Rachel Read

Rachel is a Director of Blooloop. She has an engineering degree and is a Chartered Accountant with over 20 year’s industry experience. She writes about the attractions industry from a business perspective.

Arctic Inspirations Seminar 2016 #FreezingtoDeath

Lappset Ice Hotel wolves backlit

Fabulous Finnish hospitality amid arctic scenery with a little magic sprinkled over and interesting company was the recipe for a second classy conference from Lappset held January 19th to 21st in Rovaniemi.

Lappset Arctic Inspirations Ice Hotel Dinner 1 by Reima Mukkala

An “ice breaking” dinner at the Ice Hotel with sub zero activities was a fantastic way to kick off the event. At -32°C, pretty cold even for Finns, some brave souls sampled the sauna and open air jacuzzi and even slept in the ice hotel itself.

The next day Johanna Ikäheimo, Chairman of the board, Lappset Group and Esko Lotvonen, Mayor, City of Rovaniemi provided a warm welcome to a cold, cold city!

Lappset Arctic Inspirations

Keynote: Memories: The Ultimate Reward for a Positive Experience – Ray Hole, MD Ray Hole Architects

Ray Hole Architects Snowdon 3 800

Creating memories is a transformational process” says Ray. Attractions should utilise all the senses and hit emotional triggers to connect with their audience and create an authentic experience and a lasting memory. Citing examples from KidZania London, SnowdonVisitor Centre, ZSL Lion exhibit and Dreamland Margate, with the moon landings on the way Hole sketched out how this authentic memory creation can lead to strong brand loyalty and a successful business.

Engaging all the senses is key says Ray: “I still lick buildings now. I can tell where a brick comes from just by licking it.” (An interesting claim that is just begging to be put to the test but maybe not during the arctic winter!)

Ray Hole and Nadin Ibrahim at the Ice Hotel Lappset Arctic Inspirations

Ray Hole and Nadin Ibrahim pose at the Ice Hotel

Destination, attraction and visitor experience development process in Prague – Tony Sefton CEO Vision XS 

Survival Park is an attraction concept that captures the Zeitgeist for outdoor adventure and family play.  If all goes to plan, the first park is slated to open June 2017 in Prague with another to follow in Portugal. (“Touch wood,“ said Tony, “If Ray hasn’t licked it!”)

Tony talked briefly about his other new project – Vision Leisure Fund – which will lead investment in the UK wildlife and heritage sector – a growing business currently $3bn under-invested.

Bringing children’s tv animation to life via activity Attractions Peter Rabbit & Octonauts – Ron Allen, SVP Commercial Silvergate Media and Thomas Merrington, VP Brand and Creative, Silvergate Media

With Beatrix Potter’s 150th birthday soon upon us, Silvergate Media are making a timely hop into the attractions sector. Coupling with Lappset their first Peter Rabbit themed adventure playground will open at Willows Activity Farm this Spring.

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground Willows Activity Farm Lappset

Thomas described the challenges in translating the book to the popular animated TV series and then into a farm park activity centre. The real life play has created an opportunity for some creative fun – Mr McGregor’s garden is a maze and his shed a super-sized soft play area to give children the impression of being a little rabbit clambering over the shelves.

Octonauts at Lappset Arctic Inspirations Seminar

Ron then took the floor to share the success of another pre school favourite – The Octonauts. Already in a successful partnership with SEA LIFE and Alton Towers, the Octonauts has potential to travel into China with 1.8bn YouTube hits clocked up for the mandarin version of the show.

Parents love the educational content says Ron: “Thanks to the Octonauts you may be surprised how many pre-schoolers know what Symbiosis is.” 

Benefits of globally known, multi branded activity attractions. Visitors and investors point of view – Georgina Povey, Live Events and Attractions Mattel

Georgina Povey Mattel at SantaPark

With the “novelty of giving and receiving items wearing off” Georgina (an expert at Christmas biscuit decoration) outlined how for millennials, “experiences bring people happiness more than possessions.”

Mattel Play! Liverpool (Heritage GB will be operators with branded play equipment from Lappset Creative) will be the first HIT multi-branded FEC in Europe.  Set to open in Albert Dock, Liverpool in Spring 2016 the play centre will feature Thomas the Tank Engine, Fireman Sam and Bob the Builder.

Mattel Play Liverpool Lappset Heritage GB Thomas and friends

Do we really need technology? Paul Kent Senior Consultant Electrosonic

“We are stuck with technology when what we really want is stuff that works,” Douglas Adams.

Cave Paintings Lascaut

Paul urged us to set our technology goals carefully: “Do you really need the tech? Tech for techs sake is not a reason to proceed.”

He also pointed out that cave paintings are meant to be viewed by firelight – the flickering of real flames animate the hunting scenes.  At the other end of the spectrum is the Integrated Environmental Media System (IEMS) at LAX with seven digital media features.


