Wet'n'Wild in 1985. Photo courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau.

Hot Child in the Summertime

Back in the day, Vegas kids knew how to stay cool

Last week’s column about topless pools at Las Vegas resorts spurred another conversation, one related to the under-21 set. But it seems there are a couple generations of Vegas kids rather nostalgic about our long-gone Strip water park, Wet‘n‘Wild. One native millennial I know says she remembers two things in particular about the place: the 90s soundtrack and the preponderance of nipple rings on the male lifeguards.

Las Vegas News Bureau

Wet ‘n’ Wild on the Las Vegas Strip, May 9, 1987.

Today, Cowabunga Bay and the new Wet‘n‘Wild draw those seeking watery thrills to the Vegas suburbs. But the Strip’s O.G. aquatic playground was rather unique, plopped adjacent to the Sahara casino, in the middle of the adult action. Open from 1985 to 2004, the original 27-acre Wet‘n‘Wild was a Vegas kid’s dream, an amusement park perfectly suited to a hot desert city. A case could even be made that it was Wet‘n‘Wild, not The Mirage (which opened four years later), that ushered in a new era in Las Vegas history.

Wet‘n‘Wild may have been the first legit water park in Las Vegas, but it wasn’t the only option. Back in the day, there was Lake Mead, as well as the water slides at Warm Springs near Moapa, but both were quite a distance from town. Closer to home, lucky Vegas kids knew someone who knew someone—perhaps a parent worked at a casino, or an older sibling was a hotel lifeguard. Things were a little looser back then, and that favorable connection often meant a summer of hanging by a stylish resort pool with the tourists, trying to score unattended cocktails.

Things changed in the late 70s, when Roulette Rapids opened along Boulder Highway, offering something more thrilling than just a pool: bright yellow concrete water slides pouring into a man-made hill (helmets required) and bumper boats! Soon after, in the early 80s, the Cheyenne Campus of the Community College of Southern Nevada (now CSN) had “the hydrotubes”—a three-story staircase leading to two twisting, water-filled tubes ending in a refreshing pool splash. Ahhhh!

Also worth mentioning is the legendary Desert Surf. Located in the middle of the desert, where Decatur Boulevard and Flamingo Roads now intersect, Desert Surf wasn’t a water park, but a skateboard park long before Clark County got involved in building skate facilities in its parks. Desert Surf also boasted a BMX track, proving that some Vegas kids were still happiest getting dusty.

Have a question or comment about Las Vegas past, present or future? Send them to askanative@vegasseven.com.