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Live Active Cultures

Seth kicks off the season of getting with a trip to IAAPA, the world's biggest walk-through wish book for theme-park geeks

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I’m ready to launch into the holiday season, which really means one thing: loot. Lucky me, I recently attended the world’s biggest walk-through wish book for theme-park geeks. From Nov. 14-18, the annual International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions expo drew more than 25,000 attendees to the Orange County Convention Center, forming a funfair that completely engulfed the cavernous North/South Building.

If you’ve never attended, it’s hard to imagine how massive IAAPA’s meetup of ride-makers and treat-bakers has become; picture the Central Florida Fair times 50, and you’re halfway there. I spent almost four hours power-walking the expo floor’s mile-long alleys, only stopping to examine the most interesting displays; I still couldn’t see everything inside, much less the outdoor areas. But even at a brisk pace, I was able to pick up on some potential trends that may turn up at area attractions, along with a few outliers I hope might make it into the amusement mainstream.

Even though IAAPA reported a 3 percent attendance increase over 2010, the convention center’s midway seemed slightly diminished. While there were still plenty of seizure-inducing light displaysand towering inflatable creatures, I missed the massive indoor rides, most of which moved outside. Zamperla, which demoed drop tower rides on the floor in years past, had a fairly dull booth this time, as did coaster builders Bolliger & Mabillard and Maurer Söhne. And I wasn’t brave enough to try the Fishpipe, a giant spinning human hamster ball filled with water that I can only compare to an industrial washing-machine simulator.

Real thrill rides may have been scarce, but virtual ones were abundant. At past expos I noted an explosion of 3-D; this year, the coolest 3-D demo on the floor came courtesy of local firm Crunchy Logistics, which showed me the home entertainment holy grail: my first glasses-free big-screen 3DTV. The resolution is still a little low, but it really works, even with multiple viewers. With a little work, this could be the future of your living room.

However, three dimensions apparently aren’t enough anymore, as Triotech was promoting “the world’s first 7Di” virtual interactive dark ride, and I saw at least one poster promoting “9D.” I’m not sure I have enough eyes for that. The best multidimensional joyride I sampled was Alterface’s Desperados 5Di, an upgrade of the ride-slash-game I enjoyed a couple of IAAPAs ago. It was still a rough prototype, but any day I get to shoot 3-D zombies in the head is a great day.

Speaking of zombies, there were two standouts among the haunt suppliers. Scare Factory combined dozens of its animatronics into a horror-themed shooting gallery that genuinely made me jump. Even scarier were Pale Night Productions’ high-tech haunted house props; I wish I’d closed my mouth before that guy’s head exploded 2 feet from my face.

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