Tips for squeezing every last drop of success out of your waterpark and splash play area
By Stacy St. Clair
The City of Englewood, Colo., knew it could build something magnificent. It had enough money. Voters saw to that in November 2001 when they passed a $12.8 bond issue to construct three recreation projects. Of that money, $7 million would be used to build the Pirates Cove Aquatic Center.
A buccaneer theme would be carried throughout. The 5.14-acre site would be transformed into an exhilarating pirate adventure, complete with a 750-gallon dump bucket at the attraction's center.
"We wanted to create a unique and fun place where families could spend time together, while also building an attraction that was flexible enough to grow with our city's future needs," says Jerrell Black, Englewood's director of parks and recreation.
When the facility opened in May, it had more than met Black's goal. Fake cannons fired puffs of smoke into the air. A voice-activated pirate statute greeted guests at the entrance. Exotic birds were strategically placed to produce sound effects that completed the theme.
Park officials were pleased. And, more importantly, so were the patrons.
The park was filled on opening day. Such a turnout was expected, given the excitement surrounding the park and the tax dollars used to build it.
But when the throngs kept coming the next day and the day after that and the day after that, Englewood knew it had something special.
They also knew whom they could thank for it. The company hired to design Pirates Cove also promised to help with the marketing plan.
In doing so, Englewood became one of an increasing number of facilities that reply upon aquatic companies for more than just building their parks. Englewood depended upon its designer—an international company with a strong public-relations network—to both attract media and patrons in the metropolitan area.
They wanted the Denver area to know about their multimillion dollar waterpark that features three 35-foot slides, a competition pool, an action river with a 38.3-foot vortex and a spray garden.
"With all the distinctive elements at Pirates Cove, we expect to draw families from all over the south metro Denver area for a fun, entertaining and imaginative experience," Black says.
The park's designers came through, with stories in all the local media. It created such a buzz about the park, all the area television stations aired stories about it. Radio stations from Colorado Springs even called to talk about it.
"We had tremendous marketing support from (the company) and their agency partner in promoting the opening of Pirates Cove," says Denise White, Englewood's parks and recreation marketing and public information administrator. "With their help, we were able to generate media coverage, create an exciting event to preview the park, and raise awareness within the community of our commitment to provide a safe and entertaining waterpark for families to enjoy."
Can't afford a multimillion dollar waterpark? No need to drown your sorrows.
A growing number of communities have turned to splash play areas to give their patrons wet-and-wild fun without breaking the bank.
Several years ago, officials in Omaha, Neb., grappled with their outdated community pools. The facilities were poorly attended, expensive to maintain and required a lot of supervision.
They wanted something that would attract patrons and have longer operational hours. At the same time, they wanted a facility that would require minimal staffing and not cost millions of dollars.
Officials opted to build a splash play area in Upland Park. The results were immediate, with a 412 percent increase in park attendance. The attraction draws 7,500 additional users to the park each year.
The city was so thrilled with the results, they began planning another splash area in Orchard Park. The attraction is now part of a park that includes a dry playground and basketball courts.
If Omaha officials ever question their decision, they just need to look at the numbers. The Orchard Park's previous pool attracted 3,500 patrons each year. Its attendance has doubled since the splash play area was installed.
"There are always kids playing in them when I drive by, and the numbers pretty much tell me the whole successful story," says Omaha park planner Pat Slaven.
The Buffalo Grove, Ill., Park District is primed to enjoy similar success. After voters repeatedly refused to fund an aquatic center, officials decide to build a splash play area for kids.
One of the largest facilities of its kind, it features more than 20 water toys, sprays and fountains. It opened in June to sell-out crowds.
It accomplished an important goal of giving district residents another aquatic option. Without it, they would have to turn to other communities to have their recreation needs met.
"It has been very well-received," says Lori Magee, district spokeswoman. "We're meeting a need and keeping residents in Buffalo Grove."
The water playground has been so successful, officials have been able to rent it out for birthday parties and other special occasions. The money will be an additional way to bring revenue to a facility that already was expected to pay for itself.
"We feel like we made a very good decision," Magee says.
Some parks make a bigger splash than others. The Travel Channel combed the country looking for the greatest thrills, the highest waves and the best rides. And while not every facility can be a world-class park, there are ways to learn from and emulate their success.
(New Braunfels, Texas)
The park boasts more than 3 miles of tubing adventures, seven children's water playgrounds, 17 slides, three uphill water coasters and the world's first surfing machine. Schlitterbahn opened in 1979 with just four slides and has grown into one of the world's largest parks. It offers 200 family resorts accommodations, ranging from vacation homes to motel rooms.
