ATLANTA – More than 1,100 exhibitors representing the $29 billion-a-year amusement industry stood at attention Friday when a group of clipboard-toting fifth-graders marched in.
The eight Atlanta-area students took their jobs seriously as they evaluated the latest theme park rides, games and food, all on display at the massive International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo.
Wearing brightly colored "Kid Testers" T-shirts, they dutifully scribbled notes and circled grades.
It was the first time the association had reached out to children to experience and rate the new products, and the companies were braced for candid reviews.
"Who's more honest than a kid?" said Beth Robertson, the group's vice president of communications. "It's a great opportunity to see who's going to be riding these things."
Snapfinger Elementary teacher Donna Brockmann said the association "wanted children who are outgoing and who have the ability to be critical." She brought three students from the DeKalb County school's gifted program.
The most glowing reviews followed rides on S&S Powers' 65-foot tall "Screamin' Swing," set up outside the Georgia World Congress Center exhibit hall, where the expo for industry representatives ran Monday through Saturday. Only about half the kid testers were brave enough to try out the big swing, but Josh Trainer returned for a second ride.
"I thought it was awesome, better than all the others inside," said Trainer, a home-schooled student from Dacula. "I liked how high it goes."
Some of the young testers also passed on the "Disk'O," which whips riders around a big spinning circle. Nigel Manley of West Clayton Elementary, however, rated it "totally cool."
The students stayed grounded for other some of the games and exhibits, including a 4-D Theater that got positive reviews.
"I liked the way it comes out of the picture at you," said Bria Collins of Point South Elementary in Clayton County.
She wasn't crazy about the Wave Blaster, which takes riders in a circle while each seat moves up and down. "Once you got on, it really wasn't that scary," she said.
Trainer gave a thumbs-down to a "MagiQuest" interactive show where contestants do battle with magic wands — too much witchcraft. But he said he would enthusiastically recommend the Screamin' Swing.
"I'd tell them the swing isn't scary," Trainer said, "but they might not like me when they got off the ride."