The message: to identify the appropriate technology for your experience (even if it’s not the newest flashiest stuff) and do it really well.

KWP and elfVirtual Reality VR – Kevin Williams, Director KWP Ltd

Kevin took a whistlestop look at VR in attractions from the arcade to the state-of-the-art VR Ride at EuropaPark by Mack Rides.

These are certainly interesting times for tech.

Creating Extraordinary Experiences – Katja Ikäheimo-Länkinen, Experience Director and Co-owner SantaPark

Katja CZJ

Always a star turn, Catherine Zeta-Jones lookalike Katja entertained with tales of SantaPark. Interesting to note that the luxury end of the business is flourishing – a range of new cabins being built and individual Santa experiences in great demand.

The key is authenticity – perhaps an odd concept given the subject – but Katja’s elves NEVER break character (despite the best efforts of Messrs Hole and Sefton). “It’s authentic,” says Katja, “if the customer feels that it’s real.” Often people will say, “This is Santa is the one I imagined when I was little.”

Arctic tree hotel santa park

Over 1000 would-be elves apply to Santa Park every year and basic requirements aside from a good elf voice include foreign language skills and a cast iron commitment to
character. “Why would so many people want to work for you?” asked a cheeky newcomer of Katja.  A withering stare said it all – this is the the World’s Best Christmas Experience. Apart from the lengthy qualification route – it takes 99 years to complete elf training – who wouldn’t want to be part of the magic?

Happy Elves at SantaPark

Taavi HeikkiläHow to create real snow and ice activity attractions and indoor winter climate systems – Taavi Heikkilaä – Frozen Innovations and Hannu Personen Snow Tek

The cold winter weather has provided Taavi with an easier than usual timetable for the SnowCastle of Kemi this year. Looking positively relaxed, despite what seemed to me to be an enormous amount of work to be done to finish the castle, Taavi and Hannu were relaxed about creating a working hotel out of frozen water in a matter of weeks. Taavi did say that we was thinking of taking a day off so that he wouldn’t miss out on the excitement of the usual last minute panic!

The pair can also create sub-zero experiences anywhere in the world – ice hotels, ice sauna and even ice fishing. “Snow is king in the indoor winter theme park,” says Hannu – you’ve got to “choose the right kind.”

Hands on, Brains on – Sampsa Piira, Designer, Heureka the Finnish Science Center

Based in Vantaa, near Helsinki, Heureka is one of the top 10 science centres in the world. 65% of Finnish adults have visited and most Finnish kids. With a popular outreach programme and a new extension under way in which “to do something different”, Heureka is obviously doing something right.

Sampsa delighted the audience with deadpan Finnish humour and examples of exhibits the highlights were basketball playing rats and “Sex and Space”.

Heureka Finiish Science Center Sex and Space

Sex and Space at Heureka

Apparently the rats are so popular they’re now a permanent feature and retired rats get to stay on and watch the games – I have visions of pensioned off rats in wicker chairs with blankets over their knees – will have to visit Heureka!

Olympic Park- Sports for all case in Prague – Petr Kolar, Authorized architect, ADR

The Czech Expo space at London 2012 was such a success that a further expo and an Olympic park were commissioned in Prague for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The park offered the chance to participate in winter sports and attracted 5 times the expected attendance – 400,000 people. 20,000 kids registered for winter sports clubs after visiting.
For the 2016 Olympics in Brazil there are even more ambitious plans. A centre in Rio will complement 50 sporting activities in 20 villages in Lipno.

Stefano Saporetti – Director Brand – Head of Brand Operations, Ferrari

A real treat for every Ferrari enthusiast was an unscheduled presentation from Stefano. In charge of all things non-vehicular at Ferrari, Stefano gave the conference a valuable insight into the two theme parks (Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and Ferrari Land PortAventura) – 3 more (max) on the cards – and other plans for the Ferrari brand.

Selling just 7,000 cars a year to ultra high net worth individuals Ferrari do no traditional marketing and maintain supply well below demand to maintain their luxury brand equity: “We reach them with F1 but it’s an expensive marketing tool!”

However with the aim of the licencing arm to “democratise and extend the brand” there are challenges to maintain brand equity. “We go with the top players in every category,” says Stefano.

You’re the engine – philosophy in themed activity attractions – Johan Granholm, Director Lappset Creative

As host of the conference Johan ended with a summary of Lappset’s latest attractions and plans to get us all playing. With DJ/dance adapted structures for teens including a smart phone enabled mixing table through to outdoor gyms with training programmes to your phone and senior play parks in Spain.

urban survival from lappset creative

Johan finished with a bombshell: “We have a new baby – Survival – and the father is Tony Sefton!” A soap opera style cliff hanger that will ensure we tune in next year!

Dinner at SantaPark with elf basic training, biscuit decorating and an audience with the Big Man himself (Santa not Johan), as well as a briefest glimpse of the aurora rounded off a stimulating and enjoyable day.

