Anyone nostalgic for the funk and spunk of a ‘70s disco should hustle on over to Wet 'n Wild in Orlando, FL, where a new water ride, Disco H2O, evokes the golden age of disco lighting in a 32-second water ride. “Wet 'n Wild wanted a new approach to their attraction design,” says LD Tony Hansen, the resident designer at Techni-Lux in Orlando. “I have been designing theme park attractions for eight years and was asked to give them some new thoughts.”

The end result is a floating disco with color-changing low-voltage lighting designed with low maintenance in mind. The lighting scheme is based around the Pulsar stainless steel ChromaScape color-changing LED fixture that is equivalent to a PAR36. “They look like little PAR cans yet are fully submergible and waterproof to a depth of five meters,” notes Hansen.

Disco H2O is a fast-paced water ride that launches four-person rubber rafts from the top of an 80' tower. “You are looking into a long tunnel, like the tunnel that leads into many discotheques,” explains Hansen, who used Pulsar ChromaFlood color-changing LEDs to light the tunnel. The raft then drops into an enclosed “bowl” full of swirling water. After a spin in the dancing waters of the psychedelic disco, riders are “flushed” back into daylight via an alley with a waterfall into a collection pool. (The ride has a lifeguard in the bowl, in case a rider falls out of the raft, but if one does, he just goes down the “flush” into the open-air pool.)

Inside the bowl, the disco-style lighting rig includes 100 low-voltage, IP-65-rated stainless steel LED fixtures including Pulsar ChromaScapes, ChromaStrips, ChromaFloods, ChromaSpheres, and ChromaCubes. The rig is hung on two concentric circles of circular 12" Optikinetics truss, with the outer ring 27' in diameter and the inner ring 14' in diameter. “The truss is lacquered for extra protection in the harsh chlorine-laden environment,” notes Hansen.

To echo a true disco rig, the fixtures are fitted with custom brackets and clamps like PAR cans on a rock-and-roll rig. And since no true ‘70s disco could be complete without a mirror ball, Disco H2O has three 30" mirror balls, also lacquered to withstand the elements in the ride. The ride is enclosed like a club and could be a rather funky disco when the water is turned off.

“The fixtures are hard to get to for maintenance,” says Hansen, referring to the potentially very slippery, polished fiberglass walls of the bowl that are sloped, to boot, not to mention the troughs for the water. That is one good reason for the long-life low-voltage fixtures (even the motors for the mirror balls are low-voltage) with a maximum lamp life expectancy of 10 years. And access is difficult: even with the water turned off, you still have to exit via the collection pool.

Another prime reason for the use of these fixtures is that Florida regulations forbid high-voltage lighting to be suspended over water. The fixtures are color changing, but not automated, i.e. no moving lights. “Not too many discos had moving heads in the ‘70s,” says Hansen.

“The movement in the lighting comes from the mirror balls,” he adds. Low-voltage PAR36 pin spots, custom made by Techni-Lux, add sparkle to the mirror balls. These operate via remote transformers. “We had to figure in line loss when building the transformers, as some of the cables run 80' to 100' to the electrical box located under the bowl. We used extra long cables to avoid breaks in the chlorine-filled environment.”

Getting enough power for the lighting rig was a potential challenge, as there was a limit allotted to the ride, and with 17,000 gallons of water per minute, the pumps took up most of the power. “We were limited to three 20A breakers,” says Hansen. In the end, this was not a problem, as the entire lighting system uses just one 20A breaker for a total of 132 fixtures and the three mirror balls.

The computer that runs the show is located in a pump room under the launch tower, where there are racks for lighting, audio, and video (for security purposes) equipment. The audio design includes ‘70s disco banter for the queue line, including an interview with the bouncer. The soundtrack in the ride is a best-of ‘70s disco collection, ranging from Queen and ABBA to Earth, Wind, and Fire.

Hansen used WYSIWYG and its visualization suite with ShowCAD Artist to design and program the lighting as the ride was being built. “We got the job by creating a visualization, or 32-second animation, of the whole ride,” says Hansen (this animation can be seen at www.techni-lux.com). “This project was hard to envision, but we were able to present the concept to the client this way.”

Each lighting sequence is less than 30 seconds, so riders see more than one lighting look as they go through the ride (chances are they'll also hear part of more than one song). “The show-control is PC-based and randomly picks the lighting sequence for each ride. “Many of the lighting sequences are music-driven for an organic feel,” says Hansen. “Every time you go through, you get a different experience. The lighting is colorful and very chase-driven to really go for the ‘70s disco look. It's almost roller-rink style lighting. The looks are big and exaggerated so people can see the changes in the lighting as they fly by at 30 miles per hour.”

Disco H2O has quickly become one of the most popular of Wet ‘n Wild's water attractions, with people happily waiting up to two hours and soaking wet, getting right back in line for another go at it. “It is really a water ride with a disco in it,” says Hansen. “The name is quite descriptive.” Why a ‘70s disco? “It could have just as well been a 21st-century rave club, but the ‘70s theme is popular throughout the park. Wet 'n Wild was built in the ‘70s and has stood still in time in terms of its overall feel. And the ‘70s discos have a nostalgia thing going on. Adults remember them.”

The design of the lighting system means it could be adapted for special events or for holidays, with red and green for a Christmas party, for example. “By changing the software for the music and lighting, you can re-theme the entire ride,” says Hansen. “It's very flexible.”