48 Hours in California

by Lauren Weaver

The Themed Entertainment Association’s annual TEA Summit is comprised of two days focusing on the unique business of themed entertainment. The international leisure community is brought together to celebrate and learn about exquisite projects, people, events, technologies, markets and trends. From the east coast of Florida, to west coast of California, Sally’s own Lauren Weaver recounts the fast 48 hours and the meaningful experiences that she left with.

Back on the California coast
Watch out! The drivers here are crazy.

Day 1

Day one was jam-packed with a great schedule, and we started with WHY.  

AKA : keynote from Matt Dunsmoor, Founder and Lead Consultant of Salt & Pepper Thirties and facilitator of  ‘Start With Why’.  Matt helps companies more clearly articulate their purpose and values.  It was a refreshing, and at times, heart-tugging session that made the room think.

Next, a State of the Industry Roundtable discussion.  Hearing from a variety of international representatives of the themed entertainment industry was a great way to kick things off.

At break – who do I see but Monty Lunde, friend and co-founder of the TEA.

After lunch, Michael Blau, Principal and President of Adirondack Studios, gave a great session on ‘Better Business Development Methods’ – lessons he learned through Sherlock Holmes.  Educational, and entertaining – because, hey this is the TEA after all.

Following up on some big news from IAAPA 2021, Ryan Stana, CEO of RWS Group, and the incomparable, Keith James of JRA, now part of RWS Group, take the stage to speak on Successful Transitions.  The room was all ears.

Great to catch up with familiar faces during breaks!

The conclusion to Summit Day 1 was about as enjoyable as it can get.  A candid conversation with Disney’s Bob Weis and this year’s Buzz Price Thea Award winner, Doris Hardoon.  Doris has a track record few can come close to touching.  But more than that, she radiates warmth and vigor, and had us at hello.

With Day 1 a wrap, it’s time to celebrate and the folks at Extreme Engineering know how to do it right.  A fun EE HH at Downtown Disney’s Ballast Point!

Day 2

Another exciting and insightful day with segments on nature, inspiration, recognition, play, surprise and – the impossible! Save me a seat!

Especially notable (for yours truly) was the Inspiration segment from the beyond-creative minds of Garner Holt, of Garner Holt Productions and Sir Richard Taylor, of Weta Workshop.  Ummm… WOW.  Animatronics at their finest.  (their work, not themselves)

In the hallways, you’re reminded of where it all started for so many of us here.

Brian Morrow welcomed us back after lunch, where were we thrown in to PLAY!  Learning about super fun projects like Level 99, bringing interactive human mini-games and challenges to large indoor spaces, The Secret Life of Pets dark ride, which had our tails wagging, and Reodor Felgen's Hyperakselerator, an interactive, 4D experience unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

The last presentation had everyone anxious to get out to the parks.  First, to hear from the designers, creators, and brilliant minds behind Universal Japan’s Super Nintendo World and Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge, the world’s first AR themed dark ride, was worth the jet lag alone.  As a fellow dark ride producer, to hear about their team’s unique challenges, building such a bespoke ride from start to finish, was awe-inspiring.  What an incredible undertaking. What an incredible guest experience.

And that’s what it’s all about, the underlying message and thread throughout the TEA Summit  – crafting the guest experience.  We come together at the TEA Summit to witness greatness, and take in about what others are doing to set the new bar in guest experience. The education we get at this event helps raise our bar on all projects moving forward, and on an international level.  We - the designers, creators, producers, owners, and operators - take what we have learned here and allow it to influence the spaces we create for guests for decades to come.

Being back together after so long means lots of selfies!

But wait – there’s more!  What would a gathering of amusement park geeks in Anaheim be without a trip to Disneyland?!  Friday’s in-park experience to Disney’s California Adventure was the ultimate cherry on top!  Park time with friends, special viewing of World of Color, and an after-hours ride on Guardians of the Galaxy and the new Spiderman Web Slingers interactive dark ride! So much inspiration. So much fun. Sooooo many smiles!

Thank you for a great 2022 Summit, TEA! ‘Til next time...