Waterpark Interview Series: Jim Kunau with Island H2O

H&LA conducted an interview series in the spring of 2021 in anticipation of the upcoming start of the waterpark season. Through interviews with owners and operators of several U.S. outdoor waterparks, we learned how individual parks geared up for the 2021 season amid the fallout from the pandemic and what challenges were expected.

In our first interview with owners and operators of major waterpark properties in the United States, David Sangree, president of Hotel & Leisure Advisors, had an online video chat with Jim Kunau, general manager of Island H20 Live!, a 16.9-acre waterpark at the Margaritaville Resort Orlando in Kissimmee, Florida, that opened in June 2019. H&LA has previously analyzed this property and David was a recent visitor when it played host to attendees of the 2019 WWA show. Jim talked about how the park is gearing up for the 2021 season and how the property has been adjusting to the disruption from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

View the interview in its entirety below.


Below are some excerpts of that conversation.

2021 Season OpeningWe will open to the public for the season on March 13. We are doing a season pass holder event on the night of the 12th from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.  We had a really good year last year on season passes, and we are pacing ahead of sales from last year at this point. Last year was $49.99 for a one-day ticket, general admission. This year it’s $59.99. Season passes are now at $69.99. So the season pass is $10 more than a one-day general admission ticket.  I feel pretty good about the process and the price points.

The pandemic’s impact on the 2020 season:  In response to the pandemic, Island H2O closed at 5 p.m. on March 16, 2020, and did not reopen until May 22.  From the time when the governor of Florida said that we could reopen, it took us another seven days to open because we had to recertify guards, rehire staff, and run through the new COVID-19 measures. Attendance came back strong, however.  We also found that because we limited the number of people in the park per social distancing requirements, that enabled us to eliminate a lot of price points. Ticket sales per capita and in-park spending were both higher than expected. Obviously, disinfection and sanitization became much bigger issues. Every life vest that is used in the wave pool or lazy river has to be sanitized before you can hand it to the next person. Every tube, every mat has to be spayed and wiped down. That’s not changing in 2021.

Long-term effects of pandemic on the waterpark industry: My personal opinion is I think there is pent-up demand but I also think that waterparks are a unique environment. Every bit of our water is chlorinated and, at this property, we treat our water with ultraviolet lights as part of our standard operating process. Plus, it’s an outside environment. As an industry, there is room for growth because waterparks are a safe place to bring your family.

What sets Island H20 Live! apart from other waterparks?: I have to tell you we are the most technologically advanced waterpark in the world. We have a wrist band program that interfaces to Vantage Technology. It works as a loyalty point program but there are also safety aspects as well. It can reduce the number of inside collisions, for example. It’s a passive RFID so we can tell you where you’ve been in the park and even notify you if your child has left an area.  Other technologies include a 22’ x 44’ video screen at our wave pool for “dive-in movies,” and there are rides that allow you to control the lights and sound.  We have selfie stations and “be-live” recording booths so guests can share their experiences on social media.