Unlike amusement parks, which date back to the early 20th century, water parks are a relatively recent phenomenon. One of the first (some claim it was the first) was Wet 'n Wild, which opened in 1977 and was one of the biggest, most successful, and best parks. Yes, I am referring to the park in the past tense. It closed in late 2017.
Universal Orlando owned the park in its later years. It closed Wet 'n Wild partly because it opened a brand new water park, Volcano Bay, located on its theme park resort campus near Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.
If you are wondering what became of Wet 'n Wild, Universal removed all of the attractions to make way for two hotels, Surfside Inn and Suites and Dockside Inn and Suites. Surfside opened in 2019. Dockside opened in summer 2020. Collectively, the complex is known as Universal’s Endless Summer Resort. The value-level hotels may offer Universal’s best hotel bang for the buck.
If you are looking for other water parks in Central Florida that are open, here are some resources:
- Aquatica at SeaWorld Olrando
- Blizzard Beach at Walt Disney World
- Typhoon Lagoon at Walt Disney World
- Island H2O Live in Kissimmee
The First Water Park?
As for the world's first water park claim, Disney World opened River Country in 1976. (The resort has since closed the park.) The following year, Wet 'n Wild opened. Disney's version, which was themed as a rural swimming hole, was fairly small, quite tame, and lacked many of the attractions that are now commonly associated with water parks, such as a wave pool. Wet 'n Wild offered more, and more intense, rides and became the prototype for the modern-day park.
It was the brainchild of the late George Millay, a prolific visionary who also founded the SeaWorld parks and Magic Mountain. Millay expanded the concept and developed a chain of Wet 'n Wild parks, including the now-shuttered Wet 'n Wild Las Vegas.
Yup, It Was Wild
While not as elaborately themed or lushly landscaped as its nearby competitors at Walt Disney World or SeaWorld Orlando, Wet 'n Wild did offer an impressive collection of water slides and other rides. The park was true to its name and placed an emphasis on wild thrills. (That's not to say that other Florida water parks don’t offer intense thrills. Wet 'n Wild may be gone, but there are still many wild water slides to be experienced.)
The most intense ride was The Bomb Bay. Other water parks have since copied the concept, but Wet 'n Wild was among the first to place riders in a capsule with a trap door that released them into a water slide. The anticipation helped spike their adrenaline to frenetic levels, and once The Bomb Bay opened, the 76-foot, nearly 90-degree freefall made for one explosive ride. A second speed slide, Der Stuka, was more conventional, but at 60 feet tall and with an almost-vertical drop, it too ranked high on the thrill scale.
There were two bowl rides at the park, which both sent passengers swirling around before flushing them out the bottom. Single riders entered the open bowl of The Storm without a raft or tube and, after navigating a few revolutions, got unceremoniously dumped three feet down into a splash pool. Disco H2O, however, propelled four-person cloverleaf tubes into a closed bowl that incorporated disco-era music and lights. Other noteworthy thrill rides included Brain Wash, an enclosed funnel ride decked out in trippy colors, and The Black Hole, a long two-person raft ride in a dark, enclosed tube that delivered bursts of sound and color.
Along with the usual gaggle of water park staples, including a lazy river, a wave pool, and a family raft ride (you gotta love the name: Bubba Tub), the park offered some unique ride opportunities in The Wake Zone. The extra-fee rides, which were located in a lake at the back of the park, included wake skating and knee skiing, both of which involved being pulled by a cable towline while plucky guests balanced on a wakeboard and a kneeboard, respectively. The balance-impaired could have opted for The Wild One, a ride in which passengers in tubes were tethered to a boat that whipped them across the lake at high speeds.
Younger splashers headed for the less wild slides and features at Blastaway Beach, a huge interactive water play center. The park also offered sand volleyball.