—is opening a Wibit inflatable obstacle course at its sandy lake. It's an addition that will add more fun to the swimming area, which is already a popular spot for locals in the summertime.

Details: The inflatable will hold 40 people at a time and will invite swimmers to bounce, jump and slide in the middle of the lake for 50-minute sessions. Life jackets will be required. 

Opening: June 2 (The lake is open for swimming through Aug. 19)  

Online: outagamie.org

Jump Jam of the Grand Strand - Myrtle Beach, SC

The Myrtle Beach waterfront will be even more fun with the introduction of two floating mini water parks that will let swimmers bounce, jump and leap into protected waters off the shores of the Grand Strand. Swimmers are taken out to the float by way of a banana boat (a jaunt which is fun in itself). Once aboard the two-story structure, you've got two trampolines (one which can send you up to 20 feet into the air!), a 12-foot climbing rope, a jumping deck, and a whirling tube slide to enjoy. Everyone is required to wear a life jacket, and there's an ocean lifeguard aboard each float. 

Kids must be at least 5 to board, and all kids under 12 must be with an adult. Jump sessions last 1 or 2 hours. 

Insider Tip: The floats are also available for private parties! 

Opening date: By the end of May.

Online: jumpjamgs.com

Hurricane Harbor - Concord, CA

"Northern California's biggest and most thrilling water park" has become even bigger now that it's been bought and renovated by Six Flags. Former known as "Waterland," the 30-acre water park has been spruced up, repainted and expanded, and boasts the addition of a four-story interactive water play area called Splashwater Island. The towering structure will feature nine slides, ladders, rope climbers and more than 100 features including sprayers, water jets and geysers.  

The park's other attractions will remain largely the same (besides the facelift), with the biggest thrills including The Big Kahuna, a four-person jumbo raft ride; Break Point Plunge, a near-vertical drop slide; and the Typhoon Slide, a raft ride that features a drop inside a pitch dark tunnel. There's also a wave pool, lazy river and large splash pad area for toddlers. 

Opened: May 5, 2018

Online: sixflags.com/discoverykingdom

photo: Great Wolf Lodge

Great Wolf Lodge Georgia - LaGrange, GA

Get soaked in nearly 100,000 square feet of indoor water park at Great Wolf's other new location about 60 minutes south of Atlanta. Attractions include four high-speed waterslides (including one with a near-vertical freefall), a lazy river, a wave pool, a multi-level "water fort treehouse," and several zero-depth entry pools and kid water play areas. There will also be a massive outdoor pool plus an adult-only pool with a private hot tub for parents to enjoy (#momsweekend!)

Of course, the opportunities for fun (and spending) don't end when you leave the water. The resort's other attractions include an indoor ropes course, a climbing wall, mini golf, family bowling, three restaurants and a sprawling arcade.

Note: While water park entry is included in your room fee, all the aforementioned activities are not. So be prepared to say "No" a lot if you're trying to stick to a budget. Or, just go with it. 

Opening: May 31, 2018

Online: greatwolf.com/georgia

photo: Royal Caribbean/ SBW-Photo

Ultimate Abyss on Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas

Royal Caribbean's newest thrill ride isn't really a water slide, but it is a slide ... on the water ... and given the uniqueness of its terrifying drop, we thought it was worth adding to our list. The 10-story slide, which coils steeply down from the top deck of the mammoth, record-breaking Symphony of the Seas, is being called the "tallest adventure at sea." To enter the terrifying drop, riders must step onto a clear glass platform (we dare you to look down!), sit on a mat inside the mouth of a giant, fanged fish and then take the plunge. The initial 100-foot drop is followed by quick serpentine turns. If that's not enough, the entire ride is engulfed in near-darkness, with light and audio effects to add more to the thrill. 

Want to see a video of the ride? Click here

Insider Tip: There are thrills galore aboard this humongous ship (which is now the world's largest), including laser tag, rock-climbing, zip lines, waterslides, a surf simulator and a ridiculously cool, two-story family suite with its own tunnel slide. 

Debuted: April 12, 2018

Online: royalcaribbean.com

photo: Shipwreck Island

Pirate Play Village at Shipwreck Island - Jacksonville Beach, FL

This 23-year-old north Florida water park just debuted its newest centerpiece, a $1 million interactive waterslide complex featuring five new slides plus tons of interactive water features (think water cannons and water dumping zones) to get kids plenty soaked in the South's summer heat. New rides include the Cannonball Burst, an enclosed slide with three 360-degree loops; Black Beard’s Revenge, an open flume-style slide with sharp twists and turns; Pirate’s Plunge, a tunneling body slide featuring two 360-degree turns; plus two new slides for smaller kids. 

Once they've gotten thoroughly drenched at the Village, kids will love exploring the rest of the massive park which includes a half-million-gallon wave pool, a lazy river, an uphill water coaster and a 400-foot double raft ride. 

Now open.

Online: jacksonville-beach.adventurelanding.com

—Melissa Heckscher

 

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