Feature Article - September 2012
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Thrills and Spills

New Waves, New Technologies in Waterparks

By Rick Dandes

The competitive nature of the amusement park business—and high consumer expectations—have led to the unveiling this year of several spectacular waterpark concepts, and thrilling new technologically sophisticated and mind-blowing waterpark rides that couldn't have been imagined years ago.

The reason for these advances is quite simply this: market demand. In this tight but improving economy, guests of all ages expect added value for the price of admission. And, not only must the experience at the park be memorable, but it also has to be one that guests will want to tell their friends about by posting on Facebook, tweeting on Twitter or communicating via any number of social media sites.

Aware of all that, private waterpark owners and even public municipalities are asking designers to create whatever type of attraction they can conceive of.

One case in point: the Mammoth "water coaster," at Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind. Located in the park's Splashin' Safari area, the ride features seven hills, multiple twists and turns, and reaches a length of 1,763 feet, making it one of the longest water coasters in the world. Mammoth uses the same linear induction motor (LIM) technology—a series of magnets—that newer roller coasters use to propel passengers uphill. Seated in six-person circular rafts, riders find themselves facing forward, sideways or backwards and may even experience "air time," a weightless feeling as they crest each hill.

Compare a ride like Mammoth with what the industry first offered, explained Aleatha Ezra, director of Park Member Development, World Waterpark Association, Overland Park, Kan. "In the past," she said, "waterparks built slides on a tower or a hill. Guests climbed to the top and slid down to the bottom. Some of the rides might have included a serpentine path or a speed path, but guests basically were still restricted to simply sliding from the top to the bottom of the slide."

Today, new technologies allow slides to follow any conceivable path. Riders now are moved up and down the slide path. Ride designers are not limited to simply using the momentum derived in the past from starting out at the highest point on the ride.

"Ride designers are using similar technology to create oscillating rides and bowl rides," Ezra continued. "In oscillating rides, guests are propelled from one side of the ride to the other on a flat surface that's been bent into a U shape. They ride up one side, down to the middle and up the other side. In bowl rides, guests slide around inside a funnel-shaped bowl before dropping down into a splash pool or run-out chute. And, of course, water coasters move guests up and down over a variety of inclines."

The outdoor waterpark market is fairly mature, admitted Ken Ellis, president and CEO, Aquatic Development Group and owner of Camel Beach at Camelback Mountain, in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, but there are still some locations and some cities that don't have major outdoor waterparks. "What you are seeing now in the United States are operators trying to add some new signature-type rides, both from a capacity need, getting more people in the park, and also from a marketing angle, so they can market it as new. The goal is to reach people who have not been to their waterpark lately, to ask them to take another look."