Feel-Good Moments of 2021
With all the challenges that the attractions industry has been facing due to COVID-19, it can be easy to lose sight of how rewarding, enjoyable, and just plain fun this industry can be to work in. But there have still been many feel-good moments during the 2021 season. IAAPA members share their experiences below.
A Year Later, Soaky Mountain Finally Celebrates Its Opening
On June 27, 2020, Soaky Mountain Waterpark in Sevierville, Tennessee, opened its 50-acre facility to the public. But it wasn’t until a year later, June 4, 2021, that the water park was able to celebrate its official grand opening. The original event had been postponed due to COVID-19.
“We were so thrilled to be able to finally celebrate our grand opening with our fellow tourism industry partners a year after we opened for business during the pandemic,” says Soaky Mountain General Manager Dave Andrews.
As part of the feel-good grand opening event, Soaky Mountain held a “Slide Race for Charity” to benefit the Boys & Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains, Friends of the Smokies, Sevier County Food Ministries, and United Way of Sevier County. Andrews and Pete Tennis, managing director for Wilderness at the Smokies, as well as Tom Lucke and Tim Gantz, two of Wilderness Resorts and Waterparks’ owners competed in the race.
Each of the competitors represented one charity. To win, they sped as fast as they could down the park’s “Splash & Furious” mat racing slide. The triumphant racer was Andrews, representing Friends of the Smokies, who received a $3,000 first prize. The second, third, and fourth place winners each received $1,000 for their respective charities.
“Taylor Time” at Soaky Mountain
In addition to finally holding its official grand opening, Soaky Mountain Waterpark’s team feels good about hosting four “Taylor Time” events during the 2021 season. Designed to serve guests with autism and other similar conditions, this event is a low-sensory experience that allows them to enter and acclimate to the park one hour before standard operating hours.
“We created Taylor Time to be an event where guests can experience the park and ‘warm up’ to the regular operating day,” Andrews explains. “Taylor is a very special friend of mine, and I have met many ‘Taylors’ over the years. I wanted to help put together an experience where they can really enjoy the park and do so in an environment with their family and friends.”
One guest told Andrews that she never thought her son could experience a water park—it was too much for him—but she realized that with this he could.
“She told me this was more than she thought possible and bought a season pass so they could come back,” he says.
Canada’s Wonderland Provides Respite to Wildfire Evacuees
For Canada’s Wonderland, north of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the entire 2021 season was a feel-good moment because the facility was shuttered for all of 2020 due to COVID-19.
“While it was amazing to bring the park back to life and once again see the smiles on the faces of guests, we had the pleasure of hosting one particular group that really needed a day of fun and distraction,” says Grace Peacock, the park’s director of communications. “In northern Ontario this summer, wildfires ravaged hundreds of acres of land and forced the evacuation of many Indigenous communities. They had to leave their homes and travel hours away to where they were temporarily hosted by other communities close to Toronto.”
To ease stress for hundreds of evacuees from the Wabaseemoong Independent Nation and Cat Lake First Nation, Canada’s Wonderland provided complimentary day passes to the park.
“We hope we were able to bring some light and joy to these families, if only for one day, during what must have been a very difficult time,” Peacock says.
Celebrations at Australia’s Village Roadshow Theme Parks
Effective COVID-19 safety protocols have enabled Village Roadshow Theme Parks in Australia to host celebrations during 2021, allowing guests and staff to enjoy a more normal life.
“A feel-good moment of 2021 for Village Roadshow Theme Parks was our ‘Hooray for Hollywood’ event we hosted to celebrate Warner Bros. Movie World’s 30th Birthday,” says company Chief Operating Officer Bikash Randhawa. “The event was a wonderful showcase of the most memorable moments of the park’s history and featured the park’s biggest parade ever, a massive all-star cast, and exciting Hollywood moments.”
Randhawa also says the company is looking forward to celebrating Sea World’s 50th birthday next.
“For five decades, Sea World has been Australia’s premier marine park and brought joy and memories to generations of visitors,” he adds. “We look forward to celebrating the major milestone with our guests and team members.”