Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine Flu Info

Yesterday IAAPA posted a list of resources for swine flu information. You can find that page here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

May FUNWORLD: Religious Attractions

The May issue of FUNWORLD is out, and you can find it either in your mailboxes (already? soon, hopefully?) or online via the magazine's digital edition.

This month's main feature is actually a two-part package examining religious-themed attractions from around the world. The cover story is a Q&A with Maria Ferro of Tierra Santa ("Holy Land") in Argentina; she discusses, among several topics, the park's history and how although it is a Christian-based facility it caters to a wide range of religions.

The second half of the combo, from News Editor Keith Miller, examines other religious-themed attractions from around the world, highlighting how they present themselves to the marketplace, and the unique challenges this particular industry segment faces. On a related note: While we were visiting Kings Island for "Diamondback," Keith and I got a chance to check out the Creation Museum in Kentucky; one of Keith's excellent observations was how prominently the museum features dinosaurs in its exhibits and marketing—as he said, what better way to grab kids' attention?

The May FUNWORLD also has a story updating the Hard Rock Park saga, which is now known as Freestyle Music Park. I interviewed Steve Baker of Baker Leisure Group, the managing company of the rebranded facility, and picked his brain about how the ownership team came together and how they plan to make the park a success.

The new issue also features:
• Our Digital World column, this time focused on how to keep web surfers from leaving your landing page.
• A Game Report from the ASI show.
• The first FUNWORLD crossword puzzle! How closely have you been reading lately?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Riding Coasters for a Good Cause

This weekend a few coaster fans are going to spend a day at Kings Dominion in Virginia taking as many laps on roller coasters as they possibly can.

What's so special about that? Well, these specific fans are riding for a very special cause: Give Kids The World.

On Sunday the Coaster Crew will hold its third annual Single Riders event at KD. Two-person teams will set up shop on the loading platforms of four coasters and wait for single seats to come available on the trains. The Crewers will then fill the empties, riding as many times as they can throughout the day. Each member has recruited sponsorship commitments on a per-lap basis, so the more rides they take, the more money they'll earn for GKTW.

"It's just a testament to the creativity that occurs when people embrace our mission and apply that passion to what they do in their everyday lives," said Pam Landwirth, president of GKTW, about the Coaster Crew members. "It all helps [financially], and it will generate awareness for the Village. It's fabulous."

The Single Riders event already donated nearly $9,000 to the charity in its first two years, and the group hopes to raise $4,000 this weekend. For more information on Single Riders click here, or to make a donation, click here.

To find out more about why GKTW is such a worthy cause, visit the organization's official web site. It'll take you, oh, about 1 second to understand why the place is so incredible.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cleaning House: An extended FUNWORLD interview with Bradley Drury of Hydro Systems

For our April Quick Hits, I interviewed Bradley Drury, project manager at Hydro Systems, about the company’s new ICS 8900 series (being used at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, at right), and learned more than I ever imagined about the technical aspects of cleaning public areas. He filled me in on how it’s done right, how it’s done wrong, and all the different areas that need cleaning. Here’s an extended portion of our conversation.

On how Hydro Systems got into the attractions industry: “We launched the ICS 8900 system in fall of 2007. Last year was our first full year of marketing, and our original target market was education and health care—that still represents the bulk of our sales. The more we got involved, the more we realized the theme park market would be a good fit. By the time we formed our relationship with Six Flags, it was the end of the season.
Then we decided to become members of IAAPA because when we looked at industries that were making use of the ICS—people buy them for two different reasons: looking to improve their productivity or looking to improve their sanitary standards and the ICS will do both.”

