IAAPA Expo – An Amusement Park Fan Favorite

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IAAPA, the international organization for amusement parks and theme parks, held its annual convention last week in Orlando. Always a glitzy affair the IAAPA Expo is actually open to the public, but admission costs are steep (well over $100/person) and it’s primarily a trade show, not a traveling carnival. That said, there ARE some rides to sample here (think spinner ride, several simulators, and an odd carousel or two), as well as giant inflatable bounce houses and other amusements.

This being a trade show, you’ll find vendors here displaying new technologies such as debit card readers, or the latest in automated cotton-candy vending machines (a neat trick, actually). They are hoping to talk to buyers from theme parks, regional parks, and even family fun centers, all of whom are looking for a way to make their attraction memorable and unique (and profitable). A lot of business gets done at IAAPA in this fashion.

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But it’s not all work; there is always a chance to play. One corner of the cavernous convention center is given over to the latest in ticket-spitting games of chance (and skill?), and there are many video games and pinball machines here too. The new Star Trek pinball machine is a clear winner, but I’m less certain we’ll see the standup arcade game for Plants versus Zombies everywhere (you play as the pea shooter). Namco had a nifty wraparound dome screen in a cockpit; it’s like being on Soarin, but the screen is sized just for one person and you’re right next to it.

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And don’t forget to sample the food, if you go. It would be hard to pig out at IAAPA, but some vendors do give away free samples: air fryers (greaseless) for frozen foods and French fries, new Dippin Dots flavors (kettle corn, which was weird, and cherry with pop rocks in it, which was awesome), funnel cake on a stick (an odd concept that was hard to eat), even pizza by the slice, demonstrating a quick-serve product for those industry folks who might like to buy one of their very own.

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There are kid playgrounds, panning for gold, ropes challenge courses, zip lines, and this year’s breakout star, a free fall drop onto an air mattress, as if you’re a stunt man.

IAAPA is always fun, exhausting, sensory overload, and interesting. It’s not exactly a mecca for casual park visitors – nor should it be – but for those who follow the industry closely and want to see what’s coming next, this is the place to be.

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