Elf School at SantaPark

Thanks to Johan, Asko and the rest of the Lappset team for an interesting programme and a fun event. This has to be one of the most enjoyable conferences (aside from blooloopLIVE of course) that we attend. Kiitos!

Images: Lappset, Blooloop and special thanks to Reima Mukkala.

Come to Wuyishan and Extend your Life!

Ms Guo, President Wuyishan Culture & Tourism Investment Group, says that she feels lucky to have been born and live in such a beautiful place as Wuyishan with its clear waters, beautiful countryside, tea and relaxed way of life.

“Come to Wuyishan and extend your life,” Ms Guo told us when Blooloop visited Wuyishan’s latest attraction, the multimedia spectacular, “Fountain of Dreams” from ECA2 (see full article and press release).

countryside in wuyishan china

We thought our readers might like to know more about the plans for Wuyishan.

Ms Guo and Mr Zhong, General Manager Wuyishan Clearwater Festival Tourism Cultural Ltd Co, are heading up the development of Wuyishan from a small (250,000 population) town in Fujian province with a UNESCO World Heritage site on its doorstep to a fully-Mr Zhong General Manager Wuyishan Clearwater Festival Tourism Cultural Ltd Co fledged world class holiday destination. Over a traditional tea ceremony they explained the plans for the region.

The development strategy for the area is focussed on enhancing the existing local areas of interest as well as introducing world class attractions such as the Fountain of Dreams show, all with a view to preserving the Ms Guo President Wuyishan Culture and Tourism Investment Group environment and the pace of life.

The local Wuyi Mountain scenic area park is an established draw for tourists. With stunning limestone rocks worn smooth and etched by waterfalls and a nine bend river, the area has many beautiful walks and areas of historic significance as well as a bamboo raft ride.

In 2010 the Impressions of Dahongpao show by Chinese movie director Zhang Yimu was introduced to encourage guests to stay overnight for one or two nights. In 2014 the Impressions show welcomed 530,000 people generating tax revenues of 8 million RMB.


Scheduled for completion on June 30th is a rail fast link to Fuzhou, joining Wuyshan to China’s high speed rail network. Journey times to Beijing will be reduced to seven hours and Shanghai to 3 hours 20 minutes. There will be a potential 40,000 train passengers a day with access to Wuyishan at this point of which it is estimated that 10% may stop off in Wuyishan.

Figures from the Wuyishan Tourism Culture Group record tourist numbers for 2013 at 7.3 million. This rose to 9.3 million in 2014 as a result of marketing efforts and the rapid increase in the numbers of car owners in China. In addition the Group ran a promotion for 1RMB entry to the national park during a Chinese autumn festival to test how the area coped with being at full capacity.

There are eight attractions to be included in the next phase of Wuyishan’s development:

Fountain of Dreams

WUY_BestOf-15The Fountain of Dreams multimedia spectacular from ECA2 opened on April 10th. The impact of the show is expected to be to increase the length of stay of visitors and the show is aimed at a family audience.

Flower World

lotus blossom flower park wuyishan

WuFu is a local town which has around 7,000 hectares of lotus flowers – 350 species – and 1,000 hectares of roses. Accommodation and restaurants and infrastructure are being built around the town.

Tianhong Polar Aquarium Park

Tianhong Polar Ocean Park 1200

A large aquarium is being built by a private developer (Tainhong Touristic Projects Investment Ltd Co) across the road from Fountain of Dreams. It is expected to open in summer 2015.

Historic Attraction

An attraction is under development to celebrate the area’s involvement in the roots of the cultural revolution.

Wuyi Palace – Song Dynasty Street

A street with architecture reflecting that of the Song Dynasty is under development at Wuyi Palace.


A camping area is under development.


XiaMei wuyishan china

XiaMei is a historic tea town with architecture from the Song dynasty will feature in the group of attractions presented as things to do in Wuyishan to tour operators.


An attraction recreating the home of local poet Zhuxi is under development. Phase one of this is already completed.

For more information about Fountain of Dreams please see article and press release.

Further pictures from Mr Zhong, General Manager Wuyishan Clearwater Festival Tourism Cultural Ltd Co can be seen in this gallery.


All Aboard the Hogwarts Express – Photo Op on Platform 9 ¾

Hogwarts Express Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour

The preview of the Hogwarts Express at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter last week was a classy affair as would be expected from this classy attraction, with great attention to detail, quality, authenticity and a touch of magical inspiration.

Dry ice cocktails at Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio TourThe 78 year old steam engine in Hogwarts Express livery, displayed with billowing steam in a permanent new 20,000 sq ft recreation of Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross Station, opened to the public on Thursday 19th March.

