Review: Buying tickets to the Aqua Park at St Andrews Lake was £80 well spent despite the weather - but hire the wetsuits
by Emma Kennett
It was a gloriously sunny day when my daughter declared she wanted to go to Kent's 'blue lagoon' inflatable park for her birthday - the very next day.
Having already asked her over and over weeks before, if she was tempted to give the new Aqua Park at St Andrews Lake a try, knowing full-well it gets booked quickly, she had of course in typical child-like fashion flatly refused.
So her last-minute Larry announcement left us clamouring for available slots, which thankfully we found for four of us at 5pm.
After wall-to-wall sunshine all week - 'this will be lovely' I thought - but it seems the weather soon had other ideas. Just 12 hours later we woke to grey skies, colder temperatures and hard rain and that's how it stayed for the entire day. 'Oh well, we’ll be getting wet anyway' I had on repeat in my own head.
After asking for the 400th time when we were leaving for our tea-time dip - or drenching at this rate - we were finally on our way to the watersports site in Halling near Cuxton.
As you drive towards the lake you get a lovely view of the floating obstacle course from the road, people enjoying the other watersports on offer, others warming-up with coffees and eating snacks on the golden sand.
At which point my newly-crowned seven-year-old takes one look through the drizzle-covered car window and promptly wails "I don’t want to go now, it’s too big."
Brilliant. This could be £80 well spent and a birthday treat only my nine-year-old son and husband may be about to enjoy.
Having driven down the gravel roads to the car park, doing our best to encourage her all the way, we darted to the welcome hut in the pouring rain, at which point my husband instantly decides it would be a good idea to pay the extra and hire wetsuits.
At £5 for children and £7 for adults it's money well spent, particularly on a day when the weather gods don't wish to play ball. They have so many in different sizes and big collection buckets for when you are finished to enable them to be washed and hung for the park's next victims.
The changing rooms are basic but clean and after a panicked text from my husband to check which way the zip went on his wetsuit we were ready. (You are also able to leave car keys at base to avoid taking valuables anywhere near the water).
Our slot was fully booked, which meant 30 brave souls would enter the water. I wondered whether all, like me, had signed up when Halling resembled Hawaii too?
After a safety briefing and buoyancy aid fitting it was time to see how cold that water really was. And there really is no escaping it - mostly because you have to swim 15/20m out to the park itself to even get started! Gulp. There’s 29 other people watching - including my fear-stricken child - so no choice really but to get on with it.
And it was freezing. Some of the bolder teenage groups had declined wetsuit hire, a decision I think they were probably regretting a second into our one-hour slot. Temperatures aside though, the water is so clear.
After the swim out to our inflatable island, you must awkwardly haul yourself, weighed down somewhat with a wetsuit and lifejacket, onto a platform to get going. Another good reason to maybe hire the wetsuit and cover your dignity a bit more?
The inflatable course is almost circular and has two ways to go around, this naturally breaks the group up, so it never felt crowded at any point.
There are various activities to tackle and all have a netting base so smaller children would never fall through, which instantly felt safer and like we could all finally relax a little.
There are two large slides and a pillow jump, which both my children found nerve-wracking having made it to the top of the wobbly summit. But after watching their dad plummet down first, to see that the life jacket meant you didn't go too far under the water, they were soon off too.
There are two or three lifeguards keeping watch on paddleboards around you and one always on the pillow jump both for safety reasons and to tell you what to do.
My little boy easily crawled along the edge for my husband to send him flying up into the air - they should definitely have someone taking pictures for you as it would have made a great photo.
My attempt at the pillow jump, however, was more beached whale than Ninja Warrior and I felt quite glad no one was there to get that unflattering action shot.
Fifty minutes in and my birthday girl was shivering so we decided to be first back to the changing rooms and leave on a high.
Despite the rain and the stressful start it really was great fun and definitely worth the money.
And after the initial cold water shock, the lake soon begins to feel like a more manageable temperature and it's so clear and blue it naturally invites you in for a swim.
Forgetting my daughter's initial reservations, both kids left asking when we could come again.
The setting at St Andrews is glorious and on a scorching hot day I do think it would feel like you were on holiday abroad and not five minutes from the Snodland bypass.
To find out more about the water park, click here.