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The next level (and then some) of water park slides
Qatar‘s wild and wacky Icon Tower to feature world's tallest slide
Imagine taking an elevator 79.5 meters (that’s over 260 feet for us metric system-challenged Americans) up a narrow tower, walking a gangplank of sorts to a water slide that cantilevers off the tower at the dizzying height, entering a launch capsule, and waiting for the pulse-pounding countdown that will open a trap door and release you into an almost sheer initial drop. If you book passage to Doha in Qatar, you won’t have to imagine this crazy scenario. When Meryal, a new water park on the man-made Qetaifan Island North in the capital city, opens soon, you’ll be able to experience it for yourself–if you dare.
When I first heard about this project and saw renderings of Icon Tower, I thought it was some kind of Photoshopped trickery, forged Internet meme, or a lost episode of “Phineas and Ferb.” Surely, it couldn’t be real. Turns out, it’s real.
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“We took a concept that was already insane to the next level,” says Mike Rigby, an executive VP with WhiteWater, the water park developer working on Meryal. He explains that the Qetaifan Projects folks already had the absurdly high tower in mind. It was up to WhiteWater to outfit it with water slides. “It’s a wild and wacky idea,” Rigby adds. “Even after we submitted a bid and agreed on it, I thought surely this is not possible.”
Let’s put the wild and wacky Icon Tower in context. I’ve been on Ko'okiri Body Plunge, one of three water slides atop Krakatau Volcano, the centerpiece at Universal Orlando’s Volcano Bay. It ranks among the most thrilling experiences I’ve had on any ride, including roller coasters–and I’ve been on some doozies. It just may be the most thrilling experience. The Florida slide stands at 125 feet, or 38 meters. Currently, the tallest water slide in the world, Insano located at Beach Park in Fortaleza, Brazil, is 51 meters. At about 80 meters, the Icon Tower slide will be nearly 56% higher than that (and more than twice as tall as the one at Universal Orlando).
“It’s an 11 out of 10 on the thrill scale. It’s the ultimate test of bravery.”
“I can categorically say that I will never go on that slide,” Rigby says. Keep in mind, this guy helped develop it. “It’s an 11 out of 10 on the thrill scale. It’s the ultimate test of bravery.”
With approximately 500 total meters of slide wrapping around the tower, Rigby estimates it will take more than one minute to complete the journey to the ground. That’s a long time time to be freaked out in an enclosed water slide.
In addition to claiming the record for the world’s tallest water slide, Meryal will also be able to boast the most number of slides on a tower. Among Icon Tower’s 11 additional slides will be another body slide at the 79.5-meter level. That one will forego the cantilevered platform and launch capsule and be slightly less intimidating. While the two slides at the top will continue all the way to the ground, other slides will make pit stops on the way down. Some will start at the second level on the tower and drop sliders off at the fourth level. From there, they can choose between two slides that will take them to the base of the tower. A third set of slides will start at level three and go down to level five where guests will transfer and have another couple of slides from which to choose that will proceed to the ground level.
The tower will include a mix of body and tube slides, including some family raft rides that will accommodate three or four people. There will also be two of WhiteWater’s enormous Abyss funnel slides. Rigby explains that one of the funnels will be enclosed and affixed to the tower at about 50 meters in the air. Visitors who don’t want to tackle the slides could nonetheless take an elevator to the top of the structure and enjoy the 360-degree views from an observation deck.
The distinctive, imposing tower, with its jumble of slides, is supposed to suggest an oil derrick, according to Mustafa El Cherkawi, construction manager for Qetaifan Island North. “It reflects the heritage and culture of Qatar. It’s an engineering masterpiece,” he says.
The tower is on its own mini island adjacent to Qetaifan Island North and accessible via a connecting causeway. As impressive as Icon Tower is, it is only one part of the 160,000-square-meter (about 40 acres) Meryal water park. There will be dozens of other slides and attractions, making it one of the largest water parks in the world.
“It’s the most ambitious project we’ve ever seen,” notes WhiteWater’s Rigby. Throughout its more than 40-year history, the water park design and manufacturing company has worked on over 5,000 parks and attractions around the world.
One of Meryal’s other highlights will be its Master Blaster water coaster. Using water jets, it will propel passengers on rafts for a racing experience on two side-by-side flumes that will extend out into the ocean. Riders will feel as if they will be skimming the water and cruising at high speed. After dark, tracing lights on the flumes will follow the vehicles.
Another standout attraction will be its SlideWheel, one of only a few in the world. It features a tangle of slides packed onto a rotating wheel. El Cherkawi calls it the “washing machine slide.” He also says that another dark ride-like edutainment attraction will send passengers into a cave where they will experience scenes about the history of oil and gas and the development of Qatar. It will incorporate “Oily,” a character who will provide narration.
Meryal will also include the usual water park suspects such as a wave pool, a mat racing slide, a meandering lazy river, an interactive play structure, slides and attractions for young children, and virtually everything else WhiteWater has ever designed. Interestingly, because of Qatar’s high heat and humidity in the summer, the water in the pools will be cooled to keep it from rising above 28 degrees celsius.
The park will include amusement rides as well, such as a log flume and a spinning roller coaster from Intamin. According to El Cherkawi, the coaster’s seats will look like gas cylinders. A train will make a loop around the park to help transport guests to different areas and minimize walking in the blistering heat. There will also be a tram to shuttle visitors to Icon Tower’s mini island.
Meryal will be the focal point of Qetaifan Island North. The mixed-use mega entertainment complex will also include a five-star luxury resort, a residential community with beach villas, a dining and shopping plaza, a beach club, and a mosque.
Its developers are hoping to open Meryal as well as many of the project’s other features in time for Qatar’s World Cup. The first FIFA soccer championship tournament to be held in the Arab world, it is scheduled to begin on November 20.
Have you been on any extremely tall water slides? Are you intimidated by the 79.5-meter water slide planned for Meryal’s Icon Tower? What do you make of the ambitious water park?