Katie Bruno

Katie Bruno has been co-owner and director of wdd|online since 1996. Originally trained in physics and chemistry and earning a PhD in Polymer Science, Katie always enjoyed working with computers. Her background in the Internet from “the ground up” has given her a unique perspective on emerging and changing technologies. She also enjoys the combination of the “the technological and the artistic” found in website design and programming. Working with the Cedar Fair family of amusement parks, including Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio since 1998, has given her a firm foundation in the amusement industry. Katie and wdd|online’s focus for the past two years has been in helping the FEC market learn how to utilize online technologies effectively. She has spoken both at IALEI and IAAPA on such topics as website design, email marketing and search engine optimization. Her husband Mark works with her as co-owner and director of IT for the company. Mark and Katie live in Wadsworth, Ohio with their three sons.

Disturbing my Equilibrium on Universal’s Harry Potter Ride

By Katie Bruno.

RelatedNOW OPEN! – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort  / Not bad for a Boy Wizard! Universal’s Magical Ride  /   Optimism with a Frosty Reception : The IAAPA Expo 2010   /  Well Above Par: at IAAPA’s Charity Golf Event  / Cold-Blooded Fun at Orlando’s Gatorland Theme Park    /

Remember, if you are old enough, when the first Star Wars movies came out?  How excited everyone was for the first movie and how much it permeated the entertainment and retail space?  Today, kids are rediscovering the franchise through the Clone Wars animated series, but the impact can’t compare to waiting for that next movie to come out and experiencing it for the first time with the whole world.

Add to that feeling from the Harry Potter books and movies The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park  and it is almost overwhelming.

During the last IAAPA conference and exhibition, the Thursday night “special event” was a party at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  Coincidentally, it was also the opening night of the seventh movie!  

The event started at night, so we did not arrive until after dark.  I don’t know if the “magic” is as strong in clippys clip joint harry potter universal studios orlandothe daytime, but in the evening it was spectacular.  The attention to detail in all of the surroundings made it all feel so authentic.  And the butterbeer…ah the butterbeer…it tasted just like you imagined it would.

The “Castle Ride” as everyone called it, which is actually Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, was nothing short of amazing.  The line itself is such a cool experience with talking pictures and holograms of characters that talked that I actually think I liked the line best and would love a whole attraction done that way.   I went through the line a couple times and skipped the ride!

The ride…well the ride…it is quite unbelievable.  It is a mix of live action and film that leaves you never quite sure what is real and what isn’t (“real” being a relative term here).  One minute you’re playing Quiddich (I’m serious) and the next minute you are face-to-face with a dragon spewing smoke into your face.   It is wonderful and fun and thrilling and terrifying.  Once was enough for me.  Although I LOVED it, these “4-D” experiences tend to disturb my equilibrium uncomfortably.   My 13 year old son, Jack, who has grown up in the amusement industry said “I haven’t been thrilled by a ride in a while, and THAT was thrilling.”  He of course rode it several times.

I so enjoyed just wandering the streets and shops.  When the girls from Beauxbatons came out on the street and did their thing, I nearly started to cry it was so much like being at Hogwarts.  You can ask my husband, I was literally tearing up it was so darn cool.

We didn’t end up watching the midnight showing of the seventh movie that night; it had been a long day.  However, when we did go only a few days later I was all primed from just being immersed in that world.

It is really quite amazing that all of this has grown from nothing more than words on a page.    It speaks to the power of “story” and this is one great story.

Image at top: Hogsmeade, © Universal Studios, All Rights Reserved

The IAAPA Attractions Expo 2010: It’s a Small World

By Katie Bruno

RelatedOff to IAAPA 2010; Web Design Company Is Bringing Fun Online  /  Coin Tech unveils new products at IAAPA 2010!  /  Simtec will be exhibiting at the IAAPA Attraction Expo 2010 on booth 5404   /  Pan Amusements showsadvanced shooting gallery animation at IAAPA

I took a rather winding path to end up in the Amusement industry.   I worked at an amusement park as a teenager.  Almost everyone in my hometown worked at Geauga Lake or Sea World in the late seventies and early eighties.  My husband even had a stint as “Geauga Dog”.

But then we all went off to college and studied feverishly in our multiple chosen fields.  I was born a science geek and eventually went to graduate school in Polymer Science.  While there, I was part of a very small class of serious scientific students all looking forward to making the next great leap in materials science and changing the world.

Most of my colleagues have gone on to do important work in such diverse fields as space exploration, medical devices and fuel cells.   However,  I decided to spend a few years at home with my children while they were small before jumping into my quest for the Nobel Prize.

While home, in order to keep my sanity, I started doing a little work in the emerging new technology of the web.  That search for sanity led to the current insanity of my job as director of a company that specializes in website design for the amusement and attraction industry.

So now my life revolves around amusement parks and waterparks and family entertainment centers and the IAAPA show is a no brainer.  We go every year and love it.  I must admit it is a little more fun than the scientific meetings I used to attend.

