Supplement Feature - October 2017
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Riding the New Waves

Advances in Waterpark Design & Technology

By Rick Dandes

There are several other ways waterparks can incorporate technology into their facilities, added Jessica Mahoney, marketing manager of Aquatic Development Group in Cohoes, N.Y. This can be seen from queueing of the rides to the wristbands people can wear instead of having to carry around keys for lockers or a fast pass, she said. "It's a Disney approach, where you don't have to carry around your wallet."

Trending technologies are also making the ordinary experiences of old rides exciting and fresh at many parks. "It's all how you incorporate the technology," Mahoney said. "The idea, of course, is to reinvent some activity or ride you take normally and make it new without having to get a completely new ride."

You might float down a raft with a little laser gun in your hand and you're shooting at targets. Or, you can take an existing slide-boarding ride and install lights as the board goes down, with different colors as you go through the ride.

Another trend, Mahoney said, is to have skill-based rides, where people go on a ride over and over and increase their skill level, getting better at a particular challenge or task. She cites wave-simulating rides as an example, where visitors can try out their surfing skills. "People will buy season passes just to ride that and work on it and get better at it. Some parks have a boogie-boarding wave pool, which is a similar ride. You can get on it a first time, and the more you go on it, the better you get, the more tricks you can do. The same thing with waves. You can program variable wave patterns: One time might be a gentle family wave, another time it might be a tsunami-type wave. All of these offer the park-goer an experience."

Many rides now have a theme, telling a story that has a beginning and an end that takes you on a journey. "Incorporating more branding into the experience, instead of it being an afterthought, is becoming more of a main part of developing a ride," Mahoney said.

Overall, the guest experience is coming to the forefront and it's a major trend. "When we design a park," Mahoney explained, "we do consider the experience holistically," and it's something all waterparks should analyze: Is there a right mix of attractions with the right amount of deck space, and the right number of changing facilities. Where is the food and beverage placed in relation to the rides? Also consider the guest flow, the patterns of where guests walk to reach other rides. And do you have the right amount of deck to cater to the number of people you want coming to your park? All that should be taken into consideration to enhance the overall experience.

Attract New Guests & Keep Them Coming Back

Suppose your park is already attracting an audience of younger kids, but you are missing the teen demographic, Mahoney said. "You need to think, 'what can I get to appeal to them?' Do you need more thrill rides? For the little ones, do you need something for them? You want to have enough variety for a family to sit and spend the day. It's about creating an experience and being able to market something unique, something different that is going to make you stand out from your competition. And something that will get people to come back."

Why not develop new rides that allow guests to physically compete with each other in the real world, on actual slides, not just in virtual reality? That is something attracting new guests to waterparks, Pakis said.

"The thrill of being on the actual waterslides themselves will always be a huge incentive for guests," Pakis noted. "So there are new rides that offer these types of interactions." One new ride they've developed, for example, is a Class-A waterslide "...that is unique both in terms of its design configuration, its engineering and its ride path. It allows riders to race one another via twin-symmetrical slides. The ride allows guests to race as teams against other riders using four-person, round, family-style rafts. They launch from a tower, where they can scope out other riders to get ideas about how to manipulate their speed before they even get in their rafts. The ride includes a bowl section that is exciting for riders because it's the place where they have the greatest opportunity to really get an edge on their competition.

This slide, Pakis explained, "also incorporates other features that make it extra exciting, such as special effects that combine the interplay of adrenaline, speed, light and sound.

There is an art and science to engaging kids at waterparks. Sure, there is the fun aspect—rides have to be fun—but these days there is almost a gamification aspect to rides, especially when you are looking at a teen audience. That's what Pakis and Mahoney are talking about. Kids are into video games, and part of the appeal is how you get better with repeated play.

"The difference is, here you also are outside, getting fresh air and exercising," Mahoney said. "We're bringing technology into all this, and for a teen or younger generation, it's something they are comfortable with and excited about. You can figure virtual reality is becoming a part of this, tied into the actual ride as well. You ride on a float, shoot at targets and with repeated rides, get better. I think that is where a lot of rides are going. We are seeing that in roller coaster rides and now we're bringing it to waterparks."

What's old can be new again. Often it's a variation on what you have. If you have a wave pool, how do you make that new and exciting? Mahoney suggested creating roller waves, or a tsunami to mimic a real ocean wave experience. At Camelbeach Mountain Waterpark in Tannersville, Pa., there are regular times of days when there are tsunami waves.