If you have been reading for a while, you may have picked up on the fact that I’m not a big fan of amusement or water parks. This is in part because I don’t like crowds, but largely because I’m a chicken that doesn’t enjoy rides, especially ones with big drops. Yet when we headed to the Williamsburg area for our mother-daughter road trip, I knew that a visit to either Busch Gardens Williamsburg or Water Country USA would be a nice addition to our busy itinerary touring local historic sites and museums. After looking at the websites for both, we decided that Water Country USA was more up our alley, as a lot of those coasters at Busch Gardens look downright frightening (or fabulous, depending on your point-of-view.)
Decision made, I was then faced with the question of how to prepare for a day in a water park. It has been years (ok decades) since I’ve gone to a waterpark and I had a ton of questions about what to bring, where to store my stuff, and what to expect when I arrived. I looked at the FAQs on the website, but they were pretty basic and didn’t really answer my questions. So I decided to write my own Water Country USA tips for other beginners. Based on my experience, here are my recommendations.
Water Country USA Tips
- Go early! I can’t stress this enough. Trust me. If you are heading there on a warm day in the summer expect crowds and by the afternoon the wave pool can look like this:
- Arrive even earlier. The park opens at 10 am but the parking lot gates open at 9:15 am. Not that you need to get there 45 minutes in advance but it is a good idea to get there a few minutes early to be one of the first people into the park.
- General parking is fine. General parking is $15. Preferred parking is only a little more, but if you get there early there is no need to pay extra, you shouldn’t have a far walk at all (just remember where you parked and don’t make my rookie mistake!)
- Buy your ticket in advance. You can purchase tickets online and then scan the printout at the gate for fast access.
- No outside food or drink. I filled up our reusable water bottles with ice cold bottled water at the hotel and was really disappointed to see that you can’t bring any outside food or beverage into the park (and yes, they do check bags.) So those bottles just boiled in the hot car while we had to pay for our drinks and food inside the park. If you are on a road trip and brought a cooler (gee, that would have been smart!), you can exit the park and eat at your car, on the shady strips in the parking lot, or at the picnic tables outside the park.
- Get a locker. It will give you peace of mind to have a safe place to store your valuables. The lockers near the entrance are $11 for a regular and $18 for a large locker for all-day, in-and-out usage. When you return the key you will get a $3.00 off coupon good at the gift shops or food stands (it bought us a bottle of water on the way out of the park.) If you get there early, there shouldn’t be a shortage of lockers and even if you get there late, there are more lockers located throughout the park including ones across from Jet Scream and more by the Hubba Hubba Highway not-so-lazy river. I noticed that the ones by Hubba Hubba Highway were a few dollars cheaper and self-serve via a kiosk, so if the lines are long at the first place, try another.
- Stake out your spot. Even with a locker, it is still nice to have a place to sit and relax or dry off. Two good places to do this would be some of the many, many lounge chairs around the wave pool, more around some of the kiddie play areas, and others by the lazy river. You can also rent a cabana but, in my opinion, unlike a hotel resort pool, you won’t spend a lot of time in any one area and this seems like a bit of a waste of money.
- Know before you go. Water Country USA does NOT hand out paper maps and the map displays don’t give a description of each ride. It is a good idea to look at the website with your kids in advance of your visit to scope out what attractions look the most interesting.
- Beeline to the big guys. Some of the more popular rides, like the Vanish Point and Meltdown have long lines, so go to them first to get a ride or two in before the rest of the crowds arrive. When we went on Meltdown in the early afternoon the sign said the wait would be 45 minutes. I didn’t have a watch but it didn’t feel like it actually took that long.
- Quick Queue? Just like Disney has a Fast Pass option, Water Country USA offers a Quick Queue ticket add on starting at $25 per person, which allows you to jump the line. Honestly, most lines weren’t that long so personally I couldn’t justify that expenditure, but that is up to you.
