When it?s 20 degrees out and the jingle bells are ringing, the last place most people might think to visit is an aquatics facility. But across the United States, such venues are bringing in the crowds with popular winter events.
?Traditional theme parks have successfully created profitable off-season events, so it seems like a natural move for waterparks to follow suit,? said Kim Schafer, COO of Great Wolf Resorts, an indoor waterpark resort group headquartered in Madison, Wis.
Each Great Wolf location has put on a holiday event for the past two years. This year?s event, Snowland, is a family-focused affair running through December and featuring a holiday story time, caroling and crafts. In addition, ?snow? falls twice daily in the Grand Lobby, and the resort?s popular duck races are transformed into snowball races.
?Snowland taps into our mission statement and helps promote our brand,? Schaefer said.
Perhaps one of the oldest and most unique ?aquatic holiday? events out there is Holiday Fest at The Beach, a Cincinnati outdoor waterpark. Started nine years ago as a way to increase season pass sales, Holiday Fest is expected to draw approximately 45,000 guests this year. The 2007 Holiday Fest features more than 25 miles of lights, ice skating on a converted section of the park?s wave pool, a live nativity, a petting zoo, shows, and toboggan rides down a frozen water slide.
While many of The Beach?s summer staffers return to work over the winter, Marketing Director Tara Nahrup said it?s no small feat to winterize the park, transforming its look and feel into a winter fantasyland.
?The major challenge is the 10-week time frame in which we have to bring Holiday Fest to life,? Nahrup said. ?We have to resurrect almost all of our Holiday Fest attractions in this time which includes building a 7,500-square-foot ice rink.?
In spite of the challenges, Nahrup said the event has been quite successful. ?We have 11 full- time staff members and a handful of part-time maintenance employees who construct the event, and we?re lucky that they can manage several facets of the business well. There?s no other event like it in the area,? she added. ?We?ve been able to extend our operating season, and now December is another core month of business for us.?
To boost winter use of the aquatics facilities, the Kiwanis Recreation Center in Tempe, Ariz., has held Swimming With Santa for the past two years, coordinated by David Bucher, supervisor of Tempe parks and recreation, and his staff. ?We?re open year ?round, but we don?t have a large number of patrons using the pool during the winter,? Bucher said.
The family-oriented event includes games, and snacks. Santa himself joins in the fun, visiting and swimming with the children.
?Many of the people who come to Swimming With Santa are not regular visitors, so the event is an opportunity to introduce new people to our facility,? Bucher noted.
The Illinois Valley YMCA in Peru, Ill., also holds a holiday event that includes a light brunch, games and pool time with Santa, played by one of the center?s lifeguards. ?People are surprised at how involved he is,? said Kristi Brewer, aquatics director.
Brewer has done Swim With Santa, along with ?Pumpkins in the Pool? at Halloween and a January luau, for the past few years and believes the programs help market the facility.
?The events are great for families because they can get out of the house and do something together along with the community,? she said.