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Slipping Away From the Heat

Pharaoh's Lost Kingdom is an Inland Empire oasis on hot days of summer.

May 07, 1998|LAURIE K. SCHENDEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Pharaoh's Lost Kingdom isn't exactly "lost." In fact, it's pretty hard to miss. The 17-acre theme park fits snugly along Interstate 10 in Redlands and lies a block from the San Bernardino County Museum.

"It looks very cool from the freeway," said Regina James, who brought her 2-year-old granddaughter to the park after being enticed by the unique facade.

The pyramid-shaped architecture, the tangled mass of water slides, a castle-shaped miniature golf mountain with four courses and a 120-foot Skycoaster have created a prominent visual landmark in this sparsely populated area of San Bernardino County. The entryway is distinguished by a two-story likeness of King Tut's face.

Pharaoh's, which opened in 1996, differs from other Southern California theme parks in that visitors have the option to pay as they go on rides and attractions or to purchase passes for limited or unlimited access.

A group of sixth-graders from Carmel Elementary in Hesperia raised enough money for an end-of-the-year field trip to the Lost Kingdom. They boarded the midway rides, bumper boats and race cars before venturing indoors to play arcade games.

Three 12-year-old Carmel students who were taking in the sights together didn't agree on what was best about the park, but their enthusiasm was shared. "Swinging on the Pharaoh's boat, that was cool," said Travis Foster. "The Grand Prix race cars were the best," said Ricky Seielstad. "I liked the laser tag," countered Rudy Gomez.

Victoria Johnson, a bus driver who drove the students from Hesperia to the park, was just as giddy as the students over the race cars and the Tomb of Doom, where the kids and adults zapped one another in a friendly but frenzied game of laser tag.

Considering the distance to Southern California's major theme parks and the long lines once one gets there, Johnson said Pharaoh's Lost Kingdom is a nice alternative. "It does get crowded sometimes, but it's never overcrowded," she said, "and there are always enough [arcade] machines."

The theme park is divided into three main areas: a midway, an indoor arcade and a water park. There's also an outdoor amphitheater, where free summer concerts are held (the next one is May 19, featuring the Valley College Kicks Band). The arcade is a massive room with dozens of machines, from air hockey to full-motion games, including Aqua Jets, Alpine Racers and Propcycles, which require so much physical exertion that you could probably get an aerobic workout if you played long enough. Also indoors is Tut's Town, a controlled area where there are slides, a ball pit, a three-story climbing apparatus and other playthings for toddlers.

The second floor holds banquet rooms and a lounge, complete with bar and two pool tables, where wedding receptions, reunions, business meetings and catered functions are held. Private rooms are set aside downstairs for birthday parties, and a picnic area outside accommodates up to 650.

In the summertime, Pharaoh's Waterworld is the "hottest" area of the park. A sandy beach, beach volleyball, activity pools for youngsters and the inner-tube ride down the Nile offer a relaxing oasis from the Inland Empire heat.

More adventurous types can brave the Free Fall or the Bullet Slide or team up with buddies to ride inner tubes down the Raft Flute. The Annihilator, the "world's tallest and fastest" enclosed water slide, reopened this week after modifications to improve its safety. The slide is 87 feet high, with speeds of up to 50 mph.

"There's nothing like this around this area for kids," said Regina James of East Highland.

James' granddaughter, Courtney, played in the foot-deep Fantasy Island pool designed for the smallest visitors, which has smaller slides, squirting hoses and jungle gyms in the center of a 1-foot wading pool. The Forgotten Lagoon, a 3 1/2-foot-deep play area that's more appealing to older children, offers bigger slides, a climbing apparatus and other water activities. For adults, there are cabanas available to rent with food service and a nearby hot tub.

Local boogie boarders have found refuge in Pharaoh's Riptide. The continuous wave makes for a great practice ground for boarders to spin, slide and glide.

"This is the main thing I come here for," said Chris Vierra, 14, dripping wet and pumped with adrenaline after a ride on the rushing wall of water. He and his friend, Evan Perez, don their wetsuits and ride the Riptide every day after school (both boys are students at San Gorgonio High School).

"I like the ocean more, but this is fun," said Perez, 15, who skimmed the surface and spun his board around like a top on the wave. He visits Pharaoh's during the week, then tackles real ocean waves on weekends.

A season pass to the water park is $44.95 ($49.95 after June 1) or $99.95 for a family of three ($149.95 after June 1) and is good through October.

"It's worth it," said Kathy Bassil, who lounged at the water's edge while daughters Katarina, 3, and Danielle, 2, splashed in the pool and played on the slides. "For summertime I think they're going to enjoy the water park the most. . . . I know I'm going to enjoy it the most."

BE THERE

Pharaoh's Lost Kingdom, 1100 California St., Redlands. Sundays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to midnight. Admission is free; individual attractions $5; midway pass, ages 2 to 10, $10.95; 11 and older, $14.95; Waterworld, ages 2 to 10, $10.95; adults, $14.95 (parents, chaperons and other non-sliders, $5); unlimited pass (includes water park, midway, all attractions), ages 2 to 10, $19.95; 11 and older, $29.95. Information: (909) 335-7275.

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