It was Heritage Day here in South Africa, during which the many cultures showcase and celebrate their rich and diverse heritage. Or they just have a lekker braai and get super blootered, which I guess is about as South African as it gets. I’m not here to judge. But it’s also a day off work, so we decided we wanted to have some quality family time… writes Phil Maloney from Maple & Marula.
We thought going to a water park would be awesome, but we were a little gun shy. Long before anybody really read my blog, I wrote about going to a local water park that was so hilariously awful it didn’t seem real life. But that was then, and I had just heard there was a brand spanking new water park in Johannesburg – Happy Island!
Happy Island had a soft launch in December of 2018, but then closed down for the winter and had its official opening last weekend.
I checked out the website and the reviews, and it looked incredible! The only complaint people seemed to have was that the lineups were quite long. This was no problem for me, because my South African life hack is to show up right when attractions open. South Africans tend not to be out early unless they have to, and the crowds don’t usually start until noon, at which point we bail. It works all the time, at least 60% of the time.
So that’s exactly what we did. We arrived 5 minutes before opening and sure enough, it was dead quiet. Success!
Until we got to the ticket window. We tried to pay, but they were having problems with the card machine. After several minutes, we were able to pay, but then there were problems with the ticket machine. I felt bad for the flustered cashier when she had to call over a manager to sort out the ticket issue.
After about 10 minutes, we had our tickets in hand, and I was very pleased that we decided to go early and beat the lineups. We handed our barcoded tickets to the employee at the gate who took them and just ripped them to shreds, explaining that the scanner wasn’t working and we could just enter.
OK, still working out some bugs I guess.
Happily inside, we ran into the change-rooms to get ready for the slides.
And holy moly, would I have ever loved to be in the planning meeting when these things were designed:
Boss: How’s the changeroom design coming along?
Engineer: Check it out!
Boss: What are all these sitty down thingies?
Engineer: Oh, those are benches. They’re quite common around the world. People can put their stuff on them and sit on them to help them get changed.
Boss: Take them out.
Engineer: Really? Uh…ok. How many?
Boss: All of them. Get rid of them.
Engineer: But what would we put…
Boss: Showers. Fill the whole thing with showers.
Engineer: OK, but then where do people change?
Boss: In the showers.
Engineer: But there’s nowhere for them to…
Boss: In the showers.
Or at least that’s how I assume it went. Because the changeroom isn’t a changeroom. There are about 670 showers, 4 toilets, and that’s it.
You think I’m kidding?
I guess I shouldn’t complain. Cleanliness can never be over-rated. I’ve never seen such aggressive promotion of good hygiene, but I’m here for it.
If any of the showers actually provided HOT water, it would be even better, but I guess there’s a reason I’m not a water park scientist.
Oh ya, and although the grand opening was just last weekend, the management of the park has successfully managed to make it look about a billionty years old, with tiles falling off the walls and half-finished patches greeting customers. I was impressed with their lack of attention to detail. They managed to let several months pass when they weren’t open to fix up the inevitable hiccup here and there, but actively decided to do…well…nothing.
OK, ok- you’re not here to read about the changerooms that have no changing areas. You’re probably here because you Googled Happy Island Waterworld and you want to know if it’s worth checking out. I get it. Onto the slides!
I’ve got to hand it to Happy Island Waterworld- they’ve filled the park with some truly impressive slides!
We made a beeline for the Behomoth Bowl and the Typhoon, arguably the park’s main attractions. My plan had worked beautifully. It was 9:15am, and there was nobody in line yet. We went to climb the stairs, only to be stopped by a ride attendant.
Ride Attendant: Please wait at the bottom of the stairs.
Me: Ok. No problem. Is there a line up top?
Ride Attendant: No. It doesn’t open until 9:30.
Me: Wait. Didn’t the park open at 9?
Ride Attendant: Yes, but the slides don’t open until 9:30.
Me: Is that because they don’t expect anybody to make it past the broken card and ticket machines for at least half an hour?
Me: Nevermind. We’ll wait.
And as we waited for the rides to open in the already open water park, we read the rules for the slides. Uh oh.
In case the writing is too small to read in this picture, let me help you out:
- You need to be in a group of 4. Not 2, not 3. Exactly 4.
- You have to be in between 1.4 and 1.9 meters in height.
- You have to be over 40kg but under 90kg.
- The total weight of all 4 riders can’t exceed 320kg.
Surely I’m not the only person who sees how this is, well, messed up. Have you ever seen an Afrikaner man? Even the small ones are giants. And when it comes to body mass index, South Africans in general aren’t exactly on the small side. If everybody over 89kg is truly excluded from these slides, that really thins out the herd.
On the other end of the scale, my son is exactly 1.4m tall. But he weighs just under 30kg. So while he meets the height requirement, he’s technically not able to go on the slide.
If you and 3 friends are all the right height and weigh exactly 80kg each, you’re set. If not, you need to do some math or find new friends.
