Water park operators discuss the challenges and benefits of rebranding a park
by Keith Miller
It’s one thing to retheme, rename, and recast a ride in its existing spot (take Six Flags Magic Mountain’s “Superman: Escape from Krypton,” for example). It’s another thing entirely to do that with an entire park.
But lately the industry has seen a few big makeovers, both with defunct parks making a comeback and existing parks needing a new face.
Perhaps the biggest makeover and rebranding of a water park in 2012 took place at SeaWorld San Antonio in Texas (http://seaworldparks.com), where the facility replaced its Lost Lagoon water park with Aquatica. The 20-acre park is the biggest investment in SeaWorld San Antonio’s history.
Tim Morrow, Aquatica San Antonio’s vice president, says the park goes beyond just a makeover and rebranding of Lost Lagoon: “This park seems a lifetime away from the former water park. When we started designing Aquatica San Antonio, we based our work on the successful model of Aquatica Orlando. This meant we would basically have a brand-new water park versus a rebranded existing park.”
Still, guests certainly recall the previous water park since it closed in the same location only a few months before Aquatica opened. In such situations, water park operators say two elements are key to setting the new park apart from the old—adding new attractions and completely changing the park’s appearance. Aquatica did both in a major way.
“For our grand opening, we really wanted something guests in this part of the country had never seen before, and that was incorporating sea life with amazing attractions,” says Morrow. “We wanted ‘statement attractions’ the entire family could participate in together. [Also,] not only did we create new areas, new pathways, new attractions, animal exhibits, and large sand beaches, but we completely changed the look of the previously existing areas through branding and redesign.”
These changes were so extensive that when Aquatica opened, guests who’d visited Lost Lagoon were completely disoriented, even when standing in areas they’d visited before. Says Morrow, “This was a sure sign to us that we’d succeeded in creating a new water park.”
Two Aquatica attractions already becoming guest favorites are “Stingray Falls” and “Walhalla Wave.” The park considers “Stingray Falls” to be its signature attraction, featuring four-seat rafts that slide down twists and turns to an underwater grotto, where riders come “face-to-fin” with stingrays and tropical fish. “Walhalla Wave” sends four riders in a clover tube on a 720-degree spin into a 50-degree drop before sailing up a three-story zero-gravity wall. The ride was featured on the Travel Channel’s Aug. 5 episode of “Xtreme Waterparks.”
Creating a New Identity
Bringing in new attractions was also key to the strategy this year of Splash Adventure in Bessemer, Alabama (www.splashadventurewaterpark.com), but for a different reason. Splash Adventure previously operated as Alabama Adventure, which was both a dry-ride park and a water park. When the park was purchased by General Attractions in January 2012, the new owner decided to eliminate the dry-ride park.
“We evaluated park attendance and determined that 60 to 70 percent of people were coming because of the water park,” says Kent Lemasters, CEO of General Attractions. “However, 60 percent of expenses were in the amusement park, so based on that, we made it a water park.”
Lemasters, who is also COO of AmusementAquatic Management Group, has considerable experience with water parks and states this type of analysis is the single most important step in revamping and rebranding a water park. “Analyze the market and the park’s strengths and weaknesses—what’s its condition physically and what’s its position in the marketplace,” he says.
For Splash Adventure, removing the dry rides made introducing new, unusual, high-profile water attractions even more important. The park unveiled “Mist-ical Maze,” a first-of-its-kind water maze from Amaze’n Mazes that douses guests with tipping buckets, waterfalls, and water guns as they try to find their way through the labyrinth.
This was immediately followed by the opening of the world’s first interactive water-based obstacle course. “Wipeout Adventure Course,” by WhiteWater West, sends guests through a series of ropes, towers, bridges, and ziplines on multiple levels, all while experiencing geysers, sprays, and water blasts.
Even if there has been no change of ownership, a name change is essential in signaling something major is taking place at a water park. For eight years, Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut (www.lakecompounce.com), has been trying to expand Splash Harbor but had been unable to get the government to approve the relocation of an old road built in the early 1900s. The approval finally came through last year, and the road was moved, adding seven acres to the four-acre water park. Excavation for the expansion began earlier this year, making room for “Riptide Racer,” a new four-lane multicolored speed slide from ProSlide, as well as new cabanas.
But because the expansion had been rumored for so many years, Lake Compounce wanted to herald that it was finally happening, so many more new rides and attractions would be added in coming years. With time running short before the season opening, the operators gave the water park a new name—Crocodile Cove—and a new mascot. “We introduced the new mascot and rebranded at the 23rd hour, and we’re still making signs now!” says Jerry Brick, Lake Compounce’s general manager. “You may see rebranding of some of our slides in the future.”
