Thursday, September 21, 2023

25th annual TEA Thea Awards announced – Universal and Asia-Pacific region lead list


The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) congratulates the new TEA Thea Awards recipients –officially announced today – representing some of the finest achievements in the creation of compelling places and experiences,” said TEA International Board President Michael Mercadante of Main Street Design. “We invite our community to join us in Anaheim April 11-13, 2019 to celebrate these achievements at the annual TEA Summit and Thea Case Studies, crowned by the 25th Annual TEA Thea Awards Gala presented by Chimelong. The biggest weekend on our industry calendar will be that much more special in 2019 as we commemorate a quarter-century since the Thea Awards began.”

Ticket sales will commence in December 2018 for the TEA Summit and Thea Awards Gala, April 11-13, 2019 at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, at

While the TEA Thea Awards recipients are announced each November, they are formally awarded the following spring. From hundreds of nominations received each year, the Awards Committee deliberates at length to produce the annual slate of recipients, which is submitted to the TEA International Board of Directors for approval. The Committee for the 2018-19 cycle was headed by Lisa Passamonte-Green of Visual Terrain.

The themed entertainment industry touches all genres of visitor attractions, internationally – including destination theme parks and waterparks, regional theme parks, museums, visitor centers, resorts, parades, immersive experiences and spectaculars. The industry has exploded globally in the last decade and is significant to international business in terms of travel, tourism, land development, hospitality, retail, entertainment, education, IP and branding, design, architecture and technology.

The prestigious TEA Thea Award is considered one of the industry’s greatest honors. Nearly 1,000 entertainment professionals converge on the Los Angeles area every year for the TEA Thea Awards Gala – an elegant, black-tie dinner affair – preceded by the TEA Summit conference, which devotes much of its two days of sessions to exploring the Thea Awards recipients. #TEAtheas #TEAsummit

The Buzz Price Thea Award – Recognizing a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements
Mark Woodbury, Vice Chairman of Universal Parks & Resorts; President of Universal Creative (pictured above with Jimmy Fallon previewing Race through New York at Universal Studios Florida)

“Mark Woodbury’s leadership, along with a highly-motivated and talented team, pushed technology and storytelling and the Universal brand to an all-new industry standard, translating pop culture’s visual and literary mediums into today’s most compelling and immersive experiences,” wrote the Thea Awards Committee. During his 30-year career at Universal, Mark has been involved in developing over 60 attractions at five Universal parks around the world, plus hospitality and retail. Celebrated accomplishments include the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Transformers: The Ride, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Terminator 2: 3D, and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Mark has collaborated with the likes of Steven Spielberg, JK Rowling, Peter Jackson, Chris Meledandri, Stephen Sommers, James Cameron, Shigeru Miyamoto and Michael Bay.

Thea Classic
Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USA

Since 1986, Dollywood has been owned and guided by country music superstar Dolly Parton and Herschend Family Entertainment. This 150-acre theme park began as Rebel Railroad (1961-1970), then Goldrush Junction (1970-1976), and Silver Dollar City Tennessee (1977-1985). Today, visitors from across the country and around the world flock to Dollywood to experience its 10 themed areas and enjoy the local culture. Dollywood lives up to the Herschend motto of “Creating Memories Worth Repeating®” with a blend of thrilling rides, spectacular shows, master craftsmen and heartfelt sincerity in the best traditions of the Great Smoky Mountains region where it was born.

Intel Shooting Star Drone System USA
AOA – Outstanding Technical Innovation

Developed by Intel’s Drone Group, the technology for the unique Shooting Star Drone System is an innovative design and engineering solution for aerial light shows. One computer and one operator control the complexity of mass drone flight with precise, reliable and safe control and choreography of extremely large numbers of drones. Each Shooting Star Drone is exceedingly lightweight (300 grams); each provides a moving point of brilliant light with virtually infinite colors (more than 4 billion color combinations from built-in LEDs). Employed in the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Opening Ceremony, 1,218 drones set a new Guinness World Record for most drones flown simultaneously.

