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

Think that zero-depth entry and giant water slide put your pool on the cusp of cool? Think again.

The Joliet, Ill., Park District's Splash Station waterpark features four 30-foot-tall body flume water slides.

The best and most entertaining parks today are more than just a collection of fun water features. In a move stolen from the private sector, many public facilities have been transformed into well-planned fantasylands with a central theme carried throughout. Whether it is a fantastical motif such as cartoon characters or a historical homage to the community, themed waterparks and splash play areas give facilities an extra zing in an often competitive market.

"We're seeing more of an interest," says Michael Williams, CEO of Wheaton, Ill.-based Williams Architects. "It adds stimulation. It adds something a little different than the neighboring towns have."

In the Chicago area, Williams' core market, the competition is fierce. The vast majority of cities and villages have full-fledged waterparks complete with huge slides, splash play areas and the always popular zero-depth entry.

Adding to the tight market are several private facilities that attract patrons from across the metropolitan area. And roughly two hours to the northwest is the Wisconsin Dells, which boasts more themed waterparks per capita than any other Midwest town.

The Dream Theme

Coming up with a theme to fit your waterpark doesn't have to be a nightmare. Truth be told, almost any motif can be a success with a little imagination and some creative incorporation. Here are some themes that have worked well in other facilities:

The Pirate: Yo-ho-ho, if it isn't the most popular waterpark theme. Facilities often include a lazy river meandering around a "shipwrecked" island. Some sell souvenir eye patches and other pirate paraphernalia at the concession stand.

The Zoo: Perhaps the simplest of themes, given the abundance of animal water features available. There are elephants that shoot water from their trunks and giraffes with necks that function as slides.

The Safari: Facilities often come up with clever names for their safari-themed features. Splashin' Safari in Santa Claus, Ind., for example, calls its lazy river The Congo and its enclosed slide The Zoombabwe.

The Nautical: Presumably, your facility has plenty of water, so you've already got the major component for a high-seas theme. Or consider branching out to a sailing or beach theme. Disney's Typhoon Lagoon in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., sports a combination of both.

The Cowboy: The theme isn't just for western states anymore. The Fort Whalely Western Theme Park in Ocean City, Md., has done an impressive job incorporating a Wild West theme complete with a covered wagon with slides jetting out from the back and both sides.