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AMUSEMENT TODAY - January 28, 2003

Landry's mixes rides with restaurant, aquarium

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Landry’s mixes rides with restaurant, aquarium Galveston Rainforest Cafe features themed boat ride; Houston Aquarium features a Chance train ride through a shark tank.

Landry’s Restaurants Inc. is not trying to establish a new trend for the amusement industry. Rather, the Houston-based company sees its latest two hybrid projects as specific-to-their-location opportunities that grew out of the successes of previous operations.

However, if they succeed, you can count on the rest of the industry taking notes.

The nation’s second-largest full-service seafood restaurant chain this month plans to open the Downtown Aquarium: An Underwater Adventure in Houston. The 6 1⁄2-acre site combines dining with a public aquarium and a package of hard rides.

The opening would come a month after Landry’s opened in Galveston its 29th Rainforest Cafe with an adjoining five-minute animatronic-filled boat ride.

The Rainforest River Adventure Ride takes six passengers per raft on a themed trip through the rain forests of South America, Africa and Indonesia in search of a lost expedition of treasure hunters. It is the first time an amusement ride of this nature has been incorporated into a stand-alone restaurant.

Meanwhile, Houston’s Aquarium will feature a Chance Century Wheel with gondolas that look like old diving bells, a custom-built carousel by Chance themed with marine animals and a Chance C.P Huntington train. The train will run through a shark tank featuring six different shark species, including bulls and sawfish.

Atlantis Paradise Islands in the Bahamas has body speed slides and tube chutes traversing a shark tank, but Landry’s will be the first aquarium to utilize a hard ride as part of the exhibit.

Jeff Cantwell, the company’s senior vice president of development, said locations determined the scale of both the Aquarium and Rainforest projects. The Rainforest Cafe and River Adventure Ride is part of the San Luis Resort in Galveston’s tourist district. “We’re not going to [add a water ride] at every location, but where there’s an opportunity we will,” he told Amusement Today. “Obviously it would need to be a heavy tourist market.”

The boat ride, at $4 per passage, should drive patronage at the restaurant and vice versa, Cantwell said, and also help diners withstand the long waits for tables on busy nights.

The aquarium in Houston likewise is a singular opportunity, Cantwell said. “We’re not sure we’d do this in any other town but Houston. Houston is our home town, and it’s in a perfect location,” along Buffalo Bayou right in the middle of the city’s theater district.

It does have a precedent within the company, however: Kemah Boardwalk, in Kemah, Texas. That 40-acre development along Galveston Bay has seven restaurants, a 52-room boutique hotel, 25,000 square feet of retail space, a 450-slip marina, and a half-dozen amusement attractions, including a Chance carousel and a C.P. Huntington train.

One of Landry’s restaurants in Kemah is Aquarium: An Underwater Dining Adventure, with a 350-seat dining room located around a 50,000-gallon aquarium, and a spiral staircase that rises alongside a 35-foot-tall, 25,000-gallon cylindrical aquarium.

“We took that idea and concept and expanded it for downtown Houston,” Cantwell said.

In Houston, it’s hard to say whether the 100,000-square-foot Downtown Aquarium is an aquarium with a restaurant/banqueting facility or a restaurant with an aquarium. Its equal parts both, with a bit of amusement park thrown in.

The public aquarium covers 30,000 square feet and totals half a million gallons of water in seven themed areas, each with various tanks exhibiting more than 400 species of animals:

  • An introductory hall in Jules Verne-type theming presenting videos and interactive displays with a conservation message;
  • A Louisiana Swamp with a canopy of cypress and willow trees and a Cajun shack;
  • The hull of a sunken cutter that has crashed along a reef, the tanks appearing as holes in the side of the ship;
  • A tropical rainforest, with banyan trees and birds and snakes supplementing the marine exhibits;
  • A sunken Mayan temple with Caribbean fish;
  • The Gulf of Mexico tank where guests can witness live dives; and,
  • An educational center with the industrial look of an off-shore oil platform where guests can touch various species in shallow tanks.

Adjoining the aquarium is the Aquarium Restaurant, an enlarged version of the Kemah eatery with 450 seats around a 100,000-gallon centerpiece fish tank featuring several thousand fish. A 50-foot-tall cylindrical aquarium leads to a third-floor, 500-seat banquet facility with its own kitchen.

Inside the Aquarium itself is another eatery, the Marina Matinee Cafe, themed as a seaside wharf with the booths representing boats moored by the docks and a wall of TV screens showing nautical-subject movies, TV shows and commercials, from Jaws to McHale’s Navy.

“It wasn’t really part of the project at first,” Cantwell said. “We were putting in a cafe, but then the concept kind of developed. We think it’s going to be a success on its own.” In fact, the concept may become yet another brand in Landry’s chain of restaurants.

The company has not set admission prices to the public aquarium Cantwell said, but “we expect it to be low, around $10.” The complex’s largest revenue drivers will likely be the restaurants, he said, while the rides will be separately priced.

However, the rides are integral to the project’s overall strategy, “People will come down to the project, but we want to give them enough opportunities to spend the whole day with us, not just two hours to eat dinner,” he said.

Notably, the rides are family style rides. “We’re trying to create a family environment,” Cantwell said. “We feel we can get young and old with that family-style atmosphere and keep people coming back again and again.”

Rainforest River Adventure Ride adjoining the Rainforest Cafe, Galveston, Texas

17,300 square feet / $4

12, six-seat boats

Five-minute boat ride through rain forests of South America, Africa and Indonesia with animatronic jaguars, macaws, monkeys, giraffes, crocodiles, elephants, tigers, snakes, spiders, indigenous peoples and a river god

Boats by Aqua Sport; ride trough and water system by Aquatic Design Group; architecture by Cunningham Group; sound by Frattalone & Associates; interior design by Interior Designs Unlimited; animatronics by KX International; lighting by Shuller and Shook, theming by ThemeScapes

Landry’s Restaurants, Inc.

January 9, 2002

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