On the common challenges and issues of cleaning public areas: “Restrooms are the number-one source of complaints that facility managers continually struggle with. Nobody wants to do it so they get in and out of there as quickly as possible. If you’re not careful, you’ll get someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing when they clean and it won’t get done properly.
The benefits of touchless cleaning is that it takes an unpleasant task and makes it much less of a demotivator—it’s far more likely that it’ll get done properly and it also helps control staff turnover. There’s undoubtedly a cost benefit associated with training staff and reducing the turnover in that specific area.
What’s unique to the environments which need the most cleaning—parks, cruise ships, and fitness facilities, for example—is that each has a high occurrence of multiple people sharing the same facility. A lot of people will use the same shower or exercise equipment and that’s where staff outbreaks tend to occur.
If the technology and chemicals exist, why are there still outbreaks? We believe it’s because the tools are available but people don’t use them properly. Since our product is easy to use and not unpleasant, people tend to use it properly—allowing the appropriate dwell/contact time between the chemical and the surface (i.e. not wiping it off immediately). With traditional cleaning, people don’t allow that—most chemicals need a dwell time of at least five minutes.”

On how the ICS 8900 Works: “Hydro Systems is a manufacturer of chemical dosing and distributing systems. Ninety-nine percent of the products we sell get mounted on the wall, so we thought, ‘Let’s take that technology and put it in a mobile system.’
Staffers can wheel the ICS to where they want to clean and not the other way around. In less than a second, the ICS coats the entire surface through a spray gun attached to a pressure hose. Fill it up with fresh water and up to four cleaning chemicals—detergents, degreasers, sanitizers, etc.—and meanwhile, water is the only liquid that enters or leaves the water tank—it’s always fresh for the rinse setting. The cart does the work of what many parks are already trying to do with hand sanitizer stations. Most of the time, after dispensing the cleaner, the surface can air dry—what’s dispensed is a fine mist, not soaking water. Rides that have recently been cleaned don’t need to be out of commission for a while. You can use the ICS wherever you currently use a mop or a spray bottle: tile, metal, etc. There’s an advantage for us in not selling the chemical—it doesn’t require the facility to change their chemical provider. There’s no re-training of different chemicals. Whatever they’re comfortable with, they can stick with. Our inspiration was to bring the dispenser to the dirt.”

Learn more about Hydro Systems at

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

'Diamondback' Slithers into Kings Island

I was at Kings Island (located outside Cincinnati) over the weekend for the premiere of "Diamondback," the park's massive new steel coaster from Bolliger & Mabillard, and was pleased with everything I saw.

First, the coaster: It's huge and fast (duh—it's a B&M hyper), topping out at 230 feet and 80 miles per hour, with 5,282 feet of track and an estimated hourly capacity of 1,620 riders (if you want the full stats breakdown, click here).

Of particular note is its new-style trains, which follow last year's "Behemoth" at fellow Cedar Fair-owned park Canada's Wonderland. The seats are the same as other B&M hypers—with the signature T-bar restraint across the rider's lap—but their orientation is new. Instead of four straight across, the two middle seats are moved "forward" on the car for a staggered effect (there's a good rendering here).

Walter Bolliger, on hand for the opening, told me the idea behind the new trains is to bring more equanimity to every spot on the train by attempting to give the people in the middle two seats as good a view as the people on the outside. I always assumed this meant out the sides, since now there isn't anyone next to you when sitting in the middle. What surprised me was how well the entire field of vision is improved, because with the two seats directly in front of you also moved forward and no longer right in front of your face, you have angles diagonally out the front never possible before. Of course nothing compares to the front seat, but the experience is much more like riding in the front than I expected.

And there's more: The two "rear" seats on each car are still plenty close enough to converse with your riding partner easily, and by breaking up the rows of four into rows of two, loading efficiency is now exactly like traditional two-across trains (the station queues are for every two seats, not four as in previous B&M hypers).

The new seating arrangement also meant, of course, a longer train. Bolliger said his team studied this long and hard to see how it would effect the experience, and said the added benefit is even more air time now. I didn't know how that could be possible on a type of coaster already certified as a flotation device, but it's true; it's tough to compare coaster-to-coaster when the layouts are so different, but it sure felt like a ton of hang time on "Diamondback."

A couple more items and then I'll stop babbling about this coaster:

1. Bolliger loves how the ride interacts with the terrain. Take a look at the layout; once the train hits that third hill and takes a left turn, imagine that entire section of the track in a wooded area. The trees weren't full yet, but once they are I imagine that'll be a great trip reminiscent of "The Beast." The splashdown effect finale is also quite eye-catching from the midway—that plume gets up there. Of course, it's not like you can possibly miss "Diamondback"—it's effectively rearranged the Mason, Ohio, skyline.

