Highlights and Unique Sights from the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Expo 2010 in Orlando

in Events, Food, Theme Parks

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Expo has returned to Orlando for 2010, beginning a 10-year run at the Orange County Convention Center. I wandered the trade show’s floor during the second of its four days this year, snapping pictures of everything I found to be interesting, unique, entertaining, or amusing.

The show is open to entertainment professionals, with exhibitors showing off and selling anything related to the attraction industry, from roller coasters to penny presses and everything in between. The IAAPA Expo is home to a wide array of technologies and experiences with many companies hoping to make the next big deal to have their newest invention featured in a major amusement park, theme park, or museum.

And while I saw plenty of business being conducted in and around the seemingly endless rows of booths, I was there to check out all the latest and greatest creations for myself – and bring you along for the ride.

IAAPA show floor entrance

The entrance to the IAAPA Expo is quite inconspicuous…

IAAPA show floor

…but the inside reveals one of the largest annual trade shows at the Orange County Convention Center.  With hundreds of booths, IAAPA helps guests find their way via touch screen kiosks located at key intersections.

Terminator Salvation game

My first stop was the video games section, to try out some of the newest arcade machines.  HD graphics dominate today’s arcade scene and this Terminator Salvation shooter felt like a blast from the past, offering similar gameplay to the old Terminator 2 arcade game but with updated equipment and technology.  With all machines set to “Free Play” at the IAAPA Expo, I spent at least 10-15 minutes on this machine before moving on.

Pac-Man VS

New this year in the world of Pac-Man are the first-ever head-to-head-to-head-to-head machines, with players trying to eat each other’s multi-colored Pac-Men.  It’s a fun twist on the classic game.

Wheel of Fortune

Plenty of ticket-generating machines are shown off at the IAAPA Expo, with this Wheel of Fortune unit being one of the more impressive ones.  It’s a quick play with a large spinning wheel and bright colors.  How can you resist?

Marathon Runner

Have a kid with too much energy?  Stick him or her inside the Marathon Runner.  It’s like a treadmill, but spinning all around you as you run… and run… and run.  I didn’t try it, and I didn’t see anyone else try it either.  Yikes.

Price is Right - Plinko

While The Price is Right just hasn’t been the same without Bob Barker, the games are still a thrill and they’ve now been turned into token pushing machines, this one themed to the world’s best game show game, Plinko!  Also available are Safe Crackers and Cliffhangers (yes the little guy yodels as you send him up the hill):

Price is Right - Safe Crackers

Price is Right - Cliffhangers

Plush prizes

Of course, ticket games are pointless unless you can redeem those tickets for prizes, and the IAAPA Expo is full of plush toys just begging you to win them.

Pac-Man plush

New in the world of plush prizes are these irresistible Pac-Man toys. I could see myself spending entirely too much money trying to win the whole set in an arcade.

Hanna-Barbara plush prizes (Jetsons, Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Hong Kong Phooey)

Hanna-Barbera offers classic cartoon fun with plush prizes from The Jetsons, The Flintstones, Hong Kong Phooey, Yogi Bear, and more.

SeaWorld plush trainers

But not all plush prizes are quite as irresistible.  I wanted to get as far away from these creepy plush SeaWorld trainers as possible.

Let's Kinect (NOT Microsoft)

And like plush prizes, not all games are as exciting as Terminator or Pac-Man.  “Let’s Kinect” invites guests to step up to machines that are clearly knock-offs of Guitar Hero and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Kinect motion accessory.  No one bothered here either.

Vortex tunnel

But the IAAPA Expo is filled with interactive experiences that are worth trying out – and that I’d love to see show up in a theme park near me.  The Vortex Tunnel is nothing new, but this brightly-lit version was pumping music from Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and after returning from a Roger Waters concert just the night before, it was a well-timed attraction for me.

Vortex tunnel

Plus, this Vortex Tunnel is designed for a tram, monorail, or other theme park vehicle to pass through, which would be quite the dizzying good time.

AquaLoop demo

A relatively new addition to the world of water parks is the AquaLoop. They couldn’t show off an entire looping water slide at the IAAPA Expo, but they did offer attendees a chance to experience their unique launching system that literally pulls the floor out from underneath you (after a 3-2-1 countdown), leaving you to free fall.

Going down the AquaLoop drop

Here I am, moments after the floor disappeared from underneath me inside the tube.  Even with the experience only lasting seconds on the show floor, it was still a thrill that I look forward to trying out in full at a water park soon.

Blacklight Attractions

The IAAPA Expo trade show floor is filled with interactive experiences that often involve elaborate themes and special lighting.  Here a company called Blacklight Attractions shows off a few of their glow-in-the-dark experiences.

Blacklight Attractions - Mini Golf in 3D

Inside the Castle Greyskull-wannabe is a couple of blacklight mini-golf scenes themed around pirates and treasure.  It’s nothing new until you put on the accompanying 3-D glasses, showcasing Blacklight Attractions’ careful application of fluorescent colors.  Multiple layers of visuals pop out at you while trying to navigate the putt putt course.  This type of blacklight 3-D is common in Halloween haunted attractions but works well when translated to the mini golf experience.

