In many ways, waterparks lend themselves perfectly to festively freaky atmospheres.
“They have these amazing grounds, these amazing sidewalks and these big grass areas,” said Bryan Wooster, owner of Bakersfield, Calif.-based Dark Knight Entertainment, a firm specializing in themed events.
Shortly after Wet ‘n’ Wild in Las Vegas closed for the season, he began converting the property into a trick-or-treat destination called Halloweenville, which will share ticket revenue with the waterpark. It is Wet ‘n’ Wild’s first stab at participating in what's become a big business opportunity: Offering Halloween-time thrills and chills.
The National Retail Federation estimates that people will spend a record $9.1 billion on candy, costumes and decorations this year. That’s up 8.3% from last year. Further, HauntWorld.com, a database of haunted house attractions, figures that fright-seekers will spend around $1 billion scaring themselves silly at seasonal attractions.
At Wet ‘n’ Wild, cabanas are decked out in creepy props and animatronics. Overhead lights are covered with orange, green, black and dark blue films to cast an eerie glow. And while the waterslides are off limits, there are plenty of other things for guests to do. Halloweenville includes bounce houses, a spooky laser swamp, zombie paintball, a mini-monster train, pumpkin patch, a massive dry slide, dance parties and more.
Likewise, Splash Kingdom in Redlands, Calif. unleashed a horde of zombies in an attempt to lure die-hard gore-hounds. The event, called ZombiEmpire, features mazes, a haunted beer garden and live entertainment.
As waterparks look for ways to generate revenue in the offseason, creating festive Halloween productions may be worth considering, says Larry Kirchner, president of HauntWorld.com and a designer of haunted houses. Waterparks have marketing teams to promote events throughout the summer, and they can roll the cost of admission into an annual pass. They have infrastructure to work with, plus they can retain their seasonal employees through October.
However, there is one thing scarier than navigating a maze full of monsters: Failure.
That’s why Kirchner suggests that waterparks either commit to providing good production value or don’t do it at all. If you skimp, he warns, your event will flop, and people won’t return next year.
Unlike amusement parks – which have become the go-to destinations for frights this time of year – waterparks can't provide much added value, such as rollercoasters. Therefore, people won’t be as forgiving if your Halloween function is lame.
“If you’re a waterpark, and you want to blow the roof off of something like this, you’re going to need to build an incredible event,” said Kirchner, whose very first customer was a waterpark. “And that’s not going to be cheap.”
A property could easily spend more than $1 million to provide adequate scares, and it might not see a return on investment until the following year.
If planning to build an elaborate maze, you might consider keeping it up all year – provided you have the space.
“It’s a lot of work to put them up and take them down,” Kirchner advised.
You also need to choose your target demographic. For his part, Wooster’s not looking to give anyone nightmares. Halloweenville at Wet ‘n’ Wild is decidedly more kid-friendly.
“The problem with scary haunts is that they only attract a very small demographic,” Wooster said. “We’re catering more toward families.”
He expects around 30,000 attendees. If it goes well, he has big plans for next year: He’s dreaming up a haunted boat attraction for the lazy river.