If you’ve ever spent time at a water park or a resort, you’ve probably seen a lazy river. You may have even grabbed an inner tube and gone for a little ride yourself. Lazy rivers are comfortable, relaxing experiences, but have you ever wondered where they came from?
How did this concept become so popular? Where did it begin, and where is it going? We’re here to go over the complete long-winding history of lazy rivers and give you an idea of the slow, smooth-flowing journey of these iconic fixtures.
In 1930, Hoagy Carmichael and Sidney Arodin published a tune called “(Up A) Lazy River.” The song captured the relaxing sensations of floating through a gentle current with the lyrics, “Throw away your troubles. Dream a dream with me.”
“(Up A) Lazy River” quickly became a staple of jazz music with covers from iconic musicians like Louis Armstrong, The Mills Brothers, and Bobby Darin. The song came out around 40 years before the lazy river became a commonly used term for these rides. While it may not connect directly to the lazy rivers that we’re familiar with, the song surely played a part in their rising popularity.
One of the earliest recorded examples of a lazy river as a ride is from 1941. An entrepreneur named David Breault owned a popular nightclub in Somerset, Wisconsin, called the Terrance Nite Club. One day, Breault had an ingenious idea to raise awareness for his business.
One hot July Sunday, Breault set up shop down at the local Apple River, where he supplied inner tubes to anyone who wanted to go for a lazy river ride. Guests were able to enjoy the gentle currents, drink beer, and spend time with loved ones for 45 minutes, or as long as it took for their tubes to reach the base of the river and come to a stop.
The genius part was that at the base of the river was a truck with a big sign on it advertising Breault’s nightclub. The truck was waiting there to drive anybody who wanted to go for another ride back up to the top, where they could do it all over again. This stunt didn’t just give people an afternoon of fun in the sun but also drew traffic to Breault’s club. Business was booming shortly after this event.
The idea of lounging in a lazy river wasn’t just popular in America. The concept even has ties to Thai royalty. Princess Chumbhot of Nagar Svarga may have popularized the trend overseas. She originally started the lazy river around her palace moat as a social event for her friends and other people of high status.
One day, she began charging five baht to anyone who wanted to rent a tube and enjoy the lazy river experience for a while. The Princess turned this into a profitable enterprise and brought a lot of happiness to the people as well.
While most of Princess Chumhot’s efforts seemed to take place throughout the 1950s, the story and idea gained popularity overseas thanks to an issue of Sports Illustrated from 1965 that helped raise awareness of the lazy river phenomenon.
When looking at the complete long-winding history of lazy rivers, you may notice that everything so far has just been isolated incidents or promotions. When did lazy rivers become the iconic attractions that we see in so many resorts or water parks?
In the 1970s, an American businessman named George Millay trademarked the phrase “lazy river.” Millay already had a reputation for water-based attractions since founding SeaWorld, and many people consider Millay as one of the leading pioneers of what we know today as a waterpark.
One of the first commercial waterparks was Wet ‘n Wild Orlando in 1977. In the earliest days, these types of waterparks were primarily slides and heavy wave pools, but there wasn’t much in the way of slower, more relaxing rides. Millay believed that in order for waterparks to succeed, they couldn’t be all roller coasters; there had to be some slow rides akin to a carousel or Ferris wheel.
In the 1980s, Millay introduced the first two commercial lazy rivers at two Wet ‘n Wild locations, one in Orlando and the other in Arlington, Texas. The slower, relaxing current that let people float around in water tubes was an immediate success, and reportedly the only concern was that they’d made the rides too small because they were frequently packed with people.
Lazy rivers soon became commonplace at most waterparks throughout the 80s and 90s. Lazy rivers offered a nice alternative to the fast-paced rush of many other waterpark rides. These rivers were fun for the whole family, something that anyone could enjoy to cool off and relax. They were a good cooldown ride between other attractions and gave visitors an opportunity to get off their feet and still enjoy the park.
The most ironic thing about lazy rivers is that they started as low-energy rides designed to give people a break. But many waterparks in America have lazy rivers that don’t feel so lazy anymore. As trends changed and guests started requesting more from lazy rivers, parks had to make some adjustments. Many modern lazy rivers have gimmicks or themes to make them more active and involved, such as faster currents, waterfalls, whirlpools, and anything else to make it more of a ride for guests.
While lazy rivers have become more intense at waterparks, many commercial resorts and residential lazy rivers focus on the classic design of a slow-moving current where guests can float in a loop for hours on end. The earliest interpretations of the lazy river will always have a place so long as people enjoy the feeling of drifting along in a tube and staring at the blue skies up above.
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