Thursday, December 29, 2016

The End of An Era: Wet N' Wild Orlando 1977-2016

Photo copyright Universal Orlando Resort
In just a matter of days, the first true water park in the world, Wet 'n Wild Orlando, will close forever. There aren't a lot of "world's first" type things of this magnitude out there that anyone can experience in the theme park industry: The world's first true roller coaster fell over a century ago. Same with the first true ferris wheel. But being a much more recent invention, the water park was bound to have better odds of surviving. Those odds have run out.

Older water slides still operate, but there aren't many of them. Competitor claimants to the "first water park" throne are all long deceased. River Country at Disney World is overgrown and a classic My First UrbEx adventure having closed 15 years ago. Similarly, Water Boggan in Myrtle Beach (also opened in 1976) has been out of action since the 1990s and is nothing but flattened land now. Wet N' Wild will soon join them. Proposed changes to the property seem to cite it becoming new hotels for the expanding Universal Parks empire. New development has always been the bane of amusement park existence. In this case though, the real killer is Universal's desire to not compete with itself as Volcano Bay opens in Mid-2017.

Wet 'n Wild has no original opening day attractions aside from the Wake Zone or its Wave Pool, and so much of the park has been altered as to make it nearly unrecognizable from the opening day pictures and video. The berm that housed the park's concrete terrain slides was replaced by fiberglass mat slides in the 1980s, and the Kamikaze was replaced by the Bubba Tub (itself now replaced by the Aqua Drag Racer) in 1992. Most of the slides now present are modern Proslide attractions given a little extra: Brain Wash has a humorous and subversive queue spiel quite unlike anything else in Orlando.  Disco H2O's soundtrack of classic disco and in ride lighting is a rarity for the water park world. Black Hole has one of the most impressive "stations" of any water slide on the continent.

For locals, Wet 'n Wild was one of the closest things to an affordable day option available. For tourists, this was often one of its biggest turnoffs, as the great unwashed masses came to join them. Stylistically, Wet 'n Wild was also a very traditional water park in terms of decor design. So many regional water parks went up after Wet 'n Wild that most people have been to something roughly equivalent to it in their lives. Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach's massive mountain complexes are so much different than the mean water park that Wet 'n Wild, even with the plus'd up water slides. Even foreign guests had very likely encountered massive water parks that competed well with Wet N'Wild. Brazil is home to several large water parks, including ones from the original Wet 'n Wild brand. The UK's Alton Towers is now home to an indoor water park. There's even an Australia firm with a chain of Wet 'n' Wild parks. Yes, just one additional apostrophe got them free and clear in many parts of the globe.

The need for a more unique water park has thus led Universal to shutter Wet 'n Wild. But no matter what Volcano Bay has, no matter the pricing, it won't have that one most unique of qualifiers: "World's First".

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