Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of....Texas

Texas is not merely a state, but a Republic: it's proud of it's history as one of two independent nations to have become part of the United States. As the largest state in the lower 48 by volume and one of it's most populated, it exerts tremendous influence politically and socially as the true power center of the American South. The independent streak of Texans is known not just nationally, but globally as a symbol of out hegemony. And yet, Texas is hardly some singular entity. It's a diverse state of robotics and tech, of chicano cities, of cowboys with hundreds of wind turbines, of coastline, of plains, of mountains. It has not one cultural capital, but multiple.

Of Texas' great cities, Dallas is most likely to be recognized by outsiders and international visitors. The Metroplex is a vast sprawl of super highways and housing developments that stretches nearly 10,000 square miles and contains the 4th largest metro population in the US (it's the seventh largest CSA, which also shows you how outside of the development, it gets rural fast). As such a hugely populated zone, it's had a long and stellar history of amusements that is exemplified in the first theme park that succeeded after Disneyland (Six Flags Over Texas). It's second most famous amusement zone has some really big stuff - really really big. And you'd expect that with an icon like Big Tex standing over the whole thing. Yes, I'm talking about the State Fair of Texas.

Fair Park is actually home to a huge number of permanent attractions and venues. Among these: the Cotton Bowl, the Museum of Nature and Science, Texas Discovery Gardens, and the African American Museum. Fair Parks is also one of the few major fairgrounds with large permanent rides. The Top O Texas Tower, opened in 2013, is a modern take on the old Willy Buhler Space Towers Intamin sold to so many places (including the still operating Sea World Orlando and San Diego models), built with a larger disc and a larger tower (500 teet!). It's not the only think that riders can take scenic photos from either, with the Big Tex Wheel standing in at over 200 feet and a long time record holder for largest ferris wheel in the US. The Skyway is also there, leading passengers over the midway and saving wear and tear on their soles.

Bigger excitement comes from less scenic attractions: Fair Park has a permanent dark ride called Scary Park. Originally opened as Lumalusion, it's a Bill Tracy dark ride that's seen some freshening up for the 2016 season. There's also an Arrow Log Flume (Sparklett's Splash) and a Dentzel Carousel. And of course Big Tex. He was rebuilt bigger, badder, and fire proof after burning to the ground in 2012. At 55 feet tall, Big Tex is probably the largest thing approaching an audio-animatronic ever constructed.

Staying near downtown, The Dallas Zoo also has several rides of its own: there's an Endangered Species Carousel, a trackless "mini-train", but most interesting is the Wilds of Africa Monorail. Seating is directed to one side facing the exhibits, with rock work, water falls, and of course tons of animals. Slowly moving out to the suburbs, there's all sorts of smaller family geared parks and entertainment centers. Legoland Discovery Center in Grapevine has a somewhat unique driving attraction called Lego City: Forest Ranger Pursuit - it's a combination of the existing Driving School attractions with interactive bits more akin to dark rides. And there's a straight up dark ride too in one of the Kingdom Quest attractions.

Dallas' actually has 5 dark rides in the metro area: 2 at Six Flags Over Texas, the Legoland and Fair Park dark rides, and an original Pretzel located at a small park called Sandy Lake in the suburb of Carrollton. There are several other attractions here, including a train ride, Herschell kiddie coaster, and several small kids rides. Alley Cats in the city of Hurst has a more modern coaster (the ubiquitous SBF/Visa Spinning Model, referenced in nearly every one of these pieces), several other kids rides, go-karts, and mini golf. Mountasia Family Fun Center in North Richland Hills has a similar list of attractions, but subs out the superior spinning coaster with a powered Miner Mike model from Wisdom. On the outskirts of the city, YesterLand Farm is one of the largest in a growing segment of agrotourism parks featuring a mix of kids rides, home built wackiness (Apple Cannons! Duck races!), and plenty of time to engage with domesticated animals. On the opposite end of the spectrum: Zero Gravity Thrill Park. Nothing but ultra high thrill attractions such as America's only remaining SCAD drop (no bungee, no cord, super high liability insurance free fall into a net), Skycoaster, Skyscraper propeller ride, and both a reverse Bungee and standard Bungee jump tower.

It's time to finally start making our way out of the Dallas Metroplex, but before we do, it's important that we mention another strange, Texas-only player. Several other large flea markets have opted to bring in amusement rides, but the three Trader's Village locations in Grand Prarie, San Antonio, and Houston all have some big rides in them. Just no coasters. All three have matching signature 128ft drop towers from Larson, and the majority of their other rides and attractions are also American made (Larson Giant Loops and Star Dancers, Chance Wipeouts, Yo-Yos, and Pharoah's Fury). Heading west, we find the kiddie coaster at Gatti's Pizza in Abilene's Gatti's Pizza location of the primarily Texas-based FEC chain. There's also what appear to be Ride Development Company bumper cars at their locations in Odessa and Midland, making them the only permanent amusement rides in that metropolitan area. For folks in West Texas, anything bigger requires a ride out to Lubbock or Amarillo.

Long known to coaster junkies, West Texas is one of the more remote destinations for unique/strange coasters in the United States. Joyland in Lubbock isn't a big park, but it does have some interesting variation; transportation/scenic rides (sky ride, train), classic flats, and some kinda interesting production model steel (the Herschell Mouse is one of two still operating). Not that far away in the city of Amarillo is Wonderland, a more comprehensive park that has even more unique rides - Bill Tracy's Fantastic Journey dark ride is here, along with the former Mayan Mindbender coaster from Astroworld (Hornet), a wacky Hopkins double looper that was designed on the back of a napkin (Texas Tornado), another near last of its kind Miler wild mouse (Cyclone), a big drop tower from Moser which used to tour with Conklin Shows (Drop of Fear), and a Z64 Zyklon (the big kind) called Mouse Trap.

Houston lost it's big theme park when Six Flags Astroworld was closed and sold for cash in an attempt to stave off what was an inevitable bankruptcy. In the 13 years since, many have come forward talking about building a replacement, but none exists yet. The closest thing to a replacement the Metro area has is a series of amusement attractions constructed by the local restaurant monolith, Landry's. Known outside Houston for chains like the themed Rainforest Cafe and Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Landry's has long partnered with The Walt Disney Corporation, operating several restaurants both in the parks (Yak and Yeti) and outside of them in Disney Springs. There's no "Landry" behind the company, but rather Tilman Fertitta; offspring of the Fertitta crime family that once made Galveston into an illicit gambling and entertainment center. The same Ferittas, in fact, that were behind the construction of many casinos in Las Vegas and became primary owners of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. From those questionable origins, there is every bit of evidence that they are fully legit and corporatized now, but there's still a lot of love for the people of Houston and expansion in Galveston.

