Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Michigan



Ignoring, for a moment, the sometimes harsh winter, if someone were to ask me, "What are the negatives of living in Michigan?," I'd have two responses. One: Having to constantly explain to people that the entire state does not resemble post-industrial Flint in Roger & Me. Two: There aren't any really good amusement parks here. That is quantitatively a thing that matters primarily to me, as many people here have simply moved on to other things in the years since most of the state's significant facilities closed. But there are definitely still things. Some of them are even pretty big.



In the known category, two parks jump right out. Greenfield Village in Dearborn is likely the highest attended theme/amusement attraction in the state on an annual basis. Constructed starting in the 1930s by industrial magnate and inventor of the assembly line himself, Henry Ford, it is a loving tribute to America (with some England too). Ford believed in preservation, and he also believed in owning things, so he bought tons of historic homes and businesses, put them on trucks, and rebuilt them on his property. The Firestone Family Farm, the Wright Bros. Bicycle Shop, a replica of Edison's Menlo Park workshop, steam trains, a Herschell Carousel, and Model Ts are all present to experience both inside and out. For more traditional wares, there's also the Cedar Fair owned Michigan's Adventure, located near the beaches of Lake Michigan in the city of Muskegon. Famed in coaster circles for being home to Shivering Timbers, a massive wooden out and back coaster that once was so beloved it gave rise to the "Church of Shivering Timbers." Times have changed, and the ride, while still very good, is not nearly the universal top 5 pick it was. The park is also very often slammed with people, but being where it is, staffing is a real issue and capacity is kinda bad. Really bad. Not nearly as bad capacity wise, but being something you can't visit without a child, is Legoland Discovery Center in Auburn Hills. There's a trackless Kingdom Quest dark ride here.



Enough about those: let's talk about stuff that's more obscure. Maybe it'll even more interesting! Should we shoot our load immediately and go right to the death cult amusement park? Yes. Yes, I think the death cult amusement park is a great place to start. Not far from the Indiana border in the town of Benton Harbor is a miniature train surrounded by ruins. If you aren't aware that it's there, you probably would never stop in, but what remains of House of David's Eden Springs is actually really awesome. In it's prime, this was a "show park" - there were baseball games, concerts, and plays. The major rides were trains; there were several different lines traversing various parts of the grounds, with tall trestles built to navigate the trains over gaps in the terrain. There's just one running today, with plans to fix up one of the trestles and lengthen the line having been pushed back now for several years. The old House of David, a turn of the century "doomsday cult" that demanded celibacy and thus effectively died out in the mid-late 20th century, still exists and have their split compounds near the park grounds in huge mansions. For something a little more joyful, St. Joseph (a neighboring town) has a beautiful Carouselworks carousel on the site of what was Silver Beach Amusement Park. A small museum about that defunct park is also present at the carousel site.



Staying on the Lake Michigan coast, heading north sends you to the city of Holland and the small park known as Nelis' Dutch Village. There are no roller coasters or dark rides present, but the theme of a dutch town with shops and wooden shoe adorned dancers is buoyed by doll collections, an ancient circle swing attraction, carousel, and Eli Wheel. Bringing slightly more excitement to the table are the Mac Woods' Dune Rides up on Silver Lake, north of Michigan's Adventure. There are real live dunes out here, and they're huge. For those seeking straight up thrills, rentals of dune buggies are available elsewhere in the area, and sand drag racing happens fairly frequently. For those with more pedestrian tastes, Mac Woods' runs heavily altered F-350s which end up doing a combination of ecotourism, Jungle Cruise (the puns! the props!), and middle eastern wadi bashing. 

Heading east across the state, there's more failures then still existing properties. Battle Creek was home to Cereal City USA, Kellogg's attempt at spicing up the factory tour with animatronics. It lasted 10 seasons, and now is a school. Ramona Park in Grand Rapids closed in 1955: the local library has mementos on display in its historical archives room, and a painted mural on a parking structure reminds people of it's past location. Deer Forest in Coloma was sold, pieced out, turned into a wildlife rescue center and handed to a relative of the owner with a history of animal cruelty. It has stood abandoned for several years. Deer Acres in Pinconning closed nearly a decade ago, though the gates open once a year for a car show as they "work on the park." Lake Lansing closed in 1974, though its wood coaster had been shuttered long before that. All of this is pretty well gone and never coming back. But there is hope burgeoning in some unlikely places.



I'll start in the Irish Hills. Located roughly between the cities of Jackson and Detroit, this region has been a magnet for tourism since the late 1920s. Not much of the prime eras are left: the Irish Hills Towers are on the National Historic Registry but on the verge of demolition. Tourist traps like Frontier City, Fantasy Land, and Prehistoric Forest are all closed up. Cedar Point of Michigan was a thing that was designed and for which land was purchased, but never actually happened. What's left? Well, there's the Michigan International Speedway, but it isn't themed or a ride. Then there's the Stagecoach Stop and Cowboy Creek Lodge: once known as Stagecoach Stop USA, it was a small western themed town and amusement park that lay dormant between 2008 and 2014, reopening sans rides, but with the other western elements incorporated. And then there's Cell Block 7 in Jackson: a former wing of the Michigan State Penitentiary, it has become a museum detailing what life is really like behind bars. Just don't expect many pictures from me of it: photography is strictly forbidden. Finally, Mystery Hill, a Gravity House attraction much like the Mystery Shack of Knotts fame (and of a style somewhat immortalized in the cartoon Gravity Falls) still runs in Onsted.



There are a number of railway based attractions in the state which have expanded into much larger complexes beyond just the Eden Springs. Substantial tourist railways exist in Coldwater (Little River), Tecumseh (Southern Michigan), and Coopersville & Marne Railway (Coopersville), but they are generally somewhat limited in scope. Crossroads Village outside Flint has a 4-2-4 train and carriages, but also features a rare combination of CW Parker carousel and ferris wheel (one of 4), plus paddleboat rides and a historic village. Detroit Zoo has an set of incredible old trains fabricated by Chrysler (one-offs) along with an amazing penguin enclosure themed to Antarctica, 4D theater, motion simulator ride, and carousel. John Ball Zoo is not to be outdone, featuring a modern electric funicular. Binder Park in Battle Creek (a phenomenal zoo far beyond the expectations anyone should reasonably have for Battle Creek) also has a train ride along with a carousel and an incredibly well done Savannah section reached by lengthy tram ride.


Only recently have amusement park historians and enthusiasts started to uncover the attractions of Northern Michigan. St. Ignace, sitting in the shadow of the Mackinac Bridge, also features a gravity house (Mystery Spot) with a scenic overlook atop a cliff. Billboards and flyers are bountiful throughout the lower peninsula of Michigan, so this is fairly commonly known. Mackinac Island itself is host to a permanent haunted walk-through attraction, The Haunted Theater. These are easily the two most seen by tourists in and to the state. But there's more. Oh yes. Much more.




Going back south a bit in the lower Peninsula, several amusement parks and roller coasters have been "discovered" by hobbyists. The first of note is the area around Houghton and Higgins Lake, 3 hours north of Detroit. There's an outpost of Pirates Cove mini golf here along with two small amusement parks. The first of these, Funland, has operated since 1956, and is home to a mix of kiddie rides, an Eli Wheel, a Herschell kiddie coaster, $1 mini golf, and a water slide for the kids. Just up the street is Lakeland Recreation, an unassuming name for a substantive family entertainment center. There's the obscenity of gas power bumper cars, go karts, mini golf, and driving ranges, but most important is the existence of Haunted Mansion, a walk-through haunt attraction, self constructed in what was clearly a former private residence. No actors, just stunts and props. It's pretty awesome.



