Wet & Wild Destinations

Strategies for Waterpark Success

By Dave Ramont

The International Olympic Committee announced that surfing will be one of five sports added to the 2020 Olympic program in Tokyo, in part to draw the interest of a younger demographic. And now, surfing enthusiasts in landlocked places like Wisconsin, Tennessee and Colorado can hone their skills thanks to the wave generators and surf simulators found at many larger waterparks.

Larger, destination-type waterparks can be both indoor and outdoor. Some are standalone facilities, while others are attached to resorts. Most of the larger parks are privately owned, though some municipal parks are also expanding in size and scope. The industry's growth and popularity is attributed to facilities offering a wider variety of attractions and amenities to entice repeat guests as well as attract new visitors.

Growing Appeal

Eight new waterparks were slated to open in 2016 in Texas alone, including Typhoon Texas. Located in Katy, Texas, the 25-acre waterpark aims to draw locals from all over the greater Houston area with an assortment of thrilling waterslides and rides, a 25,000-square-foot wave pool, competitive attractions, a 1,345-foot lazy river, and an interactive kid's area with a 48-foot-tall play structure.

The Typhoon itself is a giant waterslide equipped with six-person rafts, so kids and grown-ups can brave the monster ride together. Another favorite, according to Marketing Director Steve Mayer, is the Duelin' Daltons, a seven-story-high freefall speed slide featuring aqua loops that take riders upside down. "You enter in an enclosed capsule and the bottom drops out. It's a total rush. It's the roller coaster for waterparks."

Waterpark designers and managers alike understand that to successfully compete for customers' precious entertainment dollars, they must appeal to all age groups.

In an effort to attract repeat customers and keep them at the park longer, Typhoon Texas offers much more than just rides and attractions. There's live music and DJs, movie nights, and dance contests. For kids there's face painting and clowns, while adults can enjoy cocktails or Zumba classes in the wave pool. Weekly summer camps are held with games, arts and crafts, and ecological experiments. There are several dining options, and their BBQ is slow-smoked on-site daily. Special rates for group outings are offered, as well as customized party packages and catering. Cabana and locker rentals provide additional revenue.

Mayer explained that they offer a lot of special events and promotions—booking various types of entertainment to attract kids—which also makes the adults happy. "We do a lot of in-park specials with food and merchandise for season pass holders," which includes ways to bring friends at a greatly discounted rate.

Waterpark designers and managers alike understand that to successfully compete for customers' precious entertainment dollars, they must appeal to all age groups. David Keim is vice president of a Cohoes, N.Y.-based company that designs, builds and services waterparks, and also manufactures its own equipment. Keim suggests providing interactive play features, ground sprays, and tot slides for toddlers and younger children; thrill slides, surf attractions, action rivers and boogie boarding pools to provide the adrenaline rush desired by teens and tweens; and wave pools and lazy rivers to provide fun for the whole family. "Add features such as a swim-up bar, grotto spas, cabanas and food service, and the adults enjoy the experience as well," he said.

Indoor-Outdoor

The Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells sits on more than 600 wooded acres and offers many lodging options, including guest rooms, vacation villas, condominiums and cabins. It's a popular destination for family vacations, group outings, weddings, reunions and corporate events. And while it offers many dry attractions, the real draw is the four indoor and four outdoor waterparks adding up to more than 500,000 square feet. Each one has a different theme to appeal to all ages. There are thrill rides, mat racers, drop-slides, twisting tube and body slides, family raft rides, bumper boats, and zero-depth spray and play features with geysers, dumping buckets and water blasters. There's an interactive lazy river ride that goes up and downhill and through raging rapids. There's Great Wave—America's largest indoor wave pool, and a sport pool with basketball hoops, volleyball and a lily pad rope challenge. There are indoor/outdoor hot spas and an adults-only indoor/outdoor pool and swim-up bar. The Wild WaterDome features a see-through roof, filling the entire park with natural light and allowing guests to tan and tropical plants to flourish year-round. And, unlike some resort waterparks, Wilderness offers no day passes—the waterparks are reserved exclusively for overnight guests.

Brandon Schindler, director of aquatics at Wilderness Resort, mentioned two of the more popular rides this season: The Lunar Loop, which is a looping body-slide with a trap-door capsule start, and The Hurricane, which is a two- to four-person extreme raft slide that looks like a funnel laid on its side. He also said that the outdoor parks are unquestionably the major draw in warm-weather months. "Our indoor parks are much more lightly used on average during our summer season."