There's an unofficial triumvirate that one can get multiday access for via their web portal: Historic Galveston Pleasure Pier is the newest of the trio, centered by the Iron Shark coaster from Gerstlauer and a Funtyme Starflyer. It has some design elements to evoke classic early 20th century facilities, but in some ways suffers from a gate entry price from really having the kind of crowds that would really make it feel like one. Kemah Boardwalk is the other seaside facility of the three: this time there's an absolutely top flight wood coaster (Boardwalk Bullet) as the signature attraction. There's also a substantial number of Chance's ride catalog here, such as an observation tower and a surprisingly themed CP Huntington Train. Finally, there's Downtown Aquarium: very similar thematically and design wise to the Sea Life and Ripley's aquarium facilities, it also features an outdoor section of rides primarily again of Chance descent. The signature ride here is their train: it goes through a nearby building that has been converted into a huge shark aquarium, and the train has a plexiglass roof to allow riders to see through into the tank from below as it travels a polycarbonate tube. There's also animatronics and....well, that's that for spoilers. Not part of the pass, but still part of Landry's empire, is the River Adventure Ride at the Rainforest Cafe in Galveston. It uses round boats similar to a rapids ride as it traverses a winding indoor path around animatronic animals galore.

(Houston Zoo is also a top shelf facility worth noting, though not a Landry's property. There's a modern carousel, aquarium, and all sorts of other stuff being a big zoo for a big market.)

San Antonio feels like it doesn't belong to the United States at times: The Missions are maintained by the National Park system sans one (The Alamo, which is the most emotionally fraught but also visually the least interesting), there's systems of 18th century aqueducts around, there's the Riverwalk, there's the historic La Villita Arts Community with nearly 30 historic structures, and the natural beauty of the rolling hills around it. As one of the 10 most visited cities, it also has a surprisingly large number of amusement facilities: Sea World San Antonio and Six Flags Fiesta Texas don't really apply for long form discourse here, but they're nowhere near the only options in town. The center of the city itself has some strange gems, in fact.

Take, for example, Tomb Rider 3D, part of a Ripley's complex directly across the street from the Alamo's front entrance. Both nondescript and appallingly tacky at once somehow, it's actually a Sally interactive dark ride that manages to fit in stereoscopic 3D video that is shootable along with some kinda custom bits. It's a nice change from the average Sally Ghost Hunt style ride. Over at the Tower of the Americas, there's Skies Over Texas 4D: standard Iwerks motion base but a Soarin' style film about, well, Texas. A 5 minute walk away is the Institute of Texas Cultures; like the Tower of the Americas, it's a hold over from the 1968 Hemisfair (World's Fair), and there's a projection film that runs in its multi faced ceiling about the multicultural nature of Texas' development. Brackenridge Park is both home to the San Antonio Zoo as well as a lengthy miniature train ride with over a mile of track. Too bad the Von Roll skyrides here and in downtown were both removed in the 80s.

Outside the urban center of San Antonio, there is yet more: Kiddie Park of San Antonio is exactly what it says it is; small CW Parker carousel with "grasshopper" jumper mechanism, Mangels kiddie rides galore, Whip, and what is probably a last of it's kind ride in the "School Bus" - basically a kiddie trolley attraction. Morgan's Wonderland is less classic, but in many ways shoots a lot higher, opting to try and have an entire amusement park that is accessible to every one of its guests regardless of disability. There are no giant rides - one swing attraction actually is built to accommodate wheelchairs, there's a train, there's a ferris wheel, etc. - but everything there is to accommodate everyone. It's an impressive feat, and it's earned them quite a lot of recognition.

Now actually a recognizable city, Austin isn't just a trivia answer to the capital of a state with other important places, but a major metro all it's own with a more liberal flair. Schlitterbahn, the now embattled water park that innovated so heavily, was its prime getaway for years, but with growth comes new operations. Most notable by car is ZDT's Amusement Park, a 10 acre family entertainment facility that gained significant notoriety for building a wooden shuttle coaster, the first in probably close to a century. Switchback has both a forwards lift hill as well as a vertical spike which the ride descends to go backwards. Less impressive, but still "counting" is Austin's Park N' Pizza, one of the increasingly ubiquitous Pizza Buffet + Kids rides that are popping up nationally.

You want dinosaurs? Texas has dinosaurs. How about dinosaurs AND a car wash? Austin has you covered again with Jurassic Car Wash has animatronic dinos that do a program on the top and half hour every day from 10AM - 7PM. Why? Because they can. Heard Natural Science Museum in the Metroplex also has an outdoor walk past big animatronic dinosaurs, should you have not gotten that out of your system at any number of Cedar Fair parks already.

There are actually yet more weird rides on the outskirts: The Fireman's Parks in Brenham and Giddings, Texas both have permanent carousels operating. The both even have incredible origin stories: Giddings's Parks and Rec say there's was the result of a carnival company coming in, not being able to make enough money and requiring a loan, and putting the carousel up as collateral. The Brenham carousel was discovered in a field, abandoned during the Depression. It's Dare-carved horses are rarities among CW Parker machines, and it was basically pure fortune that put it in the hands of the local fair board to restore in 1930. It's operated ever since 1932 as a community run attraction.

Texas, being a notoriously hot state, has a multitude of water parks. Rather than try to list all the big ones (Schlitterbahn! NRH2O! Typhoon Texas!) I prefer to try and focus in on the really unique. There's a connection between social conservancy and libertarian business regulations I don't really grasp, but it means that Texas has a couple really weird aquatics facilities. Chadillac's Backyard has lots of pictures of bikini clad women on it's web page while alternately claiming to be family-oriented (making families?). There's no Whitewater West stuff here, but there's huge slides that launch riders through the air and into the water and party decks. BSR Cable Park gained a measure of fame for their giant ramp, the Royal Flush. Participants are flung into 20 foot deep water through the air at one helluva distance. Oh, and BSR Cable Park also has the world's longest lazy river, well over a mile long. Bring cans of Shiner Bock (glass bottles are strictly prohibited).

Friday, June 15, 2018

Universal Orlando's Cinematic Celebration Nighttime Show

Image copyright Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando Resort finally announced the worst kept secret in Orlando: they're putting in a new fountains based nighttime show at Universal Studios Florida.

"Universal Orlando's Cinematic Celebration" will use 120 fountains, mist screens, projection mapping, fireworks, and more to bring the movies to life. Unlike the old Cinematic Spectacular show, which featured clips from movies on water screens, this new nighttime show will showcase the movies in unique ways.

Mike Aiello, Senior Director for Entertainment Creative Development at Universal Orlando, provided this quote to Leaky Cauldron best describes this new show.
“This show is primarily driven by visual imagery from films, but also music – that’s the thing that we really are excited about. A lot of our nighttime shows in the past have been very score-based, which is great; they’re epic. This show has that, as well as a little bit of pop music. Our Fast & Furious section really tells the story of the speed in that brand, as well as the music featured within those films. Trolls is just a big ol’ colorful party – you’ll see the main characters of Trolls all throughout our media, you’re gonna hear ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ sung by Justin Timberlake. It’s a really different texture to any we’ve had in our previous nighttime shows.”
Expect to see characters, scenes, and moments from the movies featured in the theme park, such as Jurassic World, Despicable Me, Fast & Furious, Harry Potter, and the movies of DreamWorks animation.

