Tips to Improve Your Business Outlook: Serving the Youngest Patrons at Waterparks

September 12, 2011 No Comments

While toddlers and preschoolers may not be the primary target audience for waterparks, savvy waterpark operators are going the extra mile to accommodate such young patrons in an effort to maintain a competitive edge. Their rationale: Families with children of different ages want to frequent a waterpark that offers something other than a wading pool for their little ones to enjoy while their older youngsters—and perhaps, they themselves—get wet on the more “mainstream” attractions.

Even if a waterpark features tame water rides in addition to thrilling ones, “having something for the youngest children” ranks among the top accoutrements that “set waterparks apart” from the rest, said Peter Ronchetti, general manager of LEGOLAND ® Resort, the Carlsbad, Calif., home of LEGOLAND ® Water Park.

Some waterpark operators accommodate their youngest patrons in part by including downsized, “small-child-friendly” versions of water attractions that are popular with the older set. For example, LEGOLAND ® Water Park touts Kid Creek, a miniature, shallow “lazy river” in which parents can walk alongside their children, including those who still wear swim diapers, as they float on rafts. Admission is limited to kids under 42 inches tall. LEGOLAND ® Water Park is a new facility; hence, no improvements are planned at this time.

Meanwhile, at Knott’s Berry Farm’s Soak City waterparks in San Diego, Buena Park, and Palm Springs, Calif., toddlers and preschool-age children enjoy access to an attraction called Tykes Trough. It comprises “twisty” and straight water slides that look like those older patrons might frequent, yet sit just a few feet off the ground and, as such, are ideal for pint-sized visitors, stated Tyler Currie, general manager, Soak City San Diego.

The waterpark at Great Wolf Lodge in Sandusky, Ohio, has a similar slide called Whooping Hollow. Big Foot Pass is also appropriate for younger kids, who can jump from a series of lily pads in the shallow water.

Waterparks also cater to the toddler-and preschool-age cadre of guests with play areas and play structures rendered more appealing than wading pools by interactive features and/or creative theming. The Spring Valley Beach water park in Blountsville, Ala., added a Kiddie Paradise section to an entire side of its two-acre pool as a response in response to customer requests, reported Allen Gillibrand, owner, who noted that additional options for young children are not out of the question. Kiddie Paradise boasts a scaled-down soaker feature, a raindrop cascade, and a spouting whale as well as slides and other accoutrements.

At LEGOLAND ® Water Park, parents will find a Splash Zoo zoo-themed water attraction geared toward children ages 1 to 3. It has spray pads; water-spouting Duplo zoo animals, including a lion, giraffe and zebra; and a teeter-totter in the middle of the water.

Soak City’s Gremmie Lagoon water playground, meanwhile, features a sea and sea life theme. Octopus, submarine and other fixtures splash, squirt, or sprinkle, or soak small visitors, who can also try out one of several twisting slides and small-scale climbing structures as they get wet. A spokesperson for Sandusky, Ohio-based Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, which owns Knott’s Berry Farm and the Soak City facilities, said no enhancements to the Soak City lineup of attractions for toddlers and preschoolers are currently planned, but “this could change.”

Vendors are answering the call for new options for waterparks to offer to the youngest patrons. Last summer, SplashTacular introduced aquatic play units in 185 colors and specific themes, such as “safari” and “day at the beach;” all units are customizable and have interchangeable components, such as buckets and spouting figures, that can be switched around from year to year.

“We really wanted something that would serve younger children,” said Robb Strall, director of new ride development and special projects.  “While SplashTacular has designed and manufactured larger waterslides for years, most are made for kids over 48 inches tall.”

A SplashTacular play unit installed this year at Brighton Oasis Family Aquatic Park in Brighton, Colo., offers 23 different features. The three-level structure includes two water slides and a new, patent-pending feature from SplashTacular called the SplashDome, a  25-foot.-wide dome at the top that fills with water every five minutes to deliver a 30-second “dome of water” to the patrons below. The guard rail system uses completely transparent acrylic panels, giving parents and lifeguards an unobstructed view of the children.

For its part, Zebec of North America, Inc. provides all the components needed to create Lily Pad Walks, including foam lily pad floats, overhead netting, and pool side safety padding. The floats are manufactured from six inches of high-density safety foam, encased in a water-tight, reinforced outer membrane cover. They come in 3-and-4-foot sizes, as well as in custom configurations. Designed to be placed on the side of the pool to protect patrons as they enter and exit the Lily Pad Walk area, the pads typically form an L-Shape covering, but can be ordered  in a “stair-step” shape to protect pool walls with drain gutters.

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