East of this on the Lake Huron coast are a few more family entertainment/small amusement park type spots. Kokomo's in Saginaw has the Americana/Lesourdesville Lake "Serpert", a Zyklon coaster which opened in its current location in 2009. Further north in Alpena is Arzo's, a small park with an old school 1950s era simulator attraction, Majestic scooters, a Dragon Wagon coaster, and Gravitron, among a few other things. They've all been joined in the last year by Cedar Valley's Wild Frontier Fun Park in Comins, which has a wild west theme and is composed of mostly vintage portable rides, with a roller coaster slated for installation in 2017. All the way up in Sault Ste. Marie, The Haunted Depot is not merely a Halloween store, but a year round haunt almost within view of the Canadian border.



One thing about the history of the United States is that our great industrialists were not often men of great wealth as kids, but self-made, establishing empires off their vision. In the theme park world, there are some men who are attributed with this kind of forethought, but that individualistic vision is seen even at the smaller scale. Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum is an example of that: built by the late Marvin Yagoda, this insane arcade located in the Detroit suburbs is not the largest by square footage in the area, nor does it have the newest games. It may even with the size constraints given to it, have the most attractions and games in the region, as it is simply stacked and packed with things to see. Marvin loved old arcade machines, Detroit, and the amusement industry as a whole, and it shows when you go in and see the pieces which he's collected from throughout the world for display. Yes; you could go to CJ Barrymore's in Clinton Township for their zipline and looping Zyklon coaster instead, and they run a nice clean operation out there, but you'd be missing out on a real gem by not coming here too.



Michigan's cultural exports in the realm of music are fairly diverse: Diana Ross, The White Stripes, and Derrick May just show faint glimmers of the spectrum. Part of that spectrum unquestionably is the strange devotion to the hip hop subgenre of "horrorcore," first with Esham (considered by some the progenitor of Eminem's style) and later with the much more popular Insane Clown Posse. That "Juggalos" and "The Dark Carnival" got its start here in Michigan begins to make a lot more sense when one admires the sheer number of large Halloween attractions in the state. Erebus in Pontiac held the world's record for the largest haunted attraction from 2005-2009, but there are many, many more. Starting in September, you can actually pick up publications that list some of the likely 3-figures of haunts ranging from massive carnival/hay ride/haunted house extravagazas to "haunted monster truck rides" to kid friendly corn mazes.



Friday, April 21, 2017

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #123 - Pandora 20/20


We're back baby! Joe's drinking, Sean's talking MST3K, Nick is killing palmetto bugs, and Lane is interrupting. We talk about SeaWorld's investments, Infinity Falls (infinity = 40 ft.), Pandora photos, Star Wars land news, Club 33 at WDW, A Very Merry Potter Christmas, #HHN27, Volcano Bay cabanas, and all the delicious food. At the end Nick gives his impressions of this year's Grad Bash (and Fallon) then Joe talks about his First Rider Event for Mystic Timbers!

Email us at parkscopeblog at gmail dot com or follow us at ParkscopeParkscopeJoeParkscopeNick,  ParkscopeLane, and Sean.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Spoils and Consequences of Culture War: Nerds, Disney, and Star Wars



"Vampire, pirate, alien, spy. Werewolf, robber baron, Muppet, nun. Casablanca one weekend, Babylon the next. On any given night, and virtually every weekend during the summer peak, thousands of adults across the country are playing make-believe in cheap hotels, empty warehouses, private homes and isolated woods. In elaborate period dress or ordinary street clothes, they portray characters in scriptless fantasies that can run for a few hours or several years."
- Washington Post, 1996

The Orange County Convention Center has played host to an array of large events of the years intrinsically important to the theme park industry. April 2017 was no different, with Star Wars Celebration, an official Lucasfilm/Disney fan convention dedicated to the movie series and the endless array of media spawned from its vast mythology. Persons of all gender and age gathered together in the immense halls to catch a glimpse of the actors and actresses, to see a vast cornucopia of merchandise, many dressed as their favorite characters from the film. However, one of the major hoped for pieces of information to trickle out would be updates from Disney's efforts to make a part of Star Wars come to exist in some form in reality. They were not left disappointed.

A panel of Imagineers revealed new artwork showing what the land might look like, but little about the actual rides inside. However, almost of equal interest to the crowd assembled, they began to discuss different elements to the theme park land than had ever before been constructed into one. "Opportunities to support The Resistance" or "First Order" and work for bounty hunters all came up. Should those riding the Millennium Falcon attraction (which would be controlled by human crews) bring it back damaged, "there are consequences to your actions in this world." It would be a fluid, tactile world in which not only could you look for things, but things would look for you.

"The event took place on Ye Olde Commons on Northside Road. Harald Henning bought the 40-acre parcel of rolling, hilly woods, trails, large open field, winding brook and bridges with LARPing in mind.

'I blame my wife, Inger, for getting me involved. Actually, we both used to direct groups and it was always a problem trying to find a place to hold them,' said Mr. Hennings.


'We have five regular groups and several more that come on an irregular basis. LARPing is not a money-making business, it's more of a labor of love.' "
- Telegram and Gazette, 2011

Disney fandom's association of "immersion" with the theme park space has a cloudy history. When, precisely, the use of the term became prevalent is tough to ascertain. However "immersive" as a noun and verb became generally used in the 1980s, beginning with computer scientists and expanding from there. (a). Immersive Design, while likely in colloquial use prior to 2007, is credited on Wikipedia to being the creation that year of production designer Alex McDowell, an individual who's first feature film (Lawnmower Man, a film depicting a virtual reality world) was almost prophetic both about his career path and that of society. Our ability to interact with these worlds became key to the "immersive" nature of them, and among the first pieces of academic literature on the subject appears as the Ph.D. dissertation of Tinsley Galyean III, founder of Nearlife Inc, a company that has primarily worked on things such as museum exhibits. The application to theme parks has come much more slowly. First in analog (wild ringing phones with recorded spiels at various parks and zoos, Flooded Mine at Silver Dollar City), then slowly to digital (wands in Harry Potter, Kim Possible in EPCOT, Pearl Masters at Yas Waterworld).

Slow adoption of new technologies has been with good reason: until only the last decade have devices like smart phones become generally ubiquitous. That prevalence of technology provides the overwhelming majority with real literacy with high tech, without which being able to participate in increasingly complex tasks would be impossible. Disneyland, said Walt Disney, sold assurance and positive reinforcement to the public. To confront people with technology they wouldn't be able to grasp in order to function would consequently have a negative effect on that. Disney's Great Leap Forward (b), MyMagic+, was in part created to prepare for the sorts of specific tasks which no other system had been capable of in the past, creating reasonable usability for everyone attending, and fully thrust the theme park industry deep into the 21st century.