But HERE is the interesting part…

I do the “LinkedIn” thing of course.  As a professional, especially a web professional, it is an important for me to be involved in social media and I enjoy keeping up with my colleagues and what they are doing.  Recently an old classmate of mine from Polymer Science, Allan Jones, touched base.  And lo and behold…he is going to be at IAAPA!

Allan is founder and CEO of a company that makes these cool kiosks where a robotic arm will make your ice cream sundae for you.  I guess “robotic arm” makes is a little scientific!  Allan did his time in polymer research before coming into this new venture, but just like me he was somehow drawn into this amazing industry.

So I guess, either it is a really small world or no matter what field you choose for a career, ultimately we will all end up working in amusement and attractions.   Looking forward to seeing you at the show Allan!

Katie gets Scared : Cedar Fair park’s Windseekers

By Katie Bruno

Related:  / The Absolute Best Time to go to Cedar PointThe Major new Theme Park rides for 2010 Amusement Parks: Cedar Fair Wins Top Honors Cedar Fair Drives Strong Year-To-Date Results Through Summer Season

I have worked with amusement parks for many years and attended many a media preview day.  I love the thrills but am never really scared.  I will ride any roller coaster out there without hesitation.  It is fun for me.  It is part of the reason I love this business.

That said, the new Windseeker ride being put in at four of the Cedar Fair parks this year scares the flippin’ bejesus out of me.  I just can’t see myself riding it. It defies all of my scientific logic and puts me in a state of panic just to look at the animation of the thing.

Basically it is a wave swinger on steroids.   At 301 feet tall, it is just shy of the height of the largest hill on the Millennium Force at Cedar Point.  It is a 30 story high pole with swings hanging off the top.  I don’t know about you, but to me that is really, really high.  The swings are on struts instead of chains, but that just barely reduces my terror.

Maybe I am just showing my age.    The kids will probably love it.  But, just like the General Manager of Cedar Point John Hildebrandt says in the interview video, I am “hedging my bet” on whether or not I am going to try this one.

The Absolute Best Time to go to Cedar Point

I LOVE Cedar Point in the Fall!   Autumn in Northeastern Ohio is a beautiful time of year, jacket weather.  Crisp, but not too cold, with clear blue skies and turning leaves.  I always plan at least one visit to the park this time of year and arrange my stay to be there on a Halloweekends Sunday. 

The park is completely decked out in Halloween decorations and is totally transformed during this time of year.  One of my favorite parts is the tombstones around the park with names of staff members.  Lots of inside jokes abound. 

If you are into the ghouls and Haunted Houses, you need to go on Friday or Saturday.  You will be in good company, Halloweekend Fridays and Saturdays are some of the most popular days to visit. 

But if you want to ride the rides, lots and lots of rides, Halloweekends Sundays rock.  You can ride every coaster in the park, some twice, if you are determined to do so.  The lines are short and sweet.   

Our favorite family trip is to go on Saturday night to enjoy all the "frights" in the park with the kids and the crowds, then we stay overnight at the Breakers, one of the on site resorts.  On Sunday we get up and ride and ride and ride to our heart’s content.  The park closes at 8 p.m., but who cares, I’ve been able to do anything and everything by then, and I can get the kids home in time for school tomorrow!

FECs: Looking Forward to IAAPA in Orlando this November

Now, I am so done with school you would not believe it.  I will probably never enter a classroom again as anything but a teacher, thank you very much.  I spent way too much time on the other side of that fence, and the grass is stamped down and dry.  Despite my aversion to classroom experiences, I always attend at least six or seven of the education sessions at IAAPA, and in general they are great.  At least two or three turn out to be “gems” that make the whole conference worthwhile.  Of course I cherry pick the ones that look best and most interesting to me, but isn’t that the point?

This year I get my first chance to organize a session with the intimidating title of Viral Marketing through Social Networks.  That is a lot to cover in 90 minutes, but I think I have found just the guys to do it.  The speaker we are shooting for is Peter Shankman of Geek Factory in New York. Hey, in our line of work, the word “geek” is a badge of honor.  The equally geeky moderator will be Jeff Putz of CoasterBuzz, who will make sure Mr. Shankman doesn’t go over our heads and gives advice practical to the amusement industry.

Not many of us can create the buzz of a Wizarding World of Harry Potter online announcement, or the pass along value of the “Will It Blend” campaign on YouTube, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take advantage of this new media where consumers interact with our brand.  The sharing and community building that happens in social networks can be leveraged by anyone who dares to participate. 

Linked In, MySpace, Twitter, Penguin (above right), YouTube are all websites like towns you can visit and find your niche.  People thrive on finding common interests and often that common interest revolves around how they spend their leisure time.  Information is shared in a very friendly and conversational way between friends and isn’t good “word of mouth” the best advertising you can get?