2. Speaking of "The Beast," the classic celebrates its 30th birthday this year, and KI officials are hopeful "Diamondback" will reprise the venerable wooden coaster's role as a national calling card.

“Some years feel special, and this is our special year,” said Kings Island VP and GM Greg Scheid. “It’s been 30 years since ‘Beast’ opened. ‘Diamondback’ will be right on the tails of ‘The Beast’ and I think we’re going to have a new fan favorite here in the park.”

Scheid told me he hopes the new coaster “can offset the downturn in the economy. This coaster can maintain or improve our attendance this year.” KI spokesman Don Helbig also referenced "The Beast" when discussing "Diamondback," saying: “It took Kings Island from a regional attraction to nationwide, where everyone wanted to come just to ride ‘The Beast.’ We’re getting that same kind of feedback throughout the winter and early spring.”

Uh, yeah. Kings Island was mobbed Saturday on its season-opening day, with obvious attention focused squarely on the new coaster. The sign at the start of the queue says the wait from that point is 120 minutes; the line went way beyond that all day, stretching at least another hour's worth back onto the midway (they brought in stiltwalkers to entertain the crowd).

In a cool marketing touch, Kings Island gave away "First Rider" T-shirts to the first 10,000 people on "Diamondback" Saturday (the first couple hundred were even numbered on the back); it didn't take long before the "Diamondback" logo was visible on moving bodies all over the park.

I wore mine the next day for the flight home from the Columbus airport, about 75 miles from Kings Island. As I was walking through the metal detector at security, of all places, the screener spotted my shirt and asked me about the coaster—just a small testament to the reach Kings Island officials hope this big snake of a ride will have.

Monday, April 20, 2009

More from April's FUNWORLD: A deeper look at the waterpark industry

For our waterpark industry report in April’s FUNWORLD, I interviewed George Rohman, operations manager at Morey’s Piers & Beachfront Waterparks in Wildwood, New Jersey; Andy Maurek, assistant manager of safety operations at Hyland Hills Water World in Denver, Colorado; and Scott Carothers, general manager of Wild Island Family Adventure Park in Sparks, Nevada. Here’s their extended comments on the 2009 outlook of the waterpark industry and topics ranging from finances to hot new food items.

FUNWORLD: With the current economy, how are you cutting costs while not compromising the customer experience?
Rohman: We have adjusted and somewhat reduced our capital and operational spending plans for 2009. Taking a conservative spending approach would be prudent and is good business sense. We hope to grow our weekday admissions specials, which offer a unique discount admission special on each weekday. This program was successful in 2007 and 2008, and growing mid-week business is an important component in our growth strategy.
Maurek: We’re definitely tightening our preseason spending by holding back on a few annual purchases—computers and small infrastructure items—and we’re holding prices, which we were originally raising. To draw guests, we’re looking into viral marketing but may wait a year depending on computer purchases.
Carothers (right): We have delayed our five-year growth strategy. We had planned the relocation of an existing ride, a new ride and tower, and the development of more deck space. All of that is now on hold until 2010. Here are a few cost-saving ideas we are thinking about or doing:
  1. Reducing the number of hours we operate Monday through Thursday (keeping Friday, Saturday, and Sunday the same)
  2. Staging the opening of rides and/or food outlets daily
  3. Maximizing cost savings by installing LED lights throughout the facility
  4. Working with vendors to lock in pricing on big-volume items for the summer season
  5. Looking closely at all associated costs within our operation
We believe 2009 will be the season of value. Consumers will be driven even more by real value obtained with their purchases. We are continuing to add to our season pass Island Advantage program. Some of its advantages include: park entry 15 minutes early; real dollar discounts at our miniature golf, go-kart, and bowling FEC (before, after, and during our waterpark season); birthday and private cabana priority booking and discounts; VIP bounce back entries into the waterpark for their guests; and possible programming ideas such as swim lessons and day camps. We will also continue to drive our daily special promotions that package food and entry into affordable pricing for families.

