Quenching the Thirst for Thrills
Paramount's Great America
Santa Clara, Calif.
By Elisa Kronish
What does Australia have to do with Santa Clara, Calif.?
The desert-filled Down Under continent provides the theme for, ironically, a new waterpark at Paramount's Great America. Many of the main park's rides and attractions portray movie and television tie-ins like the SpongeBob SquarePants 3-D ocean motion movie ride, Top Gun vertical-loop roller coaster and plenty of messy games at Nick Slime Time Live. The waterpark is no exception, named Crocodile Dundee's Boomerang Bay for one of the production company's biggest big-screen blockbusters. While plenty of amusement parks around the country have waterparks within them, Paramount's Great America was California's first foray into combining the two under one admission price.
"Most of our other parks include a waterpark as an offering, but in the west, traditionally it's a separate 'hard' park and waterpark," explains Rod Rankin, the park's senior vice president and general manager. Phase I of the waterpark build-out added four acres to the total 100-acre park, with four water elements custom-designed by Whitewater West Industries in Richmond, British Columbia, to follow the theme.
DownUnder Thunder sends a two-person tube down a chute, gliding back up a nearly vertical wall before coasting toward the ground. On the Didgeridoo Falls, riders board a four- to six-person raft, starting atop a 54-foot platform and gliding down and around turns. The Tasmanian Typhoon is a fully enclosed two-person inner-tube that travels through a series of watery twists. For kids, Jackaroo Landing offers a multi-level water fortress of eight family slides connected by bridges, passageways and rope ladders. A fifth area, Kookaburra Cay, gives the youngest kids an area to splash around amid interactive fountains, while moms and dads can relax on the sidelines.
Before any twists in the rides were designed, the first feat for the waterpark was finding the space for it.
"We're land-locked in a highly dense residential area," Rankin says. "When you talk about expanding, we couldn't just go anywhere. We have to look at what's available right around us."
Non-visitor areas mostly house utilities that serve the park, so planners needed to get creative. They solved the dilemma by relocating several landscaping-support greenhouses to a more compact location.
"These weren't areas that impacted the guests," Rankin says. Luckily, they didn't need to add more parking. "We have 8,100 spaces, plus overflow lots provided by the city," he explains. Being close to the major convention center and easily accessed by public transportation also makes parking less of a concern.
The other challenge for Phase I was that, despite being a waterpark, the rides weren't meant to get people all that wet.
"Visitors really didn't need to change clothes," says Tony Johnson, vice president operations, maintenance and construction. Achieving the concept of wet rides for a dry park demanded special attention from Whitewater West.
"There was a lot of work done on the vehicles," Johnson explains. The key change is that the rides end in a dry run-out mat instead of a splash pool. "There are going to be some people who get a little wet, but not much," he says.
Guests loved the watery addition and clamored for more, but they also said they wouldn't mind toting along their swimsuits.
"What we found last year was people really wanted to get wet," Rankin says.
When Paramount's Great America opened for the season in May, Phase II of the waterpark brought the total size to close to 12 acres. It boasts the region's longest lazy river at 900 feet and 15 feet wide and an 11,000-square-foot heated lagoon set in a tropical environment. Plus, two new body slides definitely require bathing suits. The expansion is called Crocodile Dundee's Boomerang Bay Beach Club and includes an Aussie-themed restaurant as well as food carts, a sundry store, three structures with four family changing rooms each and a large restroom. Hoping to attract a broader clientele, the park also has cabanas for rent, creating a somewhat exclusive area for people who want a quieter park experience.
To ensure the safety of the visitors, all the waterpark staff members are trained and certified as lifeguards.
"They go through an extensive program," Rankin says. A daily maintenance checklist developed by Whitewater West and adherence to state regulations keeps the park in tip-top shape, with winter rehab preparing it each season.
Depending on capacity, the lazy river offers free or limited play, and the park stocks about 300 tubes for floating.
"The tubes are an off-the-shelf item, so they can be delivered next day if necessary," Johnson explains. "We'll have to replace them based on fading and use, but we'll keep some on reserve."
Bonuses like geysers and dripping waterfalls dot the river, while the lagoon includes an area for little ones with static play toys.
"It's one of the most wonderful parks in the world," Rankin says. While there aren't any kangaroos in Santa Clara, Calif., there are thousands of humans jumping for joy at the addition of a truly wet park.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Paramount's Great America: www.pgathrills.com
Whitewater West Industries: www.whitewaterwest.com