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Special Guest Experiences - November 2016


These off-the-beaten-path attractions offer special guest experiences

by Keith Miller

Record-breaking roller coasters. Lavish dark rides. Sprawling hotels. Multimillion-gallon aquarium tanks. Multi-story go-kart tracks. These are just a sample of high-profile rides and attractions that draw attention to our industry. But all over the world, there are under-the-radar attractions that nevertheless provide unusual and memorable experiences for guests. Funworld looks at a selection of these attractions to discover what makes them so special.

Dog and Reindeer Sledding
Ice Hotel, Jukkasjärvi, Sweden

Undoubtedly one of the most stunning resorts in the world is the famous Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden. Those who venture to the site in summer and fall can enjoy numerous experiences, like the adrenaline rush of a challenge park starting 60 feet above the ground. But there’s an exotic outdoor adventure awaiting guests willing to brave the elements in the winter when the Ice Hotel is operating: dog and reindeer sledding tours. You can go along as a passenger or drive your own team of huskies through the beautiful winter landscapes.

There is a 90-minute “Winter Wonderland” tour that includes coffee and cake served by an open fire, or an overnight adventure in a secluded wilderness camp featuring a traditional sauna, dinner, breakfast, and snacks.

But the hotel’s most popular dog-sled ride is extra special: “We have an airport transfer,” says Josefin Lindberg, the Ice Hotel’s media and public relations manager. “It’s a very unusual way to arrive at your hotel.” When you land at the airport, your sled-dog team is waiting to whisk you off on a 75-minute journey to the Ice Hotel, where you are dropped off to begin your stay.


Marvel Cave
Silver Dollar City, Branson, Missouri

It’s hard to imagine a theme park having a better backstory than Silver Dollar City (SDC) in Branson, Missouri. Around the year 1500, the Osage Indians discovered a 500-foot-deep underground cavern beneath the park’s current location. In the 1950s, the Herschend family signed a 99-year lease on the cavern system, called Marvel Cave, and began conducting tours. SDC sprang up as a way to entertain people who were waiting to visit the massive cave. Even though today the park is now the main attraction, the cavern remains open and guests can still venture down into it.

Tours are generally conducted every 30 minutes and reservations aren’t needed, as the journeys are free with park admission. But for those wanting a special experience, Martha Hoy Bohner, the park’s senior publicist says, “Lantern Light Tours may be reserved that allow guests to experience Marvel Cave much as the explorers did in the late 1800s. These 90-minute tours include the Mammoth Room and the bat wall, not on the regular tours.” Lantern Light Tours, usually the last tour of the day, are limited to 30 people.

The park says around 15 percent of its guests tour the cave, and since the opening of SDC in 1960, about 11.3 million people have gone through the cavern.


Sky Cycle
Washuzan Highland Park, Kurashiki, Okayama, Japan

Though the “Sky Cycle” at Washuzan Highland Park appears to be a roller coaster, note the word “cycle” in the ride’s name. Guests ride in two-passenger cars they must pedal to power them along the track. Though it’s a slow-speed attraction, it provides high thrill in the form of spectacular panoramic views of the Shimotsui-Seto Bridge, the Seto Inland Sea, and its many islands. Though the park is set on a high slope well above the sea, the ride itself is only about 50 feet above ground level.

Of course, in addition to breathtaking views, the attraction is also great exercise, as its speed is determined only be how fast the passengers can pedal (the track is completely flat).


Guided Fishing Trips; Cruises on Grand 1 Yacht
Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando

Guests at Walt Disney World (WDW) Resort expect to be treated to top-notch rides and attractions, dine at great restaurants, and watch live shows. But few probably envision WDW as a place for a professionally guided fishing excursion. However, that very experience is offered right on the lakes that border its parks. Guests can venture out on Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon amid the resort’s famous waterside hotels near the Magic Kingdom, or skim across Crescent Lake at Disney Boardwalk and World Showcase Lagoon at Epcot.