Testing is quickly ramping up, check out this amazing video from Midway Mayhem to get an idea of the scope and size of this show.

Reportedly the show ran a full run through last night, June 14th after the park closed. Those who were able to witness it were very impressed.

Universal Orlando's Cinematic Celebration show opens later this summer.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #148 - Technical Issues

Ever have one of those days when your computer randomly restarts, the internet goes out, and Skype crashes on you? Well we did all during one recording!

We talk trip report to Knoebls, Joe and Jeff's trip to Kings Island, rumors, news, and more!

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of....Tennessee (Pt. 2 - Smokies)

At some point after the adoption of the automobile and the expansion of the highway system, travelers began to head to the Smokies in significant numbers. There's two sides to the National Park; one in Tennessee, and the other in North Carolina. The two competed against one another for many, many years, but ultimately it was Tennessee that won the tourism battle out thanks to the proximity of the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area to a major city and airport (Knoxville). In 1961, the area's first theme park of note opened, called Rebel Railroad. Centered around having a really big train, Rebel Railroad was never a monster success. It rebranded multiple times as different owners took the park over. Pete and Jack Herschend wound up deciding to make it an expansion of their Silver Dollar City park in 1977, renaming it Silver Dollar City and building a number of rides that largely duplicated their Branson efforts. Still, the park didn't seriously excite the community or the tourists.

Trying to think of a way to shift public opinion, the Herschends brainstormed on ideas as to what could make their new Silver Dollar City just as much a part of the local landscape as the original was with Branson. An idea was hatched and ultimately the deal was made to re-brand the park to the most famous resident of the area: Dolly Parton. Under the Dollywood name, the park took off in attendance, and is now may be the most well known destination theme park in the US outside Orlando or Southern Califoria. It's given Dolly a link to future generations who aren't as familiar with her (she's one of the most prolific and successful popular songwriters of all time in addition to being an actress and musical artist) and benefited her charities greatly along with her own bottom line.

The explosion in Dollywood coincided well for Herschend with Branson's decline as a major destination and shifting migrating patterns that favored the Carolinas and Georgia for young professionals. The number of families going there has never been greater, and has caused many entrepreneurs to open up a vast assortment of tourist traps, gaudy arcades, go-kart tracks, dinner show theaters, wax museums, and mini golf. Some scoff at this as a bastardization of the wilderness areas a short distance away. I too lean on beliefs that perhaps anarchoprimitivism may be right. But this is also a website where we relish the palaces of consumerism. One man's trash is another man's treasure, and in no place on earth is this axiom perhaps more relatable than in the towns of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

If one must pick a place to begin, it must be with a pair of independently owned, operated, designed, maintained, and within alternate universe dark rides. I speak of course about the Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride and Earthquake: The Ride. Earthquake is by far the smaller of the two, fitting in a tight space along the Gatlinburg main drag. It can best be described as "no budget Earthquake: The Big One" of classic Universal Orlando fame - you board a train (a really narrow train with two across seating) and then...things happen. We don't want to spoil the surprise, but it involves lava monsters and an ape in a crate. Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride is precisely what it says it is and nothing like what you think. There's a combination of cheap animatronics and random figures, a really bizarre tilt track finale, and boats that aren't boats (there's about 8 inches of water and they r ide on wheels while being pulled along the course).

There are not just insane low rent dark rides here in town. There's high end attractions as well - Wilderness at the Smokies being a great example of that. There's a 60,000+ square foot indoor water park with modern and even themed slides, expensive hotel rooms, laser tag, full golf courses, jet boat rides, and restaurants. The Island sits along TN-441 in the center of Pigeon Forge having recently been developed - its a huge mixed used development with a Margaritaville Hotel, several restaurants, a giant ferris wheel, arcades, and even small amusement rides. Abutting The Island is one of the two major Herschend owned dinner shows - Dolly Parton's Celebration At Smoky Mountain Adventures (a mouthful to be sure) and a really awesome museum themed to crime with Alcatraz East. There's some shockingly incredible stuff in there, including OJ's White Bronco and the Son of Sam's Volkswagen Bug.

Celebration at Smoky Mountain Adventures isn't the only dinner show game in town either: Pigeon Forge has an array of tribute shows, magicians, and big themed extravaganzas. New for 2018 is an old favorite: the Lumberjack Feud, now presented by Paula Deen. That show previously occupied the theater of Dolly's Celebration, but it was bought out just a few years ago and extensively redone. It joins two other cavernous and impressively themed dinner shows; Hatfield and McCoys (a variety show based around the feuding families, now with a Bellagio's O style pool) and Dolly's Stampede, a permanent rodeo complete with clown, buffaloes, and massive LED screens.

Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg also has multiple "edutainment" style attractions featuring museum-style exhibits in expansive themed environs. Wonderworks has an outpost here with the usual upside-down building, science geared hands-on exhibits, ropes course, and laser tag arena. Not terribly far from that is the Titanic Museum, housed in a building shaped like a full scale model of the old boat. Like the locations in Orlando and Branson, there's various items which were recovered from the ocean floor in 1987 interspersed with mockups of spaces on the ship based on old models and photos. Pictures in the "grand staircase" are options. Hollywood Wax Museum has 4 locations nationally, and their Pigeon Forge one isn't that different from the likes of their Branson facility. There's the wax museum; it's there and it's big. But there's also an array of other connected attractions: Outbreak, a year round haunted walkthrough; Castle of Chaos, a multimedia shooting attraction/ride which uses a rotating seating base and a circular theater that contains multiple screens and animatronics; and Hannah's Maze of Mirrors, which is exactly what you think it is. World of Illusions exists out in the tight Gatlinburg strip as a outdated and frankly bizarre magic museum filled with static scenes and displays on how basic slight of hand magic is performed. And then there's Ripley's Entertainment. Oh yes, Ripley's.

Ripley's owns and operates 8 different attractions in the Smokies - the Odditorium itself is actually under heavy renovation and isn't slated to reopen for awhile, but that's not their signature attraction in the area. That honor instead goes to the Aquarium of the Smokies, a large and impressive facility featuring acrylic tubes through tanks, glass bottom boat rides, and penguins. I too can never get enough penguins. Multi-attraction tickets can be acquired for their other spots too: Ripley's 5D Moving Theater (what it says it is), Ripley's Haunted Adventure (haunted walkthrough style attraction), Ripley's Mirror Maze, Guinness World Records Adventure (museum exhibits on past record holders and various games/puzzles throughout the building), and mini golf. Ripley's possesses two impressively themed courses in the area - Davy Crockett's in Gatlinburg and Old MacDonald's in Pigeon Forge.

