This just could be the single most challenging thing I have ever written. There’s no easy way to finesse or be delicate with the wording, and it’s going to come as a shock to many people. I have decided after 24 amazing years, that it is time for me to retire Theme Park Adventure. Effective immediately, our ride together has come to a full and complete stop, and I cannot thank each of you enough for all of the love, support, incredible friendship, love, and laughs we have shared together over the past two decades.
This is a long entry; thank you in advance for reading it through – this will be my last post as Founder/Editor-in-Chief here on Theme Park Adventure.
When I started TPA in 1994, there is no way I could have ever imagined that it would go on to blaze trails, inspire so many others, become the very first themed entertainment fansite on the Internet, find itself in the hub of the haunt community, or eventually open the door for me to step through the looking glass and become a professional in the very industry I have spent so many years writing about. I was just a young guy with a passion and a penchant for writing who wanted to share his love of theme parks and Halloween with like-minded folks who were willing to read.
And you read.
Some of you have read for the past 24 years as our adventures together have taken us on a ride through the past, present, and the future. And what an incredible journey it’s been. Words cannot convey the gratitude I have for the many years of community and group spirit TPA has enjoyed. While every day, every story, every tweet, every video, every event has been special, I’d like to indulge for a moment and reflect on some TPA events/crossroads that come to mind when I think about the legacy of this site and everything that’s gone into it as a living, breathing entity.
To purposely date myself, I can easily recall the early days of Theme Park Adventure, when some of our first stories included the closure of Disneyland’s Skyway attraction, and the first anniversary celebration of Luxor Las Vegas. From there, our newsletter – The Brake Zone – went on to cover such events as the opening of Disney’s Blizzard Beach, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (which we would repeat years later with the opening of the Anaheim version of the ride), T2:3D, and various haunted attractions around Southern California.
Jurassic Park: The Ride was the first big red carpet event we were ever invited to at Universal. The first company to ever fly us anywhere for a press junket was Busch Gardens in Tampa, for the opening of Montu back in 1996. Universal Orlando then began flying us out as well – amazing times at the opening of the Royal Pacific Resort in 2002, and the opening of Revenge of the Mummy in Orlando in 2004. Our latest press event in Orlando was the opening of Universal’s Volcano Bay – a tremendous occasion that we will never forget.
There have been other “big moment” happenings that we were blessed to be a part of over the years – the opening of California Adventure, Downtown Disney, and Disney’s Grand Californian at the Disneyland Resort; Disneyland’s 50th Anniversary; the opening of New Tomorrowland in 1998 at Disneyland; the opening of Cars Land at DCA; and the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood in 2016.
There have been plenty of “ups and downs” as well – especially at Magic Mountain, with which we’ve enjoyed a very close relationship over the years, and attended the opening of such coasters as Batman, Superman, Goliath, and Twisted Colossus. We do love working with Team Magic, and will always cherish our memories of being there for the opening of some of the world’s most famous metal monsters.
I’d be remiss not to mention three specific happenings in TPA’s journey – covering the construction of and opening of Indiana Jones Temple of the Forbidden Eye, the end of Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade, and the publishing of our own book in the late ’90s on Pirates of the Caribbean. Each of these components were very special to me for these reasons:
We watched anxiously as Indy was built at Disneyland. Trips to the park were frequent, and sightings of well-known Disney Imagineers were common. As word spread that TPA was taking a serious interest in covering Indiana Jones from build to opening, I was fortunate enough to befriend the late Marty Sklar, as well as Tony Baxter, who remains a friend and someone I respect greatly to this day. The stories are many, and our time here is short; Theme Park Adventure was recognized as “legitimate” media by Disneyland, and we were invited to the three-day all-star opening gala of Indiana Jones in 1995. It’s weird to me that this took place over 23 years ago – in many ways, it seems just like yesterday, and my memories are still very vivid of this particular event. I reminisce about this every time I ride Indy; either silently or with friends if they ask – I am sure I will continue to do so for the rest of my days. While it pains me to see how Disneyland has allowed this world-class attraction to age over the years, it’s still got a very special place in my heart, and always will. I am forever in debt to Tony and Marty, who referred to me back then simply as, “The Editor”.
