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You've probably heard of SeaWorld Orlando, but did you know the theme park has its very own water park right across the street? It's called Aquatica, and it's a great blend of thrillin' and chillin' water rides and attractions and animals.

One type of animal in particular makes Aquatica unique among the Orlando water parks. It's home to four Commerson's dolphins, an unusual species with black and white markings that make them look like small, sleek orcas. Their habitat is intertwined with the aptly-named Dolphin Plunge, a clear tube water slide that whisks riders right through it. Look fast and you just might catch a glimpse of the frolicking creatures.

If you were zipping along too quickly to see them, there are above ground and underwater viewing areas and daily training sessions. You can also see the Commerson's dolphins, as well as a huge tank of tropical fish, when you float around the lazy river.

Aquatica isn't just for marine mammals. Look for the colorful macaws that hang out on perches and often chat with passersby. Keep an eye out for animal ambassadors, too, as many visit the park for close-up encounters with guests.

Aquatica is geared toward families, which means it has attractions that appeal to a wide age range and level of bravery. The lazy river and twin wave pools are perfect relaxation spots, while the water slides deliver thrills for those who want a more active day. You can even combine a river ride with a taste of excitement by popping into Roa's Rapids, a unique take on the traditional lazy river. You won't find any inner tubes, but there's a big supply of life jackets at the river's entrances. Put one on, step in, and let the powerful current push you along at a surprising rate of speed. The life jacket keeps you afloat, so you don't have to do anything but enjoy the ride.

The wide variety of water slides lets you choose solo or tandem options or even a race on the Taumata mat slide. Families can challenge the Walhalla Wave and HooRoo Run raft rides together. If the junior family members are too short to qualify, take them over to one of the many kid-friendly pool and play areas. There are also educational areas with hands-on activities for youngsters where they can learn more about animals and conservation.

If you like a slower pace, stake out a lounger in one of the many sunny or shaded areas and enjoy the lush landscaping that makes Aquatica seem like a faraway oasis, even though it's just off the busy International Drive tourist strip. While the supply of chairs seems endless, you might find that they're all occupied if you come late on a busy summer day. Ensure that your family has a spot by renting a private lounger on Roa's Island or a cabana. The cabanas are especially popular during the peak season because you get shade, a ceiling fan, your own chairs, a refrigerator stocked with water, rental towels, and a safe. It makes a perfect base for your family, especially if you have older kids who want to head off on their own.

Aquatica stays open all year, as long as the temperature cooperates. It's a fun spot even on cooler days because almost all of the water is heated. If you visit Orlando in the winter and you're from a cold climate, you'll probably be able to stand much cooler air temperatures than the locals. Head over to Aquatica and let the kids ride the water slides until their legs give out because there won't be any lines. If you're visiting in the summer, expect the park to be very crowded. Get there in the morning to ensure that you get a lounger in the beach area near the wave pools and to make sure that you get in because the park closes when it reaches capacity.

You can easily spend a full day at Aquatica if you have water-loving kids, but many families make it a half-day park. They come early and let the kids run themselves into exhaustion before heading back to their hotel, town home, condo, or vacation pool home for an afternoon rest.

Learn how to combine a day at Aquatica with the rest of your Orlando vacation by visiting or calling 1-800-618-5002.