Summer is synonymous with “fun,” and a recent poll put water recreation as the season’s most popular recreational activity, according to Care2.com. If you ask my wife Diane what is the most fun thing to do, she will automatically say swimming. If water isn’t involved, she’s either disinterested or disappointed.
We resourceful Americans have pushed the summer recreation envelope to its limit, combining water with playgrounds and theme parks to create the ultimate in summer fun — the contemporary water park.
Modern water parks began in the late 1940s and today there are well more than a thousand of them in the United States, with dozens of new ones opening each year, as well as old ones adding new attractions. More than 80 million people visit North American water parks annually and the top 10 parks account for nearly 20 million visitors.
According to the World Water Park Association, the first “official” waterpark was Wet ‘N Wild, a park in Orlando founded by George Millay (the father of the waterpark industry). When we lived near Orlando, we visited this park on many occasions. It was here that we first learned about the malady known as “tender toes,” which results when children run too much on hard abrasive surfaces without wearing swim shoes or flip flops.
Back then, Wet ‘N Wild was noted for its politically incorrect Japanese theme rides like “The Kamikaze,” an enormously tall and steep slide, and the “Bonsai Boggin,” which was another steep slide that you slid down, riding a hard plastic sled across rollers, until the slide abruptly sent you skimming across the water. These were both pretty scary rides.
Riding “The Kamikaze” was akin to receiving a high colonic and the “Bonsai Boggin” was like being a flat rock skipped across a pond. Diane and I are more lazy river people than thrill-ride aficionados.