Feature Article - September 2002
Find a printable version here

Catching the Wave

What's making a splash in the world of wet

By Kelli Anderson

Splish Splash

Trends in waterparks also cross over into their smaller cousins, splash play areas. Park districts in particular are wooing their constituents back to their facilities with the addition of splash play areas that are replacing the languishing square cement pool of yesteryear.

Wild Water Kingdom in Toronto

"What's popular are the giant play ladders and slides and interactive features," says Sara Stotmeister, technical design executive of Burbach Aquatics: Architects and Engineers. "It's all about interactive—people have the power to control water. It's fun to direct it."

Some years back, pools first flirted with the idea of special areas for children by introducing a few water features in the shallow ends of their pools. When the popularity was so apparent, park districts began looking to create entire sites devoted to the splash play of young children.

"All manufactures of equipment are consistently working on going to more interactive features like cannons kids can shoot and palm trees that drip water down," Stotmeister stays. "What started out for a small area of the pool has turned into something much more."

Variety in splash play equipment is definitely expanding. And variety, according to Stotmeister, is one of the keys to splash play success with a splash play area having features that spray up from the floor, spray down from above and that can be directed and squirted.

Just opened this past Memorial Day weekend, the splash play area for the Dubuque Park District in Dubuque, Iowa, has exceeded expectations.

"We've had a very enthusiastic response—almost to the point of overcrowding," says Pat Prevenas, recreation division manager, department of leisure services.

In choosing a design for the splash play area, the park district knew safety was a primary concern and opted for a water-depth design in which the deepest portions of the play areas are no more than 24 inches. It was designed to look like a colorful playground submerged in water with usual playground features of slides, different platforms to walk on and a tube swing.

However, that's where the similarities stop and the splash play begins. Valves open up, water spouts from platforms, ropes open valves to squirt and spray, and two water cannons, operated by manual pumping action, invite kids of all ages to enjoy the fun. Following the recipe for water spraying success, the splash play area has features that spray up, spray down and can be sprayed all around.

The Volcano at Hawaiian Waters

"We have two lifeguards on busy days to observe their use," Prevenas says. "Since it's so attractive, kids of all ages are attracted to it, and sometimes it can be used in an improper manner with the potential of harming smaller children."

But the area's popularity seems to be worth the extra supervision and maintenance.

"The splash play area is more work—it has to be winterized, chlorinated, pH-controlled and so-forth, but it's more appreciated by patrons," Prevenas says. "We considered a cheaper wet-surface design, but people preferred the water-depth design. It's a safer surface to fall on and more user-friendly."

In the case of water features, you do get what you pay for—the more expensive, interactive features definitely seem to equal more satisfied customers. For those able to spend more, a creatively themed design incorporating lots to explore, surprise and douse is sure to please just about all ages.

Whether it's for the young, old or the totally bold, entertainment in the world of wet is, actually, doing it all.

Tried and True Blue

"The more things change, the more they stay the same," so claims French wisdom. Despite all the bells and whistles of new attractions in water entertainment, some elements of success remain the same:

Safety  Having a plentiful, excellently trained lifeguard staff (most facilities boast a J. Ellis & Associate education) is critical especially since there's so much of a human element to waterpark and splash play entertainment.

Service  A clean facility along with a smile or a friendly "hello" by staff inspires confidence, gets noticed and is appreciated by patrons.

Shade  People seek shaded areas and increase not only their length of stay but consequently their spending.

Something for everyone  It's all about family, so providing rides like lazy rivers for adults, attractive splash play areas for younger children and thrill rides for teens are some basic features that keep everyone happy.

Staying current  Adding new features from the latest rides to amenities like family changing rooms will keep patrons happy and coming back for more.