Waterpark Pioneer Tells All, A Book Review

Wave Maker

If the guy on the cover of “The Wave Maker,” Tim O’Brien’s as-told-to biography of the creator of Wet ‘n Wild and SeaWorld, looks like he’s been through the wringer, it’s because he has.

The Wave Maker” is the story of a man who believed in himself, who never thought of giving up, even when faced with health set backs that would have sidelined most of us. He had in his arsenal a tremendous sense of creativity, a strong work ethic, and an unshakeable belief that his ambitious projects would reach a successful conclusion.

George Millay, for that is the name of the battered survivor on the book’s cover, is a visionary, an innovative, restive, and determined risk-taker who created two major theme park genres.

In 1964, coming off an already successful career as a restaurateur, Millay founded SeaWorld San Diego. In 1977, he crafted Wet ‘n Wild Orlando, the world’s first waterpark.

In 1971, he was the creative force behind the development of Magic Mountain theme park, in Valencia, California. By the time he left SeaWorld in 1974, Millay had opened SeaWorld parks near Cleveland, Ohio and in Orlando, Florida.

When Millay sold his waterparks in 1998, there were seven Wet ‘n Wilds in operation — in Brazil, Mexico, and the United States.

Known today as “the father of the waterpark industry,” Millay’s colorful life is laid bare in this 352-page biography. He speaks openly of the people, the deals, and the events that shaped him as an individual and that made his parks innovative masterpieces. This is the complete story: from the conception to the completion of these groundbreaking (or should that be waterbreaking?) parks.

O’Brien charts Millays incredible business success, his relationship with his wife and children, his emotions, his fears, his feelings. Here, too, are Millay’s life-long prejudices and a blow-by-blow account of his fall from grace at SeaWorld. It’s a warts-and-all portrait that is the very antithesis of the usual corporate puff pieces that pass for business biographies these days.

Anyone who has thrilled to Shamu or swooped down a water slide will find this a fascinating read. And theme park aficionados will want to give this tell-all volume pride of place on their shelves.