On a hot summer day, there’s nothing better than getting soaking wet on a water ride at a theme park.
Unless you’re like me, and you dread getting drenched to the skin at a theme park, then there’s nothing worse.
I hate water rides. If I want to get wet, I’ll go to a water park.
So I come at this Top 25 from a slightly skewed perspective. While I’m the worst person in the world to write about the topic, I’m also enough of a consummate professional to step back from my irrational biases and rank the best water rides in the United States.
Now I’m not talking about water slides at water parks here. If that’s what you’re interested in, check out my rankings of the world’s best water slides and water parks.
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What I’m looking for in a water ride is storytelling and theming. Far too many log flumes, river rapids rafts and shoot-the-chutes are interchangeable and indistinguishable from each other.
So as you might expect, my list is dominated by Disney attractions, with Universal Studios, Busch Gardens, SeaWorld and Six Flags well represented as well. I also managed to find room for a handful of rides from a few regional and smaller parks as well. A number of the rides appear at multiple parks in the U.S. and around the world.
I recently participated in a Season Pass podcast that focused on the best theme park water rides. The 90-minute podcast was often entertaining and if you want to hear me go on at length about my unbridled hatred of water rides you should check it out.
But for now, let’s turn to the topic at hand: The top 25 theme park water rides in the U.S.
25) Whenever I’m putting together a ranked list, I always like to include a wild card or two. So I figured why not start out with a ride that isn’t even open yet. Frozen Ever After replaces the Maelstrom dark ride in the Norway pavilion at Florida’s Epcot. Based on the “Frozen” film, the new boat ride is expected to take visitors to Arendelle and Elsa’s ice palace during a Winter in Summer celebration. I’m sure Frozen Ever After will move up this list once it officially debuts in 2016.
24) Storybook Land Canal Boats is a leisurely paced boat ride that sails past miniature scenes from Disney’s animated films in the Fantasyland section of Disneyland. The original Disneyland ride was unfinished on opening day in 1955 with little more than signs bearing the Latin terms for weeds lining the muddy banks.
23) Built in 1927, the Boat Chute was the first ride built at Georgia’s Lake Winnepesaukah amusement park, commonly known as Lake Winnie. With a final splashdown into the lake, the classic ride is one of the last remaining mill chutes left in the world and the oldest attraction of its type still in operation in the United States, according to the National Amusement Park Historical Assn.
22) The Aquazone Wave Racers at Legoland parks in California and Florida cleverly combine a water carousel with a stand-up jet ski that skips over waves on a man-made lagoon. Spectators trigger submerged water cannons that riders try to avoid.
21) Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges is a nicely themed river rapids ride at Florida’s Islands of Adventure theme park that’s guaranteed to get you wet. If I’m being honest, I have to admit I hate this ride with all my heart. But a lot people love Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges for the same reason I despise it: You will get 100% wet. Not one square inch of your body or your clothes will be dry after you get off the aptly named Bilge Rats. Fortunately there is a walk-in body dryer right near the exit.
20) Escape From Pompeii is a fairly straightforward shoot the chute with a short dark ride segment in the Italy area of Virginia’s Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Amid the destruction of Mount Vesuvius, the flat-bottom boat navigates crumbling statues and burning ruins before descending an 80-foot drop that concludes with a tidal wave splash.
19) The Tsunami Soakers at Six Flags St. Louis and California’s Six Flags Discovery Kingdom combine a classic teacup ride with lots of water. After the floor under the teacups fills with water, the ride starts spinning and the riders fire water guns at each other and shore-bound spectators (who are also armed).
18) Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls is a nicely themed Islands of Adventure water ride that combines a log flume with a roller coaster track. The flume travels through several dark ride elements before plunging riders down a 75-foot drop into a dynamite shack that explodes with a burst of water.
17) Kali River Rapids at Florida’s Animal Kingdom theme park was Disney’s first attempt at a river rapids ride. The attraction has an illegal logging theme that ties in with the park’s environmental conservation message. Located in the Asia area of the park, the river winds through a lush tropical jungle and past charred tree stumps, encountering cascading waterfalls and gushing geysers along the way.
16) I’ve combined the Mark Twain riverboat and the Columbia sailing ship since they travel the same route around Disneyland’s Rivers of America. They both offer leisurely 12-minute cruises by day and play prominent roles in Fantasmic by night. Florida’s Magic Kingdom as well as several other Disney parks around the world have similar stern-wheeler steamboats.
15) The River Battle interactive raft ride at Tennessee’s Dollywood theme park lets riders armed with soaker guns engage in raft-to-raft and raft-to-shore skirmishes. More than 100 targets line the 500-foot-long course, including talking beavers, skunks, otters and bears. Some of the spectators and even a few of the animals can shoot back.
14) The Monster Mansion at Six Flags Over Georgia is a relatively rare mill chute ride featuring nine scenes with more than 100 animatronic monsters. Dating from the park’s opening in 1967, the original boat ride told the same “Song of the South” story as Disneyland’s Splash Mountain.
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