When the first waterparks came online more than a quarter of a century ago, they represented a whole new world of mechanics and engineering. But things have changed since then, thanks to a number of developments including changing market forces, evolving financial realities and increasing environmental concerns.
Manufacturers are responding, and today’s innovations
are all about taking the developments of the past and
launching them into a whole new galaxy using the latest technology.
The goal is to create a more efficient operation that provides an
exciting experience for more people.
Such developments are turning the once unimaginable into a
Rides and Attractions
• LEDs Those little light-emitting diodes
that you might remember from high school physics are taking the
world of waterparks by storm. First introduced in the 1960s, LEDs
emit light in a range of color spectrums through a physical process
called electroluminescence. Recent advancements make it possible to
use LEDs in a number of new applications, including as a way to
enhance water slides.
“It allows lighting and visual effects that were not feasible
before,” says Franceen Gonzales, vice president of risk
management and aquatics at Great Wolf Resorts Inc., based in Madison,
The latest LED technology makes it possible to create an enhanced
slide or attraction that allows riders to customize their
experience — setting a specific light pattern that also could
be combined with music, sounds or other effects.
• Next-generation materials The materials
used in the creation of waterpark attractions have come a long way,
and innovations are producing less expensive, longer-lasting
products that are better for the environment. Experts point to
newer closed-mold manufacturing techniques that are more efficient
and create fewer chemical off-gas emissions; more composite
materials that hold up better in a humid environment, and may
replace steel and wood; and new formulations of
• Hydromagnetics Hydromagnetic technology
currently is held under exclusive patent by Ottawa, Ontario,
Canada-based ProSlide Technologies, and used in its aquacoaster
rides. Based on a concept featured in dry attractions,
hydromagnetic aquacoasters are powered by what’s known as a
linear induction motor and work like this: Each ride vehicle
(designed like a standard rubber raft) has a large metal plate on
the bottom that is attracted and then repelled to alternating
magnetic fields below the slide surface, allowing ride vehicles to
move smoothly uphill and down, at exciting speeds.
The technology was first introduced by ProSlide approximately seven
years ago with a two- or four-person design. Now there are six- or
eight-person designs, and the company expects to have more than 18
in operation by the end of 2012. Hydromagnetic coasters offer high
through-put and can be adapted as a “dry” ride. Another
benefit: The design also is energy-efficient.
“We’re working with anywhere between 10 and 15 percent
energy of a traditional coaster,” says Ray Smegal, product
development manager at ProSlide.
• Computerized controls Whoever said water
and computers don’t mix was wrong! Ride designers are finding
new and innovative ways to spice up tried and true concepts by
incorporating computerized controls on a variety of levels. One
example is the skybox launch system from ProSlide. The pod-like
design launches riders onto a high-thrill slide by literally
dropping the floor out from under their feet, and it’s
controlled via a computer. Other uses of computers might range from
allowing teens on a water slide to select the music they want to
hear as they experience the attraction, to allowing toddlers on a
water-play structure to choose which spray or feature they want to
• Variable frequency drives Simply put, VFD
drives are designed to control the speed of an electric
In so doing, the technology can increase efficiency and preserve
the life span of a motor. VFD drives have been used in a wide range
of applications for some time, but use in the aquatics industry has
only become feasible since they have become more cost-effective in
the past two decades. Today, VFDs can be used on any waterfeature
pump motor, from slides to competition pools, and the cost ranges
from roughly $5,000 to $15,000, depending on the size (horsepower)
of the motor, says Mike Fowler, commercial marketing manager at
Aquatic Systems in Sanford, N.C.
Operators who install VFDs can expect better pump performance and
significant energy savings. Payback often is realized in less than
1½ years, Fowler adds. With benefits like that, he and other
industry experts anticipate that those who have not yet adopted VFD
technology will do so soon.
• Multipurpose pool covers Imagine if you
could safely, quickly and economically cover your pool during
evenings and colder months with a hard top that would allow other
activities to take place! Think of it like an arena with a modular
flooring system that be converted to accommodate either a hockey or
With more and more operators looking to increase revenue by
expanding their operations to include evening hours and off-season
special events, the concept is becoming increasingly important,
says Scott Hester, studio director and principal at Counsilman-Hunsaker in St. Louis. While he can’t
point to any specific suppliers that currently offer such a
product, he says to stay tuned! The technology is in development
and it’s likely to show up on the market soon.
• Filtration innovation Regenerative media
filtration currently is the most state-of-the art option commonly
available. However, as operators and patrons demand cleaner water
and air with less chemical treatment, several other advances are
“Our goal should be the best water quality with minimal use
of chemicals,” says Jim Tanner, director, Aquatics Division,
Controls in Pittsburgh.
