What swimming pools are to exercise, water parks are to fun and frolics; the domain of the leisure and entertainment industry. An American concept, first appearing in the 1940s and 1950s, the United States still dominates the global water park market today, with more than a thousand parks in operation and new venues coming on line every year. Although the UK can claim to fewer than 20 water parks, those that are in operation offer the highest standards of operation, mixing wet and dry side activities, as a winning leisure formula. A flagship site, Waterworld in Hanley, Staffordshire is billed as the largest indoor tropical aqua park in the UK. No hostage to the precarious British climate, Waterworld visitors are cloaked indoors amid a comforting, constant temperature of 86 degrees. Purchased from the Rank Organisation in 1999 by businessman and entrepreneur Mo Chaudrey, this privately-owned park was given a £60m facelift in 2006. The operators have rolled out a continuous programme of investment and renewal ever since and have been rewarded with visits of about 400,000 annually. Waterworld is built around a wave pool with a selection of rides, slides, flumes and features to entertain all ages and degrees of swimming expertise. There are four-lane slides, a lazy river tyre rides, a 375-feet long roller coaster, a space bowl flume and plunge ride.
An Aqua Splash Jungle House, including waterfalls, a mini-assault course, rope climbs, scramble net, rope-bridge and water cannons also feature and there is a hot spa and bubble pool, with the Water’s Edge restaurant, a café and sports bar for refreshments. The water park has a maximum bather load of 1,050 visitors attracting visitors from a geographic area up to two hours drive away. Tim Keily, Director of Waterworld, attributes much of its success to the fact that it is open all year round and that the business seeks to constantly innovate: “We are always looking to make improvements. We have an aqua disco on Fridays, birthday parties for all ages and a health and safety procedure that is second to none,” adds Tim. “All our staff are fully-trained and we have an annual inspection by the local authority, which lasts for two and a half days, as well as our own internal monitoring. “Our record is exemplary – it’s a huge part of the business. We continually test water quality internally and get it checked externally as well. We operate an ozone filtration system, which is unique to the park – expensive to run and maintain, but extremely efficient, with the added benefits of increased safety and hygiene. “Visitors remark upon the water quality as being one of the best features of Waterworld. Our biggest expense is on utilities – gas and water – not surprisingly.” Year on year, Waterworld seeks to make investments in the park. In November they will begin work on extending catering facilities to include a 450-seat restaurant. Says Tim: “We are re-configuring our heated outdoor pool, another unique part of the park, ready for 2014. Plans have also been drafted for a completely new ride – so there’s plenty to look forward to. The business never stands still.”
Not a million miles away geographically is the Alton Towers Waterpark, which forms part of the Alton Towers resort and is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year with a range of special offers. The water park is operated by the parent company, with a dedicated team of on-site technicians to deal with electrical faults and technical issues, headed up by managers who are all plant- room trained. Alton Towers Waterpark can comfortably entertain 1,000 visitors at a time and offers a combination of high-speed rides like the Master Blaster water coaster, the Rush ‘n’ Rampage and the outdoor Flash Floods Flume (subject to weather conditions), as well as the gentler experience of the Bubbly Wubbly pool and Volcano Springs. For younger visitors the Wacky Waterworks Tree House includes 70 interactive water features and there is also the Little Leak paddling pool with slide. There are 13 medium-flow sand filters in operation at the park and a Hanovia UV system, which is one of the largest and most efficient systems in the UK. Splashdown Poole and Splashdown Quay West at Goodrington Sands in South Devon is owned and managed by Lemur Leisure Ltd, a family-run business that began over 20 years ago, which, according to Jackie Richmond, Group Marketing Director, makes Splashdown water parks the most experienced in the business. “Many of our staff, including our technical director, have been with us right from the beginning, which counts for something and also very few water parks are entirely privately owned, they are either run, or partly funded by local authorities. We are also unusual in that we operate on a half and half basis – we have five rides outside, which are open according to the season and 8 indoors, open all year round at Poole and in Quaywest, which is outdoors, we have eight rides in total” All Splashdown rides and flumes are maintained and serviced by Aquaflume Waterslide Services, which is a division of its company. Says Jackie: “The Aquaflume team also works on service contracts for other water parks and can install flumes and refurbish pool areas – they are extremely experienced.” “The biggest outlay for the business, in common with most water parks, is the running costs – the power bills and labour. Our business is really divided into two parts, which balance each other out.” The water park in Poole is indoor and so is at its busiest on wet weather days. There is a comfortable capacity for 700 visitors at a time, but the venue issue two ticket types – an all day ticket and a two-hour session. Opening from nine in the morning until nine at night, 2000 people may pass through the doors throughout the day.