October 2015 

Splash Decision

Slagharen’s Mexican-style water park is spicing up the business

 by Juliana Gilling

The October edition of Funworld highlights how Pennsylvania's Camelback ski resort is using the combined attractions of the Camelback Lodge and Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark to strengthen its year-round appeal. In Europe, Slagharen Theme Park & Resort has similar ambitions for its new Aqua Mexicana indoor/outdoor water park. 

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When Wouter Dekkers arrived as general manager at Slagharen Theme Park & Resort last October, he faced a near-impossible task: delivering a new water park in four months.

Parques Reunidos, which acquired the Netherlands park in 2012, had already given the go-ahead for the long-awaited project. The new water park would make use of an existing building in the theme park, replacing a smaller, outdated water facility.

After a €6.7 million investment, and a design and development process that went down to the wire, Aqua Mexicana opened on May 1, 2015. The water park packs a lot into a compact space—3,173 square metres indoors and 2,083 square metres outdoors. Attractions include 10 water slides, two water playgrounds, and two water spray parks built by Van Egdom.

“In the Netherlands, it's new to see so many slides combined together. We also have a 70-person hot tub, which we claim is the biggest one in the Netherlands. We're up to the challenge, but nobody has claimed the record back yet,” says Dekkers.

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Aqua Mexicana offers three big slides. MexiCone (Crazy Cone) combines a funnel, a black hole, and 3-D projections on a water screen. YukaTime (Tube 1400) allows guests to check their speeds and choose in-ride lighting effects. On Magic Maya (Magic Oval), daylight pours in through a series of translucent rings, like modern-day stained glass. “Each slide is a different experience. We wanted to surprise and entertain the guest every single time,” says Simon van Dijk, commercial director at Van Egdom.

Aqua Mexicana also includes a main pool, toddler pools, a waterfall, a sandy beach area, a cantina-themed restaurant, and a shop for swimming gear.

Plans had existed for some time to add more entertainment and activities for people staying at Slagharen. “Around 50 percent of our total business comes from the lodges and accommodations, and the remaining 50 percent comes from traditional theme park activities, so it was a good decision to look into lengthening guest stay. As a park, we want to keep our overnight guests for as long as possible,” says Dekkers. 

Slagharen's resort accommodation includes more than 450 bungalows, 168 teepees, and a camping ground, some of which Parques Reunidos upgraded immediately after purchasing the park. The rest will be renewed from winter 2015 onward. “A decent, family-friendly water facility adds value for each lodging,” says Dekkers.

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Having told tour operators in advance about the development, Slagharen had to open the new water park on May 1. “The big disadvantage was that we could only start work on January 4 because the park was open to lodging guests until then. We have photos of guests swimming on Saturday, Jan. 3, and we started demolition on Monday,” says Dekkers.

Meeting the nail-bitingly tight timeline required a mammoth effort from Slagharen staff, Van Egdom, Rocas & Design, Service Totaal, and a multitude of local workers. First, people had to be on the same page: “Everybody in the park had different opinions—and good ideas—about the building, but we needed to get the team working together as a group,” explains Dekkers. “It was a difficult period. I was new and people needed to get used to me. I have a strict point of view about what I want to offer to guests—we do it well, or we don't do it.”

The only fixed element of the project was the slide package from Van Egdom. Everything else was open to review. Once Dekkers had made sure the team’s expectations were all in line, the design and building work began. Dekkers saw the project lacked a theme and there was also the issue of an artificial mountain that blocked light to the planned facility.

“We took away that big mountain and installed a huge glass facade in the existing building,” Dekkers says. “We had the chance to do a really nice theme for guests, so I contacted Rocas & Design, who worked with me on ‘Lost Temple’ at Movie Park. They only got the order from me on March 1, so they made it happen very fast and in a great way.”

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A colour scheme bursting with spicy reds, oranges, yellows, and greens transports guests into a Mexican-inspired world. Giant sombreros hang above water play areas and Mayan sculptures keep a watchful eye, while Mexican-style facades conjure up a fiesta atmosphere.

With the design still evolving as building work got underway, Slagharen's team assumed the role of general contractor. “That's the strength of this project and the reason why we could do it in such a short time. We literally bought all the wood, the nails, everything ourselves, and we used a ton of individual construction workers,” says Dekkers. Using local companies like Service Totaal and Van Egdom meant that changes could be made quickly throughout the process.

Slagharen’s management looked to sister park Parque Warner Madrid—which had opened an outdoor Looney Tunes-themed water park in 2014—as a basis for their expectations. Visitor numbers for Aqua Mexicana have already exceeded estimates. “From May to the end of September, we expected 85,000 people and we are at 153,000,” says Dekkers. He is budgeting for 235,000 visitors to Aqua Mexicana in 2016, made up of resort guests and park guests.

Aqua Mexicana is free for the majority of resort guests, with the exception of campers. Guests visiting the theme park for the day can pay €8 on top of the regular admission price to access the water park.

Aqua Mexicana is producing significant benefits for the business. “We raised the prices for our lodgings in 2015 and we haven't seen any decline in guest visitor numbers,” says Dekkers. He believes more marketing activity will encourage day guests to "bring their swimwear to the theme park and add another 2-3 hours of water fun.” Normally the theme park closes at 5 or 6 p.m., but the water park remains open until 8 p.m.

Aqua Mexicana was always intended to extend Slagharen's season and it will be put to the test this winter. For the first time, the theme park—together with the water park—will open each weekend in November 2015. Outside of the new winter weekends and the Christmas period, Aqua Mexicana's opening dates will mirror those of the theme park, traditionally from April 1 to the end of October.

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Dekkers says Aqua Mexicana’s success has been “energising” and he is focusing on adjusting staffing levels to meet demand. Theoretically, the water park can accommodate 1,000 people, with another 250-300 guests outside. “But, in all honesty, when we have 1,000 people in there I cannot offer the quality I would like. We call it a luxury problem,” says Dekkers. He has reduced the capacity to 800-850 guests and is continuing to monitor dwell time and satisfaction levels.

Dekkers calls Aqua Mexicana a “tremendous opportunity” and says it gave him the “best introduction” to the Slagharen team and companies based around the park. “It's really something else to do this in four months.” He adds, laughing: “The only problem now is that we will never be able to say to anybody again, ‘It's not possible,’ because—after this—everything is possible.”


Juliana Gilling is a contributing editor for IAAPA’s Funworld magazine, covering the European attractions industry. Contact her at julianagilling@gmail.com.

Photo Credits:
- Slagharen Theme Park & Resort
- Van Egdom/Stan De Haas.com Photography