From the Lines to the Rides: Innovations in Waterpark Technology

Francis Phillips and his employees filter about two million gallons of water every six hours.  Believe it or not, this isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

“The new chemical control systems have really cut down on our chemical costs and man hours,” said Phillips, general partner at Wild Water West waterpark in Sioux Falls, S.D. “The new systems are all automated, and very effective at keeping the pools stabilized.”

This streamlined approach to keeping Wild Water West’s six pools crystal clear is a far cry from earlier, more antiquated systems, Phillips said.

“In the past, it used to be two maintenance guys checking the chemicals all day long,” he said. “Now, we set the calibration each morning, and then we check it once in the morning, once in mid-afternoon, and once before we go home. It’s saved a lot of time, energy and money.”

Phillips said his park utilizes the ChemTrol automated water treatment system, which prevents the water chemicals from fluctuating significantly. He said in addition to saving time and money on labor, the system also cuts back on wasted pool chemicals.

“I would say that we easily save 25 percent on labor and 25 percent on bulk chemical costs by having very accurate chemical control,” he said. “Plus, every hour you spend not balancing your pool water is an hour you can be more productive somewhere else.” As with most facets of the entertainment and tourism industry, the waterpark industry has been transformed by technological advances. These updates have changed virtually every aspect of the waterpark experience, from the rides themselves to ticketing, concessions and coupons.

“In the same way technology has made life more efficient all over the world, it has made our world better, too,” said Bob Cordier, general manager of Big Kahuna’s waterpark in East Destin, Fla. “Things have improved both in terms of the guest’s experience as well as from an operator’s perspective.”

Cordier said his park has also benefited significantly from improved filtration and chemical monitoring systems, as well as from improved materials used for the rides. “The materials and coatings do make a difference. For example, we’ve replaced a lot of wood with a composite material,” Cordier said. “Something as simple as using the Trex wood instead of the treated timbers cuts back on algae, and it’s easier to maintain.”

Cordier said he has also noticed significant improvements in terms of accounting, payroll and inventory. He said the company now uses ADP payroll services to compute pay for its staff.

“We used to have a bunch of kids who would get together and total up the hours,” he said. “Now, if I want to know how much I’ve spent on labor this week, I can find out in less than a minute. He said his retail and food inventory is also much easier to assess. “I can find out my retail and food inventory instantly,” he said. “Every aspect of budgeting and accounting is much easier.”

Waterparks have come a long way from their origins in the 1910s and 1920s, when they mostly consisted of a pre-existing body of water with rides tailored around it. According to Pete Owens, spokesperson for the Dollywood Company, the original waterpark rides  were wooden “water toboggans” and “water wheels” manufactured by the Sellner company, known for creating the Tilt-A-Whirl.

“There would usually be a lake situation, and the rides were designed so you could slide or dive into the lake,” Owens said. “Everything had to revolve around the body of water.”

The rides then evolved to include the use of concrete troughs, often designed in conjunction with a pool. Owens said the advent of the fiberglass slide has been a significant development in the waterpark industry.

“We’ve seen a steady change in waterpark technology over the last 15 to 20 years,” he said. “Some innovators like WhiteWater and ProSlide have really changed the shape and design of fiberglass slides, to create anything from a slide that resembles a fish tail to some of the giant bowls you see, with people dropping into the bowls.”

He said the changes he’s seen in the last few decades – from fiberglass slides to wave pools with 9-foot waves – have basically redefined the industry,

“Now, you don’t need a natural environment anymore. You can create whatever environment you like in whatever theme you like,” he said. “Dollywood is a perfect example – the Great Smoky Mountains have provided us with a bowl of land surrounded by hills, and we’ve made that into an oasis themed to the mountains.”

Waterparks have also seen great innovations in terms of ticketing, line management and paperless “splash cash” systems.
“We’ve started offering online ticketing, and that’s made a big difference,” said Al Garcia, spokesperson for Waterworld California. “It allows people to skip the lines and come discover what we have to offer.”

By allowing customers to purchase and print out tickets at home, Garcia said the park cuts back on wait times significantly. “It’s easier for employees, too,” he said. “They just take the ticket that the guest has printed out and scan it.”
According to Stephanie Hee, spokesperson for NRH20 Family Water Park in North Richland Hills, Texas, her company hopes to eventually go “paperless,” and has already begun to incorporate parts of that plan.

“Guests can now put money on their season passes or gift cards, so that they don’t have to use cash or carry paper coupons around,” she said. “We also now have drink bands and wrist bands with bar codes, so that you just have to scan it. If you have meal voucher or part of a group, all of that will come up when we scan the wrist band.”
In terms of running rides more efficiently, photo sensor technology has been invaluable, according to Jim Gantz, President and Co-Owner of Noah’s Ark in Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

“We have photo sensors on three of our water rides, and we’ve been integrating it more and more in the waterpark,” Gantz said. “It helps the operator know where they are in the line, and when to send the next ride out. You’ve got a second failsafe, not just the human eye. It helps the safety aspect, and helps run the ride more smoothly.”

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