Mini golf on the whole is, much like Orlando, Ocean City Maryland, and Myrtle Beach, a serious attraction in and of itself. New to the scene is Crave, an indoor/outdoor course themed to sweets and candy in Pigeon Forge proper. That indoor part is really nice if you show up between November and March when temps can easily go below freezing. Outside, Professor Hacker's and its signature "Does this count as a dark ride?" train start to the course has a location in Pigeon Forge too. Fantasy Golf has a multicolored dragon, unicorn, and giant octopus. Blindshot Barnaby's Circus Golf tries to mix funhouse stunts with mini golf in an indoor setting. Hillbilly Golf is the one that I find most attractive of them all, starting off players with a funicular ride up a hillside before turning them loose. The downside there is unimaginative hole design, but still, funicular ride.

Funiculars go uphill pulled by cables and counter weights. You know what else is pulled up hills by cables? That's right, Alpine Coasters. The Smokies have perhaps the highest density of the attractions anywhere, with 5 operating and at least one under construction representing 3 different manufacturers. Wiegland is the world leader in Alpine Coasters, and they've got 4 models here - Rowdy Bear Mountain, Goats On The Roof, Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster, and the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster. For my money, Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster and Goats on the Roof are the best of the 4, but I get that you might just disregard my opinion. I'm okay with that. Ober Gatlinburg has one from Aquatic Development Group - I actually really like the one in Branson, but hear terrible things about this ride. I can't tell you if it is good or not though, because I've gotten shut out of it twice when it snowed. Yes. The coaster built for snow can't run in it. Almost none of this matters because there is a new mountain top event center/attraction called Anakeesta, and they are getting a mountain coaster from Brandauer. The stats say its gonna be the shortest, but Brandauer's single rail alpine coasters are well known as being by far the wildest and fastest of the genre. While they aren't under rider control, I'd be remiss to note that the area has two zipline coasters: like a zipline, but on suspended steel track to allow for turns and airtime hills. There's the Dome Zipcoaster just on the exit of Pigeon Forge (with a monster truck school bus to take you up) and the newest one at Rowdy Bear.

Alpine coasters are effective because they are generally single seat rides that riders control themselves. Go Karts are kinda like that: you can figure out how fast you want to least until the limiter kicks in. And yes, there's a lot of go-kart facilities in Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. They range from the "serious" types at Xtreme Racing Center to the vertical multi level tracks of Lazerport, Speedzone, Adventure Raceway, Fast Tracks, The Track, and FunStop. The Blake Jones Karting Center (Blake, in case you were wondering, is a whopping 21 years of age and already raced in NASCAR and ARCA) has an indoor set of electric karts under unique circumstances: the building had opened as a roller rink, and the karts run on a short course on top of the old hardwood. NASCAR Speedpark is an amalgamation of multiple attractions in the area, run as low rent as possible, but does feature pay one price go karting (the signature of the Wisconsin Dells) and a small roller coaster. FunStop, Fast Tracks, and The Track (both locations) also feature rides: most of them are geared for small children, but there's also some big thrillers. The Track has a Skycoaster-esque ride called the Skyflyer with a different support system and vests. Fast Tracks and FunStot both have "propeller" rides akin to the Skyscraper rides like Orlando's long gone Katanga.

There's some "spooky" style attractions for visitors to enjoy in the region: families seeking fewer scares and more of a escape room type of feel can find it at the gigantic Pigeon Forge pyramid containing The Tomb. It's an Egyptian themed walkthrough attraction featuring puzzles galore to get to the finish line. Scarier times can be had at Ripley's Haunted Adventure and the Mysterious Mansion, both in Gatlinburg. The latter gets a 4 1/2 star rating on Tripadvisor, and is often lauded by themed attraction fans as one of the best walkthroughs in the country.

Finally: interactivity for the whole famile. Magiquest has a huge standalone facility that is in Pigeon Forge. Get a wand, wave it at stuff, learn spells, and earn points useful for nothing but bragging rights. I've considered going a few times, then remember I'm in my 30s. Not embarrassing: the Shoot Em Up 7-D Theater in Gatlinburg, built by Alterface. The seating is similar to what has been installed at Cedar Fair's parks of Carowinds and Californa's Great America (saddle style with motion), and you get two films with guns that actually work pretty well. You can occasionally stop by and get on for as little as $6, which makes it dollar-to-minute the best standalone attraction in the Smokies.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Tennessee

I'm sure there's a really good reason why Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky are so damn narrow and long which I am not clued into. Something like the Louisiana Purchase, you know? But Tennessee is definitely really narrow. I guess its because its supposed to kinda follow the 35th and 36th parallels plus rivers and some other stuff people got wrong because it was the 1800s. It has two similarly sized cities on somewhat opposing ends (Memphis and Nashville) both known for styles of music (country and the blues). Oddly, it's the greater metro areas of the smaller cities that actually possess active amusement parks in 2018 after their fully operational amusement facilities were closed down in the 90s and 00s.

Both instances are basically stories about ineptitude: Opryland was profitable every single year of it's existence and a significant draw to the region. However, it's owners saw the potential income of a mall with the magic of accelerated depreciation making it a nearly risk free venture as a more solid option. Gaylord closed the park in 1997, and has done so well since that they've gone bankrupt, the mall had to be closed for two years due to serious flooding issues from the poor building quality, and its best assets have been sold to corporations like Simon Property Group and Marriott. Libertyland operated at the Mid-South Fairgrounds from the 1970s until the Fair Board decided to stop investing in it and eventually close the park citing a lack of general profitability. They had offers to have the park be operated on a contractual basis, but who wants free money? They bulldozed everything, so obliterating the infrastructure presents that the site is too expensive to reasonably develop today for anything other than it's current use as a muddy parking lot. Maybe Republicans don't trust government because they know how bad they are at it?

Does that mean the cities lack themed entertainment? Not really, it's just different now, and more retail based. Memphis' Pyramid arena is now a gigantic Bass Pro Shops with the world's largest freestanding elevator, a rooftop bar/restaurant, immersive theming, electronic shooting range, and more. The Gaylord in Nashville also has a ton of indoor space with their enormous Atrium, which in turn has a boat ride and enough space for the annual winter celebrations there like "Ice!" The lone coaster in either city is a SBF Spinning Kiddie Coaster at an Incredible Pizza Company location. And then there's Nashville Shores, a modern water park with modern water slides that grew organically out of a campground.

There are other things however in the two big cities: Memphis and Nashville both have world class zoo facilities with expansive enclosures for the animals in themed sections as well as carousels to ride. Nashville Zoo possesses a train and a historic home tour; Memphis is one of the few zoos in the US with Panda Bears. Speaking of home tours, I suppose you can argue the attractions in and around the Graceland complex have a theme; they're immaculately kept the way Elvis would have wanted befitting his king status.

In more rural settings, one can find some living museum style displays at fairgrounds - Fiddler's Grove Historic Village at the Wilson County Fairgrounds is open outside of the fair itself, and is a classic "frontier village" style attraction with shops, artisans, and displays of various old timey stuff. Fairfield Village at the Warren County Fair is more of a fair-only attraction, but claims to be the first such facility in the state, opening it's first building in 1987. Mid-South Steamers are "fair adjacent" being a train club located near Columbia, TN's 4-H center. The Public is allowed to ride one weekend a year, this year September 27-29.

