Technology -Riding the Tech Wave
Whether it is delivering the latest in water-based thrills, reducing operating costs, or both, today’s advanced water park technology is helping operators drive attendance and boost revenues. Here are four of the latest tech advances making a difference in the competitive water park world.
1. World’s Tallest Water Coaster Short on Power Consumption
Measuring a towering 81 feet 6.75 inches high, “Massiv” has been officially certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Tallest Water Coaster. But just because this WhiteWater attraction at Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark is massive in scale does not mean its power consumption is similarly huge. In fact, thanks to WhiteWater’s Smart Blast water propulsion technology—winner of an IAAPA Brass Ring Award at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2016—Schlitterbahn’s “Massiv” uses half the electricity expected to power the ride’s propulsion jets. The jets are powerful streams of water that propel riders’ rafts uphill as needed on the course.
“We measure ‘Massiv’s’ power consumption independently of all other rides,” says Ron Sutula, Schlitterbahn’s general manager. “Over eight days of operation this year, the water coaster used $3,000 worth of power. Had it not been equipped with Smart Blast water propulsion jets, we would have paid $6,000 over the same time period.”
Designed to work with WhiteWater Master Blaster and Mat Blaster water rides, Smart Blast saves money by only running the propulsion pumps at full power when needed. “In the past, the jets used to power guests uphill would have been continuously on, pumping water nonstop, resulting in an inefficient use of power and water,” says Keith Campden, WhiteWater’s mechatronics manager. “WhiteWater has solved this uneconomical use of energy by developing the Smart Blast technology, which uses variable frequency drives (VFDs) and a proprietary control algorithm to dynamically adjust pump speeds while the ride is in operation.” Not only does the Smart Blast system cut electricity costs in half for water parks, but it also reduces the wear and tear on the mechanical equipment.
2. Many Small Water Jets More Efficient than One Big One
ProSlide is also applying advanced water park technology to cutting water coaster operating costs and increasing ride efficiency through its new RocketBlast water jet propulsion system. In this case, RocketBlast’s edge comes from using many smaller water jets to push rider-loaded rafts up water coaster inclines, rather than brute-forcing them uphill with a single powerful water jet. The result is the ability to increase ride capacity by up to 50 percent while using less power to make it happen.
“Pushing a loaded water raft uphill using a single high-power water jet is wasteful and inefficient,” says Germain Bisson, ProSlide’s director of product management. The reason: “The further the raft gets from the jet, the more that the pump has to fight the gravity, which is pulling the water back down the incline,” he says. “So, you are paying to push the raft and the water uphill.”
In contrast, the RocketBLAST system uses smaller jets located along the uphill route channel. As the raft moves higher, the closest jets take over the job of propelling it. This substantially reduces the effect of gravity on the propelling water, reducing the amount of power needed to push the raft uphill. “The raft goes faster and farther using the pressure of the RocketBlast jets,” Bisson says. “The ride uphill doesn’t have to be slow.”
Six Flags Fiesta Texas is using RocketBlast propulsion technology on its just-opened “Thunder Rapids Water Coaster.” “Six Flags is known for always having the ‘next big thing,’ and ‘Thunder Rapids’ is definitely it,” says the park’s president, Jeffrey Siebert. “As the world’s largest Rocket Water Coaster and America’s first RocketBlast coaster, this ride is fast and full of hills, curves, and drops, just like a traditional mechanical roller coaster has.” But the comparison ends there, because the 942-foot-long “Thunder Rapids” ride also has four flying-saucer turns, 350 feet of tunnels, and five uphill rocket blasts with 100 feet of total vertical drop.
“RocketBlast technology is enabling Six Flags Fiesta Texas to offer a truly thrilling water coaster that reduces electricity consumption and increases capacity, owing to the efficiency of multiple water jets,” says Bisson. “This is the power of advanced water park technology at its best.”
