ABOVE: Guests enjoy a ride on Solar Vortex at Adventure Island, a WhiteWater Double Tailspin slide upgraded with AquaLucent. Photo courtesy of Adventure Island
As many waterparks around the world finish up this most unusual pandemic season of 2020, attention is being turned to 2021 and planning for capital expenditures. How operators are approaching next year varies greatly depending on a variety of factors, including their location and size.
David Bogdonov of WhiteWater, a leading supplier of waterpark rides as well as “dry rides,” predicts most venues will spend in different ways for the coming year. As VP of Business Development for WhiteWater, Bodgonov has worked with small municipal pools, regional water playgrounds and huge themed waterparks. “I expect parks will focus on renewing and upgrading their infrastructure,” says Bogdonov. “On the customer-facing side, they might be looking at small investments that can enhance existing attractions to make them seem like new.”
WhiteWater’s EVP Sales for the Americas Andrew Mowatt agrees. “Many properties are improving both visual and creature comforts for guests and also making changes for better physical distancing, providing a park experience more conducive to returning guests.”
Knowing that most parks will be coming off a slower year and budgets are being scrutinized, WhiteWater aims to help by providing practical solutions that can help parks attract customers back next season. Their team has identified three areas operators can invest in:
• making a bigger experiential impact with what already exists by improving and enhancing looks
• adding new experiences to existing attractions
• adding attractions that can be scaled up over time as budgets allow
Here are some suggestions offered for each approach.
Sometimes the attraction just needs to be presented in a different light, literally.
Existing attractions using WhiteWater’s 32” AquaTube or 54” Giant AquaTube slides can go from opaque to translucent with an AquaLucent upgrade. Sections of the original opaque slide are removed and replaced with the new AquaLucent pieces that include colorful translucent patterns and shapes, allowing light to shine through into the slide. The experience for the rider is psychedelic, and the AquaLucent shapes can be customized for the park. “Parks can market the AquaLucent as an upgraded ride experience for guests, who will view it almost like a new attraction,” says Bogdonov.
SeaWorld Parks & Resorts recently added AquaLucent slides to two of their parks. Solar Vortex at Adventure Island (Tampa, FL) and Tonga Twister at Aquatica (San Antonio, TX) are Tailspin slides upgraded with custom AquaLucent patterns that enhance the theme of the areas in each park. “A panoply of light and color surround you as you go through the slide,” says Director of Global Marketing and Strategy at WhiteWater Una de Boer. “It’s quite beautiful and a completely different experience – it feels even faster than normal.”
It is also possible to change the color of a slide with WhiteWater’s resurfacing service, making it look and feel brand new. Existing slides and AquaPlay attractions can be updated with a new color scheme, a re-gelling of the fiberglass, or additional theming. “Sometimes a simple refresh can make an existing element look like a new structure altogether,” says Mowatt.
Extended operating hours – into the evening – is prompting operators to think about lighting attractions in ways they may not have considered before. Because of reduced capacity requirements, many are looking at ways to cycle more people through the park, including a longer operating day accommodating two shifts of guests. “We see parks experimenting with lighting effects,” adds de Boer. “Typhoon Texas and Chimelong spring to mind as great examples how they have put the spotlight on star slides to attract attention.”
Parks with existing 54” slides can be retrofitted for WhiteWater’s Slideboarding gaming technology (2017 recipient of a TEA Thea Award for Technology). This next-generation version of Slideboarding utilizes easy-to-maintain innertubes rather than boards and features a simplified playing experience which is a quicker and easier install for the park.
“Slideboarding initially tracked user scores via a player profile, but the new version is more of a walk-up-and-play attraction,” says Bogdonov. This has the added benefit of removing the touchscreen interface associated with the original attraction.
“Adding a Slideboarding overlay to an existing slide is an easy way to create buzz for a new experience,” says Bogdonov. Of course, Slideboarding can be added to a new slide just as easily. [For more information on how Slideboarding works, see “Changing the waterpark game,” InPark Magazine issue #59.]
Existing splashpads or play structures can be given a visual makeover by adding the Life Floor system. A patented, durable foam-like flooring material provides a safe surface for guests to play on. Although intended primarily as a safety-enhancing technology, the product also serves to help define a space. The Courtyard Marriott Anaheim recently added Life Floor to its outdoor waterpark. “It was a small investment that really brightened up the space,” says Bogdonov.
According to de Boer, Life Floor is currently the only aquatic flooring system that complies with new NSF50 safety protocols in the US. “Additionally, operators can expect to recoup their investment through a reduction in slip and fall claims within only a few years,” she says.
For those parks not ready to build a huge new AquaPlay structure, WhiteWater recently introduced AquaForms, a streamlined alternative to its AquaPlay product. AquaPlay is traditionally made of a painted galvanized carbon steel structure. It frequently is adorned with heavily themed elements and waterslides.
AquaForms is a smaller stainless-steel version, scalable and streamlined. The flexible design allows park operators to add sections over time to expand the play structure as guests return to the park. Although the modular system is more standardized, it can still be themed to fit into any park. According to WhiteWater, while AquaPlay requires a completely flat floor, AquaForms are designed to be able to handle a slightly variable surface. Each footing has adjustable rings to account for nearly 7” of slope across the structure, meaning an expensive level foundation is not required.
“For the operator, AquaForms uses monopole supports and clear panel barriers, making the structure much easier to see and monitor, designed with reduced lifeguards in mind to safely staff the play area,” says de Boer.
Some parks may be looking to add a completely new attraction, but have a limited space available, a short timeline, a limited budget, or all of the above. Typically, each project starts out with a blank piece of paper and WhiteWater works with the client to create the attraction that best fits their needs. There is a lot of communication back-and-forth between the park and WhiteWater: updating plans, revising pricing, sharing schematics, and more.
For clients that are working in a limited timeframe, WhiteWater has assembled packages of popular slide complexes that exist in a small footprint and within a specified budget. Each package includes much of the information that a client typically would ask for: foundation layout, mechanical schematics, electrical sketches, scope of work specifications, construction timeline, detailed drawings and concept videos. Each package includes Rough Order of Magnitude installation pricing.
“These are individual slide towers we can make available in a very tight timeframe,” says Bogdonov. The pre-designed towers are available with various configurations and include all the costs and parameters. “Because a lot of the project development work is already done, we can deliver them for opening next year at a competitive price point.”
Each tower consists of one or two slides that are popular with WhiteWater’s customers. Examples include:
• BLASTERANGO combines the roller coaster-style Master Blaster and a Boomerango element, which provides moments of weightlessness.
• HEADRUSH is a 32” AquaTube racing mat ride where riders use mats and slide head-first down to the bottom. It has an extremely compact footprint and includes some AquaLucent sections.
• The TAILSPIN and KALEIDOSCOPE tower includes two slides. The first features drops with a tight turn radius in an open bowl for added thrills. The other is a family raft ride featuring AquaLucent. This tower requires a raft conveyor.
Each slide uses existing molds, further accelerating production time. “These are tried and true rides – exciting and thrilling attractions that have great marketability,” adds Bogdonov.
“Our goal is to make the decision-making process easier for the client. All of our normal safety engineering and planning applies to these rides as well,” explains Bogdonov. “We are expecting that clients may want to make some changes to these packages too, but this provides a lot of answers and information right upfront for them.”
Whether it’s plussing current rides or investing in new scalable attractions, operators have plenty of options for reaching out to their customer base and enticing them to return to their park.
“Over the years the model of annual reinvestment into a park has proven to be effective and guests look forward to returning to see what is new each year,” explains Mowatt. “We think these options are ideal ways to maintain that appeal for guests without breaking the bank.”
“Next year is going to be better,” adds de Boer, “and WhiteWater will be there continuing to provide the solutions that best fit park operators’ needs.” • • •
With many years of experience on the waterpark operations side, Franceen Gonzales, Executive Vice President, Business Development at WhiteWater, understands how waterparks work and relied on that community to help guide others through reopening. “If anyone knows how to deal with germ mitigation, it’s waterpark operators,” she says. “We deal with proximity issues and water quality on a daily basis. As I began to speak with our clients and my colleagues in the industry, I listened to them and asked myself ‘How can we help one another?’”
One solution WhiteWater developed was to create reopening guidelines for WhiteWater attractions. Gonzales’ team worked internally to develop a document that worked hand in hand with guidelines from CDC, IAAPA, WWA, EPA, and others. Though it was intended for WhiteWater attractions, it was appropriate for all types of operators.
The guidelines were helpful for the industry at large, especially as operators and suppliers alike were struggling with the implications of new health regulations on their business. WhiteWater’s outreach showcased some of the best elements of the industry: coming together to support each other and problem solve in times of crisis. “We sent that resource to all of our clients, as well as to any other operator that wanted it, even if they didn’t have any WhiteWater product. People saw us as a resource and we hope it helped facilities understand there is a path to reopening safely,” says Gonzales.
In terms of advice for the future, Gonzales sums it up best: “What I’ve learned from the cycle of ups and downs in the business is that you have to look forward and plan for the future, but also don’t forget to look back and use what you’ve learned to plan for the next challenging period. People just want to be done with COVID, but now is exactly the time to examine how you responded, think about what you would have done differently, and get that on paper so you have a guide for your business on how to handle similar problems in the future.” •
In addition to making physical improvements to a park, investing in technology can also help entice guests back into parks. WhiteWater’s software and technology suite, Vantage, can provide ways to create safe experiences for guests that also instill confidence. Designed and implemented long before the pandemic, Vantage’s architecture provides solutions for parks seeking to manage social distancing and contact tracing requirements.
Every guest that enters the park is associated with a unique identifier, tying a wrist band to an app on their phone. As they arrive and check-in at the park, guests can answer a health and safety questionnaire on their phone. Staff will be able to manage attendance in real-time, knowing who entered and who exited. Features such as Dynamic Crowd Control will ensure that areas within the park stay within prescribed density management guidelines, and Virtual Wait Times can help avoid overcrowding in queue lines.
Parents can also easily plan their day at the park in advance, and while they are there, know where their kids are at all times. “This gives guests a level of security and confidence and is an obvious way parks can show they are taking COVID precautions seriously,” says de Boer.
“Vantage also offers the flexibility of being scalable,” says deBoer. “Parks do not need to buy a complete system. Instead, they can activate whichever modules they need for now, and add on to the system later as time and budgets allow.” •
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