Imagine, Build, Play – Creating Interactive Water Attractions

The dictionary defines “interactive” as simply “acting one upon or with the other” or “providing output based on input from the user.” Yet when you combine the concept of interactivity with water attractions, you open up a new world for children and adults to be engaged and entertained in an environment that takes “cause and effect” to a whole new level of discovery and fun. Real interactivity means more than water squirting or flowing on a static, prearranged timetable. Facilities that incorporate water features into their attractions are coming to realize that, to be truly interactive, the activity needs to stimulate the guest in a way that effects change to the environment. The equipment (or attraction) needs to offer opportunities to touch, move and ultimately affect the outcome of the play. In children, these actions inspire them to learn more about themselves and enable them to fully realize their potential.

Legoland California

LEGOLAND® California’s Water Park is meant to be the template for the future design of LEGOLAND® Water Parks that would be installed in all other LEGOLAND family theme parks and new location-based entertainment facilities. Management was looking for an iconic centerpiece that could stand by itself, tell a story and relate to the guests through show and special effects while engaging younger children to stay and play in this area. Their interest in entertaining the younger children in this area was as practical as it was strategic. Waterparks often have a hard time getting younger children to stay in the areas designated for them, and they battle the inevitable problems that develop when younger children wander into attraction areas designed for older kids. The idea is to provide shallow pool interactive play to make it easier for parents to sit down and share some quiet time with their children or near them while their children play with others.

According to Mark Weston, President of Funtraptions, LLC, the company responsible for the creation of LEGOLAND Water Park’s “Joker Soaker,” “This is where interactive design is critical. Well-designed interactive play features are the unstated common ground or invitation to meet and play with others (i.e., it’s easier to make a new friend by joining them on a play device than by walking up and saying “Hello.”) This axiom is as true today as it was in the past, it was easier to make a new friend in the sand box or on the teeter totter than sitting on a bench.”

Weston explained that, in order to get the kids to interact with “Joker Soaker,” they did several things:

  • Made it look like it was built with DUPLO® bricks.
  • Brought it to life with a sound track and LEGO® jester model that tells jokes and announces when the big spill is about to happen.
  • Provided clock hands so guests could understand the sequence and have some control over whether they stood under the “Joker Soaker.”
  • Created a big WOW water event with the 350-gallon splash.
  • Put play elements at the base to create a traditional water gun fight.

At Imagination Station, Aquativity™ Water Tables were added to provide an entirely different play premise and a break from the river tubing, sliding and water play, sort of dry-out time with quieter and more cognitive play. All elements of the attraction are working together to maximize its entertainment and interactive play appeal. “After months of designing and planning and building, it is thrilling to finally see children enjoying LEGOLAND Water Park,” said LEGOLAND California General Manager Peter Ronchetti at the grand opening on May 28, 2010. “The interactive elements designed especially for children ages 2 to 12 really make this a unique experience for families.”

Real interactivity facilitates play between two people or a group of individuals. Imagine that pushing a lever up and down causes a rush of water to shoot 20 feet in the air. Yet if two people push opposing levers up and down, faster and faster, they can get that water to reach a height of 60 feet. Activities like this encourage social interaction and cooperative play. They also offer an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children and provide an environment that creates events that engage individuals and groups to join in the fun.

The  Louisville  Zoo

The Louisville Zoo had an objective and was looking for a creative way to meet it.  They needed another way to get families to come to the zoo during the hot, long days of summer while still embracing their mission of conservation and recreation.  Louisville Zoo Director John Walczak had always wanted a water amusement. With that goal, zoo leadership, along with Weber Group architects, Whittenberg Construction and Funtraptions, envisioned an attraction that would kick off the three-year construction of a new polar bear arctic-themed exhibit. Calistoga Splash Park, a themed interactive water play attraction, which opened in 2007, and is a part of the larger Glacier Run polar exhibit, is an attraction that combines education and recreation. Theming was an important element in this project but could not overlook the subtle sensibilities of a zoo and its mission.

