The transformation of water parks

The transformation of water parks

23 March 2020 Off By Facto Edizioni

/ by Valerio Mazzoli /

From the past to the present, from the USA to Italy via Canada and Asia: Valerio Mazzoli this month looks at the world of water parks.

This is a very difficult time to talk about entertainment and fun. The whole world is fighting an invisible enemy, people have come together to protect our planet without any barriers in terms of race, religions or social class, joined by the will to overcome this danger to humanity. 

Valerio Mazzoli, theme park & attraction designer

There is an abundance of news about the emergency, of all kinds; official, fake and others that are better not read. I am certainly not the best person to talk about this very delicate subject. My role has always been to bring joy to and amaze children and families, dedicating myself with passion and love to inventing fantastic worlds for a light-hearted, special day out. 

In this article I want to talk about water parks. About 30 years these underwent major evolutions and changes. The first water parks with entertainment facilities were developed as alternatives to theme parks: the investment was much lower, but as the opening period was quite short, profits were also much lower. It was Disney who then invented a new type of water park: the theme water park! In Orlando, at Walt Disney World Resort, in 1989 and 1995 respectively, it opened Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, 2 parks that were unique at the time. Immersed in snow (fake, of course), Blizzard Beach offered (and still offers) all kinds of thrills, with new types of slides and attractions that mostly started from the top of an artificial ‘snow-covered’ mountain, towering almost 30m high.  Typhoon Lagoon, on the other hand, has a tropical setting, with a typhoon that creates a sort of tsunami that drags swimmers along with it for several metres. Until 2016 there was also a large lagoon, Shark Reef, where guests could swim amongst harmless small sharks, rays and other marine animals.

Volcano Bay, Universal Orlando Resort


The boom in water parks thus began with Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Companies specialising in swimming pool systems began to produce a whole series of water games and slides, offering different levels of excitement. Back in the nineties I happened to visit, at the Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada, a huge water park (World Waterpark) that remained operational all year round; it still exists, and with an area of almost 20,000 square metres it is considered to be the largest indoor water park in North America.  

Today there are endless theme water parks around the world, headed by Asian parks that occupy 7 of the top 20 places in the world in terms of attendance in the ‘TEA AECOM Theme Index-The Global Attractions Attendance Report’ published last summer, with reference to 2018. The first place also belongs to Asia: the Chimelong Water Park in Guangzhou, China, which with 2,740,000 visitors beats Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, respectively second and third with 2,271,000 and 2,003,000 visitors.

We can certainly say that water parks today are no longer a less expensive alternative to theme parks! Take for example Volcano Bay, a wonderful theme water park at the Universal Orlando Resort, inaugurated in 2017. An incredible project that overlooks one of Orlando’s most important highways, with a large volcano visible from miles away puffing smoke and flames. This park employs the most sophisticated technologies, giving breathtaking thrills. 

Companies such as Universal and Disney can obviously develop projects with a level that is hard for others to reach. So let’s then look at the Italian parks, which number is just under 20, with some historic parks such as Aquafan in Riccione, Aqualandia (now Caribe Bay) in Jesolo, and Caneva Aquapark in Lazise, on Lake Garda. 

Last year, during the annual ‘Give Kids The World Village’ charity golf tournament, my playing partner was Renato Lenzi, CEO of Zoomarine in Torvaianica (Pomezia, Rome). I confess that I did not know this park. Between strokes I had the opportunity to discover it, being positively impressed, because unlike other Italian or European parks Zoomarine is also (above all, I would say) a marine life park, quite close to the SeaWorld model. Not just pure water fun for families with swimming pools, water playgrounds and slides, but also an educational part dedicated to marine animals and focused on direct experiences with various types of creatures: large stadiums where engaging and fun educational demonstrations are presented every day, as well as interactive habitats where guests can get to know the various species that live there and in some cases even interact directly with them in educational sessions, guided by highly qualified staff. At the same time, the park also features many mechanical rides in a true theme park area. A structure of this type offers a wider audience the possibility to enjoy various experiences, not only in the water: a wonderful proposal in a market that in many cases is becoming saturated with increasingly repetitive and often unimaginative ideas, reminding us creative folk that we should never stop looking for something new, ahead of the times.

Taken from Games&Parks Industry March 2020, page 74

Valerio Mazzoli /  theme park & attraction designer /