"When I look at the landscape of pop culture right now, there is no argument anyone can reasonably muster that positions nerd culture as outsider culture. 
....
Nerd culture has taken over, which means that we are no longer underdogs, and there is some part of being a nerd that almost requires that element. It's where so much of our art has come from. Letting go of that part of the identity is hard, and it appears to have curdled in a certain percentage of the people who love the same things we love. It”s not enough for them to love something; they have to love it more than you do, and they have to feel like you don't get it. " 
- Drew McWeeny, Uproxx.com

In 2014, Disney somewhat quietly put into place a new sort of attraction into Disneyland's Frontierland. Called "Legends of Frontierland," it was neither ride nor show. Legends of Frontierland, in the words of David Daut, "make you feel as though you are a citizen in Walt Disney’s vision of the American West." It did this by creating a dynamic gaming environment in which individuals became citizens of Frontierland and by interacting not only with other guests but with cast members in their roles, were set into a central dispute over land, but given the freedom to act as they wished. For many like Mr. Daut, the result was an unmitigated success. It allowed guests to create their own narratives about the parks rather than merely observe one written for them, and it was deeply, deeply satisfying to many. It should not be surprising then to read the description of Star Wars Land and its interactive properties as having used Legends of Frontierland for a test bed that it will expound upon.

As an artificial world populated by aliens and "droids" alike, the world of Star Wars is free of many of the problems that arise in creating artificial worlds from Earthen influences. Star Wars does not have intrinsic racist properties, though there is a clear allusion that many non-human races are treated exceptionally poorly because of their alien-ness. It is not outwardly paternalistic, colonialism has generally been offered to the audience as less appealing than self-determination and cooperation, and women, Slave Leia aside, seem to occupy a high standard of respect. The slate has only a rough outline, and we are very much free to start filling in wherever we desire. The appeal of becoming part of Star Wars and it's Universe is most appealing to a huge subset of fans. And there will even be lightsabers. Did you hear that? Lightsabers!

If you are not a geek, you are Luddite, and that is not cool,” said Thomas Dolby, an arts professor at Johns Hopkins University and a nerd icon from the 1980s because of his hit song 'She Blinded Me With Science.'

Mr. Dolby, born Thomas Robertson, took his stage name from Dolby Laboratories because of his fascination with audio technology. He said that he decided to use his nerd persona as a way of distinguishing himself from the 'good-looking lads' on the 1980s pop scene — Sting, Simon Le Bon, Adam Ant.


But, he added, “I am no more comfortable in my geek skin now than in 1982.

- New York Times, 2014

When I was a teenager working at a grocery store in rural Connecticut, in between walking 15 miles in the snow and other apocryphal old man tales, I was invited to participate in a Vampire: The Masquerade based live-action role play (LARP). I think I remember who made the proposition that I should join, but honestly, there were a decent number of disaffected kids in the town. I really only had two friends of distinct note, and we were at equivalent ends of the nerd spectrum. AJ was into Star Trek, which I found distasteful and somehow beneath me and my acceptable-but-not-overt level of dorkdom. I, like my friend Jon, merely enjoyed Star Wars. The release of a collectible card game led all of us to abandon Magic: The Gathering in its early years and sell our cards for Lucasfilm-licensed ones that are probably worth a fraction of what we traded in for them. But there were others at varying ends of the social ladder, and they stuck with Magic and progressed further down the rabbit hole. I, a hardcore punk kid at heart, could only tolerate so much. We were too busy beating each other up to metal riffs to do something like that.

So yes, I didn't go. I did know how it worked. A space would be themed to a nightclub (sometimes it was one - how immersive!) and people created characters with a vast variety of physical and mental attributes, and there was a combat system by which your character could end up dead. In turn, you got things, you hung out with people, and probably a goodly number of those people became friends with one another along with all the usual drama that comes with human interactions over the long haul. Our interest in certain parts of what was still certainly "nerd culture" was in part stratified by social class within the insular world of our schools. Now, at a dramatically different stage of my life, I have no idea why we thought dice-based role playing games were so dumb. Death In June still sucks (c), but maybe if I had gone to LARP I might have gotten laid a lot more. I imagine my life would likely be abjectly worse for it, but in the short term, it might have been good for me! And when I encountered in college, I learned nothing from past (non?) experiences and rejected it again. I was slow to learn that interacting with people is sometimes better than not.

"In it's prime, poseur, or poser as most of you posers probably spell it, was amongst the lowest insults one could deploy. It questioned everything you stood for—your authenticity, your integrity, your commitment. If you were a poser, you were a fraud, a phony, a faker and you probably couldn't even kickflip. Off my wave, kook! But as we all know, no one stands for anything anymore, so has poser become obsolete?

No. It hasn't. And it's more critical now than ever.

Subcultures need protecting because easy access to information has made them vulnerable. Whatever it is, hip-hop, hardcore, riding waves and robbing banks, there will be vultures. Skateboarding is cool. Like punk and cosplay, it comes with a lifestyle that is alluring to norms...." 
- Noah Johnson, Complex, 2015

By the time I had reached my mid-late 20s, the world was a much different place. Marvel Studios came into being and to some degree re-wrote the rules about how nerd culture needed to be appropriated for maximum commercial gain. We are now on movie 16 or 17 in the large serialized Marvel Cinematic Universe, a success of such unparalleled nature that it has caused the entire film industry to effectively abandon mid-budget films and concentrate on nostalgia driven blockbusters. They're often better blockbuster films than what preceded them in the 90s, but have come at the expense of just about everything else. Many of the great modern directors can't even be bothered to pitch films, as studios simply want them to resurrect the X-Men or Batman franchises for the umpteenth time in my memory. Video gaming is mainstream. The Pope tweets. Action figures are now produced almost as much for adult collectors as kids. With the ease of entry and the volume of information on the internet, virtual communities for all of these things are huge. They've carried with them a whole host of other attractions at the "nerd" level; pro wrestling, cosplay, dice based board games, extreme heavy metal, anime, et al. to greater mainstream acceptance than ever before.

LARPing, however, hasn't really been a part of this. Too complex in a world of cell phone based "augmented reality" style games like Pokemon Go to be understood, much less readily played by the masses, it has stayed on the periphery. Disney's ownership of perhaps the largest intellectual property in "nerd culture," Star Wars, and their ability to fine tune a game to make it accessible to the masses, changes this equation. Unlike with Legends of Frontierland, Disney will even have tracking devices located on all the guests who walk into Star Wars Land in what is now known as the Hollywood Studios park in Orlando thanks to MyMagic+. Droids can act autonomously and react to real people with real knowledge about them; name, home address, hotel they're staying at, if they're a local, consumption habits, and more.

"Q: What are the absolute don’ts at a LARP, a.k.a. “how can I avoid making an ass of myself and accidentally ruining everyone’s day?”

A: Number 1 rule for most LARP communities that are filled with good people: Don’t be a dick. This means don’t be someone who harasses people, hits people with their weapon too hard, or cheats."
- Mackenzie Jamieson, geekandsundry.com

As a social experience, Daut notes that a natural barrier to the game play of Legends of Frontierland was that it was difficult to ease people into the role of actually talking to other people. Ultimately, Disney's creative team began to devise ways in which new players could easily obtain some rewards without necessarily having the social net that more established players had within the world of Frontierland. As Star Wars Land intends to operate within the context of a trading port and the constant flux and movement associated with one, it's likely that the game play will include these sorts of tasks for people to do on single day visits, such as those on their once-in-a-lifetime family vacation. However, this is intended to be a permanent part of the overall Star Wars Land operation, and that creates a set of potential pitfalls which will be interesting to see overcome, if they are at all:

-from a moral game play perspective, the aims of The Republic can be linked to the political far right. They should, in reality, have authority here. How will the storytellers, to use the LARP term, monitor and alter the game play around this? Has Disney considered the potential blow back if their players choose to try and force the adoption of racially-unambiguous 4chan slang?