In 2013, Discovery Park of America opened in Union City, out in the swampy bits around the Mississippi River. Representing an investment of 9 figures, it has a number of science museum style attractions that fit our bill: Earthquake simulator room? Check. "Starship Theater"? Check. Train to ride? They have that too. Living History Museum with frontier life? Oh, you guessed it bud. Another historical museum that lets you step into the past is the Smithsonian-affiliated Museum of Appalachia
in Norris, north of Knoxville. There are 30+ buildings on their 63 acres telling the story of one of the more poorly understood regions in the US. Knoxville has a zoo too for that matter, complete with pre-requisite endangered species carousel. And if you're looking for remnants of the World's Fair famously depicted in The Simpsons, Knoxville's Sunsphere has a restaurant (not wigs) inside of it, as well as a giant Rubik's Cube in the lobby of the Holiday Inn (gift of Hungary, really).

Tennessee has a couple other secondary cities aside from Knoxville that we have to reference at least in passing here. Kingsport/Bristol isn't particularly well known outside the speedway, but is home to a lovingly maintained Allan Herschell 3 row carousel.  Chattanooga actually has a real amusement park! Kinda. I've actually detailed it already in the series because it is just over the border in Georgia. Since Lake Winnie is out of the question of writing about again, I'll instead point at its wee 13 acre zoo (also has a carousel), the Coolidge Park Carousel (Denzel Frame and new carvings), Tennessee Aquarium (really big, has a great IMAX theater), Sir Goony's Family Fun Center (arcades, wacky mini golf, and Laser Fury 360. Yes, Laser Fury 360: a first of its kind attraction which basically combines a flipping gyroscope with bumper cars and must be seen to be believed.

Finally, that brings us to Bonnie's Carousel in McMinnville, TN - hand cranked "flying horse" (no floor board) kiddie carousel that runs occasionally at festivals and events but also during open house in Halloween. You can make an appointment to go visit by calling 931-474-2287 if you so desire - Bonnie and her husband are also pretty big in the restoration scene.

Well, I think that about wraps it up for Tennessee. Is there anything I'm missing? Anything big?



I think I might be leaving something out. It might be big enough to make this the longest individual entry in the series ever, in fact. That means you'll have to come back for PART 2 - yes, California didn't even get a Part 2 and Tennessee merits it with the litany of attractions in the Smoky Mountains.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A Brief Treatise: Seriously (Over?)Thinking About Theme Parks

Inspired by current trends in Twitter discourse as usual, I felt compelled to produce a good old fashioned think piece about think pieces.

Fan generated discourse is, in all likelihood, a qualitative good. Not just because it is human interaction. What fan generated/led discourse has done, particularly in the internet era, has made it more acceptable for people entering some sort of artistic endeavour to interact with fans. This interaction then is able to influence the way things are presented or developed, often to the benefit of an even larger audience. It also normalizes fandom and makes it easier for people who start as fans to progress into industry rather than being seen as unnecessarily attached.

I start with that paragraph for a reason; fan generated/led discourse also has the potential for negatives. By overly encumbering the vision of the creatives with the will of the most hardcore fans, it makes for increasingly insular art. Avengers: Infinity War can be used as an example of this. On one hand, it is incredible that a major movie studio had the willingness to build towards a massive event film over a decade via 20+ other films and several series of programmatic television. It has lived up, in many ways, to the desires of the most core audience by staying stunningly authentic to a very, very dense mythology. The success of Avengers also can't be ignored: Infinity War crossed 1.7 billion dollars in global ticket sales this week, and at minimum will be the 4th highest grossing film ever. 3 other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe exist along with it. The negative in this? Movie attendance in the US fell to record lows in 2018.

While there is a die-hard market for Marvel films that far exceeds the number of people who actually read the comics, the fact of the matter is that the market is still only a small overall fraction of the American public. We can surround ourselves with people much like us who think like we do and by and large agree with us, but ultimately, that's not representative of the movie going, TV watching, or theme park visiting public at large. The tendency then is to focus on when the public agrees with the things we like; They reacted strongly to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which proves that it is good (if not a model for the rest of the industry). They didn't react nearly as strongly to World of Avatar, which makes it just OK. Disneysea succeeded immediately while Disney Studios Paris still struggles: again, evidence that confirms prior beliefs about building expensive themed rides vs. not doing it.

As a result of our seeking likeminded people to link up with in virtual communities, we are used to finding ourselves surrounded with positive feedback to our ideas, and critical feedback being primarily the result of "trolling", or at least easilydismissable as such. We're hard wired to want to be right about our gut instinct, and our desires for reinforcement when matched with the advanced friend-making algorithms of Twitter and Facebook ensures that we should be able to find exactly that reinforcement no matter what. As a result of this, art as a whole online - music, video games, comic books, pro wrestling, and yes, theme parks - gets cut apart and stitched back together by amateur philosophers on an hourly basis. But no matter how many words are written, no matter how many brain cells go into it, how often do people challenge their own beliefs and orthodoxies when writing some new great think piece? It's easy to point at the success of Shanghai Disneyland and state that it is the result of unique attractions; it is another  to look at Universal Studios Osaka overtaking Disneysea in attendance and try to rationalize their B&M Flying Coaster with a supposed demand from the general public for fully realized themed worlds.

There are fundamental, basic, inexorable realities about theme parks:

-What we discuss as being "theme parks" are amusement parks, different only in the expense of developing artificial rocks and training materials. There are no theme parks which exist in this world for any purpose other than recreational entertainment. It is almost certain that none will ever be built, as there is no demand for a facility in which people pay money and leave having had an existential crisis. Yes, I'm including EPCOT; aside from being an expansion of the same strategy and business model already used at Tomorrowland by Disney, you can go back even further into the history books and find correlatives. Luna Park in Coney Island NY once had infant incubators with real live infants in them being saved from death. How many babies did EPCOT save?

-The only theme parks which are not intended to maximize profit for owners and investors are non-profit entities like Arnold's Park in Iowa. Theme park blogs don't go to Arnold's Park because it doesn't have a $100 million dollar dark ride themed to a movie they enjoy (or at least some iteration of the movie before the characters were recast). Everything else since time eternal has looked to make lots of money. They have spent money to make money, but they always were in the business of making money first and foremost.

-Because of the cost of construction and maintenance, theme parks as we know them must appeal to as wide an audience as possible. That means families with small children and senior citizens. Because they must appeal to audiences that are A) incredibly simple cognitively B) disproportionately socially conservative, attractions cannot offer any real insight into the human condition or the future of the world. No one will pay $125 to ride the Nihilist Adventure a second time.

-Theme parks primarily make money by selling souvenirs and food/beverage to patrons. Walt gave away the gate in 1955 specifically to do this. Pay-One-Price being introduced by Six Flags was a way to establish "value" for the same purpose. This is what amusement parks (which theme parks, again, are) do.

