In recent years, the cost of attending a waterpark has risen consistently. In February, CNN reported that the Platinum Plus pass, which grants annual pass holders access to Disney World's Florida waterparks in addition to its four theme parks, costs $869, representing a $40 increase.

Newer parks are even kicking off their businesses with sky-high prices. KRDO News Channel 13 in Colorado Springs, Colo., recently reported that community members in Woodland Park, Colo., were outraged over the $888 price tag of an annual four-person family pass for admission to a new local aquatic center. Each additional family member will cost $160 per person. And Universal’s Volcano Bay Water Theme Park in Orlando, Fla., is pushing the limit of patrons’ wallets with the highest prices of any waterpark that Hotel & Leisure Advisors is aware of in the United States, said David J. Sangree, president. The facility opened on May 25, and a one-day season ticket for an adult is $67. A child’s ticket will set patrons back $62. And the cost of a 3-Park Premier Annual Pass, which includes admission to Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Universal’s Volcano Bay is $688.99 (plus tax.)

According to the most recent International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions survey, the average admission to a waterpark is around $20, said Sangree. However, a quick online search revealed that adult prices at many private parks hovers around the $40 mark, while children’s tickets cost about $35. That means that a day of fun at the waterpark would cost the average family of four about $200 to simply walk through the gates. Parking, food, drinks, and cabana rentals not included.

The Reasons Why

There are a number of factors that contribute to the price of a waterpark admission ticket, and according to industry experts they range from utility costs and geographic location to what the competition is charging. The size of waterparks as well as the flashy attractions that are needed to entice customers to fork over their hard-earned money for a day of sun and fun at the park share in the price calculations as well, said Winter Prosapio, corporate director of communications and government relations for Schlitterbahn Waterparks & Resorts. The flagship park in New Braunfels, Texas, is 60-70 acres and has about 40 attractions. “It’s not just water going through cemet-sided slides…there’s a lot more technology involved,” said Prosapio. “As rides get more sophisticated people’s expectations of rides are also more sophisticated, and all of that comes with a price tag.” The MASSIV Monster Blaster ride at Schlitterbahn in Galveston Island, Texas, which is hailed as the world’s tallest water coaster, for example, requires an entire computer room full of equipment to operate the ride, she said.

It sometimes takes a small army to manage and operate all of the machinery at a waterpark as well as keep the facilities clean, serve the food and beverages, and of course, maintain a staff of lifeguards. And that’s why labor is the number one factor involved in admission ticket prices, according to industry experts. “The cost of labor always goes up. Nobody wants to make less [money],” said Prosapio. If the minimum wage went up by only a dollar or two “that would significantly [impact] our ticket prices,” she said.

Even smaller waterpark operations are impacted by the high cost of labor, which is reflected in their ticket prices. Casino Pier and Breakwater Beach in Seaside Heights, N.J., is a two-acre, family-owed business that employs 36 lifeguards, and its annual payroll costs are approaching $1 million per year, said Lou Cirigliano, director of operations.

Casino Pier management tries to avoid raising its prices and will sometimes go several years with no price increases. And although they have no set formula for determining when or how much they increase the cost of admission, their prices tend to go up every other year or every three years at most. And when they do go up it’s only by $1-$2—perhaps $5 if prices have been stagnant for a while, said Cirigliano.

Other Options

Raising admission prices is the quickest, simplest and most cost-effective way to increase revenue, said Kent Lemasters, president of Amusement Aquatic Management Group in Tusin, Calif. However, like any other decision in life, there is a potential downside--such as pricing yourself out of the market and ending up with fewer customers and less revenue. That’s why Lemasters encourages his clients to look at other ways to increase revenue before jumping to ticket price increases. Potential profit generators include implementing a more cost-effective marketing plan, increasing the prices of food and beverage or retail items, reducing operating hours or days, or adding a new attraction to increase foot traffic.

But if you must raise prices, there are things that can be done to cushion the blow to customers’ wallets. Schlitterbaun doesn’t charge its guests for parking and there are no rental fees for life vests or inner tubes. Guests are even permitted to bring in ice chests full of food and drinks. And, if patrons at the Galveston Island locations visit between March and mid-April 2018, they can enjoy the park for about half the cost of a regular season ticket. Season pass programs, which have fairly steady prices, also provide an added perk, said Prosapio.

Casino Pier also provided its patrons with a few little extras the last time the organization had to raise its prices. Guests previously purchased hourly admission tickets, but tickets are now good for the entire day. Customers can also save a little cash by taking advantage of early bird pricing as well as twilight specials (entering the park after 3pm.) “We’re a family-owned business,” said Cirigliano. “We’re cognizant of not pricing [our customers] out of coming to our properties.”