Out and Back - November 2014

Welsh Trampoline Park Takes Bouncing Underground

Few would argue one of the hottest sectors of the attractions industry the past three or four years has been trampoline parks, with new facilities launching every day in every location and configuration imaginable. But in the Snowdonia region of northern Wales, a new trampoline park has opened like no other in the world—because it’s situated in an abandoned subterranean slate mine. That’s right, it’s located underground.

Called Bounce Below, the park operates in Llechwedd Slate Caverns in Blaenau Ffestiniog. Its array of massive trampoline nets is hung within immense chambers on three levels, connected by walkways and slides. Adding to this already-surreal setting is the caverns’ vividly colored illumination.

Bounce Below owner Sean Taylor tells Funworld how the trampoline park came about in this subterranean setting. “We’re in Snowdonia and we were looking underground because we’re very weather-dependent here,” he says, “and the slate mine is the same temperature all the time. It’s completely pioneering stuff—we’re completely unique. There’s nothing like this in the world.”

Taylor reveals the biggest challenge he and his team faced was cleaning and preparing the rock in the caverns in preparation for the trampoline installations. He says a lot of skill was involved, as the work all had to be done by hand, but it was accomplished with no accidents.

The trampolines are connected to the cavern walls with anchors. There are three levels of these bouncy nets, with the highest 120 feet above the floor. Guests enter on the middle level, then travel between levels by climbing up a spiral staircase or sliding down slides, with the longest slide at 60 feet. Net walls, reaching 10 feet high, keep guests from climbing out of the trampolines.

As for how guests reach the underground cavern from the surface, even that involves a bit of an adventure. They board a train used when the slate mine operated and descend to Bounce Below. The train can carry 28 passengers at a time, and though each trampoline level can accommodate 60 persons at once, Taylor says the operation doesn’t like to have more than 90 guests total on the nets at one time to avoid crowding.

After paying £20 (US$33), guests are issued a helmet and cotton jump suits to protect from abrasion burns on the nets. They are also restricted from somersaulting, to prevent kicking others. An instructor is positioned on each level, and the staff is in communication with not only one another, but with the main office outside in case there’s an incident. 

Bounce Below has been a resounding success, according to Taylor: “We’ve been at capacity the past two months. We’ve got a concert going on with a band in there next month, and we’re having someone get married in there.”

Taylor also operates Zip World Titan at Llechwedd Slate Caverns, which is reportedly the largest zipline operation in Europe. Early next year, he plans to open another astonishing attraction—four ziplines that will take riders across the caverns at up to 60 mph, with the longest stretching almost 3,000 feet. “That’s another world first,” says Taylor. “It’s a journey underground, and we’re going to be using computer animations, with fire and waterfalls!”


Bridging the Attraction Gaps—Literally

You regularly walk across them in almost every amusement park, water park, and zoo you visit. They carry thousands of people a day safely across rivers, canyons, trails, and roads, yet you rarely give them a second thought when you visit these attractions. They are bridges, and parks of all types present unique challenges to their builders.

For decades, GatorBridge, a division of Crane Materials International in Marietta, Georgia, has constructed such bridges for parks. The company’s many clients include SeaWorld Orlando Resort, Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and Pirates Bay Water Park in Baytown, Texas.

One well-traveled span that serves as an example of the challenges faced by builders is the park bridge that carries guests to Shamu Stadium over SeaWorld Orlando’s large central lake. Those who have traversed the bridge since it was installed more than a decade ago might be surprised to learn a couple of its secrets. First, the middle of the bridge actually swivels open. This is done by hydraulic pumps that lift a section of the walkway and rotate it 90 degrees to allow for the transportation of supplies and materials after hours. Second, though the bridge appears to be constructed of wood, it’s actually an aluminum structure clad in wood.

Why aluminum? GatorBridge says the material has many advantages that make it ideal for building bridges. It’s lightweight, yet strong; its noncorrosive nature prevents rusting; it doesn’t rot; and its durability requires little or no maintenance. This last point is key for both seasonal and year-round parks. Seasonal parks can’t afford to be forced to close bridges for maintenance during their relatively short operating seasons, and year-round parks don’t have offseason downtime in which to do maintenance. Some of GatorBridge’s aluminum bridges have been in continuous service in parks for 25 years.

