By Karen Appold
When reflecting on the most popular attractions at Splash Away Bay Waterpark at Quassy Amusement & Waterpark in Middlebury, Conn., Ron Gustafson, director of marketing and public relations, said its “Category 5 Rapids—Extreme Waterslides” is all the rage. Added for the 2018 season (its 110th anniversary season), the ride was part of the waterpark’s fifth major expansion. It was also the largest single investment in the park’s history.
The biggest of the three slides in the Category 5 complex is Proslide Technology’s TamtrumTwist—or Tornado—which accommodates single and two-person rafts. Two patented funnels are within the huge course, which flush riders up the walls and generate a suspended-weightlessness sensation before dropping a raft into the continuing rapids. This is the most popular of the three new slides, named Torrent. The second attraction is Quassy Rapids, which has enclosed as well as open sections of a trough for a fast-paced ride, Gustafson said. The fully-enclosed Serpent slide ends with a spiraling twist at its conclusion.
BulletBowl was added in 2013, another large ProSlide
attraction which guests can’t wait to ride. Single and two-person rafts speed down a steep tube, and are shot out into a gigantic bowl where momentum pushes riders up the wall for a number of revolutions before being dropped into the exiting flume.
Splash Pad—The Fish Pond—by Vortex Aquatic Structures International Inc. of Canada, also opened in 2013. It filled a void for younger guests and added 2,000 square feet of romping water fun for those under 8 years old, Gustafson said.
At Gold Rush Waterpark in Rothbury, Mich., Nichole Steel, marketing manager, said the park is home to Michigan’s tallest indoor waterslide—which is the most popular ride with guests. It’s a fast body slide with steep acceleration, light and dark areas, and a splashy finish.
Brad Donati, marketing manager at Raging Waves Waterpark in Yorkville, Ill., said its top attractions include rides that can accommodate up to four guests, which allows families to enjoy them together. The Boomerang (ProSlide Tornado 60) and Wonambi (ProSlide TornadoWAVE) are both rides for thrill seekers. With drops of more than 30 feet, these rides give guests a zero-gravity experience. The Crocodile Mile (ProSlide Mammoth) is the perfect ride for the entire family to enjoy, as any guest over 42-inches tall can join in the fun.
For Angi Bingham, general manager, Maui Jack’s Waterpark, Chincoteague Island, Va., the most popular attraction by far is its lazy river because all ages can enjoy it. Complete with a beachside entry, it’s powered by three 25 horsepower motors that provide tube riders with a variety of speeds in just one visit.
Changes for 2020
For 2020, Splash Away Bay Waterpark will add the Tidal Wave gigantic swinging ship in the ride area of Quassy Amusement Park. Its “Quassy After Dark Beach Party” in July will feature a yacht rock theme with live music from the 1970s and 1980s, beach games, major waterslides, and food and beverages after the waterpark closes for the evening, Gustafson said. Other new additions include a game called Bust a Balloon—a safe alternative to the dart game of yesteryear as bean bags take the place of darts, and a new welcome parking attendant station in the main parking lot as guests enter the property.
The year 2020 is going to be a big year at Raging Waves Waterpark. This summer it will debut the Aussie Mat Dash, a ProSlide RallyRACER. This six-lane mat racing slide is one of three in the world. Guests over 42-inches tall can race their friends and family members to see who will reach the checkered flag first, Donati said. The park will also begin additional capital investments to improve the guest experience. The park purchased 20 acres in 2016, which it will use to add 600 paved parking spaces for guests.
Maui Jack’s Waterpark has added lots of fun activities to its 2020 schedule. The park now offers extended weekend hours with Friday night pool deck dance parties and Saturday family fun days. “The park is incorporating live music, DJs, games, trivia, prizes and more into each day of the week to keep guests engaged and enhance the overall guest experience,” Bingham said.
Gustafson believes waterparks are growing in popularity, because each year the waterpark has seen an increase in attendance. “It became quite apparent before the addition of Category 5 Rapids that additional attractions were needed to meet growing demand,” he said. “Guests indicate that more water attractions are among the top things they would request if the park made future changes.” He estimated annual visitation to be around 240,000, which is up.
Annual visitation is also up at Gold Rush Waterpark, especially during the winter months, which Steel attributed to its unique product. “There are no other waterpark/ranch/golf resorts in the state,” she said. “Guests are looking for an experience; they can enjoy an entire day or weekend getaway including dining, an arcade, a snow tubing hill, and riding horseback or a mechanical bull. The resort sees nearly 100,000 visitors per year; the waterpark accounts for approximately 70,000 guests. Most are repeat customers, who visit at least once annually.
When the economy collapsed in the late 2000s, entertainment businesses took a hit throughout the industry, Donati said. As the economy recovered, waterparks’ popularity has continued to increase. “Looking at the capital investments parks are making across the world in 2020, the future looks bright and prosperous for waterparks,” he said.
Entering its 13th season, Raging Waves Waterpark has seen continued growth within the Chicagoland market. Annual visitation is 300,000 guests. “By being 45 miles from Chicago, we have tapped into a market looking for summer entertainment outside of the downtown region,” Donati said. “We believe that visitation continues to rise because of our reputation of providing a friendly, clean and safe experience for families to enjoy together.”
In Bingham’s opinion, waterparks are definitely growing in popularity. “Guests can visit during a quick day trip or, with a park like Maui Jack’s, make it a key component of a vacation because it has a campground that offers all types of accommodations right next to it,” he said. “Whether someone just enjoys relaxing in the sun with a cold drink or is a real thrill seeker, waterparks offer something for everyone.”
So which new rides are all the rage at waterparks these days? According to Gustafson, they include a water-propelled raft ride called the Water Coaster; multi-lane mat racing slides which add a competitive element to waterslides with side-by-side lanes; and Boomerang technology, which allows a raft to go up a wide slide and back down on a different course.
Steel said guests are looking for variety. For example, thrill-seekers love Michigan’s tallest waterslide and cannon bowl, parents appreciate a safe area for toddlers and everyone loves to relax in the lazy river or indoor/outdoor hot tub.
Attractions that waterparks continue to add can accommodate multiple riders, Donati said. Much like the mat racer that Raging Waves Waterpark is adding, waterparks are adding slides that can accommodate two, three or four riders at a time.
Bingham said launch chamber slides have become increasingly popular at waterparks because of the rollercoaster-like thrill they provide. “You enter the slide at a nearly vertical position, the countdown begins and before you know it the trap door opens in the floor and releases you,” he said. “It’s a suspense-filled experience that’s hard to match.”
Maui Jack’s Waterpark has more than 60,000 guests per season, which is on the rise with the growing popularity of waterparks. “Each season we’ve seen more and more families make us their go-to spot on vacation,” Bingham said.