Michel Linot-Frion explains how Center Parcs is taking its Aqua Mundo waterpark concept to the next level.
Aqua Mundo plays a key role in encouraging visitors to spend a short break at our parks, and almost every one of our guests spends a few hours each day enjoying the exhilarating offer of water-related activities inside a unique, undercover subtropical environment.
We want Center Parcs guests to enter “another world” each time they step inside Aqua Mundo. It’s an environment, an atmosphere, an experience that cannot be found elsewhere. The natural materials and tropical plants inside this exotic climate feel ‘authentic’.
There are no constraints on everyday clothing, time or “things to do” – and no commercial pressures either (free lockers, no shopping and no entertainment). Although the experience is not primarily intended to be “wellness” driven, it is obviously good to do something that involves moving your body. Aqua Mundo is dedicated to yourself, your family and friends. It’s fun to do something with the people you like!
When, a few years ago, we decided to revive the Aqua Mundo concept so as to keep it a front runner within the industry, we first defined what we should not change:
•An overall ‘real’ atmosphere, with lots of natural light, the illusion of the open air and large dense plants everywhere around you.
•The use of authentic, natural materials: stone or pebble flooring, rocks, boulders, wood or bamboo, canvas nets, plants, earth.
•Activities for all. A variety of different swimming/wet experiences, ranging from action packed activities such as the slides and wild water river, through to the more relaxing corners such as the whirlpools, sauna and spa areas.
So how to move forward, what should evolve and define the next generation Aqua Mundo? First, we eliminated totally all standard “pool vocabulary” (stainless steel ladders, ceramic tiles…) so as to reinforce our “green signature”, thus allowing for a total immersion into our manmade tropical jungle and lagoon.
It’s the atmosphere we create that our guests are seduced by, and all details contribute. It needs to be a complete experience, like a book; with a beginning, a good storyline and a great end.
To do this we started the design process by thinking out of the box, asking skilled designers specialised in creating environments for zoos and natural science museums to help us imagine an environment, however unfeasible it may seem, to show us the way forward!
The target was to create a water world that contains several different areas to be discovered one after the other; several successive “wows” rather than one big setting. Each area is dedicated to a type of activity (action, discovery, calm) and has a different landscape to match (bamboo forest thrills, palm tree grove beach, kid’s rainforest).
In addition to some of our classics, we have developed new attractions and experiences inspired by nature and in keeping with the Centre Parcs’ brand values. These include:
•AquaLuba, an interactive water play structure including zip wire, waterfall climbing, and other thrill attractions.
•Next generation Wild Water River.
•Experience River, a sensory lazy river
•A snorkelling experience, featuring a side story and interaction with living animals.
•Added outdoor water play and pools.
•Our signature tropical Eden Spa.
•New family experiences including a ‘dive-in’ movie once a week and totally or partially opening the waterpark for nightly events.
In some cases we needed to adapt the various water attractions so that they fit better within our environment. For example the standard wave pool we are all familiar with appears too geometric, so instead we have invented the ‘lagoon’ wave pool with a different set up for the wave generators. This allows us to have lower edge walls and a more organic overall shape.
Guest comfort is crucial! So that our visitors enjoy staying in Aqua Mundo, and continue to rank it as their top attraction, we provide plenty of deck space for them to relax in this tropical haven, and we’ve improved the acoustics too. Special attention is given to the changing rooms, as they provide the first and last impression.
Architecture shouldn’t be forgotten either, as it also sends the message to guests that, “we treat you well”. The look we aim for is contemporary yet timeless, and the main materials are wood and glass. Because the interior is dominated by the tropical jungle atmosphere, the roof is designed to transmit as much natural light as possible to create the illusion of real sky. We now use ETFE, a transparent lightweight material that minimalises the overall structure and provides the correct light for our plants .
You can see the next generation of Aqua Mundo for yourself at our Trois Forêts (‘Three Forests’) park in Moselle, eastern France, and we will continue to innovate as we open new destinations or refurbish existing ones. Integral to this will be the introduction of storylines, giving us more theming opportunities to conceal equipment such as slide towers, plus more outdoor water attractions and new interactive experiences. Let’s meet again in a few years to see how we have perfected this water world for the 21st Century!
Michel Linet-Frion is creative director for the Pierre & Vacances group, which operates among other brands over 20 Center Parcs properties across France, Germany and the Benelux.