Why Build a Water Park at a Theme Park Resort?
Universal Orlando Resort has begun work on a new water park, codenamed "Project 533," to go on a 33-acre site south of the Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Last August, Universal trademarked the name "Wondersea Island" for a water park development, and the plans for the new park include "slides and pools plus various recreational facilities. A tall 'volcano' with slides will be constructed in the southern portion of the site," according to documents filed last Friday with the South Florida Water Management District.
Universal owns the Wet 'n Wild water park located across Interstate 4 from the main resort property. But the new park would be located adjacent to the Cabana Bay and upcoming Sapphire Falls resort, in a much more convenient location for on-site Universal Orlando hotel visitors.
Why build a water park on what might be the last major remaining undeveloped parcel on the main Universal Orlando property? Universal's competitors — Walt Disney World and SeaWorld Orlando — operate on-site water parks that drew more visitors than Universal's Wet 'n Wild in 2013, the latest year for which data is available from the TEA/AECOM attendance report.
And yet... those water park aren't attracting anywhere near as many visitors as their theme park siblings. Here are the attendance numbers for the five most popular water parks in the United States, from the TEA/AECOM report:
- Typhoon Lagoon: 2.14 million
- Blizzard Beach: 1.97 million
- Aquatica: 1.55 million
- Wet 'n Wild: 1.26 million
- Schlitterbahn: 1.03 million
Compare that with the lowest theme park attendance at the top four water parks' resorts:
- Disney's Hollywood Studios: 10.11 million
- SeaWorld Orlando: 5.09 million
- Universal Studios Florida: 7.06 million
The top water parks in America each draw between 18-30% the annual attendance of their resort's weakest theme park. The most popular water park in America, Typhoon Lagoon, wouldn't place among the top 20 theme parks in the country for annual attendance, trailing number-20 Busch Gardens Williamsburg by more than 500,000 visitors a year, according to TEA/AECOM. (If you're looking for a reason why we do not devote much attention to covering water parks here on Theme Park Insider, well, there ya go.)
Walt Disney World's Typhoon Lagoon
So why do so many theme parks build water parks? Why not build more theme parks, instead?
In a word: cost.
Perhaps no park in America has developed better water park attractions than Holiday World and Splashin' Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana, which in recent years has debuted two of the longest water coasters in the world. At the same time, the park also has installed world-class roller coasters, including a new Bolliger & Mabillard launched wing coaster, Thunderbird, which will debut this spring. That puts President/CEO Matt Eckert in a perfect position to judge the relative cost of developing high-quality water park and theme park attractions.
"When you look at cost to build, cost of maintenance, and throughput, a major ride for Splashin' Safari will cost less than a major ride for Holiday World," Eckert said.
Holiday World and Splashin' Safari
So why not double down on water parks, and skip those expensive theme park attractions?
Because, let's face it — people are far more likely to book airplane flights and pile the kids into the car for a long roadtrip to ride a record-setting roller coaster or visit a beloved character such as Harry Potter than they are to visit even the best water park. But a water park next to a theme park can help entice a family to extend its visit an extra day more cost-effectively than building enough additional theme park attractions to do the same thing. (And, in the case of regional theme parks, water parks can help convince more locals to go ahead and buy that annual pass than the theme park alone would.)
Which brings us back to Universal Orlando. With new additions such as Transformers, Diagon Alley and the upcoming (though still-unannounced) King Kong ride, Universal Orlando offers a solid two-day experience for visitors, and enough to tempt many fans to consider staying a third day (or longer). How can Universal convince more of its visitors to extend their stays, for the most cost-effective way possible?
Wet n' Wild is drawing more than a million visitors a year, but insiders suggest that many of them are locals, who've been coming to the park since before it was owned by Universal. Located across the Interstate from the main property, Wet n' Wild isn't up to Universal's theming standards and isn't convenient enough to tempt on-site visitors the way that a new, more conveniently located, Universal Creative-designed, world-class water park would. A 33-acre plot, on-site but separated from the resort's two theme parks, is too small to develop as a third theme park gate. But it's a good size for a water park, which Universal Creative can develop for far less expense than it would need to build a half-day's worth (or more) of theme park attractions elsewhere on property.
