Amusement Expo organizers, attendees excited to get face to face
AT: Pam Sherborne
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Organizers of the upcoming Amusement Expo International (AEI) have every reason to believe the event, set for June 29-July 1, will be a success.
"We are up over 50 percent in registration the same number of days out from the convention this year over 2020," said Peter Gustafson, in mid-May.
Gustafson is the executive vice president of the American Amusement Machine Association (AAMA), one of the two co-spons-oring organizations.
"Part of this is probably because we are in Vegas this year, but also people are just ready to get back together," Gustafson said.
He has vivid memories of last year's AEI in New Orleans.
"You know, sometimes when you are attending a convention, you sort of get in a bubble," Gustafson said. "Last year, it was like I left to go to the convention one day and returned home to a totally different world because of the pandemic. I got on an airplane on March 12, 2020, to come home and I haven't been on an airplane since."
The AEI is an annual convention featuring and showcasing vendors, developers and businesses for the coin-op and revenue-generating amusement, music and family entertainment industry. The AAMA is a trade organization representing the manufacturers, distributors, suppliers and location owner/operators for the coin-operated amusement industry.
The Amusement and Music Operators Association (AMOA) is the other co-sponsoring trade association. It is an advocate for those individuals and companies engaged in the currency-activated amusement, vending, music and family entertainment equipment business.
Traditionally held in March of the year, AEI planners moved the show to late June. The rationale for the rescheduling is that it would provide additional time for attendees, exhibitors and all involved to recover and resume business operations that have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to pushing the dates back, the event management company, W.T. Glasgow Inc., has planned for additional safety by moving the show into two halls allowing for wider aisles to accommodate social distancing.
Ann Purpura at Glasgow Inc. expects the show to draw about 2,500 attendees, which is just about on par with the show’s traditional attendance. In mid-May, there were about 130 exhibitors, making it about 80 percent full. Purpura felt positive they would reach the same mark as last year.
“We always have a number of exhibitors that wait to register, same for attendees,” Purpura said.
Lori Schneider, executive vice president, AMOA, was excited at the strength of registration so far. But she did say she wouldn’t be surprised if their numbers were down a little.
“We are having a lot of interest with things opening around the country,” Schneider said. “People are really looking forward to getting back together. Pushing the dates from March to late June, I feel, was a very positive move. The timing is good to reconnect and to move forward.”
The AEI combines educational sessions as well as a trade show. Educational sessions run the entire day on Tuesday, June 29. They will be held at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino, which is the headquarters hotel for the event.
The trade show will run 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 30, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 1. It is being held in the North Hall 1 of the Las Vegas Convention Center, which is conveniently adjacent to the Westgate.
Both Gustafson and Schneider are looking forward to the educational sessions.
“We have 22 sessions planned for that day,” Gustafson said. “We have a full slate.”
Gustafson said they have expanded the educational series to five tracks. Those tracks include COVID-19 recovery, sale and operations, people, industry trends and virtual reality.
Schneider is looking forward to the sharing of ideas both during the sessions and on the trade show floor.
“The COVID-19 pandemic presented a lot of challenges for us as an industry, but it also expanded some opportunities,” Schneider said. “With all the technologies that were used during the past year, there will be a lot of shared expertise and changes to business operations.”
Gustafson said he saw many business owners and operators become very creative during the 2020 shutdowns to make it through the year.
“It will be interesting to hear about some of those things they did,” Gustafson said. “I think many of these things will remain.”
He gave an example of how some pinball machine owners were able to pivot during 2020.
“Some pinball machine owners that normally rent out their machines to facilities such as FECs and bowling alleys instead did home rentals,” he said. “People didn’t want to stop playing. Instead of spending say $10,000 on a machine, they could pay a monthly rental and not leave their homes.
“I am very optimistic about this industry as a whole,” Gustafson said.
AEI will kick off on Tuesday, June 29, with a keynote address by John Kriesel, a motivational speaker. He will speak on Lessons to be Learned. Kriesel plans to share how to overcome challenges by hard work and acceptance of situations.
In 2006 Kriesel had a near fatal incident from the explosion of a 200-pound roadside bomb in an Iraq battlefield as a member of the U.S. Army. He went through 35 surgeries to save his life and months of recovery. He ended up loosing both his legs.
