Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Two Weeks Later: Scrutinizing Wild Waves and Enchanted Village Theme Park

Wild Waves and Enchanted Village's wave pool
Wild Waves wave pool area. (Wikimedia)
THEME PARK REVIEW
This week, my teenage son and I took a trip to Wild Waves and Enchanted Village Theme Park in Federal Way, WA a week and a half after one of the park’s guests drowned in the activity pool section of Wild Waves. This was just a coincidence since we had planned weeks earlier to visit the park, but since the incident, I became hyper aware of my surroundings.
 

It’s been a couple years since I have been to Wild Waves, but most everything appeared to be “business as usual” except for the “This attraction is temporarily closed signs” by the activity pool. There were one or two employees nearby guarding the area and making sure that no guests entered the pool. Oddly though, the entrance to a warming pool in the area was blocked off by lounge chair which looked tacky. As to be expected, there was no mention of the incident that had occurred or reason given to the area’s closure.
 

Wild Waves has a fairly good track record in regards of injuries at the park. To my knowledge, only one other guest has died at the park and that was due to a heart condition, not because of any violation of safety. But one has to wonder if the amusement park is really safe or if they have just been lucky all of these years. I'm no expert and I'm sure that the park is working with authorities to make the place as safe as possible. Below are just my personal observations.
 

What surprised me during my visit was that it didn’t seem as if the employees were any more vigilant with their efforts to keep the guests safe than they were before the incident. Granted, I can’t judge the actions from the activity pool since it was closed and the weather was overcast the day that we visited the park and so attendance was low. And it’s not as if safety measure weren’t in place. There are rules posted all over the park. But what I noticed most often was the lack of communication between the employees of the park and the guests. You would think that after such a horrendous incident, the lifeguards would be over-communicating safety protocol, but that didn’t seem to be the case. More often than not, my son and I would get to the front of the line and no communication, not even a smile or a “hello” was given by the lifeguard on duty. We pretty much know the rules, but if we were a first time guest, like the man who drowned, we wouldn’t have known what to do.

I witnessed that some lifeguards told guests to stay behind the red line before being called up to get in position on the waterslide while others did not. Many of the lifeguards wouldn’t speak at all and would just give hand gestures for directions. Some turned their backs from the guests which didn’t seem wise to me. Many employees seemed bored with their job rather than making their guests feel welcomed. Not every guest is going to care if they employees chat with them or not, but it is simple customer service, something you’ll experience better at your local McDonalds. It just seems to reason that those who smile and chat with guests would have better cooperation from them as well.
 

To be fair, I really didn’t see much “unsafe” behavior from the guests that needed to be corrected. There was virtually no pushing, line-cutting or rude people there. Most people knew what to do and just went with the flow. But that is where the problem lies. Too many of the employees assume that everyone knows all of the safety rules.

On the other hand, we also witnessed some guards being too cautious. In one of the large warming pools, we saw some guest be turned away because the pool was “full” when it was clear that there was much more space left. Guests also had to sit next to wall of the pool leaving a huge body of water in the center of the pool not being used. Kids were told to keep their heads above water.
 

Overall thought, the general feeling I got from the Wild Waves crew was that they were pretty “ho hum” about their routines and the younger the employee, the more disinterested they seemed to be. That attitude wasn’t felt just in the water park section of Wild Waves and Enchanted Village.

When we entered the park, the bag checker just waved us through, which makes sense I guess since we didn’t have any bags, but I was wearing a hoody and it seems feasible that I could have had a weapon inside one of the pockets. Maybe I’m just paranoid with today’s world events.
 

Wild Waves and Enchanted Village's Timberhawk roller coaster
The Timberhawk (Flicker)
Like other amusement parks, Wild Waves and Enchanted Village stamp guests hands to show other employees that they guests had paid to be in the park. Often they use an “invisible” ink that only shows up under a black light to avoid fraud, but the stamps used the day we came were nothing special. The ink wasn’t waterproof and it smeared when they stamped us. Knowing what I know now, I think I could have snuck in without paying if I really wanted to by stamping my hand ahead of time and smearing the ink. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I could have smuggled a gun in after we returned from eating our lunch in my car. Since it was warmer know, I carried my hoody and again, the “guard” just waved me in without checking me.

Over in the Enchanted Village area, both my son and I noticed that the employees would rattle off their list of do’s and don’ts before we went on the rides. The problem here was that none of them (with exception to the roller coasters) were given a microphone to speak into. The area is loud with people and other rides operating so you couldn’t hear what any of them were saying. The ones that did speak loud enough often spoke too quickly. My son and I would turn to each other and say, “I have no idea what he just said. Do you?”
 

We also noticed how inattentive some of the employees (who seemed too young to be operating such equipment in the first place) were. The first ride we chose to ride on was the hanglider ride where you lay down and a cage-like device entraps you to keep you safe and secure. However, when the ride was over, it appeared that everyone on the ride except for ourselves knew how to release the cage-like device including the two passengers next to us. Everyone had left and I thought we might be going for another round when we managed to get out. I don’t know how we did it (or if the employee had done so) but I mentioned to her that she might want to make sure that everyone knows how to get out when the ride was done, but she didn’t seem to care. Over at the bumper cars, we noticed twice that some riders would either get stuck or didn’t understand that they needed to push the button on the bottom of the car’s floor to make the thing move. For adults who know how to drive, this is a no-brainer, but for the kids, it isn’t so obvious. However, when this happened, the employee on duty made no attempt to help the stranded driver out.

While I’m evaluating the park, I like to point out that of the two areas, the water park is the nicer of the two. With that said, the whole park is fairly dirty. While no one expects the park to be as pristine as Disneyland and it is reasonable to understand that it gets a beating with our Northwest weather, but much more could be done. One of the large sections of stairs in the waterpark was covered with moss, the warming pool was marked by a dirty ring and lots of plastic utensils and garbage where stuck in different nooks and crannies. It was obvious that the bathroom floors hadn’t had a good scrubbing in a long time and much of the paint throughout the park was chipped off. The blacktop is rough on bare feet and can be quite painful on a hot day. Finally, a lot of the props or items not being used in the park are just stacked here and there looking unsightly. Nothing major, but no attention to detail.

The Wild Thing Roller Coaster at Wild Waves and Enchanted Village
The Wild Thing (margaretmoony.tumblr.com)
Finally, let’s talk about cost. The price for just Enchanted Village is $19.99 for those over 48” tall. To do both parks, it will cost you $39.99. That’s fairly reasonable if that was the only cost involved. Parking is $10 and $20 for “over-sized” vehicles and for those who want “VIP” parking, which is just closer to the front of the park. Then, once you are in the park, you’ll need a locker if you are doing the full experience. Even if you leave everything in your car, you’ll need to lock up your key, right? The lockers come in three sizes: small ($14), large ($17) and family ($21). Even though you will be given $5 back when you return your key (and wristband), that is still a lot of money and at least $19 more than you were expecting to pay. Discounts are available online at that is probably the best way to go.

When we left the park and I turned in my locker key from the said employee who sold it to me, I told him, “I have to say, you were the friendliest employee I met today.” The employee behind him, probably a supervisor, said, “I’m sorry. It is late in the season…” as if that was a reasonable excuse. It’s not.

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