Motorists speeding along Interstate 4 may need to concentrate a bit more near the Sand Lake Road exit because a brightly colored water park has sprouted mere feet from the highway.
You don't have to be a hotel guest to make a splash there. The resort sells day passes — with a Florida-resident discount.
The kiddie section of CoCo Key is shaded and features fun fountains, gentle slides and a zero-depth entry. The new canopy is 8 feet higher than before, sports skylights and provides better circulation. It looks like a fine refuge during a thunderstorm. (There's a bar handy, too.)
Next is a more standard pool with water cannons and a curvy slide for the tween set.
Out in the sun sits Parrot's Perch, a watery playground of steps, slides and various contraptions to soak families. Beware the giant bucket, which is said to unload 400 gallons onto guests below every 30 minutes, but during my visit it was more like every 5 minutes.
The intense end of CoCo Key is the area adjacent to I-4. From the highway, it's hard to understand what's going on with the red-and-white slide called Boomerango. Is that a big ramp to no where?
"The best way to describe it is it's a skateboard ramp — it's a half-pipe," says Frank Fry, general manager of CoCo Key. "You go down on an inner tube and it actually sends you up vertically before you come back down the other way."
It's one of only eight in the U.S. with this design, and the first in Florida, Fry says.
Surfer Splash is a tube ride mostly enclosed in yellow casing. My trip was surprisingly dry, skirting above the stream and curving down to a final drop hill. It's a fine introduction.
In deep, damp contrast is Over the Falls, a body slide of contrasting color sections. It's a tight, fast corkscrew with the visual impression of blue, orange, blue, orange, blue-orange blue-orange blue orangeblueorangeblueorannnnnnnnnnnnnge. If you say "Go Gators," you'll get a mouthful of water, so go ahead, try it.
It's a soaking splashdown, but one can't complain. It's a water park, mister! On the plus side, the drop isn't severe enough to create swimsuit wedgies.
By this point, the proximity of traffic had faded. There were never any exhaust issues for me, and the noise of the water park helps drown out the car sounds. The lounge chairs are arranged parallel to the road — not pointed toward the hubbub.
"We did put up a fence about 8 feet tall, and it has shading, so when you're sitting there you can't see the cars go by," Fry says, "But when you're driving by, you can see the height of the slide."
CoCo Key isn't jam-packed with options. I wish there were a sandy, less concrete area not so severe on bare feet or a place to float and just veg. On the other hand, you get what you pay for — the Florida resident pass is $14.99, way less than other full-blown water-park options in town.
"There was never any intention for us to compete against Aquatica or Wet 'n' Wild," Fry says. "We wanted an alternative for a younger audience, but we wanted a couple of attractions that would also be fun for a little bit older audience."
The water resort is fairly compact and easy for parents to monitor.
"Our water park is for a younger audience where mom and dad and a 5-year-old or a 6-year-old don't feel intimidated," he says. "They feel very comfortable and at ease with their kids here."
See for yourself
CoCo Key Water Resort
Where: 7400 International Drive, Orlando
When: Hours vary. Check online because sometimes the park isn't open in the morning
Cost: Day passes are $19.99, but $14.99 for Florida residents