By Jessica Leigh Brown
Guests at waterparks across the nation are looking for ways to enjoy some watery thrills. Traditional slides, with their sharp turns and bright colors, remain a popular choice with park goers, but designers are always working to create fresh attractions that will keep customers coming back.
Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, Conn., has a huge expansion planned for its waterpark, Splash Away Bay. The renovation will more than double the number of waterslides on the property, and the first phase is planned for 2016. “An area called Slide City will be installed in the waterpark, which will be a five-slide complex from ProSlide Technology that families can enjoy,” said Quassy Amusement and Waterpark President Eric Anderson. “Three huge slides are also planned for the future, possibly 2017, on the other side of the waterpark.” The multi-year renovations, including additions and updates to the amusement side of the park as well, are expected to cost about $6 million. “New attractions are expensive and we carefully research and select those which best fit our needs and demographic, which is families,” Anderson said. “Ride costs vary from more than $150,000 for a children’s ride to $750,000 for a family thrill ride in our small park category.”
Looking back, Anderson said the decision to add a waterpark in 2003 started the park on a path of upward mobility. “The waterpark’s success led the way for us to introduce our marquee amusement ride, the Wooden Warrior roller coaster, in 2011. The coaster put us on the international map as it is rated among the top 50 wooden coasters in the world.” Today, Quassy Amusement & Waterpark sees about 220,000 visitors each year.
Wilderness at the Smokies in Sevierville, Tenn., introduced a new $1.5 million attraction in 2015. “We added a Boomerango by Whitewater West Industries,” said Joe Schmitz, director of waterpark development for Stand Rock Hospitality. “It’s called ‘The Wall.’ We have not announced anything for 2016 yet, but are currently working on several possibilities.” Schmitz said the park’s goal is to offer guests a new experience every year. “The evolution of waterslides gives us an advantage to do so,” he said. “We chose this specific slide because of the thrill factor and broad appeal. We also wanted to bring the first multiple-person tube ride to our Lake Wilderness outdoor waterpark.” Wilderness at the Smokies, which targets families with kids and teens, welcomes around 500,000 guests per year.
2015 saw the advent of a high-thrill waterslide at Adventure Island in Tampa, Fla. “We were excited to introduce our newest family thrill slide, Colossal Curl, for the 2015 season,” said Adventure Island Tampa General Manager and Vice President Rusty Keene. “Colossal Curl lets guests hurtle high above Adventure Island and experience a feeling of weightlessness. True to its name and holding up to four passengers, this mega slide delivers a high-adrenaline, action-packed adventure, making it the ultimate family thrill slide.” Constructing Colossal Curl was a significant investment for Adventure Island Tampa, but Keene said that the new ride complements the park’s long-term goals. “We work to complement the existing attractions while adding new experiences,” said Keene. “Colossal Curl is unlike anything else found in Florida, and we’re excited at the response we’ve seen from our guests.”
Collectively, Adventure Island and Busch Gardens Tampa see millions of guests each year. “While our parks appeal to a wide audience, we are about connecting families with nature and the world we live in, as well as with each other,” said Keene. “The thrill component certainly attracts adrenaline seekers, but the atmosphere at both parks brings families together in a meaningful way.”
Camelback Resort in Tannersville, Pa., opened a 453-room water park hotel this year. The new indoor park, Aquatopia, cost $160 million and at 125,000 square feet, it’s the largest indoor waterpark in the northeast United States. The resort’s outdoor waterpark, Camelbeach Mountain Waterpark, held steady with its existing attractions this year as work was completed on the indoor park, but intends to expand in 2016. “Next year we are planning a new major waterslide in the Camelbeach outside waterpark and potentially a new kids’ play structure as well,” said Charles Blier, executive vice president and general manager for Camelback Resort. The park’s plans are always geared toward its target market: families. “We take many factors into consideration when planning new attractions, such as level of thrill,” Blier explained. “We’re a family park, so we try to hit a good balance between the thrill factor and group factor.” Camelbeach waterpark welcomes about 350,000 guests each year.
Slideboarding has found a home in several United States waterparks, blending a competitive video game with traditional waterslide attractions. Guests ride specially designed boards with colored buttons that serve as game controllers. On their way down the slide, riders encounter a series of flashing lights and must respond by pressing the matching button to receive points. Wilderness Resort, a 600-acre complex in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., recently announced a plan to convert two of its waterpark’s existing slides into slideboarding systems. “The slideboards were chosen because they are bringing a new concept to waterparks and we like to be a leader in waterpark innovations,” said General Manager Joe Eck. “We will be the first resort in the Midwest to have this technology.”
Great Wolf Lodge, whose 12 indoor waterparks throughout the United States see a total of about 4 million guests per year, has also adopted slideboarding. “We rolled it out at two of our locations this summer,” said Chief Brand Officer Kim Schaefer. “We’re really excited because it helps us take some of our existing slides and give them a fresh, competitive experience. When we see a product that we think makes sense for us, we love to be innovative.”
After introducing slideboarding at their Pocono, Pa., and Williamsburg, Va., locations, Great Wolf Lodge plans to install the system in two new parks opening next year in Garden Grove, Calif., and Colorado Springs, Colo. “We also want to get it into a handful of other properties for next year,” Schaefer said.
Great Wolf Lodge also plans to expand its MagiQuest program next year, introducing new storylines to the interactive game. “It’s a live-action video game that takes players through the resort,” said Schaefer. “Each player is equipped with a wand, which acts as the game controller, and has to follow the story and go on different quests, such as fighting a dragon.”
New attractions are also afoot at Water Mine Swimmin’ Hole in Fairfax County, Va., which sees about 75,000 guests per year. “The park has been open since 1997, but this year we spent $5.5 million on an expansion to create broader appeal and to increase capacity,” said Judy Pedersen, public information officer for the Fairfax County Park Authority. “We wanted to appeal not just to little people, but to older children and teens. New attractions included some spray pads and climbable spray structures, a slide tower with three body flume slides, and an addition of a restroom complex with family changing rooms.” Plans are in place to further expand the park in 2016. “Coming next summer, we’re going to add individual cabanas, new shade and grass areas, and new play structures.”