The evening preview event gave Blooloop and other lucky industry insiders including Lesley Morisetti, Ray Braun, Paul Kent, Sarah Joyce and Baz Slatter the opportunity to tour the finished attraction, with the welcome enhancement of cocktails and canapes.

Popping Candy Eton Mess at Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio TourA touch of magic had been added by the caterers – ‘smoking’ cocktails and a surprise twist of popping candy in the Eton Mess.

Then there were the special guest stars – real owls, a rat and a very grumpy Crookshanks cat on the platform. Typically the cat stole the show with its lack of co-operation.  We waited quite a while for this shot.

Cruickshanks at Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour

Of course the platform would be incomplete without a gift shop stocked with the new Hogwarts Express merchandise.

Hogwarts Express Merchandise Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour

The focal point of the platform expansion is naturally the beautifully lit, red, shiny steam engine and carriage.

Exclusive reveal of the Hogwarts Express - at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London

However, the options available to create an attraction from the train itself are clearly limited by the narrowness of the carriage passageway and compartment layout. Visitors queue to walk down the passageway of the carriage in single file. Each (closed) compartment is set out with props from one of Harry’s years at Hogwarts. It’s well done and authentic and lots of people were taking the opportunity to have their photos taken waving goodbye to loved ones on the platform.

Hogwarts Express carriage at Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour

What’s interesting is how this particular section of the Warner Bros experience caters to the needs of the selfie generation. Perhaps because of the limitations of the Hogwarts Express as a centrepiece, other than looking very beautiful, there has been a deliberate effort to create photo opportunities for the young Potter fans. Some of these are informal, like waving from the train, but there are two structured photo ops on the platform, developed in partnership with Picsolve, that enhance the visitor experience by putting the guest in the film, which is after all where they want to be.

Mark Williams, Mr Weasley in the Harry Potter film series, pushes the luggage trolley on Platform 9 -¥ at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London

The first photo op is a simple pushing the trolley into the wall scene. But it’s well done with attendants offering a choice of Hogwart’s house scarves as well as advice on posing.

The second is much more high tech, and an experience in itself, created in the same interior train carriage set that was used for filming. This railway carriage section has green screen windows that show iconic moments from the Potter train journeys.  A voice over encourages the riders to interact with the film by trying to catch escaping chocolate frogs or cowering at the sight of Dementors. With moments of recognition and the odd jump, the attraction nicely extends the experience in a way that is impossible to do on the train itself.

Picsolve Hogwarts Express carriage set Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour

Of course there are many fantastic examples of animatronics and innovative AV throughout this wonderful studio tour that engage visitors with the superb props that can’t be touched. Here’s our montage of the best moving bits from the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter including some from the Hogwarts Express.

Image credit: Hogwarts Express image on empty platform and Mark Williams pushing trolley courtesy of Warner Bros Studio Tour London.

Creating Inherited Memories: Can We Make Thrill Seeking Hereditary?

cherry blossom

Scientists have found experimental evidence that mice whose father or grandfather had learned to associate the smell of cherry blossom with an electric shock exhibited nervous tendencies when they smelled the same odour. (New Scientist article “Fear of a smell can be passed down several generations” based on research by Brian Dias at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta)

The research points to a biological mechanism which allows memories to be inherited and is backed up by previous studies suggesting that stressful events can affect the emotional behaviour of future generations. The theory is that a process, known as epigenetic inheritance, can make chemical changes to DNA in response to emotional responses.

Although the theories have not been definitively proved, and smell is unusual among the senses in that the genes controlling the body’s response to it can be relatively easily identified, extrapolating the theory (in a wildly unscientific manner) could have interesting relevance for the experience economy.

To what extent can we influence the emotional reactions of our descendants through our own experiences? By seeking out and enjoying thrill rides will we produce children and grandchildren who will be more inclined to be rollercoaster nuts? Similarly could a scare on a coaster at an impressionable age mean that our progeny will shy away from adrenaline fuelled rides?

It is the goal of most visitor attractions to provide guests with happy memories in order to generate customer loyalty and of course repeat visits. Perhaps the positive experiences of individuals could actually create a propensity for brand loyalty from a whole family for future generations!

It certainly gives a rather longer term meaning to Herschend Family Entertainment’s vision: “Creating Memories Worth Repeating®”!

‘Englishnization’/ ‘disgalapagosisation’: globalisation the Rakuten way

Rakuten, the Japanese B2B2C internet marketplace, aims to realise ambitions to be “the number one internet services company in the world" with an interesting globalisation strategy.  As well as a series of bold ‘internet shopping’ acquisitions, the company has instigated compulsory ‘Englishnization’ aHiroshi Mikitani, founder, chairman and CEO of Rakutennd a DIY clean desk policy to prepare for taking on Amazon.


Rakuten chairman, CEO and founder Hiroshi Mikitani requires all employees to be fluent in English and gave them just three months to get up to scratch!  All meetings and internal communications are now to be conducted entirely in English to ensure that the internet giant can operate as a truly global group.

