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Sage Hospitality Resources Finding Success Adding Coco Key Water Parks
 to Hotels; Have Four Open with Five More Planned

By Marc Silvestrini, Waterbury Republican-American, Conn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Sep. 2, 2007 - DANVERS, Mass. -- It's roughly 145 miles from their home in Terryville to Danvers, but Bill and Vicky Brown say they would have made the trip even if had it been twice the distance.

After all, their water-logged 6-year-old twins, Jake and Colby, were having the time of their young lives at the Coco Key Water Resort at the Sheraton Ferncroft Resort hotel that overlooks this pleasant Route 128 bedroom community about 15 miles north of Boston. "This is just wonderful," Vicky Brown said as she and her husband sat in their bathing suits at a small cafe-style table overlooking Parrot Perch, one of several interactive play areas within the water resort. "The kids absolutely love this place. We've been down here for five hours today. They can't get enough of it."

Bill Brown said a day with his family at the water park is even better than a day at the beach.

"It's a lot more secure here," he explained. "The kids are more confined here. They can't really take off and get into trouble. There's nowhere dangerous for them to go."

The Sheraton Ferncroft in Danvers is operated by Sage Hospitality Resources LLC of Denver, the same company that bought the Connecticut Grand Hotel & Conference Center at 3580 East Main St. in Waterbury in June.

Sage expects to convert the 282-room Waterbury property into a Holiday Inn later this year, but will try to keep the words "Connecticut Grand" in the hotel's name because of its strong brand recognition locally, said Brad McCready, the company's vice president of sales. The firm plans to add an indoor water park to its Waterbury hotel that will be similar in size and scope to the 65,000-square-foot park in Danvers, McCready said. The Waterbury resort will take about a year to build once construction begins, he said.

The company expects to spend about $25 million on the project. Construction on the Danvers water park began in July 2006, said Edward Carey, the hotel's director of sales and marketing. The park opened May 15.

McCready said the water resort for Waterbury is still being designed. The trick is to design the park so it offers guests who want to take advantage of it the maximum amount of recreation and enjoyment, while minimizing its impact on guests who don't want to use it. "We're still in the process of figuring out the best way to place the water resort on the existing footprint," he said. McCready said the company hopes to finish the planning and permitting work and actually start construction by late 2007. At that rate, the resort would be ready to open by late 2008, he said. He also said the company is eagerly anticipating opening its second water resort in New England because the Danvers park was so well received.

"It's made us very eager to pursue the project in Waterbury," he said. "We're really in a hurry to push that envelope."

If the Danvers water park is any barometer of what to expect on East Main Street, Greater Waterbury residents are in for the same kind of excitement the Brown family experienced.

The Massachusetts water park was built in an employee parking lot toward the rear of the hotel, and has its own entrance and parking lot. It includes a large amphitheater that contains the water park, and surrounding areas that include a 3,000-square-foot, fully-equipped game arcade, men's and women's dressing rooms, and five party rooms for groups of up to 20 children for birthday parties and other social gatherings.

The rooms can also be combined to form rooms large enough for groups of 50 to 75 children.

Party rooms rent for prices ranging from $29 to $44 per child, depending on the day of the week and the number of children in the party, Carey said. The typical rental includes four hours of water park access for the entire group.

The main amphitheater, which is fully handicapped-accessible, contains the water resort itself [Dash] five independent bodies of water surrounded by a slow-moving, 321-foot long, 2- to 3-foot deep river ideal for tubing.

The water park is flanked by an indoor/outdoor spa and whirlpool at one end, and by seven 10-foot by 12-foot cabanas that can be rented for the day at the other. Each cabana, at $150 per day, contains a refrigerator, a safe, plenty of seating and a flat-screen television. Designed primarily for children from age 4 through the mid-teens, and mothers with toddlers, the water park contains 190,000 gallons of water, 78 percent of which is filtered and recycled. The water and air temperatures are kept at 84 degrees to prevent children from getting a chill as they jump in and out of the water.

