The International Association of Parks and Attractions’ Annual Orlando Convention in November isn’t just a giant trade show of carnival rides and carousels; It is also an organic metric for assessing the state of the entire theme park industry. After COVID canceled the IAAPA in 2020, last year’s fair was an understandably scaled-down event, with clear empty areas in the previously overflowing exhibition hall. Then there was the general mood of calm and cautious optimism that the entertainment business would eventually return. But I don’t think anyone is expecting a resurgence of the exhibitors and attendees who saw the Orange County Convention Center burst at the seams last week.
Perhaps it was just willful ignorance and glee on the eve of an impending spread of inflation, but the IAAPA Expo 2022 crowd (which outnumbered 2021 attendance by 26% on the convention’s opening day alone) was more energetic than I can remember, and the prevailing attitude of convention-goers seems to be that consumer demand for immersive entertainment has returned to pre-pandemic levels. If that’s true, that’s great news for vendors of everything from thrill rides to cow udder-themed spice dispensers, which were among the thousands of new products shown on the fair floor.
Here are some of the highlights of IAAPA 2022 that we hope will one day appear soon at an amusement park or family entertainment center near you:
Over the past decade, VR in theme parks has experienced explosive growth — fueled by the boom in low-cost headsets and, further, by the drive for social distancing — followed by an even sharper decline, as consumers reject expensive headache-inducing experiences of inconsistent quality. Now, newer devices with improved focus and field of view (such as HTC’s Vive Pro 2 and Focus 3) finally live up to the promise of VR.
The best IP-based VR experience I found at IAAPA was Hologate’s Ghostbusters Academy, which lets four players link distinct proton beams and kill a Stay-Puft Marshmallow guy. The restricted equipment felt too restrictive, but the visuals and sound were excellent. Another group to watch is Atlanta-based company Megaverse, which has figured out how to hook up standalone headsets to free-to-play wireless multiplayer networks. With a variety of original scenarios and 4D tactile like the moving floor, it could become a solid successor to my former extinct favourite, The Void.
– It would seem that the era when every new roller coaster had to be the longest and fastest in the world, but that does not mean that the “roller coaster wars” are over. Instead, auto manufacturers seem to focus more on aesthetic or engineering innovations that appeal to thrill junkies without alienating the all-important family audience. Vekoma showed off custom jeep-inspired cars for Dollywood’s Big Bear Mountain, Rocky Mountain Construction revealed the meowing front train for Wildcat’s Revenge for Hersheypark; Both will add a welcome touch of storytelling to their screaming machines.
Most advanced was Maurer Rides’ Spike Fun prototype, which features a rider-controlled seat that reclines up to 45 degrees, making for a unique perspective as you zip around its single-rail track. But the ship revealed that what really caught my eye was the SeaWorld Orlando surfboard pipeline, a freestanding Bolliger & Mabillard model featuring a redesigned seatbelt atop a surfboard-shaped car. Hopefully, it will prove to be less crotch-crushing than previous standing coasters when it debuts next year.
With modern gaming consoles and PCs providing home gamers with all the realistic graphics they could ever need without having to plow quarters in coins, game manufacturers are increasingly supplementing their catalogs of screen-based amusements with something even more exciting: actual reality. Following the resurgence of Pong and pinball in recent years, more mechanical arcade machines have emerged that appeal to Gen-X nostalgia, none more so than the “Hungry Hungry Hippos,” grown adults in work clothes happily slouching on either side of a marbled hippopotamus. . “Break the Plates” takes the classic sideshow scam and turns it into an energetic sports competition, in which balls thrown at digital touchscreens cleverly trigger physical explosions of pottery shards. And despite having no idea what I was doing, I still found myself transfixed by the flashing lights and snarky sound bites of “Rick & Morty’s Blips & Chitz,” the first-ever redemption game based on the slasher animated series.
Finally, the high point of my IAAPA 2022 experience—aside from interviewing Garner Holt’s animated Grogu, who was even more awesome in person than on screen—was Bob Rogers’ annual Legends panel, which celebrated its 20th year with a deep dive into the past and future. from EPCOT. Imagineering’s soon-to-retire global ambassador Bob Weiss sparked laughter by acknowledging that the park’s lofty acronym also stands for “Every Person Comes Out Tired,” and current vice president Kartika Rodriguez spoke poignantly about making attractions more inclusive and accessible. to it while remaining valid for all time. But it was Rogers himself who produced the classic World Showcase Impressions of France Film — who made the biggest impression by admitting he was “unqualified” and “undeserving” when he was initially hired by his mentor, the late Marty Sklar. I wish there were more creative companies willing to seize the opportunity for the next generation of talent, rather than requiring “five years of experience” for entry-level jobs.