Dreamland Amusements has a busy January on tap. At a time when many mid-size carnivals are off the road refurbishing rides and booking routes, the Long Island, N.Y. show has several pieces operating in Florida over the next several weeks, including Santa's Enchanted Forest, the holiday theme park in Miami.
Bob DeStefano, his wife, Kathy, and their family run Dreamland, which they founded in 2002. Bob co-owned Silver Dollar Shows from 1984 through 2001, and worked with Carnival Amusements from 1976 until 1983, when the company was sold.
At the Enchanted Forest, Dreamland featured its Orbiter, Christmas Train, Himalaya and ARM Vertigo. Steve and Brian Schectman produce the annual event in south Florida. This year's dates were Nov. 3 through Jan. 8.
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reamland officially kicks off its season at the Viaport Mall Carnival, Jan. 12-16, in Leesburg, Fla., followed by events in Bradenton and Newport Richie, leading up to the Florida State Fair.
At that point, the carnival will lend support to Wade Shows, which holds the contract in Tampa. Dreamland will provide about 20 rides at the state fair, including the Delusion, a spectacular attraction made by Technical Park.
As it stands now, it's one of only two such rides in the U.S. for a piece whose trade name is Pegasus. Jim Bishop, an independent with Ray Cammack Shows, owns the other one, which is named OMG, which in text-speak, stands for Oh My God.
DeStefano described the Delusion as a cross between a Spinout and an Orbiter. The claw-type ride holds up to 16 riders and performs multiple motions as it completes a 360-degree circle.
Three years ago when DeStefano first purchased the ride, it cost about $700,000 Euros. These days, with the Euro falling in value to match the American dollar, it would be a great buy, he said.
In addition, Dreamland is currently renovating a Sea Dragon and it will be ready to go for the spring route. The upgrades are taking place at winterquarters in Delco, N.C.,17 miles west of Wilmington on the eastern Carolina coast. Separately, the carnival has a new office and living quarters produced by Spacecraft.
Dreamland's partnership with Wade Shows extends to the New York State Fair, where DeStefano has booked equipment in Syracuse since Wade was awarded the contract in March 2014.
In Tampa, Dreamland's rides have been a part of the state fair for about 15 years, after the event parted ways with carnival operator Ed Gregory and switched to an independent midway. Wade Shows took over the contract to manage the midway starting with the 2015 fair. This year's dates are Feb. 9-20.
Elsewhere, Dreamland has a similar agreement with Powers Great American Midways at the North Carolina State Fair, where it supplies 20 to 22 rides in Raleigh.
All told, Dreamland, owner of 45 rides, runs two units most of the time in a vast territory stretching from New Hampshire to Florida. The fall route goes through North Carolina, where the carnival plays several county fairs.
After experiencing a cold and wet spring that lasted pretty much through Memorial Day, the weather was good for the carnival's northeast run of fairs and festivals. In late September and early October, though, Dreamland felt the effects of Hurricane Matthew at events in Virginia and North Carolina.
The city of Whiteville, N.C., home of the Columbus County Fair and the county seat, got hit especially hard leading up to the Oct. 11-16 event. The town was devastated by hurricane-related flooding. Residents lost power for a few days and ride inspectors and fuel trucks could not access the fairgrounds, DeStefano said.
The town rebounded, though, and the fair itself went on as scheduled and had beautiful weather, he said.
"It's a real tribute to the fair board," DeStefano said. "Once we got rolling there, we did OK. It was almost an escape for people, and to be able to get a hot meal at the fair. There's really something to be said for the local folks and those elected to represent the fair."
Dreamland added a few new spots in 2016, including the Chowan County Fair in Edenton, N.C.,and the Suffolk (Va.) Peanut Festival. The latter event's Friday night was washed out due to the hurricane, DeStefano said.
On the labor front, Dreamland uses mostly American workers, but a shortage of help forced DeStefano to hire international employees over the past two seasons after going through a string of eight years without H2B workers.
For the 2016 season, the carnival hired a dozen internationals. They came on board in early August as the show added more equipment at some of its bigger spots.
Apart from those workers, DeStefano's nephew, Austin Wagner, has proved to be a strong asset. Wagner, 21, has been with Dreamland for the past four years but has quickly learned the nuances of midway operations usually only found in a person twice his age, his uncle said.
"He's been a tremendous right hand," DeStefano said. "I really see the company going to the next level under his direction. [Wade Shows owner] Frank Zaitshik asked me if he could make a trade for him. I told him he's not for sale."
In addition, two of DeStefano's daughters, Jaclyn, 28, and Kaitlin, 23, work food concessions and manage the show's social media promotions. Together, they've showed their father how effective Facebook and Instagram can be for selling advance tickets, he said.
The economy? DeStefano doesn't feel it affects business as much as the weather. "Give us a nice weekend ... weather is such a dynamic in our industry," he said. "We can be an idiot or a genius depending on the weather."