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2012 Publisher’s Picks

Park of the Year: Disney California Adventure finally gets its icon in $1.1 billion makeover

As part of its $1.1 billion makeover, Disney California Adventure received the highly promoted Cars Land, above, and thrilling Radiator Springs Racers as the park’s newest icons. CARS LAND COURTESY DCA; AT FILEWhen Disney California Adventure opened across the front gate from its big brother Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. in 2001, it had big shoes to fill.

While the original park design, rides and other attractions were enjoyed by the average guests, true Disney fans knew the park was lacking what they called the ‘Disney Magic.’ Less than stellar attendance in the following years would prove the die-hard fans were right.

The decade following would see the addition of more Disney-branded rides, shows and parades, but despite the efforts, DCA just couldn’t get over the hump to the next level.

That was until June 15, 2012.

That’s the day the park reopened to the public showcasing its new front gate entry area, new Buena Vista Street and new industry-icon Cars Land. The $1.1 billion makeover of DCA was complete, and now little brother had its own star attraction with the Radiator Springs Racers car ride.

As this publisher witnessed first-hand, the Disney fandom came by the thousands, camping out all night on the sidewalks just outside the front gate hoping to have a chance to be among the first to enter the new Cars Land. No, this wasn’t a line for tickets to a hot concert or to game one of the World Series, it was a line to get into a theme park. Every park operator dreams of this. When I asked one family of four why they spent the night on the sidewalk, their reply was typical of any fan saying, “We love Disney and we buy passes every year. We had this day on our calendar from the very moment it was announced.”

Cars Land and the Radiator Springs Racers is the real deal. Every attention to detail that could be thought of is in play in this new section. Rides, signage, concrete rock formations, food, clothing, neon and of course audio tracks all come together to make this the mega-hit of the year.

And the general public is noticing as DCA is enjoying sell-outs on a regular basis, and Radiator Springs Racers is seeing a two-hour wait on most days.

DCA has just hit this one of out the park for their grand slam.

Amusement Today salutes Disney California Adventure, its thousands of cast members, Imagineers and it management, for showing the imagination and the creativity needed to make this park the hottest must visit facility of the year, and thus making it AT’s choice for 2012 Park of the Year.


Supplier of the Year: RWS rises to the challenge, delivers blockbuster show on tight schedule

This season, Cedar Point debuted Luminosity, as the park’s new nighttime show. The $1 million-plus production is the largest in park history. It was built and produced by N.Y.-based RWS and Associates Entertainment, Inc. COURTESY CEDAR POINTI must confess, I would have never believed it, so I had to go see it in person, live.

When Cedar Point informed Amusement Today they were putting in a big nighttime show on its main midway that would include a huge cast of live performers, LED’s and other state of the art lights, video boards, pyrotechnics and much more, my first reaction was that’s a nice way to fill in a season until the next big attractions arrives.

Then the calls started coming in: Gary, you’ve got to see that show at Cedar Point. OK, now you have my attention. So, I booked a flight to Ohio.

What I witnessed that night on Cedar Point’s main midway was unbelievable for any regional park to even attempt to pull off, but CP did just that.

When Ryan Stana and his RWS team received the call from Cedar Fair they were less than six months out from the project’s opening day. They wanted RWS to deliver the biggest, grandest and most expensive night show in Cedar Point’s history, a show that would come in well in excess of $1 million.

RWS met with Cedar Fair’s VP of Entertainment, Charles Bradshaw, at Cedar Point to discuss the goals of the project and specific requests that came from Matt Ouimet, the newly appointed CEO. The goal was to produce a spectacular show that would keep guests in the park later in the evening, provide a live club atmosphere after the show and would be interesting and exciting enough to bring guests back night after night. Once the goals of the project were established, RWS worked with Cedar Fair executives for three solid days to begin to create, from the ground up, an elaborate performance space from a currently vacant midway.

Stana and the RWS crew, as well as countless other supporting companies, delivered a smashing hit. The installation took four months, the rehearsal process took three weeks and the project, which featured 23 dancers, 4 singers, 3 drummers and 2 cirque performers and 10 technical staff members, is now a show that has garnered critical acclaim throughout the amusement industry and was enjoyed by up to 5,000 guests staying at the park later to see Luminosity.

One word to Cedar Point for 2013, you now need a bigger midway!

Amusement Today salutes RWS and Associates Entertainment, Inc. for its high-octane energy and drive that made the vision of Luminosity at Cedar Point a huge show success this year and making RWS AT’s choice for 2012 Supplier of the Year.


