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Water slides in suburbia: South Florida’s wildest water parks, attractions

Summertime means plunging down water slides, bobbing in wave pools and floating along lazy rivers. At least, that’s how we roll in South Florida, home to water parks and attractions that deliver all of the above in abundance.

Rapids Water Park in Riviera Beach isn’t South Florida’s only oasis for wet-and-wild fun. For spills there are new inflatable obstacle courses in Dania Beach and West Palm Beach. And for thrills try the five dueling corkscrew water slides at Paradise Cove Park in Pembroke Pines. Or float on 1,000-foot-long lazy rivers through waterfalls and caves at McDonald Water Park in Hialeah. There’s even one water park designed by Miami artist Romero Britto.

Here’s our guide to conquering South Florida’s wildest and wettest parks and attractions.

Rapids Water Park

6566 N. Military Trail, Riviera Beach; 561-848-6272 or RapidsWaterPark.com

The thrills: Undoubtedly South Florida’s biggest water park at 30 acres, Rapids stacks up alongside Orlando’s biggest attractions with lazy rivers, splash pools and raging rafts. Six high-speed slides beckon for the wild at heart, from the Big Thunder and its hairpin turns and 45-degree raft plunge to the Brain Drain, a 70-foot vertical drop down enclosed flume water slides. Feel like surfing? The artificial-wave ride FlowRider lets two wakeboarders and bodyboarders surf at once. Skipping the thrills? Seek out Rapids’ quarter-mile-long lazy river.

Best time to visit: The park, which tends to get slammed during summer, is open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Aug. 19, after which it winds down for the season. Beat the waterslide vultures by staking out rides in the morning. Want a deal? Visit at 4 p.m. or later, when half-price admission kicks in.

Everything else: For true water park excess, rent a Big Surf Cabana ($139-$169), which includes a 10-by-10 cabana, ceiling fan, flatscreen TV, loveseat, security lockers, water, and food and beverage service. Snack bars, ice cream parlors and restaurants are everywhere here.

Calypso Bay Waterpark

151 Lamstein Lane, Royal Palm Beach; 561-790-6160 or VisitWPB.gov

The thrills: Those in search of classic wet-and-wild fun can take the plunge down a pair of 220-foot water slides, which send visitors tumbling into a splash pool. For a slower pace, there’s an 897-foot lazy river, a children’s water playground, a lily pad walk and a lap pool equipped with diving boards.

Best time to visit: Park officials recommend right as the park opens (10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday through mid-August). Mondays and Tuesday mornings are especially slow, but you may encounter summer camps.

Everything else: Calypso Bay runs promotions for back-to-school and holidays, and they host swim lessons with Red Cross-certified instructors. On Oct. 20, when Calypso Bay switches to its off-season, visitors can bring their dogs to splash around in the park.

Coconut Cove Waterpark and Community Center

20130 Regional Park Drive, Boca Raton; 561-629-8840 or Discover.PBCGov.org

The thrills: Despite one of the county’s longest lazy rivers at 986 feet, Coconut Cove seems to rival its Palm Beach neighbor Calypso Bay in thrills, offering two four-story water slides and a children’s water playground with a waterwalk and overhead ropes and a large pool.

Best time to visit: Avoid summer campers by arriving in the late afternoon on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which are slow.

Everything else: Admission for toddlers includes a water diaper, and the park offers 10-day summer swim lessons along with a Waggin’ at the Waterpark day for pooches in late-September.

Splash Adventure Water Park

401 S. Powerline Road, Deerfield Beach; 954-357-5100 or Broward.org

The thrills: Strictly for families with small children, Splash Adventure at Quiet Waters Park boasts slides, tunnels, turn valves and curtains of water.

Best time to visit: Two summer camp sessions stuff the park with younger visitors on weekdays, so go when the park opens at 10 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Everything else: The park hosts Splash in Space family nights at 6-10 p.m. July 20, Aug. 3 and Aug. 10, featuring movie screenings, games, bounce houses and prizes. The park will also host its annual Barktoberfest, when furry friends are let loose on the water, on Oct. 6.

Tropical Splash Water Park

3700 NW 11th Place, Lauderhill; 954-357-5400 or Broward.org

The thrills: Lauderhill’s water park is aimed at the youngest thrill-seekers. There are two water playgrounds, each with spiral slides, water guns and buckets that fill with water and tip over.

Best time to visit: Park staff recommends 1 p.m. on weekdays are less busy after summer campers leave.

Everything else: The park features swimming lessons, concessions and Funbrella rentals ($20-$75). The park abuts a lake, and paddleboat rentals ($10-$25) operate from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Paradise Cove Water Park at C.B. Smith Park

900 N. Flamingo Road, Pembroke Pines; 954-357-5170 or Broward.org

The thrills: When life gives you five-story-tall corkscrew water slides in Pembroke Pines, go for a gigantic splash. Paradise Pipeline is Broward’s most thrilling set of slides, twisting and bending like crazy straws for 400 feet before dumping riders into an exit pool. Then seek out Sharky’s Lagoon, a water playground with slides that wind for 125 feet, or Parrot’s Point, a smaller version for children 5 and under. Finish off at Crazy Creek, a 410-foot-long meandering tube ride.

Best time to visit: The park recommends 3 p.m. Monday-Friday, when Paradise Cove admission drops from $10 to $6.75 and summer campers have gone home. Mornings are sometimes slow.

Everything else: Swimming lessons are available through August, as are concessions (you can bring your own coolers) and Funbrellas (rentals are $35-$70). Paradise Cove will extend its season through Oct. 28 this year and will remain open Saturdays and Sundays in October.

