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Happy Magic Watercube FORREC water park design

How water parks are exceeding expectations through design

In the world of water park design, guests have a lot of expectations. Fun, escapism, leisure, and recreation – all expectations that parks need to deliver on to succeed.

Steve Rhys FORREC
Steve Rhys

By Steve Rhys, Executive Vice President, FORREC & Ray Smegal, Chief Commercial Officer, ProSlide

The best water parks in the world don’t just deliver on those expectations, they exceed them. These industry-leading water parks are achieving this through high-calibre park design and ride design.

Steve Rhys, an experience designer and executive vice president at FORREC sat down with Ray Smegal, a water ride design expert and chief commercial officer at ProSlide. Together, they discussed how the water park industry is exceeding guests’ expectations through thoughtful and innovative design.

What are guests looking for in water parks? 

ProSlide Ray Smegal
Ray Smegal

Steve Rhys: It goes without saying that the appeal is getting to play in the water, especially in hot weather!

The key to success in the water attractions industry is understanding that there is a very broad spectrum of things guests would love to do in water play. This includes thrills, speed and competitive challenges, floating and lounging, and relaxing on the proverbial ‘beach’. Guests look for reviews that attest to the level of guest services and safety, and of course lots of diversity in rides.

Ray Smegal: Guests are looking for an escape and to enjoy water-based recreation. Water parks are synonymous with summer – enjoying hot days with friends and family. Over the years, water parks have evolved and the most successful parks are designed with seamless integration of landscape, architecture, and water ride design. It’s a beautiful thing when it all comes together!

What do industry clients want in water park design? 

Steve: More and more water parks and attractions are being developed across the globe. So, water park clients often ask us what else they can offer in a competitive, often crowded market to stand out. A few ways owners can meet these goals include:

  1. Finding ways of increasing in-park guest spending beyond just the entry ticket price. For instance, offer catered cabanas so families can relax out of the direct sunlight, purchase food and have a quiet area for kids if they need to nap. Bonus amenities like this can often result in a longer stay in the park and subsequently, more spending.
  2. Offering a varied group of fun experiences and adding non-typical water attractions. For example, flumes, soak coasters and flat water mechanical rides, that do not rely on hot, sunny days. This will help attract a broader guest market and combat the idea that a water park can only be fun in hot, sunny weather.
  3. Creating memorable moments in environments that feel more integrated into the site or a story about the place, culture, or even a brand.
  4. Making water the vehicle for connecting all things that guest engages in. Such as swim-up food and beverage bars, connecting rides to one another and transporting people around the site.
ProSlide guests on dueling water coaster at Splashway
Duelling water coaster at Splashway Water Park, Texas

Unforgettable guest experiences

Ray: The best water parks in the world are designed with water rides that deliver unforgettable guest experiences. And cater to all demographics. It is because of this that guests seek out these high entertainment value rides and return again and again.

These rides soon become anchor rides at the park and define the very essence of the water park’s brand.  We have seen it time and time again with iconic roller coasters like Space Mountain at Walt Disney World or The Hulk at Universal Orlando Resort.

The Incredible Hulk Coaster
The Incredible Hulk Coaster

Clients are looking for innovative rides that include the latest technology. If we look back to where water parks started in the 70s and 80s, they were very small businesses with body and tubes slides. Through the 90s, 00s, and 10s water ride innovation like Racers, BOWLS, TORNADO, LIM Water Coasters, and FlyingSAUCER transformed water parks.

Looking into 2020 and beyond, water ride innovation will continue to drive demand for water parks. My advice: choose innovative attractions that are purposefully designed. Those that deliver the best entertainment value, safety, performance, and marketing impact.

What makes a water park experience and design different from an amusement park? 

Steve: The answer lies in the very nature of what guests play in and play with while in a water park: the water. The success of water parks relies on the creative ways that owners, manufacturers, and designers can imagine playing in and with water.

Girl playing at a waterpark

Water parks are introducing other entertainment for social interactions. For example, games and programmed events, as well as spectator/participatory experiences including surfing, climbing waterfalls, water sports. These are integrated into the unique features of the site and environment.

Things guests used to dream about, like never having to get out of one ride to get into another, are becoming a reality. This is due to the innovation of fusing concrete pools with fibreglass slides/rides. Water is the thread of every activity we create for our guests.

Water is the key

Ray: It starts with water! Water parks have always had an amazing appeal because it’s as natural of an experience as being at the beach or the lake. Families gather at water parks, set up their beach chair or cabana, and experience a day on the water rides, rivers, and wave pool.