Person of the Year: Tilman J. Fertitta’s love affair with Galveston goes back to childhood

Tilman J. FertittaAs a kid, Tilman J. Fertitta grew up just blocks away from the Galveston Island Pleasure Pier. Then as a teenager, he enjoyed the summer sights as a lifeguard at the pool for the Flagship Hotel located on the Pleasure Pier.

Tilman’s career path would take him into the restaurant business of which he would have much success. Today, as President & CEO of Landry’s, Inc., this Houston-based company operates more than 400 properties in 34 states and 30 international properties. The company has more than 50,000 employees and combined revenues and assists totaling in excess of $5 billion.

While historical records are not clear, it is known that the last of the local amusement parks closed around 1960. Galveston Island had a rich history of amusements with parks named Electric Park, Chutes Park, Joyland Park and Pleasure Park. With its collection of parks, rides and the Mountain Speedway roller coaster, Galveston Island became known as the “Coney Island of the South.”

Following the destruction Hurricane Ike left behind on Galveston Island, Tilman J. Fertitta bought the city-owned historic Pleasure Pier and brought it back to life as a new $60-plus million amusement pier. It opened this year just in time for the city’s tourism crowds. COURTESY LANDRY’S INC.Tilman and the Landry’s chain first got their feet wet in amusements when they added a few amusement rides to their popular Kemah Boardwalk, a small property on the Texas Gulf coast made up of restaurants, shops and a hotel. That success led to additional rides, and later adding rides and attractions at other Landry’s restaurant properties where needed.

As a major player in the Galveston tourism market with restaurants, hotels and attractions, Tilman purchased the Flagship Hotel with the idea of bringing the old girl back to her grand star-studded life. That was until Hurricane Ike wrecked the greater Galveston coast and damaged the hotel beyond repair. That’s when Tilman had the vision to demolish the hotel and bring state-of-the-art amusements to the historic pier. With an investment of $60-plus million, the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier opened in time for this year’s summer tourism season marking the return of amusements to the city.

The entire Landry’s team did an amazing job of transforming an eyesore into a pier that is now active with food, fun and the making of new memories.

Amusement Today salutes Tilman J. Fertitta for stepping up to the challenge of contributing to the rebuilding of Galveston Island and its historic pier following Hurricane Ike by returning amusements to the area following a 50-plus year absence. Amusement Today is honored to name Tilman J. Fertitta as our choice for 2012 Person of the Year.


Turnstile Award: SeaWorld San Diego’s vision for family, capacity was realized with new Manta

SeaWorld San Diego showed this season that roller coasters don’t have to be big in order to be fun or exciting. It’s new Manta ride is never more than 30 feet above ground. AT / GARY SLADEToday’s technology can make visions never achieved in past decades a reality and do it with ease and grace.

SeaWorld San Diego, the nation’s first SeaWorld park, has limitations when it comes to adding new attractions. Leased land, the environment and height are but a few of the many obstacles this marine-life park must overcome before it can move forward on any new capital expenditure.

The park knew it had an aging area of the park that needed to be redeveloped from the ground up. The new attraction needed to be thrilling enough to gain interest from the teen market, but it also had to have the family-appeal as the family market is the backbone of the park. The new attraction needed to have interaction with the guests and it must have a high capacity.

Already having a great relationship with Germany-based Mack Rides on previous attractions, SeaWorld turned to them for help. The end result was a four-train family coaster featuring a height of just 30 feet above ground, two-LSM launches, once of which is centered around a 30-second, 22 projector pre-show film on a 270-degree wrap around screen from Falcon’s Treehouse.With a top speed of 43 mph, SeaWorld had their perfect family coaster.

Manta was born on May 26, 2012. Theming elements are found with manta art and manta ray pools throughout the ride entry area, and a massive manta ray interaction pool awaits riders just outside the exit area. A gift shop and small food facility were also part of the overall Manta themed experience.

With Mack’s technical support, the coaster continues to deliver as promised. Since its opening on May 26, 2012, Manta has delivered more than 900,000 rides, it has seen 15,628 guests ride in a single day, is riding 1,200 passengers per hour on a regular basis and has seen as many as 66 trains launch in one hour.

Amusement Today salutes the entire team at SeaWorld San Diego for its vision to bring a high-tech thrill ride to this marine-life park. One that kept the park’s theme in mind, one that reached a broad demographic of riders, and one that would also deliver the capacity demands placed on a year-round destination park. AT is honored to present the first ever Turnstile Award to SeaWorld San Diego, for the job done in moving the turnstile in 2012, both at the front gate and at the ride.

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