Like countless other Southern California natives, I grew up with Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade. And, like countless other Southern California natives, I was heartbroken when Disney announced that the beloved summer tradition would be “Glowing Away” in 1996. We covered the MSEP extensively in The Brake Zone and I snapped hundreds of photos during its final season, which still take up a large chunk of our picture archives in all of their blurry glory! During this time, I befriended another industry legend – Don Dorsey, who is responsible for the version of the parade’s Baroque Hoedown-charged soundtrack that many of us have loved for decades. Don is someone I respect very deeply, and who is still very active in the themed entertainment world. It is an honor to call him my friend. A stand-out geeky freak-out moment happened a long time ago, when Don invited me to his home, and stepping into his music studio, fired up the keyboards and played portions of the Electrical Parade for me as windows rattled and bass thundered in my chest. Those are memories that last a lifetime – and moments I will forever cherish. Even now, when I hear the underlying notes of the Baroque Hoedown as Paint the Night rolls through DCA, I smile and think back to the time I interviewed Don and attempted to tell the tale of the inception of Disney’s greatest parade ever in my own little newsletter. Earlier this year, I visited Shanghai Disneyland by myself; I kid you not – stepping out of my cab some 6,500 miles from home, the first thing I heard streaming from the resort’s walkway speakers was Don’s MSEP recording. Surely, that was no coincidence; the universe is funny that way, isn’t it?
In the late ’90s, we published our 170-page book on Pirates of the Caribbean. By that time, I had moved from Orange County up to San Francisco, so there was something like a three-year gap from start to finish on this thing. Its inception was unique; I maintained my friendship with both Marty Sklar and Tony Baxter after Indy had opened in ’95. When Marty asked what story I was going to tell after Temple of the Forbidden Eye opened, I said I wanted to write the single most detailed book about Pirates of the Caribbean that had ever been done. What happened next would never happen again for anyone; Marty invited me to Walt Disney Imagineering for a week – 8 hours each day – and opened their archives to me, telling me I could use whatever imagery I wanted… free of charge. For five days, I went through folder after folder of images, looked at hundreds of slides, and pored over too many photographs that had never seen the light of day to recall. Out of that project, came a long-lasting close personal friendship with both Marc and Alice Davis, which I will forever look back on fondly and with incredible love. In my book, I referred to them as “The Captain and his First Mate” – and they truly were; a love affair that was nothing short of legendary. The world lost Marc Davis in January of 2000. I’d like to share a moment with you that has always been something I have kept very personal and quiet; in the context of this reflection of TPA’s journey, I think it’s appropriate to divulge. I called Alice very early in the morning following Marc’s death to leave my condolences on her answering machine. I was caught off-guard when she answered the phone, sobbing. I told her I was so very, very sorry as I choked back my own tears, and she wept, repeating over and over, “I lost my love last night. I lost my love.” What do you even say to that? What do you offer a woman so devastated by loss and grief? I stumbled over words, and said, “I don’t have much to offer, Alice, but if there is anything I can do for you, just let me know.”
She paused, and said, “You already have.” I was taken aback. I asked what she meant, and through tears, she said, “You have no idea how much it meant to Marc that you wanted him to be part of your book.” I was stunned. Even 18 years later, tears have welled up in my eyes recalling this and sharing this with you. We never spoke of it again in the years ahead as I continued to share a friendship with Alice. What she said to me that morning left an indelible mark on my heart that will never fade and will always mean more to me than words can explain. To know that my work made a difference in the life of arguably, the greatest Imagineer the world has ever known – how do you even process that as a writer? That was the single most meaningful and important accolade I have ever received as an author – and it will always be.
There have been 24 years of stories, adventures, and shenanigans – way too many to touch on adequately here. As the sun sets on TPA, I do want to touch on our unexpected involvement in the haunt community here in SoCal, because that is the enduring part of our story that leads to a happy ending in our evolution rather than a sad one.
Having grown up a huge Halloween and horror fan here in Southern California, it was only natural that my obsession with haunted attractions and all things spooky would spill over into TPA. From small home haunts to seasonal theme park events, Theme Park Adventure has spent a tremendous amount of time and energy showcasing those things that go “bump” in the night; it’s the part of our legacy as a media entity that I am most proud of.
