REVIEW: Houbii Urban Adventure Park, Jakarta, Indonesia

So I took advantage of a work trip to Jakarta to take my nephews to the new Houbii Urban Adventure Park in the wealthy suburb of Pondok Indah (South Jakarta). Let me share with you some of my impressions and pictures of the place.

First, you can’t miss it. Standing on its own besides the popular Pondok Indah Mall and on the main road, the modern warehouse seems to have been purpose-built for this massive adventure park, with ample on-ground parking space on the side.

After climbing a few steps and passing the main glass door, we were welcome by smiling staff standing in the middle of a bright lobby conveniently bringing together ticketing, lockers, shoe racks, retail and toilets (including a few showers). Pop music and yummy pizza smell contributed to put me in the mood for a fun afternoon!

The ticketing process took a bit long as everyone needs to sign an online waiver first (using a self-service computer), rent special grip socks (unless you already has a pair) and wait for bracelets to be printed with your name and play session time (it goes by 2-hour slots). The place is not cheap for Indonesia; I paid over IDR 700,000 (USD 50) for 2 adults and 2 kids.

No turnstile to get in but just a staff member checking on bracelets. Once inside it’s one big open play area with high ceiling and plenty of natural light. The interior is a mix of industrial (wood, steel) and bright pantone colors. It works well. It feels quite sophisticated and definitely fun, well suited for Houbii’s market of wealthy families and expats living in South Jakarta.

Although it calls itself an adventure park it is more of a big trampoline park complemented by adventure attractions such as ropes course, ninja course, foam pit, fun walls and big slide. The most popular attractions with my nephews (3yo and 5yo) were the foam pit (and its diving board), the dodge ball playground and ninja course.

Houbii does a good job at providing game play for kids of all ages although a lot of the areas are not accessible to kids under 110cm. It was good to see kids playing in groups (some of them clearly met on the day) and challenging each other. Regrettably I didn’t see many adults playing with their kids; I guess it is something Indonesian parents are not quite used to yet. But adults seemed to be quite happy seating upstairs in the cool café overlooking the playground, flanked by a seemingly popular party room!

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REVIEW: Ramoji Film City, Hyderabad, India

My annual trip to India took me to Hyderabad, a city known for its historic sites, its food, its pearls and for one of India’s best theme parks: Ramoji Film City.

Ramoji Film City is an active film studio built by Ramoji Rao, an Indian businessman, film producer, educationist, journalist and media entrepreneur. When it opened in 1996 it became the world’s largest film city as certified by the Guinness World Records.

The park is spread across a sprawling 2,000 acres 1h drive South East of the city. Every year it welcomes up to 1.5million movie fans from all over India (not so much from Hyderabad) as thousands of movies in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi were shot at the studios.

As I arrived from the main road all I could see was the giant Ramoji sign on the hill and the ticketing building (INR1,150 for Adult, INR950 for Child). From there, buses take visitors to the park entrance further inside the giant property. On a hot and dry summer day it very much felt like Hollywood with green oasis in the middle of rolling brown hills.

We got dropped in the Fundustan Zone (theme park rides and kids entertainment), where the beautiful red open buses start the Studio Tour. This is clearly the most exciting part of the day as we are about to see how movie sets come alive.

The tour is very well planned. It starts with a guided drive-through of some of the outdoor sets (Princess Street, North Town, Central Prison) followed by a walk-through of the Bhagavatham movie (Ramayana tale) set and the train station from Chennai Express.

Then everybody gets back on the bus for a few more stops: the gardens (Japanese, Mughal), the Eco Zone (bonsai park, butterfly park, bird park) and the Kripalu Caves. This reminded me of some of the popular ‘hybrid’ parks in Indonesia e.g. Taman Safari, Jatim Parks. I am never too sure if the owners just keep adding these attractions to increase the entertainment value or if there could be some educational reason. But here at Ramoji Film City it seemed even movie fans enjoyed the slight digression!

And now the last stop – and the highlight of the tour – before the final drop off at Movie Magic is the stunning set of the epic Baahubali movie, which got everybody very excited with its blue/green screens and giant props ideal for selfies.

Movie Magic is where the tour ends and it’s just above the Fundustan Zone (and the bus stop to the park exit). This is more of a “Universal Studios” type of zone with western themed facades (incl. a Statue of Liberty), a few attractions (incl. a making-of similar to Cinemagic at Bollywood Parks, Dubai) and live shows. I watched a good 15min black-light show inside the theatre; they also had a stunt show and cultural dance I didn’t get a chance to see.

