Waterpark growth spurts at Dells, Six Flags

Watch your language, when it comes to waterparks.

The caller who alerted me recently to an expansion at Six Flags Great America, north of Chicago, got my attention this way: “It will have the biggest waterpark in the Midwest.”

“Those are fightin’ words in this state,” I replied, knowing well that the Wisconsin Dells seems to have a lock on all the waterpark records.

Turns out that the theme park’s junior staffer misspoke. What Six Flags will introduce next month is Skull Island, “the largest interactive water playground in the world,” and it will be a part of the new Hurricane Harbor waterpark.

The 500 “water gadgets” – hydro blasters, sprayers, fountains, jets, pumps and water wheels – are what help make this attraction unusual, says Michelle Hoffman of Six Flags. This is the sixth waterpark addition to the Six Flags line of theme parks; each one is different.

The new Illinois waterpark (which also has 17 multi-story towers to climb and eight waterslides) takes up 15 of the 120 acres of park attractions. With parking and administrative buildings, there are 300 acres, so “there is room to grow” in the future, Hoffman says.

There also is room for both Six Flags and the Dells’ attractions to thrive, she contends. “The two of us are very different. We are seasonal, and we are not just a waterpark.”

“Some places are a good day trip. Wisconsin Dells is a vacation experience,” counters Steve Shattuck of the Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau. The May issue of Reader’s Digest, he notes, in its “Best of America” coverage praises the Dells for its waterparks.

“People come for the main attractions – which are the waterparks – but they stay for the other fun diversions.”

It has been a decade since the Polynesian Resort Hotel added The Water Factory and became the first place in the Dells with an indoor waterpark.

What’s new this year? Plenty, as always.

Three attractions – Treasure Island, Bay of Dreams and Family Land – have merged to become the Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park, a 150-acre conglomeration of wet and dry diversions. It includes a five-story waterslide complex and the world’s longest underground roller coast tunnel.

Noah’s Ark Waterpark has added a “watercoaster” that is one-fourth mile long. Called the Black Anaconda, riders glide over six hills at up to 30 miles per hour.

Yogi Bear’s Jellystone is the area’s first campground to add an outdoor waterpark. A new indoor waterpark at the Copa Cabana Resort Hotel & Suites has a pirate theme. The new Howlin’ Tornado at Great Wolf Lodge is a 65-foot tunnel that drops 30 feet per second and ends in a plunge pool.

All told, there are now 21 waterparks in the Dells, and they have more than 200 waterslides. The biggest outdoor waterpark is at Noah’s Ark (70 acres), and Kalahari Waterpark Resort has the largest that is indoor (125,000 square feet).

What’s the biggest indoor/outdoor combo? It’s at Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort.

“The credo here,” according to press materials, “is that if it isn’t the biggest, tallest, fastest, newest or wettest then we’re not interested in building it.”

It’s time to think about summer, and I’m here to help. Send a clever and short (100 words, maximum) essay about your favorite waterpark experience and you may win a getaway to the Wisconsin Dells or Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Ill.

Six Flags is donating admission for four to its Gurnee theme park. Estimated value is $180. For more about the park, go to www.sixflags.com or call (847) 249-INFO.

The Dells getaway has a $525 value, and it includes four tickets to seven places: Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park, Noah’s Ark Waterpark, Tommy Bartlett Show (water skiing), Rick Wilcox Theater (magic), Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf (miniature golf), Circus World Museum and a ride on the Original Wisconsin Ducks. For more about the area, go to www.wisdells.com or call (800) 223-3557.

Essays longer than 100 words will be disqualified. One entry per family. Please include your name, address and e-mail. The deadline is May 8. Winners will be announced before the end of the month.