See also:  

Amusement parks : Devil in the White City

FECs: Step Up to the Plate

Waterparks: A Wet and Wonderful Phoenix from the Ashes

Amusement parks : Devil in the White City

The attractions sound truly…mind blowing.  If you don’t know about the first Ferris Wheel, you will be amazed and enthralled by the reality of the machine as described. 

Point of caution however, amid the copious discussions of architectural disputes, planning and building set-backs, there is interwoven a gruesome murder story.   These characters shine a special window into the life of those that moved into the cities at that time. But, if you don’t like true crime, you might want to avoid this book.  It is grizzly but fascinating.

What I found surprising and fun were the parallels between the issues and problems of the 1893 World’s Fair and today’s amusement park business.  The planners put in much work and heartache over something so transient. However, just like us, in the end the Fair is an incredible, beautiful and very profitable entertainment experience.  It was grand, expensive, ridiculous and wonderful. 

For those who love all things that celebrate the Wild West, there are some great glimpses at Buffalo Bill and his show, which set up next to the Fair.   Also, there is definitely a bit of a voyeuristic look into the politically incorrect forms of entertainment that were popular at the time.   

Written and read like a novel, but actually non-fiction, I think those working in the amusement park industry would enjoy this “Saga of Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America”.

Step Up to the Plate

Whenever we visit a local fun spot with the family I always have to go a few rounds at the batting cages. One of the great things about this attraction is that there is something there for every level. Getting into that slow pitch softball cage I become a woman with a mission.
Few things are more satisfying than cracking a ball up into the air with a bat. I don’t know why it is, but it is just fun! How many things in life are you allowed to hit as hard as you want? And, the harder you hit it the better!
A little practice at something with eye-hand coordination is great at any age. It is an exercise for the mind as well as the body.   There are no strikes or balls, I can just swing away at everything that comes across the plate. Sometimes my best hits come off of balls you would never consider in a game. 
I don’t know if it is a metaphor for life or just a zen physics experience, but it is a blast. Next time you have the chance, pony up a bunch of quarters and keep hitting until you connect with a few. You will feel great. Your hands may be a little sore when you are done, especially if you sit at a computer all day like I do. But it is worth it.

Waterparks: A Wet and Wonderful Phoenix from the Ashes

Many in Northeastern Ohio are bemoaning the closing of Geauga Lake Amusement Park,  an over 100 year old local park with nostalgic memories for many local residents (I, myself, worked there in high school).  Despite all the love for the park that was expressed after Cedar Fair announced its closing of the park, continuous improvements over the last several years failed to increase attendance to a profitable level.

But all is not lost!  One of the major improvements was the construction of a modern, state-of-the-art water park.  Although the amusement park is closed, the water park is forging on as Wildwater Kingdom.   Because of the demise of the amusement side of the park, many folks wrongly assume the water park is gone too.  Not so!

Northeastern Ohio is generally a chilly, overcast place, but for a few months every summer it gets HOT here.  Frankly, the last couple of times we went to Geauga Lake, we spend the whole day in the water park anyway.   This place is a gem in June, July and August especially.   It is right in the heart of a small town southeast of Cleveland called Aurora, Ohio, which is also home to a beautiful premium outlet mall.  My personal favorite is the wave pool but they also have the highest waterslide complex in Ohio

So I say “Hurray” to Cedar Fair for keeping this summer oasis here for us stuck here in the sweltering Ohio summer heat.   Keep making it better, we need it!

FECs: The Wild FEC Owner

In my line of work, I cross paths with a lot of people in the amusement industry. But I am developing a special place in my heart for the Family Entertainment Center owners.  All in all they are a pretty fun-loving bunch of people, as you would imagine. I am consistently surprised by their tenacity and commitment to the business of making people happy. More than once some new startup has told me about: losing their building site before the project starts, delays of a year or more, and in one case complete destruction of a facility under construction by hurricane Katrina. But still they push on. 
There is something quite intriguing about middle aged business people who like to think about the best layout for a miniature golf course, what types of games and toys to buy for an arcade, or the ice cream flavor of the month. Of course everyone wants to make a living, but what makes the most successful living in this industry is serving up a great time to guests. Digging into that inner child to remember what makes for fun, leaves a bit of “big kid” floating around on the surface of a lot of these folks.  These owners all have a real connection to their park and behave a lot like a host at a great party.
I think a little part of all of us fantasizes about creating the ultimate playground. I know that there are actually two sites in my hometown that I think are “ripe” for a miniature golf course and go karts. I imagine the teens, children and families of our town enjoying time together outside on a summer evening enjoying a game of mini golf, with the renovated Drive-In across the street for after the game. The food I would serve, the music I would plan…but I digress.
It is a lot harder than it looks. For all of us to have our fun and games, there are some very hard working people coordinating the fun behind the scenes. But, although they work hard, they also seem to carry a bit of the joy they bring to the world with them everywhere they go. The business of fun; what a great business to work with. You guys rock!