SeaWorld San Antonio’s new water park offers 20 acres of wet-and-wild activities
By sheryl Smith-Rodgers
I’m no scaredy cat. But I couldn’t help feeling a tad nervous while waiting to take off aboard an inflatable raft at Stingray Falls, one of six enormous water rides at SeaWorld’s new Aquatica in San Antonio. Not my husband, James, who sat across from me, with his
long legs stretched parallel to mine, raring to go. “Hang on!” yelled a lifeguard before giving our big, vinyl craft a hard shove. As James and I shot into a multicolored, serpentine cylinder, I gripped a handle on top of the raft with one hand and used the other to hold onto my glasses. Wet lenses or not, I wanted to immerse myself in the new aquatic park.
As our raft jetted through the gi-
Used to be, visitors to SeaWorld could break away from marine shows, animal exhibits, and roller coasters to cool off in a big wave pool at a water park called the Lost Lagoon. The attraction, which also had a few tube rides, closed last September so that engineers and marine biologists could develop Aquatica, a snazzy resort park that boasts white, sandy beaches, cabana rentals, touchable stingrays, shallow pools for kids, and rip-roaring rides. Holding hands like teenagers, James and I hotfooted it around the 20-acre tropical oasis and played in the water for hours.
After first stashing our stuff in a locker, we headed for
Ke-Re Reef for a sting-
“The best way to feed them is to place the fish between your fingers and let the animal suck it up as it swims by,” Talamantez explained, as dozens of rays swam around us. “These are mostly cownose stingrays, which are found in the western Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Stingrays in Aquatica don’t have any predators and their barbs don’t have any nerve endings, so we trim the barbs off like fingernails, which makes the stingrays safe to touch.”
Like eager puppies, several rays bumped against my waist. My knees and hips, too. One vacuumed up the smelt between my fingers while another skimmed between my legs. I laughed as I ran my hand across its smooth, slippery back. Another woman in the water squealed with surprise when a ray nosed her stomach.
“We only have females in this pool to keep everything peaceful,” Talamantez said, as I held out another smelt under the water. Whoosh—a ray gulped it down. “We keep the males in another pool. In this pool, we also have a few southern stingrays, which can grow to more than five feet wide.”
After 20 minutes or so, our visit with
At HooRoo Run, we draped ourselves across a two-seater, figure-eight tube. Then we blasted through a dim tunnel that opened to blue skies. But not for long. Wham! A curtain of water caught us unaware.
“Ready to ride Walhalla Wave?” James asked. I nodded gamely. On our way across the grounds, landscaped with palms, cannas, lantanas, and plumbagos, we passed sun worshippers in lounge chairs at Big Surf Shores, a wave pool with huge waves. Over at Loggerhead Lane, park-goers on tubes floated lazily around a watery loop rigged with jet tunnels, foam shooters, and misters. At Walkabout Waters, we saw kids and adults romping inside a three-story, brightly colored funhouse outfitted with geysers, sprays, dumping buckets, and slides.
On a walkway between two play pools, a small crowd
surrounded a black-headed gray goose waddling on the grounds. “This is ‘Aloha,’
my best friend,” said Jason Medina, a senior aviculturist with SeaWorld. “She’s
a Nene goose that hatched here in February. Her species is threatened; it’s
only found in Hawaii. Her wings are shorter than those of
There was no more time to hear more about Aloha, one of
several animals that visitors can meet close-up at Aquatica. Up ahead, our last
ride—the much talked-about and extremely popular Walhalla Wave—beckoned. The
six-story maze of twists and turns offers riders a sense
“Want to ride it again?” James asked after we’d splashed into the awaiting pool at ride’s end. It took me about 10 seconds to answer in the affirmative. TH
From the August 2012 issue.