-Theme parks are escapism, arguably no different than recreational drugs. Filled with surrealistic/hyper real imagery, parks actively seek to activate our brain's pleasure centers while also reassuring us of our importance by catering to us as individualistically as possible. The desire to create increasingly ornate themed areas and integrate elements of cosplay/LARP may be related to this; chasing the dragon of a greater and greater escapist high while refusing to admit one has a "problem" in the first place.

(This is also why some of the Theme Park Fan Analysis of Westworld is so concerning; the show almost goes out of its way to express to us that the existence of Westworld isn't desirable. It shouldn't be cheered. And yet the wish that it could exist for the purpose of living out sociopathic fantasies like 3D Red Dead Redemption is strong in the community. One might even draw a comparison to technocrats at large on this and whether there is crossover)

This doesn't mean we can't critique parks. This doesn't mean we can't debate what rides are better. This doesn't mean we can't argue over whether or not shows, movies, haunts, restaurants, soft serve ice cream, or literally anything has qualities have positive or negative qualities in contrast to other similar things. There's lots of great debates we could and perhaps should have as fans. What doesn't do us any good is to start pretending that theme parks are something other than what they are. People go to theme parks to escape the real world by (primarily) going on amusement rides, and the ones that most people claim as being "the best" are ones which best generate that sense of escapism where people can safely be separated from their professional or personal fears.

That's what theme parks are. That is all they have ever been. That is all they will ever be. They are not and will never be at the same depth of art as Kurosawa's film or Puccini's operas. The greatest visual artists in history rarely have the capacity to properly express ideas about masculinity, human conflict, or romantic relationships when given 2 hours and miles of celluloid. Someone with 5 minutes and Chuck E Cheese robots has no chance. It is sophistry to suggest that they've somehow been denied the opportunity.

If ratcheting up the illusion is necessary not because it is produces an actively better product for the market, but because as individuals fans-turned-content producers subconsciously seek to escape their problems, then perhaps those problems should be confronted rather than make parks and attractions into behavioral intervention strategies. Animal Kingdom's World of Avatar, Universal's Fast and the Furious Supercharged and Jimmy Fallon attractions, and the slate of upcoming rides and lands for both parks are pushing forward with expensive pre-shows and queue lines. What about the anchor product though - what about the rides? Is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on an illusion that can be shattered by turning one's head to the side inside a theater really an advancement of the art form?

Even Walt himself didn't necessarily seem to share this view. There was no need or desire with, for example, Haunted Mansion, it's a small world, or Matterhorn to have them be surrounded by "immersive worlds." There is no detailed and exhaustive back story with those attractions. There isn't one for Pirates of The Caribbean either, for that matter, because Walt (and his 9 Old Men) knew that the medium of amusement rides was not conducive to storytelling, something quoted repeatedly from them during their lives. In speaking on his behalf, the fans and the designers they've sometimes become have molded reality and the vision of the great imagineers of the past into their own to become exactly the opposite of what was believed. And with that lack of storytelling depth in the art, the consequence of requiring stories people are already familiar with is increasingly leaned on; "intellectual properties". In this way, neither Harry Potter nor Matterhorn reflect "right" or "wrong", simply "different," and both even now can be wildly effective assuming the ride which all is built around is actively memorable.

We shouldn't talk about "resigning ourselves to getting the theme parks we deserve," but rather, look inside ourselves first before we take that tact and ask what it is we want and why. More often than not, the demands of the most critical voices in the community are at odds with not only themselves from a practical perspective, but the desires of the general public. Theme parks can offer us a sense of wonderment, but just because theme parks evoke an emotional response does not connote an endorsement of each of our individual reactions, nor a validation that it is correct and others wrong. There are many ways in which one may enjoy things, but finding something offensive or simply void of enjoyment are definitively not methods.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...South Dakota

One of the least populated states? Check. Proximity to nothing? Check. Biggest annual event is a motorcycle rally? Rural as all get out? Yes and yes. Usually when I do a piece like this, I talk about historic parks that aren't there any more. Stony Point at Lake Kampeska and Ruskin Park fit that bill here (I'm skipping them, but just know they've been gone a long time). But oddly, there's actually a lot in South Dakota; way way more than you'd expect for a state with less than a million residents and no culturally significant cities. Yeah, there's Fargo. You only know that there was a Coen Brothers movie named that though, don't play. There's also Mount Rushmore, which is kinda a big deal (don't forget the Crazy Horse sculpture that's being built down the street). South Dakota is, I suppose, kinda an attraction onto itself - part of the Great American Road Trip, a place of truly wild and where people can feel as though even in a very controlled environment, they are in the deepest of western frontiers.

To that end, the fantasy of the west is seen in multiple themed attractions: Cosmos Mystery Area is a classic Tilt House style attraction in the vein of what Gravity Falls was based around on Disney Channel. It's located on the drive into Mount Rushmore, ensuring a healthy group of bored kids yearning for stimulation screaming at their parents to pull over. Of course there's a bunch of pseudo-supernatural explanations about how their optical illusions work, but you already know "magic" in all forms is fake. 1880 Town in Midland attempts by comparison to traffic in the more "real". It's a living history museum showing frontier life with period buildings and artifacts that are well kept. Living history museums aren't necessarily unique; what is unique are the home made automated displays at the Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama version of 1880 Town known as 1880 Cowboy Town in Sioux Falls. Want to see someone's attempt at making Mr. Lincoln on a shoestring budget? Well, you can.

The fantasy of the American West contrasts with the realities of settler life, crop failure, massacres, and disease; the romaniticism that existed once has been irreparably damaged, and that's OK. There's also straight up heavy duty fantasy here for the children, and that might actually be better for them than having to hear about atrocities and starvation. Rapid City is home to Story Book Island, the first of the two storybook parks in the state. There's a carousel, a "train" ride (not on actual tracks, it rides on pavement), and a bunch of fairytale sets to gawk at. Storybook Land (and the expansion Land of Oz) is located in Aberdeen, and it manages to actually have a few rides, including a kiddie coaster. The Great Plains Zoo of Sioux Falls goes with animals as its overarching theme, but has a bonus carousel for those interested in such things.

Family Entertainment Style attractions are also fairly common in the state given the fact that it's South Dakota. Thunder Road Family Fun Park has three locations: the Sioux Falls one possesses a coaster (Wisdom kiddie) matched up with a Tilt A Whirl, Bumper Boats, Go Karts, and mini golf. Karttrax in Yankton has some truly messed up looking Sprint Car go karts that may be homemade (can't tell). Rush Mountain Adventure Park does the Summer Ski Resort stuff like have a Wiegland Mountain Coaster and ziplining. There's two separate maze attractions (Miner's Maze and Black Hills Maze in Rapid City), and even the fairgrounds get into the action.

South Dakota does have several water parks: Wild Water West is the most significant outdoor facility, and has a few modern plastic slides along with a lazy river, go karts, and mini golf. Evans Plunge is an indoor spot that actually draws from a mineral spring (naturally heated to 87") with a few indoor slides and lots of room to swim. WaTiki is a more traditional indoor water park, with 30,000 square feet of space and lots of kid's water play areas.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Emeril's at CityWalk Orlando to Close

Dewayne Bevil of The Orlando Sentinel reports Emeril's Orlando will be closing July 7th, 2018.