Kriesel is the author of a book, written along with author Jim Kosmo, titled “STILL STANDING: The Story of SSG John Kriesel. “
Educational sessions will run through 3:45 p.m. that day.
Some of the topic titles include: Analyze This! Using Metrics to Improve Efficiency; Financing and Real Estate in Post COVID World: What’s Changed; Pinball 2.0: Creating Success on the Street; eSports, It’s Time to Pay Attention; Top Tips for Maintaining a Positive Reputation in the Digital World; COVID Confessions: Lessons Learned and New SOPs; Payment Options Come in All Forms, Are You Taking Advantage of Them?; Maintaining the Experience, Continuing the Game after They Leave Your Location and Security Preparedness...Don’t be Caught Off Guard.
The All-Industry Gala Reception will be held that evening, also at the Westgate.
The exhibit hall will be open the next day, and that afternoon the Industry Rewards and Beers and Cheers Reception has been scheduled.
Thursday’s exhibit hall time will close out the event.
Gustafson said all the heavy players will be on the floor exhibiting their products. International companies are not expected to be there as travel restrictions are still in place.
Some of this year’s exhibitors include: Apple Industries, Art Attack, Bad Dog Games LLC, Axalta Coating Systems, Battle Company Laser Tag, Bay Tek Entertainment, Betson, BMI Merchandise, Creative Works, Delta Strike Laser Tag, Embed, Elite Gaming Technology, Firestone Financial, Intercard, LaserBlast, Magnetic Cash, Omega Carpet Patterns and Peek-A-Boo Toys.
Other exhibits are: LAI Games, Rhode Island Novelty, TrioTech, Zydexo, SMART Software, and Inovative Technology Americas Inc.
The AEI is co-located with the Laser Tag Convention, which offers seminars for both the current laser tag operator and developing entrepreneurs.
It also is co-located with National Bulk Vendors Association (NBVA), a trade association comprised of the manufacturers, distributors and operators of bulk vending machines and products.
Universal Creative hypes, delivers with Jurassic World VelociCoaster
AT: David Fake
Special to Amusement Today
ORLANDO — Jurassic World VelociCoaster, the much-hyped velociraptor-themed roller coaster at Universal Orlando Resort’s Islands of Adventure has been uncaged. The Universal Creative and Intamin Amusement Rides collaboration had big shoes to fill as a follow up to their 2019 collaboration, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which early on was fraught with technical issues, but, ultimately, incredibly well-received. Jurassic World VelociCoaster’s early reviews from guests and media who have had the opportunity to experience the attraction ahead of its official opening, consistently suggest that the highly competitive Orlando market may just have a new contender for the most exciting and thrilling themed coaster.
After holding a media sneak peek and an Annual Passholder preview period from May 2-5, Jurassic World VelociCoaster soft opened in technical rehearsal, unannounced, to all resort guests for the first time on May 7. This news came over a month ahead of the previously announced official opening date of the attraction slated for June 10. During this technical rehearsal period all major components are installed and operational, but some tweaks, changes, and updates may occur prior to the official opening.
Soft openings, depending on delays and complications may not be offered for all new attractions, and even when they are, they are rarely promised. As such, there is no guarantee that Jurassic World VelociCoaster will be open at any given time or day between now and its official opening. There is no set schedule, and each day the attraction may only open for a short period of time, all day, or not at all depending on necessary tweaks and required changes. An example of this is Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which had no period of soft opening prior to its official opening in 2019. The ride continued to be tweaked for months after it opened.
In contrast, Jurassic World VelociCoaster, has been almost continually running in various stages of empty, with water dummies, or with park/manufacturer team members since last fall, all the while teasing guests, enthusiasts and industry insiders who could barely wait for their opportunity to experience the attraction for themselves.
Throughout the testing period, Universal remained mum as to an opening date, as well as most other aspects and features of the ride. This silence created an immense buzz of speculation surrounding those details. The enthusiast and influencer blogs all had their theories and ideas of what the ride would (and should) ultimately become; consistently posting, commenting, and debating the facts versus speculation surrounding the ride.
Parks delight in this level of chatter and buzz, and often go to great lengths and expense to encourage it. Still, on occasion this excitement and anticipation ends up backfiring on the park and the attraction. This most commonly occurs when speculation spirals out of control, and the end product, once revealed, does not live up to the level of expectation created by its buzz.
