Tim's Turn - January 2019

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John Wood (left), chairman and CEO of Sally Corporation, and Rick Davis, founder of the Dark Attraction & Funhouse Enthusiasts group (Credit: Tim O’Brien)

A Celebration of Color, Sounds, and Smells on the Trade Show Floor

To avoid becoming jaded and lackluster about IAAPA Attractions Expo after 31 years of perusing the aisles, I try to find a different person to walk with for a couple hours the first day of the trade show to hopefully gain a fresh new perspective. I don’t want to ever lose the excitement and wonderment of this magnificent celebration of color, sounds, and smells. 

This year, I asked Rick Davis, founder of the 18-year-old Dark Attraction & Funhouse Enthusiasts group, if I could tag along with him for a bit on opening day. The acronym for his group is DAFE, pronounced “Daffy.” So appropriate, especially if you know Rick. 

We strolled the aisles and talked about DAFE. Originally, enjoyment and preservation of traditional dark rides was their emphasis. Now, interest extends to all types of dark and walk-through attractions—from Halloween haunts and interactive dark rides to the newest player: escape rooms. 

“The interests of our members run the gamut,” Rick said as we stopped to look at a ropes course I had never before seen on the trade show floor. After a couple such stops where I asked him if the product I was looking at was new, he finally couldn’t take it any longer. “Is this your first time on the trade show floor or what?” he kidded. I guess I’m usually in such a hurry going from one meeting or event to another, I have missed a lot over the years.

I guess my idea worked. I saw fun things I had never seen before. Our jaunt ended at the Sally Corporation booth where the new Sesame Street-themed dark ride was being unveiled, set to premiere at Spain’s PortAventura World later this year. 

Following the press conference for the new ride, I made it back to a booth I had seen earlier. Feld Entertainment was exhibiting for the very first time. Anchoring the booth was a vintage Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus wagon on one end and the huge Grave Digger Monster Jam truck on the other. 

In my conversation with Juliette Feld Grossman, chief operating officer of Feld Entertainment, she made a point to say that “nothing” had been signed with any parks and their being here was strictly fact-finding, a thought-starting effort on their part to test interests of parks for their new product concepts. One such idea being a very cool looking Monster Jam-themed roller coaster, and another a circus-themed interactive experience. 

“Any chance you’re going to offer a circus production for theme parks?” I asked. “Probably not,” she said, noting the company is wanting to “reimagine” the 150-year-old American circus brand.

“Exactly how we are going to do that has not been totally imagined,” she said. “But there will be no animals and probably no performances, and could be customized to differ from park to park.” That news disappointed me, as I was hoping this was a tease for a new circus to be mounted by the Feld group. 

I love the free handouts most booths offer in an effort to lure you onto their little piece of carpet. With the exception of the traditional mini candy bars and mints, the most frequent one this year were pliable stress-relief items, in the shape of everything from a pile of $100 bills (SBA Loan Group) to a lovable and smiling Yeti (Dippin’ Dots). With more than 10 miles of exhibit space, limited time, a lot of commitments, and a record number of attendees, any stress relief was certainly welcomed.


Tim O’Brien is a veteran outdoor entertainment journalist and is a longtime Funworld contributor. He has authored many books chronicling the industry’s attractions and personalities and is the only journalist in the IAAPA Hall of Fame.