Walter Larson, Larson International founder passes away in Texas

By | July 21, 2014

Walter LarsonPLAINVIEW, Texas — Walter F. Larson, a native Texan and lifelong citizen of Plainview, passed away peacefully on July 18, 2014.

Walter was born on Sept. 26, 1930 to Walter W. Larson and Anita Jarvis Larson. Upon graduation from Plainview High School, he attended American Flyers pilot training school in Fort Worth. He married his high school sweetheart Sharon Turner in 1950. He worked for Claude Hutcherson as a charter pilot and held special fond memories of the medical charter flights he flew.

Later, he opened a Ferguson tractor dealership in Plainview that became known as Larson-Turner Massey-Ferguson. After selling the dealership to the James Brothers, he ventured into manufacturing high clearance tractors. He possessed a unique and uncanny ability to take what was good and improve it. These tractors were customized for a number of unique applications that included being used on tomato plantations, harvesting grapes and corn de-tasseling. He also manufactured Versa-trac highway sweepers.

In the early 1970s, he began manufacturing amusement rides and is best known for the Super Loops portable carnival ride, known today as The Ring of Fire. He retired from this business in 2007.

Throughout the years he continued to have a tremendous passion for planes, trains and cars. He flew his own private planes for business and pleasure. He loved machinery and how it worked. He was fascinated by motors of all sizes and shape. He spent endless happy hours listening to music of all genres. He especially loved gospel music. He truly felt the music in his heart.

Jeff Novotny, who purchased the company from Walter in 2006 told Amusement Today, “Walter was always a mentor to me and the opportunities he provided my family will never be forgotten. We continue to keep the company name, Larson International, Inc. in honor of Walter and his lifelong achievements.”

Novotny continued, “One of my fondest memories with Walter was meeting him at his downtown, toy store. This is where he kept his antique cars and motor coach and we would have a few drinks and play cards or talk about business. When my wife would call to see where I was, I would always respond, I am in ‘liquid conference’ with Walter and she knew exactly where I was and what we were doing.”

OABA’s Bob Johnson remembered Walter Larson saying, “We have lost another wonderful pioneer and great engineer in the amusement industry with Walter Larson’s passing. His Ring of Fire and Super Loops rides continue to help many showmen provide an entertaining, exciting and safe midway experience for hundreds of million riders. The OABA board extends our deepest sympathy to his family.”

He was preceded in death by a daughter, Melinda. He is survived by his wife of more than 64 years, Sharon Larson; sister Sally Hale; daughters, Sarah Larson, Loretta Haynes and Alice Kofahl; six grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

Graveside services were held July 20 at the Plainview Cemetery. Memorial contributions may be made to: St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 710 Joliet St., Plainview, Texas 79072 or Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch, 600 SW 11th Ave., Amarillo, Texas 79101 or to one’s favorite charity.

Cyclone Storms out of Six Flags New England this Sunday

By | July 18, 2014

Park Recognizes State Employees and ACE Members for Final Ceremonial Ride

CycloneLogoAGAWAM, Mass. — Six Flags New England will be retiring the infamous wooden rollercoaster Cyclone on Sunday, July 20. To commemorate this special day, the property will host state employees and American Coaster Enthusiasts to take one of the final rides on Cyclone at 12:00pm. The park will be celebrating the fine efforts of the state’s local heroes along with the biggest coaster fans on the planet to commemorate such a special ride.

Cyclone opened at Six Flags New England on June 24, 1983, and has inspired generations of coaster lovers. The concept of the attraction was based off of a popular ride at Coney Island that provided high impact thrills in a small footprint. While the current frame is different than the old attraction, Cyclone at Six Flags New England quickly established its fan base and has remained a popular and beloved coaster over the last thirty years.

The amazing wooden architecture, designed by William Cobb, unfurls over 3,400 feet of track. State employees and American Coaster Enthusiasts will board Cyclone and climb 109 feet to the top to then plummet down at speeds of over 50 miles per hour. These riders will also experience twist and turns around every corner as they face a variety of hills and weightlessness. Like any wooden coaster, the clicks and rattles from the frame only enhance the element of thrill. Cyclone currently is one of the two wooden coasters housed at Six Flags New England.

