Selfies That Splash!
“Reply Racers” towers over the busy U.S. 192 tourism corridor below—a stretch of road peppered with restaurants and gift shops packed to the gills with tchotchkes to memorialize an Orlando, Florida, vacation.
As if the vibrant two-tone blue slides and rushing water weren’t enough of a clue, the palpable hum of energy and occasional high-pitch scream tells visitors they’ve arrived at Island H2O Live!, Central Florida’s newest water park. Also shouting the story of the new water park: millennials and Generation Z (the demographic born after millennials in the mid-1990s to early 2000s), as the park is wired to make posting on social media easy. With slide names like “Hashtag Heights” and “Profile Plunge,” Island H2O Live! was designed to cater to the generation that shares their lives through Instagrammable moments and tweets.
The park kicked off its inaugural season making noise in a crowded marketplace, already offering six other gated water parks within a one-hour drive. The 12-acre footprint of Island H2O Live! is jam-packed with thrills and chills, home to a whopping 20 attractions, smartly built vertically to maximize space and the latest tech.
“We were pushed by ownership because we were entering a market with parks that spent millions on theme,” says James Harhi, principal at Innovative Attraction Management.
Horizon Waterpark LLC owns the water park, which was developed in collaboration with Innovative Attraction Management and Encore Capital Management as part of the larger development plans for the region’s new Margaritaville Resort Orlando.
Challenged to make the park different, Harhi and planners from Aquatic Development Group (ADG) leaned into technology.
“The focus turned to adding interactive technology and social media to entertain our guests,” he says.
Guests visiting Island H2O Live! actually have homework they can do before they arrive for a day of sun, slides, and selfies. While it’s not required, visitors can use their smartphone to download the park’s app before arriving to ensure a smooth start to their day. The free app helps guests better plan
their schedule by seeing wait times, keeping track of their family and friends in the park, and earning points.
The app works in tandem with the WhiteWater Vantage radio-frequency identification (RFID) Smart Band guests receive when they arrive at the park. This smart band—which gives guests a customizable park experience and allows them to engage their social network through the app—made its debut at Island H2O Live!
“Island H2O Live! was the perfect fit for launching a disruptive product like Vantage,” says Aaron Mendelson, Vantage’s director of customer success and product innovation. “At Island H2O Live!, one of the major points of differentiation for the ownership was to be a technologically advanced park—to be on the cutting edge of what was possible.”
The Smart Band currently includes three main features: In My Day, Family & Friends, and Park Perks.
In My Day gives guests the freedom to pick their music playlist for the day, choose what color scheme they’d like for their app and slide experiences, see ride times, and manage other park information.
The Family & Friends feature links guests with everyone in their party so parents can easily find their children in the park. Additionally, parental controls allow parents to limit what attractions and areas children can access.
Park Perks are points guests earn over the course of their visit when they “tag in” for rides. Each ride on a slide or visit to a child’s play area is worth 100 points.
Like everything in the park, redemption takes on a digital aspect, too. Prizes are worth 500 to 15,000 points and range from the ability to unlock a new theme within the app to a giant souvenir cup that might take several visits to earn.
The bands will eventually include Speed Keys, a feature that can be purchased for front-of-line access and reserving ride times for attractions.
The RFID bracelet allows cameras placed around some of the water slides to identify riders. As riders pass the cameras, video of their ride is sent to the app.
“The ownership felt that creating a location where a guest could share their day by easily posting to social media allowed for a way of sharing memories and creating a more viral way of spreading the word about the unique experiences at the park,” says Mendelson.
While the bands are directly linked to the app, Island H2O Live! leaders have done their part to ensure guests without a smartphone are not excluded from participating in the fun.
Stand-alone tech stations can be found throughout the park. With a quick swipe of the band’s QR code, kiosks will display everything on the app, allowing even the most unplugged visitors the opportunity to enhance their experience and share later.
“The Vantage RFID program is the thing that took this project over the top,” says Harhi. “Utilizing features of the Vantage RFID bracelet, we have been able to not only assure that the guest in the park is excited but their entire neighborhood, i.e., Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube connections, are engaged in the process as well.”
In addition, the park is outfitted with “Be Live” locations, small structures that offer guests the chance to shoot short videos with in-park cameras that then load into the app. The videos are uploaded in real time, letting visitors almost immediately share them. The Island H2O Live! team says safeguards to deter inappropriate behavior from guests using the booths include security cameras located inside and large windows that make the booths viewable to the public.
The attractions offering video and customization are marked with a special icon at the slide entrance. Following their visit, guests have 15 days to download their media using the app before the videos vanish.
Jim Kunau, general manager of Island H2O Live!, says at the surface, a water park is the combination of wave pools, lazy rivers, slides, family interaction activities, and lifeguards, who are certified by StarGuard Elite at Island H2O Live!
Attraction names like “Chat Creek” (lazy river), “Private Domain” (pool and cabana area for adults 21 and older), and “The Downloader” (a two-person tube slide by WhiteWater) help Island H2O Live! keep with the park’s mission of extending the experience beyond in-park attendees—who planners hope will share their adventures in real time with their friends and followers on social media.
“Integrate technology and do something unique, that makes a great water park,” Kunau says.
Harhi and team say they were not worried about the park’s theming being so trendy that it couldn’t survive long term.
“Our competitors want you to escape into a new land, whereas our mission is to extend our guest experience to their friends [outside of the park] through technology,” Harhi says.
That was the mantra designers followed while designing the park.
“Water parks are known for exhilarating rides and attractions, but Island H2O Live! will let guests be playful in interactive ways that have never been seen before,” says Albo Antenucci Jr., executive in charge, Horizon Waterpark LLC. “These incredible opportunities for engagement will be what Island H2O Live! is all about.”
Caitlin Dineen is an Orlando-based freelance writer with more than a decade of print and television journalism experience, some of which led to a Pulitzer Prize nomination from her reporting at the Orlando Sentinel.