When Wild Waves opened for the season in 2011, operators debuted a high-dive show, “Beach Party” (with interactive games designed to get kids involved), and “Poolside Bop” (a 1950s style doo-wop singing experience). The high-dive show was scheduled three times most days, four on Fridays and Saturdays.
During the last show of the day, a diver became a human torch by lighting himself on fire and diving into the pool. The goal was to provide a higher level of entertainment and give guests quality shows for their ticket price, says Jeff Stock, CEO, and Todd Suchan, general manager, of the park in Federal Way, Wash.
Stock and Suchan have tapped into the concept of
“aqua-tainment,” blending aquatics into a theatrical
production with high entertainment value. Aqua-tainment isn’t
a new idea; it’s been around at least since the early 20th
century, when Harry Houdini first performed his famous Chinese
water torture escape trick. But today, wildly popular productions
such as Cirque du Soleil’s “O” at Bellagio Las
Vegas, and “Le Rêve” at Wynn Las Vegas, are
creating new fans — and new opportunities.
Cirque du Soleil isn’t likely to be coming to a waterpark
near you anytime soon, but like Wild Waves, operators can take a
page from the aqua-tainment playbook as a way to generate
additional excitement and revenue. Whether it’s the right
option for you depends on a number of variables, experts say.
In the beginning
Perhaps the best-known examples of aqua-tainment are the old Busby
Berkeley movie musicals. These splashy numbers featured elaborate
sets and precise, fancy choreography. Berkeley regularly included
scenes in pools with synchronized swimming in an almost ballet-like
dance, which became one of his film trademarks.
One of Berkeley’s stars was swimming champion Esther Williams
who also starred in the Broadway spectacular
“Aquacade,” featuring hundreds of swimmers and divers,
singing and special effects. She performed choreographed duet swims
with fellow swimming great Johnny Weismuller.
Across the nation from Broadway, live aqua-tainment appeared as the
“Aqua Follies,” at Green Lake in Seattle. In 1950 the
Aqua Theatre was built for the Follies’
“swimusicals,” which combined aqua ballet, stage
dancing and comedy. The floating orchestra pit was recessed and the
fan-shaped grandstand held 5,600 people.
The Aqua Theatre was constructed in only 67 days, at a cost of
$247,000 — providing that kind of entertainment at a
waterpark would cost substantially more today. So would mounting a
modern Vegas-style show, likely to require deep pools, sound
equipment and a state-of-the art stage, and that’s just for
But you can give patrons more for their money with aqua-tainment
that makes sense in today’s market.
“Our shows work well,” says Dana Kunze, CEO of Kunze
Entertainment Group, LLC, a supplier of waterpark entertainment in
Maryville, Ill. “Some parks have song and dance shows, while
others do special events and concerts. ... There’s certainly
room for growth in what waterparks do as far as
Waterparks may not get to the level of expensive, Vegas-style
productions, but less expensive versions can work. For instance, a
Vegas-type show at Wild Waves, “Rocknation,”
features four performers singing and dancing to a rock-and-roll
theme. This 25-minute performance happens three times a day.
“So far our shows, which are family-friendly and
professional, have been very successful,” says Pat Walker,
marketing and public relations director at the park. “We hope
they increase our gate.”
“In this economy, you have to provide value to people.
It’s fair that guests expect to be entertained, treated well
and have lots of options,” Walker says. “We don’t
charge extra for the shows.”
Kunze notes that his diving shows also are fairly economical, as
opposed to a concert. His high-dive performers were at Wild Waves
and Water Country USA in Williamsburg, Va., this summer, and
include former Olympians and athletes who have appeared on
“Wide World of Sports.” One, known as Professor Splash,
appeared on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent”
and broke a world record doing a belly flop from a height of more
than 25 feet into 12 inches of water.
Kunze’s high-dive shows are a spectacle, and aqua-tainment
opportunities like that also can offer excellent opportunities for
media coverage, in addition to being a tremendous draw.
Given its long history, aqua-tainment provides retro appeal as
well. “Sometimes things that are old are new again. The Green
Lake ‘Aqua Follies’ sold 5 million tickets for 50 cents
apiece,” Kunze says. “We should bring back the old type
If a high-dive show is not the kind of aqua-tainment that fits into
your park, offering dive-in movies is another option on a smaller
scale, and usually meets with success, says Tom Bergman, a
consultant for waterpark businesses at Bergman Communications in
Lake Geneva, Wis.
Wet ‘n’ Wild Phoenix in Arizona is constantly seeking
new forms of entertainment but dive-in movies have been a
staple since it opened in 2009, Trevor Wilson notes.
“The movie program … has become very popular with young
groups and families as a nice change of pace for a summer
get-together,” says Wilson, director of marketing at Village
Roadshow Theme Parks USA, which owns the park.
“In general, tying entertainment into the general park
experience creates value and entices guests to continue
visiting,” Wilson says.
Look before you leap
So what are the challenges when it comes to aqua-tainment? First,
it’s important to remember the primary reason most people
come to a waterpark.
“The best thing a waterpark can do is use the money it would
have spent on entertainment for new rides. ... That’s what
people want,” says consultant Kurt Kelso of Water Park
Excitement Inc. in Seguin, Texas. “Add something new every
year if you can.”
Second, in looking at an aqua-tainment option, consider whether
your facility has the necessary infrastructure. If not, can
equipment or staging be rented or built at a reasonable cost?
At Wet ‘n’ Wild, an outside vendor provides movie
equipment and projection, so no building or maintenance was
required. Wild Waves operators built stages and installed sound
equipment to handle “Rocknation” and the high-dive
“We have portable units that we travel with. The units stay
all summer long,” says Kunze, who is a former professional
diver and eight-time world high-diving champion. “We are a
completely self-contained show, kind of like a traveling concert,
so once you buy it, we take care of the rest.”