Overall the experience is high quality thanks to a great maintenance and very helpful staff (they even helped me book a cab back to the city using their personal Ola app). The magic of going behind the scenes works for all ages and therefore everybody is excited and in a good mood. Combined with well-positioned food carts, photo opp (operated by DEI) and 5 restaurants offering 5 distinct menus and atmospheres, I would think the park does a healthy per cap, allowing in return for good maintenance and well trained staff.

Ramoji Film City ticks all the boxes of a successful theme park:

  • Location on a highway within 1h from the city centre of India’s 5th largest city
  • An owner with a vision, attention to details and reinvestment strategy
  • A healthy business model with synergies between the studio and the park
  • A strong drawing power: beloved Indians movies
  • A semi-guided experience for the entire family, which can’t fail
  • Good supporting facilities (hotels, adventure park) for the MICE market

REVIEW: THE RIFT, Exit Reality – Midvalley Megamall, Kuala Lumpur

Not that I have this escapist urge to exit reality but if a place is going to make that promise I ought to check-it out. So this was on my to-do list this past Chinese New Year long weekend. I made it to Midvalley Megamall to exit reality and enter THE RIFT.

This new generation Family Entertainment Centre (FEC) by Aquawalk – the team behind KLCC Aquaria – replaces what used to be MegaKidz and offers a variety of AR/VR-based experiences, mostly for our millennials.

Here staff members are called Rangers, the theming is industrial dark (maybe a bit too dark to my liking) and the music is pumping. Visitors are climbing up and down the two sets of stairs to explore this three-storey venue and participate in up to 20 attractions offering different levels of mix between physical activity and technology (AR/VR).

The layout is effective with a central hub immediately behind the ticketing counter and visible from the mall to attract people inside. The Aquawalk team thought of everything with a café, some lockers, The Rift Junior (simple play area for kids under 12yo) and some party/event rooms.

The Rift brings world-class technology and game-play with some much talked about experiences such as Zero Latency’ free roaming VR shooter, Terminator X laser battle, Trio-Tech’s 3D shooter and Polymorph’s VR Maze.

But what the Rift failed to bring me was joy and happiness. I know I am probably asking for too much but isn’t it why people go to amusement parks? I felt like the additional layer of lenses (cameras, projectors, etc) and gear (VR set, guns, harnesses, etc) kept me away from connecting with people and letting go. As I looked around fellow visitors were either waiting in lines, trapped in their gear or taking pictures of friends trapped in their gear! No one laughing. Few people screaming.

In short I would say the Rift is a very welcome attempt to bring a new generation of FEC and a well designed/operated venue with high quality experiences but maybe not for me. After all I did mention I didn’t feel the need to exit reality! But if you do, you should try it, it’s only RM68 (US$17.5)!

Sekaten: probably the biggest carnival fair in the world

So I happened to be in Yogyakarta for Prophet Mohammad SAW birthday, which is a big muslim holiday, and so I managed to catch the last night of Sekaten. This Night Market celebration is a well-preserved tradition in Yogyakarta. The North Alun-Alun Square turns into the biggest carnival fair you could imagine filled with dozens of rides and endless food kiosks and clothes/gifts stalls.

What struck me was how busy it was and how excited people were about the amusement rides, and yet the rides were very old (borderline antiques) and many of the same sorts. But for IDR10,000 (0.75USD) per ride you could find all your classics: pirate ships, carousels, trampolines, bouncing castles, small trains, big wheels, flying chairs, motorbike cylinder, water boats and even a mini-motorcycle track. And everyone was happy, from your families with young kids to your teenagers and your young adults friends/couples.

For someone in our industry it is always fascinating to see that many people and that much excitement. It’s almost daunting. Because isn’t it what we all aspire to: driving huge attendance numbers and high levels of excitement/satisfaction? So it made me thinking and wondering what learnings to take out from it.

  • Classics work: be it the fear of falling off a rocking boat, or the gentle ride with your loved one on a ferris wheel
  • Size matters: it’s because there are lines and lines of rides, stalls and kiosks everywhere (to the point it’s hard to walk) that people are attracted in the first place; they feel it’s worth it
  • Simple and affordable pricing is king: can you think of anything better than IDR10,000 per ride?
  • Don’t overthink segmentation: families, teenagers, couples, they all live together anyway so they’re happy together in a park/attraction too
  • Fun is contagious: because of the proximity of the rides (safety? oh well not so important!) people see other people have fun and they also want to have fun

These were just a few simple thoughts I wanted to share. It’s always good to go back to basics and remember how our industry started. An now a few pictures of this amazing carnival fair. Enjoy!

