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Remembering Kent's lost Floridian tropical paradise Fantaseas Water Park in Dartford


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If you grew up in Kent during the late 1980s and early 1990s you are likely to be familiar with Fantaseas – if not by experience then by reputation.

Billed as Britain's answer to the great American water parks seen in Florida, the largely indoor attraction based in Stone, Dartford, opened in 1989 to much fanfare.

Fantasea Water Park was a popular attraction in Dartford until its closure in 1992.
Fantasea Water Park was a popular attraction in Dartford until its closure in 1992.

At the peak of its fame it boasted six giant slides, wave pool and an outdoor "tropical" heated lagoon, as well as a cafe and video arcade.

There were flumes with terrifying drops and even the lazy river was not for the faint hearted with every chance of getting sucked under a wave.

For adrenaline junkies there were the "The Kamkazi" – a near vertical 15ft plummet into a deep tank of water – and the "Bermuda Triangle" which required the careful navigation of swirling whirlpools.

A £5 entry fee for a wrist band would gain you entry for 12 hours up until 10.30pm.

One nostalgic former park-goer eager to make a splash at the time was Chris Welch, from St Mary's Cray.

One of the inside pools at Fantaseas pictured in 1989
One of the inside pools at Fantaseas pictured in 1989

"We used to go every Sunday without fail," recalls the 46-year-old of the trip he would make from Orpington to Dartford with his best friend as a teenager.

"It seemed like forever back then but looking back it was only about a year."

At the park's apex he describes the "Wipeout", a huge flume that was "super fast and had a notorious left turn bend" just before you come out.

"Next to it you had the 'Doom Tube' built a year or so after Fantaseas opened," he adds. "To enter the tube you had to lay down as the entrance was so small but very fast."

Chris now works as the manager of a trampoline park, but says few attractions today can match the excitement and allure of Fantaseas.

"The only thing that compares is Florida or the Siam Water Park in Tenerife," he said.

Fantaseas was an imposing structure and a local landmark until it was torn down and converted into housing
Fantaseas was an imposing structure and a local landmark until it was torn down and converted into housing

"We would talk about it at school every Monday morning. Getting a big packet of chips there that we would cake in ketchup."

Many recall visiting the attraction on school trips but others shared more mischievous musings.

"There wasn't anything like it – it was totally unique to the country," says Justin Jones, 46, from Allington, near Maidstone.

At the tender age of 16 the former West Kent College student remembers packing into a pal's car for the journey from Tonbridge.

"I remember being part of a group of four who bunked off to go for the day and there were not that many people," he said.

"We only went there that week but it has always stayed in my memory."

But what stands out most besides the endless trips on the flumes was the park's lax dress code, he says.

With a wet towel draped around his waist Justin spent hours drying off in the arcade and playing classics such as Golden Axe.

"It was great because you didn't have to get changed. They let you play, even in your swim shorts," the dad-of-two added.

Of course zooming around the park on big rubber rings was not without fear of collision and one or two trips were taken to the local minor injuries unit.

Was it fun? Absolutely.

Rachael Williamson, 50, joined Fantaseas in her late teens as a lifeguard and worked at the park throughout its three-year lifespan.

During her tenure she sported her fair share of bumps and bruises.

"Quite often we were diving in to pull people out – most of them adults..."

Rachel said: "Before they opened they were testing it and I hit my head and I'm a strong swimmer and even I found it hard to stand up."

Even adults overlooked how deep the water was at the end of some of the flumes and rides, she remarked.

"I remember standing there seeing people were struggling and having to dive in and pull them out," Rachael said. "Quite often we were diving in to pull people out – most of them adults."

Rachael thoroughly enjoyed her time working at the water park.

"We were all young so we all really loved it," she said. "We would all go out together it was great."

The mum, who now lives in Frindsbury in Medway, nearly didn't get the job at all after making a jibe during her interview at the "hideous" Hawaiian shirt draped on the door, only for the centre manager to respond that would be her uniform for the foreseeable future.

Blue Peter presenter, Peter Duncan featured in a promotional video for the water park in 1991
Blue Peter presenter, Peter Duncan featured in a promotional video for the water park in 1991

Fantaseas would also receive visits from various celebrities at the time including the late television presenter Paula Yates, the former spouse of Bob Geldof, who visited with her children.

One time Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan also toured the facilities as part of a promotional ad that saw him dunked head first while wearing a suit.

The Dartford water park continued to ride the wave of its initial success, opening a second sister attraction in 1990 in Chingford.

However, despite the Kent site's emergence as a local landmark visible from the M25 it was shut down for good just two years later.

According to the Dartford town archives, as with many late 20th century leisure ventures based on "fleeting fashions" and "get-rich-quick ideas", the project enjoyed initial success before its finances took a turn for the worse.

The park owners were reported to have racked up large debts amid costly repair jobs across both venues.

To add to their woes, the Cotton Lane site also began reporting subsidence concerns.

However, former life guard Rachael dismissed this as the main reason for its downfall and pointed towards a failure to utilize space and dwindling crowds during off-peak periods.

"It was huge; there was so much wasted space inside," she said. "When I was working there it was busy on weekends and school holidays."

But outside of key trading windows it was virtually empty, she remarked, adding that managers soon began "cutting back" staff to unreasonable levels.

"It was so empty sometimes I could wait an hour before I would see one person," she added.

"It was so empty sometimes I could wait an hour before I would see one person"

Trouble also began to emerge shortly after the decision to start serving alcohol on site and bouncers were brought in.

The water park was also subject to a robbery in which the manager and safe were targeted.

Its abrupt closure in 1992 was a blow to many including Rachael and lifelong friends who still keep in touch today.

They turned up for their shifts one morning to find the bailiffs and were unable even to clear their lockers. The park would lay dormant for nearly a decade until it was eventually pulled down at the turn of the century.

It was followed by the loss of other popular local attractions including the Stone Lodge Farm and the former North Downs Railway.

Fantaseas was replaced by the Bow Arrow Lane development in Dartford
Fantaseas was replaced by the Bow Arrow Lane development in Dartford

Dartford council briefly flirted with the idea of erecting a hotel in its place before later approving a new homes development in Bow Arrow Lane.

So could a water park or a similar attraction in the image of Fantaseas ever return to Kent?

Recent proposals for flumes and inflatable attractions on the main lake at Bluewater Shopping Centre were swiftly kicked into touch after conservation concerns.

However, plans for an indoor water park as part of the London Resort proposals, dubbed the "UK's answer to Disneyland" remain afloat.

This includes "a range of interlinked swimming pools", water slides and a wave machine enclosed under domed structures linked to the planned hotel complex.

In any event, it is unlikely the thrills – nor the amount of plasters dished out in the nurse's office – will match those experienced at Fantaseas during its halcyon days.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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