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Hawaii's EK Fernandez Shows finds success with cashless midway system
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Located in Kapolei, Hawaii on the island of Oahu, E.K. Fernandez Shows Inc. may be the only carnival purveyor in the U.S. with a home base of a tropical island.

According to executive administrator Brandi Subee, the carnival travels to neighboring islands as well as all around Oahu. “We charter a barge and load everything up on the boat,” she attests.

With a season that runs February to November, the E.K. Fernandez Show brings the carnival fun to locals and tourists alike, and makes sure rides are current, food plentiful, and games easy to win.

Recently, the carnival added new rides. “They’re good additions for us,” Subee sayss. “We added both the Zero Gravity ride and the Rockin’ Tug. They’re all popular, but so are older rides. I would say the Zipper and the Century Wheel are always doing well.”

The carnival does a mix of large and small events, Subee says, noting that due the different sizes of carnivals they operate, ride pricing changes by event. However, for all events, the carnival company requires the use of an electronic ticketing system, dubbed Fun Pass to ride the rides, play the games, and purchase food, beverages, or novelties. The pass credits are good at any E.K. Fernandez event, so if a carnival attendee buys a pass at one event and has leftover credits, they can be redeemed at other carnivals.

The minimum purchase of a Fun Pass is $20 which gives carnival goers 20 credits; it can be reloaded at any Fun Pass trailer throughout any carnival site. Credits are deducted by scanning them on a card reader, and the amount of credits on a card can be determined at purchasing or reloading sites. Fun Passes may be shared with family and friends, but they need to be scanned by each person using the card. It’s a modern way to enjoy the fun, and many carnival guests are pleased with the ease of having one pass to access everything from rides to food, rather than keeping track of cash or credit cards.  The electronic system was developed by American Changer Corporation.  

One thing that never changes is the need for strong promotion. “We do print and social media. We do a lot of Facebook, and have many followers,” she relates. “And we do email blasts as well. Many of our locations we’ve been to before, and people look forward to seeing us.”

The carnival has also paid tribute to their location in Hawaii. “At the 50th State Fair, which is one of our largest fairs during the year, we did a Hawaiian night. It was very well received, the public really liked it. It was something completely new for us. We had all our signs in Hawaiian, and there were demonstrations and activities related to the islands,” she says. Attendees were also pleased that this event attracted those who spoke Hawaiian; it was a truly island-focused experience.

The 50th State Fair is located in Honolulu’s vast Aloha Stadium.

But E. K. Fernandez Shows is equally at home at small, local events. In October, the company played the Kaimuki High School carnival in Honolulu, as well as the Kapolei High School and Pearl City High School carnivals on Oahu.

It’s a third-generation family business, operating since 1903. It’s founder, Edwin Kane (E. K.) Fernandez, was given the nickname “The Barnum of the Pacific.”

The carnival’s first ride was a merry-go-round that was steam powered, called the Flying Jenny. Today, of course, E.K. Fernandez offers a wide variety of rides ranging from kiddie rides to thrill experiences.

The candy-themed Lolly Swings is a popular kiddie ride; it’s geared to family riders with side by side seats that rise in the air and tilt. The Wave Swinger ride was originally exported to Hawaii by Zierer of Germany, and is a strong attraction for its beautiful design as well as swinging motion. Today’s carousel is far from the steam powered version that started the carnival company, with a double row of horses made by Chance Rides.

When it comes to games, among the most popular are Whack-A-Mole, Water Race, and Roll-A-Ball. Food selections have some Hawaii-focused items, such as a plate lunch with rice and potato salad, or tropical slush. But there are also plenty of fair favorites such as corn dogs, funnel cakes, pizza, caramel corn, and candied apples. At the 50th State fair, food choices were even more varied, Subee says.

Along with the carnivals themselves, E.K. Fernandez offers ride, concession, and game rentals for parties and corporate events; staging for concerts is also available for rental; as are tables, chairs, tents, fencing. Even the Century Wheel itself is up for grabs.

The carnival promotes events actively on social media including videos on YouTube, and photos on Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest. With hundreds of thousands of attendees at carnivals over the course of the year, the company is certainly doing something right – with plenty of aloha style.
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