Both of Emeril's Universal locations will close (Emeril's Orlando and the fan favorite Tchoup Chop) with rumors saying the locations chose to shut down instead of Universal not renewing their lease (like with NBA City and NASCAR Grille).

No information is available for the replacement for either location yet. We speculate the replacements will fill the holes in restaurant line ups at Universal: a Chinese/South Pacific fusion restaurant replacing Tchoup Chop and an upscale, Florida inspired restaurant focusing on fish and steaks replacing Emeril's Orlando.

Islands of Adventure Jurassic Park Project 791

Inside Universal forum user MagicMagicMagic has discovered project permits for Project 791 located in Jurassic Park at Islands of Adventure. The permits call for demolition, site clearing, and fence construction. Based on further research the location of the demolition will be the old Triceratops Encounter location, where currently a small portion is used for the Raptor Encounter experience.

Image from MagicMagicMagic on Inside Universal
Rumors have picked up in the recent months on the long suggested Jurassic Park expansion is going to happen late Summer 2018. While information is sparse at this time it is expected to focus on the raptors from the movies and likely open in summer 2020 or later.

Additionally Inside Universal is reporting the Universal Studios Hollywood Jurassic Park River Adventure is going down for a lengthy upgrade:

Inside Universal has learned that the planned closure for Jurassic Park River Adventure at Universal Studios Hollywood is set for Sept 3, 2018, following the Labor Day weekend and will reopen as an all-new attraction in 2019.
The refurbishment is set to overhaul and modernize scenes throughout the existing ride design, and feature all-new animatronic elements, to bring the current Jurassic World story to life.
While not confirmed for Islands of Adventure, yet, it is likely the new attraction will focus on the Jurassic World series of movies, possibly upgrading the land from Jurassic Park to Jurassic World.

Stay tuned to Parkscope and Inside Universal for more information as it develops.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of....South Carolina

Deep in Dixie, South Carolina is squarely in the middle of the pack for population size nationally. It's known for being in the south, having southern people, and, uhhh, having coastline. I have family that relocated there in the last few years and they tried to convince my dad to go there too, and he lasted two days before determining it was too close to real life Deliverance to be able to stick around for the rest of his natural life. There's cities in the interior: Greenville, Columbia, Florence - and pretty much nothing of note ever happens there. Along the coast, it's a different story. Charleston is renowned as one of the most charming and architecturally interesting cities in the United States. And then there's Myrtle Beach.

Maybe it's hard to call Myrtle Beach a "hidden" attraction - it is however filled with rides, parks, and attractions that aren't independently advertised, and easily missed if you don't know to look for them. It wasn't until the post-war period that the city truly took off as a tourist magnet, and the amusement side of things can be drawn back to the construction of the Myrtle Beach Pavilion in 1948. In the subsequent years, the city saw a multitude of park projects appear: Sun Fun, Gay Dolphin, Family Kingdom, and more. Hurricanes, insurance, and ultimately real estate speculation left only one permanent park: Family Kingdom. Not incredibly well known is that this is the location of the first Sally shooting dark ride: The Great Pistolero Roundup. There's also an outstanding and well maintained wood coaster here with the Swamp Fox. It's a classic out and back layout with tons of airtime.

But even with the traditional parks mostly historical footnotes, there's still a lot of rides, slides, and wacky stuff here. Pavillion has been reborn in two separate, unrelated, and non-ocean fronting amusement zones. OD Pavillion on Ocean Drive is a collection of portable attractions that gets set up for the summer season, and promptly disappears, not unlike the Summer Funfairs of Europe. Smaller permanent rides are located at Pavilion Park at Broadway At The Beach. For water parks, there's Myrtle Waves, Wild Water and Wheels, and Splashes (located in Family Kingdom). Like Orlando, Branson, and Gatlinburg; there's dinner theaters galore - Pirate's Voyage, Medieval Times, Polynesian Fire Luau, Legends in Concert, they're all here and accounted for. So are Ripley's branded attractions (Odditorium, Laser Haunted Adventure, Moving Theater, Mirror Maze, and Aquarium - the latter has a a glass bottom boat ride over the shark tank), Hollywood Wax Museum (along with its own shooting theater attraction and a mirror maze), and Wonderworks.

But wait: there's more! Myrtle Beach, like any good seaside resort has arcades. Two of them in particular deserve special mention given their unique games. Myrtle Beach Pinball Museum opens in 2018 with a collection of pins from the 70s through the 90s, something the market desperately needed. In addition, there's the Fun Plaza, which has an outstanding collection of classic quarter Skeeball machines plus a wall of Williams Baseball games. These date to 1962 and are the only existing publicly available versions of the games I know of, much less with the sheer volume of them. 28 runs gets you a choice even today. On the outskirts of the city, there's also Brookgreen Gardens. This huge public park space features a sculpture park, history museum, and the Low Country Zoo. Speaking of greenery; mini golf. Myrtle Beach, even more so than Ocean City, MD, is probably the capital of insane mini golf. Mt. Atlanticus, Cancun Lagoon, Shipwreck Island, Rainbow Falls, Jungle Safari, and many many many more.

There are two other locations of permanent coasters outside of the Myrtle Beach Grand Strand in recent memory: One is within city limits at the very, very short lived Hard Rock Park/Freestyle Music Park. The other was a wild mouse coaster located at Pedro Land, a mildly racist amusement zone inside of the sprawling fireworks and crap gift mall known as South of The Border. Everyone here is named "Pedro", there's the Sombrero Tower to ascend, and there's some worn looking rides left. The coaster here rarely operated, and is now in the possession of Reithoffer Shows, one of the largest carnival operators in the US. Don't forget the mini golf!

The options away from Myrtle Beach's orbit are nowhere near as plentiful in terms of big things: a chain of FECs called Frankie's has three locations, many of which with small flat rides, bumper boats, go karts, and the like. Splash Island in Mount Pleasant is "kid friendy" - that's how water parks with no large slide complexes brand themselves in the modern day. The Riverbanks Zoo has a carousel to ride in Columbia, and Simpsonville's Heritage Park has train rides. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #147 - G-Force, Steel Vengeance, and Jerome

Alan, Alex, and Joe record two shows in one! Part one we talk about the IX Indoor Amusement Park and the hot spots around Cleveland, Ohio! For part two we review Steel Vengeance, talk about the needs of Cedar Point, and cover the latest news and rumors of the theme park world.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of....Saskatchewan

In the middle of Canada lies Saskatchewan, a huge province that can basically be described "gigantic Nebraska + polar bears." With 1.1 million residents in a space nearly as large as Texas, Saskatchewan's two major cities of Regina (capital) and Saskatoon (most populated) frankly have a pretty poor history of permanent amusements. It's biggest draws are the two big fairs each year: the Saskatoon Ex and the Regina Fair. Both are serviced by the folks at North American Midway Entertainment, and were part of the Conklin Shows route up until the company's merger into NAME in the 2000s.