“The lighter-weight aluminum frame also lowers the installation time and lessens the footprint,” says Danielle Walter, GatorBridge’s marketing director. “But many parks want great aesthetics, so they like wood, so they often ask us to clad the aluminum bridges in wood.”

Walter notes aluminum also has another advantage in warm climates. “It’s cool to the touch,” she says, “whether it’s the handrails or the decking, and it’s also slip-resistant.” These are key factors for water parks, which have guests walking on surfaces in their bare feet. Walter says the company’s most recent water park project was at Pirate’s Bay in Baytown, Texas, where an aluminum bridge spans a lazy river.

Actually, if outdoor attractions prefer a non-aluminum decking surface, they have a variety of materials from which to choose for use on aluminum bridges, including wood, synthetic composite wood, pavers, and synthetic concrete. GatorBridge also notes bridge lighting is available in all of its installations for attractions that operate after dark.

GatorBridge’s sister division, GatorDock, installs docks and gangways in amusement parks. However, both divisions stress they don’t promote or oversell where their structures are located and say many amusement parks appreciate this. But one of their most-used structures is the ferryboat dock and gangway used at the transportation center in a massive Orlando theme park complex, and GatorDock says literally millions of people use that dock and gangway each year.


Amusements Deliver a Great Ride for Baseball Team

A couple of years ago, the attractions industry saw the opportunity for the opening of an entirely new market for attractions when the Quad Cities River Bandits, a minor league baseball team in Davenport, Iowa, made the decision to add amusement rides to its stadium facility, Modern Woodmen Park.

Numerous new rides, including a large Ferris wheel, were all supposed to open in early summer 2013. However, severe flooding on the neighboring Mississippi River hampered that plan. In early summer 2014, all of those rides opened, and now their impact on attendance, fan enjoyment, and the baseball park’s status as a family entertainment facility can be evaluated.

The most significant ride not installed in 2013 was the 90-foot-tall Giant Gondola Wheel from Chance Rides. It opened on May 24, 2014, along with a zipline and several bounce houses. Later in the summer, the ballpark opened “Space Camp,” an electronically powered four-seat gyroscope ride from Amusements International, and “Mediacom Drop N Twist” from SBF rides—a 30-foot tower sporting an eight-passenger gondola that bounces up and down as the tower rotates. Plans for 2015 include a new carousel.

Mike Clark, the team’s assistant general manager of amusements, says local reaction to the rides has been overwhelmingly positive. Some in the community voiced concerns to the local media about whether the team’s foray into amusements was wandering too far from baseball and perhaps bringing an unwelcomed change to the scenic river views around the park. To those criticisms, Clark responds, “With any new trailblazing idea, there are going to be people who are against it. But we’ve had residents who’ve written in after those comments and have voiced their support.”

The numbers indicate the attractions have had a significant impact. Before the opening of the Ferris wheel, the team was averaging about 3,533 in attendance per game. This season, the park broke records with the highest average per-game attendance in the franchise’s 55-year history. Park officials attribute this to the addition of amusement rides. “About 30 percent of our guests who come to a game ride the rides,” he says. “They open 90 minutes before the game, and families will take a break during the game and come ride. People really pour onto the Ferris wheel as the sun sets.” He adds that the rides’ popularity has allowed the team to open them on weekends, even when no game is scheduled.

This has apparently not escaped the notice of other minor league clubs, as Clark says he’s already been contacted by a couple of teams regarding the potential of adding amusement rides. Asked what advice he’d give to teams considering such a move, he responds, “Definitely attend the IAAPA Attractions Expo and attend the education sessions regarding family entertainment centers because I think minor league baseball can relate a lot to FECs, with the birthday party business, inflatables, rides, and group sales. Also, seek opinions of people in the community to make sure they’ll support amusements at the park.”

Interestingly, Clark was a show ambassador at the Expo from 2005 to 2012 and attended last year with team owner Dave Heller. “We walked miles of aisles on the trade show floor, following up with our ride contacts and gathering new ideas for future expansions. I have recommended that other minor league teams looking to add rides make the trip to Orlando for the IAAPA Attractions Expo, as it’s a one-stop shop for venturing into the amusement industry.”


The ‘Biga-Coaster’ Makes a Biga-Difference for Sunkid Heege

Sunkid Heege GmbH in Imst, Austria, has apparently created an entirely new roller coaster concept.

