by Joe Tracy, editor of Theme Park Magazine
When one thinks of a water park, rarely does the idea of dark rides and themed experiences come to mind. That’s not the case, however, at Water World in Federal Heights, Colorado. Water World has two rides, since the 1990s, that use heavy theming to give water park goers a new type of experience. Those rides are Voyage to the Center of the Earth and Lost River of the Pharaohs. Before talking about the history of these water dark rides, let’s experience the journey:
Lost River of the Pharaohs and Voyage to the Center of the Earth Ride Video
The following video, courtesy of Attractions 360 YouTube Channel (see Explore More: Videos below), takes viewers on a journey of both the Lost River of the Pharaohs and Voyage to the Center of the Earth rides at Water World:
Lost River of the Pharaohs
In 1990, Water World introduced an innovative ride for a water park. It was the Egyptian-themed Lost River of the Pharaohs. It was the first known ride of its kind at a water park; a raft-based dark ride. Water parks are not known for dark rides, yet Water World pulled off one of the best (that would later be topped by Voyage to the Center of the Earth).
In a 1994 New York Times article titled, “All Across America, Plunging Into Summer: The West; Colorado: Hyland Hills Water World,” author Dyan Zaslowsky heavily praised Lost River of the Pharaohs:
“My favorite ride was the Lost River of the Pharaohs, which has a few speed thrills and surprising beauty,” said Zaslowsky. “Our four-person raft floated past beds of tiger lilies, then swirled into the dim chamber of a pyramid, furnished with a looming mummy, ancient artifacts and a swaying cobra. A robotic Bedouin with an evil glint in his eye warned us to ‘go back, go back,’ as the water relentlessly swept us around the bend.”
Animatronics: More than a dozen
Length: 1,500 feet
Lighting: JK Design Group
2014 Refurbishment by: Sally Dark Rides and R&R Creative Amusement Design
Voyage to the Center of the Earth
The Egyptian-themed Voyage to the Center of the Earth ride opened at Water World in 1993. It was innovative for an intertube water ride to be so heavily themed and that innovation was recognized when the ride won the “World Water Park Innovation Award”
The ride was created by Sally Dark Rides and R&R Creative Amusement Designs, Inc. An expert in story-designed rides, Sally Dark Rides created an immersive adventure to set the stage for guests. The story begins with breaking news that an underground cavern was unearthed at Water World. Based on a study of the cavern, experts believe it leads to the center of the earth. Guests load onto tube boats that “disappear into the howling winds of a bat cave.”
Riders descend through caverns, canyons, and swamps, coming across strange creatures and reptiles, some of which fly. As Sally Dark Ride describes the rest of the adventure, “The huge sea monster, Elasmorsaurus, swings out from his lair above the waterway, chomping his sharp teeth, and rounding a bend in the river, visitors come face to face with a huge T-Rex, looming twelve feet over their heads, roaring and gnashing his jaws.”
Voyage to the Center of the Earth is the most popular ride at Water World and has been for decades.
Animatronics: More than a dozen
Length: 1,600 feet
Designed by: Sally Dark Rides and R&R Creative Amusement Designs, Inc.
2014 Refurbishment by: Sally Dark Rides and R&R Creative Amusement Designs, Inc.
Water World History
Located in Federal Heights, Colorado, Water World (known then as Hyland Hills Water World) opened in August 1979 thanks to a voter-approved $1.3 million bond. The water park launched with a wave pool, three water slides, concessions, and sun-bathing areas on 13-acres of land. At that time, prices to get in were $5 for adults and $4 for children with Fridays being half-priced.
In 1990, Water World launched its first water dark ride, the Egyptian-themed Lost River of the Pharaohs. The ride was a huge hit and three years later the park opened another themed water dark ride, Voyage to the Center of the Earth.
Water World was a huge hit and its innovation in popular water rides inspired the park to continue expanding. One of its biggest additions, in 2012, was the Mile High Flyer, a $4.5 million water roller coaster by Pro Slide Technology.
In 2014, Water World invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in refurbishing both Lost River of the Pharaohs and Voyage to the Center of the Earth. Sally Dark Rides and R&R Creative Amusement Designs, Inc. played a major role in the refurbishments.
In 2016, the New York Post ranked Water World as the best water park in the United States. The article specifically called out the two dark ride attractions:
“With 49 total attractions, including the theme park-quality Voyage to the Center of the Earth and Lost River of the Pharaohs rides, Water World is the Mt. Everest of waterparks.”
Since its opening in 1979, Water World has grown from 13 acres to 70 acres and from three attractions to 52 attractions. Water World’s unique theming of Lost River of the Pharaohs and Voyage to the Center of the Earth stand out as the park’s greatest achievement in mixing “Disney-like” themed experiences with traditional water rides to create something truly special.
Water World’s popularity goes beyond rankings as the park has been featured in a movie and TV episode of South Park.
The Surfer King and South Park
Water World is prominently featured in the 2006 movie, The Surfer King, starring Lindsay Wagner, Gabriel Iglesias, Randy Wayne, Ben Ziff, Cerina Vincent, Keri Lynn Pratt, and Alan Thicke. The movie follows the adventures of a new Water World employee who enters a competition to become “The Surfer King,” against the wishes of the daughter of the water park owner. Water World is prominently featured throughout the movie.
Water World is also featured in an irreverent episode of South Park simply called “Pee” (Season 13, Episode 14). The name of the park and attractions were changed.
The Scarcity of Water Park Dark Rides and How AquaMouse Might Change That
Built in the 1990s, both Lost River of the Pharaohs and Voyage to the Center of the earth have proven to be huge hits among guests. Yet even water parks owned by major theme park giants like Disney and Universal lack these types of dark ride experiences. However, the Disney Wish cruise ship, launching in July 2022, will contain a themed dark water ride called AquaMouse that might usher in a new era of raft-based dark water ride experiences.
AquaMouse takes riders on an immersive animated adventure. Guests board 2-person rafts and go through an immersive adventure that includes theming, projections, and sound. There are two different stories, Scuba Scramble and Swiss Meltdown, that will rotate during separate seasons. If the ride garnishes rave reviews we may see more themed experience dark rides opening at water parks like Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and beyond.
Explore More (Videos)
Explore More (Resources)
- Website: Water World
- Website: Sally Dark Rides
- Website: R&R Creative Amusement Design, Inc.
- YouTube: Attractions 360
- Article: Water World Updates Two Classic Raft Rides with Gantom Lighting Fixtures (Gantom)
- Article: Tubin’ in the Dark (Park World)
- Article: The 11 Best Water Parks in the USA (NY Post)
- Background: Voyage to the Center of the Earth (Sally Dark Rides)