FW: Do you see advancement in the waterpark resort industry in the near future?
Rohman (left):
Absolutely—we think this concept will only grow in the future. Families are always looking for unique and immersive experiences to enjoy while taking a vacation. Recently, it appears families are taking several shorter vacations as opposed to one long vacation, and waterpark resorts fit this need very well.
Maurek: But we are losing some of the waterpark resorts as fast as they open so it will be interesting to see if the pipeline of resorts stays full.
Carothers: Not being directly involved in resort business I can only guess where advancements might come. Within our regional area, there have been numerous developments using the large resort/waterpark business model. Unfortunately they have all died in either the design stage and or the financing stage. With that said, there might be a shift from the large-scale indoor resorts to smaller, more niche-orientated ones. These smaller resorts could attempt to diversify their revenue stream from tourists to the local market with programming (swim lessons, day camps), birthday parties, and season passes. I believe you will also see year-round resorts and seasonal resorts being built or converted with solar and high efficiency standards.

FW: What seasonal staffing challenges have you run into in the past year, and do you have any new ideas to motivate and retain staffers?
Rohman: We do feel the current world economic environment may impact our international recruiting efforts this year, so we are monitoring them closely.
Maurek (right): We are looking at a good recruiting year as the high unemployment rate usually drives older people into jobs traditionally filled by 16- to 22-year-olds. When older employees can’t find their traditional positions, they come to us.
Carothers: 2009 will definitely be an employer's market. We feel the difficulty will be to find the right blend of young inexperienced employees we can mold for the future, and experienced older employees who can add to our employee depth. As far as motivation and retention, we have numerous programs based on what employees have told us they want (i.e. opportunities to grow or move up; added challenges and responsibility; money or gifts; and professional and social experience).

FW: What new trends do you see in ride design?
Maurek: We take into account factors of capacity, thrill, and target market; then we try to find the best ride to fit whichever category we’re trying to service.
Rohman: Recently, it seems attractions offering an interactive experience for an entire family are growing in popularity. Multilevel play structures fit this mold very well since they can handle high-capacity crowds while offering an interactive play experience. In addition, multiperson tube or raft attractions (bowls, tornadoes, mammoth rivers, etc.) are popular as a complete family attraction experience.
Carothers: I fully agree with George and Andy here. We are also spending money on the general appearance of our slides—sealing leaking seams and joints, repairing the fiberglass, and changing the color of one of our older rides. With our “added value” theme this year, we believe our new rides or attractions need to provide a true family experience. So from upgrading our private cabana area to selecting a new capital project we are constantly asking ourselves “Will a family remember, enjoy, and see the value of this ride, attraction, or service?”

FW: What about food and beverage trends?
Carothers: We are opening a new food outlet that will specialize in a healthy menu. All items will be a la carte and include: kid-sized chicken and rice bowls; peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; ham and turkey sandwiches; granola bars and light snacks like Cliff bars, Powerbars, and Luna bars; all types of fruit, including frozen grapes; water and other non-sugar specialty drinks, and no-calorie sodas.
Maurek: With the exception of Dippin’ Dots and a few of the standards, food trends seem to be regionally accepted. We added sopapillas last season and they were a huge hit. We also put in kids meals like chicken tenders, smiley fries, and a kid’s bag with a temporary tattoo—a big hit which may work well for everyone.

FW: What advice do you have for operators cutting costs, and is there anything you're looking forward to about the 2009 summer season?
Rohman: Attraction selection and facility designs, which take staffing into consideration, will always have an economic advantage for a waterpark operator. Attractions designed with staffing considerations can only help with managing expenses and help operators with the end result.
Maurek: Plan your park so you can use the least amount of staff—it is your largest ongoing expense. Try to become as energy efficient as you can—it is your next biggest expense. Talk with your energy company before you buy motors, lights, heaters—anything that uses energy. They can give you the best advice on saving money and possibly give you energy rebates.
Carothers: I would also look at your media budget and see if you are getting “value added” items in your buys. Consider using a media buyer who can place you into their pool of buyers—this will help in negotiations and a reduction of costs. As Andy says: stay in tune with the industry; constantly think and search for ways to be creative. Be able to talk about any part of your operation and/or park at any time—you never know who might give you an idea to try.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Learning from a Disney Legend

