CHARLOTTE -- Amusements of America played Peru for the first time this year and lived to tell about it.
OK, that might be a slight exaggeration. But considering the troubles carnivals have experienced overseas in the past, the Vivona family feels fortunate to start the 2014 season on schedule after sending 30 rides to the South American country.
"We're the first carnival to come back on time without getting stuck," said Marco Vivona, co-head of the carnival's first unit set up here during the Charlotte Fair at the Metrolina Trade Show Expo. The show did well enough that officials plan to return next year, Vivona said.
Over the years, some carnivals playing internationally got held up coming back to the U.S. after event promoters failed to pay the requisite taxes tied to bringing equipment to other countries, Vivona said. Amusements of America did not go through that experience, he added.
The show did get held up going down to Peru, a 2,500-mile journey. Initially, it was a challenge to find a boat to ship the rides and the vessel they booked was two weeks late arriving to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. Then it took a few days to navigate through the Panama Canal due to the large number of ships waiting in line to go out to sea, Vivona said.
As a result, EvenPro Park opened in Lima, a city of 8 million people, two weeks late. The event ran from Jan. 1 to March 2 after originally being scheduled to start in mid-December, Vivona said
It was summer time in Peru and it rained only once, said Dominic Vivona, Marco's father. "It's the second-driest area in the world," he said. "They only get an inch or two of rain a year, which is great for the carnival business."
The event promoter, Venezuelan Luis Guzman, has offices in Lima and Miami. Amusements of America officials first met Guzman through promoters they work with in Puerto Rico and worked out a deal to go to Peru.
The carnival has now played Peru, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic over its 75 years of operation. In Canada, the show played the Central Canada Exhibition in Ottawa from 1963 to 1995.
In addition to Peru, Amusements of America picked up four new dates domestically, including the Georgia State Fair, an event they previously played for decades. The fair relocated from Macon to the Atlanta Motor Speedway. This year's dates are Sept. 26 through Oct. 5. The show will set up 40 pieces in the track's parking lot.
The change in venue was made after the Macon Exchange Club that ran the fair decided to sell the charter because the event was "getting killed" by the Georgia National Fair in Perry, Dominic Vivona said. Fair promoter Mark Lovell bought the charter and signed a deal with the speedway, he said.
Another new date is Pimlico Racecourse, a week after the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown of horse racing. Lovell is also the promoter for that event taking place in the facility's parking lot. Wade Shows played the horse track several years ago but Dominic Vivona said it has gone without a carnival for the past few years.
"We had an open week and a still date and this made our open week stronger," he said.
The fourth new spot is the Fayette County Fair in Washington Court House, Ohio. Dates are July 14-19.
There was more news coming out of the Charlotte Fair. Event promoter Larry Linton said he is organizing a fall festival at the same Metrolina lot. Amusements of America's second unit, headed by Morris Vivona Jr., will set up rides at the Oct. 17-26 event. The official name of the event has not been determined but Linton wants to market a different theme and feel compared with the Charlotte Fair.
"We're going to try to make it as different as possible," he said. "We may have an eating contest. I doubt we will have music."
At the Charlotte Fair, there were a several attractions, including Bunky and Connie Boger's Animal Specialties petting zoo from Lowell, Ark. Jeff Thomas, an airbrush T-shirt vendor who typically runs games for Dale Negus and Deggeller Attractions, was part of the midway as well. The same was true for Dave Fegorello, an independent games concessionaire.
"Ziggy" Viseusi and his son Torio booked their Angela's Pizza trailer with the show in Charlotte and Charleston, S.C. They are from Riverview, Fla. and have been in the business since 1974.
The Vivonas were awaiting delivery of a new office trailer to replace the one on the first unit that's anywhere from 30 to 50 years old, Marco Vivona said. The new piece of equipment is actually a 10-year-old converted medical trailer used to treat MRI patients on the road.
"We've always invested our money in rides, not offices," he said.
"We'd rather invest in revenue-producing pieces."
This year though, the show mostly held the line on new ride purchases. The exception is a new Fireball, themed Chaos, from Italy's Technical Park. It's on the second unit.
"We own 75 rides," Dominic Vivona said. "You know the old saying, if you know everything you own, you don't own too much."
This year, the carnival raised the price of single ride tickets to $1.25. A lot of its fairs have already increased their pay-one-price midway promotions to $25. The Charlotte Fair, held May 2-12, had a Cinco de Mayo wristband special for $15. Gate admission was cut to $5 from the regular price of $8, Linton said.
The same issues affect Amusements of America as other carnivals. Diesel fuel is a "killer," Dominic Vivona said. "We run some plants 24 hours a day to power bunkhouses and food stands and the other day it cost us $10,000.
"CDL drivers are out of whack," he added. "We pay as much for truck drivers as others' one week salary. But there's no other way to do it. We have to move all our rides at one time. We can't double back 200 miles. We carry additional trailers with extra ticket boxes, shops, light plants, stuff we wouldn't need ordinarily if we didn't play the big fairs. Those all take drivers."
Three original Vivona brothers still remain semi-active in the business. Dominic is 81 and Phil is 79. Morris, the eldest, turns 94 on Halloween.
"We're figureheads now," Dominic said.
Food vendors Ziggy Viseusi and his son Torio.