Date: 13th-19th November, 2021
Location: Orange County Convention Center, 9899 International Drive, Orlando, FL 32819, USA

We’re in Orlando Florida at the Orange County Convention Center at the bottom of the tourist section of International Drive for the IAAPA Expo 2021.

The Orange County Convention Center in Orlando
The Orange County Convention Center in Orlando

Many visitors to Orlando’s world-famous theme parks will be familiar with International Drive, as it’s a popular source of accommodation thanks to the area’s many hotels, and also numerous places to eat and drink with the street lined with restaurants and bars.

The Orange County Convention Center is at the bottom end of all the hotels, restaurants and bars before it crosses the Beachline Expressway, after which International Drive becomes flanked by numerous large and secluded multi-national resort complexes.

As you can see from the picture above, the weather on this mid-November day was delightful, with bright sunshine, blue skies and temperatures in the mid-70s (F) or mid-20s (C).

The IAAPA Expo actually began the day before the exhibition hall opened. Throughout the week there are numerous educational seminars held on a wide range of topics related to the amusement and attractions businesses. However, we’re here for the trade show to get a feel for how the wider attractions industry is moving as the world slowly comes out of Covid-related restrictions.

The trade show opened at 10am on Tuesday 16th November and there was a large crowd of visitor eager to get into the Convention Center and see what was being exhibited.

The entrance to the trade show just before the doors opened
The entrance to the trade show just before the doors opened
There were plenty of people hanging back a little until the initial rush had subsided
There were plenty of people hanging back in the foyer a little until the initial rush subsided

So, what is IAAPA Expo exactly?

In simple terms, it’s a huge trade show covering all the amusements and attractions industries. That includes theme parks, caterers, ride operators, animatronics, virtual reality, family entertainment centres, arcades, food trucks and all the support systems to manage their operation and revenue collection. If you’ve seen our EAG trade show coverage, then IAAPA is like EAG but much bigger and it covers a wider spectrum of businesses.

Three pinball companies were represented at IAAPA Expo 2021 and we’ll come to those in a moment. Before that though, it’s worth looking at that range of products and services exhibiting at the show.

As you descend the escalator into the show hall one of the first companies you see exhibiting had a fairground/theme park spinning ride which initially looked quite tame but that soon changed once the hydraulics kicked in.

There's room for multiple fairground and theme park rides in the show hall
There’s room for multiple fairground and theme park rides in the show hall

Animatronics seemed very popular, with numerous talking or singing models drawing crowds. The first of these reminded us Christmas will soon be upon us.

Three singing reindeer, well, their heads anyway
Three singing reindeer, well, their heads anyway
The reindeer were joined by three singing yetis
The reindeer were joined by three singing yetis
Did we mention it's almost Christmas?
Did we mention it’s almost Christmas?
Looks like it's going to be a white Christmas
Looks like it’s going to be a white Christmas
This animatronic model looked impressive but didn't have a great deal of movement
This animatronic model looked impressive but remained firmly rooted to the ground
Thankfully, this animated creature also stayed where it was
Thankfully, this scary animated creature also stayed where it was
We'll just put this here and move on
We’ll just put this here and move on
If you too wanted to look scary, try one of the full-head masks
If you too wanted to look scary, try one of the full-head masks

Virtual reality certainly isn’t a new attraction, but the staffing and space requirements usually limit its use to larger operations. There were several familiar VR shooters on display.

A virtual reality shooter game
A Hologate virtual reality shooter game

Increasingly, VR is being combined with motion simulators to enhance the sense of movement.

Anyone for a virtual balloon ride?
Anyone for a virtual balloon ride?
This giant VR truck ride was very popular
This giant VR monster truck ride from DOF was very popular

DOF had another VR-enhanced ride behind the truck.

This VR ride provided a little more motion although it was less jarring than the monster truck
This VR ride provided a little more motion although it was less jarring than the monster truck

Motion tracking technology is being used to enhance traditional activities such as trampolining, turning it into a combined video at fitness game. The player’s image appears as the main character in the game.

Jump to collect the rewards and avoid the baddies
Jump to collect the rewards and avoid the baddies in this trampoline game

If you prefer to stay firmly on the ground, there were various vehicles on display from the fast to the decidedly stately.

Karts are always a popular form of entertainment
Karts are always a popular form of entertainment
Two people transporters for theme parks
Two people transporters for theme parks
Or you can travel another way
Or you can travel another way

Water slides take up a large section of the IAAPA show, mainly because they are so large and there are many different companies making both static versions found in theme parks and the mobile versions for use at travelling fairs and parties.

One of the many companies exhibiting inflatable slides
One of the many companies exhibiting inflatable slides
More inflatable slides
More inflatable slides
Some slides were a little more solid
Some slides were a little more solid

The theme park water slides are too large to exhibit in the hall – and are usually designed to order – but the companies making them do have scale models of their projects on display.

One of the larger water slide stands
One of the larger water slide stands
One of the scale models on the stand
One of the scale models on the stand

More fun with flowing water was available if you wanted to try your luck prospecting for valuable gens or metals in bags of ‘paydirt’.

