Cruise to these coastal amusement parks for memories the whole family will cherish.

Summer in the South is filled with hot, sunny days, making water and sweet tea key ingredients for cool family plans. And the more, the better! Lucky for me, my dad’s dad instilled a fervent love of boating in our family, and we have many memories of summers spent together on the water. When we weren’t on the boat we’d pack up the car and head to amusement parks. Turkey legs, cotton candy, roller coasters, and favorite movie characters parading down the streets at theme parks beckon the young—or simply the young at heart.

Lucky for boat-loving, adventure-seeking, family-oriented folk, many amusement and water parks have coastal locations, which make for dynamic family cruising destinations. From north to south, set your course this summer toward these amusing parks and ports for a fun, unique vacation your entire family will never forget—or outgrow.

Palace Playland Boardwalk Beachfront Amusement Park on the sandy shores of Old Orchard Beach, Maine, hails as New England’s only beachfront amusement park. Kiddie rides for your younger passengers, family-friendly water rides, and adrenaline-junkie drops and roller coasters suit cruisers of all ages. Passengers who opt out of rides will enjoy the old-fashioned carousel or the 24,000-square-foot arcade filled with classic games.

Marston’s Marina- 4.2 miles; (207) 283-3727;

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Luna Park on Coney Island, New York, offers mild, moderate, high, and extreme thrill levels, so everyone on board will find their favorite. Luna Park is only four years old this May with a state-of-the-art facility that delights thousands of guests who visit the historic location each year. Luna Park is an ideal stop for cruisers who want to catch a cab, ride bikes or take a stroll as they cruise the northeast.

Marine Basin Marina- 1.3 miles; (718) 372-5700;
Venice Marina- 2.7 miles; (718) 646-9283;
Kings Plaza Marina- 3.8 miles; (718) 344-3551;
Sea Travelers Marina- 4.0 miles; (718) 377-0216;
Gateway Marina- 4.2 miles; (718) 252-8761;

Rye Playland—a historic Amusement Park in Westchester County, New York, on Long Island Sound—has given cherished memories to families since 1928. One of the only government owned-and-operated amusement parks in the U.S., it welcomed guests after Hurricane Sandy pummeled the area. The park is newly renovated with a kiddie land, family rides, thrill rides, ice casino skating rink, and a private beach and pool.

Tide Mill Yacht Basin- 2.1 miles; (914) 967-2995;

Morey’s Piers and Beachfront Waterpark in Wildwood, New Jersey, is the Mecca of coastal boardwalk amusement parks. Five separate piers sit on the beach in a row—Mariner’s Landing Pier, Surfside Pier, Adventure Pier, Raging Waters Waterpark, and Ocean Oasis Waterpark & Beach Club—to offer extreme entertainment and an eclectic mix of family fun. Enjoy the Breakfast in the Sky package with white tablecloths and a gourmet menu aboard the charming ferris wheel.

Spray Dock Marina- 1.0 miles; (609) 522-1277;
Bridgeport Marina Family LLC- 1.0 miles; (609) 729-1244;
Schooner Island Marina- 1.2 miles; (609) 729-8900;
South Dock Marina- 1.4 miles; (609) 522-0900;
Lighthouse Pointe Marina- 1.5 miles; (609) 729-2229;
Pier47 Marina- 2.4 miles; (609) 729-4774;

Family Kingdom with Splashes Waterpark is Myrtle Beach, South Carolina’s only seaside amusement park, making this famous cruising destination an even better stop for families looking for cool summer plans. Six brand new rides complement old-time favorites such as the Swamp Fox wooden roller coaster, Log Flume and the 110-foot free-fall, Slingshot Drop Zone. For passengers who aren’t as comfortable zooming about, neighboring Splashes Waterpark offers slides, a lazy river and a children’s area.

Hague Marina- 4.1 miles; (843) 293-2141; no website
Marina at Grande Dunes- 6.9 miles; (843) 315-7777;
Osprey Marina & Grill- 8.7 miles; (843) 215-5353;
Marlin Quay Marina- 12 miles; (843) 651-4444;

Rapids Waterpark in Riviera Beach, Florida, is South Florida’s largest waterpark with 30 action-packed attractions and 35 of the biggest, wettest, most thrilling water rides. Prepare to get drenched on the Rapids Racer, Body Blasters, Alligator Alley, Big Surf wave pool, FlowRider wave simulator, Lazy River, and Tadpool kiddie section. Cabana rentals are available for comfort and relaxation.

