A-splishing and a-splashing, reelin' with the feelin'

Water crisis aside, this country offers some great ways to stay cool in wave pools and on water slides.

Lunar Gal 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Lunar Gal 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Drops of water splash upward as a child smacks the surface of the pool with the flat of his palm. Beside him, his sister giggles as a wave catches hold of her. Outside the wave pool, people mill around, wiping their faces with the backs of their hands, futilely trying to rid themselves of sweat. Nearby, bronzed Israelis, sunburnt teenagers and amusingly pale tourists panting behind them queue up in the water slide line. Here, at an Israeli water park, the facilities offer a family-friendly respite from the Middle Eastern summer heat. No hint of Israel's water crisis is evident as the water flows in abundance down slides, laps in wave pools and sprays as tubes skim by. Though often crowded, water parks offer a enjoyable venue for children and are even recommended as a creative date option for young adults. It's a great way to get half-naked on the first date - as long as you stay away from the religious water parks. But the younger, it seems, the better. After a few hours, teenagers are likely to find the beach a more thrilling option, but luckily, many water parks here are built just a convenient hop away from the sea. Still, for parents trying to keep an eye on their children, the confined space of a water park offers a better bet. Those coming with a North American mind-set of super-sized amusement parks with almost vertical slides alongside five-person rafts set in water parks the size of Jerusalem's Old City may be disappointed with Israeli versions - but the kids will still find our imitations exhilarating. All the major parks here provide disabled access and parking, and most also offer at least one or two single-sex days a month, making a quality family outing available to the whole of Israeli society. Adventurous ladies, take this fashion tip to heart: Replace those flimsy string bikinis with athletic bathing suits; some of these slides and tubes are rough, and you don't want anything to untie or any slippage. And a note to tourists: utilize your cultural sensitivity and stifle laughter at the sight of European and Middle Eastern men in tight bathing suits. Though I doubt many women would mind if fit soldiers were to don the same revealing attire... Many water park excursions can be combined into longer vacations, as there are often attached sports and spa facilities as part of a larger complex. Other parks are situated in the city and are perfect for a weekday afternoon out of the house when TV and AC become monotonous. For a tiny country that is half-desert, Israel has a surprisingly high number of water parks spread across the country, ranging from dull ones with only a few pools to more exciting ones with twisty slides and inner-tube riding. We've compiled a selection of a handful of the best water parks in Israel, below. Who knows how long the water will last, so get your family over to one of these parks; your kids will thank you! KIBBUTZ SHEFAYIM Also offering a hotel, this kibbutz north of Tel Aviv near the Mediterranean coast encompasses Israel's largest water park - among various other facilities. The water park includes slides and water rides for children of all ages, and has a pool especially for younger children. In addition, there is a regular pool with artificial waves that provides an ocean feeling, without all the sand and salt. Situated right by the beach, Shefayim offers fun and relaxation for all ages, and enough activities to amuse just about anyone. In addition to the myriad of water attractions, Shefayim Water Park is a part of a large resort and is therefore surrounded by sports facilities, a cafeteria and the option of hotel accommodations. Open weekdays 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Hotel guests get free entrance; otherwise, admission fees are NIS 88 per person, or NIS 17 with a group of three or more people. At least half a day a month is single sex: Call or check the Web site to find out when. (09) 959-5755; www.waterpark.co.il SPARK YAMIT 2000 Situated in Holon, this water park calls itself "the water park of Israel." With a heated wave pool, several other swimming pools as well as a spa that includes six Jacuzzis, a Turkish bathhouse and wet and dry sauna rooms, this park seems like the perfect place for adults to rest and relax. But its 20 water slides, rides and kiddie swimming pool make it a fun place for the whole family. For those who love it when their stomachs drop, there are several slides with sharp inclines. Beyond the water attractions, Spark Yamit 2000 has a gym, a squash court, tennis courts, games and sports halls. Open daily, year round, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Always co-ed. Admission: NIS 82. 1-700-506-060; www.yamit2000.co.il THE LUNA GAL Set on the eastern side of Lake Kinneret, Israel's first water park allows visitors access to the nearby Dugit Beach, too. A variety of adventure water activities are available, including kayak rental and inner tube rides. For those looking for some inner peace, try standing under the waterfall or bobbing in one of several pools. There are shallower pools for toddlers, and older children will get excited by large water slides. Many other outdoor activities abound in the region, so take the family up North for a weekend break. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Single-sex one day a month, changes every month. Admission: NIS 80, NIS 60 for children. (04) 667-8000/8/9; www.dugal.co.il THE MEYMADION In this crowded Tel Aviv water park with a 5,000-person capacity, parents can spend an afternoon of fun with the children, then drop them off at the babysitter's and enjoy a romantic evening at one of the city's many restaurants before strolling along the beach boardwalks. Full of young parents chasing after their children, this park is well-suited to families, as there is a lot of water but not too much adventure. Still, teenagers can spend a fun afternoon racing their friends down the slides. There is a large wave pool and several tall slides, among other water activities. But the place is hard to find, so make sure to confirm directions. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., but sometimes closes for private functions - so make sure to call. Single-sex once a month in July; in August, three evenings for men only. Admission: NIS 90, group rates are available for over 30 people. (03) 642-2777; www.meymadion.co.il HAFETZ HAIM Geared toward religious people, this kibbutz park in the Shefela region contains several large pools, including one for small children. There are a variety of slides to suit all age groups, including faster ones for older children and several baby slides. The park offers considerable accessibility for young kids and is highly recommended for religious families who like to splash around. A glatt kosher bar is available - but make sure to dress modestly. Stay for a while and check out the other child-friendly attractions at this kibbutz, including its zoo. Open Sunday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Shabbat. Different sections of the park are open to men and women in the morning and then they switch for the afternoon. Open to groups only until August 11, and then hours return to normal. Modest attire required for entry. Admission: around NIS 65. (08) 859-3899; www.hafetz-hayim.co.il