The completed attraction provided the kind of play that zoo officials were looking for, including interactivity. “We are thrilled with the design of the splash park. The interactivity of the park is one of its greatest features,” Louisville Zoo Assistant Director, Mark Zoeller, said, “I really enjoyed watching my own boys use the park and see how they interacted with it. They had great fun learning which buttons and wheels controlled which jets. I am also very proud that we treat and recirculate the water instead of sending it down the drain. This makes the splash park a fit with our conservation mission as well as helping secure our place as a top recreation destination.”

Integrated into the attraction is a fishing vessel, realistic quality animal sculpts of polar bears and seals, and added whimsical features such as a ship’s wheel that sprays water as it is steered, crazy crates and barrels that have a multitude of activities to use and slides, since everyone agrees that sliding is fun! 
The end result has been that, with all the interactive features, kids stay and play for an hour or two, which for many membership holders, gave them an added reason to come to the zoo several times during the summer, if not every week.

Real interactivity means not delivering everything immediately, but rather delaying gratification by providing multiple steps required to deliver a result or multiple steps where each one delivers a small result, but when done together provide a larger, more dramatic one.

Exploration  Works

ExplorationWorks is a museum of science and culture that was looking to add a permanent water-based attraction to be the entry area of their facility. The water attraction needed to be engaging and fun for all ages to suit the family demographic at ExWorks. An AquativityTM contained water play system was used to create an interactive, hands-on play and discovery structure. The museum had a small utilities budget, so the system was tied into an existing water supply in an adjacent room, and a raised deck was designed to deal with water splash. Colors for elements of the AquativityTM system were chosen to compliment adjacent exhibits, wall murals and fixtures as well as to draw visitors’ attention to the exhibit.

This exhibit, like all of Funtraption’s attractions, is intended to work without explanation (intuitive direction) and allow for a style of discovery (non-directed play). This approach maximizes capacity, as museum visitors will flow around the table according to their own interests and what appeals to them. Through observations, vicarious learning and hands-on kinetic learning, they will discover how each of the activities work.

Said ExWorks Public Relations Manager Ron Boggs, “We added the water activity exhibit for the purpose of creating a memorable and familiar exhibit that guests would look forward to, from visit to visit. We have been pleasantly surprised at the age range of visitors who are drawn to using this exhibit. We expected it to be a very enjoyable family experience with adults assisting youngsters as they play and learn. But the number of adults, with or without children, who enjoy experimenting with the various features exceeds our expectations.”

Real interactivity is something that Funtraptions knows a lot about. They have been innovators and designers of unique, interactive “WetScapeTM” attractions, providing interactive water play for hotels and resorts, recreation facilities, zoos, waterparks, amusement parks and family entertainment centers. What makes them unique is their user-focused design process that is combined with years of industry experience and knowledge of operation and technical needs of the owners/operators and the setting that the attractions go into.

Weston reported they use a three-step approach when considering a new project and how to make it stand apart from the crowd:

  1. Attract & Engage (Delivering on the Marketing Promise)
    • Using familiar icons of play, such as wheels, levers, slides = I want to check that out.
    • Using action and animation to stimulate interest and pique curiosity = I want to touch that.
    • Color, texture, theme and brand = I know what that is.
  2. Connect & Entertain – (Achieve Length of Stay / Level of Satisfaction)
    • Pushing the bounds/limits of play = I can’t do this at home.
    • Physical/Tactile, Turn A Wheel, Push a Throttle = I can do this myself!
    • Action/Reaction, Do this and something cool happens = I made it work!
    • Social Interaction = You want to play this with me?
  3. Learn, Discover, Master – (Hidden Benefit – Option to call out “Edutainment” or leave hidden without taking credit “Entertainment”)
    • “Aha” Moment = I get it now.
    • Shared moment (between players) = We did it.
    • Take Credit – Figure it out = I got it this time.
    • Compete/Parallel/Consult = I won, let’s play again, here, I’ll show you, this is how it works.

At Funtraptions, they believe that in order to build a better interactive attraction you need to believe in the value of interactive play and have a commitment to the hard work it takes to be successful. “While it isn’t rocket science, it is also not easy,” said Mark Weston. “Knowledge of child development and social psychology blended with know-how about attraction design has contributed to the success of the company. We look at play patterns and study the natural way that children play. We have learned to take clues from them and design features and environments that match what they want to do.”

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