Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #156 - Simulated Dive Bar

Aland and Andrew drive around Alabama and Florida hitting up small parks, dive bars, kiddie coaster credits, BBQ, closing coasters, and a review of Owa park.

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #155 - Game Show Land

It's a breezy, laid back affair as Joe, Mike, and Nick celebrate five years of podcasting. We talk Infinity Falls, Disney budget cuts (or not?!?!), game shows, Star Wars Galaxy's Edge's expectation to cure cancer, how messed up Disney's Hollywood Studios still is, HHN28, Parkscope Wolf, and more.

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #154 - Trip Report Dump Truck

Joe's travling for work so we have a hodgepodge of road trip reports to give y'all. First up Alan and Andrew talk about Alan's trip to Europe as they drive around Florida doing attractions. Then Alex and Jeff talk about their Cedar Point road trip.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...US and Canadian Territories

The United States has, over the last 120 years, come into ownership and possession of a number of overseas territories. These stretch from the Indian Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. But one thing we don't necessarily recognize in America is that Canada has territories too. Admittedly, the territories say "territory" right in the name, but we in the US often look at them no differently than the various provinces. They operate differently - very differently.

In this edition of Hidden Rides & Themed Attractions, we're about to travel the world but stay in America. From the arctic to the rainforest, yes - we've got it covered.


2017 was a bad year for the island, having been whacked with a Category 5 Hurricane that devastated large tracts of the island.  This presents some challenges with identifying locations for the island, as some of them have been wiped out entirely but no one is around to tell us which for sure. One thing is clear: Las Cascadas Water Park in Aguadilla never opened for the 2018 season. Whether or not it ever does again is largely a mystery. Parque Familiar Padua Adrian Sanchez is a small family amusement zone in Arecibo, a town most known for its massive radio telescope, but there's been total silence on its operation since early 2017. Arecibo has a splash pad that is being reopened this month, but the park with it's animatronic dinosaurs and mini golf appears to be quiet.

The most expansive offerings on the island are behind closed resort gates. El Conquistador, the massive beach resort managed by Waldorf Astoria, features a full water park called Coqui. There's a mix of body and tube slides present, along with a lazy river. Fewer slides are available at the Ritz Carlton-run Dorado Beach Resort's Watermill, but it too has a lazy river and a somewhat appropriate to the area theme built around an old sugar plantation. Families on the island are much more likely to be found at the small Arroyo's Surfing Park, which appears to be built around a single water play-platform and some small pools.

For dry rides, there's only one permanent option and a couple of larger temporary ones. Castillo Del Nino is a very small facility with some kids rides and a small carousel that seems to target the birthday party market more than anything, but it's the closest thing to a traditional amusement park in PR. There are a pair of fairs, both in Hato Rey - the largest is La Feria at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, which for several years prior to the hurricane was serviced by Wade Shows. It took 2017 off, but will be returning in the winter of 2018 as part of their typical Caribbean swing that includes Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. There's a smaller fair as well known as "Winter Park"at the Coliseo; pictures from the January 2018 version made it look not much bigger than a typical small county fair in the US, but that's more than nothing.


About 100,000 people live in the USVI spread primarily across three islands - St. Thomas is the most populated, followed by St. Croix and St. John brings up the rear. The latter is overwhelmingly national park land; St. Croix and St. Thomas by comparison are basically available for development. However, as many cruise passengers learn, both islands have treacherous terrain poorly suited for any kind of amusement development. Paradise Point Skyride (fully enclosed gondola) does exist, and offers views of the main harbor on St. Thomas from the restaurant/bar at the top. For a time, it was also home to an Eli Ferris Wheel on the top, but that was short lived. Coral World is also plenty popular with cruise passengers, offering experiences to enter the water with sea lions, turtles, and soft adventure diving activities like Snuba.


OK, nothing here. Sorry to get your hopes up! Majuro Atoll in the Marshall Islands has a reasonable amount of development, but the atoll shape is so thin that it is extraordinarily difficult to picture even a mini golf being built here as there is just not really any room. American Samoa's low wages from being the tuna canning capital of the American Pacific probably retard the ability of locals to demand a go kart track, mini golf course, or prefab steel building filled with inflatables.


Now we're talking about somewhere with rides! More than 160,000 people live on Guam, but it also has a healthy transient population thanks to the US Military and Japanese tourism. These entities have money, and people with money on vacation like fun, and ergo: rides!

