America’s coolest water parks

By Beth Greenfield,

If you think that the most exciting rides in a water park still involve a log flume or mat slide, then you, my friend, are all wet. Water-swishing half-pipes, free-fall slides dropping riders from close to 10 stories high, and near-vertical looping slides that shoot riders like cannonballs at 40 mph are just a few samples of how today’s parks are making a splash.

The 70-acre Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels, Texas, lands on our list with its brand-new star of the show — the Falls, billed as “the World’s Longest Waterpark Ride” and offering 3,600 feet of waves, rapids and waterfalls for tubers. And overlooking the Falls are new, cool-looking Treehaus accommodations and suites.log flume or mat slide, then you, my friend, a

Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, in Santa Claus, Ind., meanwhile, has just introduced the world’s longest water coaster: the Mammoth, stretching a whopping 1,763 feet and using special “hydromagnetic” technology to whisk riders both up and down in circular, six-person rafts. This is a park that’s big on breaking records: The previous longest water coaster, the Wildebeest, is also located here — as is the popular Pilgrim’s Plunge, the world’s tallest water ride, which hauls passengers up 13 stories in a boat-like elevator and then drops them, at a 45-degree angle, to a major splash.

At Disney World’s Typhoon Lagoon, the most highly attended water park in the world, you can snorkel with sharks, bodysurf in 6-foot waves at the nation’s largest wave pool and ride the brand new Crush ’n’ Gusher, a 400-foot-long whitewater raft ride that’s overflowing with steep plunges and hairpin turns.

Other standout parks include Six Flags’ White Water in Atlanta, home to 50 adrenaline-inducing rides including the Cliffhanger, one of the tallest free-fall slides in the world; and Aquatica, at Sea World in Orlando, Fla., where you’ll find 80,000 square feet of man-made sandy beaches, the Omaka Rocka half-pipe, and 250 feet of underwater tube slides that zip you through a pool stocked with dolphins.

But grownup kids aren’t the only ones being catered to by the coolest water parks. Actual little ones, obvious fans of wet and wild fun, are getting some serious upgrades this season.

“Parks that want to attract younger children have been introducing highly themed, interactive play structures that function like water playgrounds,” notes Aleatha Ezra, of the World Waterpark Association, a trade organization for water parks and their suppliers. “They now feature hundreds of interactive spray guns, buckets and showers, and might have multiple slides coming off them, as well as climbing structures and dump buckets.”

Wet n’ Wild in Orlando is all over that trend, opening its new Blastaway Beach in June. The sandcastle-themed wonderland will bring 15,000 square feet of pools, soakers and slides to the 12-and-under set.

re all wet. Water-swishing half-pipes, free-fall slides dropping riders from close to 10 stories high, and near-vertical looping slides that shoot riders like cannonballs at 40 mph are just a few samples of how today’s parks are making a splash.


The golden days of air travel: How glorious were they?

Great re-print from CNN Travel

The crowds cheered as the pilots and flight attendants of Delta Flight 295 cut a ceremonial red ribbon before the television cameras.

Water cannons sprayed the first official flight out of Atlanta’s new international terminal this month as the airplane headed toward the runway, bound for Tokyo, leaving behind airport guests to eat from an elegant buffet of Asian-themed hors d’oeuvres and drinks.

For a brief moment, the glory days of airline travel had returned to the world’s busiest airport. On this day at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the pilots were handsome, the flight attendants lovely and handsome (and no doubt could save a life) and the food and drink plentiful.

It was reminiscent of the golden days of air travel portrayed in the television series “Mad Men” and “Pan Am,” when travel was an upper-middle-class experience and people dressed up to fly. Even when air travel became affordable to the masses after Congress passed the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, flight attendants still served full meals and baggage was included in the cost of a ticket.

No more. Even amid the celebratory atmosphere in Atlanta, it was clear that the impact of the September 11, 2001, attacks and the subsequent economic downturn are here to stay. Officers patrolled the halls with drug-sniffing dogs and armed police guarded the exits to the runway. Many travelers wore sweats and other loose, comfortable clothing to get through security.

While many grumble for the “good old days” of airline travel, their nostalgia usually doesn’t include the high prices, limited routes and cigarette smoke clinging to the air.

Travelers can still pay for the luxury of rubber chicken and checking two giant suitcases “for free” — it’s called first class. There’s certainly no policy stopping travelers from dressing up, but how fun are Spanx and heels on your next flight?

Here are some of the things we miss and why they went away.

Pomp and circumstance

Eva Brams remembers flying with Burt Lancaster in first class, eating caviar on the plane and dining on lobster in a gorgeous hotel in Puerto Rico before returning home.

That’s because the Austrian-born Brams was a flight attendant for Pan American World Airlines when flying was a glamorous experience. Brams, a former ballet dancer who spoke English, French and German, wanted to travel and see the world before deciding if her American-born boyfriend was “the one.” (She knew she’d have to leave the airline if she married him. That was company policy.)

