In Foley, Alabama, OWA Parks & Resort has continued to expand their Tropic Falls waterpark. Owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the theme park boasts some 520-acres of attractions including rides, food and drink, a resort, and water attractions.
Considering OWA itself is named for the Creek word that means large waters, it is no surprise that the heart of the park is Tropic Falls waterpark. Along with 23 different theme park rides, the resort now includes the largest waterpark in the region with a convertible roof adjoining the new-this-year outdoor waterpark. This combo is the only one of its kind in the U.S.
According to Kristin Hellmich, OWA's director of strategy and media communications, Tropic Falls was designed to create the feeling of “being in a tropical destination,” from vividly colorful murals to lush landscaping. But it is the indoor/outdoor waterpark that is the biggest draw. Designer and manufacturer OpenAire worked with OWA to create a space that was expansive and could capture “sea breezes…from the Gulf of Mexico” just ten minutes from the park's location.
The retractable roof experience is not just unique to the park, but to the designer, as this was the first building they had constructed in this country with both a retractable roof and wall. OceanAire's director of design and business development, Nancy Patterson relates that the company is proud of the structure, with the wall reaching 128-feet wide and 26-feet in height. “The blue glass walls enhance the underwater theme…[the] opening wall promotes incredible flow for guests from the indoor to the outdoor waterpark zones.”
The park's indoor space includes 11 different waterslides, including a large multi-story play structure for kids with a massive water dumping bucket, as well as a lazy river, and an iconic octopus structure that lights up at night. In the recently added outdoor addition, guests will find the park's wave pool, surf simulator, and dining.
The indoor waterpark property also has a unique, space saving feature: a basement. The construction of the subterranean level allows “very high-velocity slides, Hellmich says, such as the park's mat racer, tube slide, funnel tube slide, plummet body slide and skybox body slide, to all run out underground. This configuration allowed the park to add more water attractions to the area.
As big as the park's recent expansion has been, there's more ahead, with a new RV resort nearing completion for guests. Nestled in the woods for quiet, guests will also be able to use a golf cart to drive into the park's downtown area if they wish. When that project is completed, a second hotel offering 150 rooms will be added. The hotel will be adjacent to the waterpark directly for a linked hotel and waterpark experience. It will be yet another additional phase within Tropic Falls water and theme parks.
Looking farther ahead, the park is also discussing additional attractions for its theme park area in the next several years, future planning which fits well with the park's variety of phased attraction openings over the last 4 years.
The original 520-acre theme park first opened in 2017, beginning with 21 rides and two dining areas. Since then, OWA has added two more rides and enhanced the entertainment and dining options in the park's downtown area. 2019 saw the addition of the OWA Theater, a 430-seat facility that opened with a rock n' roll “Legends in Concert” show, as well as the introduction of the Mystic Mansion dark ride, an interactive experience replete with a “ghost-blaster.”
In 2021, Gravity Island Watersports opened the slip and slide Aqua Play obstacle courses at the lake at OWA. Then, in 2022, the Tropic Falls indoor water park opened.
This year, just in time for Spring Break on the Alabama coast, OWA opened the park's outdoor space, which when combined with the indoor attractions, offers a wide variety of water play options. The 30,000-square-foot outdoor Big Water Bay wave pool constructed by Cox Pools, and the Coastal Curl surf simulator are both big draws for guests, with the simulator offering a state-of-the-art curl. The park also now features a large beach area with seating and cabanas, and a tropically themed dining venue, the Breakers Bar & Grill, which serves up both food and drinks such as frozen chocolate bananas, seasoned beef and queso cheese-topped “Maui Fries,” burgers including an Impossible vegan burger option, and tropically fitting cocktails from a Blue Hawaiian to a frozen margarita.
The park has also placed a stage at the top of the wave pool area, used for both live performances and film presentations on a 48-foot LED screen. The outdoor expansion cost approximately $70 million in all.
With Big Water Bay and Coastal Curl, Tropic Falls is now the biggest water-park attraction in the Gulf Coast area. Cody Williamson, president and CEO of Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority terms the expansion “evidence of our continued commitment to seeing our vision through at OWA.”
The Poarch are committed to the tribe, the community, and to a wide-ranging family demographic at Tropic Falls, from grandparents to children and extended family groups. Aiming for inclusive appeal, the park offers other options along with the waterpark and theme park thrills, including entertainment and dining at the park's downtown area theaters, and the relaxing cabanas and beach.