Water Parks Through the Years…

The other day, I heard something else that makes me feel old. Actually, that’s happening fairly regularly these days…

The story was that Wet ‘n Wild, the original water park on International Drive in Orlando, will be closing at the end of 2016. This makes me sad, because it’s the first water park we went to when our older son was just a baby.

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Since my husband often traveled to the Orlando area for business in those days, it was not unusual for us to tag along, and one of the first things we found to do outside of Disney, which then was just the Magic Kingdom, was Wet ‘n Wild. Times were simpler then, so we didn’t worry too much about staying in the sun all day.

Of course there were umbrellas and probably a shade tree or two. But mostly, it was just fun, floating on a raft and maybe going down a small slide.

Through the years, more exciting and thrilling slides have been added, to compete with all the exotic parks that have been built since then. And Wet ‘n Wild has remained popular, rating the 10th-busiest water park in the world in 2014, according to the Themed Entertainment Association.

It turns out that Wet ‘n Wild has been owned by Universal Studios since 1998, and that they purchased the land in 2013 after leasing it for 15 years. Now they are building a water park of their own which is scheduled to open in 2017. And because the land in the International Drive area has become so valuable, the current Wet ‘n Wild property will probably be used to put up yet another hotel…

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By the time our second son arrived, we’d discovered Disney’s River Country, a down-home, laid-back water park. This was more to our liking, with small children – we loved River Country.

But soon after, Disney opened Typhoon Lagoon, and then a few years later, Blizzard Beach. Both of these water parks offered more thrill-type slides and were larger than the old River Country. So River Country was closed late in 2001, never to re-open.

Through the years, water parks have become much more sophisticated. While most of them do offer something like a “Lazy River,” the most popular offerings include thrills like freefalls, tornado-style slides, corkscrew slides, enclosed slides, taller slides, longer slides, larger wave pools, longer lazy rivers – the list goes on and on. Most continue to have “little kid areas,” but the majority of visitors prefer the exotic thrills.

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When we were in Spain in the late 1980’s, we visited a water park nearby. The main thing I remember about that trip was the naked kids…no swimsuits necessary…

As the number of water parks continues to grow, developers are striving for the next new thing to draw people. Indoor water parks now allow adventures year-round. The area with the most water parks in the world is Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. And the fastest-growing regions are Asia and the Middle East.

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Water parks can be found in Mumbai, India; Guangzhou, China; Gangwon-Do, South Korea; Tokyo, Japan; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Gold Coast, Australia, among many other international cities.

And the fastest-growing segments of the water park industry in North America include city-owned water parks and indoor water parks connected to hotels or resorts. Some communities are building local water parks to encourage their residents to stay closer to home. Meanwhile, parks like Six Flags and Dollywood have added their own water parks.

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Another fast-growing entity is the “splash parks,” sort of glorified lawn sprinklers, but again, much more sophisticated. After a number of health scares related to organisms in swimming pools, developers are realizing that the elimination of standing water also eliminates the need for lifeguards. And water sprayed up in the air is a great way to cool off on a hot day!

So, like everything else, water parks are evolving. If your kids are teens, chances are they’d prefer the thrill-ride version. But if you have toddlers, they’ll probably be happier with a splash pad. And if you’re vacationing in the dead of winter, an indoor facility does a world of good when cabin fever sets in. There are lots of options now, something to suit everyone!

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