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The Greatest (Trade) Show On Earth

January 08, 2020

From Orlando, With Love

Where can you find an animatronic dinosaur with a tongue as big as your head? Hang a right at the pirate ship. Follow the sound of a donkey singing Jimmy Buffett covers in a Hawaiian T-shirt, then tread carefully through some low-lying clouds created by an ultrasonic fog machine. Don’t get distracted by the liquid fireworks display. Weave through swimmers in a virtual ocean; go left at the inflatable zombie. If you get to Spiderman doing aerial yoga, you’ve gone too far. 

This is the showroom floor of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. At least, this is the showroom floor during the annual expo put on by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions — IAAPA —the industry’s leading trade organization. From November 18 through November 22, Morey’s Piers sent 33 employees to this massive exhibition — more than any company we know of — in order to learn, network and feel invigorated about the work that we do. Alongside leaders from Disney, Universal and Six Flags, we spent a week immersed in all things amusement park. 

“We come here to develop new ideas and to feel inspired,” said second-generation partner Jack Morey during one IAPPA meet-and-greet. “When you leave here, you feel like you can do anything.” (It’s possible he followed this up with a few rousing bars of “Climb Every Mountain.”) 

Jack is so committed to this event, in fact, 20 years ago he biked to IAAPA from New Jersey along with chief operating officer Geoff Rogers and one other rider. It took about 10 days, at 70 to 105 miles per day, and everyone survived unscathed (except for a bout with food poisoning courtesy of the chicken and dumplings from a Georgia gas station).  

IAAPA Trade Show Floor, photo courtesy of IAAPA

So… what’s all the fuss about? What kind of expo is worth risking life and limb (and stomach)? 

For the Moreys, this is a family tradition that dates back 50 years. Jack and his brother Will remember attending as little boys, when their father, late Morey’s Piers’ founder Will Morey, Sr, first instilled in them the importance of traveling for inspiration. Now, they’re joined by their own sons — all four of whom hold management positions within the company — and a team of colleagues who describe the event as total sensory overload… in a good way.

“You have no appreciation for how large and immersive this industry is until you go down that escalator for the first time and enter this giant playground,” says senior operations manager George Rohman. “It’s a pretty powerful experience.” 

The week kicked off with an opening ceremony emceed by Jonathan Lee Iverson, first African-American ringmaster for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. “We are so lucky to work in a field that is all about making people happy,” he told the crowd. “This week is all about what’s new, what’s now and what’s next. Inspiration will be everywhere.” 

Then, making the ceremony especially poignant for our group, 92-year-old architect Fred Langford was inducted into the IAAPA Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Walt Disney. Fred, largely considered the father of modern-day waterslides, was the first business partner of Will Morey Sr. (We’re not crying… you’re crying!) But more on that in an upcoming post...  

Fred Langford designed the majority of the waterslides you see at Morey's water parks today.

From here, 38,000 (not a typo) industry professionals dispersed to attend seminars on everything from digital marketing to sustainability. Denise Beckson, vice president of HR, found one panel discussion between industry CEOs especially rewarding. 

“It’s always interesting to hear about other leadership styles and philosophies,” Denise said. “There are always a few nuggets of wisdom in the session, advice that makes you think or re-think how you lead and manage.” 

When our group wasn’t attending seminars, they were exploring the showroom floor, walking more than eight miles a day to cover the 585,000-square-foot space. With more than 1,100 companies from around the world selling games, rides, and other amusement-park accessories, the place was a neon-lit whirlwind of dizzying stimuli. In one aisle? Important men in business suits playing soccer with cartoon Minions. In another? Rodeo clowns dancing under a 35-foot Christmas tree lit up like the American flag.

Maggie stops to indulge in some cookie dough (the kind that's safe to eat)!

Ever wonder what it’s like to play next-generation Pacman on a 4-D TV? Or interact with a talking Sphinx hologram? Ski down a mountain on a cutting-edge snow-sport simulator? We saw it all. The only thing missing was Shaquille O’Neal unveiling the world’s first at-sea roller coaster. Wait, hold up, that happened, too. (Shaq is the CFO, or Chief Fun Officer, for Carnival Cruise Line, and the company’s BOLT ride is under construction now.) 

Meanwhile, our culinary team explored trends in amusement-park food — edible cookie dough! Coffee you can chew! Maple syrup-flavored French fries! 

“It was an absolutely worthwhile experience,” says executive chef Wally Jurusz. “We want to expand our festival offerings at Morey’s Piers. So, in other words, we want to offer more pop-up events like our Oktoberfest. And we came away from Orlando with many ideas for how to make that happen.” 

Wally also came away from IAAPA with the second-highest score in pinball.

“It’s definitely a fun, positive atmosphere,” he says. “Every sense is activated. It’s not just the tastes -- it’s the sounds of laughter and excited screaming. The hair on your arms stands up when you see people twirling above you in the air.” 

But don’t let the fun environment fool you — there are also major business deals happening on the showroom floor. Last year, we sealed the purchase of our $4 million Runaway Tram coaster with a handshake at the expo, an experience Jack calls “exhilarating.” 

And this year, while there weren’t any handshakes worth quite that much, there were several exploratory meetings with roller coaster vendors like Gravity Group and Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters. So watch this space for exciting ride updates coming your way soon…

From low-fi (stuffed animals of every variety) to high-tech (a computer that biometrically scans one’s body in order to turn your likeness into a LEGO mini-figure), the IAAPA expo was a tornado of colorful, glittery, iridescent chaos. But, more than that, the event once again helped us access that childlike wonder we’re always striving to instill in our guests.

“When you work at an amusement park, you can get desensitized to it,” says marketing director Tim Samson. “Especially at the end of a busy season, you can take for granted the marvel of physics that is a roller coaster, or the smell of funnel cake 30 feet outside your office window. Being at IAAPA immerses you in all of it, until you feel like a kid again.”

At a company dinner — after a day of interacting with dancing robots and flying cotton candy machines (they’re a thing!) — we toasted this kid-like feeling, and how excited we are to bring it with us into the 2020 season.

“This time of year is so special to me, because I’m reminded of how lucky I am,” PR guru Maggie Warner told the group. “This is the — hashtag — best job ever.”