Feature Article - September 2011
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Riding the Wave

Keeping Waterparks Afloat in a Choppy Economy

By Jessica Royer Ocken



Quick Tricks for Fast (and Inexpensive) Fun
  • Host a "dive-in" movie. Just hang a large sheet or find a blank, light-colored wall and project the movie there while viewers watch from the pool.
  • Have a "UFO night" where teens and adults can bring all sorts of (soft) throwable, flying objects to play with for a few hours in the pool.
  • Arrange an adventure race. Concoct a crazy course using all the elements of your park: zip down the waterslide, run against the lazy river's current, hop on the deck wearing flippers—anything goes! Then keep time and may the fastest fish win.
  • Create a new sport. The Falls is contemplating an "underwater hockey league," Verink said. After the park is closed for the evening, the puck would drop to the bottom of the pool, and players would use masks, snorkels and special short hockey sticks to play.
  • Offer a Guitar Hero or other sort of onsite competition, even if it has nothing to do with the water. Once the teen set sees what you have to offer, they may be back, and next time they'll bring their suits.

Rental Revenues

Ensuring adequate shade and space for all your patrons is a key to fostering goodwill and making your waterpark widely appealing, but if you have those bases covered, start to think like a commercial venue and take it to the next level by offering VIP rentals. (Your income will follow!)

If you don't already, one of the simplest ways to add revenue is by making your facility rentable for private events, from birthday parties to corporate gatherings. And don't just think evenings. The Falls has been rented by a local senior center on several Saturday mornings for everything from lazy river water-walking to lap swimming to grandkids day at the waterpark.

Once you've mastered the after-hours rental, look at your options during regular operating hours. Magic Waters in Rockford now does a thriving business with rentable cabanas. They began with a test run a few years back using three backyard cabanas Steinberg purchased on clearance at a home-improvement store. "Most indoor waterparks and resort waterparks have cabanas, and I thought it was a cool idea," she explained. They set up the cabanas in some unused space by the wave pool, and they sold out every day. "We had a waiting list and people were fighting over them," Steinberg recalled. So, she sent her staff to every home-improvement store in the area to find more.

Since this initial success they've also added some Las Vegas-style luxury cabanas, which come with TVs, a mini fridge stocked with water, and a lockable cabinet. They've also added rentable private "island patios" for larger groups, and "blaster bungalows" near their most popular ride, the Splash Blaster. These bungalow packages come with a "fast pass" that scoots the holder to the front of the line for that slide.

People love having a private space to use as their home base and meeting point, she explained. But the park is also very careful to provide plenty of free lounge chairs and shady spots for visitors, and they control the number of "fast passes" issued to be sure they aren't creating horrific waits for those without.