First, a quick history - Guam's most beloved amusement center was Yigo Amusement Park; opened by Filipino investor Mark V. Pangilinan back in the 1970s. The park was unprofitable and abandoned sometime later (perhaps as late as the 1990s), and there are actually log flume vehicles which can be found on the old site based on various urbex pictures.

In subsequent years however, other attractions have opened up. Tagada Amusement Park opened in the tourist district of Tumon in 2012 anchored by - what else? - a Tagada. This may mean absolutely nothing to most people. I get that. But look:

The Tagada is a ride that is so outrageously dangerous on multiple levels to the unsuspecting guest that it has been the topic of discussion of being banned in the UK. There are none operating in the continental US or Canada, almost certainly due to liability insurance concerns. Having been on multiple and having been thrown to the floor aboard one, I can tell you that it is not an experience for everyone. Those intending something passive should stick to the pirate ship here (the only other ride is a set of Bumper Cars).

Funtastic Park, located inside the Micronesia Mall, is an indoor family entertainment center featuring a smattering of rides geared for children. There's a powered coaster, a small carousel, bumper cars, a children's swinging ship, ball pit, and lots of arcade games. Kid geared rides can also be found at Talofofo Falls Resort Park. This is a strange sight: the main draw are water falls and a swimming hole, but there's statuary of a outright sexual nature, a home built train ride, some kids flat rides, bumper cars, suspension bridges, Yokoi Cave (where the last Japanese soldier hid until the 1970s being unaware that World War 2 was over), a museum on the history of Guam, and a cable car.

For excitement that will trend older: Grand Prix Guam USA Go Kart Racing has modified racing karts that probably go twice as fast as what you'll find at the average mini golf in the US. Atlantis Submarines has an outpost here, and you can dive over 100 feet to a variety of sea creatures (St. Thomas in the USVI also has one, it should be noted). And then there's Slingshot -  a 70m (~220 or so foot) reverse bungee attraction using steel cables and springs to drive the bouncing motion. That's a good thing in terms of safety, by the way.


The commonwealth you forgot of the US! This is a big time vacation destination for the Japanese, and Saipan is the most significant island in the area. Much of the coolest amusements are located behind resort gates, kinda like Puerto Rico. Resorts World's Saipan World Resort has a whole water park (Wave Jungle) for it's guests complete with water coasters, but it is open to outsiders at a price. Mariana Resort and Spa has a racing go-kart track with lots of turns and really fast karts. Not much else though, unlike Guam can be found here.


Not all that long ago, Canada had one gigantic space north of its provences called "Northwest Territories". This was split up in the 90s into what we recognize today as the Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. Nunavut doesn't have any themed attractions: if you manage to get to Iqulit (or the smaller towns, for that matter - only 38,000 people live in a space larger than Alaska), you're in the frontier. The end of civilization. You're going to see things like Narwhals and eat seal flesh raw. Forget theming; this is what the theming is of. The other territories are kinda similar, but have slightly larger developments requiring an escape.

Whitehorse, Yukon Territory has a Rotary Club outpost, and they in turn run a small city park with a splash pad. There's also Sign Post Forest along the Alaska Highway - think of it as a crowd assembled attraction, where literally anyone can bring a sign and make it part of the overall array of thousands of various signs (homemade, stolen, "found", etc).


In 1987, the Wade Hamer Mini Putt was constructed in Yellowknife in memory of a young hockey player who died in a car accident that same year. It remains the sole "amusement" in the territory, and has a variety of themed holes such as shooting your ball through a curling puck. A news report in 2012 noted that the ticket booth for it burned down, and there's been no updates since though Google still reports that it is open.


Well, that's it! 62 pieces and 2 years after it started, we're finally through to the end. If you haven't looked through the other pieces in the series, click on the Label for "Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...." just below and leaf through all the states and provinces previously done. Most importantly - get out there and explore!

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Wyoming

10th largest by area, least populated, and last in the alphabet - Wyoming appears on almost no one's radar unless they're thinking about skiing or hate crimes. Contending with Colorado as the nation's squarest state, Wyoming's entire population is eclipsed by that of the city of Milwaukee. Ohio State University has more students enrolled than the largest city in the state (Cheyenne) has residents. We're talking sparse here, people. Sparse. And where people are sparse, so are amusements.

