Supplement Feature - October 2019
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Just Add Water

Indoors or Out, Waterparks Offer Fun for All

By Dave Ramont


On a hot summer day, it's pretty safe to say that most people would enjoy some refreshing ice cream. But it's also a safe bet that many people would enjoy that ice cream any time of year, no matter the outdoor temperature. So you might say that waterparks are a bit like ice cream: In the summer, visitors flock to them to cool off, but their popularity remains strong year-round, with many people seeking out indoor parks in the off season.

The popularity of waterparks continues to grow, driven by innovation and progress in the industry, according to Hotel & Leisure Advisors (H&LA), which said that in the United States and Canada, $1 billion in investment was slated for indoor and outdoor waterparks and their related resorts in 2019. They projected that 33 facilities would open this year, and they anticipated the expansion of nearly 20 existing facilities.

"Today's waterparks are focusing strongly on differential experiences and providing patrons reasons to continue to enjoy pool spaces and repeat their engagement of features and amenities," according to Ryan Nachreiner, regional director of project development at Water Technology Inc. (WTI), a Wisconsin-based aquatic planning, design and engineering firm. "Aspects to rides and pools that give users options and variability are helping to prolong the interest and appeal of the waterpark."

"Generally speaking, there are less 'parking lot' parks being developed these days—the model of packing as much fiberglass onto a flat site as possible," said Allen Clawson, principal at Cloward H2O, a Utah-based aquatic planning and engineering firm. And he thinks that's a good thing. "Themed IP (Intellectual Property) parks like Legoland, Nickelodeon or Universal's Volcano Bay are popping up more often. The indoor/outdoor model is also more common."

Nachreiner said that while there has been no diminishing the appeal of being in the outdoors on a beautiful summer day, there is a desire in most communities to provide year-round aquatic recreation.

Jessica Mahoney, director of marketing for Aquatic Development Group, a New York-based corporation specializing in design/build projects, agrees that indoor parks are gaining popularity. "Both remain popular, however interest and demand for indoor waterparks seems to be at an all-time high right now.

"Hotels and resorts continue to look for ways to differentiate themselves, and indoor waterparks offer a sort of 'super amenity' appeal," Mahoney said, adding that one big challenge of designing indoor parks is having to incorporate as much fun in a much smaller space than you would have compared to working outdoors. She said that building levels is one way to achieve this, citing the Gaylord Opryland resort in Nashville as an example. "You need to make sure you have experienced and skilled aquatic designers and builders who know how to properly balance the need for active play, excitement, deck space and guest flow with the mix of attractions to create the ultimate guest experience."

Clawson agrees that since indoor space is premium, there's a great deal of work to get the space as condensed as possible. "We've been involved in some very innovative designs overseas. Imagine an outdoor waterpark on the roof of an indoor waterpark with interconnecting slides, conveyors and water courses, all on top of an ice rink adjacent to an indoor skiing venue with several hotels, convention space, retail, dining, etc.—all in one development."

Hotels and resorts are indeed looking at ways to differentiate and attract guests of all ages, according to Jim Dunn, president of ADG, who said that one way to do this was by adding—or expanding—their water area, creating a hybrid setting delivering both resort and waterpark experiences. He described some of the factors that play a part in developing a creative water setting for hotels and resorts, including budget, space allocation, target audience, staffing, bed-base, existing amenities and timeframe. "Key things to consider are your attraction mix, landscaping, food and beverage outlets, towel stations, lounge chairs, cabanas and deck space, and how all these pieces will look once they come together.

"No two creative water settings are the same," said Dunn, "because no brand, target audience or space is exactly the same."

He explained that many resorts have started incorporating surf rides into their attraction mix, as well as lazy rivers, activity pools with rock climbing and basketball hoops, wave pool applications, waterslides and multi-level play structures.