In 1994, I turned my sights on Halloween Haunt at Knott’s Berry Farm; I wanted to tell the story in depth, and really highlight the folks behind the masks in Ghost Town and those who created the mazes and shows I loved so much each October in Buena Park. It’s hard to imagine now, but at first, management at Knott’s Berry Farm was literally adamant that those employees of Knott’s Scary Farm that I knew and wanted to share with our readers remain a secret. In fact, at the time, I was told in no uncertain terms that if TPA revealed the names of their Haunt employees via interviews or personal interest stories in print, those individuals would be immediately reprimanded and/or fired. Let that sink in for a moment.
Thankfully, I didn’t take “no” for an answer, and as time wore on and people changed at Knott’s, we did finally make those inroads. Under the direction of Jack Falfas as the park’s General Manager, TPA was able to not only cover Halloween Haunt each season – we were literally given carte blanche when it came to whatever we wanted to shoot, whoever we wanted to interview, and however we wanted to accomplish our coverage each year. This saw us literally climbing into the rafters of The Doll Factory maze to shoot video, hanging out for hours on end in Warehouse P with the hundreds of seasonal employees of Scary Farm as they dressed and had makeup applied, and crawling all over the Timber Mountain Log Ride to get the perfect shots of riders passing by in the flume, just inches away. We had unprecedented run over the park each Halloween season – which included a suite at the Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel that would be freshly-stocked with a stack of booze with the familiar note – “Compliments of Jack” – attached to it at the end of our nights. He was the first executive at Knott’s to understand what TPA was doing and the reach we had into an untapped, growing fan base. Long gone are the days he’d send us off into the fog with a wave and a hearty, “Don’t break anything!” Times have changed, and while our relationship stays incredibly strong with the folks at Knott’s, our own time constraints and the various legal and political implications of letting TPA run amuck at Halloween Haunt are simply too many to allow for the kind of access we once had – and pioneered for other blogs and media sites in the years to come.
This brings us to the part of our Scary Farm coverage I am most proud of – our annual flow-through video documentation of the event’s mazes. Before TPA formally started doing this, it was not a “thing”. I do need to give mention to a lifelong friend of mine, Chris Merritt – who also shared a deep, obsessive love with Halloween Haunt and all things Knott’s Berry Farm (later, he would go on to produce the amazing Knott’s Preserved book). Before I started formally documenting the mazes at Scary Farm, Chris would borrow my bigass Panasonic VHS camera and make the trek into the fog. He’s got lots and lots of old school mazes on tape from back in the day. So while I coordinated and perfected it with Knott’s over the years, it is important for me to note that Chris started that – I merely took it to the next level as part of TPA’s annual coverage of the Scary Farm (and other haunts that permitted us to in the years to follow). Those videos (and perhaps more added to our archives in the future) will remain online as part of the Theme Park Adventure YouTube Channel for fans to look back on and enjoy for as long as YouTube is around to host them. While a ton of work, it has been an honor to be the only media team to officially coordinate and shoot each Knott’s maze every year; a well-oiled machine that has introduced many fans and haunters to Scary Farm over the last two decades. It will be emotional not to fire up the camera and be led into the darkness by our dear friend and longtime Haunt escort, Kevin Horton this year. However, all things must come to an end, and I am always going to be incredibly proud of the role Theme Park Adventure has played covering Knott’s Scary Farm for the past 24 years.
There is nothing more gratifying to me to have employees at Knott’s Scary Farm or haunters elsewhere around the Southland stop me and say that they grew up on TPA – or that our videos inspired them to become monsters or haunt designers. I get that from time to time, and the emotional reaction I have to that never is lost on me. It has been my honor to inspire new generations of Halloween fans over the years – I intend to continue doing so through my work on Midsummer Scream and our Hall of Shadows well into the future.
We’re getting there, I promise. Two decades is a lot to pack into a neat little farewell post. If you’ve made it this far, I thank you. I am trying not to ramble or go so far off course that I have to rewrite this all a hundred times.
