By Jessica Leigh Brown
Trends within the waterpark industry that include offering additional entertainment options are playing out at parks across the country, while enhanced safety measures remain a top priority.
Part of Metropolis Resort in Eu Claire, Wis., Chaos Water Park is a 35,000-square-foot indoor park containing several four-story slides, a lazy river and a splash area. “We also have a family entertainment center called Action City, which is 55,000 square feet with indoor go-karts, batting cages and video games,” said General Manager Benny Anderson. “They’re all under one roof, with the hotel in the middle.” The resort welcomes about 250,000 guests each year.
In the realm of safety, Anderson said the biggest trend he’s noticed is increased communication between local pools about new methods of safety training and rescue techniques. “There was a fairly large safety scare this year at a local public pool, so we’ve seen a lot more visits from our health department,” said Anderson. “We’re working together to devise new and improved safety plans.”
In the area of entertainment, Edgewater Hotel & Waterpark in Duluth, Minn., includes two four-story waterslides, a 400-foot lazy river, dumping buckets and a wading pool. There’s also an arcade to keep guests entertained when they’re not in the water. During the warmer months, the hotel’s outdoor area sees a host of activities to grab guests’ attention. “We’ll use a fire pit to roast marshmallows at night, bring in a bouncy house on the weekends, and offer mini-golf, beanbag toss and other yard games,” said Ernie Fox, director of aquatics. “We try to bring a lot of people outside that way.” Projecting a movie above the hotel’s outdoor pool is another attention-grabbing event to keep guests entertained.
Creating an entertaining environment where guests want to linger is also a priority at Bavarian Inn Lodge in Frankenmuth, Mich., which welcomes over 200,000 guests each year to its waterpark. “When you come into a lot of waterparks, it’s a big humid vault,” said Martha Zehnder Keller, vice president and fourth generation owner. “Ours is more like a family room, with comfortable seating areas throughout. Grandma or even mom or dad can sit at a table and relax and see their children without having to be in the pool.” Keller strives to provide a setting that’s fun for multi-generational family getaways. “Another trend we’ve noticed is that you need to have non-water sports,” she added. “People can only stay in the water so long, so we have 18-hole miniature putt-putt, an arcade and gift shops nearby. To increase revenue, we try to make things as convenient as possible, from food sales to beverage sales and gift shop sales. You’ve got to make things easy for customers to stay and spend.” Above all, Keller emphasized the need for parks to create an immersive experience for guests. “Our mission statement is creating enjoyable experiences,” she said. “I read a statistic that in 2020, experiences are going to outweigh price in a consumer’s mind. In terms of a trend, experiences are not going away. We try to create that experience, so it’s not just the water—it’s everything we’re doing.”
Safety is also a key issue at waterparks, and one current trend is catching on at White Water Bay in Oklahoma City, Okla. “One thing we’re starting to go toward is automated safety spiels, which have been popular in theme park rides for a long time but are a growing trend for waterpark thrill rides,” said Operations Manager Matt White. “They contain safety information and weight and height requirements. We put in our first one this year and hope to add them to our other high thrill rides.” The automated safety recordings help to ensure that each rider receives vital safety information.
To boost revenue, White Water Bay hosts a number of special events at the park. “We did something new this year,” said White. “We stayed open late on Wednesdays and had karaoke with a professional deejay. It was a huge hit, and we’ll be bringing it back next year.”
North Arundel Aquatic Center prioritizes safety communications by making sure kids hear the rules before they’re distracted. “We try to do everything we can before they get into the pool area to remind them about safety,” said Aquatics Director Jacque Hurman. “When we have groups, we give them a talk before they come in about not running, which is really the biggest danger for kids because they get so excited.” The indoor center features a 134-foot waterslide, a preschool slide and dumping buckets and welcomes about 65,000 guests per year. “We’re exploring adding a splash pad to our outdoor area in the near future.”
A new park, Parrot Island, opened its gates in Ft. Smith, Ark., in 2015. “We had a wonderful year, with tremendous support from the community and a great staff,” said General Manager William Miller. “It’s been a process of about eight years since the idea was proposed, so it’s been great to see it finally come to fruition.” The park features include a lazy river with waterfall, wave pool and kids’ activity area.
Miller is passionate about safety, stressing that every park employee needs to be aware of potential issues. “If something looks wrong, they need to be on top of it and get a supervisor over there before it escalates,” he said. “It’s also important to keep up with the marketing of the safety aspect, making sure you are involving the guests.” Parrot Island uses rescue mannequins to keep lifeguards on their toes. “It’s visual awareness training,” said Miller. “We sneak a mannequin named Timmy into the water and are able to test a lifeguard’s reaction to the situation. We alert the guests by providing signage about the mannequin: ‘If you see me, don’t touch me. I’m helping the lifeguards perform at their best.’ ”
As waterparks expand their offerings to stand out from the pack and keep guests entertained, additional safety awareness is required. “Many other parks have popped up, so we’ve got to start getting creative to get people to stay longer and choose us,” said Nick Scott, Jr., owner and vice president of Splash Lagoon in Erie, Pa., a 100,000-square-foot indoor waterpark that sees about 350,000 guests per year. “That becomes a challenge financially because it takes an investment, and it becomes a liability as well.” Staff members must be trained to deal with potential emergencies on ropes courses, aqua tumblers and high-thrill slides. “Life guards don’t just have to watch water anymore—they often have to deal with the new elements we’re adding to these parks,” said Scott. “Training is incredibly important, and it’s just as important that we audit our lifeguards after they’re trained.”