“We are so pleased to be celebrating the retirement of Cyclone with some of our biggest fans from throughout New England”. Said John Winkler, Six Flags New England’s Park President. “As the Thrill Capital of New England, we are proud to continuously support state employees along with the American Coaster Enthusiasts.”

2014 Golden Ticket Awards registration, itinerary and hotel information now available

By | July 10, 2014

2014_golden_ticket_new_logoGet your ticket … it’s a “don’t miss” industry event, and registration and the complete itinerary for Amusement Today’s coveted Golden Ticket Awards are now available at www.goldenticketawards.com.   The event will be hosted this year by the beautiful SeaWorld San Diego in California, where the staff is hard at work preparing to roll out the red carpet for the industry on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 5-6.

Nearby Belmont Park will host an Opening Reception on Friday, Sept. 5, while the San Diego Zoo is extending an extra play day on Sunday, Sept. 7.

Special behind-the-scenes tours, receptions, dinners, and of course the much-anticipated awards show are all part of what’s being planned for this year’s event.

To check out the itinerary and hotel information for the Golden Ticket Awards, as well as to register, please log on to www.goldenticketawards.com.  This event is reserved for working professionals in the amusement industry.  Representatives from parks and attractions, manufacturers, suppliers, consultants and more will come together to celebrate another industry season – all in the name of fun.

The Hyatt Regency Mission Bay in San Diego will serve as the host hotel for the event.  The deadline to make reservations is Aug. 22.  Please refer to www.goldenticketawards.com for specific information and rates.

This is the 17th annual year for the Golden Ticket Awards; they are presented to the “Best of the Best” in the amusement industry and are calculated from an international poll conducted by Amusement Today.

Great Coasters International, Skyline design team up for wooden coaster projects

By | July 7, 2014

logo_gcii_150SUNBURY, Pa.—Clair Hain Jr., President and co-founder of Great Coasters International, Inc., has announced that Jeff Pike, Evan Souliere and Chris Gray will be departing to form their own company and pursue additional interests. At the same time, Hain also announced that the two companies have agreed to cooperate closely on wood coaster design and engineering for the foreseeable future.

“These guys have been great for GCI for a long time and are leaving to follow some separate  dreams in addition to the wood coaster work we will be doing together ” said Hain.  “Jeff, Evan and Chris have echoed our desire to keep working closely together supporting Adam House, Adam Yerdon and Anya Lehrner in our engineering offices in Cincinnati, as well as our assembly and construction efforts based in Sunbury.

“Jeff was trained by Michael Boodley and has for years he has been passing more and more of GCI’s knowledge and responsibilities to our hand-picked engineering team in Cincinnati,” added Hain. “Even so, these guys are friends, they are great at what they do, I wish them the very best and we are all very happy we will continue to work together.”

Great Coasters traditional wood coasters and Millennium Flyer trains are widely considered the finest in the world. Operating since 1995, GCI is owned and operated by Clair Hain Jr. based in Sunbury, PA. GCI has constructed twenty-three (23) wood coasters since then as well as assisted in the improvement and revitalization of dozens of wood coasters designed and constructed by others.

Skyline Attractions launches

By | July 1, 2014

logo_skylineORLANDO, Fla.—Four amusement industry veterans announced today the founding of Skyline Attractions, LLC. Chris Gray, Jeff Pike, Evan Souliere, and Bill Wydra boast more than 50 years combined experience in amusement ride and device development. They will bring their lifelong passion for amusement parks and spectacular new ideas to life through Skyline Attractions, LLC and a subsidiary company, Skyline Design, LLC. The partners described the exciting details in the following statement:

“We’re thrilled to announce the forming of the Skyline companies. We’ll be providing amusement operators of all sizes with amazing rides and devices year after year.

“We got together some time ago and discussed the shortcomings in what manufacturers offer to the amusement industry – an industry we all love. We’re here to fill those gaps. For years, we have been hearing operators asking “What’s new?” and “Where to next?” Skyline’s mission is to answer these questions with new and innovative attractions for fixed-site and traveling facilities every year.”

