roller coaster

Gotta Get Myself Connected

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Top Thrill Dragster, a marquee coaster at Cedar Point.

Connectivity. It is a buzzword so overused that it now is probably as useless on some levels as corporate terms like synergy. The flip side of that is because it is no longer a novelty that we live in a connected manner, it is an expectation. A staple of good airports is now considered to be wife access and power plugs, the ones where you have to sit on filthy carpet propping up a loose cord as it falls out of a wall outlet are just considered embarrassing.

So, when I hear about amusement parks stepping up their game and recognizing that the level of expectations have changed I get excited. One of the best tech applications I have seen in 2016 is Cedar Point’s addition of Wi-Fi on the property and a great app for the park. I recently spoke with Tony Clark, the Director of Communications at Cedar Point. He told me that from their perspective things have definitely changed and while there was no specific tipping point, the Cedar Fair team recognized that there has been a shift in the way people enjoy their park. “As we’d walk through the park and see our guests on their mobile devices, it really told us something. Everywhere we looked, guests were taking selfies, posting on social media, playing games or using our mobile app in the park. I think this has been an ongoing evaluation process over the past few years, but we felt now was the time to jump on it. And with the new technology comes opportunity – how do we use it to not only make the guest experience better, but to also grow the business,” he noted.

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The new app ties you into the wait times at each major attraction at the park.

So now guests not only visit the Point, they use their phone as a way to enhance the business. Obviously sharing coaster pics and videos across social media platforms is essentially free advertising for Cedar Point. The park added 200 access points over 364 acres so the goal is that everyone on property can easily get online. Overall the addition was a process that took around two months. In 2015 the chain used Kings Island in Cincinnati as the “test park” for both the Wi-Fi and the app, which Cedar Point rolled out this year. Tony said that the app release coincided with the premier of Valravn, the company’s new-for-2016 B&M dive coaster. “It include new features like ride wait times, embedded Season Pass ability so you can simply use your phone at our entrances, in-app purchases, the new FunPix photo program and more,” he told me.

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The Corkscrew is a classic Arrow coaster along the midway.

Like sporting events and other activities that require a full-day commitment for families, amusement parks need to continue to create ways to enhance guests’ stay while on property. The process that Cedar Fair has taken at Cedar Point and other properties is certainly a huge step in the right direction. Be sure to check out the park’s app and wifi next time you visit and use them to get into line on two thrilling Ride Entertainment attractions- the Skycoaster® and Slingshot.

-AFS

Part Steel Coaster, Part Virtual Reality: All Thrills

This spring it was exciting to see Dare Devil Dive, a Gerstlauer project we were involved in during the 2011 season, transformed into a new experience. With the addition of a personalized VR system for each rider the coaster was updated and rebranded The New Revolution.

3SFOG_TheNewRevolution_KeyArtFinalI spoke with Gene Petriello, Communications Manager at Six Flags over Georgia about the ride’s transformation. He said, “It was a very unique project for us and we were excited to create the first VR Coaster in North America. We tested the demo during the IAAPA Convention in November and felt that the technology would be great to roll out across the Six Flags chain. Six Flags over Georgia was chosen to open the first of these VR experiences.”

The technology comes from VR Coasters, a sister company to MACK Rides. It uses a Samsung Galaxy with an Oculus headset and each train has a box that monitors the vehicle’s location along the track so that the system always knows where the vehicle is and keeps the VR video in sync with the coaster’s location. This is important because the guests sees actions in the video that mimic the experience they feel from the physics of the ride. For instance, as Dare Devil Dive speeds down the first drop riders see their plane flying down the side of a skyscraper.

SFOG_DareDevilDive (2)Gene said that the guest response was phenomenal. “People love it because the technology is original and new. We have found that 8 or 9 guests out of 10 want to try it,” he noted.

This summer Six Flags rolled out VR experiences at nearly every property. From Larson Giant Loops to Intamin Hyper Coasters where you can fly with Superman, this theme park chain has dipped their toes into what will become even more immersive technology. Want to go for a spin? Check out the coaster at Six Flags over Georgia and Six Flags parks nationwide: www.SixFlags.com .

