By Sara Dacus
It seemed like a harbinger of another delightful day at the theme and water park, a summer outing my friend Anne and I began when her two children, Laura Catherine and Trent, were five and two and my son, Case, was four.
Arkansas’s only amusement park is an hour and a half from our hometown, and we made excellent time before its 11:00 a.m. opening. We decided to hit a drive-through and enjoy an early lunch at Hollywood Park, a little fairy hideaway tucked behind Oaklawn’s backstretch. And that’s where Laura Catherine’s tooth came out. Perhaps her tooth fairy was concealed in one of the park’s quaint stone castles, plotting her collection.
The festive mood continued as we migrated to the two-parks-in-one on the approximately 200-acre site. Our biggest pro tip is to rent a locker (they are available just inside the park’s front gates and near the water park entrance). We dress for the dry rides first, and then we change into swimwear. Our two little families can share one large locker if we are mindful of bag and belonging size.
The theme park offers rides with mild, moderate, and high thrill ratings. Our crew still enjoys the attractions we started with four years ago: the airplane ride named Fearless Flyers (Case’s favorite), a balloon ride called the Looney Ballooney, a small Ferris wheel (Trent’s highlight—he was proud he conquered it at the end of the day), and a classic carousel (my favorite place to make memories). Anne and I giggled (and were glad) about how truly mild some of the rides are.
Throughout our trips, we have slowly added moderate thrills to our repertoire like the Plummet Summit, a raft ride with big splashes. This year, we tackled Big Bad John, a runaway mine train adventure that felt like a perfect intermediate coaster for our group. The surprise tunnel at the end frightened and delighted us, and Laura Catherine proclaimed it the best part of the day. In the future, perhaps we will undertake challenges like the free-falling Brain Drain and the Arkansas Twister, the park’s signature ride.
On the Crystal Falls side, our kids love what they call “the racing slides,” six tall, blue adjacent slides named Rapid Falls Raceway. Thankfully, they also enjoy features that provide welcomed mommy breaks and chaise lounges, like the Crystal Cove Wave Pool and Splash Island. As we watched the kids, Anne and I marveled at the landscaping, the cleanliness of the facilities, and the unique setting of the beautiful Ouachita mountains surrounding the park. After our break, we stayed in relax mode, enjoying several trips around the lazy river with the kids. Vigilant lifeguards were stationed throughout the park—even in the lazy river.
If you live in the vicinity, I recommend buying a season pass and making the park your super-sized summer pool (with additional benefits). Season pass holders also get free admission to the summer concert series. This 90’s child kicked herself that we didn’t coordinate our visit with the June 19 Vanilla Ice show.
At the end of the day, I asked Case if he had fun. “How could I NOT have fun?” was his reply.
Sara Dacus was born and raised in Searcy, Arkansas, where she still lives with her husband Casey, their son Case and their puppy, Bode. She is an eighth grade English teacher and freelance writer who enjoys horse racing, reading and solving the New York Times crossword.