by Josh Cohen, Immersive Arts
In recent years, water parks have seen a transformation. Manufacturers are bringing groundbreaking new ride technologies to market, and there is an increased desire by operators to provide guests with an experience unique to their destination.
Elaborate theming and immersive experiences, traditionally found at theme parks, have recently also made their way into water parks. For example, Universal’s Volcano Bay, Atlantis Dubai/Sanya’s Aquaventure, and Europa-Park’s Rulantica.
As someone who follows the sector closely, I believe there is significant room for growth in the way water parks are designed and how technology can be utilized to take these experiences to the next level. Here, I will explore some design trends and technology integrations that could become the standard in the future.
Throughout history, water parks have traditionally utilized theming and storytelling less than full theme parks. Budget, ride design, water safety, and spatial limitations are some of the factors which have impacted their design since the beginning.
Commonly, one would find adrenaline-pumping slides, roaring rivers, and large wave pools nestled among concrete walkways and a variety of foliage. The parks traditionally utilized ride towers and accompanying slides to provide a berm and block site lines of the outside world.
Many water parks now utilize theming to enhance their rides and the atmospheric experience. However, there are still opportunities to increase thematic detailing and storytelling within these spaces. With proper architecture, engineering, fabrication, immersive design, and in-depth planning; slides and rivers can allow full stories to unfold like a theme park ride.
Microtheming can bring detail and story continuity to various areas within the destination, giving guests something new to appreciate upon every visit. Ride towers can give way to fully themed structures, with hidden operational components (i.e., tube conveyors/resets).
It is also possible to adapt traditional park designs and layouts. This allows rides and experiences to weave guests through imaginative landscapes of the world featured within the story.
The future of water park design does not solely rely on theming and fabrication. Rather, it is about how it blends with immersive technology integrations to offer a truly multi-sensory storytelling experience.
As I have written about previously, water parks and theme parks alike can truly enhance storytelling with three-dimensional audio design.
Music compositions and sound effects can enhance on/off-ride experiences and provide emotion to the storytelling spoken through audio. Foley layering can also fully surround guests throughout the park. Panning, reverb, and dimensional placement can create movement and atmospheric realism within the space.
Additional realism can be added by utilizing haptic/vibrational feedback in sync with these audio experiences. Proper planning and audio design are necessary to limit potential problems that can occur with sound integration for parks. This includes noticeable loop resets.
The greatest advantage of audio is its ability to enhance realism. It can transport guests to an environment without requiring as much space, compared to other immersive offerings.
Special effects and illusioneering
There is a wide array of special effects which operators can add to a water park or theme park destination. These can enhance the atmosphere and the story, as well as on/off-ride experiences.
Fog, haze, mist, faux fire, faux heat blasts, faux sparks, haptic feedback/vibration, smell, special fx lighting, bubble foggers, and water curtains are only a sample of options that water parks can program and automate to sync with the story of the experience.
Via the art of illusioneering, a combination of special effects, audio, and visual integrations can be blended seamlessly to create groundbreaking realism in unison with fabricated theming elements. Special care must also be given to the planning and on-site location of these integrations. This is because water safety requirements need to be considered during the design phase.
Special effects can provide truly memorable moments for guests when used in creative ways. However, it is important to always select and integrate them with the purpose of enhancing the storytelling.
Visuals and animatronics
The use of visuals, projections, and animatronics have been prevalent in theme park wet rides and dry rides for decades. But they have also recently seen increased use in the water park sector. Water safety requirements and other varying factors pose a challenge when planning for these immersive offerings. However, with creative planning and design, solutions are achievable.
Advancements in signal communication, automation and innovations in product manufacturing have allowed the use of these technologies in on/off-ride spots that would have been previously difficult to access.
Seamlessly blending fabricated theming elements, visual content, and other sensory immersion items mentioned in this article will allow water park guests to truly experience the world of the story.
In my discussions with water park ride manufacturers, I have seen great enthusiasm with regards to the constant evolution of theming, rides and experiences created for the industry. Each year at the trade shows, exciting new offerings are on display, which developers and operators can bring to their parks and destinations.
In the future, competitive market conditions will push the development of custom rides and park-specific creations which feature highly immersive, in-depth storytelling. In recent years, we have seen on-ride VR integrations, animatronics, enhanced theming, and effects. These begin to offer a glimpse of the possibilities.
When discussing a new project with your ride manufacturer(s), mention your interest in creating what you have read today. And prepare yourself for solvable challenges that can lead to groundbreaking, unique experiences for your guests.
I hope this article sparked your imagination and excitement for the future of water parks. Innovation and creativity will lead to new experiences for all of us. We are paving the way for an unprecedented level of immersion. For more articles on attraction and experience immersion, check out my blooloop author page or visit our website to learn more.
Top image: Rulantica at Europa-Park