I’m at Ohio State University in Columbus this week attending a lecture series taught by former Disney engineer Bill Watkins. Watkins, an OSU alumni, worked for Disney from 1966 to 1985, and in that time worked on some of the industry’s classic attractions, including “Space Mountain,” “Big Thunder Mountain Railroad,” and, as he put it, basically “everything else that moved” at a Disney park during that time.

Though I only understand about every 10th word during the highly technical discussion of mechanical engineering concepts, the overall presentation is nonetheless fascinating. In between examinations of formulas, Watkins sprinkled in anecdotes like how he took inspiration from Jaguar car concepts and adapted those to “Big Thunder” and the old “PeopleMover.”

“I didn’t title this course ‘How to Design A Roller Coaster’—I say it’s ‘A Discussion of Roller Coaster Design,’” Watkins said. “All the math and physics that’s involved in this gives you a good feeling for anything that moves. Any piece of machinery can be related to the kinds of things that happen on roller coasters. Everything that moves, moves according to these [formulas].”

Watkins held any number of engineering jobs throughout his career prior to joining Disney—Lockheed, Honeywell, NASA, and more. He came to the Mouse thanks to a small ad he spotted in the newspaper in 1966 that said Disneyland was looking for a mechanical engineer for design work.

Watkins recalled his interview: “I really didn’t think it would go too far, but I took in some pictures of a race car I’d been developing—I’d been racing cars since 1955—and what they told me later was, they figured if I could do that I could do what they had.”

He had never been to Disneyland prior to getting the job, but said: “I love mechanical design and building mechanical things—that’s what drew me to [Disneyland],” he said. “I thought, ‘If I go there, I’m going to design some vehicles.’”

Though he worked on all manner of projects at Disney parks—from films to monorails to submarine rides—his most famous attraction is, of course, “Space Mountain.” Here’s how he described the experience of creating it:

“I first designed that ride to go in Disneyland, but having no input from art direction, I just made a space that would have a façade in Tomorrowland and extend back into the employee parking lot. It ended up being shaped like a [baseball] home plate, and I managed to put two tracks in there. My boss at the time insisted I use a ‘Matterhorn’ chassis and connect two cars together. In order to get capacity over 2,000, it needed two tracks with a 16-second dispatch.

“By the time I got that all laid out, they decided they didn’t want to give up the parking space—it was too big—and they wanted a round building, not something with a flat façade on the front. So they just drew a big 300-foot-diameter circle around it and moved it to Walt Disney World, where they really needed a ride of that type, anyway—they already had the ‘Matterhorn’ at Disneyland.

“As soon as we finished that, one of the vice presidents came by and said, ‘Go home, we need a ‘Space Mountain’ at Disneyland—but I’m only going to give you a 200-foot-diameter building.’ I had to change everything. In order to get the 2,000-per-hour capacity, it needed a bigger vehicle on a single track. So it’s a 12-passenger [train] instead of eight.”

The original “Space Mountain” in Walt Disney World is scheduled for a lengthy rehab this year, and Watkins said: “I thought for about 10 seconds that I ought to offer my services, but it’s too good being retired.” He did call Disney with an offer to look over the original blueprints, because he had made some changes to the design on the fly and wanted to be sure they had made it to the final drawings; they were already there, however.

Watkins gives his final lecture of the week tonight.

“My whole purpose in giving the course was to get them to understand these engineering principles in applications,” he said. “Sometimes you sit in class and learn these things but you don’t know what they’re for. Things change, but the fundamentals don’t change, and you apply those fundamentals to everything you do. That’s what I’m here for.”

Friday, April 10, 2009

'Blue Ocean Strategy' Webinar: Last Chance

It's still not too late to sign up for IAAPA's free webinar today on "Blue Ocean Strategy." The session begins at 2 p.m. EDT and is available to all IAAPA members; click here to register.

