Friday, June 27, 2008

Come One, Come All...

Coney Island’s History Project Preserves A Legend

While we’re busy having fun this season making memories to mark the summer, those who remember the past and chronicle the histories of our great parks are playing an equally important role. One such venture, the non-profit Coney Island History Project (CIHP), located at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, is keeping the park’s incredible history alive with ride exhibits and oral history accounts from former employees and guests.

“If you have visited, lived in, or worked at Coney in the past and have a story to share, we’d love to do an in-person or phone interview for our Coney Island Voices Project,” says Tricia Vita, the program's administrative director. Anyone from ride operators and maintenance crews to locals and one-time riders are encouraged to share their memories for a well-rounded appreciation of the park’s history. Select interviews are currently posted on the project’s web site for visitors to enjoy. (Visitors are pictured below, right recording their experiences.)

Meanwhile, visitors to Coney Island this summer will find an added bonus at the project’s exhibition center, open free to the public and located under the classic "Cyclone" roller coaster (Fridays to Sundays, 1 – 6 p.m. through Labor Day). On display are historic artifacts from Coney’s colorful past, including vintage photos and films, a Steeplechase horse, and an exhibit on ride manufacturer William Mangels, complete with a Mangels Fairy Whip car, circa 1920.

The CIHP, founded in 2004, recently gave its web site a fresh look. It now features a searchable artifact database from the park, a link to photos from the project’s visitors and exhibits, and “Ask Mr. Coney Island,” where site visitors can inquire about the park’s past, present, and future.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

More from FUNWORLD... A Deeper Look at Miami's Cool-de-Sac Play Cafe

In July’s Quick Hits, I wrote about Cool-de-Sac Play Café, a new family entertainment center in Miami. What’s special about Cool-de-Sac is they understand parents want entertainment and education for their kids to be mixed in with a fun place to hang out themselves. Basically, they want to let kids run loose without getting bored watching from the sidelines. Here’s an extended look at this new “edu-tainment” center and all it offers.

What it is: Cool-de-Sac Play Café is an “edu-tainment” center of more than 8,000 square feet, fit for kids age 3 to 9, although activities exist for the toddler to 12-year-old set. Owner Jose Luis Bueno says one defining quality of Cool-de-Sac is staffers’ interactions with kids. “It’s rewarding when returning children see a team member they played with days ago, yell out their name, and run over for a hug,” Bueno says. “That’s a testament to our people.”

How It Happened: Attributing the idea to being a dad, a native of Venezuela who had just moved to Miami, Bueno realized the potential for an attraction when he visited a shopping center with his wife, who was having a difficult time finding activities to enjoy with her twin infants and toddler. “I remember her being completely desperate to find something [to do] and finding nothing,” he says.
Bueno explains that while Miami doesn’t lack activities, you can only take a toddler and two infants to the beach so much. So he went with his wife and friends on a play date to a shopping center and bookstore in South Miami. “I made a surprising discovery,” he recalls. “There were seven or eight moms sitting on the carpet having coffee while their kids were playing at the Thomas the Train table. I thought, ‘There has to be a business opportunity here.’” So after nearly four years of extensive research—including focus groups, hiring a firm to develop the “brand DNA,” working with industry consultants, and hiring an opening management team—Cool-de-Sac finally came to life. So far the reactions have been overwhelming, with the center gaining regular visitors who come up to three times a week.

What’s Unique: Its nutritionist-reviewed high-quality menu, staffed and supervised activity stations for kids, and consistent, creative themes Bueno says were inspired by attractions from Disney. Another plus: Cool-de-Sac staffers say with all the activities available, kids can keep busy for three to five hours!

What It Has: An arts and crafts area, a computer center with educational games, and “City Alley,” a black-light party room, where social interaction and physical activity are encouraged. Some of the other stations include a play unit, blocks, a play salon, and a toddler play area.
Adding to the atmosphere, parents can keep a close eye on kids while enjoying gourmet-style food like grilled mahi-mahi filet with fresh fruit salsa, goat cheese salad, and margherita pizza with fresh and homemade ingredients. See the center’s full menu here.
All-inclusive, hassle-free birthday parties are also available, and the staff has partnered with a childhood education professional to design curricula for morning parent/children classes.

Who’s Involved: A management team recruited from entertainment and restaurant companies. Amy Madsen, general manager at Cool-de-Sac, brings training experience from places like Namco’s Pac-Man Café, GameWorks, and Six Flags Great America in Illinois, where she worked for 11 years. “She brings a wealth of knowledge on what it takes to run an efficient operation and how to select the people who will bring our vision to life,” Bueno says.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

July FUNWORLD on the Move

The July issue of FUNWORLD arrived at our offices this week, which means it should arriving at your offices very soon.

First off, big round of applause for our own Departments Editor Marion Hixon, who authors her very first FW cover story this month. She interviewed key players from France's Puy du Fou, an amusement park unique in the fact that its only attractions are live shows—no roller coasters required! The story investigates the park's deep community/volunteer relationship, how it markets itself, and how directors find talented actors to fill so many roles (hint: most people play multiple parts in multiple shows). And be sure to check out the stunning photography from Alain Moneger; it's some of the best we've ever featured in the magazine.

With Puy du Fou as a lead-in, the July issue has several other live entertainment-related items for your perusal:

• How small parks benefit from offering live acts—for free!
• How to hire costumed characters

We also have feature stories on how facilities are handling rising food prices, how FECs can make their redemption counters more appealing to guests, and how to protect yourself from employee theft, and more.

