With Orlando already serving as the epicenter for the American theme park industry, you might think it wouldn’t make sense for a company to target the city as the home of a new amusement concept—especially in these continued tough economic times. However, if you’re Colorado-based Sage Hospitality then just the opposite is true.
Indeed, rather than shy away from the massive amount of Orlando competition, Sage recently introduced a unique waterpark-hotel hybrid, known as the CoCo Key Water Resort, smack dab in the middle of the International Drive corridor. But, before you guess that this might be a novice’s mistake, the Sage strategy is actually based on solid credentials and a clever game plan aimed at filling one of the few remaining gaps in the Central Florida amusement world.
Recently, The Large Park Report joined several CoCo Key officials for a behind the scenes look at this exciting new project. During the visit, we learned how several of Central Florida’s major theme park players have influenced Sage’s new flagship Orlando property in a significant way.
Embracing Orlando History with a Modern Flair
Upon arriving at the CoCo Key resort, one is quickly inundated by bright colors and rich textures. The lush landscaping is paralleled only by the grand attention to detail as you enter the front lobby. Indeed, unless you were told otherwise, you might never realize that CoCo Key is actually located in a heavily renovated version of International Drive’s original resort property.
The actual site dates back to 1971 when the nearby Walt Disney World Resort first opened and Orlando began to grow as a major tourist destination. One of the first non-Disney properties was the current CoCo Key location which, at the time, was near the end of the nascent International Drive. So convenient was the destination to Disney World that many executives stayed at the resort and even conducted various training meetings.
By the early 2000s though, the then-Ramada Inn had lost some of its luster to nearby competitors. Still though, its central I-Drive location remained a valuable asset in Orlando’s somewhat crowded amusement world.
While looking for the perfect property to introduce its CoCo Key concept to the area, Sage officials discovered the site and soon acquired it for their popular resort-waterpark hybrid model—one that they had previously introduced in nine other communities across the country.
By 2010, Sage had essentially gutted the property down to the walls and rebuilt it as a family friendly, water attraction destination. Indeed, while Orlando’s CoCo Key gives certain nods to its past (such as retaining the resort’s original pool), our tour revealed a thoroughly modern resort with all of the amenities that today’s vacationer expects.
Plus, there’s the indoor/outdoor waterpark, which is an on-site amenity unlike any other in Orlando.
A Water Attraction for Every Family Member
With many guests today focusing on a value-centric vacation, CoCo Key offers that in spades with room rates reaching below $150 on certain dates. Yet, it does so without sacrificing the quality and diversity of the experience. Sure, the ceilings are somewhat lower (and hallways wider) than most newly-built structures but it’s the diversity of the water attractions that really stands out.
For starters, many of the attractions are located under a high-tech steel canopy that provides additional protection from the hot sun and heat that comes with Central Florida summers. This includes the first attraction you encounter when entering the waterpark area: Minnow Lagoon, a series of small waterslides aimed at the younger members of the family.
From there, guests encounter several other targeted attractions—Parrot’s Perch, a massive waterplay structure for the family, a deeper pool with several faster slides and teen activities, and—in the resort’s outdoor area—its signature attraction, the Boomerango Double Rider, a thrill slide that rises above the entire resort.
In addition, CoCo Key also offers several dining options, from table service to casual grab and go, along with a sundries shop and a large video arcade adjacent to an indoor group meeting room where daily beach-themed activities can be held.
If it sounds like a complex mix of interesting options, then you’re right. Yet, even so, all of these pieces fit together into a seamless whole.
“We think CoCo Key is really going to be a game-changer for International Drive by attracting families to an area that typically draws scores of business travelers because of its proximity to Orlando’s massive convention center,” explained Richard Jackson, the resort’s director of sales and marketing (and himself a former Universal official). “We do that by offering a vacation trifecta of exceptional value, ideal location to all three of the area’s most popular attractions and our own brand of fun for every member of the family.”
Bringing Theme Park Experience to the New Concept
In addition to bringing the first full-fledged water resort to the Orlando market, Sage strategically embraced Central Florida’s amusement industry expertise by hiring several key officials who had previous experience at places like Disney World and Universal Orlando.
This move is clear as one walks through the resort and notices a careful attention to detail in the resort’s public areas. CoCo Key could have cut costs and corners in many less-noticed parts where the public is unlikely to venture (such as a driver’s lounge with computer access and large windows allowing in natural light). However, even in today’s tough economic times they resisted that urge in most instances. This is a classic Disney and Universal strategy—invest in the “on stage” aspect of the resort and those details will pay off in the long run with guests and an even more immersive experience.
The main lessons learned from the CoCo Key project seem to be threefold: carefully study your market, find the missing pieces among existing entertainment options in that market, and capitalize on those gaps by bringing a unique concept to the market.
With vacationer’s still spending less than before, this strategy gives guests a reason to consider something unlike anything else in the Orlando market—a well-appointed resort that includes waterpark attractions for everyone in the family at a very reasonable price.
(Reach contributor Chad Emerson at email@example.com.)