What is "Blue Ocean Strategy"? Click here for more information. My colleague John Henderson, V.P. of education here at IAAPA, has seen the presentation and recommends it highly.

If you want even more info, check out a Q&A with the speaker we posted last month.

Friday, April 3, 2009



OK, so maybe you didn't get many comments about "Adventureland" this weekend, after all. The film performed below expectations for its opening weekend, earning less than $6 million in the United States. Here's what BoxOfficeMojo had to say:

The weekend's other new nationwide release, Adventureland, was a non-starter with an estimated $6 million at 1,862 locations. The comedy's advertising pushed the fact that it was from the director of Superbad, yet the television spots focused mostly on nondescript juvenile gags.


There's a movie opening today, "Adventureland," that's set in our industry—more specifically, an amusement park. Despite the popularity of our attractions, using a park as the backdrop for a film is somewhat of a rarity in Hollywood, so that makes this project somewhat unusual.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to portray working in our business in the most positive light, at least from what I can glean from the tagline—"It was the worst job they ever imagined … and the best time of their lives"—and the trailer:

Not very flattering, huh? As part of this industry, you may hear some snarky comments from friends based on "Adventureland," but I wouldn't sweat it. The important thing to remember here is this movie could have been set anywhere, in any type of business.

It was written and directed by Greg Mottola, who made his name in 2007 with another raunchy coming-of-age story, "Superbad." Though Mottola took his inspiration from an actual job he had at an amusement park in the summer of 1984, according to this article in Newsday, the filmmaker incorporates a number of "bad job" stories into "Adventureland" and merely uses the park as the backdrop. And, as always, don't judge a movie by its trailer; the Newsday piece goes on to call the film "a gently satirical, ultimately affectionate portrait of a park and its people."

Mottola clearly has no love for the attractions industry, but that doesn't mean you can't use this as an opportunity to share your love for our business. If anyone asks me about "Adventureland," I can tell them a ton of stories about great things that have happened to me while I was in a park. My friend and colleague, Keith Miller (FUNWORLD's news editor) just wrote about this same idea in last month's issue.

Since coming to IAAPA, I've met any number of current and former park employees who still think back on their time on the job with pride and joy. For instance: On a recent trip to Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, I hung around for the nightly fireworks show, then wandered into a souvenir shop on Main Street on my way out. The place was just mobbed, and I mentioned as much to one of the ladies working the register. Her response: "Oh, I don't mind. I love it here." Online enthusiast message boards are full of stories like that, too.

And let's not forget: In this year's troubled economy, amusement parks are being FLOODED with thousands of applications for these supposed "worst job they ever imagined." For many people, working in our business is the exact opposite—literally a dream opportunity.

So, I'm taking the "any publicity is good publicity" approach to "Adventureland." If you'd like some more information on the film, here's an article we published last year in FUNWORLD about what it was like for Kennywood in Pennsylvania to host the film crew during the five-week shoot; it includes an important feature: "11 Tips for Parks Thinking of Working with Hollywood." There's also this article from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review with a Kennywood perspective on the whole affair.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

First Week on the Job

Meet Colleen Mangone, our new media relations manager, who started Monday:

I'm excited to be on board at IAAPA. Everyone has been very welcoming and I look forward to working with each of you. After eight-plus years in politics, I decided to trade in the Federal Election Committee for Family Entertainment Centers, and opted for the roller coasters at amusement parks rather then the ups and downs of Capitol Hill. Basically, my job is to help pitch positive news stories about the industry to press.

Like so many of my colleagues, I've been going to attractions in the industry my whole life. I was too little to remember my first trip to an amusement park, but I recently traveled back to Orlando for a birthday celebration that took me to Universal, Discovery Cove, and Walt Disney World, giving me fantastic memories. As a child living in the D.C. area, I remember fondly when Wild World, now Six Flags America in Largo, Maryland, opened its doors … the wave pool was where I spent most of my time!

Thanks again for the warm welcome. Less than three days in, I'm already looking forward to seeing everyone at IAAPA Attractions Expo in Vegas!