Bazyliszek Park Legendia Chorzow, Poland
AOA – Attraction: Limited Budget

This unique attraction introduces interactive, dark-ride storytelling to an emerging theme park market (Poland) and builds on a unique and local cultural context. Bazyliszek uses modern storytelling tools and immersive environments to explore the myth of the Basilisk – a reptilian monster, part serpent/part rooster with magical powers and a deadly glance. In the Monster Hunters Guild mansion, in the Magical Forest zone of the park, guests are enlisted to go to the village of Kurkowo, battle the Basilisk and free the village. Bazyliszek is an outstanding model of an attraction that speaks to its regional audience. It is well-executed, elegant, engaging, colorful, fun and fresh.

Be Washington: It’s Your Turn to Lead
George Washington Mount Vernon Mount Vernon, Virginia, USA
AOA – Museum Experience: Limited Budget

In this new first-person, interactive experience, visitors face crises that Washington faced in his presidency (four possible scenarios), hear from advisors and choose a course of action while on the clock, then learn how Washington himself acted. In a period-looking space equipped with state-of-the-art gaming kiosks, actor Chris Jackson (George Washington in “Hamilton”) appears onscreen to introduce the topics. The high-tech, media-rich, gamified presentation is designed to speak to younger generations, and is based on primary, 18th-century source material. The Thea Committee wrote, “‘Be Washington’ is an excellent example of bringing historical education to life in a present-time environment.”

Mori Building Digital Art Museum – TeamLab Borderless Tokyo, Japan
AOA – Connected Immersion – Digital Art

Japan’s famous art collective TeamLab, in collaboration with local urban landscape developer Mori Building Co. Ltd. created Mori Building Digital Art Museum – TeamLab Borderless, a permanent experience showcasing more than 50 interactive digital artworks in 5 different zones over 100,0000 square feet, and already becoming a ‘must-see’ attraction for anyone visiting Japan. The Thea Committee wrote, “This simple, yet innovative combination of analog interactive installations and advanced projection mapping visuals equals a world-class, non-linear entertainment experience that allows thousands of visitors daily to explore, wander and discover at their own pace. The level of technical complexity (520 computers / 470 video projectors / interactive sensors / etc.) and the overall quality of the experience, makes ‘Borderless’ a new reference point and potentially a ‘game-changer’ in the industry.”

The Evel Knievel Museum, Topeka, Kansas, USA
AOA – Museum: Limited Budget

With his famous motorcycle stunts and jumps, Evel Knievel entertained kids and adults throughout the late 1960s and into the 1970s. This museum is a sincere, respectful tribute to Knievel’s high adrenaline career, fearlessness and humor. The first floor offers an historic timeline and a collection with many of his unique cycles, fancy leathers, a movie theater and the lovingly restored “Big Red” Mack truck Evel used to transport his show. The second floor features a virtual reality stunt-jump over 15 police cars, and the famous Skycycle X-2 Steam Powered rocket in which Knievel attempted to jump Snake River Canyon. The TEA Thea Awards Committee noted “creative staging and production; unique storytelling and a great guest experience for all ages.”

Fantastic Journey
Majestic Princess, Princess Cruises, USA
AOA – Live Show Spectacular: Limited Budget

The TEA Thea Awards Committee wrote, “Fantastic Journey sets a new standard in cruise ship entertainment by the creation of an epic concert of exceptional proportions and production values aboard the Majestic Princess, which was purpose-built for the Chinese guest market.” Fantastic Journey combines the best of leading-edge entertainment technology: LED and projection mapping, programmable costumes and scenery, immersive audio and lighting design, and a unique, autonomous indoor drone show. It reflects Princess Cruises’ in-depth understanding of their market’s tastes, style, and preferences, combined with a high sensitivity to the need for best-in-class leisure experiences.

Xiamen Fantawild Oriental Heritage, Xiamen, China
AOA – Theme Park

Xiamen Fantawild Oriental Heritage is the 22nd park developed and operated by Fantawild Holdings, and enhances their brand with its unique mix of traditional Chinese culture and technology-driven attractions. With nine thematic areas, 12 major attractions and a cultural heritage town, the park presents thousands of years of rich Chinese history, culture and folktales, enhanced by traditional architecture, classic food, and live entertainment. The attractions were developed primarily in-house by Fantawild animation and special effects units. “Oriental Heritage successfully couples technology-based immersive experiences with the rich folklore and culture of China. It brings together an exceptional blend of live entertainment, large-scale shows and engaging dark-ride experiences to deliver a truly unique and compelling family destination,” wrote the TEA Thea Awards Committee.

