Great Waves is part of Cameron Run Regional Park. Although the park includes features such as a nine-station batting cage, miniature golf, picnic and pavilion rentals, this review will focus on Great Waves Waterpark.
Great Waves Waterpark
4001 Eisenhower Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22304
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Open Memorial Day through Labor Day
Although our oldest child just turned nine years old, we have never been to Great Waves. Despite numerous sessions of swim lessons since the kids were in utero, the only swimmer in the family is Dad. That does not keep us from pools or beaches, but has made us a little less adventurous when it comes to aquatic play lands, especially where total submersion is involved.
We decided to take the plunge this summer by taking advantage of group buying discount vouchers offereing a low-cost way to see what we have been missing. Our vouchers provided admission for four people starting at 3 p.m., one hour before the daily late-entry discount begins (the admission fee drops to $8 for all at 4 p.m.). Since we are a family of five (with kids ages 4.5, 7 and 9), we paid full-price admission for our smallest (fees based on height).
When we arrived for both visits, parking was a breeze. There was no line, so we were able to cruise right in. In fact, our timing seemed rather good since on each day there was a school bus loading up tuckered-out kids, just as we were heading in.
Once we got our wristbands. we headed for the locker rooms. They contained three walls of medium-sized lockers that rent for 75 cents per day. The lockers are big enough to fit a small beach bag or an average backpack, and a little more. Off the locker room are restrooms and showers, both free of debris and litter. After a quick spray-down in the shower, we headed for the pools.
The resort-like environmnent was lined with Astro turf, which made the sun-burned walkways a little more comfortable beneath our feet. The bright green synthetic grass was striped with outstretched lawn chairs. Enormous, brightly colored, Dr. Seuss-like umbrellas, dotted the perimeter of each of the pools. The umbrellas are so expansive that they cast enough shade to cool a couple of families or clusters of people.
Within minutes my husband and kids were in the main pool for which the park was named. The wave pool has a beach-like entry were the water level rises every couple of feet, with a full depth of eight feet on the far end. The water temperature was a comfortable 81 degrees, enabling one to glide right in. The oversized tubes with handles made comfy floats for adults and were easy for kids to use in a multitude of ways.
Not long after entering, we learned just why it is called Great Waves. Seconds after a steady, loud buzz permeated the air, the waves began to roll. Gently at first, but bounding through the pool before long. Those who prefer to be buoyed by the waves will find their sweet spot toward the middle of the pool. Those who like to ride the waves will be happiest along the edges and towards the “shore” were the waves are forceful enough to carry smaller bodies a few yards. Once our girls got accustomed to the flow of the water in different areas, they chose to ride the waves. Our son, who is less comfortable with being splashed and getting his face wet, prefered to lounge and bob.
Next we headed over to the spray park, where one can duel with others using mini-cannons that can spray water towards each other. (Note to kids: the one closest to the pool has better reach!) There are jets of water that shoot up from the ground creating arches of water beneath and between which one can run. There are also small buckets on posts that continually fill with water until the balance shifts and the water is dumped on those who dare to venture beneath them.
The Lagoon is a great spot for parents with kids of varying ages. All three of our children spent a good deal of time in this pool during both visits. It features two slides, one three to four-foot wide straight slide that can accommodate a few children at once. The other, a winding curvy slide that kids of all sizes seem to enjoy. The pool, which contains three feet of water also contains mini-water falls, and an umbrella with water streaming down around the rim at all times. At the spray park and the Lagoon, parents and guardians have great visibility, except when kids are climbing the stairs in the rock formation to enter the slides.
Our last stop was at the RipTide Café, where we used another discount voucher for a four-pack of meals. The café features standard eats that you would expect at this type of venue: burgers, hot dogs, chicken tenders, pizza, fries, chips, soft drinks, etc., at about the quality you would expect. A detailed menu is available online. We tried the individual deep-dish pizzas with fruit punch and chips, which the kids seemed to enjoy. Without the vouchers, we would have skipped the café.
Because our kids do not swim, we did not ride on the intertwining tube and 4-story speedslides, though we witnessed many other brave souls do so. Patrons must be at least 48” and be able to swim in order to ride the tube and speed slides.
For the younger set, Minnow Bay is a smaller wading pool that offers a calm place for the very young to play and explore. Kids must be six or younger to enter.
There is a strong lifeguard presence at all of the pools. At the main wave pool, there were five to six lifeguards standing around the edges of the pool at the ready and enforcing pool rules.
The park also features a sand box and a large, partially enclosed play structure for kids three to 12 years old. Laced with tubes, tunnels and various climbing apparatuses, provides a dry alternative to wet play.
While we did not take advantage of all of that the park had to offer, the kids still absolutely loved the park! I loved that it provided a more interactive way for parents to engage with the kids in the pool. And, by the end of our second trip, all of the kids were more comfortable with being splashed and getting their faces wet. The two oldest were even challenging themselves to stay under water and practice swimming in a way they are hesitant to when we are at the beach or in a pond or lake. The kids are also more motivated to learn how to swim so that they can enjoy the tube and speed slides.
Now that we have had a chance to visit a couple of times, we will likely return, but during the off-hours after 4 p.m. The kids are good for about 2.5 hours before exhaustion starts to set in and their current interests are limited to two or three of the aquatic features. So, we get our best value by attending late in the day, when there are fewer patrons and when then admission fees are reduced.
- Free use of life jackets and tubes
- First aid center
- Shark Shack (souvenirs, T-shirts and more)
- RipTide Café
- Ice cream cart
- Picnic areas
- Cabanas available for rent by the day
- Pavillions available for rent for events
Tips and Takeaways:
- Prices reduced to $8 for all ages beginning at 4 p.m. daily. Group and senior rates available.
- Pool patrons get discounted admission to other paid amenities
- Fees are slightly higher on weekends and holidays.
- Bounce pass option available valid at all 5 Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority waterparks.
- Check the hourly weather forecast before you go and plan accordingly. There are no refunds in the event of rain or a thunderstorm. There was a 30% chance of rain during our second visit and it did, indeed, rain. But, there was no thunder and the sun returned for an additional hour before closing.
- Wear water shoes (vs. flip flops). Enables one to travel easily between the pools, splash pad, restrooms, etc. without having to stop and search for shoes.
- If traveling with kids of varying ages, it is helpful to have more than one adult. While the park as attractions for all ages, all attractions are not appropriate for all ages, so you may need to split up.
- Food is allowed on the grounds, but not within a certain clearly marked perimeter of the pool.
- Check out the slide and pool rules before you go.