It’s 6 p.m. and, for many waterparks, operations are winding down for the day. Sun-loving guests begin to trickle toward the exits while the pools and slides start to empty out after a full day of fun. This historical pattern is hardly surprising since waterparks are a great way to beat the summer sun. However, it does result in missed revenue opportunities throughout the evening and into the night. That’s why one large park is bringing back its exclusive nighttime waterpark experience for a second year in a row. In this issue, The Large Park Report explores the strategy and structure behind Disney’s H2O Glow Nights.
Lighting the Night
Staying open after dark has several advantages for waterparks. For starters, in today’s culture of safe skin care, the threat of sunburns and other sun ailments are largely mitigated after dark. While sunscreen makers might not appreciate this, guests certainly should since it reduces the time and expense of lathering up throughout the day.
Another benefit is that, if you position evening hours as a separate experience, these evenings can be quite lucrative compared to daytime hours. For instance, Walt Disney World recently brought back its popular after-dark experience at their Typhoon Lagoon water park. Inspired by the popular Toy Story Toon, “Partysaurus Rex,” H2O Glow Nights includes benefits such as a DJ-hosted dance party, special lighting effects as well as exclusive food and beverage offerings during the event (which are not included in the cost of admission but include over 10 unique glow-themed drinks like the Glowing Unicorn ). Add in a special adult-only area and character meet-and-greets and you can see why H2O Glow Nights has become a big hit with guests looking to enjoy this award-winning waterpark but without having to deal with the scorching Florida summer sun.
This is also a notably different strategy than that of other popular large waterparks such as Universal Orlando’s Volcano Bay and SeaWorld’s Aquatica that stay open late (often around 9 p.m.) but whose after dark operating hours generally are simply a continuation
of the daytime experience (with some limited exceptions) and, significantly, aren’t a separately-ticketed admission.
In addition to providing a unique night-time waterpark experience, H2O Glow Nights also appears to be quite a lucrative addition for Disney World. Case in point: A typical daytime admission to Typhoon Lagoon costs $69 with the park normally operating 10 hours during the summer (often 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.) Compare this to the operating nights of H20 Glow which costs $59 per person and allows admission from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. (though the Glow experience does not begin until 8pm). In other words, Disney can charge 85% percent of the full day price for H2O Glow while only operating less than half the time – 3 to 5 hours instead of a full 10 hours.
Granted, H20 Glow Nights does cost Disney some additional expenses such as DJs and light shows but, in the big picture, those are likely nominal compared to the probable major increases in revenue they realize from H2O Glow Nights including expanded food sales (especially at dinner time) and evening alcohol sales.
One especially interesting feature at H2O Glow Nights is that promotional materials for the adults-only area (known as “The Wharf”) features “guests” in traditional clothing rather than swimwear. Since the adult-only area includes a special bar experience as well as exclusive entertainment in the Wharf, it appears that Disney World imagines guests visiting H2O Glow Nights as part of their evening out rather than strictly a swimming experience. This could further reduce expenses since one of the highest costs of operating a waterpark is the human cost of certified lifeguards.
What if H2O Glow Nights successfully enhances Typhoon Lagoon into an after-dark entertainment destination apart from the actual waterpark experience? That’s an extremely interesting idea to consider because it would generate new revenues for Typhoon Lagoon without a corresponding increase in lifeguard labor costs.
After Dark Waterpark Special Care
While the ability to generate increased revenue from a separately ticketed evening event at your waterpark may sound enticing, there are a couple of important issues to consider when operating after-dark. For starters, no matter how much you invest in lighting, it’s going to be harder to lifeguard guests after dark.
This challenge is exacerbated because part of the appeal of H20 Glow Nights is that it doesn’t illuminate Typhoon Lagoon with blinding lights that you might find at a sports facility or even parking deck. Instead, the evening is enhanced with decorative lighting throughout the waterpark. Simply blasting lights as brightly as possible after dark isn’t necessarily a strategic solution because it will likely reduce the ambiance of the guest experience. This means that your facility should engage in a careful and detailed “lighting plan” that will allow for lifeguards to ensure guest safety in the water while also creating a unique visual experience.
In addition to lighting, facilities should strongly consider securing special nighttime training for their lifeguards and safety workers. Cities such as Mendocino, Calif., have developed nighttime training programs that have included a variety of safety officials such as fire department rescue swimmers and area lifeguards. Connecting with the operators of these type programs should be an important part of your due diligence.
Ultimately, if your facility is looking to replicate an evening experience like H2O Glow Nights, a detailed lighting plan and advanced nighttime water safety training should be important steps toward making sure your guests enjoy a great experience, you realize increased revenues, and everyone safely enjoys your after-dark waterpark.