85 Million People Attend Water Parks Each Year
One of the most common complaints among water park guests is having to wait in long lines among crushing crowds of bathing suit-clad masses. There's a reason: Americans love water parks. About 85 million people pour into America's 1,175 water parks every year.
Water Roller Coasters Are a Thing
A new kind of attraction combining the thrills of roller coasters and water parks drew the attention of The New York Times in 2017. So-called water coasters combine roller-coaster hills and turns with waterslide splashes, sometimes using high-pressure water blasts to shoot riders uphill. Getting faster and taller every year, their hallmarks are massive drops, water walls, bright lights, and dark tunnels. Among them are Master Blaster in Texas, Mammoth in Indiana, and the Krakatau Aqua Coaster at Universal Orlando.
Some Colleges Campus Have Water Parks
Some college students don't even have to leave campus to enjoy a water park. The universities of Missouri, Iowa, and Alabama have aquatic facilities that include lazy rivers. LSU built a 536-foot "leisure river" as part of an $85 million recreational facility expansion. But the granddaddy of them all is Texas Tech, where a water facility includes drop slides, hot tubs, a lazy river, a leisure pool — and Wi-Fi so students can study by the water.
Malaysia Holds the Water Slide World Record
The Escape park in Penang, Malaysia, is home to the longest waterslide in the world. It takes guests four minutes to traverse the slide's 3,645-foot expanse, which twists and turns through a lush jungle landscape. The attraction blew away the previous record-holder, which belonged to an inflatable waterslide at New Jersey's Action Park (more on that infamous park later).
Water Parks Can Get Super High-Tech
Few attractions are lower-tech than water slides, which haven't changed much in the decades they've been in use, but that is changing. Designers and builders are selling increasingly elaborate themes — perhaps nowhere more impressively than at Yas Waterworld in Abu Dhabi, according to Forbes. Riders race down slides and shoot through incredibly realistic giant objects, out of tunnels that end in the mouths of giant snakes, into psychedelic sections, or drop into pitch darkness. Sometimes riders go uphill on rafts propelled by giant magnets. A movie visitors can watch about flooding actually floods. Yas cost $245 million in 2013.
Related: 19 of the World's Oddest Theme Parks
Some Parks Have Animal Encounters
For some water parks, high-tech illusions weren't enough — a few have incorporated live marine animal interactions into their attractions. Aquatica in San Antonio, Texas, for example, has the Stingray Encounter, which brings park guests face to face with cownose stingrays, which they can swim with, touch, and even feed.
Cruise Ships Have Built-in Water Parks
Vacationers torn between a cruise and a water park getaway don't have to choose. Most of the major cruise companies have water parks right on their ocean liners. Disney Magic, Disney Fantasy, and Disney Dream all have water parks, as do Carnival Horizon and Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas and Harmony of the seas — and many more. They have names such as The Perfect Storm, AquaDuck, Ocean Loops, and the Dr. Seuss Waterworks.
Related: 27 Craziest Cruise Ship Amenities
A Guy Built One of the First for His Family
One of the first water parks in the country was built by a wealthy businessman named Bob Byers, who opened the park not as a commercial venture, but as a place for his family to hang out. Work on Lake Dolores Waterpark — named for Byers' wife — spanned the late 1950s and early '60s on the eastern edge of the Mojave desert. The project was made possible by underground springs connected to the Mojave Aquifer, which builders harnessed to bring water to the desert. It eventually opened to the public, though it's now closed and remains eerily abandoned.
Related: 25 Amusement Parks: Then and Now
The Water Park World Has a Founding Father
After founding and leaving behind SeaWorld, an aquatic animal park, George Millay had a new concept: a water-based recreation tourist park. In 1974, he sold one-third of his SeaWorld stock for money to build and, with about a half-million dollars of his own, he hired Disney planners and secured land close to the world-famous House of Mouse theme park. In 1977, Millay's vision became a reality in the form of Wet 'n Wild, the world's first bona fide water park. To this day, he is revered as the "father" of the Industry.
Before Water Slides, There Was the 1923 Water Toboggan
In 1923, waterslide and roller coaster hybrids might as well have been science fiction, but a man named Herbert Sellner in Faribault, Minnesota, launched a trend that would one day lead to modern water recreation. That year, Sellner created the Water-Toboggan Slide, which propelled riders on a wooden sled down an incline into a lake — without letting them sink. Instead, the toboggan glided across the water as 100 feet.
Before That, There Was the 1906 Water Chute
Sellner was an innovator, indeed — but his water attraction was not the true original. One of the first waterslides on record debuted at the International Exhibition in New Zealand in 1906, and it was called the Wonderland Water Chute. Big wooden "chute boats" raced down a track and landed in Victoria Lake. Like the Water-Toboggan Slide, riders didn't sink, but instead glided briefly across the water.
Indoor Water Parks Were Born in Just 1994
About 30 years ago, a man named Stan Anderson saw a water attraction in Texas called The Water Factory. He had been looking for a way to extend the short summer vacation season at the Polynesian, his resort in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. He acquired his own water attraction and put it indoors at the Polynesian in 1994, according to the World Waterpark Association. I was an instant success. America's love affair with indoor water parks was born.
Wisconsin Dells Is the Undisputed Water Park Capital of the World
Anderson's innovation started a local movement. More than 16 million gallons of water flow through the more than 200 waterslides scattered around Wisconsin Dells, the acknowledged "waterpark capital of the world." The little tourist enclave has more indoor and outdoor water parks per capita than anywhere else on the planet. The town has fewer than 6,000 permanent residents but is home to more than 8,000 hotel rooms, making for a consistent supply of tourists and tourist dollars.
