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!

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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.

PICTURES: Millenium Park, Kolkata, India

Recently I went to India for a holiday. This was my fourth trip to this amazing country. When in Kolkata I was lucky to visit the popular Millenium Park by the Ganges river, which was full with families having fun on a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon.

Here are a few pictures and some of my thoughts.

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Millenium Park is in the heart of town, next to the administrative centre, and therefore very easy to reach for middle class families who solely rely on public transportation. It is where small boats depart on cruises on the river, an experience not to be missed with singers performing classic Indian tunes.

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The robust children playground is one of the most popular attractions. No matter how rich or poor, how developed or not, active play and interaction with other kids always work!

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Lots of families with kids, parents and grand-parents enjoying watching each other have fun, this is the recipe for success.

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Some mild thrill as leveled playing field for kids, teenagers and adults. Feeling a bit scared and dizzy and sharing it with other people is one good way of creating lasting memories, something our industry is built on.

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I loved watching these teenage girls race these bumper cars with so much passion and laughter.

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The best for last. This rocking boat is handled manually by this man who uses a wheel on a driving belt to push the boat and give it speed, very DIY. Who said our industry had to be high-tech!?

REVIEW: Entopia by Penang Butterfly Farm

Already a very popular attraction visited by more than 5million people and ranking high on tripadvisor, Penang Butterfly Farm recently underwent a major upgrade and became Entopia, a Nature Learning destination. And it’s well worth a visit.

The location, next to Escape Park, has its pros and cons. It’s only minutes away from the major family resorts of Batu Ferringhi but a good half hour drive from Penang city centre. It doesn’t seem to deter school groups and tourists thirsty for nature exploration, who are showing great support to the new facility, and I wanted to find out why. So I recently went and here are a few of my observations.

It starts with a strong and relevant presence on the main road; the building is covered in foliage (vertical gardens) with good signage and a neat looking ticketing and entrance. It feels like we’re in good hands!

The ticket price is higher than Taiping Zoo’s at RM49 (US$11) for adults and RM29 (US$6.5) for children but if you search online you will find lots of discount offers that make it very affordable for every kind of visitor.

The facility is made of large outdoor gardens (Natureland) and a two-storey indoor discovery centre (Cocoon).

The best way to introduce the exhibits is maybe quoting the website: “Entopia is a place designed to inspire visitors to experience nature in a new way. We wish to share the unheard lessons of our natural world with everyone, especially the young. Entopia is a movement to live in harmony with nature – a rallying call for Penangites and the world to get involved! As a centre for nature learning, we bring the best of the insect world and the plant world together for everyone to experience the harmony in nature. It’s a living classroom to learn new things, have fun and share the love of nature. Today, we are pleased to unveil to all our visitors a real-life blueprint for a paradise for invertebrates, plants and humanity.”

This truly transpires in all aspects of the facility starting with the well-themed, well-curated and very entertaining mystery cave featuring amphibians, scorpions, spiders and snakes, which I had the chance to be guided through by a very knowledgeable and jovial tour guide.

Natureland exhibits feature good signs with relevant information, good audio with ambient music and voice recording. The choice of species is just right, not too many. The atmosphere under the butterfly dome is very pleasant, just the right temperature, water features and great photo opportunities.

After Natureland the natural path goes along the café for those in need of a break and then onto Cocoon, the indoor discovery centre. Visitors start with the upstairs exhibition area first, which features nice interactive displays to learn more about butterflies, including their place in some myths and legends, classification and life cycle. My favorite is a small back-of-house type room, where visitors can learn about butterfly breeding with actual breeding going on. Before going down visitors can sit in a cinema room, which is showing a BBC Earth movie. I guess it is more aimed at the school groups market.

The lower part of Cocoon is dedicated to a very cool crawling insects themed exhibition area featuring a dedicated ants room and another room for snails, beetles, etc featuring great jewel tanks placed inside fake tree trunks.

The last exhibition area put me a bit off. It looks like a very themed children museum, where each of the 5 small rooms teaches things about butterflies in association with a theme e.g. a bridal shop, a toy store, a candy store, etc. I guess this is meant more for kids but my childhood must be very far now because I really didn’t understand much of what was going on. I’d be interested to know if kids actually engage. Maybe I’ll learn something about how to create kids exhibitions!

Then it’s classic: a nice big store before the exit, and even a specialty store for nature enthusiasts with material for terrarium, etc: great idea to engage the community.

Overall the experience is world-class and I have to congratulate the staff on a great and visibly passionate attitude as well as a strong attention to details, which results in a very clean and well maintained facility.

I mentioned earlier what struck me at Taiping Zoo was the sense of generosity given by the place and its operator. Well, I find the same applies to Entopia. Just look at how full the entertainment program is and you will feel there’s more than you need or expect. So maybe generosity is one of the keys to success for our industry in the region? Good thing I’m feeling generous in 2017!