Illuminations: Human/Nature
Banff National Park, Alberta & Rouge Urban National Park, Toronto, Canada
AOA – Connected Immersion – Digital Overlay Experience: Limited Budget

This unique collaboration featuring the work of Canadian artist Sarah Fuller is a magical, nighttime, digital discovery experience. Guests are outfitted with multimedia tools disguised as camping gear, that activate along the way to illustrate story points, trigger video, special effects, music and voiceover, revealing wildlife and history within the parks. The team sought a ‘leave no trace’ approach and the entire operation was designed to be battery-powered and portable. “Illumination: Human/Nature leverages the magic and storytelling impact of the digital tools of our industry while being respectful and aware that the majesty of our national parks and environment must be preserved. It invites participants to consider the real lack of boundaries between humans and wild nature,” wrote the TEA Thea Awards Committee.

JUSTICE LEAGUE: Battle for Metropolis
Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia, California, USA
AOA – Attraction (Wild Card Rule)

This story-driven adventure for guests of all ages blends dimensional and animated sets, animatronics, 3D video, special effects, projection mapping, laser stun-blasters, interactive targets, a scoring system, a musical score and more aboard custom motion vehicles. The TEA Thea Awards Committee wrote, “Narrative-based, full immersion storytelling is an impressive new direction within a park system better known for iron rides – while staying true to the Six Flags brand. With seven JUSTICE LEAGUE attractions in seven parks since 2015 (the one being awarded, at Six Flags Magic Mountain, was installed in 2017) Six Flags and their team have achieved a commendable, constant upward trend of artistic and technical improvements and set an example for the industry.” [The Wild Card rule allows TEA to acknowledge this achievement of today even though it is an evolution of a project that began before the start of the eligibility period for the current Thea Awards cycle.]

LEGO House, Billund, Denmark
AOA – Brand Center

LEGO House, located in the Danish town of Billund, where the iconic LEGO brick was invented, is an immersive brand center where children and adults of all ages can explore their creativity and discover the endless possibilities of learning through play. The TEA Thea Committee wrote: “LEGO House epitomizes the presentation and embodiment of the LEGO brand. From the architecture to the interior treatments and furnishings, all the details are designed to emulate the LEGO brick system. All the activities are designed to foster learning through play and advance childhood development through immersion and engagement. Facilitators interact with the guests to support, encourage, inform and listen. All of this is achieved in a seamless manner that is the iconic brand of LEGO and occurs in a bright colorful playful environment for the entire family.”

Nemo & Friends SeaRider, Tokyo DisneySea, Japan
AOA – Repurposed Attraction

This immersive theater simulator ride is based on the Disney/Pixar films Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. The TEA Thea Committee wrote, “The attraction is beautifully executed and subtly transformed. The immersion effect composed of video and motion is perfectly balanced, providing the guests with a feeling of riding in the water and plenty of surprises and action to entertain. The team found the perfect balance of elements to make this a charming and exciting ride for the whole family.” Each experience is unique, composed live with more than 576 different video clips that create different storylines for each ride. The repurposing of the ride (from its predecessor, StormRider) includes a new exterior theater façade, a new pre-show and a more refined immersion experience inside the simulator.

SlideWheel, Chimelong Water Park, Guangzhou, China
AOA – Attraction

As a huge, moving, iconic feature within Chimelong waterpark, SlideWheel is visually stunning and becomes a major part of the nighttime experience for spectators and passengers alike. Viewers watch the spectacle as the 24-meter-tall SlideWheel rotates, while providing an immersive water ride to passengers, with thrills unique for a water slide. This includes swinging motions and zero gravity, as up to 480 passengers an hour slide through on 4-person rafts. Combined with a light show achieved using over 700 LED lights on the interior and exterior, the SlideWheel is a mesmerizing attraction for all. The TEA Thea Committee wrote, “SlideWheel is a highly engineered and innovative achievement that provides guests both visual and physical sensations that are unique to the waterpark industry.”

