Having fun is serious business.
Just ask the 26,000 people at the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions expo held last week in Orlando.
The five-day conference is the largest of its kind worldwide, drawing people from 100 countries. Wonder what's coming up at your favorite theme park, entertainment center, zoo or museum? Chances are it was introduced at this trade show.
"We're trying to pick out what our customers are going to want," said John Schweiger, chief executive officer of Coming Attractions Theaters, a chain of movie houses and entertainment centers on the West Coast.
Expo organizers sold out 500,000 square feet of indoor space, not including the rows and rows of inflatable slides set up outside. Attendees knew to wear comfortable shoes.
The entire exhibit floor covered 9 miles' worth of aisles.
Exhibitors came to show off the latest and greatest in thrill rides, water slides, souvenirs and food. They signed deals, handed out brochures and peeked at the competition.
"You can buy something today and put it in your park immediately, or find a germ of a project for five years from now," said Jeremy Schoolfield, the editor-in-chief of Funworld, the IAAPA trade magazine.
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Port Charlotte-based Galaxy Multi Rides sold three Toxic Rampage obstacle courses in a day at $60,000 a pop, said owner Robin Whincup. The new inflatable courses were inspired by the popular extreme sport game shows, like Wipe Out, and drew a lot of interest from party rental companies.
The IAAPA show is where ride manufacturers come to float ideas. Mack Rides of Germany brought a model of Drop 'N' Splash, a boat ride that glides on a U-shaped track in a sea creature-themed pool. Think pirate ship ride but in the water.
WhiteWater Attractions debuted its slideboarding water slides lined with lights. Riders zip down tubes on mats equipped with controllers and press buttons as they see different colors appear, similar to the Guitar Hero music games. The system keeps track of points, allowing water park guests to compete with other players during their visit.
The expo had more than 125 product categories, from theme park and technology-based attractions to carnival games and food. TNT Confectionery of Panama City handed out 1,000 funnel cake sticks daily.
"Everyone likes something on a stick,'' said owner Tomi Newberry. "It's portable, single-portion sized and you don't have to sit down to eat them.''
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New on the scene was Chilly Ribbons, shaved snow infused with mango, coconut and other flavors. Based in Orlando, the company was looking for people interested in opening brick-and-mortar locations or buying portable kiosks that look like ski chalets.
"This is a brand new food category," said owner Scott Colwell. "And it has less than 100 calories!''
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Guests not sampling products were playing them. Barron Games brought its Galaxy Collision QuadAir, a four-person air hockey game. QubicaAMF bowling products debuted its Mad Games, an alternative to the 10-frame format that allows players to create digital characters or monsters based on their best shots.
Alessandra Constantinescu traveled from Vienna to introduce Playoke Dance, a game system in which players follow the moves of singing dancers on a screen and score points for accuracy.
The concept has been a hit in Asia, she said, and she hoped all the exposure at the show would translate to new business in the United States. The crowds gathered around her booth were a good sign.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110. Follow @susan_thurston on Twitter.