By Hilary Danailova
Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are a continent and a world away from Africa, but visitors to the Kalahari resorts in those states can experience “the spirit and majesty of Africa,” according to Thatcher Robertson, Kalahari’s director of Waterparks.
An African-inspired aesthetic colors all of the full-service theme resorts, which feature indoor and outdoor attractions — including waterparks and FECs with safari décor — in the Poconos; Sandusky, Ohio; Wisconsin Dells; and, soon, Round Rock, Texas.
Far from the lands where elephants roam, “the colors, art, design, and landscaping all speak to the natural beauty of the African continent,” Robertson explained. Indeed, Kalahari’s owners and designers have traveled extensively through Africa, sourcing artisan wares and taking note of how to translate the continent’s feel to North American family resorts.
Like Kalahari, many attractions consider their physical environments carefully. They use distinctive colors to convey a particular feel, install fixtures and concessions that complement guests’ needs, and space out their attractions and landscaping for natural flow.
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, which runs along the Pacific Ocean in Santa Cruz, Calif., can take advantage of a wide, beautiful seascape as backdrop for its rides and concessions, said Marq Lipton, a spokesman for the attraction. “Even at peak times, the ocean view and free access to the beach provides an open feeling,” he explained.
To enhance the waterfront experience, the Boardwalk recently extended several large public decks overlooking the beach, adding more benches and tables.
As a California Historical Landmark — with several nationally designed landmark attractions, including the historic carousel and roller coaster — the Boardwalk is extremely mindful of incorporating a festive seaside theme into even practical installations like benches.
One popular bench style, designed in-house, features colorful fiberglass backs shaped like surfboards. “People love taking photos on them,” Lipton said.
But upkeep is not easy when your colorful vintage venue is next to a windswept ocean. The salt air “is extremely hard on the park,” Lipton noted. “Our crew of seven painters is always busy repainting rides and attractions.”
In Kansas City, Mo., bright primary colors and abundant greenery convey a sense of adventure at Worlds of Fun, a park themed after Jules Verne’s classic novel “Around The World in 80 Days.” Attractions are deliberately spaced out to allow guests to wander through towering rides and thick groves of trees, said Manager of Grounds Nick Pence.
“Landscaping is an extension of our attractions,” said Pence. “We primarily use our land’s natural features to create extra space and flow between attractions, and to provide focal points and escape for our guests.”
Wooden benches are consistent with the classic, traditional look and stay cooler than metal or plastic in the Midwestern summer heat, Pence said. The vintage feel is also evident in Worlds of Fun’s eateries, with such retro park favorites as Dippin’ Dots, funnel cakes and a drive-in diner.
Trash cans are plastic, however, since that material is more durable and easier to clean. To keep the rides and buildings looking fresh, Worlds of Fun touches up the paint every off-season, rotating full repaint jobs based on need, Pence said.
A bright, all-American look sets a festive mood at the State Fair of Texas, said Creative Director Jason Hays. “Our colors tie not only to the recognizable hues of the Lone Star state, but the whimsical character of an annual exposition,” Hays said.
His team paints attractions in red, white, and royal and navy blue, with accents in teal, pink, purple, orange and black. Those colors just happen to complement the existing buildings at Fair Park, a National Historic Landmark whose Art Deco-era structures lend vintage charm to the 1886 State Fair.
Likewise, the LEGOLAND Florida Resort takes advantage of a 150-acre location on the former site of Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven. “Our landscaping is therefore very mature,” said Jan Mahoney, director of Operations. The setting offers water views over Lake Eloise for what Mahoney calls “an authentic Central Florida feel.”
It’s also an authentic LEGO feel, with attractions painted in the bright primary colors of those iconic plastic blocks. “Everything we do is built for kids,” explained Mahoney. That includes the park layout, which is carefully spaced to nudge guests toward another attraction while leaving room for them to rest and enjoy the scenery in between.
As with the toys themselves, the LEGOLAND park is designed to be durable and user-friendly — from the recycled-material benches and trash cans to eateries themed to the various park attractions, like the Firehouse Ice Cream shop sporting life-sized LEGO firefighters. “It’s important that we carry that theming throughout every experience at the resort, including food and beverage,” Mahoney said.
The Ivory Coast Restaurant and the Great Karoo Marketplace Buffet are just a few examples of how dining complements the African theme at the Wisconsin Dells Kalahari Resort. “Our dining outlets are designed to be an oasis for guests as they enjoy their day,” Thatcher Robertson said.
Kalahari resorts are all about activity, but their design offers strategic opportunities to recharge in between, with more than 1,500 chairs and loungers distributed around each park, Robertson said.
“To maximize guest comfort, our parks are designed with several open areas for dining and lounging, so guests can go from one attraction another quickly and then spread out when it’s time to rest, relax or get a bite to eat,” he explained.
Private cabanas inside the parks are equipped with couches and refrigerators so guests can set up a “home base” for the day’s activities.
As the business prepares to open its first Texas resort in Round Rock, sustainability also figures into the design: Robertson said the parks are transitioning to larger, more environmentally friendly waste receptacles that incorporate recycling.
Each park takes its own approach to basic infrastructure like benches and trash cans, the composition of which varies according to climate, sanitation practices and aesthetic design.
At Dollywood, the Southern theme park and resort in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., Grounds Manager Morgan Duckworth said he replaces the six-foot-long, custom-made wooden benches as they wear out, while plastic liners keep the metal trash cans functional indefinitely.
Around the popular park, color schemes vary to suit different areas, with repainting scheduled every three to four years, Duckworth said. Set amid the Great Smoky Mountains, nature-themed attractions feature earth tones, while attractions centered around show business or the old-time country village are more colorful.
“How much we manicure the shrubbery and trees depends on the area of the park,” noted Duckworth, adding that some areas are more rustic, others more urbane. “Overall, Dollywood’s landscaping fills the negative spaces between rides and buildings, softening the hard edges and increasing the organic quality.”