Blacklight Attractions - Laser game

Also inside is a laser game straight out of any number of Hollywood spy movies, where visitors try to avoid crossing the beams’ paths in an effort to get to the other side of the room and beat the clock. I failed. But it was fun.

Virtual reality game

This giant soccer ball-on-wheels is actually the housing for a virtual reality experience, in which players strap on a VR headset and step inside, allowing them to actually move their legs to walk around the virtual world they’re placed into. I came up with a similar idea years ago but brushed it off, thinking it would never work. Now it’s here… but kind of clunky. We’re still a long way from the holodeck.

YuKids Earth play area

YuKids Earth offers one of the most kinetic and visually attractive children’s play areas I’ve seen in a while.  The juxtaposition of  a clean white base with bright colors and reflective and translucent surfaces creates a fun environment in which kids can safely play.

Darkride XD

Triotech offers this “7Di” experience that combines a 3-D movie with a motion simulator with a video game with a ride.  Even after trying it, I’m still not sure what “7Di” means, but I think it simply means “fun.”  The wrap-around screen and moving chairs offered a great motion simulator experience that is made interactive by way of laser guns, battling goblins and skeletons in an old mine.  The theme is generic but I see a lot of potential with this technology.  It feels like a big attraction and fits in a relatively small space.

Pirates Bounty shooting arcade

Shooting galleries are always some of my favorite interactive experiences at amusement and theme parks.  They’re simple in concept but can be quite complex in execution.  This one at the IAAPA Expo fiendishly (and quite randomly) squirts strong streams of water toward those playing.  But the water rarely hits the shooter, instead nailing unsuspecting watchers or passers-by.  Cameras beware!

IAAPA outdoor attractions

While the indoor portion of the IAAPA Expo is huge, not everything can fit inside a convention hall.  The Outdoor Exhibits area is for those rides and attractions that are simply too big (or not appropriate) for setting up inside a building.

Flogos snow, bubbles, and soap

Hidden behind a constant and strong flurry of artificial snow sits the Flogos machine, popping off custom-shaped soap bundles, formed into stars, Christmas trees, or any other relatively simple, solid shape.  There was once talk of Disney using Flogos machines to float Mickey Mouse heads above the Magic Kingdom, but I’m not sure it ever happened.

Tall spinning ride

See that tiny white dot in the sky on the right side of this picture?  That’s the moon.  That should give you an idea of how tall this swing ride is.  It’s taller than the moon!  (Okay, not really, but it was pretty tall.)

Tropical swing ride

Nearby, all the birds sing words and the flowers croon in the Tiki, Tiki Tiki… wait, wrong attraction.  This is just a swing with some tropical birds.  No sign of Iago or Zazu, thankfully.

Boot Camp bounce house

The IAAPA Expo is full of unique bounce houses with a variety of themes.  This one puts little ones through Boot Camp a few years early.

Boot Camp bounce house

Here’s a view inside the Boot Camp. Intimidating.

Toy Story bounce house

But most bounce houses are playful, featuring bright colors and familiar characters, like the gang from Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story.

Submarine bounce house

Or you can hop aboard a giant yellow submarine.

Submarine bounce house

I’d like to be… under the sea… in an Octopus’s garden, in the shade…

Giant dragon bounce house

If funny faces or undersea adventures aren’t your thing, how about a slide through a dragon’s mouth?

Garner Holt dinosaur expedition animatronics

Audio-animatronics may have been created by Walt Disney, but there’s no shortage of companies producing them now. At the IAAPA Expo, a number of animatronics are on display, some better than others.  Fittingly, Garner Holt has one of the best, as Disney has hired them many times to help produce some of their attractions.  Currently, Garner Holt is working on The Little Mermaid dark ride for Disney California Adventure and the Magic Kingdom, but none of that is shown off at the show.

Pirate animatronics

Nearby, an amusing scene filled with animatronic pirates was alive and active. It’s no Pirates of the Caribbean.

Animatronic dinosaur

Animatronic dinosaurs are quite common around the IAAPA Expo.

Animatronic dinosaur attack!

Look out for raptor attacks!

Pirate animatronics - Scare Factory

The Scare Factory always comes to the IAAPA Expo with a variety of spooky animated offerings.  This year – undead pirates!  (They were accompanied at the show by a looping recording of Disney’s “Yo Ho”.)

Haunted animatronics - Scare Factory

These figures are intended to scare – and they do a great job at it.

Scare Factory - Haunted Hallway

But one of my favorite elements in the whole IAAPA Expo trade show floor this year is the Scare Factory’s haunted hallway. It seems a little creepy on the outside, but on the inside…

Scare Factory - Haunted Hallway

…the crooked walls rock back and forth with enough momentum to issue a loud thud as they bang to each side.  The walls are lined with creepy creatures who reach out and touch you.  As a big Halloween fan, I was quite tempted to take this whole package home and make it my office.