As is often the case in places where there's not a ton of taxable income, citizen organizations often attempted to step in and fill the void by providing entertainment. The Lions in Cheyenne provided the space for a small park that ran until 1990 here called Fun City, home to the state's one known historic roller coaster (some kind of kiddie steel coaster with Allen Herschell cars). The Putt Hutt and Ampitheater still remain in operation, but the mechanical rides are long, long gone.

As the largest city and center of much activity, Cheyenne isn't without rides these days. Cheyenne Steamers operate a miniature train in the city at the Ice and Events Center; dates are limited for public rides, but they exist from time to time. Another location that's limited in terms of availability quite by design: The Party Pony. It's a children's event center with a carousel of indeterminate origin (probably a two row portable Herschell but I haven't seen a good enough picture). The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of the state's premier tourist destinations, and is home to a skyride and a 1925 Herschell carousel.

In 2015, the state once again welcomed a coaster: Cowboy Coaster, constructed at Snow King Mountain Ski Resort. Like so many in the US, it is Wiegland Mountain Coaster and is capable of year round operation. Like many other ski resorts, there's scenic chair lift rides and kids activities (mini golf, a maze).

Big dreams exist in a big land. Old Town Family Fun in Casper is a fairly substantive FEC that's been expanding right along; mini golf, climbing wall, and arcade. They also have impressively themed exteriors to the buildings, which suggests either they might have aspirations beyond this. Aspirations are running wild in Buffalo, WY where they're collecting money to restore a CW Parker carousel they've called the "https://www.facebook.com/CowboyCarouselCenter/Cowboy Carousel". This rare machine features Cowboy and Native American pieces together, but is in need of significant restoration before returning to public utilization as part of an arts center in the town.


And with that, every state has been covered: but this project hasn't ended quite yet! Canada and the United States both claim a number of territories, ranging from the arctic to the South Pacific. What wonders do they conceal? Find out in our next installment!

Friday, August 24, 2018

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #153 - Kebab Puns

Part 1: Joe is joined by Alicia Stella of Orlando Park Stop and Theme Park Stop on YouTube. We have a breezy talk about the new Potter coaster, Universal's history, the "good ole days" were not good, Universal announcement pacing, Disney projects, and more!

Part 2: Brian McNichols from Touring Plans gives us his initial impressions and review of Universal's new Aventura Hotel.

Part 3: Joe and Mike talk to Brian about his first trip to HHN, give him some tips, and we share the scare zones and houses we are most excited for this year.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Wisconsin

Wisconsin is known for two things on the global stage: beer and cheese. Sometimes these are put together and used to dip pretzels into or used to smother burgers. Under those circumstances, one might expect that its residents would perish from heart disease at some of the highest rates in the US. They actually rank around midpack - just like they rank in most categories such as overall population and size. How? Well, Wisconsin is a well educated state thanks to it's outstanding public institutions, and thus has above average doctors for the other demographics it otherwise shares. Very much a purple state, it is responsible for both Paul Ryan and Scott Walker's notoriety on the American political stage, but historically has a substantive number of democratic candidates which it has pushed forward (including current senator Tammy Baldwin).

It's biggest city isn't where the NFL team is located - it's actually the third largest city where you'd find that. There's also no NHL team here in spite of it being cold and conducive to hockey fandom thanks to the overbearing influence of the Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago as a whole really casts a shadow on much of the populated portions of the state. It's the top market from which Wisconsin Dells pulls tourists, and the existence of Six Flags Great America as being positioned halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago's respective downtowns forever dooms the city to never having a substantive park to truly call it's own. There's lots of outdoor space here and plenty of great summer recreation of the "real" kind. And more often than not, that recreation has led to amusements sprouting up near by.

The obvious starting point is the Wisconsin Dells. In the 1920ss, tourists flocked here because of the gorgeous glacially-carved sandstone that reflected off the calm waters of Lake Delton. That Lake Delton is actually a reservoir constructed pretty much entirely for establishing a leisure resort has become secondary in the discussion of the Dells, as Lake Delton itself increasingly becomes perceived as merely a source of water rather than an attraction. Noah's Ark was the first really big attraction in the area: it has historically been much more than a water park, even containing indoor attractions like a a 4-D Theater and a Haunted Swing (think Vekoma Mad House, but smaller) rethemed twice, most recently to Curse of The Crypt. Their premier attraction these days is the 1/4 mile long water coaster Black Anaconda, which was the world's longest when constructed.

