Feature Article - September 2009
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Sink or Swim

How Waterparks Are Surfing the Economic Waves

By Dawn Klingensmith



Aquatic Innovators

Some waterparks, such as KeyLime Cove in Gurnee, Ill., are completely cashless facilities. Guests can pre-pay to load radio-frequency ID (RFID) wristbands with credit so kids and other park goers can spend at arcades and snack bars without carrying around cash. The wristbands also replace room keys, freeing guests from keeping track of them.

Although surfing simulators are all the rage, waterparks soon will be clamoring to add the attraction that the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) honored as the best new waterpark ride in 2008. The family raft ride includes a combination of thrills, but the high point is when the raft gets vertical, shooting up a wall and then pausing before dropping back down so that riders experience the sensation of weightlessness.

Royal Caribbean International cruise line has added surfing simulators to two of its ships, allowing guests to ride waves high above the ocean. Two decks down is an interactive "spray ground" for kids. It features a wading area, water cannons and other spray toys, and sculptures that reward enterprising children by spurting water when nearly concealed buttons and sensors are discovered and triggered. At night, the spray ground turns into an illuminated sculpture garden, with the water taking on an architectural quality. These amenities join an ice-skating rink, rock-climbing wall and miniature golf course to create a floating theme park of sorts.

The first phase of Schlitterbahn Vacation Village Waterpark in Kansas City, Kan., opened summer 2009 with attractions interconnected by a "Transportainment River System." Instead of walking from one attraction to the next and waiting in line, guests can stay in the water and tube to most rides and pools. The river changes tempo throughout its course and has elevation changes and rapids. When all phases are complete, the 40-acre waterpark will be one of the world's largest tubing parks with miles of interconnected waterways.

Drawing in teens, Camelbeach Mountain Waterpark in Tannersville, Pa., hosts free "Camel-oke" (karaoke) competitions for free as well as a series of summertime teen nights featuring entertainment, music and tons of swag.

White Water World in South East Queensland, Australia, features a new-generation water coaster that uses linear induction motors instead of conveyor belts to propel riders up hills.

So-called "thrill fatigue" and the competitive nature of teens, as well as good-natured competition among family members, might have been what Sahara Sam's Oasis, which opened March 2009 in West Berlin, N.J., had in mind when it installed Sam's Slam Dunker water basketball court. Waterpark operators would be wise to recognize the allure of this type of attraction. For example, though the Student Aquatic Center at Southwest Missouri State University has a zip line for entering the water and a climbing wall rising out of the leisure pool, water basketball and water volleyball have proved to be even more popular.