When Wild Adventures in Valdosta went through an ownership transition a few years ago, I figured that the end might be near. I figured that the best theme park between Six Flags and Disney World, the one sure-fire place to treat the kids to great fun, was kaput.
Besides, I knowingly said to myself, there was no way the place could stay in business selling annual passes for 60 bucks or so.
The dust has settled now and the best I can tell, Wild Adventures is thriving. And they’re still selling annual passes at a bargain price. In fact, during a promotion last October, you could buy a 2010 pass for $59 and start using it right away – for 15 months!
And so, it seems that if indeed Suzanne and I are still in the area when our yet-to-be-born grandchildren are old enough to walk, Wild Adventures will be a top destination for an affordable escape.
When we decide to make the park a two-day adventure – a mini-vacation instead of a day trip — we are able to walk from our hotel to the Valdosta Mall and nearby restaurants. (A certain member of the family particularly appreciates this.) Along that theme, here are the top 10 why I think Wild Adventures is the best smaller theme park in south Georgia, north Florida and west Alabama:
10. One price. Both parks. (The original park and the newer Splash Island water park.) That’s all you pay. Need I say more?
9. Nine. That’s the number of heart-stopping roller coasters they have, from Swamp Thing (maybe the best name ever for a thrill ride) to the Boomerang. My favorite is the one made of wood, Cheetah. Plus there are two water rides.
8. The animals. It took a few years for our family to discover and otherwise appreciate this element of Wild Adventures – it’s an extra value, so to speak. In addition to the current breathtaking Tigers of India show this year, there are lions, bears, giraffes, lorikeets, iguanas and cockatoos on display, plus the miniature horses and other animals in the petting zoo. We love the interactive aspect, like the parakeet exhibit that you can walk through. The kids also love the pigeon release – they were allowed to hold a pigeon and let it fly away. When or where else will they experience that as they catch their breath from a thrill ride?
7. Festival of Lights. What a nice touch to the holidays. Like the overall park itself (which began as a petting zoo, more or less), the Christmas display started modestly and gradually grew into a spectacular production. With more than two million Christmas lights that transform the park into a winder wonderland (especially when it’s cold!), Festival of Lights is the most impressive holiday attraction south of Callaway Gardens and north of Orlando and Jacksonville, I suppose. The musical productions, though, aren’t matched by Callaway, but the icing on the cake is the living nativity featuring camels, donkeys and sheep.
6. Little or no wait at any of the rides. As a kid, our nearest theme park was Six Flags over Georgia. Of all of my visits there, the one I remember most was when a heavy rainfall virtually emptied the park. It was paradise because the notoriously long lines for the rides were non-existent. At Wild Adventures, I don’t think we’ve ever waited more than 15 minutes – even during the day of a popular concert. And usually, the wait for a ride is just a minute or two.
5. The shows. The kids are growing up and don’t have to be supervised anymore. That gives us more time for the daily productions, like Dana Kunze’s All American High Dive Spectacular and Doggies of the Wild West. Our current favorite is Country Rocks Live, one of those knee-slapping song-and-dance revues that can get you in trouble with your spouse if you don’t sing well.
4. The concerts. In Albany, we marvel at how Wild Adventures does it. In a single year, they lure the likes of Chicago, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Chubby Checker, the Backstreet Boys (OK, so I had no interest in this one), Willie Nelson and Creedence Clearwater Revival – for no extra cost to park-goers. The acts are diverse for all ages and varying tastes. We missed it, but this summer in what must have been one of the great days in Wild Adventures history, motorcycle daredevil Robbie Knievel jumped over the big lake. We are especially looking forward to seeing Third Day, the Grammy-award winning Christian rock band, in September (and to not paying anything extra for it!) One thing we’ve learned over the years is to bring lawn chairs to the concerts – it makes a huge difference, although there’s reserved seating for $10.
2. The atmosphere: Clean, safe, relaxed. It’s like a large, upscale fair – and the staff is “Chick-fil-A friendly,” as I like to say, to boot. And parking at Wild Adventures isn’t a hassle like it is at other theme parks.
2. Not just kid-friendly – it’s KID-ORIENTED. This is what lured us to the park in the first place with 2-year-old in tow in 1997, shortly after it opened. There are Veggie Tales characters roaming about, a Merry Go Round, a train ride for the whole family, special performances like the Imagine Show and a canine stunt show, and LOTS of kids rides – not just an obligatory few – and for all ages. At the entrance there’s a great little jungle gym to get them going on the way in, or to let them get it all out at the end of the day. With all it has to offer, the best thing Wild Adventures has for it is that it is the perfect destination for families with young children. And of course, there’s …
1. The water! We loved Wild Adventures before Splash Island, and we loved Splash Island – with its 20,000-square-foot wave pool, lazy river, speed and tube slides, and play pool for the toddlers – before the Wahee Cyclone. What a thrill!
Five cost-saving tips
1 Pack your lunch. You can’t bring it into the park, but you can leave for a while, grab your cooler, have a picnic, and re-enter the park.
2. Family Meal Deals. This is an online-only package that includes a complete meal with an all-day park admission. It saves 30 percent off concession food costs.
3. Passholders Bring a Guest Special. Periodically, season pass holders get to bring a guest for free. One of those opportunities is coming up Monday, Aug. 2.
4. Buy 1 Get Second Day Free. It’s going on now. It turns a day with the family to an affordable mini-vacation.
5. Special offers. Current deals include pre-purchasing tickets at participating Walgreens and saving $11 OR AT Subway and saving $10.
IF YOU GO:
ADDRESS: 3766 Old Clyattville Road, Valdosta, GA 31601
DIRECTIONS: Wild Adventures is four miles off Exit 13 on 1nterstate 75 near Valdosta, just north of the Florida state line.
INFO: For current park hours, to see the 2010 park calendar, or for more information, call (229) 219-7080 or visit www.wildadventures.com. Wild Adventures also has more than 11,000 “Likes” on Facebook.