Nearly every year I make a pilgrimage to Orlando for the Attractions Expo put on by IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) to meet with vendors and get inspired. I’m usually joined by coworkers, my wife, and even one of my kids – you need someone to test ALL of the attractions, right? This year I went alone, which taught me that entertainment is really a social experience. But I met a couple of new friends and found inspiration nonetheless.

Here are a few of the things I found interesting on my whirlwind 2-day trip.

Virtual & Augmented Reality

There’s been a healthy dose of augmented and virtual reality at the show for years. But each year it honestly gets much better. I’ve been pretty vocal about my dislike of virtual reality as an attraction. Above all, I think that investment in expensive virtual reality attractions is foolish for most venues because people will have powerful enough tech in their own homes within a couple of years to make today’s experiences obsolete. There are obvious exceptions, though.

The tech was even better this year, immersing users in ever more compelling experiences.

Several companies showcased augmented reality climbing walls. If this concept is going to really take hold, it’s going to need some work. But I do like the idea.

I was excited to demo a virtual escape room by Breakscape Games. They’re not the first to produce this type of game, but these guys have been operating their own escape room for a few years and claim that they get just as positive feedback from the VR version as they do their other games. However, their hardware failed and I wasn’t able to play. Perhaps cost-effective VR isn’t ready quite yet after all.

I know it sounds stupid, but I’ve always thought that if I could make an Olympic team it would be in curling. Couldn’t I practice hard enough to become one of the best in the world at this obscure sport? I thought this ice-free curling attraction with some augmented reality projection looked fun.

Escape Rooms

We’re currently working on an escape room concept, so I was planning to scour the show for ideas. I didn’t have to look hard. Escape rooms were EVERYWHERE. The quality of components and experiences was all over the board.

Without getting too deep in the details, I’ve been spending time looking at modular and mobile options. Some ready-made escape room trailers were on exhibit and were surprisingly less crappy than I feared they would be. Here’s one example.

There were also some cool concepts for making the exteriors of escape rooms match the interior experience better.

A friend invited me to his house in Orlando, where he was replaying his Halloween haunt. It was an escape room concept called The Circus Is Cancelled. I won’t reveal any of the details because it may become a full-scale attraction one day. But here are some pics of the impressive exterior set.

Water Attractions

We’ve had some preliminary discussions with a developer about helping design a water-based attraction in Arizona. That made me more alert to the overwhelming number of options on exhibit at IAAPA.

One cool concept that actually opened recently in Texas is a boogie board wave pool. The idea changes the traffic pattern for a wave pool to increase throughput and the thrill level. A steady stream of strong waves courses through the pool in one direction. A dock protrudes into the pool near the source of the waves. Three boogie boarders jump off of the dock (one to the left, one straight ahead, and one to the right) and ride the wave all the way to shore. Cool.

While I believe the AZ market is ripe for some large-scale water attractions, I think we could also use a smattering of small-scale experiences, too. I like this water-based ropes course concept.

Walk-Through Attractions

I believe that high-quality, immersive walk-through attractions will be a leading trend in the entertainment space in the next decade. Oak Island Creative appears to be of the same mind. They recently opened a walk-through attraction in Michigan called Mystery Town, USA. Their booth this year was based on this concept and even showcased some of the retail and food sales options they made available at the Michigan attraction. I’ll be watching this one closely.

Earlier this year we contemplated acquiring a western town and introducing new attractions. The leading idea was to introduce a fully interactive game throughout the town that can best be described as turning the whole town into a shooting gallery, where props and effects react to your shots. I was pretty excited to see Daniels Wood Land showing off their walk-through shooting gallery attraction. If we move forward with a western town experience at some point, I may now have my tech and scenic partner.

Experiential Retail

I’m a big fan of the experiential retail category. I was impressed with the Modarri toy car concept by Thought Full Toys. The company is viewing sustainability in toy design differently than most, opting to design and manufacture toys that parents and kids will want to keep around forever rather than toss out after a few months’ of play. These toys look and feel really cool (rubbery tires, leather seats on some products, real suspension, etc.) and are surprisingly affordable for the quality. I also love that you can mix and match parts to customize your own vehicle. My kids will probably be getting some of these soon, and I’m excited to see what else Thought Full Toys produces next.


I know this isn’t new, but I hadn’t seen this version of skydiving simulator at IAAPA before. It’s cool.

House Inspiration

We’re in the middle of building our own home, which means that I’m always finding inspiration for the house wherever I go. Here are some things I saw at IAAPA and other places during my trip that I liked as home inspiration.

This table with a roll of brainstorm paper is awesome. I think I need something like it in my office. I’d like to mount a camera above it so I can quickly snap and save pictures of brainstorm sessions.

I’d like a few of these oversized pots in grey, please.

Oddly enough, I stopped in at McDonald’s for some fries (which happens about once a decade). We’ve been considering some big wall murals in our new place, and I thought these were pretty great.

We’re doing polished concrete on the main level of the house. I liked the look of this paint on top of the concrete in the Coca-Cola store in Disney Springs.

Inspiration abounded at the Polite Pig in Disney Springs. Great sandwich as well, though I still prefer D-Luxe Burger.

And these cables at Shake Shack were pretty sweet, too. The burger was just ok.

I nearly didn’t make it to the show this year, but I’m glad I did! IAAPA did not disappoint.

Those of you who were at the show, what caught your eye?

Dustin Smith

Author Dustin Smith

Dustin is the father of four awesome kids and works as a consultant and entrepreneur in the entertainment attractions industry.

More posts by Dustin Smith

Leave a Reply