There are always between 14 and 23 lifeguards on duty, depending on the number of visitors, Carey said.

The water park includes a shallow area reserved for small children. It contains gentle water slides and a pirate ship playscape. At the other end of the spectrum, the park features a 45-foot-tall tower from which older children can enter four water slides that average more than 300 feet in length.

The water slides include the Shark Slam, a 286-foot-long body slide with jarring curves; the Gator Gush, a 275-foot, full-speed body slide with banked turns; the Barracuda Blast, a 339-foot, 1- or 2-person raft ride, and the Pelican Plunge, a 352-foot, 1- or 2-person raft ride that plunges into a splash.

Note to the squeamish: One body slide is well lit, the other is pitch black. The same is true for the tube slides.

Parrot Perch, the section of the park where the Brown twins were frolicking, features water slides, a couple of water cannons, bridges, catwalks and an elevated 300-gallon bucket that every 7 minutes drenches anyone strolling beneath it. Another section of the park, Coral Reef Cavern, features a rope-and-lily-pad bridge, water basketball hoops and an animated coral reef backdrop that changes as you watch. There's also a "Dip-In" theater, where you can watch first-run movies or cartoons while floating on a tube, and a lagoon that functions as a gentle wave pool. The park also has a Pizza Hut outlet and an A&W Root Beer stand, with plenty of circular tables overlooking the water areas. There is also a bar area overlooking the water where adults can enjoy a drink or watch a game on one of five flat-screen TVs.

The water park has averaged between 500 and 550 visitors a day during the week since it opened in May, and between 600 and 650 visitors on weekends, Carey said.

"We've had three very successful months," he said. "We've exceeded all the projections, all the expectations, despite the fact that we've only been open during months when we've had to compete with the beaches in Maine and New Hampshire and Cape Cod." The colder months might bring an even greater number of visitors to the park, Carey said.

"We're anxious to see what happens when it's 10 degrees outside with a foot of snow on the ground. I have a feeling things are going to get real interesting around here when that happens." The water park is open to all guests at the 367-room hotel, including those who purchase special $189 overnight packages that allow four people into the water park, Carey said. The park is also open to parents and organizations who book the party rooms and their guests, and individuals who purchase a minimum of four family passes to the park online and in advance. Family passes to the park are $15 to $40 per ticket, depending on the day of the week you request. Park passes cannot be purchased at the door. They are only available through advance purchases so the hotel can better monitor and control crowd size, Carey said. "This way we always have some idea of how many people are coming to the park on any given day." Danvers was the fourth hotel in the Sage chain to open a water resort. Waterbury is expected to be the ninth total and the second in New England, McCready said.

Though the success of the concept in Danvers has raised the expectations of everyone associated with the Waterbury property, Danvers could prove a tough act to follow.

"I think it's awesome," said Susan Drake of Stoneham, Mass., who spent two nights at the hotel with her 11-year-old son, Paul. "It's got everything, including that huge bucket of water that just keeps dumping on people, and all those great slides."

She then described her ride on the Pelican Plunge tube slide with her son.

"We shot out of there so fast I couldn't believe it," she concluded. "It was awesome."

4 DOWN, 5 TO GO:

The former Connecticut Grand Hotel & Conference Center in Waterbury is expected to be the ninth hotel in the Sage Hospitality Resources chain to open a Coco Key Water Resort. A glance at the chain's four existing water parks, the five it plans to open, and the opening dates:

OPEN:

--Cherry Valley, Ohio, early 2006

--Arlington Heights, Ill., December 2006

--Rockford, Ill., January 2007

--Danvers, Mass., May 2007

COMING:

--Omaha, Neb., September 2007

--Cincinnati, Ohio, October 2007

--Kansas City, Mo., spring 2008

--Mount Laurel, N.J., fall 2008

--Waterbury, Conn., late 2008

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To see more of the Waterbury Republican-American, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.rep-am.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, Waterbury Republican-American, Conn.

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