– By Sara Karnish
Waterparks are all about giving guests a wet and wild experience. As the 2022 season wraps up, park owners and operators are looking ahead and giving a sneak peek into what guests can expect in 2023.
“In 2023, we will be upgrading the waterpark’s mechanical system as well as revamping our family raft slide, which is the biggest slide in our park,” said Jasmine Heil, aquatics director at H20ooohh! Indoor Water Park at Split Rock Resort in Lake Harmony, Pa. “A lot of Split Rock visitors have been vacationing in the Poconos for many years, so we find it’s important to give them the familiarity and customer service they expect while also providing new offerings to continue to increase their excitement to return the next year.” H20ooohh! was the first indoor waterpark in Pennsylvania, opening in 2008, and remains a favorite destination for families. “We are always making changes at the waterpark, from painting or refinishing floors or updating our attractions. Changes are important for the maintenance of the park as well as the enjoyment of our guests,” Heil explained, adding, “annual visitation has resumed to our average numbers after the lull caused by COVID. Summer and winter months continue to be our busiest seasons.”
Besides offering attractions that thrill guests, waterpark operators are also tasked with featuring attractions that appeal to non-swimmers. WaterWorks Family Aquatics Center in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, is keeping this demographic at the forefront for 2023: “We will be installing a splash pad in place of our sand play area to provide a more accessible option for those who may not swim,” explained Kathleen Burt, WaterWorks Aquatics/Facility Director. She said it’s important to continue offering new things to guests, as even small changes get noticed. “Every year we do try to make some improvement or change. Small changes show you are willing to make changes as interest or clientele’s needs change.” Guest safety is always the top priority for teams at attractions of all kinds. Burt explained WaterWorks’ unique policy: “Each person over the age of 16 must present a government issued photo id to enter the park. We swipe every person over the age of 16 who enters the park through the sexual predator’s website. We offer two days per week all season dedicated to our season pass holders. We offer a Lazy river, shoot down the drop or flume slides, swim laps, or just sit back and enjoy the beautiful zero-depth pool in one of our rentable poolside cabanas.” Burt said attendance is up slightly, due to the lack of outdoor swimming options and several local swimming pools closed.
Although there are no plans to bring new water attractions to The Boardwalk at Hersheypark in 2023, Scott Silar, manager of attractions at Hersheypark, said they “are always adding something sweet to Hersheypark,” and to “stay tuned to our social media channels for future plans.” Since its opening in 2007, with expansions from new attractions to unique food and beverage items, The Boardwalk has grown into a major component of the Hersheypark experience. “In 2018, we added two high-thrill water attractions with Whitecap Racer mat racing slide, one of the longest in the world, and Breakers Edge HydroMAGNETIC water coaster. Over the last few years, our F&B team has elevated our Boardwalk offerings with the addition of new locations and menu items. In 2020, Oola Bowls At The Boardwalk, featuring acai and pitaya bowls decorated with fresh fruit and other toppings, opened to rave reviews. In 2021, Shoreline Beverage began offering Sloshies and canned beer at The Boardwalk for guests ages 21 and older. New this year at East Coast Burger Works launched the ‘Burger of the Month’ with options like a Caprese Burger in June and S’mores Burger in August. The attractions and atmosphere ensure The Boardwalk is a true destination and the reason why many of our guests visit for two days,” Silar explained. Some waterparks are standalone attractions, but many are included with admission to the main park. Guests to Hersheypark also receive admission to The Boardwalk and ZooAmerica as part of “three parks in one,” Silar explained, “so guests can cool off on a hot summer’s day in between riding coasters.” He said The Boardwalk offers something for everyone: “The Boardwalk offers 16 water attractions and one million gallons of water, with design inspiration from the iconic boardwalks along the East Coast. Guests love spending time on the Intercoastal Waterway lazy river and East Coast Waterworks, with more than 600 interactive water features alone. The biggest splash comes from a 1,000-gallon tipping bucket for those looking to get drenched on a hot summer day. We have water attractions for thrill-seekers and splash pads for our youngest guests so families can enjoy this area together.” He added, “We are honored that so many guests make The Sweetest Place On Earth an annual summer destination, so we continue to offer 70 rides, a full waterpark and a zoo to ensure a mix of familiar favorites and new experiences.”
Keeping with their reputation as a family-friendly destination, Heil said there is a lot of excitement around H20ooohh!’s new attraction: “The excitement around our family raft slide has grown immensely in the year 2022. Raft slides allow patrons the joy of experiencing the ride together,” she said.
While it is always important to stay true to the core business, following industry trends and determining how they might fit into a park’s operation is also important. Burt said one trend she’s noticed is “the lack of people between the ages of 15-25 willing to become trained lifeguards and work for the summer season,” but added, “We were very fortunate to hire 97 lifeguards and 70 staff members for admissions, concessions, and guest services this summer. With great staff you are able to provide a safe experience with quality services.” Silar has noticed a shift in customers’ buying habits when it comes to merchandise: “Over the past few years, we have noticed that guests are willing to invest in premium retail items at Hersheypark. We wanted to offer the same higher-end retail experience in The Boardwalk, so we opened East Coast Surf Co. in summer 2022. The one-stop shop for general summertime needs features products from Life is Good, women’s apparel from Lotus and Luna, sweet shades from Costa Sunglasses, men’s swimwear from Chubbies, and more.” He added, “Cabana rentals in The Boardwalk have also grown in popularity, especially among Hersheypark Season Pass Holders. Guests can relax with family and friends in a luxurious cabana complete with complimentary soda, bottled water, towels and exclusive ride entry/exit to the Intercoastal Waterway (lazy river). Hersheypark King- and Full-Size Season Pass Holders receive priority booking until two weeks in advance of the date.”
Besides giving guests the rides and attractions they have come to know and love during the hot summer months, waterpark operators said it’s equally as important to give customers quality service—and resources—to make their experience complete. “We pride ourselves on providing information to our guests in the palms of their hands with our Hersheypark app, as well as detailed information on our website and social channels to help them plan their day,” Silar said. Heil said her team engages with guests at every opportunity. “Let them know they are welcome with a smile or hello, and be available and engaged when listening to their questions and suggestions. At H20ooohh, we want to ensure our families have the best experience possible.”