Monday, February 28, 2011

Best Kept Industry Secret

I recently had the pleasure of attending the ASTM International F24 committee on amusement rides and devices bi-yearly conference held in New Orleans, Louisiana. There were more than 125 attendees of the event which included individuals from Canada , the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the US. The ASTM F24 committee is the best kept secret in the amusement industry. Why? If you're looking for a job in the industry everyone tells you that you have to attend IAAPA, the yearly colossal expo show. From what I've heard, the park representatives present are under huge pressure to try and sell or purchase new rides, so it feels like you are getting in the way if you want to hand someone your resume. At the ASTM conference there is no pressure, everyone is totally relaxed and open and friendly. Not to mention nearly every attendee (except for myself) seemed to have a vice president, director, manager, or president attached to their job title. And they were all willing to sit down and have a conversation with me. How awesome is that? If you're looking into a job in ride design or engineering you need to join ASTM and participate in these meetings.

I will let you in on another piece of information. Nearly all of the engineers I talked to expect new employees to have at least six months of actually working at and amusement park under their belt, especially working hands on with rides. Oh, and Disney expects students applying for internships to have at least a 3.0 GPA. I hope that helps some of you young engineering out there looking to get into the amusement park industry.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Wish Upon a Star

The following is an excerpt from Richard Collier's "Wish Upon a Star: The Magical Kingdoms of Walt Disney."

In (the Spring of) 1955, a letter arrived on Walt's desk from a woman in Tennessee. She and her family were faithful watchers of Disney's weekly television show, on which Walt had recently been describing his plans for Disneyland. Like millions of other youngsters, her 11-year-old son voiced the hope that he could one day visit the park. But Disneyland would not open for some months, and the boy no longer had the time. He was the victim of leukemia. Was there some way, his mother asked, that his dream could come true.

Walt at once made the arrangements. On a Saturday morning, weeks before the official opening of the park, the family arrived. Main Street and the central plaza were still unpaved, the landscaping was still underway, and the ... train, which was to circle the area, was still in the shed unpainted. But Walt ordered the locomotive and coal car out anyway. The boy climbed in and Walt took the throttle.
For two full hours they rode the train, backing and switching along the completed portion of the track. At one point a member of Disney's staff saw the train halt far off on the skyline. Walt's left arm was tight around the child's shoulder, his right was gesturing into the distance. Across the underdeveloped acres, Walt's ideas were dancing like will-o'-the-wisps, as he talked of things unrealized on any drawing board -- Rainbow Caverns, Tom Sawyer's Island, the Haunted Mansion.
Walt had chosen to share these dreams with a child who could never see them come true. But those who had seen him act out every role in "Snow White" knew that the visions that he was sketching for the boy were just as vivid as the real things would ever be. This is how (Walt's) friends remember him, the dreamer, the spinner of enchantment, in whose heart and mind there always lived the magical world of childhood.

Isn't that a great story? I've often wondered why this particular tale hasn't turned up in any of the Walt biographies that have been published over the past 30+ years. But from what Van France once told me (He was supposedly there the day that Disney actually took this young boy out for that train ride) Walt gave some very specific instructions to those who were at the Disneyland worksite that Saturday: "No pictures. No publicity." 

I don't know why it is that I find that particular aspect of this story so appealing, so refreshing. I guess -- given that we live in a world where celebrities won't even show up for a charity event until they've been assured that there will be cameras there -- to have Walt insist that this should be a private moment, something that only this boy and his family would ever know about ... That (to me, anyway) says an awful lot about Walt Disney and his character.

Hard Rock Woes

Ever heard of Hard Rock Park? Probably not, which is why they filed for chapter 11. Hard Rock Park announced on its Web site that it is closed for the season "to allow management to focus on restructuring efforts." The announcement says the park will reopen in 2009. The closure will help the park reduce debt and ensure it can stay around. HRP filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which will allow the park to stay open and try to cut back on its debt.

To give you a little background, Hard Rock Park is branded just like the restaurant/hotel chain in terms of theme, except here it is executed on a 140 acre, $400 million dollar amusement park. The star attraction is the B&M sitdown looping coaster "Led Zeppelin: The Ride," a steel machine that is set to the music of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love". The park features six "rock environs" celebrating rock's culture, lifestyle, legends and irreverence. There's a dark ride called "The Trip" and the theme is, you guessed it, doing drugs and getting high. At an amusement park. Intended for families. Another notable ride is Maximum RPM, the first roller coaster to utilize a Ferris wheel type lift system and karaoke queue line.

Located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the park opened its doors for the first time this past spring with high attendance expectations: 3 million projected the first year. That didn't happen. Not even close. Poor planing did this park in. The rides had surprising low capacity (not that that's mattered thus far). The lack of a proper water ride was a big mistake. They had a water play structure with a dumping bucket that you find at most water parks, which was a stupid choice to put into a dry rides park. And the ticket pricing was probably too high for what the park had to offer.

That is one of the major problems of this park. The pricing versus the perception. Visitors go expecting a bunch of kick-ass rides and leave disappointed and feeling ripped off. There are a few good rides but not a lot of them, and the park is definitely lacking attractions the entire family can enjoy together. HRP is an amusement park but it's focused on the whole "experience" and it's not just about "the rides." The question is how do you market that?

HRP must have had some amount of operating capital or they would've closed in June. I'm guessing the original game plan was that they hoped to make enough money to operate year-round, even if it was at a net-loss for the first few years. It would seem to me that marketing would be even more important than any one attraction, so I wonder why the plan didn't include one less big attraction and a boat load of cash to sell the park to the world. What probably really happened is that they spent way too much operating the park and made way too little, a bad combination of poor marketing and a perfect storm of economic suckage.

Many people compare Hard Rock's situation to that of the now defunct Wild West World in that a brand new amusement park that opened has financial difficulties right from the start and closes soon after. The major difference is Wild West World was some guy who decided to build an amusement park without a proper business plan. He mortgaged his house and hoped people would come to his park. At least Hard Rock Park has investors.

Hard Rock Park is not going anywhere anytime soon. They just need to make some changes in order to be a viable entertainment option in their market, but it could work if the right balance of price vs. product is reached (see Profit-maximizing blog for more). This park has a lot of potential, it's in a great location where families are already going for vacation, and I think there is too much invested for it to go away. I hope they'll get their act together next year.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Amusement Authority Android App Suggestions

I'm currently learning how to write apps for Android phones. However, I need a goal to work towards. I was wondering if any readers had any ideas or suggestions for an Amusement Authority phone app (or any other related apps). I'm trying to think of something somewhat simple to start off with but could be added onto later or inspire new ideas. Disney stuff has been well covered so I want to stay clear of that. I think the ideal model is the have a basic version which is free to download but more advanced users could then download a "pro" version for a small fee. What do you think? Any suggestions? Please comment below!

Also, how many Android user vs. iPhone users are out that which use this site?

Monday, February 7, 2011

What is the average age of a roller coaster?

The average life of all 121 roller coasters that I've ridden is 17 years. This means a ride is erected and thrills riders for 17 years before being demolished. The average age of all 121 roller coasters I've ridden is 22 years. This means most are over 22 years old (the oldest being Jack Rabbit at Kennywood which has been standing for 91 years. Second oldest was Big Dipper at Geauga Lake).

Why is this? There were quite a few coasters (10?) I rode at Geauga Lake which were then demolished (or moved but the way I count my track record is essentially the same thing. Basically, when a coaster I rode ceases to exist at the park where I rode it then I list it as closed which then effects the average life of a coaster stat. Make sense?).