-from a pure moralist perspective: Does creating such an "immersive" artificial world and allowing people to effectively exist as alternate beings within that world present risks of dis-associative personalities? Science fiction generally takes an ill view of allowing people to so completely submit their own identity to create new ones typically; is this what we're being warned of? Is this really a low-tech version of Total Recall rather than a high-tech version of medieval LARP?

-from a practical perspective of the players: as the limits of Star Wars Land are far smaller than, for example, the number of available World of Warcraft servers, what will entice them to play on for months and years into the future? If people do play for 3-4-5-6 years straight, how will new players be able to become part of the game without being exploited by those much further into it? Will storytellers be willing to interject should someone be able to consolidate power?

-from the perspective of the once-in-awhile or once-in-a-lifetime guest: While those introductory game bits may be fun, how will the activity look to those who are unwilling to participate in it? "Being part of Star Wars Land" sounds great for those in it, but for those sticking to the traditionalist observer role we're used to in theme parks, how sure are we that the "regulars" won't ruin it for everyone else? That was one of the great knocks on Adventurer's Club after all - the people that went every week began to overwhelm the performers, creating a scene which pleased them and almost no one else.

Even if Disney manages to work its way around all of these hurdles, there will still potentially be a knocks against their efforts. LARPing was an organic, fan-motivated, created, and operated experience. It may have sometimes been based around larger universes like Star Wars, but it was intrinsically about some form of self expression. Like all the other things which have been made more palatable by the masses, moving LARP into corporate hands will probably be seen by some as an unfriendly co-opting of fringe culture. It will be inauthentic, run by johnny-come-latelys (d) who have unappreciative or insulting to the efforts of those who made past games work and were very likely heavy influences for what Disney has and will do with interactive environments. "No one cares, grandpa," is the response they, as have all generations prior, will receive.

More concerning: by making paying guests playing along as part of Star Wars Land, it makes them part of Star Wars Land. Disney is not mere commoditizing the data of those who choose to attend the parks, though certainly that is very much part of MyMagic+. Rather, it is commoditizing those who play the game as part of the attraction itself. "Streetmosphere" a term trademarked not by Disney, but by Las Vegas Sands in the construction of the Grand Canal Shoppes at Las Vegas' Venetian, has been an effective way of making fake cityscapes seem more real. There are character actors wandering around, singers, occasionally vehicles sputtering by. In addition to the living and robotic actors of The Walt Disney Corporation, Star Wars Land will have an army of conscripts willing to pay top dollar for the opportunity to win prizes and "respect" in the kind of physical space many likely participants have probably been unwilling to enter and socialize in before.

This is a social game which is still run by people, not machines or advanced algorithms. As such, those playing the game are subject to all the foibles of actual social activity and influence. That will include something Disney has never done before; the potential of rejection over affirmation. By keeping individuals visiting the parks as mere observers, Disney could best control the way in which they interacted with the theme park and its apparatus participated back. By extending the intended interaction to purposely involve guests, increasing the "immersion" level can only come with a managed increased risk of negative feedback. Unlike traditional LARP, which is user-created and structured for the overall benefit of all participants, Disney's variation is structured to make money first. Disney will not need to rely on pleasing a small community of like-minded people because it will always have fresh meat tourists busting the door down. This new assumption of risk is both the true innovation of Star Wars Land and the greatest hurdle which Disney must clear. To establish a game that pleases not only the minority of extremist regulars, but its larger casual visitor base, and meet the needs/desires of both in a financially solvent way, is a lot for anyone, even the Mouse, to chew off.

--------------------------

FOOTNOTES:

(a) cited from "Immersive Theatres: Intimacy and Immediacy in Contemporary Performance" By Josephine Machon.

(b) Disney's Great Leap Forward obviously didn't cost 55 million lives, but in its direct aftermath many heads rolled and a different course of action - one involving actual rides and expansion - seems to be taking place.

(c) Death In June is one of the progenitors of a genre known as neofolk. There are a lot of Death In June records, and anyone who spends even a cursory amount of time researching the act comes to realize very quickly that DIJ is controversial in so much as many people believe it promotes neo-nazi ideals. Imagine, if you will, Fleet Foxes, but with less percussion, more synthesizers, and a lot more songs about genocide. Yeah, I don't blame you for not rushing to Spotify.

(d) To de-mystify this: I don't necessarily believe people interested in the game are being "untrue" to themselves. They aren't posers in the classic sense, at least in my mind. I can't even say what percentage of them have done "true" LARP, whatever the hell that resembles. I've never participated in that subculture and it certainly isn't my job to police it. But I know well enough to realize that some people will nominate themselves for that task. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Massachusetts



Riverside Park was my first regional amusement park experience. All my memories and writings pitch my first visit in 1992; my family and I went to see a tertiary family member race his Street Stock at the speedway there and go on some rides. I was mortified of them. Unlike the rides I was familiar with at Disney World (and often afraid of then too), these felt more mechanical and menacing. I was horrified riding the Thunderbolt, so much so I didn't ride the Cyclone until a trip much later in 1996 when I had become interested in being a coaster geek.



By the time I was a regular poster on rec.roller-coaster in 2000, Riverside was almost unrecognizable. The park of the early-mid 90s had been a punching bag online, I'd discover, with the most polarizing roller coaster possibly of my lifetime. It was incredibly weird: there was a Skyride acquired from Coney Island's Astroworld with globe shaped cars. There was a monorail to nowhere. There were several increasingly rare flat rides like the Huss Tri-Star and a Bayern Kurve which I either loved or were too small to ever ride before they were gone. There was a pathetically short prototype log flume, a gigantic ferris wheel, and an Arrow Shuttle Loop that would become my first inverting coaster and often a talk of many a middle school exhortation of bravery. There was even that weird, archaic 1/4 paved race track where legendary local racers went wheel-to-wheel every week in their modifieds (New England racers didn't run dirt late models or sprints. We do pavement and we did big ass modifeds.) And by 2000, almost everything I named and more was all gone. All of it. Even the name "Riverside Park" and its mascot (Ricky The Raccoon) were no more. And by the next year, that polarizing coaster (the Riverside Cyclone) was a shadow of its former self.

Six Flags New England occupies the same space as Riverside Park and much of the same infrastructure, but is different in many fundamental ways. It is better run than Riverside was: to this day, it is the only park where Six Flags' lax attention to detail and capacity were still grand improvements over the preposterous cheapness of Ed Carroll. Policies about assigned seating on rides disappeared and coasters ran more than one train. The park's season was quickly expanded to include Halloween events and start in mid-April. And it got rides. Big rides. The entire race track space became a Super Hero Island-esque section themed to DC with Superman: Ride of Steel being the anchor. A wild west section anchored by a Vekoma Mad House called "Houdini - The Great Escape" was developed, and eventually the park was pushed out into the old parking lot for expansion and the development of a water park. The person I married wound up working there for a season as her final work experience credit for college. Six Flags New England isn't an unknown facility, but its one I have many a feeling about and how it relates to me even writing about the hobby here or anywhere else.