While Theme Park Adventure has been my vision and my baby since 1994, there’s no way I could not recognize those individuals closest to the operation over the years. Of course, there have been many friends who have helped me out along the way, and I am grateful for each and every one of them. I do have a short list of folks that need to be named here, as they were the ones responsible for keeping TPA moving forward through good times and difficult times, from 1994 until today.
The very first TPA team members: Bob Barber, who was right there in the trenches with me photographing Indiana Jones and everything at Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. It was so exciting to take him with me to the opening of Montu, and his first visit ever to Walt Disney World. He was so emotional as we approached the toll plaza that I joked I was going to be arrested for abduction if he didn’t stop crying! I was crying as well, so it was all good – amazing times with Bob on our TPA excursions. Rod Trett, who tapped me years before TPA existed to write for his publication, a Disneyland Cast Member newsletter. Rod was a walking encyclopedia of theme park and specifically, roller coaster knowledge – and he was a great friend who I met while working alongside him in the late ’80s at Disneyland at Pirates, Mansion, and Bear Band. And Shea Foley, who was also my wingman on many adventures and outings. He and I created the home haunt Boot Hill together (which is still operating each season in Irvine), and spent countless hours documenting Knott’s Scary Farm and other industry events. He also oversaw the printing of our Pirates of the Caribbean book in the late ’90s – something I will always be grateful to him for. He remains a close friend, and we often talk about those early TPA days.
Scott and Carol Holmes came later, as we attempted to spread coverage across the Midwest and southern parts of the United States. Their stories and photos of new roller coasters and exciting new attractions in states far away were always well-written, and added a dimension to TPA that we hadn’t had before… a legitimate presence outside of Southern California. We parted ways years ago, but they can still be found online doing their thing, and at different events such as coaster openings, and the IAAPA trade show in Orlando each year.
In its 24 years, TPA has gone from a print publication to the world’s first fansite online. I’ve cycled through a number of computers in doing so, and it’s taken several individuals who are tech geniuses to keep us chugging along all these years. Geoff Wiley, who introduced me to the Amiga 2000 that we first started creating The Brake Zone with; he also showed me the first photo scanner I’d ever seen – those first GIFs were pure sorcery, when we realized we could put them online for fans anywhere to see! Steve Bliss is a great friend and kept TPA humming right along in later years when I bounced from San Francisco to Las Vegas and back to Southern California; he saved my ass so many times, I can never repay him for his hours of tireless work every time I screwed something up or had a hard drive fail. And finally, Steve Wolstrup, who remains my computer guru to this day; he’s the one I go to before panicking, and is the voice of reason when it comes to many things technical in my life. I’ll always be thankful for each of these guys, who kept Theme Park Adventure connected to the world all this time.
Last but certainly not least, I need to mention my grandparents – Joseph and Florence “Pinkie” West. They were in my court, even in the beginning when they didn’t fully understand my obsession with theme parks and creating a newsletter, etc. for others to read. My grandparents literally funded everything TPA-related in the beginning, from my first computer to the printing of those early Brake Zone issues. They even bought me a letterman-style Theme Park Adventure jacket “to look official”, which I will always treasure; it hangs in my closet to this day. My grandfather died 16 years ago; he never got to witness the longevity of TPA in the years to come. It was he who almost single-handedly instilled the love I have of theme parks in me. When I was about two, my grandpa started taking me to all of the SoCal tourist attractions – he planted the first theme park seeds that grew into everything I am today personally and professionally. He was the very definition of “fun” in my life, and he continues to be part of everything I do each day. He is as much part of TPA as I am. Likewise, my grandmother – Pinkie – was always a firm believer in my passions and was always right there to also help me along financially and emotionally, even during some of my darkest days. She rooted me and TPA on long after my grandfather passed away – giving me life advice, and firm nods of approval up until her passing just last month. Those two enormous pillars of my life and of TPA – they may be “gone” now, but they will always be there with me in my future endeavors and adventures, and they will always be at the core of TPA’s legacy.
So as we close, you ask the question I have been putting off with a deluge of memories and nostalgic ponderings: Why? Why retire TPA now, just shy of its 25th Anniversary?
There are a lot of reasons; some complex, which I am sure I will rattle on about in some upcoming podcasts I have been asked to be part of to discuss TPA and our story. Other reasons are more simple, and can be distilled down into simple final paragraphs to be taken in and digested.