He and others are looking at advances, including the use of
chlorine dioxide as a supplemental sanitizer and drum filtration.
Chlorine dioxide is a gas that acts as a powerful oxidizer.
Currently approved in Europe for use in pool systems, it may be of
interest to U.S. operators looking for something that can help
reduce cleanup times after a fecal accident, Tanner says.
“It’s a supplement, another piece of the puzzle in
certain applications,” he adds.
Another option, drum filtration, currently is being marketed by a
Swedish manufacturer. The technology aims to reduce chloramines,
and developers claim the unique design removes nearly 90 percent of
organic particles by backwashing several times an hour for just a
few seconds each time.
• Social media monitoring In a 2010 survey
of nearly 220 Aquatics International readers, at least 75
percent of those who identified as being affiliated with a
waterpark or waterpark resort reported using social networks such
as Facebook to communicate with patrons and potential customers.
And as more and more operations dive into these new media
platforms, it’s not surprising that there’s a growing
interest in technology that can help monitor online activity, says
Gonzales. That might be something as basic as using free tools
available from Google, or registering with a service that
specializes in online reputation management, such as
• Remote control “I think the control
side of things is where we’re going to see the biggest
changes,” says Hester. There are already products available
that allow operators to monitor some facets of their park from
anywhere via an Internet connection. As Hester indicates,
that’s likely to grow. One-stop control systems that can
allow an operator to view and change all aspects of pool water
chemistry; software and apps that allow instant access to sales
figures; and online maintenance tools are all just beginning to hit
the market in a big way.
• Mobile technology Mobile-friendly
Websites, SMS (text) message marketing, and pool-specific apps are
just a few of the mobile tools currently available for operators.
According to statistics, Internet access via a smart phone is set
to outpace access via PC, which makes it likely that there will be
more advances ahead. At NRH20 Family Waterpark in North Richland Hills, Texas,
guests will soon be able to purchase tickets and redeem them right
from a smart phone, says Stephanie Hee, marketing specialist. Her
patrons also will be able to order a meal from a concession stand,
pay for it, and receive a text message with an estimated time to go
and pick up the food.
• Radio frequency identification The use
of RFID continues to expand. As more operations adopt the
technology, patrons will catch on, and it’s a safe bet that
new possibilities for use will become cost effective. RFID embedded
wristbands contain and transmit information through microchips,
which work via radio waves. Currently, some waterpark resort
operations use RFID wristbands as room keys, but perhaps the most
unique benefit in the waterpark setting is that they can also be
used to make cashless payments.
At NRH2O Family Waterpark, patrons can use RFID technology to
access lockers. Last year the park also debuted an RFID cash system
for season pass holders.
“It’s so convenient to put the money on there, we just
need to make sure our guests know about it,” Hee says.
• Line management systems No one wants to
wait in line, and operators are finding that today’s
customers want the option of bypassing a long queue. As a result,
systems that allow guests to “reserve” a spot on a
certain ride are generating substantial interest — and
significant revenue. Disney’s Fastpass system has been in
place for about a decade, and several Six Flags parks offer similar
options. A number of new technologies now are also available to
waterpark operators. The British firm Lo-Q, headquartered here in the United States
in Lithia Springs, Ga., offers a mobile platform for ride
reservations, as well as the Q-band RFID band, and Q-bot, a
handheld device that allows virtual queuing.
Some operators have even gotten creative and developed their own
systems, notes David Sangree, president of Hotel & Leisure
Advisors, based in Cleveland. He adds that the benefits of a
system that can provide virtual queuing are twofold: From an
operator standpoint, it’s possible to charge a higher ticket
price. Plus, when guests spend less time in line, they have more
time to spend at the concession stand and in the gift shop. From a
guest standpoint, being able to enjoy all that a park has to offer
creates a better, more memorable experience, even if it does cost
• Socialized “sharing” platforms
Approximately two-thirds of online adults use social media networks
such as Facebook and Twitter, according to fall 2011 data from the
& American Life Project. Given that statistic, it’s
not surprising that waterpark operators are adopting technologies
and software that will allow guests to automatically share photos
and other information about their visits.
The concept was very successful among Israeli teens at a 2010
Coca-Cola-sponsored experience, and Great Wolf Resorts
introduced Great Wolf Connect last year at its Grand Mound, Wash.,
location. Guests can register their Facebook accounts and by
scanning their RFID enabled wristbands at photo stations throughout
the resort, they can take a picture that will automatically post to
their Facebook pages, with a caption.