H&LA has launched an interview series in anticipation of the upcoming start of the 2021 waterpark season. Through our interviews with owners and operators of several U.S. outdoor waterparks, we hope to learn how individual parks are gearing up for the 2021 season amid the fallout from the pandemic and what challenges for the season operators are expecting.
In our second interview, David Sangree had an online video chat with Michael Schwitek, General Manager of Alabama Adventure and Alabama Splash Waterpark. H&LA has had the opportunity to appraise the privately owned property, which was purchased in 2014 as a waterpark but has since added amusement rides. Michael to explains how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted operations in 2020 and what plans are in store for the 2021 season and beyond.
Many thanks to Michael from Alabama Adventure for sharing such important insights about his park and the larger waterpark industry in the wake of the pandemic. We wish Alabama Adventure and Alabama Splash Waterpark the best of luck for the 2021 season!
David: I understand your property was able to open last year during the pandemic. Could you explain what the 2020 season was like?
Michael: We were able to open by the end of May, and we were one of first parks in the country that got to reopen that early. We actually only lost about two weeks of our season. Once we got the park open, and obviously we were doing all the safety precautions, all of our rides were open with some restrictions like social distancing. We worked with local jurisdictions, state and county, and agreed on doing 50% capacity for the season. It turned out that we didn’t quite meet those numbers; we were just under 50% every single day. Overall, more people were enjoying our waterpark rides than theme park rides. People seemed to feel safer at the waterpark, maybe because you are drenched in chlorine and can spread out a little more.
David: In 2020, was your pricing and per capita spending similar to other years? Did you give a lot of discounts?
Michael: We did not offer a lot of discounting, mainly because we were limiting our capacity. We kept firm with our pricing, whether at the front gate or in the park. We did see increases in per capita spending, particularly in food, beverages, and retail areas. We had fewer groups and season pass visits, but more daily admissions. Also cabana sales were up tremendously. Even with less attendance, there were days where we sold every one of our 28 cabanas.
David: Are there any renovations or facility improvements planned for 2021?
We are actually putting in a large capital expansion—a six-lane mat racer slide—which was in the planning stages before COVID-19. Capacity is everything now, and this is a huge waterslide that can smoothly handle a lot of people. Other updates in the park involve separating out the midways, and spreading out the areas. We have a large property with a lot of acres and unused spaces that we are starting to develop. Once we get back to high capacity, we want to have plenty of room for that. Also, we are going 100% cashless this year. We installed cash-to-card machines so that people can insert cash and get a card to utilize in the park.