Monday, March 31, 2014

NPN Exclusive: Dorney Park's 2014 Wildwater Kingdom Expansion Update

2014 is all about a bigger, better and wetter Wildwater Kingdom at Allentown, PA's Dorney Park.  For Wildwater Kingdom's 30th anniversary, the park is spending over $8 million to add an enormous new six slide tower named Snake Pit to the lineup, refurbishing existing attractions, performing major cosmetic and infrastructure changes and renovating amenities left and right.  When all is done, Wildwater Kingdom will look better than ever before.  How do I know?  The park was kind enough to invite me out for a tour to see the changes underway and share them with our readers.  With so much going on there is a lot of ground to cover, on with the tour!

Curently the parking area adjacent to Wildwater Kingdom is a sea of colorful slide pieces.  Once they arrived at the park and were unpacked the process of assembling them began.  Above is one of the unique sections of the Boa Blasters, two of the new slides that utilize single or double tubes for the ride down.  Some parts of the tubes are lined with colorful transparent sections, varying widths apart, that will enhance the sense of speed for riders.  You can get a nice feel for how brightly the sun shines through the colored sections in the photo above, especially in the back of the slide where it is darker.

These assembled sections are for the Constrictor, another one of the new slides that make up Snake Pit.  Constrictor is made of four 360 degree helices that are extremely tight in radius, creating some of the tightest turns in the industry.  That translates to some extreme banking for the riders, and an experience that sets it apart from other slides.

This is just one part of the area where the slide pieces are being kept.  All of these have already been assembled by workers since they are shipped to the park in stacks.  The pieces in the foreground are somewhat transparent so that riders can be seen by folks on the ground as they zoom downward.  They will eventually form the three courses of the Python Plummet, body slides that start with the floor dropping out from beneath riders' feet.  The floor drop start to a body slide is all the rage in the water park industry right now, with several parks also debuting them in 2014.

Seen above at the top, workers in the staging area first put together the two halves of one slide section - holding things steady with some temporary supports.  Once each section is completed, a handful of them are connected to form a larger segment of the slide.  That process is taking place in the photo on the bottom.  The assembled sections can't get too big, however, since they have to be carefully lifted into the park at some point.

And once they are lifted into the park, they patiently wait in another holding area.  Wildwater Kingdom is using this open space by the original wave pool to store completed sections.  It's not too far from where Snake Pit is going up, so as construction allows these sections can be taken over and put into place.

Moving inside Wildwater Kingdom from the parking area, the changes and improvements for 2014 quickly become obvious.  Pretty much every single building in the park has received a vibrant new paint scheme.  Above are a few of those, but everywhere you look are bright colors on everything from food stands down to the restrooms.

Snake Pit has caused the removal of the Oasis pool, but this year the section where grown ups can relax with an adult beverage will move near Wildwater Cove.  The adjacent cabanas will also receive all new coverings, furniture and amenities, and are currently stripped down to their support structures.  Around the whole park new lounges and chairs will be available for guests as well.

As I hinted at earlier, change can be seen almost everywhere inside Wildwater Kingdom.  Once you enter the park and move to the left around the changing rooms, you're hit with just how substantial the improvements are going to be.  Above is the view as you enter the area that used to be home to lockers and repurposed picnic pavilions that dated back to the park's opening.  It wasn't the nicest section of the park, and management has decided to totally clear it and change it into a more modern and useful area.  A 'do over,' you could say.

The structure going up in the foreground of this photo will be a new home for many of the water park's lockers.

© Dorney Park, used with permission
The new building will contain rows of lockers that park guests need for their day in the sun, though the lockers will be electronic and function based off a pin number the guests select instead of a traditional key.  These lockers were added to Cedar Point last year, and will make the renting process simpler and faster.  The drawing above is of the structure that will house the new lockers, painted in vibrant colors that will match the rest of the park.  Just as with the previous lockers, the new structure will have two entrances so guests may still access them once the water park closes for the day.

Beyond the new locker structure, where several old pavilions were, will be a new shaded 'market' area, filled with seating for guests.  In the photo above there isn't much more than leveled ground, but the new structures will go up quickly.  The area is located just around the corner from one of the largest selections of food outlets at Wildwater Kingdom, so the additional seating will be welcomed - and so will the shade on a hot July day!

© Dorney Park, used with permission
These plans show more of how the new seating area will fit into the construction site seen in the last photo.  The covers will also give a splash of color to the area, which before felt a bit awkward and definitely was under utilized.  All new walkways will be poured along the stretch as well, totally transforming the look of the area.

Moving further into the park we find even more torn up sections, above is the path that leads between Aqua Racer and Jumpin' Jack Splash.  Back when Aqua Racer was added this became a tight squeeze, as there used to be a large landscaped island in the middle of the area.  The park decided to break up that congestion and has removed much of island - some can be seen on the far right - to help the flow that will be moving toward the all new Snake Pit.  If you look close you can see workers pouring the new curbs for the paths.

The addition of Snake Pit has required some dramatic changes in the center of the park.  For the structure to fit properly the splash pool for Jumpin' Jack Splash had to be removed.  This slide tower has a lower height restriction and thus is especially popular with the younger crowd that is not ready for the more daring slides.  Above is the former pool all filled in, with gravel placed on top and leveled.