The plan is known as ‘Englishnization’ or ‘disgalapagosisation’ [dis-Galapogos-isation] which reflects Mikitani’s view that Japan needs to be less isolationist and communicate better with the rest of the world to compete globally.  Rakuten laid on language lessons for staff, but those unable to get to a suitable level of proficiency risked losing their jobs.

Here’s a link to an interview with the BBC about ‘Englishnization’.

Internet Shopping and a Clean Desk

Rakuten is still relatively unknown outside of Japan, deliberately keeping a low profile until ready to take on competitors in the global market in 2012.  The company, founded 15 years ago with just 13 clients, now has annual revenues of $4 billion.

For those interested in learning more there is an excellent interview with Mikitani on Wired which looks at his background and plan for world domination.  Some key elements below:

Another initiative from Mikitani is to do without office cleaners; all employees are responsible for cleaning their own work spaces on Monday mornings to "to bring us back to basics".

In addition to insisting that all staff become fluent in English and clean their own desks, Mikitani instigated a series of acquisitions of internet retailers which has catapulted Rakuten into 27 countries:

  • Rakuten LogoAmerica’s Buy.com – $250 million
  • France’s PriceMinister – €200 million
  • UK’s Play.com – £25 million
  • Canada’s Kobo – $315 million
  • Germany’s Tradoria
  • Brazil’s Ikeda

… as well as a series of other investments:

  • $100 million investment in Pinterest
  • $10 million funding round in AhaLife
  • A minority investment in Russia’s leading etailer, OZON

Merlin Entertainments: LEGOLAND Windsor Hotel Review

With “resort positioning” a key strategy for Merlin Entertainment’s continued expansion, the hotel Legoland windsor hotel guarded by a lego dragonturns the hugely successful theme park into a destination resort.

Related: John Jakobsen sets out Merlin Entertainment’s strategy for LEGOLAND parks  / Nick Varney, CEO of Merlin Entertainments Group sets out his six point growth driver plan

From the moment we walked through the entrance to the hotel, guarded by a giant “fire breathing” dragon, my little boy was in LEGO heavelego minifigures behind reception at legoland resort windsor hoteln and any disappointment that the hotel was not actually made of LEGO bricks was quickly forgotten.

The whole hotel is themed with LEGO, from the reception desk with 6,000 minifigures (and a large moving magnifying glass to view them), to the walls, carpets and rooms. 

There is LEGO everywhere: over 15 million LEGO bricks were used to create the hotel’s 1,600 models.  The three floors of the hotel each have an iconic LEGO theme, legoland windsor pirate themed bedroomPirates, Kingdom or Adventure and each of the 150 themed bedrooms has hand-made LEGO models of parrots, monkeys, spiders and ladybirds. 

The rooms are fantastic – cool theming but also really well thought out.  Ours had a Pirate theme – skulls, buried treasure and cutlasses.  The adult’s area is separated from the kids’ bunk beds so that bedtime can (theoretically) be enforced, and each area has its own TV.  A legoland windsor hotel monkey safenice touch is a room-based game where the solution is the combination for a safe containing LEGO goodies.  There is even a big box of LEGO – it was hard to persuade our son to leave the bedroom.

In the restaurant a lot of planning has gone into creating an area where kids can play safely while their parents relax.  The centrepiece is a huge castle play structure with other areas to play and build LEGO with new friends.  All the kids seemed to be having a blast and getting on together. 

legoland windsor hotel skyline barThe adjacent Skyline bar area had LEGO skyscrapers – complete with the odd bathing stormtrooper- set against a setting sun.  The designers have done an excellent job incorporating the quirky humour of recent LEGO brands into the designs.  The children’s entertainment, helpful staff and design of the space together with lifts that only work with room keys, means that parents can enjoy a pre-dinner drink and grown up snacks whilst the kids are having a great time in a safe environment.

The restaurant is bright and cheery with loads more funny LEGO figures to look at, and holes in the partitions to be climbed through.  Dinner is buffet style, another huge relief for parents of fussy eaters.  The kids’ food is at a low level with child-proof bolegoland windsor hotel restaurant with lego chefswls and plates so little ones can help themselves.  The food is good too – a nice selection, fresh and good quality, healthy options and an ice cream maker and LEGO shaped chips.  Breakfast was also wonderful with gorgeous waffles. 

Tables have paper tablecloths with crayons provided.  The whole thing is just fun and relaxed and about having a good time as a family.  No-one was bored and fidgety, and even if they did get fed up there was no problem with leaving the table, climbing through a wall or helping themselves to another bowl of cheesy pasta. There also were plenty of meet and greet LEGO characters for photo opportunities.

