ORLANDO — Fear is a tricky commodity, and mondo business, for theme parks these days. You have to push the envelope to keep pace with your nearby competitors, but not be so pushy that too many potential guests tremble at the idea of your nefarious new terror machine.
Ihu's Breakaway Falls at Aquatica, SeaWorld's neighboring water park, is very much the modern I-dare-you attraction: a water slide and a drop tower all in one, a water slide you literally plummet almost straight down into. I was seriously freaking out before getting sucked into the swirly horror of it all. But I want to do it again. Right now. That innovative terror machine works quite well, thank you very much.
"We built in the anticipation from the start; as soon as you come into the park, you see this monstrous tower," Bryan Nadeau, Aquatica's thrill-junkie vice president, told me before I tentatively tried out the eight-story beast. "We wanted to push the envelope as far as possible, and Ihu's does that. For me, it's not too scary, and guests are loving it. It's been a home run."
Oh, it's plenty scary. And not for everyone. (There are other "drop" water slides, but not many are this stomach-flipping high. The height limit is set at a fairly tall 48 inches.) Still, if you can muster the courage to make the climb — and endure that fiendish drop — you'll be happy, and proud, you did. It's a total Tom Petty ride, kids: The waiting is by far the hardest part.
Ihu's Breakaway Falls looks vaguely Hitchcockian, 126 wooden steps winding ominously; most mortals will be sucking wind once they get to the top. Way up there, a wide platform (not for the vertiginous, to be sure) has three sci-fi-ish "breakaway boxes," which appear not unlike something a James Bond villain would use to dispatch the spy into space. (There's a fourth, nondrop slide for the chicken-out set, but that's no kiddie ride, either. After all, 80 feet up is still 80 feet down.)
At an 80-degree angle — a slight lean — you stand in the breakaway box, which has a clear plastic door. In a nice touch, all three boxes face each other, so you get to stare wide-eyed at fellow victims. Who will drop first: you or the hairy dude from Akron whimpering across the way? After the door encloses you in the pod (not for the claustrophobic, either) audio high-jinks are employed: a loud booming heartbeat and a countdown. Honestly, I can't remember if it counted down from five or three. All I remember is that it was counting down waaay too fast, and the bald, scary Aquatica employee who pushed the fatal button was grinning at me like a maniac.
I was hovering over the green slide, a winding, spiraling enclosed tube — and soon enough, whoosh! Because of that 80-degree lean, you ease into the sudden drop, the floor seamlessly dropping down, like a reverse toilet seat. With the soft plastic of the slide, there's no thump or pain to be had. In fact, my slide was actually relatively tame after the first few seconds of holy-bleep-what-was-I-thinking?
The finale, into the slow-down splash zone, is a total wedgie-maker, which is to be expected. Due to the volume of people they're pumping through Ihu's Breakaway Falls — the line can get long — the lifeguards at the bottom of the attraction were rather brisk in telling me to move my caboose out of the way. I actually sassed them a bit, flashed them a look. After all, I just braved the Falls, baby, the most nefarious water slide ever. Give me a second to, you know, adjust.
Contact Sean Daly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.