The 2011 International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Expo concludes its 4-day run today at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., featuring exhibitors showing off their newest creations with the hopes of selling them for use in theme parks and other attractions worldwide. From unique new ride vehicles to exciting interactive technologies to tasty treats, the thousands of booths at the IAAPA Expo display some of the best of the best of what’s to come in themed entertainment.
But not everything is noteworthy, with the usual assortment of colorful bounce houses, seemingly endless supply of motion theater seating and colorful “dancing” fountains, and a few not-so-tasty treats. So we sifted through it all to bring a photo wrap-up of what we found to be the most entertaining, unusual, or jaw-dropping innovations for 2011 that may find their way into a theme park near you.
Entrance into the IAAPA Expo begins simply, like most other conventions.
But inside, the IAAPA Expo halls seem to stretch on forever, with thousands of booths lining the carpeted pathways.
Animatronic figures dominate many of the most eye-catching exhibits.
One undead ventriloquist caught my attention - a dummy controlling a dummy. Different.
This dastardly DJ duo was spinning spooky tunes, Halloween-themed parodies of popular songs from artists like 50 Cent and Eminem.
But not all animatronics are created equal. This Face Robot from Korea featured a touch screen allowing control over multiple expressions. I think this one is crying out for help.
KUKA always finds new uses for its groundbreaking, incredibly smooth robotic arm technology. It's prominently used as the ride system for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction at Universal Orlando. But here it's used as the basis for a basic animatronic figure, with a projected face tracked onto a ball at the end of the arm. This system could be used to create animated characters in ways traditional animatronics cannot.
The haunt industry is big at the IAAPA Expo and Pale Nest Productions offered one of the most intriguing displays. This lunging zombie spit at guests while another nearby expelled a grotesque smell of decay and death. The window behind the zombie is one of several that are animated along with the video content, with curtains blowing, frames rattling, and glass cracking.
Scare Factory always brings their latest animatronic ghouls to the IAAPA Expo, including their new-for-2011 massive Necromancer, standing up to 20 feet tall.
This animatronic hound lunges and barks at unsuspecting guests, held back by an actor.
Undead pirates and floating creatures round out this Scare Factory display.
But the ultimate show stopper and most amazing sight I found at the IAAPA Expo this year was Craven's Crypt, a haunted shooting gallery from Scare Factory.
With eerie lighting and foreboding ambient sound effects, players take caution as they approach the game. But they have no idea what surprises are in store from this interactive attraction. Watch the video below and be amazed.
Video: Scare Factory haunted shooting gallery – Craven’s Crypt
This shooting gallery features much more than hordes of animatronic undead waiting to be shot. It is from the Scare Factory after all, so naturally there are a few surprises built in. A strong burst of air accompanied by an ultra-loud bang startles everyone in the vicinity.
And just when players think they have everything under control, a creature quickly pops out from a side panel in close proximity, not as a new target, but simply to scare. And it works. Starting at $40,000, this gallery is far too expensive to own at home, so I hope a local haunted attraction picks it up for next year's Halloween events.
But FrightProps does offer plenty of parts to build your own animatronics and creepy creatures.
But not every impressive sight at the IAAPA Expo moves. Daniels Wood Land produces incredibly lifelike themed elements and sculptures, like this ogre.
This alien, also by Daniels Wood Land, looks like he rolled right out of Men in Black.
And clearly this Mexican bear was inspired by Disney's Country Bear Jamboree.
On the other side of the trade show floor, many more shooting galleries were showcased. Daniels Wood Land showed off two impressive galleries, this one featuring an old truck character that is also obviously Disney inspired. (But legally, it's NOT Mater...)
When shot at, the NOT Mater character moves his entire body sideways and talks, with his bumper animated to form his mouth, and eyes moving side-to-side. It's quite the massive and impressive shooting gallery prop.
Nearby, Daniels Wood Land also created a pirate ship shooting gallery, easily the best of the many pirate-themed galleries at the show.