You sift the dirt in the flowing water
You sift the dirt in the flowing water
The dirt is pre-packed to include some interesting gems, stone or metal pieces
The dirt is pre-packed to include some interesting gems, stone or metal pieces

Moving on to arcade games and supplies, there were mostly located at the very far side of the hall, furthest from the entrance.

This way to the arcade games
This way to the arcade games
New Ice Cold Beer machines are still being made using emulation to run the original code
New Ice Cold Beer machines are still being made using emulation to run the original code
It's as simple as they come, but Skee Ball continues to be popular
It’s as simple as they come, but Skee-Ball continues to be popular

New forms of bowling are always being tried. This one from Hyper Bowling has a much longer lane with LEDs running down the sides and rubber bumpers you are supposed to hit on the way down. Hit them when the LEDs are the correct colour and scoring is doubled or tripled.

It's a long way to the pins, and you are supposed to hit the sides
It’s a long way to the pins, and you are supposed to hit the sides

Large sit-down racing games continue to be produced with ever flashier and more garish LED lighting effects.

The latest Asphalt Legends racer
The latest Asphalt Legends racer
Nitro Trucks by Play Mechanix
Nitro Trucks by Play Mechanix

We saw earlier how VR was combined with a monster truck simulator, well here’s a VR King Kong of Skull Island game from Raw Thrills.

King Kong of Skull Island
King Kong of Skull Island

At long last we get to the pinball part, and a few isolated machines appeared on the stands of vendors on the way to the manufacturers’ exhibits.

Blacklight Attractions had the Jersey Jack Pinball Guns 'N Roses machine in their stand
Blacklight Attractions had the Jersey Jack Pinball Guns ‘N Roses machine in their stand
This Limited Edition model was for sale at $10,250
This Limited Edition model was for sale at $10,250

That was to be the only Jersey Jack Pinball representation at IAAPA, as the company wasn’t exhibiting this year.

Escalera, the company famed for their electrical stair-climbing dolly, were showing a prototype electrical pinball table lifter. It was fitted with their new multi-directional wheel system which allows it to be rolled across the floor in any direction. It can also tip back so you can make the game vertical, and it mates with the stair-climber, meaning you don’t have to remove the game from the lifter before taking it up stairs. The lifter is currently in prototype while the company gets feedback on the features and the likely demand.

Escalera were using this The Lord of the Rings to demonstrate their new pinball lifter
Escalera were using this The Lord of the Rings to demonstrate their new pinball lifter
Player One Amusements has a Godzilla Pro on their stand
Player One Amusements has a Godzilla Pro on their stand

American Pinball jointly brought the most pinball games to IAAPA – ten in total, made up of four Legends of Valhalla, four Hot Wheels and two Houdini machines.

The American Pinball stand
The American Pinball stand
The American Pinball stand with their new Legends of Valhalla game
The American Pinball stand with their new Legends of Valhalla game
Two Houdini machines
Two Houdini machines
Another two Hot Wheels and two more Legends of Valhalla
Another two Hot Wheels and two more Legends of Valhalla

Stern Pinball matched American Pinball for numbers, having ten machines for visitors to play.

The Stern Pinball stand with flipper tables and a playfield carpet
The Stern Pinball stand with flipper tables and a playfield carpet

Naturally they were heavily promoting their new Insider Connected system, with flyers, toppers and a display showing the top scores.

Led Zeppelin, The Avengers: Infinity Quest, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Jurassic Park, Deadpool and The Mandalorian in the Stern Pinball Alley
Led Zeppelin, The Avengers: Infinity Quest, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Jurassic Park, Deadpool and The Mandalorian in the Stern Pinball Alley
Two Godzilla Pro machines
Two Godzilla Pro machines
Two more Godzilla Pro machines with Waison Cheng demonstrating the Insider Connected set-up menu
Two more Godzilla Pro machines with Waison Cheng demonstrating the Insider Connected set-up menu

Over at the Chicago Gaming stand, four of the new Cactus Canyon remake machines arrived just in time for the show’s opening.

Four Cactus Canyon remake machines
Four Cactus Canyon remake machines
Only one of the four was the Limited Edition with the interactive topper
Only one of the four was the Limited Edition with the interactive topper

The topper has a row of LEDs along the base which represent your gun’s aim. In the associated mode, as windows light up you are supposed to use the flippers to move the LEDs to the appropriate building to shoot the bad guys. It’s a little like the Raven Bar/Get the Medallion video mode on the Williams Indiana Jones game.

While we were on the Chicago Gaming stand we met Ryan White and Butch Peel from the company along with Pinball Expo organiser Rob Berk who was there with his daughter Reilly, both of whom were at the show with their Berk Enterprises company which supplies paper and plastic products to the catering and cleaning industries.

Reilly Berk, Ryan White, Rob Berk and Butch Peel
Reilly Berk, Ryan White, Rob Berk and Butch Peel

Finally, if your budget doesn’t stretch to a real pinball machine, AT Games had a Legends Pinball digital cabinet preloaded with an amazing 127 licensed tables all for just $749. In our quick test we found the flippers to be a little laggy and the game selection controls a but clunky, but we had to admit it was great value for home use.

AT Games digital pinball machines
AT Games digital pinball machines

And with that we end our report from IAAPA Expo 2021. We hope you enjoyed our look at some of the highlights and seeing the pinball element which, as usual, proved to be very popular with show visitors.

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