The attraction, called the Biga-Coaster, lets passengers ride in an upright standing position in single-person vehicles, termed “superstructures” by Sunkid, with completely unobstructed views all around. The coaster is not limited to this arrangement, however, as the ride vehicles can also feature seats and even be configured with whole trains.

Stefanie Eberhart, the company’s marketing and events manager, says the Biga-Coaster concept was born from having to deal with very limited space when designing attractions and the desire to create a new riding experience for such circumstances. “Due to our experience in manufacturing restraint systems, other components, and even complete trains as an original equipment manufacturer for major ride manufacturers,” she says, “we used all in-house expertise to create a new attraction, which is different from other types of roller coasters.”

The track and vehicle design allow for very tight turning radii. This is apparent on the first Biga-Coaster installation, in the Tower Event Center in Germany, a mobile entertainment tower that can be leased for fairs, festivals, and special events. Called “Skydrive,” half of the coaster’s 125-foot track runs through a covered indoor area and half on an outdoor balcony.

Eberhart notes that though the “Skydrive” operator chooses to run just one vehicle at a time on the track, all six vehicles could actually run simultaneously, giving a capacity of 300 riders per hour. This is because, unlike most coasters that use trim brakes to prevent collisions between trains in case of malfunction, the Biga-Coaster ride vehicles are equipped with a communications system. If one vehicle breaks down somewhere on the track, the following vehicles stop automatically.

The Biga-Coaster is tailored to allow for a wide range of design configurations. Eberhart says since the designs of both the ride vehicles and the tracks are customizable, and the track can be run inside and outside, the coaster is suitable for a whole range of applications and customers.

“It’s not only attractive for leisure parks, but also for indoor attractions such as interactive museums or even haunted houses,” she suggests. “Just imagine being run through a haunted house on a Biga-Coaster rather than walking though it. You wouldn’t be able to swerve, avoid, or duck certain frights, which would make the whole experience even scarier.”

As for the Biga-Coaster’s cost, Eberhart states that the “Skydrive” in the Tower Events Center was between €450,000 and €500,000 (US$594,000 to $660,000), but she’s quick to note that because it was for a mobile installation, its track was designed to fold in order to fit into a container. Also, since that ride’s track extends out onto a balcony, it has very special static requirements that wouldn’t be necessary for a normal installation.


New Book Explores the Power of Great Storytelling

Since the birth of theme parks, story-telling has played an integral role in their appeal to guests. But why does storytelling have such a powerful hold on visitors, and how can attractions capitalize on it? A new book from PGAV Destinations called “Storytelling: It Can Change Your Mind” answers these questions and more. Examining why stories are so important, the book explores the physiological and emotional responses stories elicit in people. It delves into how stories make people care, how attractions can determine what they want to achieve with the art, the creation process, and the best way to tell stories. It also looks at how to expand and change stories.

Funworld asks PGAV Destinations’ chairman and principal, Mike Konzen, to answer a few questions about the new book.

Why did you feel the need to write the book at this time?

Storytelling has become more prominent of late, like in advertising. But we didn’t see anyone looking at how this was affecting our industry and where it was going. As we got into it, we were fascinated by what we were seeing. We went to neurologists and others outside the industry to get a measure on how storytelling affects the human brain and how people relate to it in their lives. It’s astonishing.

Is there a difference in telling a fictional story for “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” and a factual story for something like Space Shuttle Atlantis, or for a museum?

There are two answers. First, it’s the same in that we’re using the same techniques to create the story process. On the other hand, it’s different in what we’re trying to accomplish. Beyond entertainment, a museum is more focused on its mission of trying to teach people. So it’s a similar approach applied to achieve different objectives.

You say in the book that storytelling activates much more of the brain than say, a list of bulleted facts. That’s interesting, but why is it important to attractions?

Attractions represent a lot of things and using storytelling we can talk about any topic and help it be retained better by guests.

Why should the smaller attractions that make up the numerical bulk of our industry care about this book?

I think small organizations can look at our book and find things they can apply. A lot of attractions require a good understanding of effective storytelling techniques, and it doesn’t necessarily require a big investment in technology.

Could technology bring an end to the time-honored method of face-to-face storytelling at attractions?

I guess there’s the risk of leaving behind the effectiveness of a person telling stories. But you still see plenty of examples at attractions where the human-to-human version of storytelling prevails and is effective. Sometimes we like to apply technology in ways that enhances and supports the human storytelling with media. I don’t think it’s either or. I would say some of the best attractions do both.