“Skyline Attractions, LLC will allow the four of us to harness our combined talents and focus our passion to bring to market new and exciting experiences that our customers’ guests are going to love. We will deliver fun, safe, and reliable American-built attractions using high-quality components, impeccable attention to detail, and first-rate customer service. The first of several of those new ideas is already in development, and there are dozens more we are eager to begin work on.

“Our subsidiary company, Skyline Design, LLC, is tasked with the research and development of the innovative new ride and game concepts to be distributed by Skyline Attractions. We will also invent proprietary ride devices as we seek to integrate technology into our product line that will have broad applications throughout the industry. Additionally, we will support industry customers in achieving their amusement goals with our technical and operational knowledge, including cooperating closely with Great Coasters International, Inc. on select wood coaster ride designs.

“Our history and experience are huge benefits, but balancing experience and new talent will be critical to Skyline’s long-term success. If you’re passionate about fun, Skyline wants to hear from you! We will always be looking for fresh ideas to keep Skyline awesome.

“We’re focused on garnering respect from our customers and employees through fair and responsible business practices, and we look forward to building real relationships with our customers as we develop our ever-growing product line.”

In the coming weeks Skyline will release information about their first product, officially launching on August 1.

More details can be found online at skylineattractions.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/skylineattractions, and on Twitter @skylineattrax.

Jeff Pike, Chris Gray, and Evan Souliere, formerly of Great Coasters International, Inc., have a combined 40+ years of experience in the design, sales, operation, and maintenance of amusement rides, including more than 25 percent of the world’s operating wood coasters. Bill Wydra has founded several successful companies, most notably Ash-Tec, Inc., a high-quality custom contract metals manufacturer providing amusement equipment for almost 20 years that has been ranked on the Inc. 500 / 5000 “Fastest-Growing Companies” list for five consecutive years.

Discovery Cove awarded 2014 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence

By | June 27, 2014

Park guests share highlights of the one-of-a-kind Orlando day resort experience

Discovery Cove logoORLANDO, Fla. — Discovery Cove in Orlando was recently awarded the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence This accolade recognizes superior service and is only given to establishments that consistently achieve outstanding traveler reviews on TripAdvisor. Discovery Cove receives top ratings based on a variety of factors, including awe-inspiring, up-close animal encounters, all-inclusive offerings, a lush, tropical atmosphere and exceptional guest service.

“Winning the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence confirms what we know to be true: Discovery Cove delivers an extraordinary, immersive experience.” said Stewart Clark, Vice President of Discovery Cove. “Our guests are inspired to talk about their day, and TripAdvisor gives them the perfect format to share their experiences. The information that we gain from these guest reviews allows us to continuously improve and deliver the best possible guest service.”

Just in time for summer vacation planning, Discovery Cove identified the top five reasons TripAdvisor reviewers believe the day resort is a must-visit attraction.

  1. Discovery Cove feels like “a vacation within a vacation.” Located in the heart of the world’s most popular travel destination, Orlando, Florida, guests are often astounded upon arrival; they feel like they’ve encountered a tropical oasis. The lush landscape, wondrous waterways, rocky lagoons and pristine white sandy beaches provide a serene and relaxing environment. With the exception of the dolphin swim and SeaVenture, an underwater journey of the Grand Reef®, nothing is scheduled – allowing guests to enjoy the park at their own pace.
  2. Discovery Cove boasts a wonderful variety of up-close animal encounters. At Discovery Cove, visitors from around the world fulfill lifelong dreams of swimming with dolphins. TripAdvisor reviewers rave about the experience and say it’s a true highlight. While the dolphin swim is a favorite, guests are also wowed when snorkeling alongside giant rays and thousands of tropical fish. SeaVenture, the 30-minute underwater journey, gives guests a fully immersive adventure into the Grand Reef® sea floor and is regularly mentioned on TripAdvisor as a highlight of their visit. Guests also enjoy hand feeding exotic birds in the free-flight Explorer’s Aviary, and are surprised to come face-to-face with playful otters and marmoset monkeys in Freshwater Oasis.
  3. Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive day resort. From meals to snacks, snorkels to sunscreen, everything is included. Unlike a traditional theme park, Discovery Cove includes an abundance of amenities – making for a hassle-free visit. TripAdvisor reviewers often comment on the ease of unlimited access to freshly prepared food and refreshing beverages.
  4. A Discovery Cove reservation offers a full vacation package with admission to SeaWorld® Orlando and Aquatica, SeaWorld’s Waterpark™. When guests book a reservation, they’re also guaranteed unlimited admission to SeaWorld and Aquatica, SeaWorld’s Waterpark in Orlando for 14 days surrounding their Discovery Cove reservation. For the ultimate vacation experience guests can add on Busch Gardens Tampa for a nominal fee.
  5. Discovery Cove cares deeply about their guests’ experience, which reflects in the first-class level of customer service. Guests consistently mention their connection with the park’s friendly staff. The Discovery Cove team caters to a diverse set of needs and strives to add a personal touch. From ensuring a marriage proposal is delivered perfectly to offering amazing animal experiences, the first-class team goes above and beyond to make lifelong memories.