Lotte World Kimhae water park design
Lotte World

The strength of a modern water park is this natural experience combined with the iconic, high-performance water rides. Water parks are the best of both worlds.

How can technology be more incorporated into water park design?

Ray: Over the past 40 years, the adoption of technology into water park design has been extremely fast. Consider that the first water parks were a few slides on a hill. Today, they are being built by some of the largest theme park brands in the world.

Toboggan Black Hawks Watch Tower first shoot the chute attractions

Like any industry looking for the next technological breakthrough, some products from other industries are being tested in water park environments. For instance, VR, RFID, and emerging video and audio technologies. Some of these have potential, but many others won’t fit in the water park environment. That’s part of the exploratory process when looking at how to integrate new technology.

When you think about the fundamentals of what makes a great water park experience, the technology that’s proven to be successful is the new sliding technologies that create amazing guest experiences.

Embracing new technology

For example, the world’s best water parks use modern water coaster technology like our RocketBLAST or HydroMAGNETIC LIM propulsion systems. Water parks are also defined by the tall, iconic water rides that have shapes that are visually stunning and deliver amazing sliding experiences.

Our TORNADO and TornadoWAVE are just a few examples of rides that utilise advanced technology to make the sliding experience so significant. So, when you think water park technology it’s not just about electronics, it’s also about the technology that creates exceptional water park guest experiences.

Steve: We’ve seen the industry embrace new technologies such as:

  1. Adding chasing, blinking, and racing LED lights to insides of dark rides to accentuate the sense of speed.
  2. RFID for in-park games and easy cashless purchasing.
  3. Digital projections on pool bottoms or in dark ride environments to deliver special effects.
  4. Shows and water stunts and water play demonstrations. For example, diving, and surfing shows/demonstrations at beach parties through the day and into the night.

Could technology allow a customised version of an outdoor ride to integrate with the indoor park?  

Ray: Indoor water parks have become the anchor amenities for hotels, retail, malls, and even casino properties. Conventional properties are adding a resort element that helps drive attendance and – in the case of hotels – room rates.

Water ride technology has been at the forefront of the indoor water park revolution. It wasn’t more than 25 years ago that the indoor water park was more than a simple body slide. Through creative design and new technology developed by ride designers, the largest water rides can be adapted to the indoor water park environment.

Rulantica Rangnakor_Hugin ProSlide water park design
Rulantica at Europa-Park

For instance, TORNADO 60 is one of the most iconic water rides in the world because of its towering size. But through strategic design, we’ve engineered capped versions that can fit inside or outside of the building footprint – like at Great Wolf Lodge, Kalahari, American Dream, and Europa-Park.   

Steve: The technology already exists, and the limitations are beginning to become a nonissue. The challenge is always going to be the cost of indoor space. Clever ways include layering rides and effectively pushing most of the structure of inherently large rides outdoors. Except for the ride launch and return sections.

Ride engineers continue to work on compressed versions of existing popular water rides. Some are developing new ways to enhance the compressed ride. For example, with tricks and effects that make the experience seem to last longer.

What are water parks doing to become more sustainable?  

Steve: FORREC has established an in-house Sustainability Committee that has teamed up with other likeminded sustainability consultants. The company has also joined the IAAPA Sustainability committee to approach our designs with waste mitigation and sustainable solutions that are realisable and practical.

This is a major initiative in our company. And we bring these developing policies to the table to work with our clients, operators and project designers (engineers, manufacturers, builders) to together create more sustainable environments within the project site and facility designs.

Siam Park water park design
Siam Park

Already, operators and designers are reducing the wasteful use of water more and more.  Water quality maintenance technologies improve and backwashing is far less wasteful.

Other environmental issues that have come up around water parks revolve around energy consumption and reduction of wasteful consumption. As designers, we make it part of our social responsibility policy to keep a watchful eye on emerging solutions to these and other challenges that should be considered whenever we see the opportunity to advance responsible evolution in water park design. 

More efficient water park design

Ray: Water ride attractions are being designed more efficiently with new technology and in close collaboration with park and mechanical designers. With the popularity of water parks around the world, comes the fact that they also exist in areas of drought and sensitive power usage requirements. That means water ride designers need to think creatively about reducing the use of those resources.

One example of a water ride technology that is more sustainable is water coasters. Conventional water coaster sheet flow technology has been around since the early 90s and was the standard until 2005.

At that time, ProSlide created a linear induction motor propulsion technology, which powers our HydroMAGNETIC coasters. This was on-demand and energised only when a boat was going uphill. The technology lowered energy requirements on the water coasters by more than 50 per cent.

