If anyone could be described as “fully immersed in the waterpark business, ” it’s Peter Helland Jr.
In 1994, he co-founded the Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin – now the largest indoor waterpark resort in the U.S. He is also Managing Partner of Wilderness at the Smokies in Sevierville, Tennessee; home of two outdoor waterparks and the Wild WaterDome, which at 66, 000 sq ft, is the largest indoor waterpark in Tennessee.
Blooloop caught up with Helland as his company, Stand Rock Hospitality, is poised to unveil the all-new $163 million dollar Camelback Lodge & Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark at Camelback Resort in Tannersville, Pennsylvania.
“We are looking forward to welcoming guests to Camelback Lodge & Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark, which is the biggest indoor waterpark in the Northeast, ” said Helland. It’s in close proximity to some of the larger cities including Philadelphia which is two hours away and New York City which is about 90 miles away. The property is off Interstate 80 so it’s very accessible to large numbers of people. We are very excited to be in the Northeast.”
So how did he get into tourism in the first place?
“I grew up in the tourism industry in the Wisconsin Dells, driving amphibious duck boats and boats for boat tours. The Dells is a major family destination in the Midwest and has been for many generations. Chicago is the largest market, for the Dells. The Dells is about 195 miles north of Chicago. What originally brought visitors to the area is the famous Wisconsin River scenery. The river runs through the Dells and there is about a 7 mile strip of very scenic sandstone rock formation.”
Stand Rock Hospitality is named after the most dramatic example of these unique formations and was chosen to evoke “a perception of history, authenticity and longevity for tomorrow.” Helland is obviously proud of his association with the area: “My family has been involved with tourism in the Dells for several generations.”
The big break into indoor waterparks came in 1994: “My cousin, Tom and I started the Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort in Wisconsin Dells. We had 79 units and 9000 sq feet of indoor waterpark space. The reason the indoor part came about was because we were traditionally a 100-day season: Memorial Day to Labour Day. June could be cold and rainy so you never knew what the weather was going to be like.
“As a result, we started covering the pool so whenever kids were out of school we were busy. It had the effect of creating a second peak season during spring break. So, right now we are full (March), and because different school districts around the Midwest are out, we can be busy for a 4 week period. After 20 years, Wilderness now has 250, 000 sq ft of indoor space (not all under one roof, ) so it’s now regarded as the largest indoor waterpark resort in the U.S.
Helland: “About 4 to 5 million visitors travel to the Dells each year. Wilderness is exclusive to resort guests. In order to use the waterpark you have to be a guest and stay overnight. We also have a lot of outdoor waterpark amenities, too. So, though known as an indoor waterpark, we are a very popular venue when the weather is warm, too.”
Following the success of Wilderness, Stand Rock Hospitality opened up another property in the Smokey Mountain area of Tennessee – Wilderness at the Smokies. Helland explains, “There we have over 700 units and in the Dells over 1200. The Smokey Mountain market is great and actually larger than the Dells market. About 11 million visitors travel to Tennessee on an annual basis.”
Camelback Lodge and Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark
Helland is understandably very upbeat about Stand Rock Hospitality’s latest venture, Camelback Lodge and Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark.
“It’s opening to the public on April 24th. The unique thing about Camelback is that it’s going to include 125, 000 sq ft of indoor waterpark space; the largest indoor waterpark ever built in the U.S. in a single phase.
“We are the new attraction at Camelback Resort, which is already a great family destination. The Camelback Mountain area attracts almost a million people to the site between amenities in summer and winter. In the summer they have a very popular public admission waterpark called Camelbeach. Camelback Lodge and Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark is adding to the appeal that is already in place.”
The two men who own Camelbeach Mountain Waterpark, Ken Ellis and Arthur Berry III, were college roommates at Skidmore College in upstate New York. “Ken is the CEO of Aquatic Development Group and builds waterparks all over the world. We have known Ken for 20 years and over time, we decided we should join forces and come together to create this uniquely themed indoor waterpark hotel.”
Introducing The Venus SlydeTrap
What will be special about the waterpark facilities at Camelback Lodge?
“We’re working with WhiteWater West to create the slides. They are based in Canada and are regarded as industry leaders. They’re very good at what they do. WhiteWater West is providing a slide package involving thirteen slides including the world premiere of the Venus SlydeTrap.”
At more than 600 feet long, the Venus SlydeTrap is a thrill ride that plunges users down a “heart-pounding drop” before propelling them through a serpentine flume, a 16-foot translucent sphere, 90 degree corners and into total darkness before they hit the rushing waters of the manta.
Helland: “This is a signature ride and the only family combination raft ride of its kind in the world. So, I’ll be very happy to unveil that during phase two of construction in May 2015.”
He stresses the importance of innovating: “As the developer, what we need to do is think about and fine-tune rolling out the latest and greatest of indoor waterpark technology. With WhiteWater West inventing new slides, we incorporate that new slide technology into our property and use it as a marketing tool. The transparent roof system is another marketing tool we use. This allows 75% of UV rays into the waterpark so we can grow real plants. We have banana plants growing in Wisconsin in the indoor waterpark. We get around 40 to 50 inches of snow a year. It’s what made the Dells the “Waterpark Capital of the World” – the combination of the cold weather and cabin fever.”
Helland explains that Ellis is licensed to sell the roofing which was designed by a German inventor. “If you sit there long enough you can get a sun tan! It also saves energy.”
A Disney-esque Explorer
How did Stand Rock approach theming?
“Aquatic Development Group (ADG) master-planned, engineered and built the colossal, 125, 000 square-foot Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark. ADG’s creative design and construction teams worked closely with industry experts, The Weber Group, a themed attraction builder; and WhiteWater West, a waterslide and play structure supplier in the construction of Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark. Camelback Lodge & Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark is very Disney-esque with a high level of theming.
“The central idea is about fictitious legendary explorer, Kartrite Van Der Berris. He’s an original character invented by Ellis and Berry. The idea is that Van Der Berris traveled all over the world and came back and thought the lodge was a perfect spot. So he incorporated a lot of his experiences into a new year-round resort. It’s unique in that way. It has its own story which gives it a personality through theming and through this fictional character.”
Camelback Lodge will have 453 rooms with admission to the waterpark included. Helland says this is a major draw for guests. “The mums do the math, they find value in the stay. At 125, 000 sq ft, we have capacity to accommodate more than would stay in the hotel. So, the indoor waterpark will be open to guests who already either bought a lift ticket in winter or who have purchased public admission to the outdoor waterpark in the summer.”
Helland explains that they are also using entry technology to enhance the guests’ experience:
“We are working with PDCorp. to provide Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) wristbands for ease of entry.”
With the opening of Camelback Lodge and Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark, Helland has come a long way from running boat tours on the Wisconsin River. But the wet stuff is obviously in his blood and we can’t help feeling that he hasn’t finished with waterparks just yet.
All images kind courtesy Camelback Lodge and Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark