Man vs. slide: A visit to OWA’s new indoor water park at Tropical Falls

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Tropic Falls indoor water park

By Lawrence Specker |

Dark clouds and sloppy rain blanketed Lower Alabama on Thursday morning, and in most cases you wouldn’t say these were auspicious conditions for a brand-new tourist attraction. But was a perfect test for the new water park at Tropic Falls, built indoors in part so it could shine on just this kind of day.

It also struck me as a prime chance to get personally acquainted with the half-dozen slides that dominate the new attraction.

The new Tropic Falls brand, with its toucan mascot Tuki, encompasses the amusement park formerly known as “The Park at OWA” and the new indoor water park, which opened Wednesday, June 29, after a final two-day delay announced that Monday. Among other things, the Tropic Falls branding clarifies the separation between OWA’s ticketed amusement side and the free-access shopping, dining and entertainment district known as Downtown OWA.

OWA’s game plan had been to offer a $69.99 combo ticket, with no water park-only option. When bad weather kept the amusement park closed on opening day, it quietly offered a $49.99 rainy day option for the water park. It did the same again on Thursday.

In the online world, commenters on OWA’s Facebook page griped about the price (with or without discount) and pointed out that admission was less expensive over at Waterville USA in Gulf Shores. In the real world, a steady trickle of customers was adding up to a crowd of hundreds inside Tropic Falls. Apparently a price point that seems high to some locals looks pretty reasonable to vacationers trapped in condos with their kids on a rainy day at the beach.

June 30, 2022

It seemed like an auspicious start for a flagship attraction that has been a long time coming.

Now, about those slides.

Learning the ropes at OWA means coming to grips with the fact that the six slides use three different approaches. The gentlest slide, with the lowest launch point and the lowest user height requirement (42″), the Aqua Chaser uses mats and it’s a fine place to start. I watched a dad coaxing his son to stand up straight so he could meet the height requirement, and it reminded me of the adage: Mom will tell you not to do it, Dad will tell you how to do it.

Aqua Chaser isn’t one tube, it’s a three-lane raceway complete with timer readouts at the bottom, to settle any squabbles about who set the record. That’s awesome. Up top, the launch makes it crystal clear that they’re running a tight ship at OWA. In addition to an attendant, there are red and green lights signaling when it’s clear for the next wave of riders to go.

It wasn’t like this at a place called Funland in Florence, back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. You used mats there, too, mainly because the pebbly painted-concrete surfaces would flay the flesh from your bones if you didn’t. There were no timing lights, and the attendants didn’t always care if you maintained a safe distance from your buddies or not. This was awesome. Little brothers started their ride knowing that if they didn’t move fast in the catch basin at the bottom, an older sibling would drop on them like a bomb. Older brothers launched like falcons diving at pigeons. And if two or three kids launched in a train, which wasn’t strictly permitted, you got more speed. Maybe the person in back got whipped against those concrete walls like a rag doll, but everybody went faster. Good times.

June 30, 2022

None of that at Aqua Chaser. By comparison, it gives you one loop in smooth fiberglass conduits and a final drop that’s open to outside viewing, before you slow down in a braking area below floor level. This is a slide set up for family fun and for quick repeats.

For the next two slides you have to climb a little higher on the staircase and you have to carry a one- or two-person tube. On this day the wait was longest for these rides.

Forbidden Falls packs a surprise: You start out cruising downhill through sweeping turns and then — surprise! — you come to an aggressive 10-foot plunge that leaves you swirling back and forth across an open bowl before easing back into the tunnel. Taken completely unaware, I did the final loop backwards and flipped over in the pool at the bottom. I want a rematch.

Citrus Cyclone seemed to be the most popular slide on this particular day, and it wasn’t hard to see why. It’s one of the rides that loops outside the main building, giving you a nice long ride full of twists and turns.

