Carowinds’ water park has been constantly evolving since its debut in 1982. As Carolina Harbor opens for its 5th anniversary later this season, we're taking a look at the history of the water park and how it grew from humble beginnings into the “largest water park in the Carolinas.”
Last time, we examined the water park’s early beginnings as Ocean Island and RipTide Reef. Part two of this story begins with the 1997 transformation from RipTide Reef into a new water park, WaterWorks.
Waterworks as advertised in the 1997 Carowinds Press Kit. Photo: TPR User Montezooma
After several years of park expansion under the “Paramount’s Carowinds” moniker, including a new "Wayne’s World"-themed area and the expansion and renaming of "Hanna-Barbera Land" to "Animation Station," Paramount Parks expanded Carowinds’ waterpark again, in celebration of the park’s 25th operating season in 1997.
Open on May 3, 1997, the water park would now be called WaterWorks. (a name used at fellow Paramount Parks properties Kings Island from 1989-2004 and Kings Dominion from 1999-2014), This $7.5 million expansion doubled the size of Carowinds’ waterpark to 12 acres and gave the water park a total of 12 attractions.
“Expanding the water park in 1997 was just what the park needed,” said Carowinds’ longtime Vice President of Operations Jerry Helms. “It gave us capacity and it allowed people to get out of the heat in the summer, and it solidified us as ‘two parks in one.’ It definitely was a step in the right direction.”
As part of this expansion, the Carowinds water park added two new children’s areas, the three-story Splash Factory play area, and Squirt Works, which was targeted more towards younger children and infants. They also added two slides, a four-story, 564’ long raft slide named "Tidal Wave," and the 370’ long dueling chutes known as "Wipeout," as well as the 1000’ long "Carolinas’ Ramblin’ River" Lazy River attraction.
"Tidewater Bay" was renamed to "Big Wave Bay," and the "Carolina Pipeline" slide tower was enclosed and renamed "The Abyss." “Our guests really won't recognize the water park,'' park spokesman David Mandt told the Charlotte Observer prior to WaterWorks’ opening.
“It's a totally new experience from what they've enjoyed before.”
Tidal Wave at WaterWorks. Photo: www.outpostusa.org
WaterWorks featured 600 lounge chairs and 275 beach chairs, and 1,100 lockers. Watt H. Burris, General Manager of Paramount’s Carowinds in 1997, had the following to say about the addition of Waterworks to Carowinds.
"Paramount's Carowinds is like two small cities in one park," he said. "WaterWorks is so big and offers so many new attractions and amenities that guests can spend an entire day or more in that area alone.”
In 2001, Waterworks saw the addition of "Pipeline Peak," a slide tower featuring four enclosed slides; two body slides, and two tube slides. At the time, it was the tallest enclosed water slide in the world. It held that distinction for a reason; Burris did his homework.
“Watt Burris used to be the general manager at Kings Dominion,” recalled Helms. “He knew that Kings Dominion had recently installed similar slides, so he called manufacturers and asked how tall the slides were at Kings Dominion. When they told him, Watt responded ‘Well, make ours two feet taller!’ because he knew the importance of being able to say they were the tallest slides.”
To celebrate the debut of the slide complex, Carowinds held a contest with a local radio station, and seven couples were able to “take the plunge”.
“The bride, a small white veil atop her head, wore a blue-and-white one-piece with black straps, black shorts and aqua socks. The groom, in sunglasses, came dressed in a white T -shirt, sport sandals, black trunks and black bow tie.” wrote Heather Howard of the Charlotte Observer of one couple’s attire during the ceremony.
The ceremony was presided over by Carowinds sales representative (and minister) Karla Oakley, who counseled the couples about the "twists and turns" of marriage, the "thrills" they could expect and how they might get frightened and "want off the ride."
“‘It's a leap of faith into the unknown,’ she told the group. A few minutes later, the brides and grooms hiked to the top of the slide and hurled themselves down - into wedded bliss.” Howard wrote in The Observer.
Pipeline Peak was the last new addition at Waterworks before the next rebranding of Carowinds’ water park, Boomerang Bay.
Boomerang Bay (2006-2015)
2006 was a big year for Carowinds. Not only were they (along with the rest of the Paramount Parks) purchased by Cedar Fair on July 1, but they also unveiled their latest water park expansion and rebrand. Featuring a new “Aussome” Australian theme, Boomerang Bay added an additional four acres to Carowinds’ water park footprint.
There were two new attractions added as part of this expansion in 2006; the "Kookubura Bay" heated lagoon and "Platypus Plunge" children’s slide.
As part of the rebranding, many of the former Waterworks attractions received Australian makeovers. Among some of the name changes: The “Carolinas’ Ramblin River” became “Crocodile Run,” “Tidal Wave” became “Down Under Thunder,” “Splash Factory” became “Jackaroo Landing” and “Big Wave Bay” became the “Great Barrier Reef.” The one attraction that didn’t see an initial name change was “Pipeline Peak,” (though later became the "Tasmanian Typhoon" and "Bondi Pipeline").
In 2008, Boomerang Bay expanded again, adding a second wave pool, "Bondi Beach." Measuring in at 600,000 gallons and 34,000 square feet, it was advertised that "Bondi Beach" would “provide a surf-like experience for guests.”
“Bondi Beach really helped the water park, because at that point it was obvious that the original wave pool was dated and needed to be replaced,” Helms said. “It gave guests another option to cool off in the muggy summer heat.”
“People like fun and they like originality, but they also like that mass of a lot of different options,” he continued. “That’s what we tried to do. You’ve got to have a wave pool for the volume, everybody loves a lazy river, people want a little excitement with the slides. Our water park is a lot like our park, it has a little bit of everything. It gives the opportunity for people to choose, there’s still plenty of options for everyone.”
In May 2014, two more slides were added to Boomerang Bay; Dorsal Fin Drop and Surfer's Swell. These slides were the first step of a multi-year $50 million expansion that saw Carowinds add not-only the record-breaking Fury 325, but also expand their water park again...
TO BE CONTINUED...
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