The design of indoor versus outdoor waterparks differs considerably, according to Keim. "The space restraints encountered in indoor park design require that we maximize the use of the available space to provide the most entertainment value possible while ensuring that the park as a whole provides a comfortable and enjoyable guest experience," he said, adding that outdoor parks generally don't have the space limitations or air quality issues associated with indoor parks, which greatly simplifies the design process.

Keim went on to explain how designers of indoor parks must give careful consideration to air handling, humidity control and indoor air quality. Properly selected dehumidification systems and UV pool water disinfection systems are a must for indoor parks.

As to filters and water treatment systems, superior water quality is imperative whether indoors or outdoors. "While high-rate sand filtration is used in most facilities, regenerative media filter systems are enjoying increased acceptance at both indoor and outdoor parks," says Keim.

Adding a transparent roof to an indoor park also provides an inviting environment, according to Keim, as the natural light "weatherproofs" the park's operation while bringing the outside in for guests, regardless of weather. His company manufactures a patented transparent roofing product able to transmit a large amount of UV light, allowing for natural tanning as well as ideal conditions for plant life. The system is also acoustically tuned, creating a more comfortable experience for guests. Plus, operators can "dial down artificial lighting during daylight hours, and the solar gain from the sun assists in heating during cooler weather, both resulting in energy savings," Keim said.

Go Greener

What about other eco-friendly innovations in waterparks these days? Steve Brinkel, president of the Parks and Recreation Division for a Richmond, British Columbia-based manufacturer supporting waterparks and attractions, pointed to the inclusion of variable frequency drives (VFD) in one of their giant waterslides at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Galveston Island, Texas. "It concentrates on power savings, which supports a park's financial and environmental goals."

Brinkel's company designs, engineers and oversees construction of waterparks, and manufactures waterpark products.

MASSIV, the Schlitterbahn waterslide, was deemed the World's Tallest Water Coaster by Guinness World Records. It takes considerable power to push patrons up the steep inclines of the waterslide, but by using the power of VFDs and a proprietary control algorithm, pump speeds can now be dynamically adjusted while the ride is in operation.

Typically, the power that pumps the water jets uphill comes from an always-on fixed-frequency AC drive, running the motor at a constant speed, resulting in an inefficient use of power. The new system results in reduced wear and tear and is more energy-efficient because the motor is not constantly running at a set speed. Testing showed a 55 percent power savings compared to the previous system.

The Great Wolf Lodge in Southern California—which opened in February 2016—features a state-of-the-art recycling system with mechanized pumps, filters and tanks to purify the water before recirculating it into the park's common water areas to reduce water waste.

Be Unique

When it comes to unique designs, Dollywood's Splash Country in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., fits the bill. The 35-acre waterpark is part of the Dollywood complex, which includes the Dollywood Theme Park and Dollywood's DreamMore Resort. The Smoky Mountain-themed waterpark boasts more than 23 thrill rides, adventure slides, a 25,000-square-foot wave pool, a 1,500-foot lazy river, an 8,000-square-foot landing pool, a children's interactive area, a family raft ride and numerous support facilities. Throughout the park visitors can view towering hardwoods and area-indigenous landscaping. A 28-foot waterfall cascades over a 300-foot-long precipice. The park highlights the beautiful mountain setting and utilizes the uniquely shaped land.

Pete Owens, director of public relations at Splash Country, related how the park is nestled in the hills, and because of the terrain the park design is pretty unique. "It sits in kind of a bowl, so designing the park was really a discovery experience. You really needed to come around the bend and discover what was in the waterpark, it wasn't anything you could see from the street."

The park won the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Industry Leadership Award for Best New Waterpark when it opened in 2001.

Owens went on to explain how every couple of years they continue to invest in the park, based on demand and new innovations. And, depending on the addition, they may increase the footprint of the park itself, allowing them to handle more guests.

General Manager Mike Brown said that next year they'll be adding a version of the popular mat racer, to be called the Tailspin Racer, which will be stationed almost above their lazy river on a hillside.

As far as marketing, Owens described how they work in tandem with Dollywood Theme Park, offering "Super Passes" to be used at both parks. They also do radio promotions and ticket contesting. The waterpark enjoys a robust food and retail program, and overall revenue of food and merchandise is up more than 10 percent this year. "The thing that we continue to see is the implications of social media, and how it's starting to play into our food business with our new product, Beaver Tails, which really lends itself to social media well," Owens said. Beaver Tails are a Canadian product that's relatively new to the amusement industry, consisting of fried dough with a variety of toppings, and they've proven wildly popular at the waterpark.