Time is the biggest issue of all; I simply don’t have the time or personal bandwidth to do TPA anymore. To do something like Theme Park Adventure and its fans justice, a blog or website isn’t good enough anymore; there are articles to write, pictures to shoot and edit, video to shoot, edit and upload, and then come the social media platforms to tend to – Facebooking, tweeting, Instagram, Periscope, and beyond. Covering events and theme parks just here in SoCal alone is a full-time job on its own. Toss in a career, my involvement and dedication to Midsummer Scream, and any kind of personal time with my friends and loved ones to simply have a life – and suddenly, I’m out of hours in the day. While folks have certainly helped us along the way, TPA by in large, has always boiled down to me. It’s great to attend the opening of an attraction or first night of a haunt event; what people don’t usually think about are all of the personal hours back at home spent editing everything, writing the stories, posting the videos – it’s endless, and in the case of our Halloween travels, some of it would always fall by the wayside and never get done. There just simply aren’t enough hours in the day to cover these things the way TPA has always done with in-depth, thoughtful content, and to maintain any other sort of career or something the scope of Midsummer Scream without driving yourself to the brink of insanity because the work never stops. TPA’s slowed down a lot in the past year – ultimately, our readers and those who have supported us deserve better, and we simply cannot deliver anymore the way that we always have. I’d rather put TPA out to pasture than run it into the ground as a pale ghost of what it once was.
My career needs to come first. I work in the themed entertainment industry. As I take on larger roles and work for bigger companies, there honestly isn’t a place for me to be running a fansite, regardless of legacy or how respected it may be; at the end of the day, TPA is still a fansite, and I am a working professional in the same industry. More and more, it’s become a conflict of interest rather than a serious side hobby; that cannot happen, because TPA never has paid the bills. For 24 years, it’s been a labor of love – far from substantial, income-wise. Money was never the reason for doing TPA to begin with. If anything, TPA has cost thousands to maintain and operate over the past two decades; tens of thousands, really. So, I am opting to take this opportunity to say goodbye properly, before “instant disassociation” has to take place, and I haven’t brought things to a proper close.
Finally, I simply don’t have the drive to continue TPA anymore. Nor would I ever turn it over to anyone else to continue. Theme Park Adventure has been my journey, as well as those few individuals who became part of it along the way. It couldn’t and wouldn’t be the same without my touch and voice, and these days, everyone with a smartphone and a social media platform has their own audience and way of doing things like covering theme parks and Halloween events.
The industry has changed so much that no one needs TPA to cover their event anymore. There isn’t any reason to put me on a plane and fly me to Orlando, when someone there can send out a live stream for people all around the world to tune into and watch as it’s happening. With the dawn of social media, has come the end of “traditional” reporting. If you’re not tweeting, live streaming, shooting photos and recording an event that can be uploaded to YouTube that day, then you are already completely late to the game and old news. With the advent of social media, has come a flood of bloggers that want the same access we have enjoyed for the past 24 years – and the theme parks simply cannot keep up with the demand; there is no space, and in a lot of cases frankly, those bloggers aren’t very good despite pretty pictures and a couple hundred followers on Instagram or Twitter. Marketing teams also are shifting gears these days into a way of doing things that I am simply not interested in, to be honest. More and more, there isn’t an appreciation for in-depth reviews or interviews with designers as we strive to really make an impact and difference with our coverage. It’s all about numbers now – so we are seeing the likes of TPA starting to get pushed out of the loop for popular mommy bloggers and social media influencers; some of these folks are really nice people – despite the fact that they don’t know a thing about a new attraction or event opening, or a certain park’s history. What they do have that more and more of the parks are after, are broader audiences. And while I hate that, I get that. Why give prime time and resources to Theme Park Adventure when a mommy blogger or teenaged “influencer” can reach 500,000 followers with one photo or tweet that says, “This new ride is awesome! You need to come check it out!” The playing field is shifting quickly – and the game isn’t one that I have any interest in playing anymore. It’s time for a new breed of marketing pros to make the decisions, and a new pool of bloggers to carry on tweeting and streaming to their masses. It’s sad, and I think a bit unfortunate, but I get it. In life, we have to pick our battles – competing with new bloggers and influencers isn’t mine or TPA’s. We had our time, and I am very proud of how brightly we shined and for how long. There are a handful of teams out there who cover things exceptionally well, and we will continue to support their efforts personally and in any way we can – I feel very comfortable “passing the torch” to them, and they know who they are. Those who are in the trenches, on the front lines, rolling up their sleeves and doing the work first-hand – those folks are the real deal; the ones who will last standing as casual bloggers and social media influencers come and go with the seasons. Quality work and substantial coverage isn’t gone; you just have to know where to find it these days.
