Feature Article - October 2015
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Making Waves

Municipal Waterparks Getting More Competitive

By Joe Bush

Creating 'Watertainment'

So, what needs to be added to make a waterpark? A certain number of slides, buckets, wave pools? Sangree's definitions of waterparks are:

  • Indoor standalone: a minimum of 10,000 square feet of indoor waterpark space inclusive of attractions such as slides, tubes and a variety of indoor water play features.
  • Outdoor standalone: three or more waterslides and often other water elements requiring lifeguards such as lazy rivers, surf simulators or wave pools, as well as splash features for younger children.

Such designations are for surveys and reports, however. Like Water World at the end of the 1970s, each municipality can answer what to add and how and when to be self-sustainable and more without considering the number of slides and square footage.

There's a case to be made for less amazing but very effective features to boost the experience. Assuming a municipal pool has a deep end, it has all it needs to spice up the area and see how a little improvement affects attendance, then using that information for analysis and perhaps evidence to bolster arguments for additional funding for bigger and better features and attractions.

Doug Whiteaker, president of WTI, said that if a pool area has deep water, it can easily be in the business of what he calls "watertainment."

A lot of these parks are leisure pools that have evolved into aqua parks but not quite a full-blown waterpark.

Slack lines, climbing walls, inflatable obstacle courses, volleyball, basketball, rope swings, log rolling—all are portable and relatively inexpensive ways to turn a swimming area into a play area. Timing systems can be added to slides for competitions.

"Looking at today's consumer, they like to do a lot of different things in a short period of time," Whiteaker said. "The commercial waterparks can have all these different amenities scattered around a larger format, whereas municipal waterparks typically have a more abbreviated site and they have to be able to have multipurpose spaces.

"The waterslides are the hallmark of a lot of different types of leisure pools, but to engage people for the long run today's consumer likes that friendly competition," he added.

Crocker said adding sport to fun is crucial with kids who have grown out of splash park type attractions.

"What's interesting about the idea is it appeals to the same age group that a large waterslide would," he said. "You have to be a little bit older. You're not going to get a 4-year-old doing a slack line, so it's going to be older kids who are swimmers because you want to do this over deeper water, with features that require some skill and levels of success.

"I often say with the waterslide, a traditional waterslide, if you do it one time you're as good as you're ever going to be and you're probably as fast as you're ever going to be, and in reality you don't even know how fast you are."

Inflatables are available for pools and even open water like lakes that can be combined into obstacle-course configurations to add a competitive element to the water.

"The least expensive ones are the ones that become multipurpose, slack lining, the inflatables," Whiteaker said. "That's kind of the entry level of features—climbables, log rolling. The next tier is waterslides and bowl slides. Close to that is your wave pools, surf pools, then the very extreme waterslides, very tall and very fast.

"A smaller community," he added, "if they have a zero-depth entry, a little bit of a lazy river and maybe a lap pool, they might designate that as a waterpark but that's just because they're trying to draw people in to have that name association.

"A lot of these parks are leisure pools that have evolved into aqua parks but not quite a full-blown waterpark, or lifestyle pools where people come to these pools every day because they have the kind of features that appeal to their lifestyles. They want to come enjoy time with their family in safe, clean water and deck surfacing and lawn chairs, but they're not going to a huge waterpark that costs three times as much to get in. It provides a quality aquatic experience for a family."