It was the development of the first American full scale water park under a roof at The Polynesian that changed everything in the Dells. Soon, large water park resorts sprung up left and right, establishing brands: The Wilderness, Kalahari, and Great Wolf Lodge are its most well known by far. Chula Vista Resort doesn't have a national brand, but it does have both an indoor and outdoor water park with water coaster. And then there's Mount Olympus. Oh, Mount Olympus.

Jim Laskaris is the classic hard working immigrant story - arriving in the US from Greece as a teenager, he acquired a technical education and spent time in the Navy before moving his family to Wisconsin Dells in 1970. There he slowly built a variety of tourist aimed businesses: restaurants, small motel, and go-kart tracks. It was the last of those, the go-karts, for which he would ultimately become famed. Big Chief's expanded throughout the 80s and 90s, building larger and larger multi-level kart tracks, and then soon after, wooden roller coasters. 4 in all would ultimately be acquired, named after the figures of Greek antiquity: Cyclops, Zeus, Hades, and Pegasus. Jim Laskaris died in 2003 - struck down by an out of control motorcyclist as he walked out to get the mail at his winter home in Fort Lauderdale - leaving his son Nick in charge. In the years after, Big Chief's became Mt. Olympus, a Greek-themed theme & water park resort that absorbed neighbors.

In order to not invite ourselves too heavily to libel lawsuits, we should traffic in facts here. This year, Wisconsin Dells was selling tickets to the park for $3. Parking is usually in the $20 range, but there is still POP admission for the general public at $3. Three. US. Dollars. Over the years, the Laskaris family has expanded vastly it's holdings, buying up other attractions in the area as they've closed or never opened. The Indoor Theme Park, which certainly appears to be little more than a prefab steel warehouse, contains Zamperla rides acquired from a nearby restaurant who's efforts to get an amusement park off the ground came up short for some mysterious reason. Motels up and down the strip of WI-12 are now painted white and blue (though many Tripadvisor reviews show the phones in room having never been given new slips for identification of the hotel) having been acquired, with various "all inclusive" style packages being made available. Pizza, breadsticks, park admission, parking, towels, 3 hours of resort exclusive ERT (so exclusive you can pay extra for it at Mount Olympus if there for the day), and more can be yours for prices in the $80/night range.

Wisconsin Dells has a pile of smaller attractions worth noting, just as any other tourist trap would. Top Secret Attraction is also owned by the Laskaris family: shaped like an inverted White House (a la Wonderworks' upside down buildings), it has an array of upside-down house scenes, an appearance by some sort of rock monster, and dinosaurs. The sign outside proclaims "Today Only! $5" which really needs a comma as it has been $5 for many years consecutively. Mr Marvel's Wondertorium is independently owned and operated: there's sideshow acts and museum pieces inside this weird joint. For some light scare action, there's the Dells Zombie Outbreak (laser tag where you shoot zombies) and two more traditional haunted houses (Ghost Outpost and Haunted Mansion). I would be remiss not to reference the Tommy Bartlett empire, including a science center (Tommy Bartlett Exploratory) and water skiing show. Tragically, the largest independent parks in the area (Riverview Park and Timber Falls) have closed their largest rides or are outright defunct, including a really solid wood coaster. The entirety of the Dells seems to be shifting more and more in favor of the indoor water parks.

Green Bay has a gridiron football team (I use this to differentiate for all 4 readers outside North America who might be confused) which is publicly owned; the only such entity in American pro sports. It shouldn't be that big a surprise then that they also have a publicly owned and operated amusement park perhaps: That's what Bay Beach is. There's a really long train ride, some notable flats (Scat2!) and of course the Zippin Pippin. Elvis' favorite coaster, torn down at Libertyland many moons ago, was recreated here in Green Bay, Wisconsin. By most accounts, the ride which exists today is actually far superior to the original. I personally think it's among the 10-15 best wood coasters in the country, and I'm a big time wood coaster fan. The city also has a more traditional FEC called Kastle Park should you just be looking for some go karts. But really, just go to Bay Beach. Rides on the Zippin Pippin are something like $1.25. Really! No lie!

