At Magic Watersin Rockford, Ill., something magical
happens each year on July 25: Christmas. The waterpark is
transformed into a holiday wonderland with Christmas trees,
wreaths, inflatable snowmen, colorful garlands and candy canes.
There’s a snowmen contest, families take pictures with Santa
(in swim trunks), Christmas music plays all day long, and kids can
decorate holiday cookies. Family pictures with the Swimming Santa
end up on many holiday cards.
The event is all part of the Rockford Park District’s
strategy to bring guests to the waterpark more than just a day.
Jessica Steinberg, director of Magic Waters waterpark, says that
especially now, people are looking for a true investment and
purpose for spending their money at the park besides just being in
This is particularly important for a municipality, which functions
differently from a vacation resort and relies on its visitors to
return all season long.
Magic Waters had a difficult 2009 season due to a combination of
lower revenue and cold, rainy weather. To make up the difference
and hit attendance goals without spending a lot of on improvements
required much creativity.
“People really want to find ways to add value to the
experience of coming to the waterpark and for their
purchases,” she says.
The most important consideration, of course, was making guests feel
the waterpark was their own, and creating a personal touch to the
experience. “They’re not just coming to the
waterpark. They’re getting that full family
experience,” Steinberg says.
The planning started early — in the middle of winter at
Christmas (the actual Christmas). December is when people begin
purchasing season passes for summer. This year, Steinberg’s
team added a handmade, waterpark-themed Christmas stocking filled
with candy and $75 worth of coupons for the waterpark. They created
incentives for purchasing a season pass during the holiday season,
including free rentals,
discounted rates for luxury cabanas, deals on gift shop items and a
Because people return to the waterpark all summer long, it was
important to make it feel as if it were the local watering hole.
That’s where Magic Waters’ lovable mascots shine
— there to greet guests and play with kids throughout the
This year, a new mascot — Ocho the Octopus — joined
Tiki Tina and Shelbert the Turtle. The popular mascots have a
special daily events schedule. They have photo sessions with kids
and do a parade through the park. The mascots and waterpark staff
create activities such as bingo, races, fake tattoos of the mascots
and the special Tiki Tribe for youngsters. “It’s been a
great success,” Steinberg says. “The kids just love
She notes that special events are bringing spikes in attendance on
Overall, attendance has grown more than 20 percent, and on the
park’s “$10 buck Tuesdays” it jumped as high 300
Another popular fund-raising event is the Duck Derby. In
partnership with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the
waterpark hosts an event where people purchase pink rubber ducks
and watch them race down the water slide with 1,000 other birds.
Each person who purchases a duck also receives a discounted entry
to the waterpark.
At regularly scheduled times and on special holidays such as
Father’s Day, Magic Waters brings in a band to play for four
hours. In addition, the park formed a partnership with Radio Disney
whereby the crew performs for the guests. On Wednesdays, the gift
shop offers free fingernail polishing. On Friday it’s family
fun night, with the park staying open later — until 8 p.m.
— to encourage families to come after work and kick off the
weekend together. There’s also a reduced rate for families
coming after 3 p.m.
To attract new or infrequent guests, Magic Waters partners with
different departments within Parks and Recreation to offer a free
waterpark day pass with the purchase of another ticket — for
example, to the ice skating rink or a football or hockey program.
The park also joined forces with the local public school to entice
children to complete a reading club program. Everyone who
does earns a free ticket to the waterpark.
On the group sales side, the facility reached out to companies that
once rented the space for corporate outings, but have cut back. The
new package includes a semiprivate party with another company. For
families, the park also presents packages that complement the
special events calendar — on particular days, there’s a
discount on food and beverages, or a special is offered at
the gift shop; still other packages include admission, lunch and a
Steinberg says many of the changes were made in response to
economic challenges, but they’re also changes that are here
to stay. “One thing we talk about are the new norms,”
Steinberg says. “What are the new norms for the new economy?
What can we do to look at things in a new way and [operate]
differently? We’ve come up with some ideas that have been
really successful. Our customers love it and we love being able to
provide them with the extra family experience.”