A closer look shows off the detail of this shooting gallery, including tiki heads, a bamboo organ, and even a talking pirate.
Elsewhere, more unique shooting galleries were available for playing at the IAAPA Expo.
An old time sideshow favorite is turned into a high-tech shooting gallery, complete with flat quacking ducks and spinning pie plates.
The Faulty Repair Shop shooting gallery features a number of unique gags, including flying cans and a squirting fan.
And Professor Coggins took kids to a laboratory filled with colors and targets to shoot at.
Not every shooting gallery is great, with some too simple, featuring very few moving parts.
This enclosed gallery is unique with different rounds of play, prompted by characters on the screen.
The saloon shooting gallery offers the same type of gameplay as the one above, in a western setting. It encourages shooters to act quickly.
Strangest of them all, this kitchen encourages gunfire.
Virtual shooting galleries simply aren't as fun as the real thing.
And even when equipped with motion seats and a 3D screen, virtual shooting galleries still aren't as fun as the real thing.
But 3D can be used effectively with games, of which there are plenty at the IAAPA Expo. This racing game is the first I've seen to utilize a 3D screen and glasses.
The result is a strikingly real racing experience, though slightly disorienting.
Not all games at the IAAPA Expo are technologically complex, but they can still be fun. This Bat Attack is a unique twist on whack-a-mole.
Stern was showing off their two newest pinball machines, one inspired by Tron Legacy. As much as I love that film, the pinball play isn't great.
However, Stern's newest pinball table, Transformers, is fantastic. With original actors' voices, loud sound effects, lots of lights, ramps, and bumpers, and several characters on the table, this pinball game is packed with action.
Games certainly vary in size at the IAAPA Expo, with this walk-through laser maze topped with a full size DeLorean time traveling car. But it's just different enough to NOT be the time traveling DeLorean from Back to the Future.
And the games just get bigger, with this larger than life version of Connect 4.
Racing games keep evolving as well, with Dirty Drivin sending players racing across dirt tracks. And yes, even the IAAPA Expo has booth babes too. More on them later.
This boat racing game features a two-point seatbelt system, as it flails wildly in all directions while played. Despite how it sounds, it's somewhat uncomfortable and not entirely fun.
On the small scale, these remote controlled cars can be raced around a miniature city.
And what fun would games be without prizes? The IAAPA Expo shows off the latest, including Shrek and South Park characters.
Sesame Street fans may be able to win the Count and Super Grover in the near future.
Even the Annoying Orange has entered the world of prizes.
And this claw machine showed what happens when games are set on the easiest difficulty, offering a win every time. Brainy Smurf was happy to escape.
Speaking of Smurfs, one company producing small rides for use outside stores landed some great licenses, including Looney Tunes.
Hello Kitty joins the gang, with outstanding likenesses.
Outside the convention hall, a Screamin Eagle zip line sent riders soaring through the sky.
And the Jumping Jumbos are definitely NOT Dumbo. Right.
Set up behind rows of large bounce houses was a larger Ferris wheel.
Here's a closer look. I was tempted to get it, but it wouldn't fit in my trunk.
Also outside, this twist on the standard dunk tank sends gallons of green slime down onto a lucky(?) volunteer.
And here's an inflatable version of the ever-popular money grab.
All this shooting, gaming, and riding is enough to work up an appetite. Fortunately, theme parks are known for an abundance of food, as is the IAAPA Expo. Here Noble Roman's Pizza was handing out a variety of samples, which weren't all that bad for mass-produced grub.
And who can argue with this purple monster mascot guy? After all, he has tomatoes for eyes!
But the winner in the best-food-I-tried category goes to Philly's Pretzel Factory, with warm yumminess in every bite, including their own brand of mustard (available in yellow, spicy, and hot).
As a pretzel lover, this was heaven.
The line of seasoning from Chef's Fun Foods was surprisingly delicious. None were bad, but my favorites were Garlic Parmesan and Sour Cream & Onion. The Ketchup sprinkle seasoning tasted surprisingly like ketchup. Who would have guessed it?