3. Boogie Board Surfing Expands Wave Pool Draw, Capacity
After 30 years, the wave pool at Water World—located outside of Denver in Federal Heights, Colorado—was looking a bit long in the tooth. In addition, its capacity was 150 people at best, making the pool a bit of a bottleneck at this popular 67-acre facility.
This is why Water World gutted its wave pool in 2016, replacing it with Aquatic Development Group’s (ADG) Breaker Beach boogie board surfing ride. According to ADG, Breaker Beach, branded “Cowabunga Beach” by Water World, is the first ride of its kind to be installed worldwide, and it was recognized with a 2016 IAAPA Brass Ring Award.
Breaker Beach combines continuous three-foot breaker waves that roll from the deep end of the pool to the walkout shore at the other end, with a launching pier that allows guests to ride the waves safely using boogie boards. “For the surfer, the experience is like surfing on the ocean, except that the waves are easier to ride, predictable, and compatible with most riders’ skill levels,” says Jessica Mahoney, ADG’s marketing manager. “It’s the perfect mix of thrill and safety.”
According to Water World General Manager Mike Shelton, Breaker Beach is superior to the park’s former wave pool in many ways. “The concept of being able to boogie board surf is really attractive to our guests, who see it as more exciting and fresher than what we had before,” he says. “As well, the fact that the guests ride their boards from one end to the other of the pool, and then get out and walk back into the queue to go again, means that we can move about 800 [guests] an hour through this ride.” Add the fact that Breaker Beach’s end-to-end design results in less wait time for guests, “and we’re getting far more capacity out of this advanced water ride, while our guests are happier than ever before,” Shelton says. “It’s a total win-win!”
4. Reinventing the Lazy River and the Wave Pool
Located on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, the just-opened H2OBX Waterpark is home to two advanced technology versions of old favorites. Specifically, H2OBX has installed ADG’s Tidal River (a 1,000-foot tube rider that combines a zero-depth entry wave pool with a fast-flowing “action river,” bubbling springs, geysers, and waterfalls) and Twin Tides (a dual-entry, two-ended wave pool that doubles user capacity compared to traditional wave pools of the same size). H2OBX has branded these cutting-edge attractions as “Teach’s Tides Adventure River” and the “Twin Tides Family Wave Beach.”
“‘Teach’s Tides Adventure River’ and ‘Twin Tides Family Wave Beach’ allow us to provide safe, family-friendly attractions that accommodate a large number of guests at one time, and help the park provide rides, slides, and attractions that can accommodate a wide variety of interests,” says Andrew Baird, H2OBX’s director of marketing and sales. “Ultimately, these attractions are an important piece of the puzzle that allows us to deliver a world-class water park experience like no other.”
Balancing Advanced Tech with Cultural Considerations
Adding advanced technological attractions is an accepted way to boost attendance at water parks. However, in some regions a water park needs to balance those additions with the cultural expectations of its clientele; as is the case at Siam Park City water park outside of Bangkok, Thailand.
“Most of the locals still feel unacquainted with high technology,” explains Wuthichai Luangamornlert, managing director of Siam Park Bangkok Co. Ltd. “Also, many are from an extended family for which happiness and fulfilment can simply be found from the smiles and laughter of other family members. Therefore, what these people are coming for may not always be the latest technology that offers a unique and new experience, but a place they can relax, have fun, and spend quality time with friends and family members of all ages.”
These cultural considerations govern Siam Park City’s purchase of new rides and attractions. “A recent investment is an aquatic family fun zone Si-Am Lagoon, featuring new rides from ProSlide Technology,” says Luangamornlert. Si-Am Lagoon features ProSlide’s RideHOUSE and Kidz Complex of mini-slides and water play toys, all tailored to younger children and their families. “Chinese, Muslim, and ordinary Thais are majority in Thailand, but one thing they value in common is the importance of the family,” he notes. “As we currently offer a number of thrill rides, having a new family ride is a great complement to the park.”
James Careless covers the water park industry for Funworld.