Water parks are riding a huge wave of innovation and expansion. Across the country, park engineers are tearing down old slides to make room for faster, higher, more-thrilling attractions.
“The arms race of waterslides has gone on for a good 10 years now,” said Martin Palicki, editor of InPark magazine. “They’re putting a lot of money into research and development for creating new experiences.”
Developments include gravity-defying uphill travel, launch capsules that propel riders downward at high speeds and, new in 2015, gaming waterslides.
“Interactivity was the big reveal this year,” Palicki said of 2015. “It’s the start of a new trend.”
Groups looking to experience the latest rides will have plenty of options when water parks reopen in summer 2016.
Schlitterbahn Waterpark, Kansas City, Kansas
Thrill-seekers break a couple of records when they ride Verrückt (German for “insane”), simultaneously the world’s tallest waterslide and tallest uphill waterslide.
After climbing 254 steps, three riders strap into a rubber raft and experience a 17-story near free-fall, only to be propelled up a second hill for a 50-foot drop. The raft reaches speeds of 65 mph and travels 607 feet in a mere 10 seconds. That’s higher than Niagara Falls and nearly as far as two football fields.
Groups have traveled to Kansas City from all over the world since Verrückt opened in 2014, said Schlitterbahn spokesman Jeff Hays. No other waterslide in the United States comes within four stories of the 168-foot-7-inch tower.
“When you’re strapped in and getting ready to drop, you can clearly see downtown Kansas City, which is a 20-minute drive away,” Hays said.
The ride has been so popular that the park allows visitors to set up reservations in the morning so they can enjoy the rest of the park rather than waiting in line. A second big draw at the Kansas City park is a wave pool where visitors can surf, technology first invented by the Schlitterbahn family that’s now popular around the world.
Zipp Zapp Zoom Slideboarding
Wet’n’Wild, Las Vegas
The future of water parks — think Guitar Hero meets waterslide — debuted at Wet’n’Wild in 2015. As the first interactive gaming waterslide in the world, Zipp Zapp Zoom was only available to season pass holders in 2015, but it opens to the masses in 2016.
Slideboarding turns riders into gamers as they twist down an enclosed tunnel on a boogie-board-style raft with controllers built into the handles. The goal is to press the colored buttons that correspond to a sequence of colored lights that illuminate within the pitch-black slide. Riders also get to choose custom music that crescendos with every turn in the slide.
With 300 feet of twists and turns and 20 target areas, Zipp Zapp Zoom has 36 levels of difficulty. Beginners start out by trying to match a single color to a few targets. Color combinations and targets increase as the player improves.
Scores are posted near the splashdown pool at the end of the tunnel; but, players beware, the smartgame penalizes anyone who purposely slows down to improve scoring.
“Riders love the competitive nature of the slide,” said Wet’n’Wild spokeswoman Raquel Sanchez. “Kids will go over and over. They go against their friends, and it gets more difficult, so it’s not the same experience each time.”
In response to the popularity of the slide, Wet’n’Wild introduced an app for players who want to increase their competitive edge. The app simulates the Slideboarding experience with the same twists, turns and colored buttons.
Plus, it’s still a fun ride for the gaming challenged, Sanchez said. “With the lights and music, it’s a whole new experience.”
Since Zipp Zapp Zoom opened, other water parks have unveiled their own Slideboarding rides, and more are in the works for 2016.