Historically, the only permanent park in the province of note prior to the present day was Saskatoon's Leisureland, a park that reportedly had a train, ferris wheel, dance hall, and more. There's no pictures, postcards, advertisements for the park in local magazines, notes about its operation, or anything else I was able to dredge up about it, nor is there anything resembling a tell-tale sign from images of the trailer park on it's location today. This isn't to say that it didn't exist: Obituaries suggest that Michael Egnatoff (1908-2012) founded the facility along with a number of art communities in the 1960s, and concessions were operated by Ede Burge (1937-2016) and her husband Jacob Getzlaf (???-1979). They ran the small carnival outfit Funtime Amusements, and were well suited to manage a small set of permanent attractions. Her husband's death was sudden and unexpected, causing her to leave the industry. That a ferris wheel, train, and carousel opearate at Kinsmen Park's Nutrien Playland is probably not a total coincidence: the company she was part of also operated concessions at the city park in the 60s and 70s.

2015 saw the rebirth of amusements in Saskatoon with the corporately sponsored Nutrien Playland. Along with the carousel that had been part of the park for untold years prior (NCA doesn't list it), a new ferris wheel was constructed (around 60 feet tall), along with upgraded play equipment and a splash pad. It joins the privately owned Wilson's Entertainment Park with its ropes course, electric go karts, and inflatables as the best options for dry fun all summer long in the province.

Let's get downright rural: Sukanen Ship Pioneer Village is located an hour west of Regina, and is a living museum showing the early 20th century farming way of life as well as a boat. The boat is a bewildering sight with an incredible story of loss and eccentric madness powering its builder to fashion it in the throes of the Great Depression. Along with the boat is a model town, antique tractors and cars, and the remains of Tom Sukanen, who's story is played out. Slightly less tear jerking is Corn Ways Adventures: there's a corn maze that's the big draw, but also zorbing, quad course (bring your own ATV...or rent!), ziplines, and bounce houses. Country Fun in Prince Albert doesn't have an active internet presence, but it still seems to be open in summers and has a train that used to run at Kinsmen Park (which in turn might have run at Leisureland...maybe?).

This far north, it isn't too surprising to see that there's not a lot of water park activity. The Travelodge Regina is a newer build and has a pair of newish slides along with some water play areas, while an older model Ramada in the same city has two slides of its own with a lower ceiling. Metro Saskatoon has the Battlefords Co-Op Aquatic Center, fulfilling both desires for community owned attractions and an indoor water park with a lazy river. And finally, we have Kenosee Superslides, a full scale outdoor water park that's primarily terrain based rather than being a bunch of towers, but has some wild speed slides too.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of....Rhode Island

It's small!

Really, really small!

"How small is it?"

It's half the size of the Toronto-Hamilton Metro Area!

"Uhhh, how small is that?"

There are 431 counties and parishes in the United States larger than Rhode Island. Brevard County Florida is bigger than Rhode Island. 

"That seems small."

That is small. Officially named "State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations," it also has the largest and totally not at all overcompensating name. 1.06 million people live there says Wikipedia, which is also a number that is now decreasing. Why the departures? It costs money to live in Rhode Island and things just aren't as fun now that Mayor Buddy Cianci is dead. Yeah, he was in the back pocket of the mafia, but look at how much rad stuff happened in Providence thanks to him. They got like, one of the few things I'm gonna list here!

So because this is a place without much happening today, I'm gonna go into the recent past, because there was a lot happening. Like, even during my lifetime. I could have gone to Rocky Point - I saw the commercials, and I could have asked to visit, but nah, it never happened. I wasn't a theme park fan or coaster enthusiast then, and it like Americana in Ohio and the Texas State Fair wood coaster are the ultimate "almosts" in my lifetime. When it closed in 1995, both of it's coasters (steel) were relocated - one to Prince Edward Island at Sandspit, the other to Wild Waves in Washington to become the Wild Thing. The most unique rides were argurably its sky ride and the gravity driven House Of Horrors though, and both were lost to time. The park followed Crescent Park in East Providence which had shuttered in the late 70s. Their death left the state with no full size parks.

The state's capital at this time was a mess. Providence, like many of the feeder cities to the megasized Boston and New York areas, resembled a warzone in a state of total collapse. Buddy Cianci was given the task of righting the ship there in a second time around as Mayor. The first time Cianci had been in charge, he had put out a cigarette on a contractor he believed was sleeping with his wife while his police escort watched. He took a felony charge and wound up getting to stay out of prison. He returned to prominence in 1991 on a populist campaign intended to spur action. Depending on what neighborhood you were in or who you were, Buddy's second run as mayor was either heroic or tragic. In some neighborhoods, people would call when the sidewalk was cracked and see it patched a day later. In others, mob affiliated henchmen stole city property in broad daylight for scrap. Cianci was accused of a multitude of crimes over the years: rape, intimidation, racketering. The last of those landed him a 7 year federal prison term and the effective end of his political career (though he would run again, even as cancer ravaged his body).

Cianci unquestionably found success with his plan to remake Providence's waterfront around artists. Artists, he thought, would attract people with money and talent, and people with money and talent invest and create businesses, which in turn stabilizes and sends the city into a growth period. The centerpiece of this was WaterFire, which now enters its 24th year in 2018. Peformance art, music, spectacle, WaterFire has become the symbol of Providence to the world. Cianci is a deeply divisive figure to many, but in this, his place as the man who led the city out of the dark ages has effectively been forever guaranteed.

Westerly is not exactly well known outside of the immediate area, but yet it's the center of the present day Rhode Island amusement universe. Misquamicut Beach draws people, and when you have crowds, crowds want to do things. In a tight space around Atlantic Ave lies the largest aquatics facility (Water Wizz; converted concrete terrain slides and some 90s era speed slides), Atlantic Beach Park (kiddie park with the state's only operating coaster and an arcade pavillion), and Bayview Fun Park (mini golf, go karts). I can't say that any of this is really worth rushing over to, but as someone who grew up visiting often, I know that it has a special place in my heart even if it isn't exactly Wildwood or Coney Island.

One thing Rhode Island does have that's pretty different are some rather spectactular carousels. Adults can't ride the Flying Horse Carousel in Watch Hill, a late 18th cenury ride that was driven by a horse and had a hand cranked organ when it first started running for the public in 1876. 142 years later, it has been given an electric motor to get the thing spinning, with horses suspended from the ceiling (leading to the age requirement to prevent big folks from boarding). Crescent Park's carousel stayed put when the park died, and it's a fantastic showcase machine featuring all different pieces from the Looff catalog circa 1895.

Aside from these, there isn't that much left to talk about in the modern day: Adventureland of Narragansett is a fairly expansive FEC featuring mini golf, go karts, bumper cars, and even a small carousel. Mulligan's Island has a mini golf facility to go along with Par 3 golf, Driving Range, and Pitch and Putt. Rhode Island is unlikely to ever get a big park again, but hopefully what it does have sticks around awhile.