To read the reviews of the Discovery Cove experience visit TripAdvisor.com. To learn more about Discovery Cove, or to book a reservation, visit DiscoveryCove.com.

FEC Dallas February 2015

By | June 26, 2014

IAAPA_TransparentSave the Date: FEC Dallas Feb. 8-10, 2015

What: FEC Dallas is an unparalleled conference designed by and for family entertainment center (FEC) owners, operators, manufacturers, and suppliers to Share, Engage, and Grow. Leading FEC professionals will gather to solve challenges, build their networks, compare information, and discuss successful strategies to increase profits. FEC Dallas will be the third consecutive year IAAPA has offered this high-energy professional development FEC conference. The 2013 event was held in Las Vegas and the 2012 edition was held in Phoenix.

Who: FEC owners, operators, manufacturers, and suppliers from around the world.

Where: Hilton Dallas/Rockwall Lakefront
2055 Summer Lee Drive, Rockwall, Texas, United States

When: Feb. 8-10, 2015
Registration is expected to open in September 2014.

How: Additional information and registration is available at the IAAPA website. Limited sponsorship opportunities are now available and information is available from Brian Skepton at bskepton@IAAPA.org.

Zamperla wins court ruling against two China firms

By | June 19, 2014

ZAMPERLA_logoORLANDO, Fla. — Antonio Zamperla SpA of Vicenza, Italy and Zamperla Inc. of Boonton, N.J., U.S.A. announce that the ride company has successfully prevailed in separate lawsuits against two manufacturers of amusement rides.

The suits asserted that Beijing Shibaolai Amusement Equipment Co., Ltd and Zhongshan Golden Dragon Amusement Equipment Company Co., Ltd, both of China, wrongfully engaged in unfair competition and patent infringement in violation of United States Federal law, and deceptive trade practices under Florida law. The United States District Court of the Middle District of Florida (Orlando Division) entered permanent injunctions against both China companies which forbid them from selling or attempting to sell counterfeits, copies, or confusingly similar rides to Zamperla’s Disk’O, Moto Coaster, Power Surge, Rockin’ Tug and Jump Around amusement rides.

Commenting on the court ruling, Zamperla SpA’s President and owner Alberto Zamperla told Amusement Today said, “We invest a great deal of time, money and creativity in order to visualize, engineer and bring to market beautiful, innovative, safe and thrilling rides. We will not and cannot tolerate other companies infringing on our works. We are pleased to have resolved these lawsuits and we will continue to protect our company and the public from rides which appear to be Zamperla equipment, but which were not engineered or manufactured to our standards.”

Thomas Sheehan, The Sheehan Firm PC in Cary, Ill, was Zamperla’s legal counsel in these two cases.

Knott’s reopens revamped Calico Mine Ride, Camp Snoopy

By | June 13, 2014

Logo-KBFBUENA PARK, Calif. – Knott’s Berry Farm reintroduced its fully updated Calico Mine Ride and a completely refreshed Camp Snoopy to the media on June 12. The public begins enjoying the new attractions June 14.

The top-to-bottom refurbishment of the 54-year-old Calico Mine Ride began in early January and includes dozens of new, richly-detailed animatronic figures, state-of-the art lighting, audio and all-new special effects.