The removal of the catch pool also meant the removal of the large fake rockwork that once was home to some short slides that dropped into it.  When completed the Jumpin' Jack Splash slides will each finish in a trough that will extend to the concrete base on the far left of the above photo.  Personally I'm thankful that the park was able to keep these slides amid the construction, since they fit a specific demographic.
© Dorney Park, used with permission
Before we take a look at the construction of Snake Pit, here is a view of the new slides from above, set onto the existing park.  As you can see the new slide tower takes up a lot of real estate and a big area had to be cleared for it.  That meant some changes had to be made with regard to existing attractions.

This is how Snake Pit will look when finished, since it is technically a clone of the attraction that opened at Worlds of Fun's Oceans of Fun last summer.  Original concept art for Snake Pit had the slides shown in different colors, but after seeing the pieces in the parking lot I can confirm that they are the same as in the above image.  

In this vantage point, Aqua Racer would be on the right, and the catch pool for Snake Pit is on the far left.  The entire area has been changed, as there were originally a series of pools that ran through this land.  They started with the catch pool for Jumpin' Jack Splash, moved down into one for the lily pads, and then there was the final one for the Oasis.  That last pool would have been right in the foreground - now Snake Pit's Python Plummet body slides will have their run outs in the area.

This view was taken to the left of the one above, looking ahead at the whole construction area.  You can see the catch pool already poured for the Boa Blaster and Constrictor tube slides in the foreground.  The cement structure seen further back on the left is the start of the mechanical building for the new slide tower.  Much further back on the hill are some completed footings for the tower, with others currently being worked on.  When completed the Snake Pit tower will stand 65 feet tall, around ten feet shorter than Lightning Falls - the slide tower seen in the background center - quite imposing if you ask me!

This area has been leveled out dramatically - there was an elevation change here originally where water from the Oasis pool fell into the final part of Riptide Run, and from a pathway perspective it created stairs that led to no where.  All that has been smoothed out and a nice new walkway will surround the new slides.

A big part of the expansion for 2014, taking up nearly half the budget, is the refurbishment and improvement of several popular existing attractions.  Aquablast, the park's hugely popular family raft ride, has received an all new tower support structure made of galvanized steel - sure to help the slide stand for another generation at least.  While replacing the existing one, the park also added additional stairs to help with capacity and for a new program at the park this year, Fast Lane Plus.

Like at other Cedar Fair parks, Fast Lane Plus gets riders on especially popular attractions with minimal waits, and at Dorney Park that means water park rides.  Included in the "Plus" list are Aquablast, both lazy rivers, Aqua Racer and all the slides that make up Snake Pit.  New entrance paths are being created at all the participating attractions, which also means another new staircase will go up on the side of Aqua Racer.

As a special treat, I got to head up to the very highest part of Lightning Falls to get a better view of the work taking place.  Above (when you stop staring at the nice shot of Talon) is the expansive area currently torn up that will be home to the new lockers (the pad on the left) and the Market seating area.

© Dorney Park, used with permission
And in case you had any trouble visualizing how the new setup with be, here are the blueprints for that area on top of the existing park.

Here's two photos that show just how much the area for Snake Pit has changed.  The top photo is looking down at the overall construction site, and the bottom one is an aerial view of the area last year.  The red X is where I took the photo from, to help those not familiar to see how dramatically different this section is.  The series of pools are gone, along with Riptide Run coming down the hill.  All the elevation changes have been smoothed out, which will make navigating the park easier for visitors.

Panning left from the first view, the work next to Aqua Racer is visible.  This includes the new slide run outs for Jumpin' Jack Splash and all the midway changes.  Also if you look close you can see a section of assembled purple slide in the deep end of the wave pool - soon that whole area will be filled up with pieces before they are placed on the towers.

Many footers for Snake Pit are completed, but others are still being poured.  The optimistic hope is that the structure will start to go up within a couple weeks.  Once that process starts it won't take long to have everything up since so many slide sections are already assembled. 

It is not often that you're at the top of a water slide with such a great vantage point - so I figured I'd take as many photos as possible.  This overview shows all of the slide pieces coming together before being brought into the park, with Wildwater Kingdom's second wave pool, Wildwater Cove, in the foreground.  The white looking piles further back are actually the support structure for Snake Pit wrapped and glimmering in the sun.

This is a different view of Aquablast's new support tower with some work still taking place on the new set of stairs.  The attraction will also receive several hundred feet of queue space (previously only the stairs were the queue) at the base of the tower where the "kid wash" was.  That relic has been removed and now the attraction's line will no longer flood out onto the midway.

Finally, something most have expressed the desire for will take place - Island Water Works will undergo a full repaint and refurbishment.  As you can see all those years of spilling chlorinated water has taken its toll - but it is sure to look like brand new once work is complete.

There you have it, a comprehensive look at what's going on at Wildwater Kingdom at the moment.  Many thanks to the park for sharing what's going on - we will be sure to check back in as work continues.  Dorney Park opens for the 2014 season on May 2nd, and Wildwater Kingdom opens on May 24th.