There are 21-foot Tracker pontoon boats available that can accommodate up to five guests, or tournament-style Nitro Bass boats for one or two people. Two- and four-hour excursions are offered and include an experienced guide and all the necessary fishing gear. Terry Fleeman, a fishing coordinator for WDW who has taken guests on fishing excursions for 17 years, says, “The statement I’ve heard over and over again from people is that it’s the most fun they’ve had at Disney World. Some of them come back year after year and we’re now taking out second-generation and soon third-generation kids.”

For those wanting a luxury boating experience, the resort offers the Grand 1 yacht, a 52-foot Sea Ray Sedan Bridge yacht, which accommodates up to 18 guests. Passengers cruise around Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon with an experienced captain and deckhand, enjoy private dining from a customized menu, and avail themselves of the services of a professional butler. Evening cruises offer a view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks show with synchronized audio from onboard speakers.


Scenic Skyway
Knoebels Amusement Resort, Elysburg, Pennsylvania

It’s always wonderful to find aerial photographs of large outdoor attractions for their bird’s-eye perspective. Some parks have tall towers that give such a view, but one came up with a unique way to provide this vantage point in a beautiful setting.

Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, offers the “Scenic Skyway,” a 2,600-foot, 14-minute ski-lift ride up an adjacent mountain that provides a magnificent view of the park. Dick Knoebel, the park’s president, explains how it came about: “We were approached about installing a sky ride that ran from one side of the park to the other. I didn’t think that was a good fit and instead thought we should put one on a hill surrounding the park. We wanted to provide our visitors with not only a new experience, but also a unique view. I eventually received a phone call that a ski lift had been located that could make this possible. We purchased what would become our ‘Scenic Skyway’ from Sugarbush Ski Resort in Vermont, which was replacing one of their lifts with a different model.” The “Scenic Skyway” opened in May 2003.


Jozi’s Story of Gold
Gold Reef City, Johannesburg, South Africa

If you visit Gold Reef City theme park in Johannesburg, South Africa, you’ll expect to experience a first-class theme park featuring more than 30 rides, including six roller coasters. But what you might not expect is the opportunity to descend about 250 feet underground to discover the wealth of a nation. The park is built around an actual 19th-century gold mine and offers what it terms a heritage tour, called “Jozi’s Story of Gold.”

First, guests watch an introductory movie featuring Veli, a character playing a modern-day school boy, as he takes the journey through the mine with Joe, representing a prospector from the late 1800s. The movie tells the story of the earliest days of Jozi, a nickname for Johannesburg, and the discovery of gold there.

Then guests not only descend into the mine, but are afforded the opportunity to pan the mud by hand themselves to search for the element. They also witness a gold pour, watching the hot molten gold flow from a crucible. Static figures as well as real miners offer a glimpse at the arduous task of gold mining.


Shark Night Dive
Atlantis, The Palm & AquaVenture Waterpark, Dubai, UAE

Visits to an aquarium often include compelling up-close views of sharks swimming by the glass to the delight of young and old alike. But extending that experience to actually swimming with the sharks is a different matter altogether. Yet that’s exactly what’s offered at the 792,500-gallon Lost Chambers Aquarium at Atlantis, The Palm & AquaVenture Waterpark in Dubai.

Armed with only flashlights and glow sticks, guests come face to face with 750-pound sharks with 300 teeth in a night dive that’s not for the faint-hearted. The 30-minute sessions are led by an experienced Atlantis diver, and guests must be at least 10 years old and provide proof of PADI or equivalent dive licensing. All equipment is provided by the resort, though use of one’s own equipment is allowed.

Heleen Laurisson, the resort’s public relations manager, says the resort also offers a “predator dive.” “The shark night dive is in the shark lagoon and involves six different species of shark in complete darkness. The predator dive is in the Ambassador Lagoon and involves one 40-minute dive where the guests get the opportunity to hand feed some of our rays and smaller sharks,” she says. 


Contact News Editor Keith Miller at kmiller@IAAPA.org.