Plunging Into Aquatics

Pirates Bay Waterpark, located in Baytown, Texas, opened its first season on June 23, 2010. Located only 30 minutes east of Houston, the waterpark provides an opportunity to cool down from the extreme heat, and is the largest municipally owned waterpark in southeast Texas.

During its short first season, the waterpark entertained over 70,000 visitors from Baytown and surrounding areas.

In 2006, parks and recreation employees convinced city leaders of the need for a master plan to focus on the future of aquatics in the community. Baytown officials retained the firms of Kimley-Horn and Associates and Counsilman-Hunsaker to prepare the master plan, which identified and evaluated current aquatic programming, and created a needs analysis for aquatic spaces based on the findings.

Community support for the master plan was high, as evidenced when community members overwhelmingly approved $9.3 million for aquatic facilities in the largest park-bond election ever in November 2007. An additional $6 million from the city’s half-cent sales tax provided over $15 million for citywide aquatic projects.

Following the advice in the master plan, construction started on a new waterpark--the centerpiece for aquatic programming--on January 27, 2009. Despite weather-related construction delays, the waterpark opened 17 months later with resounding success.

Growing With Gusto

Throughout this process, the major challenge for parks and recreation staff has been the transition from never managing an aquatic program to operating a full-service waterpark in less than six months.

Baytown hired its first Aquatics Coordinator in December 2009, and by the end of May 2010 had hired and trained more than 150 lifeguards, concession workers and customer-service employees. Staff set up recruiting booths at four local high schools during the month of January, and over 200 applications were received. Staff trained and certified lifeguards, and all new hires were trained in customer service.

The city’s Human Resources and Finance Department assisted park staff with additional training on cash-handling procedures to ensure the fiscal responsibility of the park. The customer-service training paid off in daily compliments about the friendliness of the park staff.

In The Water

Pirates Bay Waterpark features attractions for all ages. Upon entering the facility, visitors are greeted by Landlubber’s Lagoon, a zero-depth entry pool with three slides, colorful spray nozzles, squirt guns and a giant pirate-themed dump bucket.

To travel around the park, guests may utilize the 671-foot Blackbeard’s Lazy River, which has drop-off points near each of the two major slide towers.

The main slide tower features the Snap Dragon and Kraken tube slides, the Diabolito space bowl and the Marauder--a four-lane, head-first mat racer. The secondary slide tower features the Barnacle Boris and Captain Scurvy body slides.

After an exhilarating race down the twin body slides, guests find themselves in the middle of a shipwreck on Treasure Isle, a splash deck surrounded by the lazy river.

Treasure Isle boasts another pirate-themed play feature with slides, spray nozzles and squirt guns. The island also includes water cannons and a treasure chest. Perfect for little guests, the island does not have any standing water; all of the water from the play feature spills into the lazy river, creating waterfalls onto the guests below.

Castaway Cove, the second zero-depth entry pool, is located at the rear of the park. This remote, yet relaxing destination, features spraying palm trees, a rain drop and plenty of shade and lounge chairs, which make it the perfect spot for those looking for a quiet place to escape.

For those looking for a challenge, Pollywog’s Pond is the place to go. The four-lane lap pool is flexible enough to be an adventurer’s dream. This interactive pool features a basketball hoop, a water crosswalk and a climbing wall, and is the location for the park’s popular “Dive-In Movie” nights. Also, a volleyball net can be stretched across the pool for special events.

The thrill and excitement of the ocean surf await those who dare to catch a wave on the park’s most popular attraction, the FlowRider. The attraction creates endless enjoyment as Pirates Bay allows stand-up riding and offers lessons.

On Land

After all of the excitement, visitors can enjoy a refreshing beverage and meal at The Galley, a concession stand that offers a variety of items, including hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza and nachos. Guests may bring coolers into the park; however, alcohol and glass containers are not allowed.

Pirates Bay offers an array of rental opportunities. For those who want a shady spot to host a birthday party or family get-together, cabana rentals are available daily. These giant umbrellas allow groups to enjoy the park’s amenities, while offering six, large, shaded picnic tables, perfect for getting out of the sun.

Pirates Bay also offers an indoor, air-conditioned pavilion (including a kitchenette complete with refrigerator, stove, microwave, ice maker and a private restroom), which provides a secure environment for larger parties. The pavilion, available year-round, includes tables and chairs and staff assistance in setup and tear-down.

The aquatic facility’s master plan also recommended another, smaller waterpark and several spray parks to be added in the city. On September 2, 2010, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for Calypso Cove, a smaller waterpark with a community focus.

Located in the southern part of town, it provides residents access to a state-of-the-art waterpark. It will feature a four-lane lap pool, slide tower, water crosswalk, interactive play feature, zero-depth entry pool and water cannons.

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Scott Johnson is the director of the parks and recreation department in Baytown, Texas. He can be reached via e-mail at