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July 10-11

Theme Parks

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If there's anywhere that size doesn't matter, it's at the area's three major theme parks. Human beings of every shape and condition throw on bathing suits and shorts to drive here and get splashed and soaked on some of the coolest rides around. Then they pack in funnel cakes, fries and ice cream — a requisite part of experience for pleasure-seeking families and teen-agers with spending money to burn.

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Do Williamsburg's Busch Gardens and/or Water Country USA on Saturday. Busch Gardens recently launched Apollo's Chariot, a "hypercoaster" that got a bit of publicity for Fabio and an errant goose when the two collided earlier this year. The ride drops passengers farther than any other steel roller coaster in the world, some 825 feet at nearly 75 miles per hour. And that's not the only winner: People Magazine picked Alpengeist as the best coaster in the world, and the Loch Ness Monster, Big Bad Wolf, Wilde Maus and water rides continue to thrill. A monorail connects the park to the Busch beer factory, where tasting is part of the tour.

General admission is $35; children 3-6 $28; seniors save $3; and there are season passes, late-day admission savings and military rates. Parking is $6 per vehicle.

Check out their web site at www.buschgardens.com.

Surprisingly fun on a hot summer weekday, Water Country USA has something to appeal to water lovers of all ages. To relax in dappled sunlight, float on a tube around the Lazy River. Then gear up for the thrill rides, twisting down tunnels, sliding fast over curvy mountains and generally getting soaked while screaming. The Wave Pool is a favorite, but stay toward the shallow end with younger kids. The high dive show is worth watching, and kids might like the aquatic animal acts if you can get them away from Big Daddy Falls or the water slides. You can buy new sunglasses or surfing gear and check out the latest bathing suits on a sun-loving crowd that comes early and stays till dusk, grooving to the ever-present oldies and beach music. Plan to rent a locker or two (they're small) to stow your dry clothes for the ride home, and bring along some non-meltable snacks and cold bottled water. Towels, sunblock and waterproof footwear are comfort essentials. Nonswimmers have a few options here: Life jackets are free, people-watching is fun, and some areas are shallow enough for wading. Lines for most rides are long at midday, but by suppertime, the crowds thin out and it's easy to make several end-of-day runs.

Admission is $27, children 3-6 are $19.50, seniors save 10 percent. After 3 p.m., it's $18, a good value for larger families or those who want to avoid the midday sun. Parking is $6 and up. Season passes, two-week passes and combo tickets with Busch Gardens are available.

On Sunday, do the closer-to-home park, Paramount's Kings Dominion, which mixes show business glitz with its rides and attractions. A new 007 action ride puts you in the James Bond role. Kids love the Nickelodeon family game show and the roaming creatures from Rug Rats and other cartoons. Start or end the day with a ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower to plan or retrace your trek through the park. Performer-types can make a music video (pricey) or perform on the bandstand to karaoke (free for the fearless), then pose for magazine-style cover photographs or pastel caricatures. The Rebel Yell remains an all-time favorite for roller-coaster enthusiasts; ride it backward for extra queasiness. The most popular rides are the new Volcano, The Blast Coaster and the looping steel Anaconda, and the lines often long; but videos and movies on overhead screens make the queues more entertaining. Teen-agers love to hang out here and summer concerts draw in even more: Britney Spears kicks off the season July 3, then it's Gladys Knight and the Temptations, Patti Labelle (Aug. 15th), Nick Jr.'s Blues Clues (June 5,6) .

Adults can get a beer and a Dominic's of New York sandwich at WaterWorks and enjoy them poolside in the park's newest area.

Admission is $33.99 for adults, $24.99 for kids 3-6. Concerts add $10 - $11 more; season passes are available. Parking is $6 . Bring plenty of spending money for food and impulse

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