We attended the media opening of Aquaticawater park’s newest thrill ride, and what a thrill it is! When you first catch sight of it after entering the park, it seems innocuous, blending beautifully into the lush landscaping. As you get closer, it seems to grow exponentially into the behemoth it really is.
Bryan Nadeau, Vice President of Aquatica, stood in the splash-down area with us as we bucked up the courage to ride and said, “The anticipation starts at the bottom. From down here, that tower is huge! You then walk up 126 steps, and by the time you get to the top you’re ready. You’re mentally prepared. Then we put you in the breakaway box, we close the glass doors, and all you hear is that heartbeat sound effect. Once you give us the thumbs-up, it’s 3-2-1 and we launch you!”
But don’t believe the countdown. Just because the voice reaches “1” doesn’t mean you’re going…yet. And that’s half the fun.
Courage gathered—at least for Simon—we made the trek up the stairs to the top of the tower where Chuck Cureau, Supervisor Animal Training, was acting as head cheerleader and giving reluctant riders a hefty dose of encouragement. His enthusiasm was infectious, and as Simon was deciding which slide to try first, Chuck threw some facts at us.
“Every slide is different,” he said. “The orange slide is the longest, at 420 feet. The blue slide is the steepest of the breakaway slides, and when you’re going down it really twists and turns and suddenly you’re shooting the other way! The green slide has the shortest drop, but it’s still a 28 foot fall, and the purple slide isn’t a breakaway slide, but it’s our steepest non-breakaway and perfect for people who don’t want a floor. You can sort of ease into it, then you drop 40 feet. It’s by no means a ‘chicken’ slide, but it’s for guests who don’t want to brave the breakaway. But with all three breakaways, there’s that anticipation of when you’re going to drop, and with three of you facing each other you don’t know who will drop first. Will you go? Will your friend go? In some ways it’s worse to see them go first and think, ‘I’m not far behind!’ You’re just standing there listening to that heartbeat.”
Simon chose blue first, and quickly queued up again for orange, and then purple, saving green for another visit. What was it like? “There is a definite take-your-breath-away moment when the floor of the breakaway box drops out and you go into free-fall for that tantalising second or so,” he said. “And then you are off on a high-speed body-slide with more twists and turns than a Sherlock Holmes mystery!The true innovation, though, is in the fact you are facing the other two people in the breakaway boxes and you just don’t know who is going to go first when the 3-2-1 countdown finishes. It’s great to see the look on other people’s faces when they are first!”
Once we were safely at the bottom again—Simon via a tube slide, Susan via the stairs—Toni Caracciolo, Vice President Marketing SeaWorld Parks, shared her enthusiasm for the park’s newest adventure. “We now go from serene to extreme, and Ihu’s Breakaway Falls adds that true element of thrill. If you imagine that moment when you see the highest cliff and an amazingly beautiful waterfall, you might think, ‘What would it be like to jump off?’ We wanted to give you that experience from an eight-storey water-fall. It just takes Aquatica to a whole different level.”
What was the inspiration for Ihu’s Breakaway Falls? Toni explained: “We knew we wanted to take our guests to an experience we hadn’t given them yet. Literally, slides are about twists and turns in the water, but we had yet to go to height. With the space we had left we don’t have many choices; we had to go up. And we wanted to give people a new sensation. The footprint of the ride is pretty compact, and it’s the height that gives it the thrill. But there is something about water that softens the experience. I’m not going to jump off a cliff or even go on a coaster, but I will do this ride because of the softening effect.”
With the likes of SheiKra and Manta in the SeaWorld/Busch Gardens/Aquatica/Discovery Cove stable, it was a natural Aquatica’s new attraction would be something special. But what was the thinking behind the breakaway boxes? Again, Toni explained: “We think about a new ride, attraction, or show, and a lot of effort goes into it. It’s a lot of years in the making, and all of this brainstorming and meetings—that’s what we do! The thought process is, ‘how can we add anew twist or turn to it, something that no-one had done before?’ And that’s how we came up with the element of everyone facing each other before the drop. We also have to make sure it fits with our story. Aquatica’s story is that all of these animals, like Ihu, came together and made the trek from Australia. They wanted to find water and an area where they could all play together. Each character takes on his own persona and Ihu is very playful and daring. So when you are facing each other in the breakaway boxes, there is an element of play, too. It is not so much a feeling of terror. There is a twinkle in your eye as you look across to your friends or family, and there is also this competitive spirit that comes up. That last look you have before the floor breaks away…and you can celebrate all together at the bottom!”
Nick Gollattscheck, head of Public Relations, gave us a final comment that brings the whole thing together and makes you wonder, ‘How will I react when I’m in that box?’ He said, “We’ve been standing up on the tower watching people in the breakaway boxes and you can see the difference in the way they breathe. Some are rhythmic breathers, some are shallow breathers, some hold their breath and some huff and puff. With their arms crossed over their chest you can really see it.”
The spectator value at Ihu’s is nearly as strong as the thrill of riding, and Nick added a final thought as we watched each rider emerge. “There is fear and anticipation at the top, but it’s all smiles at the bottom!”
Happy Friday Readers!