KISSIMMEE — It towers over the entrance of Old Town, and has the look of something that your average thrill seekers is likely to find too tempting to bypass.
Known as the PEPSI AMPVenture Experience, it features a zip line and challenge course that calls on patrons to test their balance, strength and endurance on a series of rope challenges and rock climbing obstacles.
“It’s a ropes course, and it’s not very common here,” said Chris Spicer, general manager of Old Town. “Mostly you’ll find these internationally, not so much in the U.S.”
This afternoon, Old Town opened the new ride to the general public, but while it was the culmination of a month’s worth of construction work, it marked the beginning of what Old Town expects will be a long series of changes designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, to find innovative ways to attract crowds, and to ensure that people keeping thinking of Old Town as an exciting place to visit.
Don Rousseau, Old Town’s sales and marketing director, said this was the vision of the theme park’s new owner, Gary Conroy.
“Gary Conroy came in with this beautiful idea that we’re going to make Old Town new again, so the idea is to keep bringing in something brand new,” Rousseau said. “We haven’t done this in decades. Old Town has been around for 25 years.”
Conroy said he wanted to bring some excitement to Old Town, and let people know there are plenty of fresh changes in the works.
“We wanted to bring families back to Old Town, so we wanted to give them the best of the best,” he said. “That’s the future of Old Town. There’s a great vision of where we want to take Old Town over the years.”
Some of the changes have already happened, starting with AMPVenture Experience.
“This is a ropes challenges course that helps you challenge your fears,” said Rousseau. “It’s pretty intense. It’s a great time, and it’s one of those hot, up and coming rides. Anyone from five years old to 92 can do it.”
Old Town also introduced the Flying Dutchman, a new thrill ride, and “The little kids can enjoy it, too,” Rousseau said.
There’s a new Nascar attraction, with simulated rides on the race track — “There’s six different tracks can you drive,” Rousseau said — and the new Sauce It Up shop, featuring what Rousseau called “300 really, really super sauces, from mild to death-type stuff.”
There’s plenty on the way in the future as well, including a Jimmy John’s sub shop coming in October, and farther down the road, Old Town is planning to transform a vacant field in the rear of the property into a new Pepsi Rock Star Stage for concerts and a future outdoor drive-in theater.
“We have an eight and a half acre field where we’ll be doing ticketed events,” Rousseau said. “Next summer we’re going to have a big Woodstock revival where we’ll be bringing in performers who did Jimi Hendrix impersonations and things like that.”
Once the new drive in movie theater is set up, he said, it will be one of only three in the region, the others being in Lakeland and Ocala.
“We have one of those big, huge inflatable screens that up to 2,000 people can watch,” Rousseau said.
Before that happens, Old Town is planning to get in on the excitement of the Halloween season, although the details are still under wraps, Rousseau said.
“We’ll be having a big Halloween three weekend holiday event,” he said. “Right now it’s very hush hush — because it’s going to be spectacular.”
A few of the new shops replaced older ones that did not renew their lease agreements with the theme park’s management, Rousseau said, although he added “We have a list of people trying to get into Old Town.”
Old Town is right off U.S. 192, close to Celebration and Four Corners, and still a good distance from the section of East 192 that’s been experiencing a very rough time during the recession, with miles of abandoned, boarded up buildings that once housed restaurants, hotels, gas stations and other stores.
“We found our challenges as well,” Roussseau said, but he added that’s why Old Town was looking for ways to reinvent itself, just as Walt Disney World is expanding Fantasyland and turning Pleasure Island into Hyperion Wharf — a constant challenge for the theme park industry, to not rely solely on past successes to guide the way to the future.
“You’ve got to be really focused on what tourism is doing now,” Rousseau said. “People need affordable, family-friendly things to do.”
Conway agreed, saying “One of the messages we want to get through is that in this economy, we’re sensitive to people’s needs, and we want to keep everything affordable.”
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