Day 97: The THEA Awards Travel-Book

originally published April 6, 2012

Is there a better job for a writer than writing travel articles? I suppose if one hates to fly, or thinks that foreign people are “gross”, then travel writing may not be for them. But for someone like me, who enjoys portioned packages of peanuts and thinks that all people, both domestic and imported are equally gross, travel writing is something I aspire to do.

Today my Wiki-flight was booked for the Themed Entertainment Association. TEA is a non-profit group intended to bring together creators of theme-based entertainment, from amusement parks to museums to weird travelling exhibits. Wikipedia lists the winners from the past three THEA awards (they add the ‘H’ so it doesn’t sound like they’re awarding good tea, I guess). Given that my budget for this site is limited only to my monthly internet payment and the copious amount of alcohol I must imbibe in order to find myself charming, I can’t visit any of these places and report on them first-hand. However, three months of ridiculous deadlines have taught me that I can make shit up with the best of them.

Let’s first jet to Washington DC and to the International Spy Museum, winner of the 2009 Museum Exhibit award for their “Operation Spy” exhibit. In this exhibit, children twelve years and older (and I would certainly qualify) take on the role of a spy. You have about an hour to stop a nuclear trigger from falling into the wrong hands. There are codes and puzzles to conquer, but also an interrogation.

Having seen all eight seasons of 24, I think the interrogation portion might be the highlight of your trip to Washington. For the low admission price of $14.95, I think it’s a great bargain for the opportunity to hook up a car battery to a suspected double-agent’s scrotum. I highly recommend this one.

Okay, I’m not jazzed about flying across the globe to catch a glimpse of an oversized golden tree. But the 2009 THEA winner for best casino attraction, the Tree of Prosperity pictured above, is most intriguing for its locale.

This looks suspiciously familiar. Steve Wynn, who is a champ at real-life Monopoly with his various hotels on the Las Vegas Strip, opened up a hotel on the Macau Peninsula in China. It bears remarkable similarities to his Vegas equivalent, including the building’s shape, its giant casino, and the high-end suites annex called the Encore.

The Wynn Macau has fancy shops, a variety of dining, and that big friggin’ tree. Throw in some Vegas-style booze-slurpees encased in a plastic football, and I’ll make the trip.

Skiing makes for a great vacation. As a patriotic Canadian, I’ve strapped sticks to my feet and ventured down a mountain. I even took out a fence when I lost control. It was great.

I’m sure people argue about where the best skiing can be found: the Rockies, the Alps, Hoth… people argue about everything. But why not try Dubai?

The winner of the 2007 THEA for Best Attraction was Ski Dubai, an indoor slope that combines the visceral thrills of downhill skiing with the veritable mind-fuck of knowing you’re skiing in Saudi Arabia. Here’s what you’ll see from the outside:

Inside you’ll find over 22,500 square meters of powdery bliss. They have five runs, including a black run (that’s a designation of difficulty, not a segregationist skiing term), a snowball shooting gallery, a toboggan hill, and a quarter-pipe for snowboarders. Oh, and when you’re tired of skiing, the entire thing is part of a huge shopping mall.

By the way, fellow Edmontonians – shelve that pride. Our beloved West Edmonton Mall is now #12 on the list of the world’s biggest. That’s okay, we still have… ummm…

Moving on.

Here’s one item I can write about with some flicker of experience. Winner of the 2008 THEA for Technical Achievement is the show Ka, a Cirque du Soleil production permanently plunked into the Las Vegas MGM Grand resort. Whether you’re a fan of Cirque du Soleil’s trademark acrobatics and general weirdness or not, Ka will deliver you a show unlike anything you’ve seen before.

The stage, pictured above, is covered in sand. At one point in the show, it rises up to be completely vertical. To write that sentence doesn’t do justice to the effect; literally the entire concept of the theatrical space is redefined, and the parameters of the spectators’ viewpoints are re-written in the middle of a musical number. The Cirque team incorporates a lot of martial arts and battle scenes with this number, so if you’re worried that a Cirque show is too “fruity” for you, this is the show that’ll change your mind.

And once again we’re back in Washington. If you’ve had enough of looking at phallic monuments and statues of dead presidents, and you’ve shattered a double agent’s kneecaps at the International Spy Museum, maybe you’ll want to make time for the Newseum, a cleverly-named museum of news and journalism which won the 2009 THEA for Best Museum.

At first glance, this may appear to be a great way to torture your kids with an educational day out that doesn’t involve roller coasters. Actually, that’s probably true – unless they suffer from crippling motion-sickness, your kids will have more fun at the nearest Six Flags. But the Newseum offers a number of exhibits that won’t make you vomit on a stranger. There’s an extensive look at reporting on the Berlin Wall’s collapse, the September 11th attacks, and a lot of information about freedom of the press around the world.

The Newseum offers an exhibit by NBC that allows you to simulate being an anchor, a reporter, or a news editor. Once they set up a Fox News exhibit to allow the public to practice inciting fear and suspicion of others, I think this place will really haul in the tourist bucks.

Actually, an exhibit dedicated to journalists who have died in the line of duty, and another chronicling some of the best photojournalism in history might make the trip to the nation’s capital worth the time.

It’s a shame there are only three THEA Awards listings available in Wiki-land – their website offers even less information. They cover theme parks too, though I’ve run out of room and I’m a little disgruntled by my lack of travel funds and the classically Edmonton April snowstorm outside, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead.

Unless someone’s willing to make me an offer.

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