The only regret I have is that we were having such a good time we didn’t get to have a movie and popcorn back in the room. 

dinosaur safari at legoland windsorI do have two older daughters (12 and 14) who although they have enjoyed playing with LEGO did wonder whether they’d like the weekend.  In fact, they had a ball largely thanks to the lovely Karen (Customer Service) who was just brilliant at talking to them and making the whole experience fun. 

The next day we hit the park.  My son got his driving licence which he took for show-and-tell on Monday and we went on Atlantis (the park’s underwater aquarium experience/ride) twice –wide eyed amazement that we were under water.  Staying in the hotel meant that we got in an hour early and being able to beat the queues for our favourite rides was much appreciated.

star wars lego yodaWe had an illustration of why LEGOLAND is just so great at providing a perfect environment for younger children.  We were standing in a (small) queue for a ride and my son was playing at being Ben 10 watched by another boy of a similar age.  Suddenly my son slapped his wrist, saying “It’s time to go Ultimate!” with an appropriately grave countenance.  The other little boy looked really impressed. “Uh, oh,” he said, realising the seriousness of the situation. This is a place where boys can be boys and LEGOLAND understand.  A refreshing change from hanging around with a bored small boy while my “cool” daughters queue for some mega coaster whilst listening to hip hop on their ipods.  It was wonderful to be in a place just for pre-teens.

Lego adventures of clutch powers dvdFor the older kids, however, the dragon coaster was thrilling enough to be fun and we all absolutely loved the Star Wars film.  Even in 2D LEGO have taken a brick from Pixar’s model and made family films with enough humour in to appeal to adults.   We enjoy the LEGO Wii games at home for their humour as much as the hours of gaming fun. It’s a great move for LEGO to branch out into movies and ultimately create their own IP, for instance with Clutch Powers, star of LEGO’s first feature length character film.   There is more of a link to the video games in LEGOLAND Billund, with a Wii area and I will be interested to see if this will be extended to the other parks as it’s definitely an element of the brand that our kids enjoy.

In an interview with Blooloop last year, LEGOLAND MD John Jakobsen explained that the appeal of LEGOLAND is to provide a “completely differentiated experience based on interactivity and engagement by all family members”.  With this in mind, we battled as a family on the firetrucks, a race to put out a fire and get your fire engine back first.  Like many families, the inter-family competition is fierce and we struggle to play games harmoniously: there was much taunting and jeering as the girls romped home to an easy victory.

lego star wars driod tri fighterIn the shops the Star Wars range was a hit.  Again the customer service is top notch.  A very helpful girl at the Castle shop rang around to try to help me in my ultimately hopeless quest to get a Bellatrix minifigure.

With prices starting from £247 in low season to £337 in high season for a themed family room (2 adults / 2 children), including breakfast and park tickets for two days, this isn’t a cheap night away.

However, I would say that our trip was one of the best 24 hours we’ve had as a family with something for everyone.  My little boy now wants to live at the LEGOLAND hotel and even the girls want to work at LEGOLAND when they grow up.

What’s a happy memory worth after all?



Dancing in the Park: LEGOLAND Florida Opens

legoland florida general manager adrian jones of merlin entertainments

Above: LEGOLAND Florida General Manager dances at the opening event

Related: Update on LEGOLAND Florida: John Jakobsen sets out Merlin Entertainment’s strategy for LEGOLAND parks / Merlin Entertainments Group opens fifth LEGOLAND® Park / The World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park? LEGOLAND Florida’s GM, Adrian Jones, Talks to Blooloop

LEGOLAND position themselves firmly in the pre teen market, successfully leveraging the LEGO brand to promote an experience rich in imaginative play and family participation.  John Jakobsen, MD LEGOLAND Parks, describes their deceptively simple strategy: “we specialise in knowing exactly how we can make children happy”.

Owned by Merlin Entertainments the park, set in Winter Haven Florida on the site of Cypress Gardens, marks another step in Merlin’s aggressive growth strategy in the US.  “Our ambitions for this marketplace are tremendous,”* said Nick Varney, Merlin’s CEO pictured below at LEGOLAND Florida beside the Coastersaurus, the only wooden coaster in LEGOLAND Florida .

nick varney ceo merlin entertainments at legoland florida


* reported in The New York Times


“And the bigger one is called a Giant Leonopterix” : Theme Park Designers on the Disney / Avatar News

James Cameron and Bob Iger, CEO, The Walt Disney Company discuss the Avatar Theme Park"AVATAR is a uniquely powerful franchise that has global appeal with audiences of all ages," said

Thomas O. Staggs, Chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts yesterday.   (see : Disney, Fox and James Cameron to Bring AVATAR to Life at Disney Parks) Whilst AVATAR was undoubtedly successful as an event and as a piece of business, it could be argued that it was less so as a film, a special effects triumph but a rather mundane narrative.

