As Kalahari Resort continues to expand outward, its leaders are turning their attention inward and downward. They plan to take guests where no guest has gone before.
As part of the "Beyond the Slides" tour, Kalahari associates will lead guests through vital areas previously only accessible to employees for an exclusive look at the Perkins Township resort's inner workings and intricate operations.
Borrowing a page from Disney World, Kalahari has created an underground tunnel system that allows workers to travel from one end of the resort to the other and perform most of their duties without being noticed by guests. It is here where food and beverages are delivered and stocked, soda is piped to various machines, massive amounts of sheets and towels are laundered, pool water is filtered, and other necessary operations are carried out.
Guests taking the tour discover how Kalahari's FlowRider surfing attraction produces 5-foot waves. They also can observe a filtration system that pumps more than a million gallons of water per day and will see the housekeeping facility that handles 17,000 pounds of laundry each week.
"A visit to Kalahari is an experience beyond any other," said Todd Nelson, the president and owner of Kalahari Resorts who conducted a tour for reporters and area dignitaries Wednesday. "We wanted to give our guests the opportunity to enhance their Kalahari adventure with a behind-the-scenes tour. As our resort continues to evolve, our goal is to share the excitement and discovery with our guests."
As tour-goers explore the bowels of the indoor waterpark resort, they will encounter little interesting fact signs that reveal details about Kalahari's operations. For instance, one sign tells Kalahari's daily utility costs $1,050 for water, $1,550 for electricity and $1,600 for gas, which totals $4,200 every 24 hours.
"To see what it takes to operate all of this stuff, it's just truly amazing," Nelson said.
The complimentary tours will begin Oct. 13 and will be offered at 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and 6 p.m. Tuesdays. Each tour can accommodate up to 12 guests (ages 12 and up) who are asked to reserve their spots by calling the hotel concierge desk at (419) 433-7200. Following the tour, each guest will receive a themed T-shirt.
"This is a great time to trek beyond the slides at Kalahari," Nelson said. "We are on track to open the nation's largest indoor waterpark at Kalahari Resort in Sandusky on Dec. 21 and there's so much to see and experience."
Nelson also conducted a hard-hat tour of the expansion project Wednesday. The 93,000 square foot addition will more than double the size of Kalahari's existing 80,000 square foot waterpark and feature several innovative amenities, including a Texlon transparent roof. The "intelligent" roof system allows in natural light, enabling live foliage such as palm trees to grow and softening acoustic conditions. It also allows sunbathers on a large deck to get a tan even in January, Nelson said.
The addition calls for a second surfing ride, as well as a 12,000 square foot wave pool, a Behemoth Bowl ride that rotates two to four people through its 60-foot diameter bowl, mat racers that take guests down a 55-foot incline, another tube slide, an indoor/outdoor spa with a swim-up bar, a 3,700 square foot basketball pool and a 2,500 square foot children's play area.
Speaking of the area designed for preschoolers and toddlers, 16 mini slides are planned, none taller than 6 feet. "For a 2-year-old, a 6-foot-tall slide looks like a monster," Nelson said.
Nelson estimates a completion date near Dec. 1, allowing three weeks for the business to obtain permits and handle any other matters before the Dec. 21 opening. "We've done many, many projects, and we've never been late once," Nelson said. "This one won't be the first. With (Walbridge-based general contractor) Rudolph Libbe leading the charge, we're 100 percent confident."
Kalahari expects to increase its lifeguard staff from 200 to 350 and add a total of 300 more employees. The resort's payroll totaled $8.6 million in 2006 and is projected to exceed $10 million this year.
What's more, when 288 additional guest rooms open as part of the waterpark expansion, Kalahari can boast about being Ohio's largest hotel with 884 rooms available.
"There have been huge benefits from the indoor waterpark industry," said Nelson, whose company also owns a Kalahari resort in Wisconsin Dells, Wis. aka the "Waterpark Capital of the World. "Sandusky opened their arms to us wide open, and we're awfully glad to be here."
Kalahari, located on U.S. 250 about nine miles north of Huron County, became Ohio's largest indoor waterpark when it opened the $120 million facility in May 2005. A series of expansions on the 141-acre site followed, including an outdoor waterpark, condominiums and the $19 million NIA Center conference facility.
The indoor waterpark expansion and the addition of 90 more condominiums will cost more than $50 million, Nelson said.
By the way, Nelson revealed Kalahari has enough available land to expand the indoor waterpark one more time, a project that conceivably would be similar in size to the current one. But no plans for that are in the works.