Had I been a little older and been in New England a little longer, I'd have more to tell you about when it comes to the historic amusements in the state. Both Lincoln Park and Mountain Park closed after the 1987 season: I never saw either in any state, though the best man at my wedding can attest to having nearly died climbing the lift hill of the old Lincoln Park Comet 13-14 years after the park shuttered. Pirate's Fun Park in Salisbury was somewhere I could have gone, but never did because I didn't understand why I'd need to travel 2 1/2 hours for a kiddie coaster. By the time I found out about the dark ride and scraped together the money, it was gone.



I can tell you about one park though that closed in recent times: Whalom. I didn't go until 1999, but I met a good number of people there, one of which has been a friend of mine for nearly 20 years. I was one of the last people to ever enter their Fun House. I was at opening day in 2000, and would see the park deteriorate throughout the year the sale of the carousel, and increasing rumors of its demise. I was on the next to last public train on the Flyer Comet: my mom was actually on the one after. We saw the train went around one more time after that, and then it went silent. I wouldn't end up on the grounds again until a brief break from the action at a heavy metal festival in 2005 when my buddy Will and I toured what was left. The Satellite, bought from the legendary Palisades Park, had been torn to bits and was strewn about. The Flyer Comet had partially burned. Roofs had caved in. The bumper cars look like they had been hit by scrappers. There's condos there now. When Whalom's doors closed, the Twin Towers will still standing. It was actually about the halfway point in my lifespan up to now. That's somewhat terrifying to me.

In 1984, another traditional park closed in Massachusetts. Paragon Park in Hull sat along Nantasket Beach and was the quintessential shore park. There was a huge wood coaster (Giant Coaster), since relocated to Six Flags America in Maryland, a dark ride, multiple flats and kiddie rides, an early flume attraction (Bermuda Triangle), carousel, and more. 1984 is a year that claimed a huge number of parks in the United States as a result of the liability insurance crisis that year. Deregulation in the insurance industry seems to have led to a situation in which the cost of liability insurance suddenly skyrocketed, often in excess of 300%. For small parks on the cusp of profitability, this massive expense buried many. After Paragon closed, the community rushed to try and recoup some of the loss, purchasing and now operating the carousel on the old park grounds. A Fascination parlor also operated in Hull up until 2014-2015, but seems to have quietly closed. A Dream Machine arcade does still operate, however. Speaking of archaic reminders of amusements past, Joe's Playland and a nearby go-kart facility are the only remaining amusement businesses in the once exciting Salisbury Beach.



Any discussion of themed attractions in Massachusetts shouldn't happen without Old Sturbridge Village. While well known in the region, its national recognition isn't nearly at the same level. It's an open air museum intending to convey life in 1830s Puritannical New England. Lots of people in period costumes, lots of old buildings, lots of craftsmen. OSV is a classic middle school field trip destination for anyone living within 3 hours of it.



More straight up amusement oriented are a pair of exceptional carousels. The island of Martha's Vineyard is a decent length ferry ride from the coast, but it is home to the nation's oldest platform carousel, dating to the 1880s. There's also the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round, which like the machine in Hull, is a PTC Carousel saved from the local defunct traditional park (Mountain Park). It's considered an exceptionally well carved carousel, but also represents a great example of civic pride and resident's organization and determination to keep something great.

Western Massachusetts is like some weird off-brand Vermont. Or a colder Kentucky. Culturally it is as different from Boston as Orlando, Florida is from Guadalajara. It is often very lovely, but also filled with towns no one has heard of or remember exists half the time with such a heavy lean in state politics to Boston and the surrounding area. There are two ski resorts with summer activities here worth mentioning: Berkshire East has a mountain coaster and a canopy trail, while Jiminy Peak has a much more substantive collection. In addition to their mountain coaster, there's a Soaring Eagle zipline (S&S founder Stan Checketts current product), alpine slides, scenic chairlift rides, and the totally bizarre "Giant Swing". That last item seats four, restrains with OTSRs, and basically runs off pure gravity after pulling riders to a release point and cutting them (like a Skycoaster). I've never seen another.



The lone city of commercial value in Western Mass, Springfield, is also home to the Eastern States Exposition (Big E), which features pavilions dedicated to each individual state and their commercial/agricultural products, as well as rides from North American Midway Entertainment. With well over a million visitors annually and as it acts as a de facto state fair for nearly all the states of New England, it isn't terribly unknown or hidden. Closer to that definition, but still substantial events, would be the large fairs in Brockton and Topsfield. Brockton is the largest Reithoffer sourced carnival in the region, while Topsfield is one of Fiesta Shows' biggest gigs.



Edaville Family Theme Park has changed names multiple times in recent years. I always knew it as Edaville Railroad, but it later became Edaville USA, then Edaville Family Amusement Park. What is now known as Edaville is actually a fairly new development: the original "park" - a scenic rail ride -  went bust way back in 1992. After several abortive attempts to restart the business, the park as we know it now obtained the Thomas the Tank Engine license and reopened in 2013. There's now two operating coasters on site, with the intent of getting the wacky Kersplash Water Coaster (a one-off Miler contraption originally installed at the Washington State Fairgrounds) running in 2017, but also several family attractions, train rides, and even a scenic monorail.

There is another train attraction of the miniature variety worth mentioning: Waushakum Live Steamers have a couple of public events a year in which individuals can ride some of their larger gauge trains. Their annual meet seems to take place on the last weekend of August.



Discussing scare attractions in Massachusetts used to begin and effectively end with "Spooky World", then based in Foxboro. Now that they've relocated to New Hampshire, the Salem Wax Museum and their array of scares is easily the top dog. Yes, it's that Salem, the one infamous for witch burnings and general nonsense back in the 1700s. Rebranding themselves as a tourist destination with that in mind, there's ghouls and witch talk a-plenty, especially around October 31.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Universal's MyMagic+: Consolidating Ticketing, Hotels, and Express with Wrist Bands

A few years ago Parkscope reported about Universal patents for queue management systems and other MyMagic+ (MM+) features. This year we've heard several reports of plans for Universal to implement resort wide ticketing improvements project that will consolidate theme park and hotel ticketing into one universal (pun not intended) system. Wrist bands or other RFID technology will be used in addition to recent tests of face recognition technology.

Volcano Bay's TapuTapu is an early test of a park wide implementation of the system. Here Universal can test the wrist band system and implementations in a low capacity form before rolling out to existing parks. Additionally Universal has trademarked "Universal Pay", a term that could be used for Universal's tap to pay system for phones and possibly wristbands.

What is unknown by us is the behind the scenes infrastructure for linking an account to a band and if FastPass+ (FP+), the most controversial change at Disney, will be implemented. Disney's MM+ uses My Disney Experience (MDX) for its backbone. This has caused issues for guests as accounts become unlinked and system wide crashes cripple the infrastructure. FP+ allows guests to book attraction return times 60 days in advance for their visit, but issues arise when attractions go down or don't hit hourly capacity estimates and causes long wait times for all.

What is also unknown how Universal ExpressPass, their front of the line pass, will fold into this program. We expect the system to remain and implement face recognition technology instead of scanning tickets for verification.

