Supplement Feature - September 2020
Find a printable version here

The Water's Fine!

What's New in Waterparks

By Dave Ramont

It's unfortunate that these days—when discussing pretty much any industry—we have to consider how the ongoing pandemic is affecting business. And as we examine new trends at waterparks, we also wonder how they're weathering the storm and what the future may look like. And while it's true that some parks were unable to open this season and others opened with limited capacity and new restrictions and protocols, we're also happy to report that there is some good news when it comes to new waterpark construction and renovation projects.

Jen Gerber, business development leader, and Robbie Hazelbaker, project director for Water Technology Inc., report having a variety of aquatic projects in all venues—municipal recreation, commercial waterparks, resorts, hotels and more. And while many municipalities placed projects on hold due to funding constraints, many other communities moved forward with development plans. "There are also many pools that are closed for the summer or for the short term as their leadership addresses operational impacts for the pool, and we're finding that many municipalities are taking advantage of this time to audit and assess their facility and engage firms like us to plan for brighter days," Gerber said.

Drew Ford, sales manager for a Kansas-based firm that designs, engineers, manufactures and installs waterslides and waterpark attractions, has also seen new projects and renovations moving forward. "Much of this is based on the age of the park, the location, the political climate—whether funding has been secured or still needs to be sought out—and by the type of venue. Is the venue publicly owned? Private? There is still work taking place, and we're seeing all markets work through this the best way they can to provide aquatic recreation to their users."

Fun in the Water

So as waterparks are getting back to business, what are some of the current trends with regard to attractions? "Waterslides will always remain a mainstay of waterpark attractions, but if we look beyond these colorful structures, what we see is the foundation to creating the overall waterpark experience, and that's the in-water attractions," said Jessica Mahoney, director of marketing for Aquatic Development Group. "A lot of what's happening today in terms of innovation is taking place in pools and rivers. From innovative wave rivers to in-water play and adventure obstacle courses, these water attractions are redefining the typical flat pool areas and lazy rivers, providing parks with all new ways to get people in the water, increasing guest satisfaction and length of stay."

"One of the big trends right now is the element of competition in parks of all shapes and sizes," said Gerber. "Whether that's a timing element for a waterslide or an aquatic obstacle course, the industry is looking to engage that historically challenging demographic of teens and tweens."

She explained that while patrons can race their peers or family members, they also look to beat their own personal best time, creating a unique user experience for guests of all ages and abilities. "This audience is more focused on technology and social media; as designers we're working to find ways to increase thrill and adrenaline activities while providing safe opportunities for aquatic exploration. Other solutions for providing these experiences include features like log rolling, surfing, slacklining and experience-driven water-slides."

Along with body slides, speed slides, drop slides, family slides, kiddie racers, splash bowls and raft rides, Ford's company offers innovative new attractions, including a waterslide you ride while standing up, holding the side rails and gliding down on your heels. A new extreme drop slide features a drop capsule with a curved back riding surface, making for a smooth and ergonomic ride. And it allows for multiple capsules to be linked together for a thrilling multi-user experience. Custom light and sound packages can be added to any new or existing waterslide design. "Each slide has its own unique experience for the rider. Whether coasting or flying, there's always something to look forward to on these innovative rides. The best thing about an adrenaline ride is the feeling of the thrill and the unknown, when in fact these rides have been proven to be predictable and safe," said Ford.

Mahoney's firm also builds and manufactures their own equipment, technology and attractions, including skill-based surf attractions. Surf rides can be tailored to each riders' level of comfort and experience, with operators altering the wave shapes and sizes with one-touch adjustable power level controls. These attractions are offered in various configurations, including single, double or triple lane, as well as a 180-degree surf ride utilizing an inflatable surface.