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By Samantha Chapnick

Most theme park visitors with kids under 10 miss the best part of the parks — the elaborate playgrounds. So here are my personal picks for the top playgrounds in Orlando:

My 6-year-old daughter’s ninth time at an amusement park was the first time she enjoyed it. She, and her four under-48″ friends, dutifully trudged to the attractions the adults thought they’d enjoy. And they did enjoy  rides like The Cat in the Hat at Universal Orlando and the kid’s roller coaster at SeaWorld. But nothing compared to the fun they had at what are arguably the world’s most elaborate and engaging playgrounds.

Orlando does everything amusing and over the top, and in this case, it’s the smallest society members who benefit.

Walkabout Waters, Aquatica: This is my summer favorite, largely because it’s almost as much for adults as kids: We can play together. We climb up to one of the three tallest slides (about 60 feet high), shooting water cannons at each other along the way, and then wait for the 375-gallon bucket of water to dump on our heads.

Honey I Shrunk the Kids Playground, Disney’s Hollywood Studios: I sit on the sidelines while my daughterdoes her favorite things at this playground. She waits to get squirted, climbs on a giant ant, hides in the 30-foot blades of grass, and scrambles up the three-story net climb. Note that this playground is made from the actual stage props used in the movie.

The Boneyard, Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Perfect for Indiana Jones fans, The Boneyard playground has similar facilities to the one at Hollywood Studios but with an archaeological theme. There’s a net climb, really cool yellow spiral slide, and “rusted” Jeep. The highlight for many younger kids is the big dig — a sand pit where they can uncover dinosaur bones.

Lake Eola: A traditional park playground with a twist. The manufacturer, Kompan, builds equipment that goes beyond the typical jungle gym. They try to stimulate both the imagination and develop oft-neglected abilities like balance, coordination and upper body strength. They also happen to be very close to some cool restaurants … but more on that in my next piece on Lake Eola.

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Samantha Chapnick is a New York writer who scours international destinations looking for what hasn’t been found.

Tagged: Disney, Family time, Florida

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