Diving into Indoor Water Park Trends
Indoor water parks have expanded in recent years, bringing resort experiences, nature-themed getaways, and favorite characters to receptive markets. As 2020 dawned, the prospects looked bright for the global water parks industry following two decades of growth. In the United States alone, indoor and outdoor water park openings were expected to “total over $1 billion in investment in 2020,” according to David J. Sangree, president of Hotel & Leisure Advisors, in the hospitality consulting firm’s “2020 U.S. and Canada Waterpark and Resort Trends” analysis. Market watchers were keenly awaiting indoor water park launches, including the Kalahari Resort in Round Rock, Texas, and Great Wolf Lodge in Manteca, California.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges for the global water park industry, operators continue to navigate the best way to safely serve guests while bringing to life the trends growing in recent popularity.
In the past decade, increased investments have created a vibrant new generation of indoor water parks that continue to evolve. Designers have embraced different brands and personalities, translating them into bespoke indoor spaces that please a growing number of guests.
“Indoor water parks can be a catalyst for growth,” says Ray Lauenstein, business development manager at Aquatic Development Group (ADG).
ADG designed and built one of 2019’s major debuts, the $150 million Kartrite Resort & Indoor Waterpark at the Resorts World Catskills campus in Monticello, New York. Natural light shines through the barrel-vaulted roof, illuminating primary-colored slides, tropical landscaping, deck areas, and cabanas within the 2-acre water park. Highlights include a FlowRider surfing simulator, an action river, a kids activity pool, a multilevel play structure, five water slides, an indoor/outdoor pool, and a mezzanine with a bar and grill.
When conceptualizing a new property, water park designers consider the “full guest experience for all of the customers,” says Lauenstein. The goal is to create a fun and pleasant experience that everyone will want to repeat. New designs may be as simple as putting side walls in a toddler pool so that parents can sit comfortably, creating adult-only pools and bar areas, or turning down the volume on children’s games, as not to disturb adults resting nearby.
ADG’s team looks at the nuances of how guests interact with the water and revenue-generating areas.
“Capturing guest spend is the key to profitability,” says Lauenstein.
Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, Tennessee, called on ADG to create SoundWaves, an indoor/outdoor water park experience integral to its $90 million expansion. The mega-convention resort brand is known for its transparent atriums, lush landscaping, and fashionable style. ADG designed a complementary 111,000-square-foot indoor water park, with crisp white architecture, elegant water curtains, and green walls of plants in a sunlit space.
The indoor SoundWaves is an innovative, vertical park with pools on three levels. ADG wove two separate rivers around and under the building’s structures.
“We’re very happy with the openness of the space, how the levels are connected for the guests, and with the sweeping vistas,” says Lauenstein.
While designers and operators look forward to studying guest patterns upon reopening in the wake of COVID-19, Lauenstein expects a renewed focus on queue design, visitor flow, cashless interactions, and food service in future designs.
A Wave of European Newcomers
Indoor water parks can draw people to locations beyond standalone parks and hotel-based settings. Theme parks, malls, and ski resorts are among those to benefit.
Belgium’s Bellewaerde theme park in the country’s West-Flemish countryside opened its indoor Aquapark in July 2019. The 17.5 million-euro destination was the culmination of four years of work. Market studies and consultations with Bellewaerde’s season passholders revealed a clear preference for an indoor water park.
The Aquapark “gave us the possibility to open year-round,” says Bellewaerde Director Stefaan Lemey. He also hoped that the indoor water park might prove to be an “ideal combination” with overnight stays in the future. Bellewaerde’s owner Compagnie des Alpes fully supported the project.
Lemey wanted the Aquapark to align completely with Bellewaerde’s brand identity and culture. The Belgian theme park is known for its rides, beautiful natural setting, and animals. “We integrated all three elements into the Aquapark,” he says.
There are three slide attractions from wiegand.waterrides GmbH, including the “Aquaventure” raft slide, which a family of four can enjoy together. A conveyor system takes care of the tubes, leaving guests free to behold the leafy surroundings found indoors. The park has invested heavily in natural landscaping, with trees shipped in from Florida to withstand the water park’s humid, 34 degrees Celsius climate. Although expensive to buy and maintain, the greenery has proved to be a hit with guests and differentiates the Aquapark from other regional indoor water parks. There’s also an aquarium filled with exotic fish.