The next three are body slides, and we probably should talk about staircase etiquette. If you’re carrying a tube, you’ve got to wait in line behind all the other people carrying tubes, because you’re headed for the same two rides. If you’re carrying a mat you don’t: just zip up to that first launch level, line up behind the other folks going three-at-a-time through Aqua Chaser, and take your next turn.

If you’re not carrying a mat or a tube, you also don’t need to wait behind tubers. Just head up to the middle level for the Serpentine Swirl or to the top for Tangerine Scream and Piranha. Some signage or maybe some staffers playing traffic cop would be nice, but people didn’t seem to have too much trouble figuring this out for themselves.

Serpentine Swirl is just what you want. Straight runs let you build up speed for four loops, two of which form a figure eight. Riders go one at a time, feet first, with plenty of separation.

None of that was a case at a water slide I experienced in the ‘80s, visiting cousins in Chattanooga. This thing was laid out on a hillside, fiberglass chutes zigzagging for hundreds of yards down the slope. They didn’t care if you went down feet first, headfirst or holding onto each other’s’ ankles in a train. It was straight-up Lord of the Flies rules. If you daisy-chained four or five kids together you’d basically enter hyperspace on the way down.

A fun game was to send one person down solo, then launch a train in pursuit. We were doing that one time when we came around a hairpin bend at about Mach 3 to find that our intended victim, cousin Henry, had stopped and wedged himself across the track just past the blind turn. The lead pursuer jammed underneath him, I jackknifed over the top and the three kids behind me piled up in a human logjam. I think we slid all the way to the bottom in a tangle of limbs that somehow all remained attached to their owners and unbroken.

Man, the kids of today would shatter like porcelain dolls if they tried that. Of course, so would we. (Henry went on get a Ph.D. in physics, which just goes to show that we didn’t suffer as much concussion damage that day as you might have thought. Also that you should never trust anyone with a doctorate.)

Serpentine Swirl is fun and not insane at all. You can’t say that about the two remaining rides.

I went for Tangerine Scream first because I thought it was the one I should be most nervous about. It’s a straight drop from the top of the tower to the basement deceleration room. And man, is it a drop. As you enter free fall, you may find yourself beginning to say a four-letter word. And you may find that the “u” in the middle is about 30 letters long. But the bend at the bottom is big and smooth, so you don’t suffer as you slow down.

June 30, 2022
A view from the high side of Tropic Falls’ new indoor water park in Foley: Water slide tubes spiral below, as patrons drift around the lazy river in the distance. At the far end of the giant hall, the children’s area sports a few slides of its own, and the Libations bar at upper right offers cocktails to parents who’d rather sip and watch that ride the slides.Lawrence Specker |

Piranha Plunge is on a different level. Like the other two body slides, you go down solo, feet first, arms folded, with a lot of space between riders. For this one, though, they put you in a launcher. As if you’re a torpedo. You stand inside this thing and the attendant pushes a launch button and the floor drops out from under you.

Before she closed the hatch, the attendant recommended I take my glasses off. This turned out to be some extremely good advice. The Piranha’s acceleration rivals Tangerine Scream, but it’s a lot wetter and darker, with turns you don’t see coming because you’re catching so much water in the face. Like Forbidden Falls, it left me wanting a rematch. Maybe with swim goggles.

Doing all this — riding each of the six main slides one time each — took a little over an hour, and I hadn’t spent any time recuperating in the lazy river. So it’s pretty easy to see that a trip to Tropic Falls could fill an afternoon, even on a day when the roller coaster and other outdoor attractions are closed. For those too small or timid to enjoy these slides, there’s an extensive children’s area with slides of its own and other features.

Much of the land surrounding the water park was a muddy construction site on Thursday. While it’s not the most scenic of views, it’s a sign of “Phase 2″ developments to come, including a wave pool with built-in stage for entertainment events.

Will the rainy-day pricing become a regular feature? Will locals get a break in the off-season? Time will tell. For ticket information and updates, check and

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