In my opinion it was a brilliant piece of film making, and the plot and characters, though perhaps perfunctory, were always going to be secondary to the astonishing world of Pandora. It is the unique visuals and of course the promise of sequels to come that will propel the franchise to further continued success and  with Disney sprinkling their magic the theme park rides and experience will undoubtedly be ground breaking. We spoke to some leading theme park creatives to see what they thought…

Dave Cobb, Sr. Creative Director at Thinkwell Design & Production:

"At first glance, it may look like an odd fit to put AVATAR into Disney’s Animal Kingdom park – “isn’t that a sci-fi movie?” seems to be a common question. However, AK was always intended to have a section with mythical animals: "Beastly Kingdom" was an abandoned land concept with unicorns and dragons. Replace that with Pandora’s creatures and glowing bioluminescent environments, and you have some truly amazing creative potential. AVATAR was both a metaphor for ecology and an eye-popping, cutting-edge spectacle — both of which would fit perfectly in Animal Kingdom. I can’t wait to fly on an Ikran amongst the floating mountains!" 

Brent Young, Owner CCO Super 78:

“This development is proof positive that the theme park arms race is on and Disney’s going head-to-head with Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  There’s no other reason for Disney to shoehorn an Avatar attraction into a park they’ve spent 14 years positioning as an animal park, because the minute the new experience opens, it becomes the Avatar theme park, upstaging the Animal Kingdom brand.  The better play would be to leverage the new Marvel relationship and blend it with Avatar to create a new park that’s more appropriate for the more adult themes those brands represent – Disney’s Sci-Fi Kingdom.” 

Norm Elder, President/CEO at Norman J.T. Elder & Associates, Inc.: 

"Avatar is a terrific content "fit" for Disney on many levels.  First, it is certainly the most vivid and convincing creation of a fantasy world ever seen in the history of motion pictures.  It immerses you in a thoroughly compelling world, imagined and crafted with a depth of detail that is amazing.  And it conveys multiple profound, challenging messages via an archetypal story designed for mass appeal….for those "eight to eighty," as James Cameron said. And the Disney organization has the creative talent and financial horsepower to bring the story to life experientially and emotionally.  Blending their multi-dimensional story-telling talents with those of James Cameron can only result in experiences never before presented in themed entertainment environments." 

Amelia Ulmer, Business Development at Mousetrappe, Inc.:

"This is an exciting announcement for the themed entertainment industry.  James Cameron pushed 3D visuals to a mind-blowing new level and Avatar has raised the audience’s expectations for in-theater immersion.  Of course, we’ve all been lost in the story of a film before, but together we “went to” Pandora.

What an exciting challenge for Disney to push the boundaries of immersive storytelling and technical execution that will transport park goers into a touchable Pandora.

It is an intriguing and compelling concept to join the immersive natural environment of Disney’s Animal Kingdom with James Cameron’s otherworldly vision of nature and environment.   I can’t wait to experience it."

Dave Goodman, CEO at Goodman Experiences LLC :

"I think the addition of "Avatar" to the Disney family of theme parks is a brilliant choice. With close to 3 billion dollars in revenue worldwide, the film clearly captured the imaginations of a global audience.

The race to obtain recognizable intellectual property that can propel immediate revenue growth within a larger brand like Disney, Universal, (or now SeaWorld), is getting more and more competitive.

Management seems to be searching for the "sure thing" during these challenging economic times. It seems to me that Iger and Staggs have found what most would consider a "sure thing".

That being said, the execution of such a strong property like "Avatar" is always a challenge and for some possibly a concern.

There is no doubt in my mind that the team at Walt Disney Imagineering and Entertainment will find the right methods, (attractions, live shows, atmosphere entertainment, merchandise etc), to properly showcase the essence of the film in ways that reach their Guests.

It will be interesting to see how they execute the content and even more importantly, how they tell the story itself and create a positive emotional response…one that can fit well with both Disney’s core conceit and the overall message in "Avatar". 

William Gorgensen, Board Member at TEA European & Middle Eastern Division:

"There came a point after the loss of Frank Wells when the developers took over the reins of WDI and the focus shifted from innovation to acquisition.  This was the period that started with non-Disney brands such as Planet Hollywood, Rain Forest Cafe, House of Blues, etc. were included into Disney locations.  Some of these were successful, some not and even some of the more successful ones were not necessarily up to the design, story or level of quality that we had been told was the Disney trademark.

I see this bonding with Avatar much in the same light.  I realize it was a big film in terms of technology and box office but the story was a bit mundane ( Dances with Wolves is often alluded to).  Although there are two more films in the pipeline, the 3D craze is slowing tremendously and the capture method is in use more and more so, in order for this franchise to be one on which to hang a number of multimillion dollar theme parks, they have to be much better than the original.  If not, the franchise will die and it might take the parks with them.  This is not an IP like Indiana Jones, Star Trek or Star Wars consisting of multiple films, some good, some bad, which allow the IP to take a hit off and on and still survive.  This is only one film and, in industry standards, a dated one.  Personally, I would have like to have seen an innovative addition coming from the WDI brain trust rather than one where an outside idea is brought in and a Disney name is put on it but, who knows?  Maybe it will work."

