Chef Wally Jurusz is proud of his latest kitchen creations. “The shrimp and filet tip wrap is popular, and we’ve sold a lot of those,” he says. “The filet tip is fresh ... and the shrimp we're making that ourselves. It’s not pre-cooked.”
If that doesn’t get your taste buds going, he also offers a
salad with a lump crab cake and housemade dressing, or a grilled
burger with fresh ground beef from a nearby butcher.
Sounds like the specials board off your favorite upscale
restaurant. But both choices and more are available in the Oasis
Cafe at Morey’s Piers & Beachfront Waterpark in Wildwood,
Crab cakes and salads at a waterpark? Yes, and Jurusz says
it’s one of the most popular items. His menu is determined by
customer demand, and he’s seen a movement toward more
conscious eating. “There’s definitely a market shift,
with people wanting to have more healthier options,” the
waterpark’s food and beverage manager says.
Perhaps that is why Morey’s Piers is not the only waterpark
changing its food options. More and more parks are starting to
offer alternatives to just burgers, pizza and fries — either
at the request of their guests or in response to a nationwide call
for healthier eating. With First Lady Michelle Obama’s
campaign to cut down childhood obesity and encourage healthier
eating habits, the movement now is a top priority for a growing
number of waterpark operators. As America begins to pay more
attention to eating healthier, waterparks are tweaking their menus
and offering more food choices.
A healthy trend
Though it’s a slow transition, parks are implementing efforts
small and large, from eliminating certain ingredients to completely
redoing their menus, experts say. “We are seeing that
operators are getting smarter, and getting away from oils and trans
fats,” says Kenny Handler, who works with many waterparks and
amusement parks across the country. More products are being baked
in conventional ovens, and operators are finding better ways to
provide healthier products. “People are making a larger
effort and it’s going in the right direction,” says the
senior consultant for Profitable Foods in San Diego, a food and
beverage facility consulting company.
Morey’s Piers operators believe it is a trend that’s
here to stay. Jurusz points out that eliminating trans fat has
become a practice that isn’t going away, and now salt may be
the next to follow. “The trend will be giving people
options,” he says. Even portion control has been occurring
more. Jurusz has noticed that people still like to eat pizza and
funnel cake, but they are sharing it rather than ordering it all
for one individual.
Delaware officials made an aggressive move to alter the menus at
all state parks, including the Killens Pond State Park waterpark in
Felton. It is part of the state’s healthy eating initiative
called “Munch better at Delaware State Parks.” The
effort is tangential to the activities available in the state
parks, which are outdoors and nature-driven.
“Physical activities such as hiking and biking on our
hundreds of miles of trails or observing and interpreting our
diverse plant and animal life, all can enhance the quality of life
for our citizens,” says David Small, deputy secretary,
Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
“Now a more healthy choice of foods for our guests will
complement those experiences.”
Thirty-six percent of Delaware children are overweight, says Mary
Voshell, chief, Office of Business Services, Delaware Division of
Parks and Recreation. “It’s just about choices,”
she says. “Why can’t we give somebody a better
hamburger? Or a portion of fries that’s reasonable, but
doesn’t give them so many calories?”
Voshell says the Killens Pond waterpark has added apples, carrots,
grapes, milk and juice, and started using a 90-10 percent beef
instead of 80-20 (which means less fat), whole-grain buns instead
of white bread, and 2 percent cheese instead of whole milk cheese.
Calories are noted on the menu board.
At Hershey Park in Hershey, Pa., items such as turkey burgers,
garden salads, vegetable quiches, rotisserie chicken, frozen yogurt
and applesauce have been added to the menu. There’s even a
Kosher Mart, vegetarian options, and a list of foods available that
may have peanuts and gluten in them. For the popular fast-food
items, the park now grills fresh Black Angus instead of frozen
patties, and has switched from processed to raw chicken.
“We got a lot of good feedback from pass holders on what they
were looking for and things that were absent [on the menu],”
says Sophia Zulli, concessions manager at Hershey Park. She says
it’s great for people who are “looking for something
more healthy and don’t have to go off their
The Walt Disney Co. is another operator that has made a huge effort
across the board. Its waterparks sell items related to the tropical
theming. “We have a summer salad: baked chicken on romaine
lettuce with plaintain chips and apple slices,” says Maryann
Smith, manager of food and beverage operations for the waterparks
and sports complex at Disney. The parks are offering cold-cut
sandwiches, which have been selling competitively against the
burgers, and opened fruit stands at Blizzard Beach and Typhoon
Patrons can pick their own fruits or frozen lemonade. “The
fruit stand is one of the most popular,” Smith says.
“Especially in a waterpark, you don’t want a burger;
you want something refreshing. When it’s hot, that’s
what people want.”
Disney first emphasized healthier foods after cutting its contract
with McDonald’s Happy Meal in 2006 and started licensing its
characters to healthy food items in supermarkets, such as a carton
of eggs with Disney characters stamped on them.
In the parks, similar action is being taken. “As a company,
we’re committed to providing healthy options,” Smith
adds. “We’re not going to tell them what to eat, but
we’ll give them a choice.”
Is it working?
