Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Hawaii

Ahhh, Hawaii. The 50th and perhaps final state in our great union. A chain of Polynesian islands over 2,000 miles from our continental shores, Hawaii has the fine history of having been an independent kingdom who's royalty were overthrown to allow it to become an American territory during a fairly dark period in Western History. Hey, look, that's what happened! Don't blame the messenger.

Like with Delaware and Alaska, there are some challenges to discussing stuff like theme park attractions in Hawaii because....there isn't much? One might suggest there is nothing. I will not be that person, but I can assure you that there is indeed little. But why? Aren't there people there? Don't a lot of tourists go from all over the world? Don't military personnel want to have fun?


The first traditional permanent amusement park in Hawaiian history opened near Waikiki Beach in 1922. While the transient military population enjoyed it, locals were far less enthusiastic, finding it counterproductive to how a distinctly Hawaiian style of living was supposed to be. Surrounded by enormous physcial beauty, Hawaii has always offered a vast array of year round recreational opportunities to those seeking them in the natural world. Deeply exotic on its own, Hawaii kinda sorta doesn't require a lot of artificial escapes. The island of Kauai acted as Isla Nublar in Jurassic Park, which is literally an attraction theme parks attempt to mimic for guest experiences.

Hawaii also has some complications for the standard fairgrounds structure. Unlike anywhere else in America, the entirety of the state of Hawaii consists of islands way off the mainland. These islands do not have ferry service between them to make transit particularly easy, which makes the operation of a carnival extremely difficult. The man that changed everything was E.K. Fernandez. Fernandez and his eponymous company were founded in 1903 and began with showing motion pictures and booking of vaudeville acts. By 1915, Fernandez has acquired his first ride, a steam powered "Flying Ginny" carousel, which made its debut at the Maui County Fair. Unlike the team owning Aloha Amusement Park in Waikiki later on, Fernandez had the benefit of heritage on his side. His mother had been a close confident of Queen Lili‘uokalani and his parents were among the very first on the island to convert to the Mormon church. He was not an interloper: he was part of the Hawaiian social fabric.
Fernandez expanded his efforts following World War 2, becoming the major circus promoter throughout the Pacific Rim, running events in the Philippines, Singapore, Guam, China, and Japan.

In the 1950s, Fernandez is joined by a new competitor named Wally Yee. Yee, in addition to having his carnival business, also constructs a kiddie park in Honolulu called Joyland consisting of 10 rides, food booths, and ponies per the 1955 Billboard article about it. Yee would play a proud second fiddle until his retirement in the mid-1980s, and the kiddieland closed well before that. E.K. Fernandez himself died in 1970, but his name is carried on by his still very much operating company. Today, if you want to go on a ride when in Hawaii, you'll need to look up the route for EK Fernandez on their website and make plans. In spite of the geographic isolation, Fernandez keeps up a fairly modern midway. That also means they don't really have anything that is outrageously unique.

Joining EK Fernandez in the "something is better than nothing" category is the "4D Adventure Ride," an 3D simulation motion base theater attraction in a strip mall. There's also bumper boats, Eurobungee, a rock climbing wall, and mini golf at Maui Golf and Sports Park in, you guessed it, Maui. Hey, you take what you can get, right?

It shouldn't be that great a surprise that water parks are better represented in this tropical climate than old fashioned steel rides. Wet N' Wild Hawaii is the class leader; in fact, they're really the only game in the state. For something a bit rarer, one should head over to the Grand Wailea Resort operated by Waldorf Astoria on Maui. Amongst the water park-like attractions in their pool area is the "water elevator" that takes guests from one pool to the next while still immersed in water. It is, to date, the only one ever built.


Perhaps because they are far less secular than you might anticipate following heavy Mormon and 7th Day Adventist recruitment, there's not many Halloween events in Hawaii. One of the few is Honolulu's Nightmares Live, which also seems to be one of the longest going. Perhaps more terrifying, and also perhaps thankfully defunct was Teddy Bear World, an offshoot of the Korean Jeju Island facility. There were animatronic displays of animatronic teddy bears doing everything from Elvis songs to spacewalks. The doors closed for good in 2014.


For a look back at both cultural and agricultural good 'ol days, there's a pair of fairly well know attractions. The Polynesian Cultural Center located near BYU's Hawaiian campus is the best open air museum present on the island, and not only details traditional Hawaiian culture, but that of other Polynesian groups like the Samoans as well. One of the top attractions on the islands is the Dole Plantation, where people can ride the narrow gauge Pineapple Express Train on the old grounds or enjoy one of the largest mazes on the planet.

As part of the research for this article, I was in contact with several different people, including Donna Smith from E.K. Fernandez. As a result of that contact, I was able to get a new carousel added to the NCA Database. The Hawaii Children's Discovery Center is now home to a Allan Herschell carousel from the 1950s, donated by the Fernandez company in 2003. This is a great historical find, and I'd like to thank them again for their kindness and quick replies.


Sea Life Park Hawaii isn't that well themed, I suppose, and almost doesn't fit. It's a Sea World like facility with captive animals and some performances. No rides, just a splash pad otherwise.

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