Lemey had expected to attract more than 200,000 guests annually to the Aquapark, which accommodates a maximum of 1,000 visitors across 3,400 square meters. COVID-19 may have interrupted its first year of operation, but he believes the original forecast is still achievable. “We were very happy that we hit our targets day after day last July and August,” he says. “There were lots of days that we had to close the gates because we had too many visitors at the Aquapark.”
While it is too early to disclose details, Lemey says he’s planning new investments that will increase capacity and recreational opportunities at Aquapark. The indoor water park’s year-round visibility has also boosted Bellewaerde’s theme park.
“Both parks make each other stronger,” he says. At press time, Lemey hoped to reopen both parks in mid-June. “If people trust us to take care of them, I see no problems for the future,” he believes.
Plopsa’s foray into indoor water parks began with a desire to turn Plopsaland De Panne in Belgium into a multiday destination.
“For us, it was really important to put something new on the market. Not a water park as people already knew it, but a water park with that extra ‘Plopsa’ touch,” says Steve Van den Kerkhof, CEO of Plopsa Group. “As in our other parks, experience, thematization, and family entertainment had to be central.”
The Plopsaqua concept is a highly themed indoor water park inspired by Studio 100’s classic children’s characters. At Plopsaqua De Panne, guests can spot Vic the Viking and his friends as they slide past artfully themed caverns and snowy landscapes. The wintry “Wild River” is the most popular ride, and thrillseekers can plunge at speed on the “Sky Drop.” Special effects create a thunderstorm over the “Storm Bath.” The park also caters to the community by providing a 25-meter pool.
“The park was enormously popular from the first day of opening; on many days, we quickly reached the maximum capacity. You could say that the park is too small. On the other hand, we have learned that there is room for several Plopsaquas inland and abroad,” says Van den Kerkhof.
Bumba the Clown and Maya the Bee star at Plopsa’s second Belgian water park, Plopsaqua Landen-Hannuit.
“If everything goes as planned, that park will open at the end of this year,” says Van den Kerkhof. Total investment in the new, larger park amounts to 25 million euros—considerably higher than the 16 million euros spent on Plopsaqua De Panne. The “Plopsaqua formula works,” he says.
No One Size Fits All
Suntago Water World in Wręcza, Poland, is another significant indoor water park arrival. The 170 million-euro park is the first phase of the Park of Poland, a new resort destination complex, near Warsaw. At its February launch, Park of Poland President Idan Greidinger described the project as both a great opportunity and a challenge.
“Places like this have huge potential because they provide entertainment for thousands of people every day,” Greidinger says. Suntago Water World is one of the largest indoor water parks in Europe and the first indoor water park of its kind in Poland.
“The park invites guests to enjoy tropical holidays, 365 days a year. We are also aware that such a huge investment carries a huge responsibility: to provide our guests with the highest level of entertainment and customer service,” he says.
Suntago offers three zones: Jamango, Relax, and Saunaria. Highlights include 32 slides from Polin Waterparks, a wave pool, a Surf-Air flow surfing ride, rivers, and water playgrounds. Suntago Water World was created in cooperation with WUND Group.
Indoor water parks can be realized in tighter footprints, too. The Wave splashed down in Coventry, United Kingdom, last October. FaulknerBrowns designed the £36.7 million facility, which is funded by the Coventry City Council. The Wave’s indoor attractions are stacked vertically across three floors to maximize space in the city center site.
Optimism Despite Uncertainties
While it is impossible to predict the impact COVID-19 will have, the pandemic has allowed some future indoor water park operators additional time to revise their designs.
Project teams involved with forthcoming developments, such as Liseberg’s family water park/resort in Gothenburg, Sweden, have the breathing space to continue planning.
It’s possible some regions may recover more quickly than others. Ultimately, those businesses that operate to the highest standards, know their markets, have created inviting spaces, and made smart investments have the greatest opportunity to rebuild public confidence.
“COVID-19 apart, the market is going through its next surge, developing in new territories and in more mature markets, both in the indoor and outdoor sectors,” says Roger Currie, director of business development in Europe and Asia at Water Technology Inc.
“The people I’ve worked alongside for the last 40 years are all people I would want to be around when the market comes back from this,” Currie says. “There’s an underlying entrepreneurialism and creativity in our industry. We will continue. Amid all the uncertainty, that is a certainty.”
Funworld Contributing Editor Juliana Gilling covers the attractions industry in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region. Contact her at [email protected].