Museum or theme park or neither? Your call when it comes to Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Founded in the home of Ringling Bros/' headquarters, it is part open air museum dedicated to preserving "Ringlingville", a series of buildings that were used by the circus during the summer months. It is also part actual circus, with a permanent 3 ring circus with daily circus shows in the summer time. There's also historical collections related to carnivals and the wild west shows of the early 20th century that one can leaf through if they've got enough time.

On the outskirts of the metro Madison area is Little Amerricka; named for founder Lee Merrick and, well, America, it's the kind of park that I love to highlight in these pieces. Not enough is ever done to look at the work individuals do to create their dream amusement facilities, and this is one of those situations where one man's uncompromising vision has led to a super unique park with really cool stuff. At Little Amerricka, you'll find the prototype Chance Toboggan coaster, one of the last operating Herschell wild mouse coasters, Hillcrest Park from Chicago's PTC Little Dipper wood coaster (with all the custom metal work retained), a monorail (with single cars!), a haunted house built out of what looks to be a single wide trailer, and the Train. Custom built from the ground up with a roundhouse and a bunch of engines, the train looks slightly different than your average park train to start with, but once you realize it's a nearly 30 minute, two mile journey out into the country side and a farm, you really come to appreciate how unique this place is.

Unique. One Man's Vision. These are often quotes attribute to Walt Disney, but they describe any number of legendary figures of the 20th century, including a Wisconsin resident with a uncompromising attitude towards architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright was, and is, rightfully considered a legend. Many believe he is America's first truly great architect. Among the people he influenced was Alex Jordan Jr., a young architect who desired to train at Taliesin in Spring Green. At least, that's the apocryphal story. Whether or not he ever met. Wright is disputable, to say the least. What isn't in dispute is what Jordan Jr. constructed a short distance from the master's school. He constructed what must be considered the single most audacious "residence" in American history. He built "The House On The Rock".

When touring the House On The Rock, guests tour the unorthodox living spaces (there are no bedrooms here, but many, many sofas) and their myriad of themes. They will see the music machines. And then the music machines will get every larger. And larger. And larger. And with that, the other rooms will increase in scope and size. Eventually, you arrive in a room big enough to house a dirigible with a statue of a giant sea monster (sperm whale-ish) that's eating a row boat and it's off to the races. Nothing in your life prepares you for this or any of the spectacle that follows - steam punk, a carousel with hundreds of pieces, thousands of dolls, the list goes on and on. It is a modern spectacle on par with anything in the Americas, if not the world. Anyone seriously interested in themed spaces not only should go, but as a practical measure, must.

How much mini golf is there in Wisconsin? All the mini golf. When it comes to the most interesting, there's The Ruins Adventure Mini Golf in Oconto that has Mayan elements, Red Putter's Door County WI theme, and Nine Below in Milwaukee - a bar with "build it yourself" mini golf.  There's also a smattering of Family Entertainment Centers featuring golf, go-karts, and other stuff - Elmer's Fun Park, Bears' Den, Kartway, Settlers Mill, Egg Harbor Fun Park, and Eagle Falls all operate in Northern Wisconsin where residents often find themselves vacationing in the summer. Further south and closer to the population bases are Prarieville Park and the Chubby Seagull.

Carousels and Trains have some representation too: The Toy Train Barn in Argyle is not merely a place to buy trains, but has a fairly substantial miniature train to ride on too. The Lumberjack Steam Train and Camp 5 Museum is a shared experience: train to the camp museum to visit and see how the logging industry was in the olden days of the late 19th century, and train to leave. The Henry Vilas Zoo has a train ride and carousel (a modern "Conservation" one); same with Fond Du Lac's Lakeside Park (also has a kiddie whip ride). The Menominee Park Zoo has a 50s era Herschell metal carousel, and Waterloo's Fireman's Park just reopened their CW Parker Carousel from 1911 this past July. Sadly, one item can't be visited any more - Ella's Deli in Madison closed its doors early in 2018 as the owners seek to retire. The business is being parted off, including the metal Parker 2-row carousel that sat inside and a second Herschell carousel, not used by them, which had been in storage since acquisition a quarter century ago.

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the biggest single attendance grabber in the state: The Wisconsin State Fair. According to Carnival Warehouse, attendance for the 2018 fair broke 1 million yet again. With an independent midway, there's plenty of large equipment that shows up to join the permanent skyride and one of the more impressive rows of permanent food stands you'll ever see (really - they're like full size restaurants and bars located in the shadow of the fairgrounds grandstand).