Scare Factory - Evil clown animatronics

Evil clowns are big in the haunt world and The Scare Factory is capitalizing on them with evil animatronic versions that lunge, pop up, and honk.

Scare Factory - Evil clown animatronics

Even the popcorn containers aren’t safe, as this clown hand pops out unexpectedly.

Haunted scene

Another startle-generating Halloween effect at the IAAPA Expo is this vignette, which features a “window” (video screen) displaying a scene in which a ghoul’s head gets shot off – and a burst of mist spews out from nearby, scaring unsuspecting voyeurs.

Animatronic Jules Verne style head

This Jules Verne-style animatronic bust made me think of what Disney’s Haunted Mansion would be like in a steampunk world.

Disney Legends 2010 - Marty Sklar and Mickey Steinberg

Taking a break from hours spent on the show floor, I attended a special presentation by Disney Legends Marty Sklar (left) and Mickey Steinberg (middle), as they discussed the ins-and-outs of building theme parks overseas and dealing with the cultures therein. It was fascinating and at times hilarious.  I’ll be sharing the complete audio (with a swear word or two edited out) on Show 294 of the Inside the Magic podcast, to be released on Sunday, November 21, 2010.

Funnel Cakes, Nachos, Corn Dogs

Another great break from the attractions and displays of the IAAPA Expo is to seek out all of the food and drink samples scattered throughout the show floor.  This food stand looked quite promising, until I realized they weren’t actually serving any food.

Coca-Cola Freestyle multi-flavor machine

Coca-Cola showed off a “Freestyle” vending machine, equipped with 30+ soda flavors, all dispensed in one place, selectable via touch screen. It’s a genius piece of technology that I suspect will be seen in increasing numbers. My wife wants one for our house but at around $300 per month for the machine plus the cost of the flavor cartridges, I don’t think that’s going to happen. (Tempting though…)

Dippin Dots

My favorite frozen treat, Dippin Dots, had an exhibit set up to not only hand out some of their traditional flavors (like cookies & cream with Oreo bits seen here), but also some new coffee-flavored offerings.

Chippery fresh potato chips

Fresh potato chips excited my taste buds around the IAAPA Expo.  Chippery provides an all-in-one potato-to-chip creation station.  It begins with a potato slicer that dumps directly into a fryer that also has a salt bin attachment at the end.  The result is one of the best-tasting chips I’ve ever had.


Chipstix is cranking out these potato chips on a stick, with each stick made of one entire potato, precisely spiraled via machine before being fried and coated with one of 12 unique flavors.  The cheese was great.

Smurfs costumes

No attractions show would be complete without costumed characters – some recognizable, some not so much.  Papa Smurf, Smurfette, and Generic Smurf looked great.

Scooby Doo costume

Scooby Doo was eager to pose for a picture.

Inflatable clown costume

This was as close as I was willing to get to Giant Inflatable Clown Guy.  Yikes.

Apple Photo Booth - Booth Babe

But here’s a character that many attendees (read: guys) were happy to get near.  Yes, even the IAAPA Expo has booth babes.  This one was posing at the Apple Industries Photo Booth exhibit.  (No, they have nothing to do with Apple computers.)

Destination Fun & Profits - Seg Squad Girl (Segway)

Destination Fun & Profit promoted their Segway tour ideas with booth babes in small school girl outfits, dubbed the Seg Squad.

Bowling lane with booth babe

This booth babe couldn’t have been happy at the end of the day demoing a small bowling alley while wearing high heels. Ouch.

Dinamix lenticular pictures

Wrapping up the IAAPA Expo, here are a few harder-to-categorize exhibits.  Dinamix offers a unique photo opportunity (without booth babes), creating lenticular/motion green screen pictures on a fun back-and-forth rocking display that shows off multiple images in one.

Animated water fountains

Ever wonder what powers the animated fountains in those colorful water displays?  Here you go.  They’re not quite as magical as you might think, but are definitely fun technology.

HappyFeet massaging in-soles

And after a long day of walking around the IAAPA Expo, the HappyFeet booth was a welcome conclusion, offering in-soles that provide a surprisingly good simulation of a foot massage as you walk. I only tried them for a few seconds, so it’s hard to say if wearing them all day would be pleasant or irritating, but I’d be willing to try them out.

Vacuuming ice rink

You know it’s the end of the day at the IAAPA Expo when a guy wearing a hockey jersey is vacuuming the skating rink.

IAAPA convention exterior

Battling the traffic on the way out of a long, busy day, here’s a final (and somewhat blurry) look at the large colorful IAAPA banners posted outside the Orange County Convention Center.

While these exhibits were some of the most interesting to my eyes, there are hundreds to see throughout the IAAPA Expo. The show continues for one final day tomorrow before wrapping up to return for a scheduled nine more years of attraction excitement in Orlando.

More photos from the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Expo 2010:

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