A Pair of Retreats Thrive
West Fair Online—August 12, 2011
Attendance at Fishkill's Splashdown Beach this summer stood at 115,000 visitors as Aug. 5 dawned hot and steamy, promising another packed house. The five-year record of 150,000 could fall this year.
Across the river, the same owner, Steve Turk, hopes to attract another 120,000 to his Rocking Horse Ranch Resort, a full-amenity, year-round destination. The business plan of good, clean fun could have been dreamed up by Walt Disney and Turk is not shy about sharing credit: "Disney sets the standard and we emulate Disney."
That includes outreach: If there is "a densely populated area" between New Hampshire and Philadelphia, including high above I-87 on the Bronx-Yonkers border, there's a chance of spotting one of Turk's billboards. "We've even gone for some digital billboards," he said. De rigueur, there is a flashy website and, tellingly, the billboards offer no phone number and no web address – Google takes care of everything.
The Route 9 Splashdown facility (north of I-84) boasts a new Bob the Builder water area that opened Memorial Day weekend and has proven a big hit with the toddler set.
Bob the Builder is part of a Splashdown push for a 1- to 5-year-old demographic and to cement itself as a destination for young families. Young Ava Santosusso of Yorktown Heights laughed her approval from a safety swing above a gusher of water. Her parents, Michael and Lisa Santosusso, concurred: "She loves Bob the Builder."
"Bob has really helped us bring in that family market," general manager Andrew Chafatelli said.
Chafatelli confessed an unforeseen variable was the foam Bob costume itself: accommodating a finite body-size range and requiring a hardy soul who can bound about as temperatures in the sunshine soar past 100 degrees. Still, it's rewarding work: "When Bob appears he gets mobbed. He's been great. He seems to attract more of the families. Strollers are lined up on the weekends. He's been a huge hit."
Bob the Builder notwithstanding, July and early August have been hot – regionally 2 degrees above normal according to the National Weather Service – and Chafatelli did not hesitate regarding the correlation between the thermometer and attendance.
"Absolutely," he said, noting that on a hot weekend day, "We can get 3,000-4,000 people. But it actually spreads out pretty evenly across the week because we get so many campers."
As he talks, Chafatelli picks up a stray candy wrapper near a table. The park is, per Turk's Disneyesque eye for detail, spotless.
Adult tickets are $29.99 and children and seniors are $25.99; kids under 2 are free.
"Right now, we're up over normal," Chafatelli said. "Hopefully August will be good. We had a great July. June was slow because of the weather, but July was our busiest July on the record books." Last year the park attracted a total 150,000. Chafatelli said the park is ahead of that pace this year.
Dutchess County Tourism is on board, citing Splashdown's "latest in thrill ride technology: the Bullet Bowl, a four-story ride that satisfies the wildest thrill seeker." Poughkeepsie-based Cosimo's is now in its fourth year with the food concession: "Going great," Chafatelli said. Nathan's Famous, the hot dog company, operates one of its official franchises at Splashdown and used the water park for the semifinals of its international hot dog-eating contest (the finals are at Coney Island every year). "We had a couple of the big guys here," Chafatelli said. "One guy ate 30-something hot dogs."
There are a total 18 acres and 1 million gallons of water course through the park at any given moment. "We take great pride in our water management," Turk said, noting it has won awards. "It's a big task and we take it very seriously." He describes the water as "filtered and crystal clear at all times."
The Lazy River ride – 800 feet on an inner tube – contains 185,000 gallons. Parents who want to relax without the stimulus of Bob or Shipwreck Lagoon are afforded the Coconut Pool, whose wading-depth (3' 6") and flat bottom mean no stepping off into a potentially dunkable deep end.
Overseeing the Coconut Pool, two-year lifeguard Candace Cormier of Poughkeepsie said the attraction equation involves is "a nice environment, friendly people and a fun place."
Rocking Horse Ranch is a full-spectrum resort with lodging, horses and boats, across the Hudson River in Highland. Rocking Horse, too, has a water park: a 7,000-square-foot indoor facility. Rocking Horse, like Splashdown, employs 300 people; 120,000 guests will pass through its doors this year.
"It seems as long as I stay within my footprint of appealing to young families, we do well," Turk said. "We focus tremendously on cleanliness, safety and good food. We have found you do not need the tallest roller coaster. Ambience, cleanliness and a friendly staff are what matters, providing a safety zone."
Turk cites the Disney parks – "They do everything right" – as his models: "Even our gardens are award-winning," he said. "They're very inviting to just walk around."
See the full article at West Fair Online.