Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...West Virginia



Not long ago, a study was done to determine which state was the "most mountainous". Not which state had the biggest mountains, but the state where it seemed that people would encounter the most mountains or most perceptibly be around mountains. That state was, to some folk's suprirse, the one that had already received the nickname "The Mountaineer State" over a century prior. West Virginia usually gets short shrift from the coastal elite as a state that is deeply backwards culturally. History says that the state was created when Unionist counties in space not particularly conducive to cotton growing within Virginia broke away as a result of the US Civil War. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, West Virginia was home to much of the violent fighting between mercenaries hired by coal mines along with occasional assistance received from the US Army (including aerial bombardment!) against newly unionized workers seeking higher wages and safer conditions.



Yes, West Virginia has problems. That's what happens when the infrastructure for your area is largely left up to the state to fund and there's no flat land anywhere. If it wasn't for deals worked out by (former Klansman and future Democrat) Senator Robert Byrd via "pork barrel spending", who even knows what the state would resemble in terms of rail lines, freeways, and buildings. West Virginia probably needs a lot more of that long term to become more sustainable, if that is even a possibility.



Those ancient days of labor union fighting coincided with a period of of small trolley companies and their amusement parks. West Virginia had many such parks - I did some light research and came up with the names of 15 long, long gone parks. Some of these had closed a century ago with nary a sign of their existence except a road that had never been renamed. Only one park remains in the state - Camden Park, a 116 year old ex-trolley park built by the Camden Interstate Railway Company along the banks of the Ohio River. The park long appeared on the endangered list - I remember going there for the first time and seeing the long defunct Thunderbolt Express Arrow Shuttle coaster sitting there in an advanced state of decay - but has seemed to turn around with some reasonable investments and clean up. Camden is even making an unexpected appearance in a video game - Fallout '76.



With so few permanent facilities in the state, we should go about mentioning the largest single collection of amusement rides the state sees: the West Virginia State Fair. Reithoffer sources the rides at present, and this year's event will see 3 coasters going up, along with a pile of flat rides.



West Virginia has a few small water parks: Waves of Fun in Huntington and Water Ways in Julian are the main outdoor facilities the state has. ACE Adventure Resort in Oak Hill has a "water park" in so much as they have a swimming hole with a bunch of big inflatable things in it to climb on or jump off of. More interesting is the "non themed" attractions they have - walking the maintenance paths inside the New River Gorge Bridge, spelunking, zip lines, and white water rafting.



Finally, Wheeling's Oglebay Good Zoo is not only AZA accredited and alone in the state as such, but home to a train ride that's pretty lengthy and leaves the zoo itself to wander into the surrounding 1650 acres of Oglebay Park.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Washington

The Evergreen State! Full of lumber, rocky coast line, volcanoes, and rainy summers, Washington is pretty much defined by the Pacific coastline even though there's a lot of space in Eastern Washington consisting of rolling hills and farm land. There's 1000 dams, killer whales, and really expensive real estate (at least in greater Seattle). Also: state cops won't arrest you for possession of weed. How about that?



With no big theme parks in the state, Washington sure seems like an "under served" market, but it's worth keeping in mind that it's a pretty cheap flight from SEA-TAC to Southern California. What Washington does have is a surprising number of community and non-profit related amusement attractions. None of these is bigger than the State Fairgrounds in Puyallup. For two weeks a year, it entertains over a million people with a mix of permanent attractions that's greater than any other in the nation. Most famous: Classic Coaster, a wood coaster from 1935 that has the very last set of Prior and Church trains rolling in existence. It's kept in fantastic shape and is super fun (I've somehow managed to ride it?). Also - A Top Fun Typhoon coaster. Not good, but at least unique in all of North America. There's several interesting flat rides too (Huss Jump and Zierer Hexentanz for instance), a Von Roll 101, S&S Drop Tower, and a PTC Carousel at what is undoubtedly the coolest and best lineup overall of any fair in the hemisphere.



The largest permanent park in the state is Wild Waves Theme Park, operated by Premier Parks (who sold most of their operation contracts to Six Flags, except this one). There aren't any rides which one might consider a "global standout" - Timberhawk: Ride Of Prey, the park's wood coaster, was generally seen as a disappointment when it opened. Other rides and slides in the park are fairly standard production model attractions that are commonplace in the regional park universe with one possible exception. Wild Waves uses topography to its benefit by having installed a all season tubing hill - yes, snowless snowtubing is possible in the 2010s. Isn't technology incredible?