Follow Parkscope for more information as we hear it and tune in to our podcast for the latest information for parks and rides around the country.

Friday, April 14, 2017

North American 2017 Regional Park Preview

Across much of the nation, snow is beginning to melt. Temperatures are rising. Plants are beginning to bloom. While Orlando and Southern California (and a couple of other outposts) keep their rides running all year long, most of the nation's needs for amusements are met by seasonal amusement and theme parks. The seasonal nature of those parks has changed significantly in the last 20 years with the addition of Halloween events and now expansion of the Spring season and Christmas events. Even though we're just in the first week of April, a goodly number of parks are already open for business in the south and eastern seaboard, with most being open by Mother's Day. So what better time to tell you about what's new or different than now?

WHAT DID WE LOSE?



The biggest loss from the 2016 "offseason" in a historic sense was the announcement that Lakemont Park in Altoona, PA would not reopen for the summer season in 2017 pending significant changes. On my last visit to the park 2 years ago, it was in frankly horrible condition. Many rides will be removed, but the two wooden roller coasters (including the last true side friction coaster in existence, Leap-The-Dips) will supposedly reopen in 2018. Still, any pause in operation, even with the suggestion of renovation and reopening, is worth significant concern.



Another historical oddball lost was the Cool-Off Water Chute in Branson. An early concrete waterslide that predated River Country or Wet N' Wild Orlando, the attraction was bulldozed for the construction of a new alpine coaster for the Branson market. Speaking of Wet N'Wild Orlando: It's gone too. And along with that, Wildwater Kingdom in Aurora, OH. That park was the last vestiges of the binary system that once encircled Geauga Lake and was tragically cut down over a period of years due to abjectly poor planning and over spending. Little to nothing of Sea World Ohio or Geauga Lake Amusement Park now remain. 

Mean Streak, the one time tallest wood coaster in the world, closed last September at Cedar Point. As has been well documented, plenty of new supports are being installed and there's track now on sections of the old ride as it is converted into a Rocky Mountain Coaster hybrid.



Hersheypark's Huss Condor is no more. Neither is the Huss Enterprise at Valleyfair or the Huss Top Spin (RipTide) at Knotts. Knotts is also saying goodbye to its Vekoma Boomerang coaster in April of 2017 to the delight of most and sadness of virtually nobody. 

WHAT ARE WE GETTING?

The harshest of truths entering the 2017 season is that the regional scene really isn't getting a lot of big, life changing stuff. Things are different now than they were in the late 90s during the "coaster wars": 

-Six Flags went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and emerged with their books mostly wiped clean. Their business model has shifted back to low cost season passes and advance sales (read: annual passholder plans for everything not nailed down), but unlike the time when they did that and were forced to sell off 2/3rds of their acquisitions, they aren't overspending. Only 9% of their revenue reinvested into capital expenditures, meaning the entire chain usually has $110-120 million to work with. There are 13 Six Flags theme parks plus some stand-alone water parks. $9-10 million dollars for all improvements per park in any given year is not very much to the average Disney fan used to huge budgets, and it shows.

-Cedar Fair has a lot of debt dating back to the acquisition of the Paramount parks its still paying off, and is looking at the mature market situations with an eye to expanding the season and resort offerings first, building more giant rides a far second. 

-SeaWorld is SeaWorld.

-Everyone else barely has two nickles, much less $20 million for a new ride

With that laid out and looking kinda stark, it probably shouldn't be a surprise that there are no giant new steel coasters for the 2017 season anywhere in the US. But there's actually some dark rides. And a trio of original wood coasters too. Maybe it isn't so bad?



In fact, let's focus in first on something exciting: a new theme park. Owa is being constructed as part of a casino resort in Foley, Alabama, and will come with a full package of Zamperla rides. This includes three coasters, one of which is a multi-inversion, vertical dropping ride called Rollin' Thunder which will essentially be a copy of Coney Island New York's New Thunderbolt. 

-THE CLONE WARS-

Having a basic design that can be replicated and reproduced quickly benefits anyone in the industry. For fans of dark rides, this is especially true since 4 of them are opening at regional theme parks in 2017. 3 of these are versions of the Justice League: Battle for Metropolis ride that first appeared back in 2012 at Warner Brothers Movie World in Australia. Six Flags liked the ride so much that they decided to buy a bunch of them, with installations in 2015 and 2016 at their Chicago, Dallas, St. Louis, and Mexico City parks. This year sees the additions going into Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ, Magic Mountain in Valencia, CA, and Over Georgia in Austell. They've gotten generally rave reviews for good reason: they are shooting dark rides, but unlike most of the Sally rides produced, there's a good mix of practical effects and 3D projections, along with ride action that is highly reminiscent of Spiderman at Islands of Adventure/Universal Studios Osaka. The other dark ride is Ninjago at Legoland Florida. Unlike most of the interactive dark rides produced thus far, Triotech ditched guns for a movement sensing pad that picks up hand motions from riders. Why pull a trigger when you can throw a fireball? They've expanded across the Legoland chain like wildfire with a bunch of European parks getting them too. 

Six Flags has made it a habit to build lots of production model attractions and copy them endlessly. In addition to the Justice League rides, 3 S&S Free Spin coasters are being constructed (New England, Great America, Over Texas) and 2 Zamperla Giant Discovery flat rides (La Ronde, Discovery Kingdom). There's also a Funtime Starflyer going in at Six Flags America; Cedar Fair finally jumped on the bandwagon with these as well, purchasing one for Valleyfair. Elitch Gardens, now owned by Stan Kroenke (possessor of an insane number of sports teams and a dude who married a Walton) also picked up a Starflyer for a 2017 new attraction.

In what may be seen as an odd move, Cedar Fair has actually looked to buy used rides of late, opting for heavy duty 70s/80s era rides known for their longevity. Carowinds, Dorney, and Worlds Of Fun are all getting these rides, including a smattering of Huss Troikas, Condors, Wave Swingers, and even a Mondial Top Scan. Similar slide platforms also will make their way to Cedar Point and Canada's Wonderland from the folks at Whitewater West. The drop slides themselves are quite similar to ones Kings Island and Carowinds have already received.

-TIMBER!?-



The two most substantial new coasters of the year are both from the same company...and they're both wood. The opening for Busch Gardens Williamsburg's new Scandic themed wood coaster InvadR is a terrain-hugging mid-size wood coaster that seems to be getting generally positive reviews on Day 1. The more aspirational layout (and mysterious themed brake/transfer area) of Kings Island's new Mystic Timbers ride has yet to be fully revealed or understood, though first rides will take place at the end of the month. That ride, with a total of 16 expected drops, should be among the top coasters in the US built by Great Coasters International. GCI, as they're often better known in coaster circles, has had some very large rides constructed in China over the last 5 years, but far less in terms of big attractions stateside (White Lightning at Fun Spot Orlando being a rare bright spot). Gravity Group also got some work too, with the highly anticipated Mine Blower at Fun Spot Kissimmee.

Soaring Timbers at Canada's Wonderland is not a wood coaster, but it still has timbers in the name. And it's actually an interesting flat ride - this is the first park install for a Mondial Inferno anywhere in the world. The Eberhard-owned Airwolf touring Europe is by far the most well known example of this rare attraction...just don't expect it to run the same in Canada.


With all that said, how about a list of all new attractions?

