BY ERIK HELLING -- Nine years doesn’t seem like an incredibly long time, but you’d be surprised how much things can change in less than a decade. For instance, it was 2004 when Wet ‘n’ Wild Las Vegas shut its doors, leaving the children, parents, and water park aficionados of the Las Vegas Valley with an empty place in their hearts. Now, approximately nine years later, the Wet ‘n’ Wild franchise is back in to Vegas.
First, let me give you some information about myself. I was 11 years old when Wet ‘n’ Wild closed at the end of summer, 2004. My mom and I had held season passes for a couple years and frequented the park, occasionally going as often as twice a week. I was heartbroken when I heard that the park was closing, and on my last visit, I saw the large “See You Soon!” banner that was hung over the wave pool. My 11-year-old self stayed optimistic about Wet ‘n’ Wild’s return, knowing that the park intended to return “soon.”
I’d hate to tell 11-year-old Erik that “soon” meant he would have to go through the rest of middle school, high school, and a little of college before seeing his beloved water park return to Las Vegas. Nevertheless, when I heard the news that Wet ‘n’ Wild would be returning in May, I was ecstatic. And even more, I was curious. The question that was on my lips, as I’m sure it was any fan of the old park, was this: Is this new park going to be like the old park at all?
That concern echoed in my mind as a friend and I drove to Wet ‘n’ Wild’s new location on Fort Apache. The initial crowds made me excited; the park had only been open for about 3 minutes and the line to get in extended into the parking lot. If there was any worry about the park maintaining business, it quickly dissipated while standing in line to enter Wet ‘n’ Wild.
The feel of the park was similar -- the waterslides bordered the park with the wave pool, children’s play area, and lazy river in the middle with lounge areas for guests interspersed throughout. There were some baffling decisions, however, that made the new Wet ‘n’ Wild less awesome than the original.
For instance, the lazy river has been downsized. The original river, which practically encircled the entire park, served as a nice respite from the heat and foot traffic. It also was a convenient way to cross the park, as it had multiple exit and entrance points. The lazy river at the new park is both much smaller, and much less convenient. It only has one entrance, which means a lot of people having to herd into the lazy river at once. The lazy river’s downsizing and lack of multiple exits has taken away most of its charm, leaving it a semi-useless diversion for parents to take their kids when the lines are too much.
This leads me to my second problem, the lines at Wet ‘n’ Wild. The park has developed a new system of waiting, which seems to be more efficient: Instead of waiting in line on the stairs, there is a line at the exit of each ride for mandatory inner-tubes to use on the ride. This sounds like a good idea on paper, but with a limited amount of inner-tubes and poorly managed lines, waiting for an inner-tube could easily take an hour to two hours. The Wet ‘n’ Wild staff tasked with handling lines also had to help guests exit the ride, which usually meant there was no line management. This ultimately meant kids cutting in line, which didn’t add to the experience. Another problem with the inner-tube lines was the poor attempts to keep guests cool while waiting in line. Every line had sparse umbrella coverage that covered about 60% of the queue, but left some sweating in the sun for portions of the ride. Each umbrella was equipped with misters, most of which were not working or too weak to cool down someone underneath one. By the end of every hour-long line, my friend and I rushed onto the ride so we could get back to our enclosure and rehydrate ourselves to prevent heat stroke.
Another complaint is the ground that covers the park. The original park, for the most part, had a foam-like substance that covered the ground. It was still possible to burn your feet, but you could enjoy the park without wearing shoes the entire time. The new Wet ‘n’ Wild has cement covering the entire park, meaning to go barefoot all day would be a suicide mission. My friend and I wore our flip flops for most of the trip, but one ride (Canyon Cliffs, a steep four-story slide) implied it was more logical to keep your footwear at the bottom of the stairs. The resulting ten minutes or so in line was probably the most painful experience I’ve had in recent memory. More than once, I noted barefoot kids running with pained faces to the nearest shade-water-towel to save their scorching feet.
All problems aside, the rides are incredibly fun. The waterslides, while quick rides, are invigorating and novel experiences. The rides made the wait in line worth it almost every time. Canyon Cliffs, this Wet ‘n’ Wild’s equivalent to the original’s Der Stuka, made me scream like a child (which was embarrassing, as there were multiple children who went on the ride before me that didn’t scream). The Royal Flush, a carryover slide from the first Wet ‘n’ Wild, felt just as whimsical and fun as the original one.
In fact, going on the Royal Flush made me feel like I was eleven again, which made me question all of the complaints I made above. If I was eleven in 2013, would I have noticed the long lines for inner-tubes, or the lack of exits on the lazy river? Would I have complained about my feet hurting, or would I have sucked it up and ran faster towards the shade? Nine years has changed my view of what is fun, and my twenty year old self finds the park lacking. I do believe that my eleven-year-old self, as well as any other kid, would have a blast there.
For those who are fans of the old park, I’d suggest waiting a couple of years before giving the new Wet ‘n’ Wild a visit. The park is pretty small, and has been sold out every day since it has opened. Hopefully within two years the park will have expanded and the initial hype surrounding the park will have died down. Wet ‘n’ Wild Las Vegas is a lot of fun, but with a couple tweaks it could be seen once again as the best water park in Las Vegas.