Off the Beaten Path

Things To Do: Waterparks

Growing up in Florida, I had never been to a water park (why pay when the beach is free?!) When I was 22 I got a part-time job in a theme park, which gave me free entrance to the adjoining water park. Since then I’ve been hooked! My job on a cruise ship has brought me many places, and many of those places have water parks within metres of the ship’s terminal. What better way to relax, relieve some stress, and have fun with your co-workers for an afternoon? I mean, there are only so many temples, marketplaces, and bars you can visit in the world. Below I’ve compiled a list of some of the most fun water parks I, or my colleagues, have been to around the world.

Adventure Island

Located: Tampa, Florida, USA
Last Visited: August 2016
Approximate Admission Cost: $50, valid all season
Favorite Attraction: Key West Rapids

Being the first water park I ever visited and so close to home, Adventure Island is the standard for which I measure others against.

Located 20-30 minutes from both the port and airport, this park is more for the locals. It has nice beaches for relaxing and they allow you to bring in small coolers with bottled drinks and snacks (and maybe a Publix Sub if you’re lucky!). There are picnic areas and also a few places with food and drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) available for purchase.

To provide fun for the whole family, there are both toddler and children’s areas as well as slides of all thrills, including the newest and fastest – the Colossal Curl. There is also a large lazy river, racing slides, corkscrew slides, and mega drop slides. There is even a large beach volleyball area for a little waterless fun. And, one of the things I love the most is that they play real pop music instead of cheesy theme-park elevator music. You can enjoy a day at the “beach” without having to bring your own stereo!

The park is only open seasonally, from Spring Break until Labor Day. In the heart of summer, they extend their hours until sunset in an event titled “Summer Nights” with extra music and dancing on the beaches. A one-day pass can be a bit pricey, but it lets you in every weekday for the whole season (again gearing it more towards locals).

Vinpearl Land

Located: Nha Trang, Viet Nam
Last Visited: March 2014
Approximate Admission Cost: $20-30USD
Favorite Attractions: Space Hole, Family Rafting Slide, and Wave Pool

Probably one of the coolest parks on this list. You get to the park via a cable car, which, if you came by cruise ship, passes right over your ship!

While the park has no theme, per se, it has some of the most unique rides of any park on the list. Rides include a “half pipe” Tsunami slide you can ride in with a one-, two-, or three-person tube – Rub a dub dub, three men in a tub! There is also a wave pool where you sit in (or flip out of!) inner tubes instead of the usual treading water. There are the usual racing style slides and a few tunnel style ones. There’s one that dumps you into a “UFO” bowl before you drop another 3 feet through the middle. Lastly, there is a family style rafting slide where you carry your own raft to a hook and pulley (hey, it IS Vietnam!) For the less adventurous, there is also an aquarium and dolphin show in the park and a beach with access right to the sea!

Admission costs around $20-30 USD (depending on exchange rates) and there are plenty of bars with snacks and beverages for purchase at a reasonable (by Western standards) price. Best of all, admission gets you into the regular amusement park as well (you have to go through it to get to the water park) where you can check out the toboggan ride. There’s usually a DJ by the entrance and last I checked, the park also held monthly Full Moon Parties. Definitely worth checking out if you’ve already done the standard temples and markets deal.

Aquatica (Sea World)

Located: Orlando, Florida, USA
Last Visited: August 2016
Approximate Admission Cost: $50 USD
Favorite Attraction: Roa’s Rapids

In the land of theme parks, this on isn’t so much to write home about, but it does have some major thrill slides. It is most known for it’s Dolphin Plunge slide, where you slide through a clear tube and if your timing is spot on, a dolphin swims past you. There are also slides which you enter via a trap door dropping out from under you – not for the feint of heart! My favorite attraction is Roa’s Rapids, a “not-so-lazy” river (the actual Lazy River is less than relaxing and more like an LA Freeway at 9am). Downsides are that there are no real “beach” areas to relax, and it is always crowded with long lines. That being said, it’s still possible to go to Aquatica and SeaWorld in one day.