Theme Park Adventure has served its purpose, and has become a springboard for many really fantastic things. TPA opened the door for me to meet many incredible people that I would have likely never known in this industry. More than drinking stories, these folks have become true friends, many of them now peers as I work in the same circles professionally. TPA opened the door for me to become a show writer 7 years ago starting with Thinkwell, because the folks looking for a writer were long-time friends and supporters of mine and TPA. You can thank Bob Baranick and Dave Cobb for letting this genie out of the bottle to play! I will always feel tremendous gratitude to them for giving me a shot. TPA may not have single-handedly opened those doors for me – but it sure as hell was a key to unlocking them.
More recently, TPA led to my being asked to help create ScareLA, which I did very successfully for its first three years here in Los Angeles. Following an irreparable conflict between the two founders of ScareLA, I stood by my friend, David Markland, and at the urging of he and Gary Baker, agreed to once again, help create an all-new Halloween convention for the SoCal community along with Claire Dunlap, who also joined the team at that point. I had the honor of naming Midsummer Scream as its Creative Director when we started it in 2016, and am more proud of that than just about anything else I have done with my life thus far. Just a few weeks ago, we welcomed some 22,000 guests to the Long Beach Convention Center for our 2018 show – bigger than anything we have ever done as a team, and quite remarkable for a third-year con.
This is where the happy ending part of this announcement comes without me riding off into the sunset.
As Midsummer’s Creative Director, I am dedicated to growing the show each year and continuing to serve the Southern California haunt community using a much bigger platform than Theme Park Adventure could have ever been. With the time I will gain by retiring TPA, I will have that much more to pour of myself into the lifeblood of Midsummer Scream. I have an amazing blank canvas to design on each year, where we can invite aspiring young haunters to come create their own experiences in the Hall of Shadows, host amazing theatre groups and performers, and showcase ridiculously talented artisans and their work for fans to admire and invest in. Tens of thousands of guests from around the world come to Midsummer Scream to see all that we have to offer – and it’s demanding more and more of my time as we continue to grow and raise the bar that we created here in Southern California years ago with this type of production. If that’s not a fantastic trade-off for putting Theme Park Adventure to rest, I don’t know what is.
With me focusing even more energy and time on Midsummer, I will be taking on more responsibilities which will include unique special events and yes, social mixers throughout the year; you didn’t think we were gonna give up partying with you fine folks, did you? That will never happen! I am very excited about this new leg of the journey, and you should be, as well. There are amazing things on the horizon – and you’re all coming along for the ride, if you’d like.
In fact, you’re all invited to come celebrate one final Theme Park Adventure bash with us on Sunday, September 9th at the Totally ’80s Bar & Grille in Fullerton! We’re calling our final mixer TPA: End of Line. Click on the link, and please come join us for the final TPA mixer just before Halloween 2018 begins. Let’s share a night of laughter, tears, and great fun together and give TPA the send-off it deserves!
Since all aspects of Theme Park Adventure will remain “frozen” in time, that means our social media platforms have also been retired. Please take a moment if you would like, and follow me on Twitter and Instagram – @rickwest999 is my personal handle. And yes, that’s a Haunted Mansion reference! I will continue to post pictures of haunts, attractions, and all things that catch my eye in my travels, and would love to have you all along for that ride, of course.
This isn’t me saying goodbye. This is me saying we’re at a crossroads here, and I’m just getting warmed up! TPA is going to fade into history now, but through Midsummer Scream and everything else I do in my professional and personal journey, we have many, many more theme park adventures ahead together, dear friends.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
- Rick West