PICTURES: Planet Hollywood Observatory

Among the exciting new developments in Orlando is the new Disney Springs, which is Disney’s remarquable foray in retailtainment anchored by none other than the World of Disney store. The two-year redevelopment made way to one of the most interesting retail experiences, which draws big crowds of theme park goers every night.

Interestingly Disney decided to keep some of the ‘classics’ from the Downtown Disney days such as T-Rex, Rainforest Cafe and Planet Hollywood Observatory, which I decided to check out to get an idea of how this institution reinvented (or not) destination family dining.

The building is still as impressive with its huge observatory dome. Only it looked a bit more modern with a new visual identity and lighting. Once inside its a real anthill with people everywhere waiting for a table. And everyone wants to eat inside for the dome experience because we were offered a table outside and we didn’t have to queue!

Some of the new movie displays include videos built-in the glass windows; very cool. My favorite thing in the new decor is the very 80’s cosmic carpet.

But what the 700+ diners distributed on 3 different floors are here for is the massive projection onto the dome, where birthdays are celebrated and occasionally karaoke songs played for a massive sing-along.

The music is blasting, disco lights are flashing, waiters are running everywhere with huge plates of food, this is destination family dining at its best!

 

PICTURES: Montréal en Histoires

I have always thought that museums were ahead of theme parks in experience design; and it’s not that they have more money but rather that they have to be more creative to drive visitorship with less money. Museums are not afraid of bringing new technologies and new disciplines to deliver their messages to a wider audience.

Montréal en Histoires is another example of such multi-disciplinary team creating an amazing experience for visitors and tourists to discover, explore and celebrate Montréal’s history.

On a visit to Montréal I downloaded the app and ventured in the city’s Old Port at night to discover the history of Montréal differently by strolling through the largest outdoor projection circuit in the world. My favorite installation was a projection on a cobblestone street telling an old Indian story, which interacted with people when they walked over. Very cool, very immersive, very memorable.

REVIEW: Fear the Walking Dead Survival, Fremont Street Experience, Downtown Las Vegas

On my recent trip to Las Vegas I headed up to where it all started – Fremont Street – to experience their newest attraction: Fear the Walking Dead Survival.

For those who don’t know Vegas this is an area a bit less glitzy than the Strip (a lot less actually!) but which has been undergoing major redevelopment in an attempt to attract young adults. Fremont Street Experience consisted in covering the entire street with a giant LED canopy, which comes alive at night with music, live performances and all sorts of events. It houses the famous Slotzilla zipline, which takes people the whole length of the canopy. And Fear the Walking Dead Survival is by the same operator.

When I checked online the website offered to buy tickets for one of the 20min slots running from 1pm to 12am (clearly nobody would want to go to Fremont Street before 1pm!). All slots showed still available (total 36pax) before heading out so I figured it would be OK to buy on the spot, and it was. I paid $32.

There were a total of 15 people in our slot, that’s almost half of full capacity. Not bad for 4.30PM on a week day. And it was all young adults in groups of two or four. Right on target audience!

After splitting us in two groups, the experience started with a briefing by a military personnel followed by picture taking and QR code reading (for us to buy pictures at the end of the attraction), sanitization and scanning before the next briefing by military personnel. Our group was then split again into 2 small escape rooms where we had to solve a simple challenge to open the door. A nurse was waiting for us to rush us to a lift (a moving platform) after which we ended up in the dark following a few ‘haunted’ corridors to the final room: the 3D shooting game (by Triotech). Once complete we exited where we started and of course we were offered to purchase pictures.

Sorry that was quite a quick description but that’s basically what happened: a succession of proven attractions concept (escape room, haunted house, 3D shooting) to support a simple (but effective) storyline and leave you on a high with the feeling it’s worth your $32!

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Surprisingly I did have a good time! I had no idea about the Walking Dead franchise but I thought the live actors and the excellent theming delivered an experience that felt genuine. I liked the fact that I had some interaction with other people in the group that I didn’t know before. I liked that technology was used to serve an immersive experience. Overall Triotech successfully found a new way to sell their 3D shooting game, which otherwise can feel quite dated and a bit boring.