The overall sentiment at this year’s IAAPA was that the Orlando attraction was preparing for a post-pandemic recovery | Live active cultures | Orlando
One year after the annual Orlando International Theme Park Industry Conference was canceled due to the coronavirus, the IAAPA Fair returned to the Orange County Convention Center last week.
Although the show floor had been scaled back somewhat from its 2019 heyday — with curtains hiding vacant corners previously filled with display stands, and lovable BeaverTails nowhere to be found — the overall feeling among attendees seemed to be that the business of Attraction prepares post-pandemic rebound.
As usual, although Central Florida is home to an ever-growing number of important attraction manufacturers, the majority of the big new rides announced at IAAPA go elsewhere. However, it appears that interest has shifted away from theme parks in the Middle East and Asia and back to North American destinations.
For example, Jacksonville-based Sally Dark Rides is creating a new interactive pirate-themed ride for Monterey Bay in Cannery Row in California and an ambitious volcano adventure for the upcoming Lost Island theme park in Iowa, while new Triotech “Chaos Carnival” HyperRide heads to Clifton Hill in Canadian Niagara Falls. Even the Orlando-based Fun Spot series has Rocky Mountain Construction build the new record-breaking ArieForce One rollercoaster at its Atlanta location, rather than an I-Drive.
The good news is that without a lot of international vendors vying for interest in IAAPA, some smaller local companies have been able to highlight the change.
Lakelands Legoland kicked off the conference by unveiling a wheelchair-accessible balloon ride on the new Peppa Pig theme park, which will be an approved autism center. Give Kids the World Village will soon be home to Garner Holt Productions’ THEA Award-winning AniMakerspace, where families can learn about design and audio animation programming from the company that makes Disney’s robotic characters.
Simulators and virtual reality are still big buzzwords at IAAPA, with attractions that use mobile platforms and 3D headsets expanding into hot air balloons, monster trucks and even virtual roller coasters whose path rises and falls with the price of Dogecoin cryptocurrency. (I’m not sure the latest concept of EnterIdea’s AT360 gyro simulator will make it to the moon.)
As a VR fan, I was even more intrigued by the 360-degree wildlife documentaries produced by Immotion, creators of the Undersea Explorer experience recently installed at the SeaLife Orlando Aquarium in Icon Park. The intimate shots of humpback whales and Rwandan gorillas (photographed in collaboration with the Dian Fossey Trust) were stunning, despite the distraction of cryptographic artifacts. I can’t wait for the virtual video to fully realize the reality of nature.
My favorite IAAPA finds don’t usually come from big-name brands, but rather from start-up entrepreneurs trying to break into the business.
Steamroller Studios is an animation team based in Mount Dora that has worked anonymously on projects for major parks, but this year they were displaying their talents under their own banner with one of the best demos I’ve found in the conference room. Visitors to “The Haunting of Olivia” entered a Victorian sitting room, strapped into a motion-simulating sofa, and used hand-held augmented reality screens to hunt digital ghosts that caused physical objects to fly off walls. Universal has experimented with similar high-tech horror in years past, but the Steamroller proof of concept takes haunted houses to a whole new level.
Another local entrant to look out for is Josh Cohen, founder of Lake Mary’s Immersive Arts, whose heart-stopping concept of an unused free-fall prevention device — which sends brave passengers drowning through a trap door in a computer-controlled network — took second place. In the Innovation Awards from the industry publication Blooloop.
Saving the best for last, my visit to IAAPA 2021 ended with the annual Legends panel hosted by Bob Rogers, which brought together A-list theme park designers Thierry Coup, Phil Hettema, and Scott Trowbridge to remember the creation of Islands of Adventure’s Amazing Spider-Man attraction, which is still known as one of the best Dark games in the world 22 years after their debut.
Trowbridge, who took over Disney’s Star Wars territory, advised attendees to “work with the people you love, and never grow up!” Where the trio shared inspiring stories from Spidey’s scattered origins, when all the experts told them blending 3D with moving karts was “impossible.” Believe it or not, this superb Marvel-based movie was originally supposed to star DC Comics characters before a deal with Warner Bros. failed. To build “Cartoon World”. The $100 million project was first built in nondescript warehouses using hand-propelled vehicles built from 2×4s, with Bed Bath & Beyond curtains serving as backdrop displays.
But nothing at IAAPA has been as shocking or enjoyable as Coup’s response when asked to name a career’s worst mistake: “I wish I had stopped upper management from building the Fast & Furious ride.”
The note of dropping the coup microphone elicited a roar of approval from the room. Let’s just hope its boss, Mark Woodbury, who takes the reins of Universal Parks and Resorts from retired CEO Tom Williams, feels the same way.