Al Cross, Vice President PGAV Destinations :

"Star Wars and Indiana Jones proved Disney’s ability to adapt non-Disney properties into theme park experiences. So, on the surface there’s no reason to doubt that Avatar will succeed. I can imagine a rich, wildly themed environment, and ride concepts are already jumping out of my brain. What I hope for is an approach that engages the real (earthly) animals who are the genuine heart of Animal Kingdom. And while that’s easy to say, merging a story about another planet, with its own imaginary wildlife, into the story of our planet, its wildlife and its future … and still meet the expectations of the theme park guest … well, now, that’s a tall order. It sounds like fun. I wish I could be involved."

David Willrich, Managing Director, DJ Willrich Ltd. :

I am intrigued that Disney do not feel that they have enough of their own IP to have to dive down this path. Whilst I can understand the concept of AVATAR being a good fit in Animal Kingdom, I don’t see it integrating well into the other parks around the world. Having said that, they have a great opportunity and excuse to go as high-tech as Imagineering can muster up the budget for!

In my view the all time best Theme Park attraction is Spider Man, in Universal’s Island of Adventure and I have to confess that I was disappointed to not have replaced this with Harry Potter in the same park. With AVATAR, Disney certainly have a theme that can both take on and deliver the worlds best Theme Park attraction………

Image:WALT DISNEY PARKS AND RESORTS WORLDWIDE CAMERON & IGER Groundbreaking filmmaker James Cameron and Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, share their collaborative vision for bringing the incredible world of AVATAR to life in Disney parks.(PRNewsFoto/Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Worldwide, Scott Brinegar) BURBANK, CA UNITED STATES

Genting Singapore Plc second quarter results: 40% increase in visitors to Universal Studios Singapore

Related:  Genting Singapore Plc’s Integrated Resorts-from Drawing Board to Reality / Lion City roars in 2010  / Full Announcement

sentosa island singapore panarama gentengNon-gaming revenues increased by 40% from S$94m to S$132m.  The S$6.6bn resort which began a phased opening in January 2010 and so the quarter ended 30 June 2011 is the first that can be directly compared to prior years full operational trading.  Daily average visitor numbers were 10,300 with an average spend of S$83 per head.  Occupancy at Singapore Integrated Resorts’ hotels for the quarter was 88% with an average rate per room of S$317.

Genting suffered significant losses this quarter in their gaming business which resulted in an overall decline in revenues of 17% from S$874m to S$727m.

The company plans significant new attractions in the near future to continue to develop the resort, as set out in the following comments from the quarterly financial announcement:

“We are particularly excited about the jump in volume and earnings from the non gaming business in the second quarter of 2011; with Universal Studios Singapore drawing 40% more visitors compared to the preceding quarter. The park’s growth is most encouraging not only from a short term perspective, but more importantly it continues to establish the Singapore IR as the premier resort destination for the affluent in Asia. We continue to build on the Singapore IR’s appeal with new attractions. The Maritime Experiential Museum will open in October 2011, followed by the world-wide debut of Transformers – a major blockbuster attraction in USS in December 2011.

Also at the end of this year, we will add more luxury rooms at our high end West Zone. There will be larger suites and magnificent luxurious villas. Each of these villas have its own swimming pool, access to a beautifully landscaped environment and views of the spectacular sun set over the Straits. These accommodations, when fully completed by first quarter of 2012, will be highly complementary to our vision to be the playground for the rich and famous in Asia.”


Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea: OLC’s results for Q1 to 30 June 2011

Related:  OLC’s 2013 Strategic Plan: Bringing Happiness / ZED: Juggling Fire at Tokyo Disneyland / Norm Elder on Disney, Universal and State Dependant Memory 

Below is a graph showing the comparison between Q1 2010 and Q1 2011, with a “bridge” between the two.  Unfavourable reductions in net sales across the business are partly offset by cost savings.  .

tokyo disneyland results


In an update describing the recent situation OLC noted that:

  • Guest numbers had recovered to prior year levels by July due to solid admissions of guests from metropolitan areas, recovery in the guest numbers from the regions and guest recognition of new products such as “Fantasmic!”
  • Net sales per guest had recovered by May
  • Hotel occupancy rates have improved with the summer holidays
  • Cost efficiency measures will continue
  • Efforts to attract more guests will include rolling out 10th Anniversary events at Tokyo DisneySea from September together with various marketing initiatives
  • ¥3 billion has been invested in private generators which will come online in late August to combat effects of government’s power saving measures
  • ¥2.1 billion to be posted as an extraordinary loss in Q2 relating to the cancellation of "ZED" performances at the Cirque du Soleil Theatre Tokyo from 31 December 2011