"Mom, I'm body surfing!" shouts my 8-year-old daughter, Ella.
That was our southern California moment in the wave pool at Renton's Henry Moses Aquatic Center, a low-key alternative to some of the more sprawling area water parks. Renton's facility is big enough and varied enough to make for an afternoon of family fun, but small enough and contained enough to be able to safely monitor multiple kids.
The outdoor complex sports two 26-foot-high water slides (one is body slide only, the other has the option of going down on an inflatable tube), a lazy river, a wave pool, zero-depth water play area and a 25-yard swimming pool (one lap lane with the rest open for free play). As we quickly learned, the magic number here is 48: you must be 48 inches tall to ride the water slides. When we joined the snaking ticket line, center staff walked down with a yardstick measuring kids. My 6-year-old son was excited to learn he made the cut; but, later, when we got to the head of the line at the water slide they measured him again and told him he was too short (guess that the Crocs he was wearing in line gave him the edge outside.) My advice to avoid disappointment: Don't tell your kids they'll ride the slide unless you get the OK from the gatekeeper at the slide itself.
Happily, kids under 48 inches can do everything else at the complex (someone age 16 or over must join them in the lazy river; all kids ages 8 and under need supervision by someone age 16 or older). If you want your child to have a flotation device (never a bad idea), you must bring your own. Bring Coast Guard-approved life jackets only – no noodles or water wings are allowed – and leave the water toys at home.
One must: Get here early. When we showed up at 11:30 a.m. for the noon session, there were already about 30 people in line ahead of us on a semi-cloudy day. The complex has the capacity for 950, but they usually cap it around 750 and routinely sell out. Be sure to bring snacks or other diversions for the inevitable wait in line; there's a big field right next to the aquatic center if your kids get squirmy.
Once the gates open, the stampede heads to claim deck chairs. There seemed to be plenty of chairs for everyone, lined up around the water play area, wave pool and regular pool, though shady spots are few and far between, so bring hats. There's a decent swath of grass with some plantings and a large tree for a picnic spot, too. An Ivar's snack bar has affordable fare (non-seafood items, too, like corn dogs and pizza and, of course, ice cream) with a half dozen umbrella picnic tables. You can bring your own food as well, with small coolers allowed in the park, but no glass containers.
We spent a lot of time in the wave pool, which runs 15 minutes waves on, 15 minutes waves off. It got a little mosh-pit like by the wall with big kids and limbs flying, where the waves crest highest, so we steered clear of that zone. But even little ones jumped over the waves from the zero-depth entry. (FYI: The regular pool shallow end is four feet deep; the water play area has a maximum depth of two feet.) My daughter gave a thumbs-up to both water slides; you can't catch your kids at the bottom, but there's a lifeguard in the water to offer help when needed.
One tip: If you're in a hurry, be sure to shower off a few minutes before the end of the session as the wait for an open shower can be long. We left our bags by our deck chairs, but 25 cents buys you one of the plentiful lockers.
IF YOU GO
Where: Henry Moses Aquatic Center, 1719 S.E. Maple Valley Highway, Renton.
When: Open June 18 to Sept. 5; closed for maintenance Aug. 14-28. Leisure swim sessions run noon to 3:30 p.m. and 4 to 7:30 pm.
Cost: Adults, seniors and children (5 to 17) $14 for nonresidents, $8 for Renton residents, children ages 1 to 4, $8 for nonresidents, $4 for Renton residents, children under age 1 free.
Contact: 425-430-6700; http://rentonwa.gov/living/default.aspx?id=190.
Lynn Schnaiberg is a Seattle-area freelance writer and mom.