Riviera Beach Marina- 3.4 miles; (561) 842-7806;
Loggerhead Marina- 3.6 miles; (561) 840-6868;
Rybovich Marina- 3.7 miles; (561) 844-1800;
Lake Park Marina- 3.8 miles; (561) 881-3353;
Palm Harbor Marina- 5.0 miles; (561) 655-4757; 

Sun-N-Fun Lagoon on Florida’s Gulf Coast in Naples welcomes families with many water attractions geared towards younger cruisers. The Dolphin Dive and Lap Pool allow for older visitors to show off their skills or work in some cardio as youngsters visit the park’s five water slides, Sunny’s River and Turtle Cove.

Boat Clubs America- 5.0 miles; (239) 430-2582;
Cocohatchee River Marina- 5.0 miles; (239) 513-7919;
Bonita Bay Marina- 7.4 miles; (239) 495-3222;
Naples Harbour- 8.0 miles; (239) 213-1441;
Port-O-Call Marina- 8.8 miles; (239) 774-0479;

Busch Gardens is a one-of-a-kind, safari-themed amusement park in Tampa, Florida, with a collection of roller coasters that earns the moniker of Florida’s thrill ride leader. World-class shows such as the Iceploration and Madagascar Live, and attractions such as the Serengeti Railway, Bird Gardens and Serengeti Safari give plenty of options to your low-key cruisers. Multiple hands-on, educational experiences allow children and adults to appreciate the exotic African animals as they take a break from the Jungle Flyers, SandSerpent or other high-octane rides.

Jean Street Shipyard- 3.8 miles; (813) 239-2526;
Ricks on the River- 6.2 miles; (813) 251-0369;
Marjorie Park Marina- 7.8 miles; (813) 259-1604; 

Adventure Island located next to Busch Gardens is a premier 30-acre water park. Ten waterslides include the tandem Aruba Tube and Caribbean Corkscrew; four different pools range from a wave pool to the Paradise Lagoon and a Splash Attack kids zone; and Spike Zone beach volleyball courts are just a handful of attractions that entice cruisers.

Shipwreck Island in Panama City, Florida, opened its 20-acre location the summer of 1983. It is widely known for its lush landscape, tasty treats and the professional, hospitable staff. The Tadpole Hole with its Pelican Slide and Silly Sub suits smaller guests, while the wave pool, lazy river, racing slides, raging rapids, and lagoon pool with rope swings entertain older cruisers.

Bayside Marina of Panama City Beach, LLC- 4.6 miles; (850) 234-7650;
Sun Harbor Marina- 5.5 miles; (850) 785-0551; no website
Capt. Anderson’s Marina- 5.6 miles; (850) 234-3435;
Treasure Island Marina- 5.7 miles; (850) 234-6533;
Lighthouse Marina- 5.7 miles; (850) 234-5609;
Pirates Cove Marina- 5.8 miles; (850) 234-3939;

Miracle Strip Amusement Park in Panama City, Florida, just opened their brand-new, expanded location in April with three extra acres of rides and attractions. Nine new rides, a water playground, classic carnival games, and a midway devoted to delectable delicacies will delight everyone who spends a day at this coastal park.

Waterville U.S.A. is an amusement and water park that covers 20 acres of the Alabama Gulf resort community of Gulf Shores—just a quarter mile from the beach. The waterpark admission includes all the waterslides, lazy river, wave pool, Shrimp Boat Village, Wa-Wa World, and Flowrider. The amusement park admission includes all the rides, the Nascart Go-Carts, 36-hole miniature golf, Trampoline Thing, Fun Depot kiddie rides, House of Bounce, and the full arcade.

Homeport Marina- 1.6 miles; (251) 968-4528;
Wharf Marina- 4.2 miles; (251) 224-1900;

Schlitterbahn Waterparks have offered families splish-splashing fun since 1966 with three incredibly unique parks along Texas’ Gulf Coast in Galveston, South Padre Island, and a brand-new waterpark resort coming this summer to Corpus Christi. The combination of water rides and resort accommodations make Schlitterbahn a standout in waterparks across the country.

Pelican Rest Marina- 1.1 miles; (409) 744-2618;
The Marina at Teichman Point- 1.6 miles; (409) 692-9415;
Payco Marina- 1.7 miles; (409) 744-7428;

By Christine Carpenter, Southern Boating June 2014

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