Can Atlantic City’s Island Waterpark Be The Rising Tide That Lifts All Boats?

Written By David Danzis on June 7, 2023 - Last Updated on June 30, 2023
overlooking island waterpark at showboat atlantic city

Atlantic City’s indoor water park at the Showboat Hotel is already patching up leaks. Figuratively speaking, of course.

Days after multiple reports of an opening date and ticket prices were widely published, Island Waterpark is saying both pieces of information are inaccurate.

A representative for Island Waterpark contacted PlayNJ shortly after an original version of this story was posted at noon on June 7. The story has since been updated.

According to the company rep, Island Waterpark does not have an announced opening date but it will be sometime this summer. As for the daily rate, the rep said admission prices will be adjusted seasonally.

Media outlets picked up on a tweet from local Atlantic City economist Jim Kennedy, who accessed Island’s ticket calendar and took a screenshot of his findings. Kennedy’s tweet showed July 24 as the first available date for ticket purchasing at a price of $100 per person.

List of ‘indoor, beachfront’ water parks is…pretty short

It reportedly cost $100 million to construct the 103,000-square-foot attraction. The project’s developer says it is the “world’s largest” indoor beachfront water park. It features multiple slides, a lazy river, a wave rider, a children’s area, an adults-only pool with a swim-up bar and food concessions.

Island Waterpark is the centerpiece (of sorts) of a broader effort to expand Atlantic City’s appeal beyond gambling and casinos. Online gambling and nearby states with casinos have taken some of the shine off AC’s glitzy beachfront resorts. Offering options for nongamblers and families seems like a logical approach to stimulating the local economy.

However, nothing in AC is ever that cut-and-dry.

An indoor, year-round water park in AC probably has the potential to be successful. But there’s also probably a reason (or reasons) why it doesn’t have a lot of competition for the title of “world’s largest indoor beachfront water park.”

No such thing as a sure thing in Atlantic City

For starters, the pricey entry fee is already raising some eyebrows. Social media commenters under news articles about Island’s opening date quickly pointed out that several nearby water parks offer a cheaper season pass rate, and almost all have lower daily rates.

A $90 season pass at Six Flags Great Adventure buys unlimited access to both the theme park and Hurricane Harbor for the entire summer. It also includes parking and discounted food and merchandise.

At Big Kahuna, an indoor/outdoor park close to Philadelphia, a daily pass is $32 during the week and $39 on weekends. A full season pass is $70.

The three big water parks in the Poconos (Camelback, Kalahari and Great Wolf Lodge) and Mountain Creek in Vernon ($50 day/$70 season) all offer better deals than Island Waterpark’s proposed $100 per day rate.

Dreamwork’s Water Park at the American Dream mega-mall in East Rutherford is the only comparable pricing structure in the region. Considering American Dream’s well-documented and lengthy financial troubles, that may not be a comforting comparison for those betting on Island Waterpark.

Island Waterpark: From Philly, with love

But Bart Blatstein, owner of the Showboat and CEO of Tower Investments, is forging ahead with his latest venture in Atlantic City. The Philly-based developer has spent the last several years pumping millions of dollars into Atlantic City with mixed results.

Blatstein’s first big AC hoorah was in 2015 when he took over the Playground Pier from Caesars Entertainment. He boasted of wanting to spend more than $50 million on a multi-faceted entertainment complex with restaurants, bars, shopping and live music.

By 2019, the three-story venue had less than a dozen tenants. In 2020, Caesars Entertainment re-acquired the pier.

The Garden Pier, between Showboat and Ocean Casino Resort, became Blatstein’s property in 2017. The pier occasionally hosts live events, such as wrestling matches, but it’s mostly dormant.

Bartman is here to save the day

In 2016, Blatstein spent $23 million to rescue Showboat from a calamitous deal between Caesars and Stockton University.

Showboat had been a high-performing Boardwalk casino until Caesars shut it down in 2014 to eliminate competition to its other AC gambling parlors. Caesars tried to unload the vacant facility to Stockton, which had planned to use Showboat as an anchor for its AC expansion. For multiple reasons, the deal fell through, people lost their jobs and Showboat was bought for pennies on the dollar.

A deed restriction thwarted Blatstein’s efforts to return casino gambling to Showboat. At one time, he floated the idea of building a sports betting-centric venue on the vacant site next to Showboat to get around the deed restriction.

That empty lot is where Island Waterpark now sits.

No dice for Showboat…or cards, or slots, or sports

Blatstein appears to have thrown in the towel on gambling (for now). The bulk of his attention has been on restoring some of Showboat’s lost charm.

Tower Investments has spent millions renovating hotel rooms and converting an entire tower into apartments. The Lucky Snake Arcade opened in 2021. An indoor go-kart track inside the hotel opened last year.

Time will judge whether those projects are successful or not. So far, the results, much like Blatstein’s other AC endeavors, are mixed.

Several residents of the Showboat’s apartments have spoken highly of their experiences, either online or in person. The modern amenities, convenient location and market-rate pricing are all mentioned as upsides.

The Lucky Snake will face direct competition later this year when Dave & Buster’s makes its long-overdue debut in Atlantic City. The adult-oriented arcade chain is opening at the corner of Atlantic and Missouri avenues, right where the AC Expressway drops incoming traffic, in October.

Big test comes in 2024 – and beyond

Island Waterpark should have a successful inaugural season. The highly anticipated project will attract families, thrill-seekers and AC enthusiasts all summer.

It also has the added benefit of good timing. Four casinos are celebrating milestone anniversaries this summer, and the city’s gambling executives are predicting big crowds.

But there are still plenty of questions left to be answered.

Can an indoor water park in AC attract enough visitors in the shoulder season to survive? Will the park’s operators maintain the rides and equipment when things inevitably break down? Will city residents, especially AC’s younger population, see any benefit from this project?

The big test for Island Waterpark will be when the summer tourists go home and the novelty wears off.

Update: The new AC waterpark won’t open on June 30th as planned and has been delayed.

Photo by Island Waterpark Instagram
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David Danzis

David Danzis is the lead writer for PlayNJ. He is a New Jersey native and honors graduate of Rutgers University. As a newspaper reporter for the New Jersey Herald and Press of Atlantic City, David earned statewide awards for his coverage of politics, government, education, sports, and business. Today, he is PlayNJ’s Atlantic City “insider” and gaming industry expert on casinos, sports betting, and online gambling. David lives in Atlantic County, NJ with his wife and two children.

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