Sailing Through 2019 Trends in the Waterpark Industry

Tomahawk Lake’s “Papoose Land” is a hot spot for children. It has smaller slides, a mushroom with water flowing down the sides, netting to climb on and a tipping bucket that you can stand underneath to get wet. “Kids enjoy the variety of activities there,” Gallo said.

An aerial view of attractions at Myrtle Waves Water Park. Tube slides and the wave pool are popular at the attraction.

When waterpark owners and managers are asked about their most popular rides, a mix of fast and slow attractions top their lists. At Lost Island Water Park in Waterloo, Iowa, Eric Bertch, general manager, said its most popular attractions are the wave pool and two fast water slides, the Proslide Tornado and Hydromagnetic Rocket. “Guests would have to travel more than four hours away to find these attractions elsewhere,” he said.
Waterslides are also a top attraction at Tomahawk Lake Waterpark in Sparta, N.J. President Lynne Gallo said the waterpark is unique because its waterslides empty into a lake; water from the lake is pumped into the waterslides. Guests love sliding into the manmade lake, which is a lot deeper than a pool and has sand on the bottom.

Rides that families can do together rule at Typhoon Texas in Katy, Texas, said Vera Solis, director of risk management. In particular, the Monster Storm, a raft ride that seats six and features twists and turns and goes faster in certain areas, is tops.

Pictured, from left to right, of Myrtle Waves Water Park in Myrtle Beach, S.C., were Garrett Watts, Bob Zucks, Jack Lazarus, Mark Lazarus and Robbie Lazarus. Attractions families can ride together are popular for the park.

A tower called the Snake Pit, which allows two riders on a raft, is another attraction that families can enjoy together, said Brannan Holland, operations manager at Typhoon Texas. The tower has multiple slides that vary from slow to fast, so all ages can enjoy it.

Mark Lazarus, managing partner at Myrtle Waves Water Park in Myrtle Beach, S.C., said that rides and attractions that families can do together are most popular at his park as well. This includes tube slides and the wave pool.

Emerging Trends
Waterparks are always looking for new ways to wow guests and keep them coming back. At Lost Island Water Park, cabanas have increased in popularity in recent years. Since 2013, it has added 20 cabanas. This includes five deluxe cabanas which feature an
attendant, locker, fridge stocked with water, and upgraded furniture. It also has 15 standard cabanas that are furnished with two deck chairs, two regular chairs and a table. The park plans to add 10 more over the next three years because they consistently sell out.

For Lost Island Waterpark, back-of-house tours for schoolchildren, birthday parties and other groups are enjoying increased interest. Michael Thomas, food and beverage, is pictured here.

Bertch has also noticed an increased interest in unique experiences. Lost Island’s “Back of House” tour for schools, birthday parties and other groups gives them the opportunity to see its pump rooms and water chemistry in action. Last year, the park started offering a Mermaid Experience, which allows guests to swim with the park’s resident mermaid, Maizie. The 30-minute activity includes monofins, tricks and time for questions and answers. Annual visitation is between 100,000 to 120,000. As of late June, however, numbers were down for the season due to cold, rainy weather that month.

At Lost Island Waterpark, attendance numbers were down in late June 2019 due to cold and rainy weather. Shown is Dylan Pryor, a lifeguard with the park.

Having more than just water attractions at a waterpark is a growing trend, Gallo said. For example, Tomahawk Lake Waterpark has a number of different boats guests can use on the lake, such as a 20-passenger paddle wheeler, swan and duck paddle boats, boats with canopies, rowboats and bumper boats. An 18-hole miniature golf course is ideal for guests who want to dry out. “A lot of people just visit the park (at the lake) and don’t use the waterpark,” she said. “Some guests come here to picnic or use the beach.” Waterslides, boats and miniature golf prices are an extra charge to the park’s admission price. Gallo would like to add some new slides to increase the variety, so frequent guests don’t get bored.
Solis said action rivers are an emerging trend. This ride takes lazy rivers to the next level—although riders still use a tube, the attraction has sections that go faster and features rapids in some areas. Tube rides and body slides that run parallel to each other, enabling family members and friends to race against each other, are also gaining popularity. Although Typhoon Texas doesn’t have either of these attractions at this time, they are something the park would consider adding.

A lifeguard at Myrtle Waves Water Park. The attraction’s new owners have untaken extensive upgrades and repairs over the last two years.

Two trends that Typhoon Texas has taken advantage of are adding lighting to rides, making it possible to keep the park open later, and using areas outside of the pool for entertaining guests with DJs, live music, and live dance parties and contests, Holland said. The park’s annual visitation is about 400,000; the park was off to a good start this season with plenty of sunshine-filled days.
Lazarus said cashless wristbands are growing in popularity at waterparks. “We plan on adding RFID wristbands so guests can enjoy more time with their families and less time going back and forth to their locker for money,” he said. Annual visitation is 200,000, which is up because the park has implemented extensive upgrades and repairs over the last two years since new owners took it over.

What’s Tops at the Gift Shop?

Waterpark guests tend to make a variety of purchases at the gift shop. Some may buy something out of necessity, while others want a memento of their visit. Still others may stumble across something they just have to have.
At Lost Island Water Park in Waterloo, Iowa, Eric Bertch, general manager, said Whirley’s 24-ounce refillable mug is the most popular item at the gift shop. “Each mug has an RFID chip that allows us to track if the mug is valid for the day or season, and guests are able to refill it themselves during their visit,” he said. “Our second best seller is a variety of bracelets—shells, shark teeth, stones and other island treasures held together with cord. They are the lowest-priced item available, and are the perfect way to take a piece of the Island home.”

Shown are Marissa McFadden and Beth Sadler, who both work in Guest Services at the Lost Island Water Park in Waterloo, Iowa. The general manager said the most popular gift shop item is a 24-ounce refillable mug.

Like Bertch, Lynne Gallo, president, Tomahawk Lake Waterpark, Sparta, N.J., said kids love jewelry—particularly shell and shark tooth necklaces. Water shoes are also a common purchase because guests have to walk on an asphalt path going up a hill to access the waterslides, not climb stairs as they may have expected. “Some guests may not have brought shoes with them,” she said. Currently, the gift shop functions out of a trailer so guests can only see items through glass and can’t touch them. The park is hoping to build a small gift shop to enable touching of merchandise, which Gallo believes will increase sales.
Aqua shoes, also known as water socks, are also a draw at Typhoon Texas’ gift shop in Katy, Texas, “Concrete gets hot in the summer,” said Brannan Holland, operations manager, who adds that sprinklers line sidewalks to help cool them down.
But the biggest seller at the gift shop is waterproof cell phone cases. “In the lazy river, everyone is using their cell phone,” said Holland, who notes that wasn’t the case just a few years ago.
Mark Lazarus, managing partner, Myrtle Waves Water Park, Myrtle Beach, S.C., said towels and sunscreen are highly sought after at the gift shop. “Many guests forget to bring these items, which are essential for fun in the sun,” he said. Seawag waterproof phone cases, which protect phones while riding wet attractions, are also a hit.

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