And as you will see on the back page of this issue, next month brings one of our favorite editions of the year: the massive annual New Rides and Attractions special section. So be on the lookout for that, and watch "In the Queue," as well, for extra info from July.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Business Etiquette

This week my editor, Amanda Charney, and I attended the annual conference for the Society of National Association Publications. One of the featured speakers at the event was Peggy Post, great-granddaughter-in-law of Emily Post, the 20th century etiquette guru.

Though she is a well-documented expert in all forms of etiquette (which some would say is a dying—or dead—art), for her speech Tuesday Peggy focused specifically on etiquette at the workplace. Here are a few of her tips for building better relationships on the job:

—Be on time and meet your commitments
—Take responsibility for your mistakes: apologize and have a solution
—Be prepared
—Know your actions outside of work affect you and your organization

For that last one, Peggy told a story about a person who was cut off while driving to a business meeting. The person made a, er, rude gesture at the offending driver; but when the businessman reached his destination, he realized his meeting was actually with the rude driver. Ouch. That's an uncomfortable handshake (hmm, where have I seen that finger before …).

In 2005, Peggy and her husband, Peter Post, published a compendium entitled "The Etiquette Advantage in Business (Second Edition)." I picked up a copy at the conference and have been amazed at the breadth of tips contained within, and that's only after flipping through a few pages. It seems to cover every conceivable social situation relating to work—both inside and outside of the office. A quick glance reveals topics such as:

—Correct business attire and grooming
—Manners for the workspace (be it office or cubicle)
—Table manners and tips for surviving other business-related social gatherings
—How to behave when traveling (both en route and once you arrive)
—Proper electronic communication

That's just a small taste of a 350-page hardback volume that gets down to the tiniest details—like if it's appropriate to kiss a colleague on the cheek or whether it's OK to shave or put on makeup in the office restroom.

All in all, it seems like a fascinating reference book that I'll return to many times throughout my career, in hopes of avoiding awkward business situations in the future. I wonder if there's something in there for what to do when you lock yourself out of your Hong Kong hotel room at 7 in the morning wearing only what you slept in the night before and the housekeeper tells you you have to go all the way down to the gorgeous lobby and most likely run into colleagues in your bare feet … yeah, could have used that three summers ago …

Anyway, if you'd like more information on all things etiquette, visit the official Emily Post web site here. And here is more information about this book.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Yes, IAAPA Is a Good Place to Work

For more than a decade I've been sticking tape recorders and cameras in people's faces and asking them to talk and smile. A few weeks ago, the tables were turned on me for the first time.

I was profiled in Sunday's edition of The Washington Post, for the paper's "Sunday Source" lifestyle section. You can read the article here. The reporter interviewed several people in the D.C. area who work at … unusual trade associations. He was looking around for association names that sounded fun/cool and landed on us—having "amusement parks" in our name was a big key, obviously. 

He first contacted Sarah Gmyr, our media relations manager, and asked if anyone in our office gets to do anything fun as a part of the job. Now, a lot of people in this building get to do a lot of incredible traveling and see some amazing things; we're all lucky to work here, as far as I'm concerned. But Sarah recommended me because I'm the only one who regularly gets on the rides as part of my actual job—not just a fringe benefit. (For those who may not know, I visit as many parks as I can in the spring to cover their new rides and attractions—be sure to watch for our annual New Rides and Attractions special section this August covering new stuff from around the world.)

Case in point: The reporter talked to me on a Tuesday, and the very next day I was on my way to Hersheypark to get on the new "Fahrenheit" coaster up there. The Post thought this was a great idea for a picture, so they had a photographer meet me at the park to snap some pics. This was a big shift for me, because I'm typically the guy shadowing a photographer on FUNWORLD projects, not the other way around (some of you reading this may have even been on a cover at some point). It went OK, though—I was able to use my experience setting up shots in parks to help the photographer scout locations. The picture he took of me (and my brother, lucky dog that he is) riding in the front row of "Fahrenheit" turned out really cool, and the Post used it as the cover for the section. Big thanks to Kathy Burrows, PR manager at Hersheypark, and her team for helping us set the shoot up basically on a few hours' notice!

The reporter quoted me accurately in the story: This is the dream job I never knew about until I got it. I never thought I'd find a place where I honestly enjoy coming into work—and not just on days I'm visiting a park! So thanks to those of you out there who have given me a few moments of your time in interviews or providing me with the critical info I need to do my job.

To answer the headline's question: Yes, this is work, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun. I certainly don't take it for granted.

Friday, June 6, 2008

FUNWORLD Follow-up: Madison Children's Museum

I don't know when the "going green" phrase came into the culture, but the first time I heard it was about three years ago when I visited the Madison Children's Museum in Wisconsin for a cover story on its efforts in green exhibit design.

At the end of that story—which you can read here—I mentioned how excited the museum's two lead designers were to move into a different building nearby in downtown Madison, allowing them essentially a blank canvas to design with sustainability (that's another word I learned on that trip, by the way) from Day 1.

The museum took another big step recently when it unveiled plans for the new building (see rendering above) in a ceremony out front of what was, at one time, a department store. You can find more info about the project (and the museum's capital campaign to raise $10 million in funding) here, which includes a virtual tour of the new facility; check out coverage of the announcement in Madison's Capital Times here.

I also touched base with John Robinson, one of the designers I interviewed for the cover story, to get an update on their progress. He told me:

"We are still on track to open a new, expanded and much greener facility. We intend to take everything we learned from developing our green exhibits and apply the lessons far more aggressively in our new building."

Robinson said the plan is start serious demolition and reconstruction on the new building this fall, with a target opening date of late 2010.