2007 Cool List
We celebrate the best new thrills, from over-the-top water attractions and interactive art to North America's first bridge climb and New York City's best view.
You're All Wet--and You're Loving Every Minute of It
To say that Atlantis's new water park is over the top is an understatement; it's over the top and down and around and back up and over again. "Aquaventure covers 63 acres," says Mark Gsellman, manager of the Bahamas resort's marine and water park operations, "and there's something new around every corner." The nexus of all this fun is the Power Tower, a 125-foot-tall green structure that's home to a new slide called the Abyss. The ride starts with a near-vertical, 50-foot drop in complete darkness and ends with a fall into an underground pool that appears to be filled with alligator gars--angry-looking fish with sharp teeth. In between is a series of twists, turns, and special effects that add up to 14 seconds of totally wedgifying high-adrenaline excitement. In addition to the Abyss, Aquaventure features three inner-tube slides and a mile-long river loop that alternates sections of calm and white water. (Waves can reach as high as seven feet.) Best of all, a set of conveyor belts connects the slides to the river loop, so you never have to get out of the water. Access is free for anyone staying at Atlantis; at press time, the resort planned to sell day passes to nonguests for around $100. 888/528-7155, atlantis.com.
Eat Your Heart Out, Sir Edmund Hillary!
When Walt Disney World's Expedition Everest opened last April in the Animal Kingdom, it was the culmination of six years of work by Disney Imagineers, combined with 1,800 tons of steel and an estimated $100 million. Based on the myth of the yeti, the Abominable Snowman and protector of Everest (which Disney scaled down from a height of 29,000 feet to 199 feet--still enough to make it the second-highest summit in Florida), the ride speeds passengers down an 80-foot drop and spirals them forward and backward through foggy ice caves. The real heart-stopper, though, is a very close encounter with the yeti itself. The audio-animatronics that power the beast are the most sophisticated Disney has ever produced. 407/939-1289, disneyeverest.com, $67.
On a Clear Day You Can See L.A.
The Empire State Building? The ape can have it. Top of the Rock--the newly reopened observation decks atop the GE Building in Rockefeller Center--is superior in every conceivable way. First, there are the views: Instead of the Empire State Building's jailhouse bars, you get glass panels that look like they were washed that morning; the first floor (of three total) also has large indoor areas for those who'd rather not venture outside. Second, the top floor, because it's set back from the edge of the building, has totally unimpeded views. Third, the art deco details will take your breath away; wandering around, you feel a bit like Lex Luthor in his evil (but sumptuous) aerie. Fourth, the visitor experience is infinitely better: The workers treat you like a human being, rather than use the fact that you're waiting in line as an opportunity to give you the hard sell. Fifth, even the marketing partnership is neat: In the Target Breezeway, all the surfaces are covered with lights that follow you around. Finally, there's the elevator ride. Stand in the back of the car, to the right as you enter. Then look up. 877/692-7625, topoftherocknyc.com, $17.50.
That's What We Call Rapid Transit
Not only is the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C., the biggest man-made white-water park in the world, but the course--which was designed by engineer and four-time world-champion kayaker Scott Shipley--shares its DNA with great rapids across the globe. "I wanted to improve upon existing elements in nature and those found in Olympic white-water parks in Europe and Australia," says Shipley. "A part of the big rapid was inspired by the one in South Carolina that Deliverance was shot on." Fueled by pumps that circulate 536,000 gallons of water per minute (enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool every 70 seconds), the river provides consistent Class II, III, and IV rapids throughout four channels of varying difficulty. When kayakers and rafters reach the end, they're whisked back to the top by a 180-foot-long conveyor belt. "It's like a ski lift for boats," says Shipley. An official Olympic training site, the U.S. National Whitewater Center will also host the 2008 Olympic kayak team trials. But it has been open to the public since last September, so you too can learn how it feels to train like a champion. 704/391-3900, usnwc.org, from $29.
2007 COOL LIST