- Meal Deal? Speaking of personal choices, Water Country USA also offers a variety of meal deals, which may be worthwhile if you plan on spending all day in the park. The Drink all Day with a souvenir cup is $11.99 and the meal deal (2 meals plus drink all day cup) is $24. There are also other options and you really need to think about your preferences to see if it is worthwhile. We don’t tend to eat much when we are hot and active so we each had a large smoothie for $6.99 and split a chicken fingers meal for $8.29, then got a water ($2.99) and ice cream in a waffle cone ($6.99). I’m not a fan of ICEEs or fountain drinks so the meal deal wouldn’t work for us.
- Lower your food expectations. There are tons of places to eat throughout the park. In fact, it felt like there are as many food stands as water rides. You can get fried shrimp, pizza, salads, hot dogs, chicken fajita sandwiches, steak sandwiches, ice cream, Dippin Dots, nachos, smoothies, and more. Just don’t expect it to be fast or all that good. And, of course, as an Anheuser-Busch company, there is plenty of Budweiser, which gives me another reason not to drink at a water park.
- Water shoes are helpful, but not necessary. One of the questions I had before going to Water Country was what to do about my feet? My sensitive tootsies don’t take kindly to walking around on hot pavement. So there are two answers. 1) Aqua sock-type water shoes are allowed on the slides; or 2) There are cubbies outside of the slides to stow your footwear. It is an honor system but it seems to work.
- Go Pros aren’t cool. I guess our Go Pro was something I should have left at home because I saw at least one sign saying that no cameras/video cameras were allowed (harness, helmut, selfie-stick, whatever) on the slide. You also shouldn’t have bathing suits with zippers, rivets, buttons or other things that could get stuck in cracks or scratch up the rides.
- Wild Thang you make my heart sing. Wild Thang and Rampage seem like slightly older rides tucked away in their own corner and maybe for that reason they aren’t as crowded? Whatever it was, I enjoyed it just as much as some of the other rides but the line was usually pretty short.
- Hubba Hubba Highway is not-so-lazy. When they say that the Hubba Hubba Highway is better enjoyed when wearing a life vest, they mean it. (Life vests are complimentary and available throughout the park.) There are no tubes and the water moves along at a good clip so it is easiest to relax and float in the vest.
So there are my Water Country USA tips — from one first-timer to another. Now, on to what to pack…
What to Pack for a Day at the Waterpark
- Sunscreen – preferably spray and good for wet skin
- Sunhats — preferably those with a chinstrap so they don’t fall off. If you don’t have one, at least spray sunscreen on your scalp
- Towels — you mostly dry in the sun but it can be nice to stretch out on a towel for a break and it would be a must for cooler days
- Sunglasses — also best with a strap but I wore mine all day with no problem (and no strap)
- Waterproof pouch for your phone — I used my waterproof case but that didn’t solve the problem of not dropping it so I still locked it away. I wish I had remembered my around the neck waterproof pouch.
- Goggles — if not for waterslides, the kids might prefer having them in the wave pool
- Water shoes — I touched on this earlier but wear or bring aqua socks if you have them
- Hand sanitizer — it is a water park after all
- First aid kit — I never like to go to a place like this without some Neosporin and Bandaids at a minimum
- Swim diapers — if anyone in your group isn’t potty trained, bring plenty extra of these
- Swim shorts / rash guards — I don’t know about your but I don’t love walking around in my bathing suit. I found a pair of swim shorts was just the thing to make me feel comfortable and covered. A rash guard or swim shirt is also a great way to avoid sunburns!
- Money — even if you keep it in your locker or use a cashless wristband, you will need some money in the park, no matter how well you plan
- Change of clothes? That is up to you and where you are going after. There are family bathrooms, changing rooms and I think even showers (??? not totally sure on that one). Personally I felt so gross after all the in and out of the pools that I just wanted to get back to our hotel and shower so we didn’t end up using the brush or change of clothes we brought along.
What else would you add?
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Note: Our visit was hosted by Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA. All opinions are our own.
Tamara Gruber is the Founder and Publisher of We3Travel. A former marketing executive and travel advisor, Tamara is an award-winning travel writer and recognized expert in family travel. She is also the publisher of YourTimetoFly and the co-host of the Vacation Mavens travel podcast.