“We met interesting people on the plane, and we always stayed in the most luxurious hotels when we weren’t in New York,” said Brams, who left the airline in 1971 when she married that boyfriend. (They live in Manhattan and have two grown children and grandchildren.) “We didn’t have as many flights as they do now. When we went to Brazil, we stayed for a couple days before flying out again.”

An airplane trip used to be an expensive and rare occasion, usually reserved for the upper-middle and upper classes, marked by dressing up and elegant service in flight. Aviation expert Janet Bednarek remembers her father flying for work two or three times per year in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and it always seemed like a special occasion. When he returned, the whole family would drive to the airport to meet him at the gate.

All that elegance came at a price. Before the airline industry was deregulated, a U.S. government agency controlled pricing, routes and other aspects of airline travel. Once airlines could increase and change their routes, they started to compete more on price and discount airlines started to pop up.

High prices made travel exclusive. Bednarek, now an aviation history professor at the University of Dayton, didn’t take her first flight until she was in college in the late 1970s. In 1960, U.S. airlines carried 62 million passengers on scheduled airline flights, according to a government data analysis by Airlines for America, an industry group. Fifty years later, U.S. airlines carried 720 million passengers. Now Bednarek is hard pressed to find a student in one of her classes who hasn’t always flown.

Greeting family at the gate

In a pre-9/11 world, families and friends regularly walked their loved ones to the gate to say goodbye or picked them up at the gate to say hello. The test of a new relationship was often the airport drop-off: Would your sweetheart pick you up at the gate, baggage claim or curbside?

No longer. It’s baggage claim or curbside for your love. In a post-9/11 world, airport security officials usually won’t let anyone clear security without a boarding pass. With would-be terrorists inventing new ways to try to blow up planes, that’s not likely to change.

However, it’s not a complete ban. Travelers who need help, perhaps because of disability or small children, can sometimes still have a nonflying companion come to the gate with them. It’s best to call the airline in advance to request that permission, although some airlines can issue special passes at the ticket counter.

Care-free packing

Travelers of a certain age can remember lugging overstuffed suitcases to the airport and talking airline workers into allowing suitcases over the weight limit onto the plane. Now most carriers are charging for baggage, and they made $3.4 billion last year on those fees, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. (Delta Air Lines topped the list at nearly $864 million.) Some, like Delta, will waive the fee if you have their frequent-flier credit card.

That has taught some travelers to pack light and wrestle for overhead bin space. If there isn’t enough space, flight attendants will often gate-check your luggage. There are plenty of travelers like library assistant Courtney Pricer, 25, who simply pay the fee.

“I try to carry on the least possible amount of material because I find it to be a bigger hassle to go through security with it all than to just pay the money for a checked bag,” says Pricer, a resident of San Clemente, California. “I try to just have a purse to take on the plane, albeit a really big purse. It usually just has my laptop or iPad, my wallet, my phone, the charger for my devices, and some snacks.”

Food and comfort

Kathy Tucker, who often flew from San Francisco to visit family in Hawaii in the 1970s, remembers a 1975 Pan Am flight where the stewardesses set up a coach-section buffet table with fresh Hawaiian fruits and walked through the aisles pouring free glasses of champagne.

“The cute young man sitting next to me decided we could finish of a bottle all by ourselves, so we went up to the table and slyly managed to swipe an opened bottle and bring it back to our seats,” said Tucker, a resident of Pacific Grove, California. “The stewardesses were so nice that they probably wouldn’t have cared anyway.”

Even after deregulation, when the champagne flowed less frequently, travelers used to be able to count on a decent meal (or snacks for shorter flights). Vegetarians and people who kept kosher could even request special meals. But as airlines cut costs, meals shrank down to snacks and then went away. Some flights still offer peanuts or pretzels in addition to food for sale. Other times there’s nothing to eat at all. Even first-class passengers on shorter flights might only get a choice of fruit, chips or a cookie. (The alcohol is still free.) While some planes still carry blankets and pillows for passengers, there are fewer to go around.

“I try to pack as much food as I can but you can’t bring water and sometimes I don’t have time to pack,” said Mira Patel, 22, a Baltimore-based first-year medical student who traveled a lot for medical school interviews. “I feel like I’m always hungry. With flights an hour apart, I can pay $7 for a can of Pringles or nuts that they used to give out for free. I’ll go nine hours without eating.”

Predictable security

In the pre-9/11 security days, people knew what to pack in their checked luggage and carry-on baggage (nearly anything, it seemed).

Travel experts say people can adapt to tighter security requirements if the rules are clear and consistent. It’s when officials enforce different requirements at different airports that travelers don’t believe the new procedures contribute to more secure flights. Some security officials want you to carry your boarding pass through security; others want you to place it in the bin to be screened. Some don’t like you to bring cupcakes or gun-shaped purses; others are OK with it.