There appears to be no such reason for concern on the part of the Universal Creative Team in terms of artificially high expectations leading to disappointment when it comes to Jurassic World VelociCoaster. Especially considering the wildly positive reviews pouring in from those fortunate enough to have already raced with the raptors, over the three-plus weeks of soft opening so far for the coaster.
So, what is so amazing about Jurassic World VelociCoaster?
It all starts just beyond Islands of Adventure’s Port of Entry, where guests arrive at the central point of the park’s Islands of Adventure lagoon around which the eight themed “islands” are situated. The Jurassic Park area is directly opposite of the Port of Entry, and it is impossible to miss Jurassic World VelociCoaster’s 155-foot-tall top hat element rising majestically on the far shore of the lagoon, strategically placed with the Jurassic Park Discovery Center building as its backdrop. It is truly a magnificent post card-worthy photo spot.
But the real excitement comes in experiencing Jurassic World VelociCoaster. That experience is more than just the ride itself and begins immediately upon approaching the attraction's queue after passing beneath two large velociraptor statues on pedestals on the pathways leading up to the ride's entrance. Universal Creative designers have explained these statues were designed to pay homage to the two giant dragon statues at the original entrance of the now-defunct Dueling Dragons coaster.
In the queue is a unique meet-and-greet where guests come within feet of muzzled velociraptors in a futuristic stable-like room. Again, the creative team effectively creates an atmosphere that suspends disbelief, this time using audio-animatronics.
Upon reaching the child swap and non-rider waiting area, guests are treated to another unique and practical queue design feature. Here Universal Creative had the foresight to install electronic lockers for loose articles and metal detectors just before guests reach the final show scene and then the boarding station. These same lockers are then able to be accessed by guests from a second door on the reverse side, which faces the ride’s exit area just after disembarking. This feature is a particularly clever means of allowing guests the ability to utilize their smart phones and maintain possession of other, small, loose objects throughout their wait in the queue. This ingenious design is certain to be replicated in future attraction installations at parks even outside of the Universal umbrella.
Throughout the queue, guests learn about the cutting-edge new coaster, which Jurassic World is touting as its newest “carnivore expansion” from Dr. Wu (BD Wong). And in the final show scene of the ride’s queue guests are greeted by Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), where she offers some words of reassurance. It is also here that Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) sounds a few final words of warning, “What could go wrong?”
Upon arriving at the ride’s airport-terminal-like station, which offers incredible views of the coaster’s first half inside the spaghetti-bowl paddock, guests board modern, gorgeously designed and stylized trains that are aglow with blue onboard lighting. The cars have low profile sides and raised seating that leaves most guests’ feet dangling off the floor of the sleek train cars. And when taking a closer look at the trains, it is noticeable that their beauty is marred with velociraptor scratch marks — just another intentional detail that the Universal Creative team did not overlook.
Boarding and dispatch of the trains is fluid and quick, thanks to a single lap bar restraint (no shoulder harnesses here!). While the use of only a lap bar is uncommon on a roller coaster with inversions, and safety is not compromised, it does permit greater upper body movement — a feature that is lauded by enthusiasts, yet creates an additional level of uncertainty, fear and foreboding for many members of the general public.
Featuring dual launches, a 155-foot top hat, an 80-degree drop (Universal’s steepest drop yet), and even a span of track where riders pass inverted over Universal guests and pathways, Jurassic World VelociCoaster delivers a ride that is an expertly calculated and engineered manipulation of forces. The grand finale moment of its 4,700 feet of track is the mosasaurus roll. This unique element creates yet another few moments of extreme airtime, but this time while upside down just feet above the waters of the lagoon and making riders wonder if they are about to go for a swim.
Guests and enthusiasts across social media have described Jurassic World VelociCoaster in such powerful words as, “Exhilaratingly thrilling,” “Relentless Fun,” “Non-stop excitement,” “Orlando’s Best,” and “utterly terrifying!”
There is no doubt that the Universal Creative Team behind Jurassic World VelociCoaster put much thought, research and ingenious engineering into what they were creating. Attractions this unique, well themed, exciting and comfortably engineered require much effort, time and deliberation; they do not “just get lucky” or “just happen.” In fact, attractions this flawlessly executed do not happen often at all.