COOL TIP: Connect to your customers and offer handy info to enhance their visits, before they even arrive. The Schlitterbahn Web site provides convenient traffic and construction alerts to patrons.
Mickey Mouse really got it right with this theme park. According to Disney legend, a freak winter storm blanketed the area with snow and prompted Florida's first ski resort. When the snow eventually melted, the area was covered with water and slush. Disney had no choice but to convert the toboggan runs and slalom courses into water slides. This, of course, led to the creation of the aptly named attractions Slushgusher and Teamboat Springs, among others.
COOL TIP: A unique theme and creative back story can add value and help attract patrons. Blizzard Beach even carries its snow theme throughout its concession stand, Avalunch.
Do you know the way to San Jose? If you do, you'll be able to get yourself to one of the country's coolest parks. With more than 23 acres of slides and attractions, the park has everything a waterpark aficionado could want. One of its most popular attractions is the Dragon's Den, where patrons catapult through darkness, plunge into the dragon's mist and disappear again.
COOL TIP: Maximize your selling efficiency. Raging Waters sells season passes online, offering discounts and convenience to Web surfers.
Water Country is the largest family waterpark in mid-Atlantic America. Set to a colorful 1950s surfing theme, all pools are heated to an inviting 82 degrees to encourage patronage on cool days. There are more than 1,500 lounge chairs for parents to sit on while their children ride attractions like Hubba Hubba Highway, the Lemon Drop and Peppermint Twist.
COOL TIP: Branch out to special populations. Water Country USA offers free admission to Iraq War veterans on designated Military Appreciation Days throughout the summer.
A 96-acre park kept things fresh this summer by adding a new ride, the Dragon's Den. Like the Raging Waters ride, it's 50 feet tall and descends 45 feet into a misty bowl. A two-person raft spirals into the eerie den before finally escaping through a dark crevice to safety. The park, however, does not succeed with major thrill rides alone. It was voted No. 1 in hospitality by Business LI Magazine.
COOL TIP: Helping your patrons get to your park is just as important as getting them through the gate. Splish Splash offers ticket packages that include public transportation.
A part of Knott's Berry Farm amusement park, Soak City packs 22 attractions onto a 32-acre facility. It pays tribute to the area's history with a 1950s California Surfing theme, where the rides are designed to be surfed by the woodies and long boards of the San Diego coast a half-century ago.
COOL TIP: Sometimes it pays to re-evaluate your pricing. Soak City USA recently lowered its child admission price for children between ages 3 and 11.
As one of America's largest waterparks, Hyland Hills sets the bar high. It boasts more features—42—than any other park in America. Though giant thrill rides are the top attraction, the park does not neglect small children and easily frightened adults. Hyland Hills has the most family tube rides of any American park. It also has Wally World, a tot-sized park filled with slides, waterfalls and tire swings in very shallow water.
COOL TIP: Give any expansion plans plenty of thought—and make sure to include your employees' input. Hyland Hills park officials spend a lot of time brainstorming with staff before picking a theme for new attractions.
Part of the Six Flags family, White Water serves as the crown jewel. The park, however, realizes it must offer a big bang for the entertainment buck. The Cliffhanger, its top attraction, offers one of the highest freefalls in the world. The rider is dropped 90 feet straight down at a high rate of speed. Patrons must hang onto to their hats—and their hearts.
COOL TIP: Consider expanding your programming and entertainment offerings. In addition to thrill rides, White Water offers musical shows and other acts to keep patrons entertained.
As if there weren't enough to do Vegas, the city also boasts one of the country's best waterparks. Located on the Vegas Strip, Wet 'N Wild kept up with competitors this summer by adding the popular Dragon's Den in the 2004 season. It offers five other extreme slides to keep the decadent Vegas visitors happy—and wet.
COOL TIP: Contribute to the community. The park created public goodwill when it offered the facility to local firefighters for training. Using the lazy river and wave pool, the firefighters practiced their swift water training.
The Wisconsin Dells, without question, is the waterpark capital of the world. And there's no better Dells destination than the 25-year-old Noah's Ark. With more than 60 water-based fun activities, it claims to be the country's largest waterpark. It boasts a number of non-ride activities such as water basketball and aquatic rope climbs.
COOL TIP: Not everything needs to be wet. Noah's Ark offers plenty of activities for visitors looking to stay dry for a while. In addition to rides, it has miniature golf and a kiddie coaster.
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