Legend of Camel Bells, Huaxia Cultural Tourism Resort, Xi’an, Shanxi Province, China
AOA – Live Show Spectacular

This live spectacular is Chinese legendary epic storytelling, of travelers on the Silk Road crossing China all the way to ancient Rome during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) encountering extreme weather, life-threatening dangers, and fantastic sights. The TEA Thea Committee wrote, “’Legend of Camel Bells’ wows the audience with stunning stage effects, massive props, extreme scenery, a huge cast, animal actors, a 15-meter-tall volcano and snow mountain, 18-meter-high Buddha and 20-meter-high by 40-meter-wide waterfall – all dramatically presented on the massive, oval-shaped stage, backed by a 4,000 square meter LED screen. The adventure is continuous as the 3,000-person audience platform rotates seamlessly from scene-to-scene. This show represents the highest level of visual imagination and design, theatrical flair, showmanship and execution. The enormous scale makes it the largest show in Northwest China (and in most parts of the world!)”

Universal Spectacle Night Parade – “The Best of Hollywood,” Universal Studios Japan, Osaka, Japan
AOA –Live Show Spectacular

“Theme parks have, over the decades, explored ways to expand upon the nighttime parade spectacular and Universal Studios Japan has dramatically reinvented the stage on which their nightly pageant performs. The result really does let guests ‘live the movies,’” wrote the TEA Thea Awards Committee. To do this, a new parade control system had to be invented, to synchronize onboard and off board projection mapping with the progressive movement of parade units, choreographed to a musical score. The massive, virtual environments synchronize with puppeteered creatures and live performance to achieve near-total guest immersion with characters, settings and music from Harry Potter, Transformers, Jurassic World and Despicable Me “Minions.” The stories come to life in a multitude of ways and the audience being at the center of vast, contrasting environments, from prehistoric worlds and science fiction, to live-action fantasy and cartoon towns.

Universal’s Volcano Bay, Universal Orlando Resort, Orlando, Florida
AOA – Water Theme Park
Great place-making
Original IP and story
Immersive theming and lush landscaping that truly transports the guests from Orlando to the mythical island of Volcano Bay

Volcano Bay is the third theme park to open within the Universal Orlando Resort. This Polynesian-inspired, water-themed park consists of 4 distinct villages, 18 attractions, 6 restaurants, retail, real sand beaches and 200-foot-tall Krakatau Volcano. Guests can enjoy all the privileges, conveniences and magic of the island all without standing in lines or carrying personal flotation devices, thanks to the revolutionary Tapu Tapu bracelets. The Thea Committee wrote, “The entire park beckons with the promise of escape, relaxation and adventure and lives up to the belief that ‘Water is Life and Life is Joy.’ Volcano Bay raises the bar for waterparks in general, with a highly themed environment and a fun, festive and relaxing atmosphere. The original, fantasy Polynesian culture that forms the basis of the design and can be experienced throughout is a culturally sensitive amalgamation and celebration of several real Polynesian cultures.”

(recognizing exceptional volunteer service to the Association)
Michel Linet-Frion, Creative & Innovation Director, Pierre & Vacances Développement – Michel joined the TEA in 1999 and has been an active leader since then. He has served on the TEA International Board of Directors in addition to multiple terms on the TEA European & Middle East Board. He has focused on helping to develop TEA’s presence and define its role in the European market, and more recently the Middle East market.
Joe Kleiman
Joe Kleiman
Raised in San Diego on theme parks, zoos, and IMAX films, InPark's Senior Correspondent Joe Kleiman would expand his childhood loves into two decades as a projectionist and theater director within the giant screen industry. In addition to his work in commercial and museum operations, Joe has volunteered his time to animal husbandry at leading facilities in California and Texas and has played a leading management role for a number of performing arts companies. Joe previously served as News Editor and has remained a contributing author to InPark Magazine since 2011. HIs writing has also appeared in Sound & Communications, LF Examiner, Jim Hill Media, The Planetarian, Behind the Thrills, and MiceChat His blog, takes an unconventional look at the attractions industry. Follow on twitter @ThemesRenewed Joe lives in Sacramento, California with his wife, dog, and a ghost.

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