So what of Wet n' Wild? We've heard that Universal has been letting go some of its water park managers in recent months, and Universal is spitballing plans for redeveloping the site. Wondersea Island (assuming that will be the name for the new park) allows Universal Orlando to retain a water park attraction while potentially swapping Wet n' Wild's local visitors for freer-spending out-of-town hotel guests who would extend their stays to enjoy the new, better water park.
Don't get too carried away as details about Universal Orlando's new water park emerge over the next year. In a best-case scenario, the new water park will draw more visitors than Wet n' Wild, but it won't come close to drawing even a third of the visits that one of Universal Orlando's theme parks will. It won't drive attendance to the resort the way that Transformers has, or Kong will. (Nothing, by the way, drives traffic like Harry Potter, so let's not even bring that into the conversation.) But a well-designed, conveniently located water park might help Universal Orlando Resort entice more of the people who come to visit its theme parks to stay — and spend — just a little bit longer.
And that is why theme parks build water parks.
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Good write-up. Seeing the map of the Universal property, I'm fine with a water park. I've enjoyed a few hot Summer days at Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach (I prefer Typhoon Lagoon), and would love to see what Universal Creative can do with water.
Love the WDW water parks. Sure the attendance is far behind theme parks, but they close for much of the winter. The water parks are part of the package deal at a theme park resort, they are not meant to be the attendance leader.
Sounds great, my family and I will certainly check it out. How soon until Universal tunnels under I-4 to continue it's expansion?
I really dig when TPI gets deep into the financial side of things. One thing to consider when thinking about water park attendance/profitability is down time. WDW and UNI theme parks operate year round, whereas their respective water parks are closed at least a good five months out of the year. I'm not suggesting that down time accounts for the attendance gap, but it DOES help make them a more attractive earning proposition. Year-round resorts can have parks that they staff and operate only at the most profitable time of the year while still retaining year-round status.
This also gives them highway frontage on I-4. The waterslides could be extremely visible to drivers. Don't underestimate the potential of that, especially with little kids. Water parks just LOOK fun. As an Orlando resident, every time we drive past that CoCo Key hotel, my kids excitedly ask to go. A water park visible from the highway may draw more locals than we think.
Preliminary plans, not the water plan ones, indicate that a good number of the slides will be within the volcano itself, which could allow for use during cold & inclement weather also. This will be a fairly large park since nearly the entire acreage will be used for the park. Rumor has it that some of the rides will be heavily themed and a few steps above anything existing at the other Orlando area parks, so it will be more of a water theme park. Preliminary plans show 16 attractions, some of them with multiple slides. There will be no parking area. Transportation will be buses from the Universal garage or walking from the nearby hotels. Once Sapphire Falls is finished there will be 3700 hotel rooms within a 5 to 15 minute walking distance of the water park (also by shuttle from those parks). An additional 1600 rooms at Portofino & Hardrock will be accessible by shuttle. So this will, as stated, be primarily to keep guests on property to stay longer. Locals will still be able to go by parking at the main garage, but they'll probably be primarily AP holders. Whereas, Wet & Wild attracts a lot of guests they'd probably rather not have, it'll probably be closed & the land used for a large hotel resort. It's going to be a big plus for Universal's onsite guests who tend to spend more money than guests who attend local water parks like Wet & Wild.
This proposed water park you mentioned would be 33 acres, does anyone have any statistics on the size of wet n wild or better yet any or all of the other water parks mentioned?
What an excellent idea! I have been to Universal many times in the dead of summer, and a day at a water park that I would take anyway at one of the Orlando options would be right next to my hotel instead of down the road. Also, the great thing about water parks is that many attractions can be enjoyed without having to wait in any kind of line, leading to great filler time throughout the day if slide lines get long. I think this will be an absolute slam dunk for Universal, especially if this goal is to increase guest stay.
How many acres is Typhoon Lagoon?