-AFS

Thrills Have a New Competitor- Interactivity

Buzzwords exist for a reason. While “thrill” is certainly part of our lexicon in the attractions industry, we continue to see a demand and response for all things “interactive”. Several things have changed that have altered park-goer’s demand for interactive rides, but the go-to that makes the most sense is the cost and quality of tech. This is two-fold, because in our guest’s hands is a device even more powerful than we envisioned as we were preparing for Y2K, and it also means that the quality of what parks can afford to buy has changed.

We currently have parents that grew up as Atari, Nintendo and Sega kids. Many of them are still X-Box and computer game players, and their children are, too. In addition, many of these family units use the phone for gaming and life has a whole. There are high expectations when it comes to tech and leisure and amusement parks need to continue to fill those guest requirements. In-ride technology has also changed, making the shoot ‘em up experience a competitor to home and phone entertainment. We used to see rides like Men in Black at Universal Studios and Toy Story Mania and Disney’s California Adventure and believe that these attractions were the pervue of a handful of properties. But, companies like Lagotronics Projects and Triotech have certainly altered that construct. Now regional players like Knott’s Berry Farm debuted The Reef from Triotech and Journey to the West at Wuhan in China from Lagotronics Projects. In addition, to the media looking better due to lowering costs, companies like Lagotronics Projects are making them better for guests by developing more accurate shooting technology through their Interactive Ride Tech. Thirty years ago it was fine to put out a ride where the guns hit their targets 50% of the time- that’s just not acceptable now. This only helps to drive re-ridership and enjoyment of the overall experience. Other new rides like the Strike-U-Up are a combination of ride and game- children and tweens gravitate towards attractions like this that could not be found ten years ago.

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But, interactivity doesn’t stop with great-looking, immersive technology. There is still a need for pure physical interaction. Our partners like Clip ‘n Climb ® and Ropes Courses, Inc. offer products that are innovative takes on classic attractions. CNC allows owners to choose from a catalogue of elements to create the guest experience they want to provide. These different challenges are combined to create modern-day climbing wall experience that is highly repeatable. The CNC technology can get found everywhere- from amusement parks to F.E.C.’s to trampoline parks. Ropes Courses, Inc. continues to up their game by taking their classic Sky Trail ropes course design and adding to it. Now parks and attractions can add the SkyRail® zip line, which turns the experience from a ropes course into an experience that engages in many different ways.

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One of the best combinations of old and new tech I have seen was our recent project at Canada’s Wonderland. We sold a Gerstlauer Skyroller to the Cedar Fair and watched as they worked with Gerstlauer to turn what was an interactive thrill ride into something more. The Skyroller allows guest to control their wings and do barrel rolls if they choose. Some riders do a handful, others do over 60, but the unique thing about this rider experience is the fact that the park did a great job of introducing technology into an existing ride experience. During every ride cycle each vehicle counts the number of flips the rider performs and the winner is announced as the cycle ends and they can start to track the “high roller” for the day, week, month and season. In addition, the park is planning on making social media integration easy by creating a photo op so that older riders can show the crazy number of flips they managed on Snapchat while creating a way for parents of younger kids to share the experience of their child enjoying their “first big thrill ride” on Facebook.

This is not to say that roller coasters don’t still have drawing power- they do. But it does say that they certainly do not continue to have the hold on repeatability. While interactive attractions have a different thrill level, their features are working to draw guests back to the ride time and time again.

-AFS

A Visit to Ocean Park (香港海洋公园)

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It was certainly a different Ocean Park (www.OceanPark.hk) that I visited this year as part of the IAAPA Asian Expo. My last visit was in 2006 and things have changed, in the ten years since my last visit the venerable Asian park has undergone a metamorphosis. Upon entering Ocean Park one notices right away that the property looks fresher than it ever did. The main gate was moved to the front and offers beautiful fountains and animal exhibits. The new “old Hong Kong” area great and has a fantastic assortment of food, I had noodles at Chan’s Noodle. As guests relax and enjoy lunch they can take in the beautiful Wood Design carousel.

Tom Mehrmann, the Chief Executive at Ocean Park, told me, about the thought process behind the change, “[The] goals were to stay true to Ocean Park core values, to put more ‘Ocean’ into Ocean Park, to focus on differential values (location, animals, Hong Kong essence) offered by the Park, be culturally relevant to the markets we serve, work with the strength of our generational value (those who came as kids were now bringing their kids), and ensure we did not lose site of the fact that the difference is real and Ocean Park should remain focused on Conservation, Education and Entertainment.”

