Making a Big Splash
Waterparks Strive to Thrill Guests with the Right Rides

The weather was record-breakingly hot last summer in parts of the country, and waterparks provided cool liquid thrills. And, as patrons sought bigger and better thrills, waterparks responded with innovation.  SplashTacular, for example, a La Quinta, Calif.,-based company that provides the industry with waterpark attractions, recently installed its first pulse pounding 360Rush ride.  The revolutionary ride received the World Waterpark Association’s (WWA) innovation award in 2011.
Said SplashTacular spokeswoman BJ Johnson, “We introduced the ride two years ago at the WWA show.   We had talked to several park operators about it, but because the ride was so different and something no one had ever done before, we had people who were interested, but hesitant to be the first.  Then we were approached by the family owned Spring Valley Beach in Blountsville, Ala., and it immediately caught their eye.  The ride opened in their park in July of this year.”
“We wanted to add a real thrill ride,” said Spring Valley Beach owner Alex Guilliland.  His park is located between Birmingham and Huntsville, so it draws from both metropolitan areas.  He recalled, “I’ve been in this business for 40 years.  We started out as a spring-fed natural swimming hole, about a two-acre pool.  Over the years we keep adding things, but we wanted something really different.  Something fun and scary that people would love, and we found it in the 360Rush.  It takes around three seconds to drop about 60 feet, and you end up shooting around a bowl like a bullet.”
According to Johnson, “While it’s a bowl ride, which in itself is not unique within the industry, the 360Rush is eye catching with its size and height.  In addition, what we have done is take two riders into the same bowl without colliding with each other.  That is the trick.”  
She explained, “They launch simultaneously from the platform, which is 58 feet in the air, via a trap door system that enables us to have a controlled start.  The operator is in communication with the riders and after a countdown the operator hits the launch button.  The riders free fall probably about 10 feet, then slide into the first curve of the slide and take off like a bullet.  We estimate that they are travelling about 30 to 40 miles per hour when they hit the bowl.  The riders hit the 45-feet in diameter bowl 180 degrees from each other and remain separated as they chase each other around.”
She continued, “Another aspect that adds to the thrill is that, unlike most rides, the rider is not in control of when they start.  This adds a whole new element.  I personally have tried the 360Rush and it truly is an incredible experience.”
Other parks may not have the size, but that doesn’t  mean that they aren’t a big draw as patrons look for cool fun.  “We are a very small waterpark primarily geared towards families that are staying on the property,” said Rose Ann Graham, manager of Wild Bear Falls Indoor Water Park, which is part of the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort in Gatlinburg, Tenn.  “We opened up four years ago and have about 100,000 visitors a year.”  She also noted, “Right now we are holding off making any changes and listening to feedback from customers and what they are looking for – especially younger people.”
And, at Itasca Water Park in Itasca, Ill., guests are getting their thrills from rides like the Vortex, while kids are enjoying the wading pool.  “The park, which is part of Itasca Park District, was renovated in 2007,” said Anne Bennett, the aquatics and facilities supervisor, “so it is relatively new.”
At Raging Rivers in Grafton, Ill., Donna Smith, the manger, said, “We have about 160,000 visitors a season, which runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  We are a medium-sized park, about 20 acres, and we know that everyone wants bigger and faster and more adrenaline-producing thrills.  But they also want rides they can share with the family, not just a ride they take by themselves.”
Smith further noted, “We hope to add something for the 13-to-30 age group – perhaps the Master Blaster, which is a popular uphill roller coaster type ride in a raft.  But while we have been thinking about adding for the  past year or two, we have nothing definite at this point.  We hope to make some decisions after the park closes at the end of this season.”
Brooke Potendyk, the front office manager at Splashdown Family Waterpark, East Peoria, Ill., said, “We are a small waterpark and don’t have much space to expand because one side of the park is a hillside and we are conjoined to a sports complex.  What we do offer is a big slide you go down on tubes that people love.”
In Hurricane, W.V., at  Waves of Fun Park, Scott Williamson, director of the Putnam Country Park System, said, “We have the only wave pool in the state, and it’s very popular.  We draw  from Kentucky, Ohio, and Virginia as well as West Virginia.  We have the space and would like to expand, perhaps something like a lazy river attraction.”
One thing is certain.  That is, with industry leaders developing a range of innovative new options, there is sure to be a range of rides that fit waterpark operators’ target demographics and space requirements.  As SpashTacular’s Johnson noted, “We have even bigger and better things on the drawing board.  For example, we have a sister ride to the 360Rage we are calling the Double Bowls Eye.  It was developed and introduced at last year’s trade show.  Our approach is to try and find out what park owners are looking for and then meet that need with something unique that we can take to the next level.”
Of course, you can have the best rides out there, but there are other factors that drive the number of visitors.   As Williamson noted, “We strive to keep the facilities clean and well groomed and try to hire staff that are courteous.  Most people now are spending their dollars carefully. So, if they don’t have a good experience for any reason, like trash or litter on the ground or an employee that’s not friendly, they might not come back.”

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