While the healthy food is there, not everyone is buying into it,
some operators say. And parks recognize that people would prefer to
have a choice rather than be forced into it. “People
sometimes want to eat some indulgent foods,” Delaware’s
Voshell says. “We looked for a balance in what’s really
good for you healthwise and what’s OK to eat once in
Profitable Foods’ Handler agrees that is a smart route to
take. “It’s interesting because even though people are
saying they want healthy options, a small percentage are actually
partaking in that option,” he says. “When people come
to aquatics centers, they give themselves a break, and say
‘I’m going to go ahead and get that
Kathy Burrows, public relations manager at Hershey Park, says that
while offering healthier items is a nice idea, people still like to
buy chicken fingers and fries. “It’s the No. 1
seller,” she says. But it’s more than just about what
people want; it’s about giving them options. She says people
are starting to order a side salad over fries more often, and that
having the option is really a part of providing better customer
Of course, not all waterparks have moved in that direction. At Six
Flags Over Texas’ Hurricane Harbor in Arlington, the menu
hasn’t changed at all. Public relations manager Sharon Parker
says guest feedback isn’t really asking for it.
“There’s just not a big push for any change in menu
items right now,” she says. “It goes along with the 'If
it’s not broke, don’t fix it’
Hurricane Harbor currently offers Papa John’s pizza, Johnny
Rockets hamburgers and funnel cakes, which are the top three most
popular items for waterpark attendees. The park does offer snack
items such as pretzels, salads and diet drinks, but making any
radical changes toward a healthier menu is not a top priority for
So other than guest-demand, what else is driving decisions to
expand food options? For many parks, price plays a huge role in
operators’ decision-making behind food choices. Healthier
options tend to cost more, experts say. Not only does it cost the
vendor more, but the final price to its end-user — the
customer — could be more than the quick-and-easy fries.
For example, Handler says, a Boca burger will cost more nearly 50
to 70 cents more than a regular burger. An ahi tuna to grill is
nearly $1.50, compared with a burger, which is 40 cents. Whatever
the park decides to charge the customer will directly affect the
food and beverage revenue, meaning it will usually charge a little
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Handler observes.
“People say, ‘We want these options, but at these
cheaper rates.’ It’s hard to stay afloat and have
Voshell believes people tend to make food purchases based on price.
As an agency, she says that being revenue-generated is not the
primary goal, so “it’s OK to lose a little money if we
can provide a healthier menu.” Her team also chose the
strategy of raising the prices of the traditionally
“unhealthy” items higher than before, to compensate for
some of the higher-priced “healthy” foods.
There are methods to cost-cutting, however. At Morey’s Piers,
crab cakes and salad dressing are made on site in the kitchen.
“It’s cheaper and very easy, but takes a little more
time,” chef Jurusz says. It also sounds healthier to sell
something “made in-house” than processed.
Hershey Park says the costs were minimal, even in switching to the
higher quality Black Angus burgers. The price was increased a small
amount, but guests paid for them without complaint.
Another method of pricing is to upsell the product, Jurusz says.
For example, people can order a $7 plain salad, then add chicken
for $3, or a $4 crab cake. “It’s a good way to try to
let the customer upsell themselves, and they feel like
they’re getting a good deal,” he says.
Selling the items is a science of its own, Handler explains. He
calls it “menu engineering.” That includes putting
certain items in a box and in bold letters, highlighted, so it pops
out and makes people read it.
“It allows guests to focus on a certain item or
product,” he points out. It’s also important to use
descriptive language such as “fresh from the garden” to
emphasize the freshness and healthiness of an item. He suggests
testing various items to see how well they do boxed and highlighted
on the menu.
Marketing the healthier options is important, whether you choose to
advertise the changes widely or in a more discreet manner. Handing
out menus to people in line enables them to choose more carefully
and “shop.” Giving out samples is another excellent way
to sell an item. “Dice up a well-grilled teriyaki chicken and
that will do really well,” Handler suggests. But he says to
pick and choose wisely — a hot dog does not need to be
This idea worked well at Killens Pond State Park waterpark, Voshell
reports. Five hundred people showed up at the kick-off event for
Delaware’s healthier eating initiative and were given free
samples of turkey burgers, chicken sandwiches, veggie burgers and
100-calorie creamsicles. Then they were asked to evaluate the food
and, Voshell reports, “People really appreciated it.”
There’s a banner at the concessions stand to promote the
“Munch better” campaign, and calorie notes on the menu
At Hershey Park, Zulli and Burrows opted for a more subtle change.
“We don’t want people to wonder what was wrong with
what was done before,” Burrows explains. With the menu board
sporting new foods, they decided to relabel the older items. For
example, burgers became “Black Angus hamburgers.”
Meanwhile, a lot of data has been added to the Website, alerting
guests to the various options. It shows places in Hershey Park
where folks can find vegetarian, reduced sugar, kosher or healthier
food, and includes information about allergens and where possible
allergens may be found in different foods.
For places such as Morey’s Piers, which underwent a complete
makeover, the change couldn’t be introduced silently. The
marketing team placed ads and distributed a pamphlet listing all
the foods and where to find them in the park, Jurusz says. The
Website also provides information found in the pamphlet and
publicizes the park’s gluten-free products (curly fries and
“People take food very personally and think they’re
doing the right thing,” Jurusz says. “They like the
variety ... and want to try new things.”