Feature Article - September 2003
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Theme Schemes

Creative motifs and clever theming give waterparks and splash play areas new depth

By Stacy St. Clair

Cool Concept

By now, you've realized just how trendy themed waterparks are.

So, here's a tip on what's not in vogue: large chunks of ice floating in the water.

As shocking—and as lawsuit-inviting—as it may seem, some aquatic managers in southern states have taken to dumping huge blocks of ice in the pool to reduce temperatures. They contend it cools the water quickly, making it more inviting to swimmers and less likely for bacteria to grow.

While it may seem like a cheap solution, it's also a risky one. If Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet have taught us anything, it's that floating ice can be a very dangerous thing.

Imagine patrons jumping off the high dive and smacking their heads against the block. The subsequent lawsuits and settlements could leave a facility sinking faster than the Titanic.

A fashionable alternative, however, does exist. Several southern pools have turned aeration systems to cool their waters.

The apparatus sits on the pool's edge, with a suction hose dropped into the water. The water is gently sucked through the system, then sprayed back into the pool after much needed oxygen is added. It takes about three to five hours to cool a pool, though some facilities leave the machine on during the night.

The aeration system proved a godsend for Marilynn Lynn, manager of the Ft. Polk swimming pools. The aquatic center, located on an Army base in Louisiana, purchased two machines after military youth services stopped bringing children to the pools because the water was too hot.

Once Lynn began using the aeration system, the pool's temperature dropped from 94 to 84 şF within 24 hours. The Army's Preventive Medicine inspectors also are elated with the drop in temperature because no abnormal bacterial colonies have been found since the apparatus was purchased.

As an added bonus, the system has become a favorite water feature at the pool. Its situated near the diving board so patrons can jump into the spray. It has become so popular, Lynn says, that divers become upset if it's pointed anywhere other than the board.

Lifeguard and sunbathers also enjoy the cool mist created by the aerator, Lynn says. It gives them a little extra relief from the relentless Louisiana sun.

The system has proven so invaluable, Lynn has plans to buy a third machine.

"I couldn't live without it," Lynn says. "I absolutely love it."

Cypress Cove's Cajun Creek

"It's really nice to have a consistent theme throughout," says Pam Sanhamel, the district's public relations and marketing coordinator. "You're trying to put it all together as one experience."

The facility also is heavily landscaped with southern flora such as daylilies and wild grasses to enhance the Cajun atmosphere. When combined with the structures and water features, the facility has an energy that isn't found at ordinary waterparks.

"It is just beautiful," Sanhamel says. "It's like a park inside of a pool or pool inside of a park."

Such an atmosphere, however, does not come free. Waterpark structures are typically small buildings made of cinder block or brick and are inexpensive to construct.

Adding fancy exterior designs will inevitably impact the final price tag. Installing wood facades and split roofs like at Cypress Cove, for example, added roughly another $50 per square foot to the construction costs.

"Is there an extra cost to doing a theme?" Williams asks. "Probably a little."

While the overall construction bill was higher, the district has more than recouped the difference. The large porch alone has earned thousands of dollars for the park between concert events and birthday parties.


The bayou gamble taken several years ago, by all accounts, has been worth the risk. The facility was just declared the Chicago-area's favorite waterpark by a local television program. It also has won several awards, including the Illinois Parks and Recreation Association Outstanding Aquatic Facility Award and the 1998 Daniel Flaherty Park Excellence Recognition Award.

Since Cypress Cove opened in 1997, more and more waterparks have embraced themes. Many did it, in part, to survive in a competitive market. They also have warmed to motifs because water feature manufacturers have made it increasingly easy to do so.

Slides, cannons and sprayers come in a variety of characters, with everything from zoo animals to Disney favorites to swashbuckling pirates. Splash play areas are now being marketed with medieval, western, nautical and fire station themes, to name just a few.

"The industry is pretty darn creative," Williams says.