The basis of the iconic attraction was a simple handshake agreement between Knott’s founder, Walter Knott, and theme park pioneer Bud Hurlbut in1959. From that handshake emerged a first-of-its-kind “dark ride” with elaborate show scenes and full-sized human figures. The attraction was an instant hit with guests at its original November 22, 1960, opening, and earned back Hurlbut’s initial $1 million investment in less than two years.

Knott’s Berry Farm’s design team, in partnership with San Bernardino, Calif.-based Garner Holt Productions, has elevated Hurlbut’s design while preserving the original mining experience. Nearly fifty animatronic humans and dozens more animals populate the updated adventure, with more than 120 characters spread through classic and re-imagined scenes. New denizens of the mountain include an old miner just inside the first tunnel (see accompanying photo) who welcomes guests into the Calico Mine and warns them of dangers that lie along the rails ahead.

The attraction’s rustic wooden loading platform has been refreshed and now includes a “peek-in” similar to those found throughout Ghost Town, offering guests windows into the rich mining history of the 1850s on their way toward boarding the mine train car. A new guest and employee elevator has been installed to improve access to the attraction, especially for guests seeking ADA accommodations.

The twisting, turning tunnels and expansive caverns of the eight-minute ride were completely repainted, including a brilliant new color scheme in the spectacular “Heaven Room.” Here, guests will thrill to the glorious sight of the thousands of spectacular stalagmite and stalactites accompanied by the original musical score, which has been digitally re-recorded. Original special effects have been lovingly re-created, like real steam in the Bubbling Pots scene with its surprising steam geyser and tipping barrels and other effects in the Explosion Room finale.

The makeover of the family-friendly Camp Snoopy features new pavement, rustic log fencing and three new, compatibly themed kiddie rides from Zamperla. Craig Schultz, son of late Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, was among the special guests on hand for the media preview.

Look for comprehensive coverage of all the Summer 2014 improvements at Knott’s Berry Farm in the July issue of Amusement Today.

—Dean Lamanna

Photo courtesy of Knotts Berry Farm

Photo courtesy of Knotts Berry Farm

Photo courtesy of Knotts Berry Farm

Photo courtesy of Knotts Berry Farm

Ripley Entertainment President Jim Pattison, Jr. to Deliver Keynote Address at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2014 GM and Owners’ Breakfast

By | June 13, 2014

IAAPA_TransparentThe International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) announced President of Ripley Entertainment Jim Pattison, Jr. will address attractions industry leaders as the GM and Owners’ Breakfast keynote speaker on Wednesday, Nov. 19, during IAAPA Attractions Expo 2014. The Expo, which is the premier conference and trade show for the $24 billion global attractions industry, takes place Nov. 17-21 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.

Pattison will tell the compelling story of Ripley Entertainment, stretching back to 1918 when founder Robert Ripley began to establish himself as a household name with the popular cartoon “Believe It or Not!” Today, Ripley Entertainment operates more than 90 attractions in 10 countries, including Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditoriums, Ripley’s Aquariums, Guinness World Records Attractions, Ripley’s Moving Theaters, Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Mazes, Ripley’s Haunted Adventures, and many more. The company also publishes more than 1 million books annually and has the longest continuously published newspaper comic in history.

Pattison will share what has enabled Ripley Entertainment to remain successful for nearly a century and is anticipated to surprise the audience in true Ripley fashion.

Since joining Ripley Entertainment in 1990, Pattison has played key roles in the company’s operation and growth. He was named president of the company in December of 2007.

“Jim is a well-respected industry veteran with a long track record of success,” said IAAPA President and CEO Paul Noland. “Attendees of the GM and Owners’ Breakfast will take away valuable lessons that Pattison used to help build Ripley into what it is today.”

The IAAPA Attractions Expo 2014 GM and Owners’ Breakfast will take place Wednesday, Nov. 19 at 8:30 a.m. in the IAAPA Theater presented by The Wanda Group. Tickets to attend the event are now available. To purchase a ticket, register for IAAPA Attractions Expo and select a ticket for that event. Tickets must be purchased in addition to Expo registration and in advance of the event. Cost to attend the event is US$90 for IAAPA members and US$120 for non-members. Ticket price includes a hot plated breakfast.