Less technologically advanced are the state's other permanent facilities. The Rides at Long Beach, WA have a set of 1960s/1970s era Fiberglass bodied Lusse bumper cars in addition to several other classic iron rides a short distance from the ocean. Remlinger Farms has a classic car ride of it's own: its Antique Car ride comes from the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. There's also train rides, a kiddie coaster, and several other attractions primarily geared for children to accompany the farm goods.



The City of Seattle is itself home to multiple attractions of note. The Seattle Great Wheel opened at Pier 57 in 2012 as the West Coast's tallest observation wheel. Standing 175 feet tall, it sure looks like a Bussink wheel (or at least from the Wheels of Excellence series he started), complete with air conditioned pods and everything. 300 feet away is Wings Over Washington, a flying theater attraction that had a lot of investment put into the theming and design of its queuing and station. It looks really fantastic for a standalone attraction of its kind.



Greater Seattle/Tacoma has a few family entertainment centers of note too. Tukwila Family Fun Center might sound like just another place with putt-putt and go-karts, but they have a strange selection of more thrilling rides like a S&S Screaming Swing installation and a small drop tower. There's also a "Driving School" attraction similar to what you would find at a Legoland park (small cars in a faux cityscape small children can drive). The Edmonds iteration of the same group's facility lacks some of the cooler and weirder stuff, but does have some 70s/80 era Italian bumper cars.



Washington, like the midwestern states detailed in previous iterations of the series, has a few fairgrounds with their own individual attractions. In the case of Washington, this means often means carousels. The Pioneer Picnic and Rodeo in Bickelton near the Oregon border in central Washington has a super rare Spillman-Herschell Carousel that is powered by a steam engine for just a few days a year during the event. Ferry County's got it's own mixed machine carousel full of rarely seen Dare, Armitage-Herschell, and Herschell-Spillman, and they were smart enough to put limitations on the sale of the carousel to prevent it ever leaving the county. The Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival has a carousel brought in exclusively for it by the Dentzel family - it's not for adults, but the Flying Horses style menagerie carousel only runs that week specifically there as an example of their "Village Carousel" concept. While not possessing a carousel, The Evergreen County Fairgrounds does have the Western Heritage Museum offering frontiersman living museum realness.



Outside of the Seattle orbit, there's a number of smaller parks and attractions which are have carved out their own little piece of the entertainment market. Miniature World Blaine, not far from the BC border and Bellingham, has train rides with a very not-off-the-shelf miniature train. During the holiday season, they take advantage of the region's surprisingly warm temperatures to run a Christmas train with lights and displays galore. Hunter's Christmas Tree Farm in Olympia has a carousel, Super Slide, Corn Maze, and stuff like pony rides for young kids. Riverfront Park on the old 1974 Expo grounds in Spokane has a Carousel with rings (plastic, but still; RINGS!), a modern scenic skyride with fully enclosed gondolas, and a smattering of kids rides. There's also a standalone carousel in Kennewick: Gesa Carousel of Dreams: the original Silver Beach Carousel from St. Joseph Michigan.



Washington has some water parks: Great Wolf Lodge has an outpost here in Grand Mound, and there are small water parks throughout the state like Slidewaters in Lake Chelan or Surf N' Slide in Lake Moses. Birch Bay Waterslides has some old school terrain slides and a big speed slide that differentiates itself from the pack. Splashdown serves the Spokane market with modern slide tech like bowls.



Its also worth noting that there are several reasonably sized zoos in the state. Point Defiance and Woodland Park Zoos have carousels in the Seattle/Tacoma area, and the latter has animatronic dinosaurs too. The Northwest Trek Wildlife Park has tram rides and ziplining for visitors who want to get different perspectives on the animal exhibits.


Friday, July 20, 2018

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #151 - Black and Yellow



Alan and Joe talk news as we cover Kennywood's new Steelers Country and The Steel Curtain including sports representation in amusement parks, the prospect of other team ups, Steel Curtain's design, and thematic design in relation to the "sports ball" crowd. Then we dive into Cedar Fair, Cedar Point, and Carowinds news; Universal Orlando's Cinematic Celebration opens; and we close out with some trip reports to Toronto and Chicago.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Virginia

Virginia, the most metropolitan of the ex-Confederate states, has had a prodigious history of outdoor amusements. With long Atlantic coast and great beaches to the east and mountains to the west, proximity to the DC metropolis (cities like Alexandria and Arlington are its most well known suburbs), and its own substantive citites (Richmond, Norfolk), we could spend an entire article discussing the parks that were once here. There's enough going on now that we can move past that.



Modern regional themers like Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Kings Dominion certainly dominate the state's landscape when it comes to rides. Both are 1970s era theme parks with all the hallmarks of that design philosophy. Busch Gardens has retained much more of it's original character thanks to better management in the 90s and 2000s, but it is fair to say both parks are primarily a mix of roller coasters, water rides, and spinners. The only tracked dark ride at either is actually Kings Dominion's Ghost Blasters ride from Sally following the untimely demise of DarKastle. The state also has an exceptionally well known water park: Water Country USA is part of the SeaWorld empire, and could be described best as Aquatica North: many similar attractions like the action river and big modern slides. If that isn't enough, the area is also home to a Great Wolf Lodge, ensuring one can chase down water slides with more water slides. I also need to mention Colonial Williamsburg, a quasi-living history museum that's also a functioning set of businesses. Admission is required to enter many of the buildings, but individuals can walk around the majority of it for absolutely no price whatsoever. Again, this is pretty well known about, and that's not the purpose of the series.



We start with water parks: Massanutten Resort has both indoor and outdoor slides and attractions, allowing it to offer aquatic fun year round, highlighted by an indoor Flowrider setup. The largest water park not connected in some way to one of the big dog themers is Ocean Breeze in Virginia Beach, a fairly large facility with all super modern, first run slides mostly from the folks at ProSlide. Plus, being honest, their gigantic money wearing a Hawaiian shirt mascot that towers over guests at the entrance is pretty fantastic (equally great: named Hugh Mungus).



Virginia Beach's days as being a target for coaster enthusiasts is long gone now - same with dark ride fans following the closure of Capt' Cline's Pirate Ghost Ride. There is a small amusement facility called Atlantic Fun Park here still running with a few classic flat rides, as well as a related go-kart facility named Motor World a bit further from the beach. If you're looking for more excitement than that, you'll have to opt for miniature golf to get your kicks. There's several unique courses that o over the top in terms of theme; Jungles and Pirates may be typical for the genre, but Jungle Golf and Pirates Paradise still go all in to draw in visitors. And then for indoor courses, Top Gun Mini Golf with it's naval theme is certainly a unique spot to play.



Zoos in Virginia, like most of the nation, have expanded to offer amusement rides and attractions. Virginia Zoo in Norfolk and Metro Richmond Zoo both have train rides past animal exhibits, for example. Metro Richmond Zoo also ups the ante with a skyride over animal exhibits - it has chairlift seating rather than enclosed gondolas, but it's still really cool. Fort Chiswell Animal Park is a non AZA accredited facility which spends a lot of time breeding for captivity, and in turn they run "Safari Tours" using converted school buses.



In the family entertainment center side of things, Virginia has two noteworthy spots to reference. Central Park Fun-Land in Fredericksburg recently opened an SBF Visa Spinning coaster in the summer of 2018, replacing an older kiddie coaster. This bolstered their indoor/outdoor lineup of go kart tracks, mini golf, kiddie rides, virtual reality experience, laser tag, et al. Go-Karts Plus in Williamsburg has a Python Pit that shifted around the country from its original home in a Cleveland shopping mall. The FEC also has bumper cars and 3 Go-Kart tracks.



Virginia, as one of the original 13 states, has a lot of history. And what says "history" like carousels? Several small city parks have carousels: Burke Lake, Lee District, Lake Fairfax, Hampton Carousel Park, and Lake Accontink Parks all have rides, whether wood or metal. Bundoran Farm is the least known of the bunch: two kiddie carousels, meticulously restored, but with websites in various states of non-maintenance. The National Carousel Association hasn't updated their listing for the rides since 2002, so I went to the source and got an update. The hand cranked George Marx Carousel is now in downtown Charlottesville and owned by the Discovery Museum, whereas the Mangels portable carousel (which is built on a horse carriage) is still in the possession of Bundoran Farm. It also turns out that the Children's Museum of Richmond has a small carousel, but details about the maker are limited (it may be a modern Italian built one with fiberglass/metal pieces).

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #150 - LARP Your Face Off



OG crew is back as Joe, Lane, Mike, and Nick are here to talk Fast & Furious Supercharged impressions, Universal Orlando's Cinematic Celebration, catch up on Halloween Horror Nights news, and then invite on Lane's sister Amy to talk about Toy Story Land, Minnie Vans, Victoria and Alberts, and more!

