Beachgoing in the summertime can be a fairly discouraging prospect if you take your mind off the beach and concentrate instead on, say, Newport Boulevard. Baking in the heat while sitting in the line of cars stretching back toward Costa Mesa can make you wish you had stayed home in a cold bathtub.
But if your intention for the day is to get wet, and you don't mind getting off Newport Boulevard and driving a little farther south, relief--and a few thrills--is at hand.
Wild Rivers, a theme water park next to the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, is the perfect place for people who hate to be dry in the summertime. Its 20 acres is filled mostly with water--in pools and ponds, cascading over falls, rushing down flumes and tubes, flowing along rivers, forming rolling waves.
The park is divided roughly into three sections, one to provide thrills, one to provide waves and one to provide a spot for nothing more than drifting and dreaming.
The most visible attractions, and the most popular, according to general manager Greg Briggs, are the seven water slides on a man-made hill called Wild Rivers Mountain. The longest slide of the seven, the Congo River Rapids, is actually a padded flume in which visitors ride in rubber inner tubes. The Serengeti Surf Hill is a multi-lane water slide, as are the Sweitzer Falls.
It is the Bombay Blasters and the Nairobi Express, however, that provide the fastest rides in the park, according to Briggs.
"The Bombay Blasters is the most thrilling," Briggs said. "It's a tube that goes right into the ground, with a 30-foot drop, and there are radical turns to the right and left. You'll get moving at about 35 or 40 m.p.h. We provide bleachers at the bottom for people to sit and watch the expressions on the faces when they finally shoot out."
Riders slide even faster on the Nairobi Express, a straight slide that can propel riders at almost 50 m.p.h., Briggs added.
Adjacent to Wild Rivers Mountain is Thunder Cove, which contains two 22,000-square-foot pools. Wave machines, operated by compressed air, produce gentle waves for body-surfing and inner-tubing in one pool, while larger 4-foot waves, designed for body-boarding, are created in the other. The 4-foot wave, Briggs pointed out, rolls for almost 110 feet.
"It doesn't compete with the ocean," Briggs said, "but we can produce a nice roller wave."
The children's area of the park, Explorer's Island, may be the perfect afternoon getaway for not only active kids but frazzled adults. Many of the larger water slides have their miniature versions in Explorer's Island, and there are shallow pools for children.
But perhaps the most relaxing of all is the Safari River Expedition, the quarter-mile moat surrounding the area. Designed for slow--very slow--inner-tubing, the river moves at a languid pace under bridges and past waterfalls. At one point, riders float past basketball hoops at which they can leisurely take shots while sitting in their inner tubes. Rubber balls for just that purpose are routinely tossed into the water by park workers.
The park can get crowded, particularly on weekends, Briggs said, when between 4,000 and 10,000 visitors forsake the beach in favor of the inland waters. However, he said, there is seldom a wait of more than half an hour for any one of the slides. And most people who come to Wild Rivers stay an average of five hours, he added--plenty of time to get thoroughly drenched in every area of the park.
WILD RIVERS AT A GLANCE
What: A 20-acre theme water park featuring 40 rides and attractions, including water slides, hot springs, spas, wave pools, and swimming and wading pools.
Where: 8800 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine, (adjacent to Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre).
Amenities: Lockers, changing rooms, volleyball courts, picnic areas, video games, tanning area, body-board rentals, food and gift shops. Lifeguards on duty.
Admission: Adults (age 10 and older), $13.75. Children (ages 3 through 9), $10.75. Senior citizens (age 55 and over), $6.75. All adults and children after 4 p.m., $6.75. Spectator day pass (includes only "dry" activities), $6.75. Season passes for unlimited visits throughout season, $69.95. All admissions include unlimited, all-day use of attractions.
Hours: Open weekends and holidays through June 5, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Open daily from June 11 through Sept. 5, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Open daily Sept. 6-11, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Open weekends from Sept. 17-Oct. 2, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Information: (714) 768-WILD