Warm Ideas for Cold Days at Water Parks
Chilly weather is a frigid fact of life for many outdoor water parks—even those operating in areas thought of as warm year-round. For instance, during January 2020, Florida’s seasonably low temperatures peaked at 50 degrees Fahrenheit, prompting local water parks to close their gates. While outdoor water parks can’t control the forecast, there are ways they can cope effectively with the cold.
Warm Up the Water
When the weather outside is cloudy or chilly, bringing the park’s outdoor water temperature up a few degrees can make the difference between guests staying or leaving the park. Warmer water allows guests to stay comfortable in cold air conditions and lets them wait for the sun to push the air temperature back up.
“Our outdoor pool and wild river are heated,” says Diana Reichle, head of public relations at Europa-Park and the indoor Rulantica water park in Rust, Germany. “Even during cold weather, our guests can use those attractions.”
Keep Guests Entertained During Cold Snaps
Outdoor water parks don’t want guests to leave when the day turns cold. This is why some operators train their staff to engage with visitors in games and activities on dry land. This way, guests can have a good time while remaining at the park and generate revenue when buying food and beverage (F&B) items and souvenirs.
The challenges associated with entertaining water park guests may feel similar to what summer camp counselors face on rainy days. The American Camp Association created resources with rainy days in mind. Easy-to-execute ideas include slow motion tag for grassy areas (Bonus points if you can communicate in slow motion, “Yooooouuuuu’rrrrrrreeeeee iiiiiittttt”) and pool deck bowling, which involves filling up six to 10 plastic water bottles with about an inch of sand or dirt and using a soccer ball as a kid-friendly bowling ball. Savvy water park owners can take the time to pre-stock chilly weather activity tools and toys for rainy days, making sure seasonal staff members know where the equipment is kept and how to use the games.
Guests can also be paired with a karaoke machine for singing competitions, with prizes available for the winners and runners-up. Staff members can consider recording the event for posting on social media afterward.
Diversify Your Entertainment Options
The safest way to guard against cold weather business losses is to offer a wide range of entertainment options.
“These options can include indoor/outdoor dry rides, FEC-style arcade games, indoor climbing walls, outdoor zip lines, treetop adventures, and play apparatus,” says Glenn A. O’Connor, senior director of water parks with Forrec, a global designer of theme parks, water parks, and attractions. “Providing outdoor water park guests with optional dry activities will promote longer stays, higher F&B spends, increased guest satisfaction, and broader family experiences for all age cohorts.”
Quassy Amusement & Waterpark on Lake Quassapaug in Middlebury, Connecticut, offers a mix of wet/dry and indoor/outdoor facilities that keeps guests happy when the temperature drops.
“We have more than 20 rides in the park with numerous new ones over the past several years and a new major ride for the 2020 season,” says Ron Gustafson, Quassy’s director of marketing and public relations. “Having an amusement ride park really helps Quassy to generate revenue on days you wouldn’t want to venture into the water. But when it’s warm, the water park has been a home run for this family-owned business.”
Quassy’s redemption arcade and laser maze, along with the park’s restaurant and pizza parlor, can be positioned as indoor attractions when it rains or gets chilly outside.
Capitalize on the Cold
Cold weather can provide operators with some selling opportunities. Case in point: Water park gift shops that sell heavier clothing can generate revenue when temperatures dip.
“We always have sweatshirts available in our gift shop,” says Gustafson. “This lets us do brisk business on chilly days.”
Conversely, O’Connor says chilly weather is a chance to sell warm weather T-shirts and towels at discounted rates.
“This is a great opportunity to add value for the guest and offer reasonable rainy or cold weather prices for your branded park logo wear,” O’Connor says.
Avoiding Full Closes
There are times when the weather gets so cold that closing an outdoor water park may seem unavoidable. Yet even in these instances, it is possible to take a phased approach to closing that cuts costs without hammering revenue.
“When cold weather affects attendance in Quassy’s water park, we can reduce staffing as needed but still stay safe,” says Gustafson. “Usually the lifeguards are pulled from the beach first when lake swimming closes after it gets too chilly. This said, guests generally don’t stay for extended periods in the water park when children get cold, so they pack up early, and we eventually do close the water park—but not the ride park.”
Meanwhile, once the threat of COVID-19 passes, providing dry entertainment options, along with “evening dances, foam parties, and activities targeted to teenagers or young adults can help guests stay longer and enjoy a broader range of activities,” O’Connor says. “As well, bundled value-added options with F&B or activities are creative ways to enhance guest satisfaction and keep them on the premises.”
Cold weather doesn’t automatically require an outdoor water park to close its gates and miss generating revenue. There are many ways to continue entertaining guests until the temperature goes back up.
James Careless is a Canada-based writer who covers the water park industry for Funworld.