-NEW ENGLAND:-

Edaville Family Theme Park (Carver, MA): Pirate Adventure. What the hell is it? I have no idea. They also won't say.



Lake Compounce (Bristol/Southington, CT): Heavy refurb to Wildcat by GCI, includes new Millennium Flyer trains to replace prior 3 bench PTCs. Retracking/reprofiling of Boulder Dash. New targeting/gun system for Ghost Hunt from Lagotronics.

Quassy Amusement Park (Middlebury, CT): Two kiddie rides and new waterslides from ProSlide



Six Flags New England (Agawam, MA): The Joker, a S&S Free Spin coaster.

Water Country (Portsmouth, NH): New water play area for kids.

-NEW YORK/NEW JERSEY/PENNSYLVANIA:-

Bushkill Park (Easton, PA): Honestly have no idea what is happening here, but they promise to be back in some fashion for the 2017 season. Their roller rink reopened for the first time on over a decade this past January. Who can say?



Casino Pier (Seaside Heights, NJ): Hydrus, a Gerstlauer Eurofighter coaster with vertical lift and 3 inversions. This will be the first inverting coaster on the Seaside Heights boardwalk since the destruction of the Funtown Pier by Hurricane Sandy.

Dorney Park (Allentown, PA): After many moons without Bumper Cars, the Dodgems are coming back to Dorney Park. In addition they're being joined by a Huss Troika flat ride called the Kaleidoscope, a new catering facility, and a Cirque Imagine show in the main theater.



Dutch Wonderland (Lancaster, PA): Merlin's Mayhem, an S&S suspended coaster. There are no inversions, and seating is floorless, much like similar coasters from Fabbri or Vekoma.

Great Escape (Lake George, NY): More water park stuff with Bonzai Pipelines

Hersheypark (Hershey, PA): Triple Towers, a trio of differently sized S&S Drop towers ranging from a 80 foot Double Shot to a 189 foot freefall tower, aligned in a row. I have no idea why they did this. None. By the way, they also have two S&S Frog Hoppers side-by-side elsewhere in the park.

Kennywood (West Mifflin, PA): Virtual Reality headsets for Sky Rocket (Premier Launched coaster) and Lego Movie 4D experience at their 4-D theater.



Knoebels (Elysburg, PA): SBF Wave Rider flat ride called "Over The Top". Will roughly be themed to the "Flying Cages" ride removed from the park in 1986. Fun fact: Only Flying Cages in a permanent US facility can be found in Brainerd, Minnesota at Paul Bunyan Land.

Legoland Discovery Center (Plymouth Meeting, PA): Imagination Express Dark Ride. This is a change from the usual Kingdom Quest attractions the other Legoland Discovery Centers have received.

Morey's Piers (Wildwood, NJ): Great Nor'Easter is basically a brand new ride, having a near total track replacement.



Playland's Castaway Cove (Ocean City, NJ): Two new coasters are finally set to open. Galeforce, a wild and giant S&S multi-launch coaster was so heavily delayed by track fit issues that the park threatened to open it in the dead of winter just to say it was a 2016 ride. It still didn't quite happen, and they're now shooting for a May opening date to go with the Miler family coaster "Wild Waves". This is all in addition to the SBF spinning kiddie coaster that did open in 2016.

Seabreeze (Rochester, NY): Time Machine, a Steampunk themed spinning attraction. To be specific, the most incredibly named Technical Park Super Miami.

Six Flags Great Adventure (Jackson, NJ): Justice League: Battle for Metropolis Interactive dark ride.

Storybook Land (Egg Harbor, NJ): Zip Zap Racers, another ride that apparently so defies description, there are no promo photos of it!

Waldameer Park (Erie, Pennsylvania): Battle of Lake Erie, a Splash play area for kids with slides and climbing junk, will be the newest water park addition.

-MID-ATLANTIC (Maryland/Delaware/Virginia/West Virginia/DC)-



Busch Gardens Williamsburg (Williamsburg, VA): Invadr, a GCI Wooden Terrain coaster.

Kings Dominion (Doswell, VA): Three new kiddie rides for the Peanuts Section. As was the case in 2016, the one time Wayne's World themed wood coaster Hurler is closed. Except this year, stuff is happening to it....

Six Flags America (Largo, MD): Wonder Woman: Lasso of Truth - Funtyme Starflyer.

-DEEP SOUTH (Alabama/Carolinas/Florida/Georgia/Louisiana/Mississippi/Tennessee/Kentucky)-

Anakeesta (Gatlinburg, TN): New mountain coaster from Wiegand. This will be the area's 6th.



Carowinds (Fort Mill, SC/Charlotte, NC): Pile of used rides refurbed and installed in the new County Fair section. Headlining the set is a Mondial Top Scan, along with a Huss Troika, Mack Music Express, and Zierer Wave Swinger.

Cool River Tubing (Helen, GA): New mountain coaster currently under construction.

Dollywood (Pigeon Forge, TN): Zamperla kiddie coaster Whistle Punk Chaser will replace the Veggie Tales-less Sideshow Spin. More significant is the addition of Drop Line, a Funtime Drop Tower (first install in the Americas).



Fun Spot Kissimmee (Kissimmee, FL): MINE BLOWER~! As an Orlando attraction, it gets a bit more attention than it would elsewhere, but this Gravity Group wood coaster with its inversion and twister layout could easily be the top new coaster anywhere in 2017.

Kentucky Kingdom (Louisville, KY): Larson Fireball attraction called "Eye of the Storm".

Lake Winnepesaukah (Rossville, GA): New for 2017 at Lake Winnie will be a water park addition.

Owa Theme Park (Foley, AL): A whole theme park. A WHOLE THEME PARK.



Six Flags Over Georgia (Austell, Georgia): Justice League: Battle for Metropolis dark ride.

Wild Adventures (Valdosta, GA): Expansion to the biggest park you've never heard of in the form of a water park add-on called "Ohana Bay."

ZooMiami: Florida: Mission Everglades features a scenic boat ride themed to airboats.

-TEXARHOMA (Arkansas/Oklahoma/Texas)-

Frontier City (Oklahoma City, OK): Water slide construction in the form of "Gully Washer", a tiple body slide complex.



Morgan's Wonderland (San Antonio, TX): Inspiration Island opens this year at one of America's most unique theme parks. The park was developed by home builder Gordon Hartman as a one-of-a-kind facility constructed specifically with special needs children of all types in mind, as inspired by its namesake (his daughter). As such, all attractions are accessible, including the upcoming water park. It promises to be the first "ultra-accessible" splash park ever built. This new section will include a scenic boat ride in addition to other water park fare.



SeaWorld of Texas (San Antonio, TX): Intamin has a reputation for being low priced, and SeaWorld has a reputation of not having a ton of money, and so we get something kinda interesting in Wave Breaker: The Rescue Coaster, an Intamin launched coaster with "Motorbike" style seating akin to Knott's Pony Express or Tron at Disney Shanghai.

Six Flags Fiesta Texas (San Antonio, TX): The upcoming Thunder Rapids Water Coaster is a pretty interesting attraction from Proslide - 6 drops and some tight turns with linear induction motor launches.

Six Flags Over Texas (Arlington, TX):  The Joker, a S&S Free Spin coaster.



Traders Village (Grand Prairie, TX): This amusement park/swap meet combo is receiving a Chance Yo-Yo, Chance Wipeout, and a Larson Giant Loop.