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Vermont



In the public eye thanks to the emergence of Bernie Sanders as an unlikely counterculture political figure, Vermont is the second least populated state in the US. Rugged and mountainous, far enough north to be plenty cold in the winter, low in crime, and home to top flight universities like Dartmouth: Vermont is certainly a place of contrasts. There's lots of guns, but also comparatively high taxation sometimes blamed for an outflow of people. I have things I could say about that further, but won't - I'll spare you a discussion of a sociological/economic nature today. What you're here for is talk about amusement/theme parks.

Without many people to have density of population, there was rarely a need for street cars, and with no street cars, no trolley parks. Only two amusement places are well established in the history of the state: Barber Park opened somewhere between 1900 and 1910, and closed its doors by 1924. Little is known of the park; a "Shoot The Chutes" postcard exist, which appears to be little more than a slide on a natural hillside. Concerts and Vaudeville shows seemed to be the primary attractions. Clement's Park is noted in Robert Cartmell's original coaster tome Incredible Scream Machine as having had a Figure 8 side friction coaster, and that's about the only record that exists of the park.



It would be nearly a century after the closing of the PTC built Figure 8 that Vermont would again obtain a permanent roller coaster of some kind. Okemo Mountain was first in the region with a Mountain Coaster, opening the Timber Ripper in 2010. They'd be followed by a huge Aquatic Development Group attraction at Killington Resort in 2015. Given the popularity of the ski resorts here, it makes a whole lot of sense to replace the long existing alpine slides with a safer 4 season option, and just like everywhere else in the country, that's happening at a torrid pace.



Kiddie parks do have a place in modern Vermont: Quechee Gorge Village opened in 1985 as a regional shopping destination, and plans to add children's rides (including a used Wisdom coaster) in 2018. Santa's Land USA has had many struggles over the years: the rumor that it occupies the space once held by the defunct Clement's Park maybe has something to do with it. It was purchased and reopened after some heavy renovations in 2017. They have a short summer season, but hopefully with a smaller collection of attractions, they can hang on for a good while.



The state is also pretty low on water parks. Pump House Water Park at Jay Peak Resort is the largest water park of any kind, indoor or outdoor, in the state. at 50,000 square feet, it probably could be listed as "midsize" in the genre, having an Aqualoop and a Flowrider.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Utah

In this edition of the Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions, we will not go to that old trope of "Let's mock Mormons." You want a fact? Mormons are generally pretty nice people. They usually spend a lot of time with their kids, they aren't really rude, and while they have opinions I don't agree with related to caffeine or beer ABV or a lot of things, Mormons are a particularly offensive group. Enough of them nearly flipped to vote for a random FBI agent in the 2016 election that it could have sent the entire Presidential election to a drawing of straws. So we aren't going to do that. It's cheap and easy and shooting fish in a barrel.

Besides, it's a cop out to not talk about what Utah actually is like: it's an outdoor wonderland with incredible mountain and ski resorts (which we'll talk about), awesome river rafting, deserts, rock formations, cliffs, canyons, vast salt flats, prairie, yup, Utah has that. The golden spike was driven into the Transcontinential Railroad here. The Winter Olympics happened here in 2002. Other things happened here too. OK, so look, let's go back and talk about Mormons, but respectfully, OK? Salt Lake City isn't just a Delta Airlines pseudo-hub: it's literally the equivalent of the Vatican or Jerusalem to a distinct religious sect with a few million followers. There are 1 million more Mormons than Jews in the US. I just looked it up. It's true. I could even cite sources! And when you're someone's Vatican, it is fairly easy to say important things happened there at some point, even if I may be skeptical of certain claims related to those important things.



In the history of the region, Utah has had two significant amusement parks: Lagoon and Saltair Beach. Saltair Beach had some space for swimming, and if you look at photos from the period, you can see what is ostensibly an amusement pier style park. Except that unlike most of these types of parks, it is well inland. And unlike all of the inland boardwalk parks (I'm looking at you, Indiana Beach and Cedar Point), it had salt water. Really salty water from the Great Salt Lake, which if you have never been is admittedly not very attractive, smells funny, and has an enormous amount of brine flies. This may not sound like a conducive environment for outdoor recreation, but when you are otherwise at high altitude on a plateau, and this is the body of water you've got, it is the amusement park you have. Well, at least until it burned to the ground in 1925, then again in 1931, then when the water receded and a train had to be built to get people to the water in 1933, and then finally in 1967 and 1970 with, you guessed it, more fires. Big wood structures in the desert are flammable. Who knew?