But this is South Africa. Rules are for suckers. With a little bit of convincing, the attendant let all 4 of us on both slides, and we didn’t die, so that’s good. Also, the slides were some of the best I’ve ever been on, and I’m not exaggerating. Happy Island really knocked these out of the park, and if we stayed on just these slides, the review would end here.
But we didn’t, and it doesn’t.
There was a pretty cool trampoline, and the kids wanted to jump for a while. I’m fat and gross and don’t like things like jumping, but there were some speed slides nearby. My wife wanted to try them out, and I could watch both her and the kids at the same time.
The coolest one had a trap door that opens up beneath the rider, plunging them into a dark tunnel that spins into a loop and scares the bejubbers out of anybody brave enough to try it. At least in theory that’s what it does. We don’t know for sure, because it wasn’t open, and nobody could tell us if it would be open in the next few minutes, few hours, few days, or anything with a time attached.
Whatever- this is South Africa. Things happen. The other 2 slides were operational and really fun, so things really weren’t off to a bad start.
And there was even tasteful music playing through concealed speakers scattered throughout the park. I used Shazam to find out what song my kids were listening to.
If you’re surprised to find out a family water park was happily blasting some music by an artist called “Nasty C,” don’t worry. It was totally kid appropriate. Here are some of the lyrics:
“Junior do you like it when I cry? (Huh)
Do you consider my feelings when you lie (Huh)
You put me second to some bitch on the side (What)
You just gon’ let a ride or die die inside (Damn)
You forget I was with you before the racks came
Before these skanks came
Before the plaques came
Before you started getting money and your raps changed
I was with you when you was still thinking about changing your rap name, nigga! …
You cheated too
That was too long ago
One of my dudes
We made it long ago
That makes it cool?
I said I’m sorry though
What the fuck y’all doing all along (huh)
‘Guess I’ve always been a dummy
Bitch I dare you to lie to me to say you told him you love me
And you know what
I should’ve known you were hiding something
You laughed at everything that he said
That nigga wasn’t even funny”
To be fair, if your kids are stupid enough to listen to words, they have no business being at a waterpark.
The next song was by someone else angry at bitches, but such is life, I guess.
Happy Island proudly advertises their 850m long lazy river. What they don’t advertise is that it’s, well…empty.
Again, I’m no water park scientist, but I’d assume these things would be more fun/less painful with some sort of fluids between the concrete bottom and the tube. But what do I know?
It was unseasonably cold this morning, and I saw on the Happy Island website that they had spa pools, so we thought we’d go warm up.
It turns out the spa pools aren’t heated. So it’s like a cold spa. Those exist, right? But it didn’t really matter, because they were empty.
Happy Island also boasts a technologically advanced wave pool. Which operates sometimes. Every 1.5 hours or so, it blasts out 6 waves. Then you need to wait again.
But while you wait, there are several benches and comfortable lounge chairs to relax in.
It not all bad though. There are lots of rides for kids. There are miniature versions of the big slides with completely confusing signage and even more confused lifeguards. Just…look.
The person who designed this sign started off describing the kids’ slide, then cut and pasted the description from the big slides, then just gave up. Essentially, 4 people go down in a big tube. But there are only 2 people allowed at a time. Oh, and also pregnant children should not ride this slide.
The lifeguards weren’t able to explain the rules, but they definitely knew that adults weren’t allowed on the slides, nor was my daughter. Who was allowed on the full-sized adult slides.
I guess it was ok, because there actually are a lot of slides for little kids that will keep them entertained for hours.
And while little kids aren’t allowed on the actual little kids’ slides, they ARE allowed on these, which are really fun for all ages:
There are places to buy food and drinks all around the park, but the one that advertised Chinese food caught our eye. We were pretty much done sliding and the constant thrills punctuated with frequent disappointment had really worked up our appetite.
But guess what the Chinese food building didn’t have? If you guessed Chinese food, you’ve pretty much caught on to how much sense South Africa makes on a daily basis.
The employee informed me that while they didn’t serve Chinese food, they did have ice cream. Which I guess can be Chinese.
On the way out we took a spin on another speed slide that has you hurtling down the slope on a foam mat, and it made up for the lack of Chinese food.
Here’s the thing: Happy Island has a LOT of potential. The rides are varied and numerous, and they appeal to all age groups. The grounds are spacious and mostly clean, and there are plenty of spots to sit and enjoy the food and drinks you can get from one of the many stalls.
But one would think that the Happy Island management would have used the several months during which they were closed after their soft opening last year to make sure everything was up and running for the official opening. And they blew it.
However, if you have at least a decent imagination, you can see how great this park could be. The nearest thing like it is Valley of the Waves at Sun City, which is a 2 hour drive from us.
I’m not going to write off Happy Island. I’ll give it a couple of months and try again. But for now, Happy Island has only a mediocre ending.
*I never get people offering me free crap, so I just write whatever I want about any place I visit. All these views are actually my own. Obviously. Because I’d be super pissed if I gave somebody free tickets and they wrote a review like this.
By Phil Maloney, Maple and Marula
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