Wonderland (Amarillo, TX): Flat ride called "Route 66." Said to be an "ATV ride". This is just the beginning of a long term expansion plan.

-GREAT LAKES (Ohio/Michigan/Indiana/Illinois/Wisconsin)-



Cedar Point (Sandusky, OH): Cedar Point Shores is the new name for the redesigned Soak City USA, the attached water park, and there's some new slides coming along with it (trap door speed slides). The bigger story is the 2018 ride coming along....

Cedar Valley's Wild Frontier Fun Park (Comins, MI): This park, located 3 hours north of Detroit attached to a  roller coaster, dodgems, giant slide

Coney Island (Cincinnati, OH): The Pool is receiving a new tiki bar and bath house. That's something!



Holiday World (Santa Claus, IN) Firecracker opens for 2017; its actually a used Calypso ride, having been pulled from the defunct Fun Spot amusement park in Angola, Indiana and refurbished.

Kalahari (Sandusky, OH): Expansion of the outdoor portion of their offerings continues with 5 new slides from the folks at ProSlide. This is in addition to a massive indoor water park (one of the largest in the Americas) and an array of dry and wet attractions already existing.

Kings Island (Mason, OH): Mystic Timbers is easily the biggest coaster being built in the United States for the 2017 season. Your likely Golden Ticket winner.

Michigan's Adventure (Muskegon, MI): The park is getting a whole mess of new kiddie slides. Look, it's something. They'll take anything there. Anything.



Santa's Village AZoosment Park (Dundee, IL): When I was a young buck, this park was often referred to as "Satan's Village," and they had a heinous roller coaster built by Italian firm Top Fun that now tragically still exists, replacing fun rides at the Washington State Fairgrounds. After being closed and abandoned for awhile, the park has returned in a smaller, more petting zoo-ish format. They have, however, managed to get some rides from the deceased Fun Spot in Indiana, and have constructed a brand new Interpark Zyklon coaster (named Super Cyclone) for the 2017 season.

-GREAT PLAINS (Dakotas/Iowa/Kansas/Minnesota/Missouri/Nebraska)-

Branson Coaster: It is literally called "The Branson Coaster". Wiegland Alpine Coaster located on the site of what was the Cool Off Water Chute.

Six Flags St. Louis (Eureka, MO): Spinsanity, a Zamperla Disko, is a reasonable flat ride addition to the park. Definitely miles better than just a VR setup on something.



Valleyfair (Shakopee, MN): North Star, a Funtime Starflyer, is the first such ride purchased by Cedar Fair. This is in contrast to the higher capacity but consistently inconsistent Mondial Windseekers.

-MOUNTAINZ~! (Colorado/Montana/Utah/Wyoming)-

Copper Mountain (Frisco, CO): Mountain Coaster, this one from the folks at Aquatic Development. At 5,800 feet long, it will be one of the nation's longest.



Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park (Glenwood Springs, CO): Haunted Mine Drop is a largely underground 120 foot drop tower that no one really knows anything about at the moment. Stan Checketts is somehow behind the attraction, so you know it'll be absurd.

Elitch Gardens (Denver, CO): Starflyer is, uhh, a Starflyer. In fact, it is used, coming from the European carnival circuit.

Lagoon (Farmington, UT): No new rides, but there are some updates to coming to their classic dark ride Terroride in the form of new animations and some control changes.

-GREAT NORTHWEST (Idaho/Oregon/Washington)-

Hot nothing. Sorry. Better luck next year.

-SOUTHWESTERN US (Arizona/Nevada/New Mexico)-

Circus Circus (Las Vegas, NV): Looks like a new coaster is at least designed for the Adventuredome by Chance thanks to some sleuthing that found the video being publicly available in February, but whether or not this is fabricated and installed in 2017 is unknown as of now.



Wet N' Wild (Phoenix, AZ): Kids play area being opened up called Barefootin' Bay. Nothing too grandiose.

Wild Island Family Adventure Park (Sparks, NV): Located up by Reno, they'll be receiving a new water slide called "G-Force". Nothing else is known at this point.

-CALIFORNIA-

California's Great America (Santa Clara, CA): Vortex, the park's early B&M Standup, gets itself new floorless trains, fresh pain, and a shiny moniker: Patriot. Since almost anything is better than a B&M Standup, we have to assume this will be an improvement.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (Santa Cruz, CA): The most venerable of historic seaside parks this continent has to offer is constructing two flat rides: ARM Highflyer (think Huss Ranger/Fabbri Kamikaze but with floorless seats and American know-how) and a Zamperla Giant Dis'ko. These are part of a $14 million dollar new front gate and update program in the park itself.



Sea World San Diego (San Diego, CA): SeaWorld has a strange habit of announcing two years out for their parks this decade. That was the case with Antarctica and Turtle Trek, and is again the case in San Diego where we know a Premier Sky Rocket is on deck for 2018, while the Ocean Explorer Dark Ride and its submarine cars is being assembled for a Summer 2017 opening.



Six Flags Discovery Kingdom (Vallejo, CA): Yet another ride with the Wonder Woman: Lasso of Truth moniker is going in, and it's another Zamperla Giant Discovery.

Six Flags Magic Mountain (Valencia, CA): Justice League #3 for Six Flags is opening up on the site of what was a fetid pool that had previously been the stunt show arena. RIP Stunt Show arena, hello best interactive dark ride in Southern California!


-CANADA-

Calaway Park (Calgary, AB): The last remaining Flintstones themed amusement park by virtue of not really being Flintstones themed any more will have a new Cinemagic 3D film and promises a ride called Dizzy Dragons; if I had to bet, I'd bet on it being a Sellner carnival-spinner.



Canada's Wonderland (Vaughan, ON): Trap door slides (Muskoka Plunge) and a Mondial Inferno (Soaring Timbers) round out another really solid year for the highest attended seasonal park on the continent.

Cultus Lake Adventure Park (Cultus Lake, BC): New rides and attractions are promised for the fairly new build park, but with opening day not until Mid-June, no rush to describe what they are.

La Ronde (Montreal, QC) Titan is another Zamperla Giant Discovery ride. It will be interesting to see how this, the worst amusement park in the hemisphere, screws it up!

PNE Playland (Vancouver, BC): Vancouver's spot for rides is getting and SBF Kiddie Spinning coaster and a couple of kiddie flats.


-MEXICO-



Selva Magica (Guadalajara, Jal): Titan is a strange duck; the only operating Sansei coaster in the Americas, it was purchased by Boblo Island way back in the 1970s. It is an inversion-free experience and its most notable element was a section of flat, low track in between airtime hills. Of course, now Sansei bought S&S Worldwide, and Titan is running in Mexico, and to give it a new wrinkle, they've added VR helmets for the 2017 season.

Six Flags Hurricane Harbor (Oaxtepec, Mor): The Mexican government begged Six Flags to take over this abandoned water park and they obliged for whatever reason. Money traded hands somewhere and hopefully most of it was legal. It reopens in 2017 after some time being closed under the Six Flags banner with new slides (as of yet unannounced).

Six Flags Mexico (Mexico, DF): After a few choice years involving multiple attractions with laser guns and a RMC classic, Six Flags Mexico has a somewhat middling year with New Revolution (VR on Medusa).