Maya Lost Mayan Kingdom

Located: Mahahual (Costa Maya), Quintana Roo, Mexico
Last Visited: January 2017
Approximate Admission Cost: $89 USD
Favorite Attraction: Hurricane

This park is one of the better themed ones on my list. Everything centers around a giant Mayan pyramid – of which the bottom level is lockers, restrooms, juice bar, and elevators or stairs to the attractions.  (You read correctly, ELEVATORS!  They definitely gear towards cruise ship tourists)

There are lots of slides – some with mats, some with tubes, some body ones.  The nice thing is that there is plenty of good signage giving you a picture of the slide’s layout, safety information, and thrill level (in English!) so you know exactly what you can handle.

They also have two zip-line courses and a “Zip Coaster” (zip lines aided by a metal track) – all of which end in the water.  The lazy river is an Expedition style, salt-water lazy river with lots of photo ops.  There are lots of photo ops on every ride and photos are very reasonably priced (for 4 people for the day, it’s $39 for all your photos on a USB stick, or $5 to have one photo delivered to you via email).

There is also a really nice pool area with loungers and beds – for free.  They also offer massages and a snack bar with reasonably priced Americanized Mexican food (think Moe’s Southwest) and delicious smoothies and juices (no alcohol in the park though!). They also have free WiFi (a perk for cruisers!)

The park is really clean and well maintained, with a focus on safety (there’s safety briefing before each ride!) All staff are well-trained and speak perfect English.  The admission fee is a bit hefty – $89 for adults and $79 for kids and it is definitely geared towards cruise ship passengers as it is right outside the port. They sometimes make a deal for ships’ crew though!

Scandinavia doesn’t have a lot of water “parks”, per se, but they do bring a whole new outlook to the community pool.  An honorable mention to a couple water “parks” I visited in Norway (they’re more like indoor aquatic complexes, but they have water slides!)

Pirbadet

Located: Trondheim, Norway
Last Visited: July 2013
Approximate Admission Cost: $20 USD

Right next to the cruise terminal, this indoor aquatic complex features three water slides, a rock-climbing wall that falls into the wave pool, diving platforms, large inflatable rafts and icebergs, a lap pool, a rapids river, and of course a sauna and steam room.  And like most Scandinavian pools, free showers! (Be prepared to get naked though!)

Aquarama

Location: Kristiansand, Norway
Last Visited: July 2013
Approximate Admission Cost: $20-30 USD

Similar to the above park, but slightly newer.

Finally, a few other parks that friends have recommended, but I have yet to make it to:

Aqua Fantasy – Kusadasi, Turkey

WaterPark – Rhodes, Greece

Blizzard Beach (Walt Disney World) – Orlando, Florida

Typhoon Lagoon (Walt Disney World) – Orlando, Florida

Also be sure to check out this list of some of the world’s best water parks!  Perfect for summer travel plans!

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Experimental Travel

Have you ever heard of experimental travel?  It’s essentially a collection of ways to travel based on method over destination – many don’t even require you to leave your hometown!  A few years ago, Travel gurus Lonely Planet published a book on the subject.  It is now out of print, but remains a hot topic of travel conversation across the web.

Here are some of my favorite “travel experiments” (though I haven’t tried them all!)

ABC Travel – This blog’s namesake!  Pick a letter of the alphabet and go around town doing only things that start with that letter.  Good choices are ‘B’ or ‘M’.  Alternatively, you could go through the whole alphabet in one day/trip but doing things that start with the next letter of the alphabet.

Lucky Number – pick a number and use public transport based on that number.  For instance, take Bus or Train line number 5, get off at the 5th stop, walk to the 5th building and go in, etc.

Barman’s Knock – Look through TripAdvisor, a guidebook or the yellow pages for a nearby (or far away) bar.  Go in and order your usual drink.  Then, ask the bartender where their favorite place to drink is and what they typically order there.  Go there next and order the recommendation.  Repeat until inebriated.  If you are staying for a while in one city, you coud also do this with restaurants – giving yourself a local foodie’s perspective of the city (obviously spacing your meals at regular intervals still).