Another example of energy-efficient technology is using water only when a vehicle or person is travelling in the flume. We use variable frequency drives (VFDs) to turn the water on and off on demand. Like hybrid or electric cars that shut off at a traffic light or when stationary. We call this technology ECO mode. It’s available on all our water rides, including water coasters.

What will water park rides look like in 10 years?  

Ray: We continue to look for inspiration in all the ways that people can ride, slide, and experience the magic of water. Over the past 40 years, water rides have undergone quite the evolution. From guests body sliding down concrete channels to riding sophisticated high technology water coasters using linear induction motors.

Rides like water coasters will be a big part of the future design of water parks. Water parks continue to grow into some of the most sought after, high-volume recreational facilities in the world.

ring floating in pool

Steve: As designers, we try to imagine the way we could play with water. And the way it would behave under different conditions.

For example, in natural environments like waterfalls, rapids, an oceanside beach, or tidal waves, a river or whirlpool, or a mountainside stream. We then try to re-create those conditions so that the guest can safely play in them. We also try to defy gravity and do things with water that the guest wouldn’t expect to see.

FORREC works with the manufacturers and designers of water rides and developers of emerging technology. So we can imagine and push the envelope of water play experiences that we couldn’t do in the past.

How will the COVID-19 pandemic affect water parks operationally? 

Ray: Parks are starting to implement their opening strategies. So they are certainly looking at implementing the obvious health and safety measures to operate in the post-COVID-19 environment.  This creates a new order. But it is also an opportunity for parks to differentiate themselves by focusing on the customer experience – the VIP treatment.

Things like making cleaning procedures visible or having all the amenities (masks, hand sanitizer) on hand for those who forgot theirs, and integrating technologies that better manage lineups can help boost the experience.

PPE covid-19 water park design future

Park operators should focus on increasing their customer service at every guest touchpoint. This leads to a more enjoyable the experience from start to finish. And, ultimately, greater guest loyalty.

Social distancing challenges

Steve: It is too early to see how. But we can assume that water parks will have the same issues with crowd control and capacity as theme parks. Those parks are already looking as if 30%+/- capacity will be the norm for the next little while. Until operators find other ways to increase capacity while keeping guests safe.

Indoor water parks are going to have a little more trouble spacing guests out. This is because of the limited interior space of the pool building. However, outdoor water parks can spread people out more easily (especially in outdoor deck/seating areas).

Social distancing at Shanghai Disney attendance rebound
Social distancing at Shanghai Disney

Another aspect that water parks will have to contend with is changing areas. The size of these is usually suitable for peak hours on the average busy day. The real limitation in lies in the size of aisles between lockers and showers.

Social distancing will be hard to accommodate in these key areas. Unless guests come and return home in their bathing suits. But that begs the question, where do they keep their stuff if they try to avoid lockers?

How will the pandemic impact future water park design considerations?

Steve: There are two sources of insights we need to keep an eye on. First, we have to wait to see how effective current measures parks are taking within their current footprints. Then we will see where we can and should focus on changes. As well as seeing the effects that social distancing standards will have on access to the facility.

For instance, the need for more queue and circulation space, and timed bookings to stagger arrivals. Then we can make future decisions based on lessons learned.

The second issue is about the science around the virus itself. How it spreads and how it teaches us to consider other virus outbreaks in the future. What we know now is that not all viruses behave the same. Is there a one size fits all solution?

coronavirus COVID-19

Water parks have been disinfecting the water for decades to prevent water-borne infections. For decades, the water park industry has controlled Legionnaire Disease for water and air born legionella bacteria. We would all like to find one solution for all future disturbances. But it’s too early to say if there are preventative solutions that can be applied to COVID-19 like viruses.

Bottom line, it’s too early to rush into setting new standards for this virus without considering other airborne diseases. Whatever we do, it must be shored up by good science, combined with practical approaches and balanced by cost considerations.

Signature attractions

Ray: Social distancing alongside the customer experience will continue to be the prescription that underlines future water park designs.

Considerations like space between pavilions and managing lineups, to enclosed changing rooms and seating areas, are all called into question.

Universal Volcano Bay water park design
Universal’s Volcano Bay

However, the water park industry is evolving rapidly. As such we are seeing more and more signature attractions like those at Universal’s Volcano Bay. Here, managing the lineups for guests leads to a more immersive customer experience. For example, smaller groups, virtual queuing, and planning things to do while you wait that are spread out.

The signature attraction model will be an important consideration for future water park designs. And it could be an opportunity to deliver even better customer service experience.

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