Feature Article - September 2010
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Fun For The Whole Family

Waterpark Options for All Ages

By Dawn Klingensmith

The experiences of Tracy and Jeff, and the expectations the two of them brought, are reflective of the industry as a whole. "As far as trends go, this is not new but we're still seeing a heavy increase in pushing the family aspect of waterparks," said Nicholas Neuman, head of project development for the aquatic design and engineering firm Water Technology Inc., headquartered in Beaver Dam, Wis. "There's a big drive and a push to make sure rides and attractions are family-oriented" and that every family member has a good time for the duration of the stay.

In keeping with those goals, waterparks are creating rides that are "all-inclusive, group experiences where more than one person can ride or actively participate at once," Neuman added.

In this category are inner-tube and uphill roller coaster rides that accommodate multiple users, as well as slides with competitive, side-by-side configurations, such as the parallel speed slides, called the Challengers, at Atlantis Resort, Paradise Island, Bahamas. The slides emerge from a Mayan-inspired pyramid from which contestants take off simultaneously and are timed.

The dueling-waterslides concept is successful in part because it encourages friendly rivalry among friends and family, as well as between generations. Just ask Jeff's 8-year-old daughter, Ali. One of her favorite rides consisted of slides that looked like those silly soda straws, spiraling downward at an angle. Pairs can race while twirling around each other's chute. At Ali's behest, she and Jeff did so repeatedly.

"I held back at first," Jeff said, "but when I realized she was beating me fair and square, I raced her legitimately. She loves beating Daddy."

Another popular iteration on the market is an eight-lane mat racer than can accommodate entire families at once (albeit not the Gosselins or Duggars).

The competitive aspect of these family-oriented rides appeals to the industry's target demographic; teens tend to want to distance themselves from Mom and Dad but the opportunity to outperform their parents draws teens in.

Attractions that Neuman refers to as "thrill and skill" rides also appeal to teens, who enjoy the process of gaining mastery and then having an audience to whom they can show off. That's why surf machines are so popular and have proved to have so much crowd-pleasing potential. In order to realize that potential, though, planning and placement are paramount.

"Parks aren't just plopping these surf rides in, but are putting an entire zone around it," Neuman said. "It's a low-capacity ride, but it's an incredibly dynamic experience that attracts onlookers. So there's plenty of room and seating for spectators, plus high-energy music and concessions" to make for a party-like atmosphere.

Of course there's a whole host of noncompetitive rides that are fun for the whole family, such as uphill coasters with toboggan-style rafts and a new generation of inner-tube rides that combine the speed of a slide with the up-and-down, back-and-forth motion of a funnel, half pipe or bowl.