“If people are anxious, it’s harder to detect if they’re anxious because they’re up to no good or anxious because of all the attention you are paying to them,” New York University professor Harvey Molotch said. “It makes the system less secure.”

The lack of predictability is maddening to Michael Flaherty, an Eckerd College sociology professor who studies the passage of time.

“The fact that we don’t know what to expect when we fly is irritating because it undermines our efforts to anticipate our experiences in the future and know how to behave,” Flaherty said.

Travelers don’t dare question security officials unless they’re willing to risk not flying that day.

“It’s threat rhetoric reminiscent of Orwell, all based on external threats,” Flaherty said. “We have your interests at heart, this is what we have to ask you to do, and we’re not going to explain it. If you don’t cooperate, you become part of the problem.”

For her part, the future Dr. Patel doesn’t care to travel anymore. “I used to love traveling but I hate it,” she said. “It’s totally exhausting, and I feel like I’m paying so much money for so little. It feels like you’re being herded through the airport like animals. I worry about what’s in my bag. I feel like I’m always hungry. I would much rather drive.”

Tips for Traveling with Kids – Car Trips with Toddlers

A family road trip can be fun, but when one thing goes wrong, you may see a domino effect, making the vacation not so enjoyable. To prevent disaster and misery, be prepared for the unexpected. Traveling by car can be more economical than flying the whole family to your destination and you’ll have the flexibility of having your own transportation.

Get Plenty of Rest

Before you start out on your trip, make sure everyone in the family is rested. Many toddlers become cranky when they’re tired, so make sure they have something they can associate with their naps, such as a favorite blanket or stuffed animal. Holding a familiar toy may help calm your toddler and promote car napping, which is a much better experience than crying.

If you’ve been thinking about taking away your toddler’s pacifier, now is not the time to do it. Don’t make any unnecessary major changes until you return home from your trip. The pacifier may be the only thing that will soothe your child when she’s over-stimulated.

Keep Your Toddler Comfortable

Make sure your toddler is comfortable while traveling in the car. If you want to put her in that lacy dress her grandmother made, wait until you’re close to your destination to change her clothes.

Ideas for toddler travel comfort:

  • Dress her in knits without scratchy embellishment.
  • Leave her in her pajamas until it’s time to get out of the car.
  • Layer her clothing so you can remove pieces if she gets too hot.
  • Bring a blanket for additional warmth if you’re traveling during the holidays.
  • If she squirms and seems uncomfortable, make sure she’s properly positioned in her car seat.

Bring Food for Your Toddler

A hungry child is a fussy one. Make sure you have plenty of nutritious snacks and treats for your toddler. Have an ice-packed cooler filled with anything that needs to be kept cold.

Ideas for food that travels well:

  • Pre-cut fruit in zip type bags
  • Single serving packages of crackers and cookies
  • Small size cartons of yogurt
  • Juice packs or sippy cups with milk or juice.

Take Breaks

When traveling with toddlers, plan to take frequent breaks. Many rest areas have large grassy areas where you and your children can run around and stretch your legs. Look for kid-friendly restaurants with play areas.

If your toddler is potty trained or in the process of being potty trained, stop frequently without being asked. By the time most toddlers let you know they have to go to the restroom, it’s probably urgent.

Toddler Activities for the Car

Have a variety of activities planned for when your toddler isn’t napping. Children in this age group often have very short attention spans, so be prepared with enough things to keep them occupied.

Suggested activities for toddlers include:

  • Board books
  • DVDs and CDs
  • Viewfinders
  • Stickers and sticker books
  • Crayons and coloring books
  • Stories told by parents and older kids.

Travel Emergency Kit

Pack a small emergency kit and make it accessible. You never know when you’ll need something, and there may not be a place to pull over.

Items to pack in an emergency kit include:

  • Band-aids
  • Wet wipes
  • Fever reducing medications
  • Plastic bags.

Additional Tips for Traveling with Toddlers

One of the purposes of a family trip is to bond and create memories. Getting to your destination is only one part of the excursion, so make car travel as fun and stress-free as possible.

More ways to make a road trip enjoyable and stress-free:

  • Have a backpack or small suitcase for each child.
  • Occasionally switch places with other family members.
  • Pack meals or stop at a deli and have a family picnic.
  • Rotate toys and activities frequently to prevent boredom.
  • Wrap some surprises for your toddler to open as a reward for good behavior.
  • If your child isn’t used to sleeping in strange beds, bring a portable crib or pack-and-play for hotels and your destination.
  • Avoid rushing and embrace each moment spent with the family.

Traveling by car with toddlers can be challenging, but if you follow a few tips, you can remove some of the stress and make it fun for everyone. Get plenty of rest, dress comfortably, have plenty of food, take frequent breaks and make sure you have a variety of activities for the trip. Don’t forget to pack an emergency kit that is easily accessible.