Another attendance booster at Splash Country is the occasional philanthropies they do, such as a recent one for Ronald McDonald House, where there's discounted admission with proceeds going to the charity. Owens said that drives attendance, raises awareness, and lets people know that the park is a caring organization. In the past 10 years or so, more than $350,000 has been raised for The Ronald McDonald House alone.

Generate Revenue

Another big revenue generator at many waterparks is the rental of private cabanas. At Splash Country they have a smaller version called canopies and a larger version called retreats. Every year they add more, but Brown said, "We still haven't been able to reach the saturation point. We're at around 28 and we'll be putting in more next year. We have about a 97 percent rent rate."

Everyone connected to waterparks agrees that skill-based, competitive attractions are really hot right now, and will only gain traction. As Schindler said, "Anything that invites competition automatically ups the entertainment value. Everyone wants to beat their friend or family member."

These attractions tap into the extremely popular culture that includes surfing, bodyboarding, skateboarding, wakeboarding, snowboarding and skimboarding. And, it's fun to watch—spectators are entertained by the impressive tricks, skills, and of course the wipeouts. And those spectators increase revenue through food, beverage and retail sales.

And, as Brinkel pointed out, "Competitive features within a waterpark are a great driver for repeat business." Enthusiasts want to come back again and again to hone their skills, as no two visits are the same.

"Surfing is one of the fastest-growing sports—in not only the United States, but worldwide," according to Jessica Mahoney, manager of marketing and communications at the Cohoes, N.Y.-based waterpark company. Surf simulators and wave-generating machines are all the rage, creating waves every several seconds that can drastically change size, shape and difficulty level depending on the riders' skill and comfort level. There are an infinite number of real-wave simulations, all at the tap of a screen. Waves can reach higher than 11 feet. There are competitions and expositions and even tournaments and tours that travel the country.

Another hot new innovation is Slideboarding, a videogame-integrated waterslide where participants use a boogie board and attempt to hit
targets while sliding.

The machines, which use little space but can accommodate more than 150 riders per hour, can be a stand-alone attraction, where users can drop in on their own unbroken wave and do maneuvers or carve a turn. Or, they can adjoin a lazy river to add rapids, boils, whirlpools and hydraulic jumps for high-capacity family fun. Mahoney mentioned a recently opened ride at Water World in Colorado, which is a one-of-a-kind boogie boarding surf ride "giving guests the experience of real ocean surfing but with a perfect wave every time."

Another hot new innovation is Slideboarding, a videogame-integrated waterslide where participants use a boogie board and attempt to hit targets while sliding. A progressive system tracks their scores—syncing every hit, miss and bulls-eye—as they compete head-to-head with unlimited levels to beat and badges to collect. "It allows people to compete against themselves to improve their standing within the game, as well as letting them measure up against other Slideboarders," Schindler said.

Play It Safe

Waterparks are enjoying a growth spurt, and by continuing to offer cutting-edge innovations, more amenities, special events, and top-notch customer service, they hope to keep riding the wave.

Safety is the biggest priority for waterpark staff, and each park has their daily protocol of checks and balances. Dollywood's Brown said that each day prior to opening, a manager will walk all the attractions, followed by trained personnel inspecting all the rides. Next, maintenance will do their inspections and then the attractions are turned on and lifeguards will ride them. At Typhoon Texas, all rides are inspected by maintenance staff, then ride-tested by water-safety staff each morning, according to Mayer.

While parks typically handle routine maintenance in-house, major repairs or updates often require outside assistance. Brinkel said they have a team dedicated to delivering services after a park has opened, including inspections, cleaning, retrofitting and re-surfacing.

"Retrofitting a play structure with theming or new interactive elements can provide a new selling feature for the waterpark and a new marketing angle to promote," he said.

Brown figures that every 10 to 15 years, they look at resurfacing at least sections of a slide if not the whole thing. "Depending on where the ride sits, how much sun it gets, how much it's used, and whether it's open or enclosed really determines the length."

Waterparks are enjoying a growth spurt, and by continuing to offer cutting-edge innovations, more amenities, special events, and top-notch customer service, they hope to keep riding the wave.

As Mayer said, "It's a constant goal of ours to keep the fun going and be more than just a waterpark."



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