"Italians aren't used to going to amusement parks," says Marina Morelli, a marketing representative for Mirabilandia amusement park in Ravenna, Italy. Historic cities, beaches, ski resorts, yes, but not amusement parks. And while they may have visited Disney Paris while on vacation in France, they probably have not toured the Italian park in their own backyard.
Mirabilandia is working to change that, introducing a variety of new attractions in it's first year under new management. The park's newest show the Police School stunt show is the first of its kind in Italy. The park has also added two new rides, Turbo Drop and Space Shot, to its already impressive collection, including the oldest wooden roller coaster in Europe. And currently, it is hosting an exhibit of modern mosaics, on loan from the city of Ravenna, famous for the Byzantine mosaics found in its churches. In total, the park offers 37 attractions, five shows, and 18 restaurants and eateries.
An enthusiastic marketing campaign combined with live action entertainment is bringing more italians to Italy's largest amusement park.
The show includes chase scenes with cars and motorcycles, explosions, and shoot-em ups.
The park's new attractions are part of an ambitious capital investment program launched by the new owners. Gottlieb Loffelhardt, owner of Germany's Phantasialand, and Giancarlo Casoli, an Italian ride manufacturer, purchased the park in November 1996 from the Italian holding company Finbrescia. Their three year program calls from new attractions, a re-design of the park's entryway, and additional theming. The program is hoped to provide a needed boost to the park, which seems to have languished after a successful opening in 1992.
"This is a year of change," Morelli says. To communicate all these changes, the park has implemented an aggressive marketing strategy, which includes a new television commercial broadcast throughout Italy. And with the message out, park management predicts that in three years, annual attendance will increase from 600,000 to 1 million. And more Italians will find themselves used to going to an Italian amusement park.
Mirabilandia is pinning its hopes for greater attendance on its new spectacular, Police School. While Americans may be accustomed to this type of stunt show, it's a new attraction for Italians. No other show in Italy can boast the size and sophistication of this one.
"Most people in Italy haven't experienced such a show," says Todd Hougland of Totally Fun Company in Clearwater, Fla., which produces the show. "The shows at Warner Brothers in Germanyare perhaps the closest. "Even by U.S. standards, the special effects, the pyrotechnics and the number of cars are very impressive."
The show includes chase scenes with cars and motorcycles,
explosions, and shoot-em up. The show has entertaining, humorous script, executed
by a troupe of talented actors. The theater seats 2,000, and the large set has
a California feel, with a ramp marked Venice Beach Wall, a Rodeo Drive street
sign, and a large Hollywood sign in the background.
According to the script, the police enlist a batch of new recruits to help protect the auto show room (Ferraris, of course), which has been subject to a number of thefts. As it turns out, the owner of the shop is working in cahoots with the thief, in a scam to collect the insurance money. The new recruits include a bumbling nerd, a jock, a Rambo -type woman. and ;a Harley Davidson riding tough man named Bruno.
After some serious detective work and exciting chase scenes - and even a song and dance interlude - the recruits catch the bad guys.
The Totally Fun Company staff are experts at producing this type of show. The company's owner, Peter Alexander, has produced shows for Walt Disney Productions, Universal Studios, and Six Flags Theme Parks. The company and cast arrived in March to start rehearsals. The show's debut was slightly postponed due to delays in construction of the theater.
Despite the delays, Hougland saysthe company has enjoyed
preparing for the show. They especially like working with their Italian counterparts,
who express great enthusiasm to learn the business. "They're pretty excited
about it," says Jim Winburn, director and company manager. "It's great
to work with them." And the company has even managed to struggle though
some of the difficulties associated with working abroad - such as finding spare
parts for their Dodge stunt cars in a land dominated by Fiats.
The show serves as a great marketing tool for the park. "It's great to have something no one else has", says Morelli. The show also allows the park to appeal to a broad range of ages."It's something every one can do," she says. "Italians aren't so much into hard rides. It's good to give them something to watch."
And the guests do enjoy what they see. The 20-minute
show is performed two to three times a day, and more shows are added on a day
to day basis to accommodate the crowds.
The night shows, scheduled for the high summer season, are particularly popular, with the blaze of the pyrotechnics against the sky.
At the end of the season, Totally Fun Company packs up and heads home. During the off-season, they'll make some changes to the show to offer a new product for 1998.
Police School isn't the only show at the park. In fact, the park prides itself on its wide variety of shows, with something for every age. It bills itself as "the largest show park on the Adriatic Coast." The shows include and Elephant Show, Crazy Bikers, Master Diving Team, a Clown Show, Wild 3-D, and a laser show on the Piazza del Levante.
The park updates its show regularly, to offer guests at least one new attraction each year. "People want to see new things", Morelli says. "When people come back, it's important to give them something new." Police Show and Crazy Biker are new for 1997.
To contract new shows, park management tours Europe. And they have an added advantage of being able to network for shows through Phantasialand, thanks to their new owner. The shows represent an international mix: the Crazy Biker bicyclist is French, the Hoby Hoppers clowns are German and Russian, the divers are Russian, and the Elephant Show performers are German and Italian.
The park employs some 30 performers, who can be spotted not only in the shows, but also throughout the park. A pair of clowns introduce each show, warming up the crowd for the performance, while others whiz around the park on roller skates. And a couple of animal mascots stroll though the park "chatting" with guests and posing for photos.
Some of the most dazzling perfomers, perhaps, are on stage at the Elephant Show. The Folco Sisters fun and exciting spectacle with camels, horses, and elephants. Exotic dancers and handlers work with the animals in the scene set by smoke, lights and music. They perform magic tricks, flamenco dances, and other feats. In the finale, three large elephants dance and twirl about, dwarfing the set and the performers.
All the shows and times are displayed on a sign on Main Street. And the park announces each show over the load speakers in Italian, German, and English to allow guests time to get to the various locations. The shows are all held in the afternoon. "That way, people can enjoy the rides in the morning, and the relax at the shows in the afternoon", Morelli says.
Theming Italian Style.
While shows are very important at Mirabilandia, theming is not. Theming is applied only loosely to the number of diverse areas in the park, while some areas appear to have no theming at all. The existing themes are a mix of Italian culture, Old West adventure, and fantasy play. The capital investment plans, however, do include additional theming of the future.
The Dolce Vita Studios area employs the movie theme. The Mira Casino shows the 3-D film; the Ciak shop, a retail store, sells movie paraphernalia, such as 101 Dalmatians t-shirts and mugs; and a picnic area is modeled after the movie Jaws, complete with a fake shark suspended above the pier. The area contains a number of attractions, including a California Ferris wheel and a game room.
Also in this area is Thundering Sierra, the oldest wooden roller coaster in Europe. On this "3,300 feet of fear", guests descend from the height of more than 99 feet at speeds of more than 60 m.p.h., in just 110 seconds. It's this attraction that has put the American Coaster Enthusiasts in touch with the park.
Bimbopoli is designed for kids, with children's soft play, a jungle gym, a mini train, and a mini carousel. The area is themed as a complete children's city, with the attractions having names such as Mareno Express, Highway, Airport, Carousel, Market, and even a Bank. A video game room serves as practice ground for those budding game experts.
Italian Graffiti takes guests back to the 1950's, with the Hula Hoop gift shop, a self-service drive-in restaurant (where you actually sit down), and an eatery that looks like a gas station. Rides include The Flying Bus, a green bus that seems to loom over the whole park, and Autosplash, a popular splash-down ride with a drop of more than 50 feet down "flooded highways," complete with a photo option.
For those who hunger for thrills, especially the teenagers, the park offers a numher of rides - some with theming and some not. The new rides this season are great thrill rides, from S&S Sports in Logan, Utah. Space Shot, from 0 to 197 feet, gives guests the emotion of a shuttle launch into outer space, and Turbo Drop offers a 197 foot drop at super- sonic velocity.
One of the park's largest rides is Rio Bravo. On this
rafting ride, some 793,000 gallons of water carry guests down rapids and through
the falls to the canyon. The area is themed like the Old West, with big rocks,
lots of greenery, and an entrance marked by ropes, barrels, pulleys, and lanterns.
The river that guests travel on seems to wind throughout a large area of the
park; in fact, passerby can pause at a number of bridges over the river to watch
passengers toss, turn, and splash through the ride.
Marc hard rides are located throughout the park, Pirate is an old Spanish galleon, and Hara Kiri is a waterslide where guests slide down 40 feet of slide in a rubber raft - and
do get wet! There's also Evolution (a spinning top), Explorer (a mine-car ride), and Delirium (spinning cars).
The park's walk-through attractions are popular with
who prefer a leisurely stroll to a fast- paced ride, A number of fantasy-
based attractions allow guests to journey to lands of dinosaurs, wizards, and monsters. The Magical Stones is a labyrinth of Tibetan floating bridges, a bamboo maze, and secret caverns that take guests to either the magical Land of Dinosaurs, filled with life-size creatures, or the Stone of Fear, where trolls and other creatures come to life.
All the new changes at Mirabilandia are communicated
to the public by an intensified marketing strategy. That strategy centers around
a new TV commercial, broadcast on national neworks. Police School is featured
prominently in the commercial, along with the other new attractions.