After lunch I wanted to head to the south end of the property. Park-goers now choose between two ways to get to the back of the park. One is a classic, the Cable Car, which offers unparalleled views of the park as it runs along 1.5 km (.93 mile) of cable. This lengthy sky ride attraction stretches over the hills and Deep Water Bay. The other is an amazing feet of engineering, the Ocean Express. This is a funicular that tunnels through the mountain, it is 1.3 km (.8 miles) long and 71,300 square meters (233,923 square feet) of earth were excavated in order to construct the ride. The time and expense that must have gone into this project is astounding.

Tom told me that engineering the Ocean Express was indeed a complicated process. He said, “We had to blast on the site, to remove large sections of rock each morning, then send the rock to an onsite rock crusher, which was then placed on a conveyor that went from the top of our site (122 meters [400 feet] above sea level) to the receiving barges waiting below to haul the soil and rock away for fill projects in China. Each morning when the blasting was done, the animals that were considered sensitive to ground vibration were trained to position in areas that would not be affected by the blasts to ensure their health and well-being. The animal keepers and curators did an outstanding job ensuring the development work did not impact the animals and introduced some innovative and meaningful operant conditioning to ensure the animals were not affected.” A picture of the breakthrough ceremony (below) shows just how large of endeavor this project was.

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I know that a funicular is not as sexy as a roller coaster, but the Ocean Express truly is an amazing piece of engineering. On the back side of the park one sees the new Thrill Mountain area, which offers several new attractions. The best of these is a B&M floorless coaster, the Hair Raiser, which has a completely custom layout. The lift hill runs up along a cliff and the ride dives back down, through a uniquely-shaped loop. The biggest surprise of the layout is the bunny hop which generates a lot of airtime and the unique banked turn right before you twist back into the brakes. On the tamer side of things, the North and South Pole exhibits showcase a great collection of cold-weather animals and allow guests to watch the animals in a great habitat.

The park still has a lot of charm in the older (lower) area of the park with classics like an early 1980’s Arrow looping coaster, a Huss Pirate, Huss Condor, and Huss Enterprise. With its sea life displays, shows, and collection of rides Ocean Park has certainly gone from a great local enterprise to a world-class amusement park. Many thought that with “the mouse” opening across town the park would suffer. However, nearly a decade later the property has reinvented itself by going back to its roots and offering a day that combines the best sea life displays with exciting rides, and provides its guests with a unique experience. Ocean Park truly is Hong Kong’s theme park.

-AFS

A New Carowinds

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When I went to Carowinds (www.carowinds.com) this year to check out our new Slingshot installation I not only enjoyed a thrilling experience, I saw a fresh take on some things make this industry great.  Not a big surprise, but I still feel that the Slingshot is one of the best thrills out there.  Going from ground level to nearly 300 feet in a matter of seconds is quite a rush.  It is amazing to see the world unfold in front of you.  Of course, when you ride the Slingshot the park now the world unfolds with something standing as tall as you- Fury 325.  Carowinds and B&M hit a home run with this ride.  It does everything a giga coaster should (and more).  I know there are many devotees of the silver and blue Millennium Force at Cedar Fair’s flagship property, but to me Fury just does everything better.

The “out” run showcases the ride’s speed as it flies over some wonderfully-shaped curves and rises into the treble clef. This element, shaped like the musical note, dives through a tunnel and here the airtime begins.  There are several great moments as-well-as a helix that threads the needle through the ride’s support structure.

But, Fury was not the only pleasant surprise.  The park also was showcasing their Taste of the Carolinas.  This food festival focused on regional food and beer.  Not only was it a great alternative to the burgers and hot dog fare I am used to, it tasted fantastic.  From main courses to dessert, everything was several steps above what I have come to expect from amusement park food.  In addition, it was served in reasonable amounts, so I could sample different things as opposed to being committed to one dish served the size of a table.

The final touch was the new front gate, which was totally rebuilt for the 2015 season.  Fury 325 wraps itself around and through the entrance plaza, offerings park-goers a tantalizing glimpse of the thrills that lie inside.

All-in-all our visit to Carowinds was a much different one than our last one in 2003.  It has certainly re-defined itself in the market and we look forward to seeing what is ahead for this unique property that straddles a state line.

-AFS