Travel by Night – Travel somewhere so that you arrive in the evening.  Spend the entire night exploring the city and then depart at daybreak.  Good cities for this include Las Vegas, Paris, and Buenos Aires.

Tourist at Home – Stay in a hostel or other shared accommodations in your own city. Make friends with other people staying there and go along with them to do whatever they want to do.  A great way to get a new perspective on your town!

Sector of the Map – Predetermine a sector of the map (ex. D2).  Travel to the edge of that sector and spend a day doing everything in that section of the map.  The next day you can pick a different sector if you want.

Travel by Chance – Use a die (a D-20 is useful for this) to decide where you go and what you do.  Roll first and use that number to pick a train or bus line or street number.  Roll again to determine which building to go into.  Roll again and order that item off the menu, etc.

Last Minute Deals – great for extended travel – travel only by last minute deals.  Specify a time period for travel, and the week before you leave, book a last minute flight/train/bus ticket to the cheapest destination.  Once there book last minute tours. When you’re tired of it, book a last minute deal to another destination.  And so on, until you have to go back to “the real world”.

These are just a few of my favorites that are pretty versatile.  For more ideas, check out some of the sites below:

 

 

Off the Beaten Path: Museums

Chances are, if you’ve traveled a bit, you’ve visited your fair share of museums. Art Museums, Natural History Museums, Wax Museums, or my personal favorite, Science Museums. Is it just me, or do the all start to look the same? The same dinosaur skeleton in the lobby, the same mummy in the basement, the same famous painters in the hallway.

For those of you who feel the same way, I have started making it a point to find some really off-beat and fun museums. Ones where you can do more than walk through a labyrinth of paintings and display cases on the wall. Here’s a list of some of them you should check out if you are ever in these areas.

Museum of the Moving Image – Astoria, NY

Vintage Games - MotMIThis is a fun little place outside of Queens. It’s a museum dedicated to all kinds of film, animation, and video games. And, like all my favorite museums, it is interactive! You can make a stop motion video, record a voiceover from famous movie scenes, change the soundtrack on some classic films and even play Mrs. Pac-Man on an original stand alone arcade console! There is also a part of the museum that hosts changing exhibits on certain filmmakers and animators (when I visited it was all about the creator of Looney Toons!) There’s a small entrance fee, but it provides hours of entertainment on a cold or rainy New York day. They even offer an internet center and a small café in the lobby.



Museum on the Mound – Edinburgh, ScotlandSafe

If you are coming from the central train station and likely visiting Edinburgh Castle, you will walk right past this fine establishment. It’s a small little building, but free to enter (as most museums in the UK are). The museum is all about the history of British currency, but you can see what a million pounds looks like, take your photo as the face of a tenner, and even practice cracking a safe to receive a little prize. It’s certainly worth an hour of your time on your way to Edinburgh’s bigger touristy sites.

 

Science Museums – Science museums are especially my favorite, as they are usually interactive and fun.

The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park has, among other things, a three story indoor rainforest (Biodome, anyone?) They also turn the museum into a themed club one night each week (think Speakeasy or 70’s Disco). Highly worth a visit.

The Shanghai Science and Technology Museum is also a fun stop. It features 3 large levels of interactive exhibits. They are mostly in Chinese, but there are a quite a few in English. It covers all aspects of science and technology, including meteorology, biology, genetics, robotics, and even natural history. They even feature a little ride, where you ride in a fruit shaped cart and enter through a large mouth, in the end you come out…. well, the other end. It’s all in Chinese, but you can get the gist of what is going on. It is quite funny to hear everything in a language you don’t understand a word of!

I’m also told that NEMO in Amsterdam, The Netherlands (where they have museum for everything) is a great science museum, but I have yet to make it there.

Another museum I have not yet made it to but intend to one day is the Spy Museum in Washington, DC. It’s supposed to be one of the best museums in the world (so a little more on the beaten path, I guess, but hey!)

Any great museums in your city? I’d love to hear about them!