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Feature Article - September 2010

Fun For The Whole Family

Waterpark Options for All Ages

By Dawn Klingensmith


Waterparks just got personal. Or nearly so.

After covering the industry for several years—always from a safe distance, without getting wet—I was presented this past summer with the, er, opportunity to help supervise six kids, ages 6 through 13, for two days at Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort in New Braunfels, Texas.

I had researched for this magazine what waterparks are doing to attract and engage entire families. Yet I could not picture how a person my age could stay happily occupied. I am uncomfortable in a bathing suit to begin with, so any activity that causes the suit's contents to publicly jiggle is out of the question. That rules out most waterpark attractions.

Were there options for me besides poolside reading? I decided to look into it. Not up close and personal, mind you. With my blessing, my boyfriend, Jeff, and his three kids, each with a buddy, went to Schlitterbahn without me—but as the primary subject of this article.

What are waterparks doing to appeal to adults in particular?

To be clear, the target demographic for waterparks is 12- to 18-year-olds, who account for the greatest number of repeat visits, according to exit surveys and other industry data. But it's parents who ultimately decide whether to allocate vacation dollars for an overnight stay at a waterpark resort. So what's in it for them?

The Family That Plays Together

As "destination" waterpark resorts have gained in popularity, much has been said about the importance and allure of "dry land" amenities. Some such amenities—such as shopping, day spas and golf courses—are added with adult guests in mind, presuming Mom or Dad will welcome an opportunity to split off from the group.

However, unscientific surveys of friends and colleagues show that parents at waterparks don't necessarily seek or expect "alone time."

"There's a spa at the hotel, but I didn't have a chance to take advantage of that—we only stayed one night so we were trying to pack in as much for the girls as possible," said Tracy Gerwen, who went with her husband, Paul, and two daughters to the Great Wolf Lodge waterpark resort in Grand Mound, Wash.

Because Jeff describes his first (and last) spa experience as torture—loofah sponges still frighten him—I did not bother to ask whether he'd taken time out for a hot rock massage, or whether Schlitterbahn even offers such treatments. Like Tracy, he was there as a parent more than a pleasure seeker.