Wet ‘n Wild Orlando was the flagship water park of Wet ‘n Wild owned by NBC Universal, located on International Drive in Orlando, Florida. It was founded in 1977 by SeaWorld creator George Millay and is considered America’s first water park. It closed on December 31, 2016, to be replaced by another water park named Universal’s Volcano Bay.
Development and ownership
While developing SeaWorld, George Millay realized the need for a water park, later recalling “being in Florida, with all its heat and hot sun, you naturally think about cooling off in water”. In the mid-1970s, he directed his time and money towards the project. The idea of it stemmed from the splash pad at Ontario Place in Canada and the wave pool at Point Mallard Park in Alabama. His desire was to combine these two elements and build upon it in order to achieve a good return on investment. Due to his prior success with SeaWorld, he was able to form a team of investors to fund the project.
The park opened in Orlando, Florida on March 13, 1977. Although it opened to rain and suffered a $600,000 loss in its first year of operation, Millay kept it open. He later claimed it “started making money the second year and never looked back”. The success of the park spawned several other Wet ‘n Wild-branded parks across the Americas. He was given the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Waterpark Association who named him the official “Father of the Waterpark”.
In 1998, Millay sold off his interests in his parks. The Orlando location was purchased by Universal Studios Recreation Group, who continued to lease the land on which it is located. In mid-2013, Universal purchased the 50 acres (20 ha) of land for $30.9 million.
Expansion and later years
In 2000, the park renovated their Kids Park children’s area. The original aviation theme was converted into a sandcastle theme. The renovation saw three ProSlide Technology “Kidz” slides added as well as a castle with a tipping bucket which dumped 250 US gallons (950 l; 210 imp gal) of water every three-and-a-half minutes. With the exception of the three slides, it was manufactured entirely by Integrity Attractions.
In 2001, the park began a multi-year expansion plan with Canadian water slide manufacturer, ProSlide Technology. It added The Storm, a pair of ProBowls, in 2001; The Blast, an inline tube slide, in 2003; Disco H2O, an enclosed Behemoth Bowl, in 2005; and Brain Wash, an enclosed Tornado, in 2008.
In 2011, the Kids Park was demolished. In 2012, it was replaced by Blastaway Beach, a larger children’s water play area, also themed around sandcastles.
In 2014, the Bubba Tub was removed and replaced with the Aqua Drag Racer, a four lane race slide.
On June 17, 2015, it was confirmed that the park would close on December 31, 2016, to be replaced by a Universal Orlando park named Volcano Bay.
The park was the most-attended water park in the United States until 1999, when Walt Disney World’s Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach surpassed it.At the time, it was averaging around 1.3 million visitors for several years.
In popular culture
The park was featured on Travel Channel’s Extreme Waterparks and was also the setting for the music video for “Se A Vida É”, by the Pet Shop Boys.