It's tough to pass up a mini donut, particularly when you watch it pop out from a mini fryer. Fresh and hot, it was delicious.
Good, but not quite as good, were these mini donuts that looked similar to those above, but were baked instead of fried. Healthier? Yes. Better tasting? No way.
Moving on to cooler treats, all the shaved ice / snow cone syrup flavors from Sno Biz were spot on and delicious.
But the best of all was one that they can't quite market just yet - Butterbeer.
As a frequent consumer of the official Butterbeer at Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, this snow cone came in a close second. They tell me they're hoping to get permission to use the name. I doubt they will, but hope they do, as the flavor is fantastic. Either way, it needs to go to market.
Dippin' Dots insists that despite their recent bankruptcy protection filing, they plan to remain in business for years to come. And that's good news to me.
Last year's IAAPA Expo was one of the first times Coca-Cola had unveiled its Freestyle machines, offering 125 drink flavors in one machine.
A year later, Freestyle machines are popular, popping up in many restaurants nationwide, including Firehouse Subs, Moe's Southwest Grill, and even at Universal Orlando, where I'm told more will be installed in the near future just outside the Wizarding World. And Coke is currently in talks with McDonald's and Burger King to get the machines installed in their fast food chains.
We've explored animation, gaming, rides, and food, but not everything is as easily categorized at the IAAPA Expo. This play area features a zip line for children, but I hope the goal isn't to hang them by their scalps.
This ride vehicle was free-roaming, moving around the wood floor guided only by lasers on each side - no track.
Froggy's Fog was smoking up the convention with a variety of options for attractions.
Fog can come in different textures, consistencies, thicknesses, and densities. This one looks like snow.
And to heighten the experience, Froggy's Fog has a variety of scents that can be added to fog juice, from cotton candy and popcorn to add around concession stands (the popcorn really smells like popcorn) to charred corpse and swampy marsh for haunted attractions. There's even a scent called haunted house.
Froggy's Fog is also getting ready to release their newly-developed dispensers for scents, allowing smells to be disbursed into the air with no fog needed. They're patent pending.
These tight streams of water can be illuminated in any color.
From the makers of the Face Robot above comes realistically-moving robotic fish, for restaurants who don't want to take care of living ones.
Ice skating rinks without ice are becoming more and more popular, particularly in hot climates like Florida.
And to battle the sun, consider blasting away with a sunscreen gun. I could see these being very popular at water parks.
Feeling a bit... Big? Zoltar will tell you your fortune. He told me a new turn of events will soon come about. I'm still waiting.
Wish you could dance by only sitting and smiling? You can with green screen technology.
And that concludes our wrap up of highlights from the trade show floor of the 2011 IAAPA Expo. But don't worry - I didn't forget about the booth babes I promised earlier. Here's one posing with a touch screen rave game.
SEGA featured a few standard carnival games, complete with a barker.
But I don't remember any traveling carnival ever featuring a barker looking like this booth babe.
Need to relieve some tension? Try this punching bag game. Though I recommend just watching the booth babes do it.
Insert joke about pirates' booty.
I think we'll end with another look at the Face Robot, the ultimate booth babe. For this expression, I tapped Surprise on the touch screen. Surprise indeed.
The annual International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo allows us an opportunity to peek inside the themed entertainment and attraction industry as buyers and sellers conduct business behind closed doors. Open only to industry professionals, press, and their guests, the IAAPA Expo provides not only a trade show floor full of thousands of exhibits and booths, but also access to a
schedule packed with seminars, tours, and meetings.
It’s the ultimate event for those in the amusement industry and will continue to take place in the theme park capital of the world, Orlando, for at least the next nine years. But theme park fans should be on the lookout for the highlights shown above and in the photo slideshow below, as some of these exciting new technologies and attractions will surely be available for the public to enjoy, after having been discovered at the convention.
More photos from IAAPA Expo 2011: