My 'rents live in Rockford, and every time we've driven by Magic Waters on the way to my mother's house, X-man has always asked to go there. This summer, I made a point of scheduling a three-day trip to Nana's so that we could spend some time at the water park and get some quality time in with Nana.
When I was younger, like before I could drive, I had a season pass to Magic Waters. I'd get off work at the library and my best friend KAP's mom (and my boss) would drive us over there to spend the rest of our afternoon together in the summer. Just two 15 year old girls hanging in the sun and body surfing in the wave pool. It's also the last time I was ever there. It's changed considerably since then, and holy cow do they have some things that I think Sholem (and maybe the new place in Urbana) would totally benefit from.
First of all, Magic Waters is run by the Rockford Park District. It has a massive wave pool with waves that are up to 6' deep. It also has a series of raft rides (two regular raft slides, a roller coaster like raft slide and then a massive raft ride where you get sucked down a tornado-like funnel). There are free rafts, but if it's a busy day and they run out, you have the option of renting tubes (either single or double riders) that you can keep all day. You can also purchase fast passes to specific slides.
In addition, there's a baby area perfect for kids 3 and under. Three body slides (which are original to the park from my years) and a lazy river that goes around a new spray park that is perfect for kids through age 12 and the adults that bring them. The benefit of renting your tube comes in at the lazy river. If you have a free tube, after one lap of the lazy river, you must abandon your tube to someone else who is waiting to get in and get out and then get back in line to go around again at the entrance. If you rent your own tube, you can go around and around and around without exiting. Also, unlike other parks I've been to that don't let kids go down big kid slides due to height restrictions and then don't let adults go down little kid slides due to height restrictions, everyone gets to go down the 4 slides at the spray park area called Tiki Island, but kids have to be over a certain height to go down the grown up body slides.
We put our stuff at Tiki Island, and it was a good call. It had the most shade available, so we got two chairs under some trees to dump our stuff. If you've got some bucks and are arriving later than opening, you can also rent cabanas for $75 that are on the south side of the park beyond the splash park and lazy river. They have wicker furniture with cushions and chaise lounges, what looked to be around 10x10' of covered space/shade and electrical outlets with giant fans that could be used.
Usually the cost of the park ticket is $22.95 for an adult, non-Rockford resident and $16.95 for a child, non-Rockford resident, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays, everyone gets in for $10. Yes, for a dollar more than it costs to get into Sholem for a non-resident. When I thought about it that way, the $10 seemed like an insanely good deal. We went on Tuesday when the temps were between 92 when we got there just before 10 a.m. and 100 degrees when we went home at 1 p.m. I had to prohibit X-man from going down any of the slides that weren't on Tiki Island for one simple reason -- we watched two of the six people who collapsed of heatstroke waiting in line for the slides that morning get hauled away on a gurney to the hospital on a backboard and another who sat in a wheelchair getting fed Gatorade while they located her parents. As it was, by 11:30's lunch, X-man was looking pretty pooped.
So, we did Tiki Island, the lazy river and the wave pool over the 3 hours we were there. And I still had to drag X-man out to the parking whining like mad that he wanted to come back there when it was time to leave.
Another thing that I liked besides the rental tube option was that Magic Waters permits every family to bring in one cooler of food and drinks (as long as they're non-alcoholic and there are no glass containers) for free. After that, you're permitted to bring in more coolers (there were several large families there) but you had to pay $10 per cooler. These die hard season pass holders were there before we got there at 9:40 a.m. (the park opened at 10 a.m.). They were waiting inside the park at the holding tape and then when the park folks released them when the park opened, the children were sent flying as fast as their feet could carry them to the closest, covered picnic table area -- to squat -- all day, while the adults heaved their heavy coolers.
When we paid for our tickets, I said good morning and told the attendant it was our first time. He acknowledged that Tuesday was a great day to come for the cheaper tickets and then when I said we didn't have a cooler he smiled a giant smile and said that employees liked people like me. We were easy, and weren't going to squabble over cooler issues. After we paid, we stood in line to get my bag checked. I saw one employee having to go through three duffle bags and three coolers for one family, so the other attendant called me over to look through my one bag quickly, marked it with an orange tie and then sent us in. X-man and I walked a normal pace from the north end of the park all the way to the south end of the park where Tiki Island spray park was and had our choice of a zillion shady lounge chairs.
As for the food, it was kind of nice. It was usual pool grub of hot dogs and hamburgers, but since you could take in coolers the lines weren't extraordinarily long and the table areas near the snack bars were reserved for paying customers to keep away the squatters. There was an actual grill set up (like Sholem used to do), and we had hot dogs and french fries within 5 minutes ordering. The combo meal was $7.50 each. But I was totally okay with paying that. It was good stuff. The one thing that sucked was that there really weren't any healthy options at all. (So another benefit of the cooler rule, if you want to use it.)
The other interesting food item was that Culver's had two ice cream stands inside the park. They did concretes and had ice cream cookie treats and shakes. And I wondered how they came to that kind of partnership. It was a really good idea, whomever brokered it.
Next year, the new attraction will be giant fast slides, where you can race your friend. Basically, you do a straight drop at some kind of terrifying speed. The body slides required users to be over 48 inches tall, so X-man was 1 inch too small for them this year. I think if we went back as a family next year, he and MacTroll could do all those things (on a non-100 degree day) and I'll just rent a tube and float around the lazy river. :-)
All in all though, I would totally go back up and do it again. We have a free place to stay over night, and we could have stayed a couple hours longer on just those three areas, if it wasn't getting ridiculously hot out there in the shade. I kept spraying X-man down in sunblock and looking at his face. When he gets enough of the pool, he gets sunburn just underneath his eyes from the sun glare off of the pool water. He kept drinking everything I put in front of him that day, but I was still worried. But 3 hours at the water park with some indoor play time and some Lego TV watching at Nana's house was pretty much his perfect day. He was asleep at 9:30 p.m. that night and he slept until 9 a.m. this morning.