Supplement Feature - February 2014
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Fun & Functional

Aquatic Design Trends

By Deborah L. Vence

Cutting-edge technology and sophisticated play features continue to propel the aquatic industry to new heights, giving aquatic facilities the opportunity not only to offer patrons more breathtaking rides, but boost long-term profitability.

"The commercial waterpark has been off the charts in recent years by increasingly complex and high-intensity rides, which emulate their 'cousin,' the amusement park," said Melinda Kempfer, business development manager at Water Technology Inc. (WTI), based in Beaver Dam, Wis.

Some of the latest design trends include, "Incorporating increasing levels of interactive play features and true commercial waterpark elements into the more traditional aquatic venues," said David Keim, vice president of sales and marketing for Aquatic Development Group Inc. in Cohoes, N.Y. "Products like the elevated wet ropes courses, surf simulators and action rivers are finding their way into the public pool market."

This month, we discuss the latest trends and innovations in aquatic design, as well as highlight facilities across the country that have more progressive design principles in place.

Picking Up the Pace

Every year, it seems the next best aquatic feature tops the one before. Water rides are faster, allow for more people to ride and are even longer in duration, making these just a few of the latest trends in aquatic design.

"The length of many rides is growing over time, which makes for a more engaging experience. I have recently seen several designs with a continuous loop attraction that allows someone to ride for an extended period of time without exiting," said Stephen Colvin, director of global business development, Cloward H2O, a Provo, Utah-based company that designs aquatic leisure and marine facilities.

In fact, there are two new water-coasters that use magnets to propel riders uphill and down an exciting thrill ride. "These are two examples of rides that are faster and allow for people to ride them," Colvin said. He added that there are now rides for up to six people to enjoy at a time, and many rides now last more than a minute or two in duration with continual loops.

"Superloop or aqualoop are what speed slides are migrating to; things with large and fast drops, but some other element besides straight down," Colvin explained. "Another trend is to add a sense of competition to the attractions, where people want to beat each other on time or skill level."

Kempfer shared some trends she sees in aquatic design, including:

  • Guest accommodations are becoming commonplace in a municipal pool.
  • Shade is increasingly important today, too, along with deck chairs and pavilions where guests can be comfortable. "A comfortable guest spends more time at the park. Many outdoor family aquatic centers are including rentable cabanas within their facilities that have become a great source of revenue for municipalities. These cabanas are rented for an increment of time and allow for families and groups to have a shaded, centralized meeting area," Kempfer said.
  • Conversation and socializing areas within the pool—in three to five feet of water—with bubble benches and sitting areas are becoming prevalent in new designs.
  • Designing for future expansion. During programming and master-planning, design teams can identify opportunities for future equipment or pool additions when funds become available and account for these in the initial design. Examples include building a slide tower that accommodates two slides, but only includes one in the initial project and planning space for water play features that can be added.
  • Zero-depth and tube slides are synonymous with today's aquatic centers. "They aren't new trends. People want to be entertained. Commercial waterparks are a big influence in the municipal family aquatic centers. Family aquatic centers are making rides more exciting to keep up with the public's entertainment needs. We are starting to see amenities like surf generators, speed slides, wave pools, water coasters and multi-level play structures in public aquatic centers," she said.
  • Mini-versions of attractions are becoming available as suppliers and designers cater to younger guests by providing smaller versions of waterpark attractions—mini-lazy rivers, wave ponds, mini slides (run out slides are ideal because they don't exit into a pool with 42-inch minimum height requirements).
  • Skill-based amenities, both wet and dry, challenge guests and their peers to create an interactive experience; guests will want to improve their skills, thus driving guests to return to the water park for repeat visits. The hottest trends tend to be adding elements that offer more active participation. "We are seeing more elements being included that provide opportunities for guests to interact with each other and the surrounding environment. Colleges, universities and other historically competitive venues are offering more family aquatic center attractions in response to their increasingly varied demographics of families and young adults," Kempfer said.
  • Climbing walls, water slides, "spa" pools and similar attractions are finding their way into the once stoic lap pool environment. The municipal-based leisure facilities, such as those operated by park districts and community groups like the Salvation Army and YMCA, are seeing an increased attraction mix once limited to the commercial waterpark such as multi-level play structures, rivers and themed environments that could include more effects elements, such as lighting and audio packages.
  • Non-traditional waterpark/aquatic activities like climbing walls, aqua courses and zip lines.