Reopening Closed Parks Might Mean Rough Waters
If a water park has been closed for multiple seasons when acquired by a new owner, that owner may need to disassociate the reopened park with the old one. This is the situation Seven Peaks of Provo, Utah (www.sevenpeaks.com), faces with Splash Down Dunes water park in Porter, Indiana. Seven Peaks acquired the property in July 2012 and plans to reopen it in summer 2013 as Seven Peaks Water Park Porter. But the park has been closed since 2009, so rebranding requires more than a name change and new attractions.
“Picture a water park overgrown with weeds and with deer in it,” says Torie Redshirt, director of marketing for Seven Peaks. “Some of the biggest challenges so far have been repairs. The park’s just been sitting for three years, so there are motor repairs, concrete repair, sheetrock repair, fiberglass repair, and pool repairs. That’s definitely the biggest challenge at this point.”
Fortunately, Seven Peaks is up to the task because it has experience with water parks—Seven Peaks Waterpark Porter is its fourth—and Redshirt says the company is busily planning for new attractions and working to bring the park’s branding image in line with its other water parks.
Rebranding a closed park can bring other unexpected surprises, as Charles Blythe discovered with his purchase of an old family fun park shuttered for several years in New Bern, North Carolina. He named it Captain Bly’s Shipwreck Cove (www.captainblys.com) and initiated a plan to expand it in coming years by adding water attractions. But first, he and his family faced a boatload of repair work due to vandalism, along with unexpected local-code requirements.
After significant labor the park opened in late June, featuring two new 24-foot-tall waterslides. Because there are no other water parks in the area, Blythe expected strong crowds. Unfortunately, those crowds have yet to materialize. “I can’t figure out why people haven’t responded more to this water park—I thought it was a no-brainer because there’s no water park in New Bern,” says a puzzled Blythe. “Maybe it’s because we couldn’t open when we wanted to in early May.”
While the Water Is Still Running
While it is easier to revamp and rebrand a water park during the offseason, a couple parks are attempting the task largely while remaining open. Wild Wild Wet in Singapore (www.wildwildwet.com) and Splash Waterworld at Butlins Skegness in Lincolnshire, England (www.butlins.com/resorts/skegness/index.aspx), both have extended operating seasons and rarely close. A top priority for these locations is getting the word out to guests about the changes because they do not enjoy the usual offseason buzz about “what’s coming next” from guests and local media.
Splash Waterworld is in the midst of a £13 million (US$20.1 million) expansion that will increase the park’s size by 30 percent, and Butlins wants visitors to know what is coming. “It’s on boardings around the resort to inform guests of the work being undertaken,” says Chris Baron, the resort’s director, “and has appeared in our family magazine, distributed to all our guests, and been reported in local press, TV, and radio.”
The expansion of Singapore’s Wild Wild Wet is part of a $200 million five-year master plan by park owner NTUC Club for the city-state’s Downtown East district. The park will double in size, and a new high-thrill ride will be opened. Also, a water curtain will be installed on the lazy river, and the wave pool will have two new manmade geysers.
Wild Wild Wet is temporarily closed for a short time so final work on the first phase of this project can be completed. In addition to print advertising and on-site posters about the expansion, the park is making extensive use of its Facebook page to continually share updates and photos with guests about what they can expect when the facility reopens.
If anyone doubts the power of this nontraditional media in spreading the word about such projects, take it from Aquatica’s Morrow: “On the day we announced Aquatica, we turned on our Facebook page, posted renderings, and started talking with our future guests. Before you knew it, you couldn’t go anywhere in our area without someone asking about Aquatica, and our traditional advertising had not even started yet. It was a great way for guests to familiarize themselves with our brand before we even opened.”
Contact News Editor Keith Miller at kmiller@IAAPA.org.
Noah’s Ark Becomes a Palace
The biggest water park acquisition to date in 2012 took place in May when Noah’s Ark (www.noahsarkwaterpark.com), termed “the largest water park in America,” was purchased by Palace Entertainment. Though the acquisition of the 70-acre operation in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, took place shortly before it opened for the season, there were still many resulting changes.
In addition to a new four-lane waterslide called “Quadzilla,” which was in the works before the acquisition, the park added Nathan’s hot dogs, a new Backyard BBQ, and a new Bavarian nut cart. Noah’s Ark also has a brand-new main entrance featuring 100 surfboards made in house, and the entire park has been enclosed, allowing the elimination of wristbands in favor of hand stamps, which is what Palace uses at its other water parks. Finally, the park has dropped its season passes from $99 to $69.
Amy Muller, the park’s marketing director, notes other changes, saying, “Palace is doing a lot of improvements on our two hotels. Also, there are a lot of new lounge chairs for the wave pools. The amount of crews I saw in here was amazing—every time I came in there was something repainted or redone!”