Pirates, Primates and Pyramids: To Compete with Area Attractions, Regional Waterparks Look into Theming to Set Them Apart

By Dutton, Barbara | Parks & Recreation, November 2004 | Go to article overview
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Pirates, Primates and Pyramids: To Compete with Area Attractions, Regional Waterparks Look into Theming to Set Them Apart


Dutton, Barbara, Parks & Recreation


It seems it just isn't enough anymore for a waterpark to have exhilarating features such as gigantic water slides and entertaining spray pool fixtures. The thrills are being yet boosted by the application of creative themes, drawing inspiration from the worlds of nature, adventure and fiction, to name a few. In other words, today's colorful, feature-packed waterpark with a personality is not your parent's aquatic facility.

"A theme can help market a park and give it an identity," observes Peter Suhr, senior associate with Williams Architects, a Carol Stream, Ill., architecture firm that specializes in designing aquatics and other recreational facilities.

"Theming has made US unique among water park operators and has provided us with a leadership position in the industry remarks Joann Saitta of Hyland Hills Park and Recreation District, which operates Water World, a large regional water park ill Federal Heights, Colo.

"Comments from visitors indicate that theming stands out in their minds," relates Gary Hultberg, recreation manager at the Englewood, Colorado Parks and Recreation Department's recently opened $7 million Pirates Cove Family Aquatic Center, which has a pirate statue, squawking parrots and two firing 'cannons.'

Park management in Joliet, Ill., suggests that having a theme distinguishes its train-oriented Splash Station waterpark from other regional attractions. "We feel the railroad theme provides a different type of facility recognition among water parks," comments Joliet Park District Executive Director Dominic Egizio, Jr.

According to Rick Root, president of World Waterpark Association (WWA), Overland Park, Kan., the inclination to theme in the waterpark business is consistent with a larger trend. "Theming is prevalent in most areas of retail today," he says. "Consider, for example, the last time you went to a restaurant that didn't have a theme, and was simply tables, chairs and booths?

"Kids, especially, are exposed to heavy theming in so many of their activities nowadays, whether it's bowling alleys, skating rinks, amusement parks or waterparks," he continues. "As a result, if a park doesn't make some attempt at theming to create that experiential time, in addition to offering water attractions, a park may feel somewhat incomplete."

A Matter of Degree

Waterparks can be lightly themed-perhaps limited to murals and handrail panels to convey a story--to the heavily themed: highly elaborate and extensively designed parks planned around a theme, explains Frank Crymble, manager of KoalaPlay Group's Theme Division, and whose professional credits in film and television include, respectively, work on "X-Men 2," "Scary Movie," "The Twilight Zone" and "Stargate SG-1."

"Heavily themed parks call have murals and sculptures located throughout the park. These sculptures can even be wrapped around structural elements in the park."

"While themes can certainly be expressed on an imposing scale, a theme-driven design call still be developed on a more modest one. "There are ways to choose items to include in a park plan without spending a whole lot money, but still getting your point across," says Suhr, who recently worked on a moderately themed $8.8 million aquatic facility expressing an ocean theme in Lisle, Ill.

Choosing a Theme

Along with determining a project's scope and budget, the decision to theme or not to theme is one to be made. If a theme approach is selected, then the task of deciding upon an appropriate theme will have to be performed. Building a theme around standard products is an option (see sidebar), as is conceiving a theme and working to design park components to convey it.

"Themes usually emerge from general research, trade shows, and often from our creative water park staff; which we involve in the theming process at all levels," explains Saitta, whose Water World draws from geologic, historic and prehistoric subjects.

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