That doesn't mean there isn't a Saltair now. The original's pylons are sitting in the dirt of the receding Great Salt Lake. Meanwhile, almost within visual distance, is Saltair II, built around an old Air Force hangar and nearish to the Salt Lake. It's a concert venue/convention center sorta thing. Primus and Mastodon are playing there on July 2nd if that sound appealing to you; Jack White shows up on July 9. The spirit lives on, kinda sorta. And if you step out to the water, you can imagine what it was like way back in the early 1900s, floating in water that won't let you do anything but, surrounded by the mummified corpses of seagulls who miscalculated dives at prey.



But enough about the past: There's the present, and that's Lagoon. Except Lagoon falls under every definition of "known" - it's big, it advertises outside it's market, it draws in excess of a million people, it even fabricates and builds it's own rides. Lagoon has some negatives: the water park isn't that great, I'm not that hot on the animal enclosures on the zoo train, and the food is generally pretty bad. However, the park does a lot in terms of fit and finish to rides with regards to stations and queue lines which rarely is seen by smaller parks or even regional themers. It is well landscaped. It has two dark rides, and an array of unique roller coasters. It's pretty wonderful. It even has its own Pioneer Village area with museum exhibitry and a prison. Yes, Lagoon has a jail, and they even used to put up prisoners in it. None of this is a lie.



But reading about Lagoon isn't enough to justify writing about this. You want different. You want new. Enter: The Train Shoppe and Ricochet Canyon Fun Center. Why is this place relevant? Well, there's two attractions in here that may actually qualify as dark rides: The Ricochet Canyon Scenic Railroad looks to be an Italian built kiddie train of some sort that cruises past small set scenes with animatronics on a tight loop. Salty Mine Exploration Company has individual cars and provides lights to riders to try and find "hidden items". Both attractions are geared towards a younger set, but adults seem able to ride as well. Train fans can also find occasional public days at the Canyon Meadows Park miniature train to get a fix of steam powered action.



In the greater vicinity, there ski resorts have predictably acquired Wiegland mountain coasters. Park City and Snowbird both have them, with Park City's being nearly twice as long (and one of the biggest in North America). For someone looking for bigger thrills, the Olympic Park has winter and summer bobsled experiences that are anything but "themed" - they're the real thing, just like actual bobsledders do. There's occasionally luge as well in the winter you can try out.



Salt Lake City and the related college down of Provo (home to BYU) have a few family entertainment center type destinations. Liberty Park in Salt Lake City has a small ride collection, anchored by a Eli Wheel. Seven Peaks Fun Center in Lehi is at the rough midway point between SLC and Provo, and features a mix of family rides, go karts, mini golf, and other typical FEC fare. The SLC location of Seven Peaks is a straightforward water park; probably significantly more refreshing than a visit to the Great Salt Lake. Provo Beach Resort can't be classified as a water park: it lacks enough aquatic attractions for that. It does have a Flowrider, as well as a ropes course, laser tag, and arcade. Strange mix, but it seems to be working.



When it comes to animals, Hogel Zoo is the state's sole AZA accredited facility. Like many zoos these days, it has a CP Huntington Train and a carousel with exotic animals. Exhibits are expanded and of course themed to resemble the areas the animals are from. For extinct creatures, Utah has a lot of dinosaur fossils, and thus as expected has a dinosaur attraction or two. Aside from the great natural history museums, those seeking to scratch the itch of seeing enormous reptile related things could hit up George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park. Several animatronic dinosaurs are placed outside for viewing in addition to indoor museum style exhibits and working paleontologists cleaning fossils.



One interesting phenomenon that is largely isolated to Utah is that of the Nickelcade: arcades in which people pay for entry, then pay for additional time playing games using nickels in some format. While this is not expressly limited to Utah, the density of them in Utah is far, far greater than any other. In Greater Salt Lake City alone, one can visit Nickel City, the Nickelcade of Taylorsville, or Sandy Nickelcade. My experience visiting these is that the games are typically at the end of their lifespan, not in the best of working order, and sometimes hilariously placed (e.g. Shoney's Claw Machines).



Utah's water parks aren't monsters: Cowabunga Bay emerged from the Huish family's FEC business, with Shane now heading the company. It features one enormous play structure; the largest in the world when it was built. Cherry Hill Water Park grew out of a campground, and is a mix of an outdoor FEC and aquatics center with some water slides. Classic Fun Center has 4 locations throughout the state, with 2 of them (Sandy and Riverdale), but neither is particularly huge either.

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 go...at 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?

Hmmm.

Oh.



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.