This spring, Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells plans a total refurbishment of its Wild West indoor waterpark — “essentially creating a brand-new indoor waterpark, set to open this fall,” affirmed Joe Eck, chief operating officer of Wilderness Resorts and Waterparks, which owns Wilderness Resort as well as several other properties.
The transformation will feature a multi-level play feature with zero-depth entry, as well as four exhilarating Pro-Slide installations, including Dueling Mat Racers and a Dueling Coaster. Over in the resort’s hotel, Eck will oversee a complete facelift that will modernize all 444 guest rooms. Even food services are scheduled for refreshed themes and menus. “Visitation was up in 2021, and we are forecasting even more of an increase in 2022,” explained Eck of the momentum.
As the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, Eck added, guests are seeking fresh attractions and a more expansive feeling. “For the indoor environment, I think space has become instrumental to a quality guest experience,” the COO noted, adding that COVID education is now a routine part of staff safety training. “You want to avoid cramped or tight quarters. Taking the slide paths outside of the building envelope helps create a much more open space.”
Across America, indoor waterparks reported strong growth in 2021 and ambitious plans for the coming year. “As an industry, we were pleasantly surprised that our guests not only came back — they came back multiple times,” said Thatcher Robertson, corporate director of Waterparks at Kalahari Resorts & Conventions, which is based in Wisconsin Dells and operates African-themed resorts across the Midwest and South. “Since spring of 2021, the majority of parks experienced their best years ever. I believe the growth will continue, with increased demand and number of parks built each year.”
Kalahari never stopped expanding — not even in 2020, when Robertson oversaw the completion of the brand’s fourth resort and waterpark, in Round Rock, Texas. “Not only did it open on time, but we already have plans to expand the outdoor waterpark in the summer of 2023,” Robertson added. That continued growth is driven by consumer demand, he said — as evidenced by record visitation and guest enthusiasm for new recreational experiences.
Waterpark success is at least partly due to the industry’s commitment to hygiene. Conscientious facilities have always had strict protocols around chemical monitoring, child supervision, and showering, as well as employee training to ensure guest safety. “What is different in the industry over the last couple of years, however, is the constant sanitation and cleaning of all common areas throughout the day, as well as overnight cleanings,” Robertson said.
“Visitation was up in 2021, and we are forecasting even more of an increase in 2022.”
– Joe Eck, Wilderness Resort, Wisconsin Dells, Wis.
Resort operators go out of their way to make their hygiene regimens visible and reassuring. “A show of force in maintaining a clean environment is key,” said Michael Hays, general manager at Epic Waters Indoor Waterpark in Grand Prairie, Texas. “From management to line staff, if guests see employees disinfecting at every moment they can, they know we are all doing our part to make the environment as sanitary as possible.”
Epic Waters saw record high revenue in 2021 — but visitation patterns evolved during the pandemic. “We have seen a significant spike in online ticketing sales,” said Hays. Noting that guests are more likely to make purchasing decisions online pre-arrival, Epic Waters upped its selection of package deals that combine retail and experiences. “The more we were able to help organize their stay with us, the better value and the more comfortable they felt in the waterpark,” Hays observed.
Daily visitation has risen over the past two years at Camelback Lodge & Indoor Waterpark, Tannersville, Pa. Since the pandemic began, Director of Aquatics Ryan Smith has seen increased demand for private cabanas and seating areas at the waterpark. He also makes sure the staff sanitizes and cleans throughout the day.
“A show of force in maintaining a clean environment is key. From management to line staff, if guests see employees disinfecting at every moment they can, they know we are all doing our part to make the environment as sanitary as possible.”
– Michael Hays, Epic Waters Indoor Waterpark, Grand Prairie, Texas
The park recently retrofitted a slide to become a fully immersible attraction, “with multi-colored lighting effects, music and exciting visuals projected inside,” Smith explained. Guests can choose from four exhilarating slide experiences at the new Mountain Mayhem.
In Anchorage, Dennis Prendeville is looking for a hotel partner to transform H2Oasis Waterpark into a weekend destination. “A hotel is what makes it a resort,” explained Prendeville, CEO and general manager. “If we had a hotel here, the people who come to Anchorage would be ours.”
As it is, 2021 saw the highest revenue in four years for H2Oasis, which opened in 2003 with the slogan “A Tropical Oasis in the Last Frontier.” Prendeville has guests from greater Anchorage and across Alaska, as well as tourists from the Lower 48 states; Canadians were frequent patrons until the pandemic complicated border crossings.
“People feel that chlorine makes an attraction very safe,” said Prendeville, echoing a sentiment voiced by industry colleagues. Throughout the pandemic, H2Oasis guests have seen visual reminders of hygiene in the form of prominently displayed signs from the Anchorage Health Department and CDC advisories. Hand sanitizer has been ubiquitous.
The facility owes its survival in part to the federal Paycheck Protection Program, whose loans helped H2Oasis to reopen after the 2020 pandemic lockdown. “I give them high marks for helping small businesses like ours,” Prendeville noted. Since then, H2Oasis has thrived as Alaskan families have proven eager to come out and splash. On a normally slow January weekend, H2Oasis had nearly a dozen birthday parties booked. “People really appreciate that we’re open,” Prendeville reflected. “They’ll come out and say that — ‘Thanks so much for being here.’ ”