Water slide meets Ferris wheel on this utterly unique ride
Break out your Speedos and sunscreen. It’s National Water Park Day this Thursday. With temperatures soaring above 90 for days on end here in the Boston area, wave pools, lazy rivers, and humungous buckets that rain down ice-cold water sound pretty dang good.
You could mark the occasion by heading to your local water park. Or you could celebrate in style by visiting Wisconsin Dells, the self-proclaimed water park capital of the world. It’s the birthplace of the indoor water park and home to a bunch of parks, both indoor and outdoor. One of the tourist mecca’s major resorts, Mt. Olympus, offers both an outdoor and indoor water park (as well as outdoor and indoor theme parks), and recently introduced Medusa’s Slidewheel, one of the wackiest, most unique rides ever developed.
Arthur's About Theme Parks is a reader-supported, ad-free publication. To receive new posts and support quality journalism, consider becoming a paid subscriber. Free subscriptions are also available.
So, what is it? Think of a Ferris wheel, except instead of seats or gondolas spinning around, there is a gaggle of large, intertwined water slide tubing. As the wheel rotates, passengers on circular rafts inside the turning mishmash of tubes slosh back and forth, scale the walls as they experience pops of airtime, drop with force from one section to the next, and generally get all discombobulated.
“It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind water slide experience,” says Fofo Backhaus, director of marketing for Mt. Olympus and a member of the family that owns and operates the resort. “You have no idea what’s going on or what will happen next.” She notes that it is the third ride of its kind in the world and the first in the U.S., which is a point of pride for the resort.
Depending on the weight of the guests, up to four passengers can pile into the rafts, and the attraction can accommodate three rafts at once. They enter at the midpoint of the wheel, which stands 80 feet tall and spans 100 feet across. Translucent sections of tube allow some outside light in, which create geometric patterns and splashes of color. Adding to the disorienting, multi-sensory experience, passengers can hear the muffled screams of riders in other parts of the twisting, turning contraption. When the rafts exit the wheel for the last part of the two-minute ride, they navigate an opaque section of tube for a lights-out finale.
As with many signature attractions at indoor water parks, riders start and end their rides inside the climate-controlled building. But most of the structure, including the rotating wheel, is outside. The plan is to operate Medusa’s Slidewheel year round. Because the slide tubes are enclosed, passengers are protected from the elements. The jury’s out whether the mechanism will be able to rotate on crazy-cold days during Wisconsin’s often bone-chilling winters, however.
“We’ll find out,” Jason Hammond, the park resort’s director of safety, says with a laugh, adding that as one of the first installations of the prototype attraction, Medusa’s Slidewheel is something of a guinea pig.
As perplexing as the ride is for passengers to experience, it’s quite a sight to watch from the outside. It’s difficult to envision what’s happening inside the tubes as the twisted jumble of slide sections revolve and passengers scream and squeal. Hammond says you might think riders would feel as if they are spinning, but that’s not the case. It’s really more of a back-and-forth motion, punctuated by sudden drops. After it opened, Hammond sat outside the park and carefully studied the attraction in action; after an hour, he was able to figure out the convoluted route that passengers take as they make their way through the rotating, hulking ride.
Medusa’s Slidewheel is part of a 22,500-square-foot expansion of the indoor water park at Mt. Olympus. It brings the the total size up to 65,000 square feet. The expansion also includes a new pool and splash zone. The rest of the indoor park, which opened in 1999, is being remodeled and will reopen in the fall.
Guests staying at the resort, which offers 1,600 rooms along with cabins and camping sites at a campground, receive free admission to all four parks. Visitors can purchase day passes, which also include access to all parks. The outdoor theme park features an impressive collection of go-kart tracks as well as four well-regarded wooden roller coasters. Hades 360 reaches a top speed of 70 mph, boasts an 800-foot-long underground tunnel–the world’s longest–and includes a corkscrew inversion, which is unusual for a wooden coaster.
If you want to get a better sense of the Slidewheel design and concept, here is a video from the ride manufacturer.
What do you make of Medusa’s Slidewheel? What’s the wackiest water park attraction you have experienced? Have you been to Mt. Olympus? How about the other water parks in Wisconsin Dells?
Arthur's About Theme Parks is a reader-supported, ad-free publication. To receive new posts and support quality journalism, consider becoming a paid subscriber. Free subscriptions are also available. If you enjoy About Theme Parks, please share it.