Keep the family hydrated to the max and stay cool all summer long at Tulsa's bigger, better water park, Safari Joe's H2O. Safari Joe's H2O is more than just a place to cool off during the dog days of Oklahoma summer, which are legendary for their sweat-inducing temperatures. It’s a staycation waiting to happen with a variety of rides, foods, animal attractions, events and more to keep the whole family entertained. In addition to the water slides, visitors to Safari Joe’s H2O can enjoy a variety of other entertaining activities. There’s a wave pool for those who love to body surf, and for those who like a slower-paced form of fun, you can take a “cruise” on Lazy River. Younger children can enjoy the park’s shallow pool area and playground. There are even animal attractions — exotic birds, tortoises and possibly reptiles.
In nearly 30 years of keeping swimmers and splashers safe, the head lifeguard at Safari Joe’s H2O Water Park has seen a complete evolution of the place, and visitors will notice the effects this summer.
“When I first started in ‘90, we had one robotic vacuum, and it was an antique,” says Bill VonThaden, head lifeguard at Safari Joe’s H2O.
Now, basically everything is automated and computerized. VonThaden has picked up some different job titles as well. He has taken over pool maintenance and operations of tube and locker rental areas.
The park opened for the 2018 season last month, and it didn’t take long for patrons to notice some things are different — though maybe not at first sight. Meg McGuire, Safari Joe’s operations manager, says that behind the scenes, park staff has been working to make updates to the rides. “You’ll feel the effects,” McGuire says.
Safari Joe’s H2O is more than just a place to cool off during the intense Oklahoma summer. In addition to water slides, visitors can enjoy a variety of activities. There’s a wave pool for those who love to body surf. For those who like a slower-paced form of fun, you can take a cruise on the Lazy River. Younger children can enjoy the park’s shallow pool area and playground.
Cleaner, safer water for visitors“We’ve been making upgrades the last three-and-a-half years,” VonThaden says.
“The chlorination system is fully-automated. We’re rebuilding one of the pump houses completely. Everything underground is going to be new,” he says. “We’re going to have all new motors, filters, pumps and plumbing.”
All the automated equipment throughout the park is controlled by a computer in the front office. VonThaden says that, though the staff still checks the chemical levels in the pools manually every two hours, the computer is likely to be first to notice when something is off.
“The water is tested as it runs through the pipes. Twenty-four hours a day, your water is right,” he says.
McGuire says other updates will amount to a safer and more secure visit to Safari Joe’s H2O, like the new life jackets sponsored by Metro PCS.
This is the second year visitors will have access to digital lockers. The park added 100 this season. Technology has extended even into the ticketing system, so visitors can leave soggy money and season passes at home.
RidesLast season’s new ride made a big splash. This is the second year for the Reptile Rush, a set of three slides that are the pinnacle of the park and hard to miss from even a distance. But this season there’s a new ride, and it’s Oklahoma’s only water roller coaster. The Reptile Rapids is big, and its twists and turns make for a wild ride.
One of the more notable attractions is the H20 Wave Pool. It holds a whopping 650,000 gallons of water, making it one of the largest in the Southwest. That amounts to 24,000 square feet of mellow waves just waiting for you and your tube. It takes four days to fill the wave pool.
Food and other attractionsYou don’t have to leave the park to grab a bite to eat. Jimmy Hula’s now has a place at Safari Joe’s H2O. The franchise restaurant that specializes in fish tacos and burgers started in Florida.
By way of beverages, Josh’s Sno Shack is coming to the park this summer. You can cool off with a smorgasbord of sno-cone flavors. And there’s something just for the adult visitors, too: Shark Beach Bar, which has both indoor and outdoor space so you can watch the kids swim while you cool off with an adult beverage.
Then there are the animals. Tropical birds greet you once you enter the park, including Blue, McGuire’s favorite bird. She says even more animals are joining the park this year.
The emus are hilarious. Like an ostrich but from the continent of Australia rather than Africa, they strut around bopping their heads. McGuire says they play with one another and with staff. The tortoises dwell with the emus in the same space, but they seem to keep to themselves.
Safari Joe’s H2O has recurring events, including concerts weekly and shows like Tropical Illusions. For June, the main special event at the park is the Hot Rods and Reptiles Car Show, an event for Father’s Day. The 1950s theme promises to make it an exciting event. In addition to looking at cool cars, attendees can enjoy a pin-up costume contest and live music.
World-class lifeguarding staffBecoming a lifeguard at Safari Joe’s H2O, like at most large water parks, isn’t a matter of a one-and-done test. Lifeguards are consistently trained, tested and observed to ensure they are the best ones for the jobs. Staffers follow guidelines from an international lifeguard and water park association.
Lifeguards have to renew their license every year and are required to complete four hours of in-service training every month.
Ellis and Associates, an international aquatic safety and risk management consulting firm, certifies VonThaden and his park assistant as lifeguard instructors. Ellis and Associates does three undercover audits every summer. They secretly film 13 of the lifeguards, and the staff is tested on a back-boarding scenario, a CPR scenario and several different rescues.
“In the past two years, we were in the top 30 percent, receiving a silver award from the [international] association. Three years ago was the bronze award in the top 40 percent. We’ve been in the top 30 [percent] for the last two years,” VonThaden says.
“What makes a good lifeguard is that they are watching every square foot of their water — top, middle and bottom. We’re looking for a consistent pattern that they are scanning. It takes a self-disciplined person to do that.”
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