America's Largest Outdoor Water Park Is 'Noah's Ark'
A resort called Noah's Ark is recognized as the biggest outdoor water park in the United States. It spans 70 acres, where visitors splash in two giant wave pools, two endless rivers, four children's areas, and several exclusive attractions, including Raja, the world's biggest King Cobra water ride. Noah's Ark is, of course, in Wisconsin Dells.
America's Largest Indoor Water Parks Are a Chain
With locations in Sandusky Ohio, Round Rock, Texas; the Pennsylvania Poconos; and, naturally, Wisconsin Dells, Kalahari Resorts & Conventions claims to operate the largest outdoor water parks in the country. The parks have an African safari theme.
South Dakota Takes the Water Park Cake
When it comes to towns and cities, no one comes close to Wisconsin Dells, but in terms of states, there are more water parks per capita in South Dakota than anywhere else in America. There are only 14 water parks there, but with fewer than 900,000 residents in the state, that's about 16.4 water parks per 1 million people, according to a 2015 survey. Second-place Missouri, with its 99 water parks, isn't far behind with 16.3 parks per 1 million residents.
Disney Rules the Surf Pool Roost
Disney's Typhoon Lagoon is not only the busiest water park in the country — 2.3 million visit annually, behind only the Chimelong park in China — but also home to Brave the Wave, the biggest wave pool not only in the United States, but in all of North America. A sonic boom announces the start of the swells before it generates waves up to 6 feet in continuous sets. You can even take surf lessons there.
Nature Reclaimed an Abandoned Disney Water Park
Disney River Country in Orange County, Florida, was a huge success when it opened in 1976 as Walt Disney's first water park. But after a 25-year run it also became one of only two Disney parks ever permanently closed — with Discovery Island, also in Orange County, being the other. Business Insider profiled a photoshoot of River Country's eerie remains, which have been largely reclaimed by nature but are due to host a new resort.
There's Only One Water Park in Hawaii
No Tickets for the Tattooed
In Japan, tattoos are widely associated with criminal enterprises, and water parks across the country forbid gang members and criminals from entering the premises — which means the potential 145 million Americans with tattoos wouldn't be allowed in. Many parks around Tokyo in particular ban visible tattoos outright.
Celine Dion Had a Water Park at Her House
Pop superstar Celine Dion's Florida mansion on Jupiter Island sat on the market for four years before it finally fetched $38.5 million through Sotheby's. The 20,000-square-foot mansion sat on 5 acres that included an enormous 500,000-gallon water park with water cannons, a lazy river, two waterslides, two pools, and, naturally, a treehouse.
One of the First Parks Was One of the Scariest
Mythology and rumor have long surrounded the public safety disaster that was New Jersey's Action Park in the 1980s. Nicknamed "Traction Park" and "Class Action Park," it was infamous for poor safety standards, underaged and poorly trained employees, inebriated guests and staff, shoddy design and construction, lots of ghastly injuries, and even several awful deaths. Action Park had a rides-based amusement park, but its dominant Waterworld section was actually one of the country's first major water parks.
Its Most Dreaded Waterslide Lasted Only a Month
The most notorious attraction in Action Park's Waterworld was Cannonball Loop, an enclosed slide with a full vertical loop like you'd find on a roller coaster — but built steeply on rickety scaffolding. Riders who were too big or too small couldn't complete the loop. Several people got stuck, and bloody noses, head injuries, back injuries, and lacerations were the norm. When it opened, the park allegedly bribed underage employees $100 to ride it as guinea pigs after test dummies were dismembered going through. In less than one horrifying month, state officials took the unusual step of shutting it down.
The World's Tallest Water Slide Ended Tragically
Malaysia's record-setting waterslide has gotten rave reviews, but the one-time world's tallest was steeped in tragedy. Those brave enough to challenge Verrückt — German for "Insane" — at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas scaled stairs 168 feet into the sky to the top of the 17-story monster slide, which vaulted riders at speeds up to 60 mph toward Earth. One of those riders was a 10-year-old boy and the son of a Kansas lawmaker who suffered a fatal neck injury on the ride in 2014, causing the attraction to close and eventually be torn down. Kansas is notoriously lax in terms of theme park regulation, and the park needed only to pass occasional private inspections.
Related: 25 Most Dangerous Toys of All Time
Water Parks Operate Without Federal Oversight
It's not just Kansas. Across the country, there are no federal inspection laws regarding water parks and amusement parks. All U.S. parks operate under a patchwork of inconsistent state and local laws that vary considerably from place to place. Some states are diligent and strict, others, such as Kansas and many others, have been accused of essentially allowing the industry to police itself.
Water Parks Are Pretty Gross and Fairly Dangerous
Modern water parks are a far cry from Action Park's Waterworld, where one guest was electrocuted, another died from a heart attack after plunging into ice-cold water, and the park had to buy new ambulances for a local hospital that it flooded with a steady stream of new patients. They do, however, have some built-in flaws: They run on electricity, which goes poorly with water. Since they're so popular, they're frequently packed, which means lots of skin-to-skin contact with mostly naked strangers. Injuries are common, and waterslides are far more dangerous than roller coasters. Changing room and restroom floors are foot fungus incubators. Thanks largely to swim diapers, urine and feces in the water are a fact of life, which spurs parks to over-chlorinate — itself potentially dangerous, or at least itchy and irritating. People have contracted terrifying parasites that are known to grow in heavily populated pools, including brain-eating amoebas. And the pools' massive drains routinely collect all kinds of grossness, including rotting garbage and dead animals.