The first water park ride of its kind—indoor or outdoor—the Zip Coaster at the Kalahari Indoor Water Park resort in Sandusky, Ohio is aptly named. Its two-person rafts quickly zip along the ride’s water slide tracks. Thanks to its unique conveyor belt launch system, the rafts zip uphill as well as downhill and offer plenty of thrills. Unfortunately, the ultra-noisy conveyor belt system also makes a terrible racket for Zip Coaster riders and guests throughout the indoor water park.
- Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy!, 10=Yikes!): 3.5
Moderate drops and speed. No seat belts. Moments of darkness.
- Height requirement: 42 inches
- Ride type: Uphill water coaster
What Is an Uphill Water Coaster?
You know what a roller coaster is. But what is an uphill water coaster? It is essentially a water slide that sends passengers in inflatable rafts careening along a water-filled tube. But instead of relying solely on gravity, it incorporates a conveyance system to propel the rafts uphill.
The first generation of water coasters, which originated at Schlitterbahn New Braunfels in Texas, uses powerful jets of water to blast the rafts uphill. They are known as “Master Blaster” water coasters and are the most popular form of the ride. They can be found at parks such as Castaway Bay in Sandusky or the original Kalahari in Wisconsin Dells, More recently, ride designers developed a water coaster that uses magnetic propulsion to launch water coaster rafts uphill. For example, Volcano Bay at Universal Orlando sends passengers aboard its Krakatau Aqua Coaster speeding uphill with magnetic induction technology.
With the Kalahari’s Zip Coaster, a third method of accelerating the rafts was introduced: a conveyer belt system. Think of a grocery store checkout belt scaled up to accommodate a water coaster raft.
To board the Kalahari’s Zip Coaster, riders climb a few flights of stairs near the rear of the park. Two passengers at a time board the rafts. Ride operators pair up single riders (or they can form partnerships while in line), since the coaster requires two passengers. The rafts sit on a conveyor belt that remains idle during the loading process. Once passengers are in position, the operator pushes a button that revs up the belt’s motor. When it reaches full speed, the belt engages, and—zip!—the raft shoots straight out of the loading station along an open flume.
At the end of the straightaway, a second conveyor sends the rafts up a small hill, then riders dive down a drop that delivers some nice airtime. The amount of float depends on the weight and distribution of the passengers. A third conveyor shoots the rafts up and into an enclosed tunnel. The darkness helps add to the suspense. Some cheesy green trailing lights inside the tunnel momentarily give the ride a low-budget Space Mountain feel. A smaller second drop provides another moment of airtime. That’s followed by another conveyor belt propulsion up towards the rafters in the front of the park, another drop, and a final conveyor belt thrust up and into the unloading station.
It’s a short, but certainly sweet, ride.
The mechanics and sensations of a water coaster’s G-forces are different from a traditional roller coaster. Unlike a coaster car, a water ride’s raft is not tethered to the track (or more appropriately, flume), so the entire raft, as well as its passengers, can lift into the air and crash back down as they navigate the hills. Also, like nearly all water rides, the Zip Coaster does not offer safety restraints, and riders can experience varying degrees of airtime and jostling depending on how tightly they hang on to the grab handles.
Bring some earplugs along with your nose plugs
The Zip Coaster is, in fact, zippy. But its conveyor belts are raucous. The belt in the loading station cranks up only when the ride operator activates it. The ride’s other three belts, however, perpetually drone at a low RPM, and then automatically kick into high gear when a raft is about to approach.
At low speed, the sound is annoying. When they accelerate into zip mode, however, the belts emit nerve-shattering roars reminiscent of an industrial-strength wood chipper or chain saw. It’s hard enough to carry on a conversation in a cavernous indoor water park with the reverberating din of water cannons, screaming riders, and buckets of cascading water. The Kalahari’s Zip Coaster amps up the cacophony to ear-splitting levels.