Univeral Studios Florida is behind 3 million in attendance compared with Disney's Hollywood Studios. I can only imagine the difference will expand when Star Wars is added.
Keep in mind that those attendance figures are for 2013, i.e. before Diagon Alley.
Well...rats! There goes my back way home down Wallace Road instead of fighting Sand Lake Road traffic.
"Universal still needs a third gate. I recommend they enter into some licensing deals with the top 3 movie studios. Disney is ranked 4 and Universal is ranked 5th top studios. Universal is just not releasing enough franchises to create theme park attractions, while Disney has released many franchises despite its 4th ranking."
"What do you think the Harry Potter (a WB property), or Transformers (Paramount) were?"
Here are the acreages that I could find for some of the other Orlando water parks:
Okay... That's still a decent size to have fun into the afternoon hours and ten head to a theme park by 4 o clock or so... I'm game!!! Let's do this thing. I stayed at Cabanna Bay this past January and fell in love with it. I think this addition will just make the resort much more well rounded overall.
Yes but from what I gather, those acreage estimates you have for Typhoon Lagoon and Aquatica include their parking lots. Remove those from the equation and the actual attraction areas in both parks are also in the thirty acre range.
"hey will definitely need more material for a third gate and you demonstrated it by not citing any property that can fill the bill."
Robert: But Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach, Wet & Wild & Aquatica include their parking lots & associated areas. The New Universal park will not have nearly half their area consumed by parking lots so it will be at least twice as large as the Wet & Wild park, and at least the size of Typhoon Lagoon's actual park area. The drainage & access areas are fairly small in acreage. Yes, there is info out there besides that recent drainage plan.
"How are two of the most popular franchises in the Universal parks exceptions?"
Unless you are five years old, a day at Universal Orlando is already more fun than a day at Disney World. Adding a themed water park is a great move that will chip away at Disney's least desired demographic: park patrons who still prefer short lines at exciting attractions over shopping and dining and facebook photo opportunities.
"You seem alarmed that I suggest their top properties of Harry Potter are exceptions to the rule. They are essentially the rule."
"So which is it?"
I can't wait! I love water parks and his new one should be just as big as Disneys two. Here's a great comparison article showing the relative size of Universals land compared to competing water parks.
I love waterparks. They are both relaxing and thrilling. I got the season pass for aquatica san diego last summer and went nearly every week. Something therapeutic about having a margarita and then sitting in a lazy river for an hour. Good times.
Speaking of lazy rivers. The preliminary plans for this park show two lazy rivers, at least one that is in the volcano itself.
This sounds like a good decision for many points. 1. A properly themed water park and not just a generic park like wet and wild is now. 2. Moving closer to existing resorts and creating more up sale options. (parking could be shared among the parking structure and the hotels.) 3. A way to sell some prime I-Drive land to help offset the cost of building the water park. This also consolidates the property giving a defined resort area like Sea World and Disney. I personally have not been to any of the water parks in the area but I would consider going if I was staying in the Cabana Bay or the future Sapphire hotels.
Its a shame universal doesn't own the land between kirkman, the turnpike and I4. That would be an ideal local for a 3rd gate. I dont think anyone, including universal, ever thought their parks would be as successfull as they've become.
Universal will most likely rip off Disney on the water park side. Disney started with River Country at their campground. They built Typhoon Lagoon and when it opened to capacity crowds-shifted guests to River Country until they didn't need it. They still do the same with Blizzard Beach. Universal will open this new water park and when it reaches capacity they will transport guests to WetnWild. After probably 2 years they won't need WetnWild anymore and will be able to close it and make better use of that real estate.
The Diagon opening was hugely successful. It increased attendance by 19% plus during the quarter and guest spending increased significantly. Cabana Bay is at 100% most weekends. During the summer months USO's daily attendance was higher than DHS & Animal Kingdom. Park hopping is through the roof due to Hogwart's Express. Theme park's always run discounts. It's part of the marketing strategy.
What about a watery version of Harry Potter? Color the water golden and call it the butter beer pool, or have the lake from Hogwarts like in USJ.
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