Castaway Island Water Park

3300 N. Park Road, Hollywood; 954-357-8811 or Broward.org

The thrills: A Hollywood oasis inside T.Y. Park, Castaway Island boasts a water playground filled with short water slides and splashing buckets, and a swimming pool with a waterfall lagoon.

Best time to visit: The park recommends 3 p.m. Monday-Friday, when Castaway Island admission drops from $8.50 to $5.25 and summer campers have gone home.

Everything else: T.Y.’s Splashtacular Family Fridays will feature themed fun for families, including games and giveaways on July 27 (Winter Wonderland in July) and Aug. 10 (Fall Out of Summer). T.Y. also hosts end-of-season days for dogs to romp around the park, which falls this year on Oct. 13-14 and Oct. 20-21. There are boat rentals for kayaks, canoes, paddleboats and johnboats ($10/hour).

McDonald Water Park

7505 W. 12th Ave., Hialeah; 305-818-9164 or HialeahFL.gov

The thrills: Big rides are scarce at this Hialeah-owned splash zone, so those prepared to chill float along McDonald’s 1,000-foot lazy river, an oblong loop winding through waterfall and cave features. Miami-Dade County’s lone wave pool is here, along with splash pads, water guns and geysers in the water playground.

Best time to visit: The park has filled to capacity every weekend this summer, Hialeah officials say, but weekday afternoons (the park closes at 5:30 p.m.) are best to avoid summer campers.

Everything else: Hialeah residents pay half-price admission ($3-$5), while the rest of us pay $7-$10. Swim lessons are also available.

Bucky Dent Water Park

2240 W. 60th St., Hialeah; 305-818-2990 or Hialeah.gov

The thrills: Bucky Dent’s dueling, snakelike waterslides clock in at 30 feet tall, but this Hialeah hangout also features a zero-entry swimming pool for parents and toddlers to relax.

Best time to visit: Like its Hialeah cousin McDonald, Bucky Dent is clogged with summer water camps. Plan on visiting on weekday afternoons.

Everything else: Along with learn-to-swim classes in heated swimming pools for ages 6 months to adult, there will be a Youth Appreciation Day on Aug. 3 featuring a live DJ and lunch.

Grapeland Water Park

1550 NW 37th Ave., Miami; 305-960-2950 or MiamiGov.com/Grapeland

The thrills: A float’s toss from Miami International Airport, Grapeland offers four big attractions: Pirate’s Plunge, where a water-filled bucket above the slide splashes visitors as they take off; Shipwreck Island, equipped with splash fountains and two smaller slides; Captain’s Lagoon, a heated recreation pool; and Buccaneer River Ride, a lazy river.

Best time to visit: So popular are Grapeland’s slides that thrill-seekers pack the park to capacity in the mornings, while summer campers stick around until 1 p.m. Go weekdays after 2 p.m. for extra elbow room.

Everything else: From the polka-dotted fish emblazoned on the Shipwreck Island playground to Little Pirate Girl Tina, Grapeland’s wild-eyed, multicolored mascot, the park is splashed with glossy color. Yes, the décor is a dead giveaway: The 13-acre park was designed by ubiquitous Miami artist Romero Britto.

Swim lessons are also offered for children, and the park upgraded in 2017 with artificial turf and recycled plastic chairs. Staff reductions this year forced the cancellation of this summer’s “dive-in movies,” weekly screenings of family films on the water.

New water attractions

Tigertail Aqua Challenge at Tigertail Lake Recreation Center

580 Gulf Stream Way, Dania Beach; 954-201-4500 or TigertailLake.com

The thrills: Remember “Wipeout!” the long-running ABC reality show where contestants somersaulted and crash their way through a watery obstacle course? Worry less about wiping out at this inflatable 8,000-square-foot obstacle course on Tigertail Lake, featuring climbing walls, a bouncing dome, a trampoline and a catapult with a 16-foot swing.

Best time to visit: Going without a reservation: Tigertail staff recommends weekday mornings when the first session begins at 10 a.m. (final session: 6 p.m.), since weekends are packed with visitors. Or avoid the lines and book a session in advance online.

Everything else: Each session ($20) includes a 15-minute safety briefing. Not keen on inflatables? The park also rents kayaks and canoes, and offers a ropes course on certain weekends.

Aqua Park at Greg Norman’s Shark Wake Park

7715 Forest Hill Blvd., West Palm Beach; 561-323-3937 or SharkWakePark.com

The thrills: Even bigger than the Aqua Challenge in Dania Beach, the floating obstacle course inside Okeeheelee Park spans an entire acre, offering monkey bars, climbing towers, bounce-house features and slides for 150 guests at once.

Best time to visit: After 3 p.m. Monday-Friday, since the park is slammed on weekends. Book in advance online to avoid the crowds.

Everything else: The Aqua Park (sessions: $25-$30) is one attraction at the soon-to-open Shark Wake Park, which will also offer cable wakeboarding, waterskiing, wakeskiing and kneeboarding.

NeoSplash Water Park at Jungle Island

1111 Parrot Jungle Trail, Miami; 305-400-7000 or JungleIsland.com

The thrills: An inflatable water park with four water slides standing 65 feet tall, the pop-up NeoSplash will only be open through Labor Day.

Best time to visit: Jungle Island is routinely packed with tourists and locals, so finding a lull in foot traffic is rough, Jungle Island staff say. Try after 2 p.m. Monday-Friday, when summer campers have left.

Everything else: NeoSplash (10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily) is accessible only to visitors who pay Jungle Island’s full park admission.

pvalys@southflorida.com or 954-356-4364

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