By Karen Appold
While the COVID-19 pandemic forced waterparks to add yet another level of safety to their protocols, safety has always been a top priority for them. At Adventure Landing Shipwreck Island Waterpark in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., Jeremy Christian, assistant general manager, said the easiest and most effective way to keep guests safe is to properly train staff. “Attraction operators verbally review the main rules with riders prior to dispatch,” he said. “In high potential slip areas, we use a more aggressive skid guard texture to prevent falls. Decks are washed often and paint is maintained.”
Michael Hays, general manager, Epic Waters Indoor Waterpark in Grand Prairie, Texas, said it’s important for guests to read the rules for each attraction and determine if they’re right for them. “We do our part in making sure that everyone understands the rules before enjoying an attraction through a scripted spiel,” he said. “It’s also important for guests to prepare themselves before coming to any water or amusement park, so they know what to expect. We have received positive feedback with our pre-arrival messaging as it pertains to this.”
According to Dave Andrews, general manager at Soaky Mountain Waterpark, a new waterpark that opened in June 2020 in Sevierville, Tenn., some of its rules are:
• Guests under 48 inches need to wear a life jacket outside of the children’s area.
• Guests must use scales near slides to make sure they don’t exceed weight requirements.
• Height sticks make sure that people are the proper height for rides.
There’s an electronic dispatch system throughout the park.
At Camelback Resort in Tannersville, Pa., AJ Stack, marketing manager, said that rides are inspected and deemed safe each year by a state certified inspector. “Our top tip is for guests to be aware of their surroundings,” he said. “Our outdoor waterpark is built into mountain terrain and we have found that injuries often occur when guests are not watching where they’re walking. Proper footwear is required throughout the park.”
Keeping Staff Members Safe
Of course, staff safety is also of the utmost importance at waterparks. Christian said that staff safety begins with staff training. “The better the training tracks are, the better employees become,” he said. “Management structure plays a large role in this, too. Without strong leadership, everything begins to slip including safety. We try to provide a structured environment that is both safe and fun to work in. If our employees enjoy and take pride in their work, they are more likely to stay around year to year and be a role model to new hires.”
Hays believes that communication is key. “We have both morning and afternoon huddles to make sure that everyone stays informed with the most up-to-date information,” he said. “This assists our team members in preparing themselves for successful shifts regardless of the time of day.”
To keep staff members safe, Andrews said employees are encouraged to stay hydrated, take regular breaks in the shade, and wear sunscreen and reapply it regularly.
Along these lines, Garrett Watts, director of operations, Myrtle Waves and Wild Water & Wheels, Myrtle Beach, S.C., said employees are told to come into work hydrated and to get plenty of nightly rest—because temperatures can reach triple digits. Staff are asked to follow all of the park’s safety policies and procedures as they pertain to their job duties.
Overcoming Safety Challenges
Although Christian’s challenges change from year to year, slips and falls are common. “Although they are impossible to stop completely, taking extra measures such as changing the texture of paint to cut down on occurrences helps,” he said. “We are working toward full coverage with security cameras, and have started documenting with reports and pictures. Being able to see how an accident occurred helps make warranted changes.”
Slips and falls are also a common problem for Watts. “We have signage and messages throughout the parks encouraging walking—not running—and ask that guests pay attention while walking through the parks,” he said.
Protection From the Heat and Sun
High temperatures and intense sun can also impact guests’ safety. Watts encourages staff members working outside to wear hats or visors and sunglasses—which the park provides as part of their uniform. Employees are also given sunscreen, water and Gatorade to keep them properly hydrated.
Soaky Mountain Waterpark has seating under umbrellas and covered areas as well as cabanas that guests can rent. Guests are permitted to bring one 20 ounce sealed bottle of water into the waterpark. Concession stands throughout the park sell all sorts of beverages. Guests can purchase sunscreen, sun shirts, hats and so forth at its mercantile.
Likewise, Adventure Landing Shipwreck Island Waterpark has several areas where shade is available including umbrellas, cabanas and chairs under an elevated deck. Sunscreen and hats are sold at the gift shop.
Camelback Resort has a large indoor seating area where guests can sit and get relief from the sun. The building is air conditioned; food and beverage outlets are also inside.
Epic Waters Indoor Waterpark, an indoor waterpark with a retractable roof, has found a way to open the roof while also providing shade to all of its indoor eating and lounging areas. Although it doesn’t allow outside food, guests can bring in sealed bottled water.
Protection from COVID-19
Waterparks have taken many steps to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, beginning with employing protocols for staff. All team members at Epic Waters Indoor Waterpark are screened through a controlled entrance into the waterpark. Their temperature is checked as well as their personal well-being. Additionally, all non-lifeguard employees are required to wear masks, whereas lifeguards are exempt due to being first responders.
At Camelback resort, each employee is met by a security officer for a wellness screening before entering the resort. The screening includes a temperature check with a no-touch infrared thermometer. All employees are required to wear face coverings and comply with six-feet distancing. Employees interacting with guests wear personal protective equipment, and plexiglass screens have been installed in many areas throughout the resort including the front desk and at cashier stations.
Waterparks have also implemented safety measures for guests. Some safety measures at Myrtle Waves and Wild Water & Wheels include:
• All queue lines (including those for attractions, admissions/guest services, and food and beverage) have been marked for six feet of separation.
• Safety glass barriers have been put in place in admissions and food and beverage departments at all points of interaction with guests to limit contact.
• Cashless payment methods are encouraged through online payment/gift card pre-purchase or credit card payment prior to arrival.
• Mobile food ordering limits guest interaction as well as long lines and wait times. Guests can purchase food and drink items online and pick them up at designated locations during their visit.
• Sanitizing stations are set up throughout the parks for guests to use while visiting. Sanitizing dispensers are located in all common areas and at all ticketing, food and beverage stands. Sanitizing wipes are positioned for guests to use on multi-contact areas such as lockers, restrooms, tubes and life vests, and tables, chairs, and loungers.
• All tubes, loungers, tables, chairs, life vests, restrooms and other common areas in the park are sprayed with sanitizer at the end of each day.