In today’s very special episode of Best Week Ever, we’re going to take a trip outside of today’s theme parks themselves to a wondrous world where the attractions of the future are on display. Welcome to the 2015 IAAPA Attractions Expo, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions’ annual convention at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center. The enormous event, which is for industry professionals and the media, is a showcase for everything that’s new and next in themed entertainment, and while Disney and Universal don’t have booths on the cavernous show floor, most of the vendors they and other big parks partner with do. So look carefully because you never know — in a few years you may see products previewed below inside a major Orlando attraction!
2015 IAAPA Kickoff
I kicked off my 2015 IAAPA experience by waking up way to early in order to attend Tuesday’s opening address. The presentation featured a couple production numbers from Busch Gardens Tampa, a retrospective of the prior year in amusement parks, and a lot of speechifying.
The keynote’s highlight was the Hall of Fame inductions of former Disneyland president Jack Lindquist, Universal Parks CEO Tom Williams, and Fred Hollingsworth III, the “father of media-based attractions.”
The ceremony concluded with Optimus Prime and Bumblebee arriving to introduce Universal VP John McReynolds as the new chairman of IAAPA. It was all capped by a cannon burst of confetti and colored streamers, as all such Orlando events must…
2015 IAAPA Rides
The main reason many attraction enthusiasts look forward to IAAPA each year is the opportunity to learn about new rides, and maybe even touch a piece of one. This year was no exception, as there were plenty of shiny new coaster trains, track models, and even full-sized simulators to examine up close on the IAAPA show floor. Here’s a small sample of what I saw in 7 miles of walking around the expo:
MACK Rides displayed a model of the Cobra’s Curse family coaster they are building in Busch Gardens Tampa
Premier presented the ride vehicle for Phobia.
This small spinning coaster was available to ride, but the line moved very slowly.
Several companies displayed concepts of Soarin-inspired flying theaters. Could one of these designs be the basis of Avatar-land’s E-Ticket, or the Jimmy Fallon simulator going into Universal Studios?
Drop towers never go out of style, and you could ride several short ones on the floor.
The Cloud Coaster is a new style of zip line roller coaster. This test rider nearly took my head off with his foot!
Dollywood is promoting their new Lightning Run launched wooden coaster with a 3D 360 VR simulation of the ride. You can view it yourself on YouTube; it works best on a smartphone with a Google Cardboard viewer.
Speaking of VR, MACK is also testing VR headsets on riders of the Freedom Flyer coaster at Fun Spot on International Drive.
One of the biggest events of IAAPA was the unveiling of a partnership between Sally and AMC for a Walking Dead interactive dark ride. No word yet when or where one will be built, but you’ll have to shoot walkers and scavenge supplies to survive what they are calling “a VERY dark ride.”
Sally also showed off a model of their Justice League dark ride, and concept art for a 4D volcano-themed attraction.
As usual, Zamperla had a central location on the floor to show off their new spinners, including a rider-controlled hang glider.
S&S pulled back the curtain on their new larger El Loco coaster trains, which will debut in Ocean City, New Jersey.
Another big announcement was Triotech’s LEGO Ninjago 3D interactive dark rides, being built at Legolands in California, Europe, and Asia. Guests will cast spells and fight enemies using hand gestures, which will be detected without having to hold a weapon.
I wasn’t about to test this ride out after reading the sign. Hope they brought disinfectant…
KUKA was giving free rides on their robot arms, which are the basis of Universal’s Forbidden Journey ride and Epcot’s Sum of all Thrills.
On the other end of the technology scale, there were several humorously low-end simulators on display…
Holovis had a blow-up dome with an interactive simulator inside.
Chinese company OCT had this illuminated model of a drop tower ride, completely surrounded by projection screens.
Finally, if all the indoor expo space wasn’t enough, there were also a few fun-fair classics to be found in the parking lot:
2015 IAAPA Games
Another important aspect of the amusement business is games. The American arcade industry has been declared “dead” many times, but the growth of regional Family Entertainment Centers means that new carnival games and coin-ops are still being produced, many with intellectual properties familiar to theme park.
WARNING: At IAAPA you may be exposed to the sight of grown businessmen playing games intended for kids. Viewer discretion is advised.
Shooting galleries have gone way beyond Old West themes. You can pick from mad scientist lab, carnival sideshow, Egyptian mummies, or more.
Classics like skee ball and even photo booths have been updated for the 21st century.
Vintage video game characters are back in a big way.
Smartphone games are also big. Even an iPhone 6S Plus doesn’t have a screen this large.
If you haven’t played Star Wars Battle Pod yet, go find an arcade right now. The free play at IAAPA saved me a lot of quarters.
Angry Birds have crossed over from smartphones into arcades as well.
Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters was my favorite find on the gaming floor!
This video-heavy Hobbit pinball table also looks like a hit.
You can’t have an amusement park without food, and IAAPA is the place to sample next-generation treats for free. Naturally, I had to throw myself on that gastronomic grenade for the sake of my readers! Be grateful that jpegs have no calories…
Strawberry Cheesecake ICEE tastes better than it sounds, believe it or not. Not many takers for energy drinks, but the free Coke Freestyle machines always draw a crowd.
Do you remember Beaver Tails? Years ago, these fabulous flattened funnel cakes used to be served from a cart in Epcot’s Canada pavilion. It was great getting to taste one again!
Dippin’ Dots is a mainstay of IAAPA, and had an exclusive Expo flavor.
Want to drink old-fashioned sodas from a coffin. Now you can!
Noble Roman’s Pizza always used to have the longest line at IAAPA, but in their absence Perky’s Pizza appears to have picked up the baton. Because who doesn’t like free pizza?
Calling all Pennsylvanians! Whether you want water ice…
…or a full-service deli, featuring molded butter — you can find it at IAAPA!
Free Nathan’s hot dogs were also a big draw. Here’s a personality quiz: how long a line would you wait in for a free half hot dog? (Extra credit: does it make a difference if there is no spicy mustard?)
We end our movable feast with this indelible, inedible image of a ice cream cone alternative better left uneaten.
Which leads us directly into our last topic:
2015 IAAPA Oddities
I’ll conclude by sharing — without further comment — a handful of the strange and unusual sights that are simply par for the course on the IAAPA show floor. Do not attempt to adjust your screen, the images you are about to see actually are as weird as they appear: