Twice as large as the second biggest theme park in Italy, with a total area of 850.000 square meters, Mirabilandia is Italy’s biggest amusement park. With cutting-edge technologies, Mirabilandia amusement park is famous for its extreme attractions: iSpeed is the tallest and fastest launch coaster in Italy, Katun is the longest inverted coaster in Europe, Divertical is the tallest water coaster in the world, and Eurowheel, with its 90 meters, is the second tallest Ferris wheel on the continent. This year marks Mirabilandia’s 30th anniversary and what better way to learn more about the main attractions than to interview the person who helped plan them from start to finish? We spoke with the CEO of the park, Riccardo Capo, who has a passion for extreme attractions and memorable stories behind each one that he has helped develop.
Meet your Mirabilandia insider
Thank you for virtually meeting us! Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role as CEO of Italy’s biggest amusement park.
It’s a comeback for me because I had been appointed CEO from 2010 to 2014 and returned to Mirabilandia the past March after an 8-year absence. As the CEO of such a big business, my primary responsibility is to oversee financial and operational issues such as investments, financial stability, and so on. I constantly strive to bring in innovation, forecasting what would be popular three years from now for example. When running a theme park, there is a lot of preparation involved in bringing something new every year, but in reality, those ideas come years in advance in order to be implemented in time.
Being CEO is obviously a very essential role in a business. Besides the financial and technical aspects that you just mentioned, is there a fun side to the job?
Having filled several positions in various companies throughout my career, I believe that being the CEO of an amusement park is one of the best jobs in the world! It’s wonderful to do my everyday tasks while watching people around me have fun in the park, I find it really rewarding. I believe that a CEO of such a big amusement park should spend a significant amount of time within the park to fully grasp what is working and what is not, what the vibe is, and if people like it. The only way to know whether you’re doing a good job is to observe the visitors and note if they enjoy the park, the live shows and if they’re having a good time.
I find going around the park a much-needed mental reset from office moments, phone calls, and emails – a 15-minute walk around the park may quickly recharge you and make you feel part of the fun environment around you. It’s definitely different from any job I’ve ever had.
How much do you value your team of employees working behind the scenes?
A business is made up of people, in this case, people who work to make the visitors’ experience enjoyable. The park is obviously very big and there are around 1,000 employees working in it. Our main goal is to make others happy, and in order to do so, having a friendly working environment is essential. I enjoy interacting with the employees whenever I get the chance to do it, especially when I run into some of them while I walk around the park.
We are all part of the same team, and when one of us achieves a goal, it is a celebration for all of us.
Epic Mirabilandia’s adrenaline-pumping rides
Let’s dig into the attraction aspect of the park: what is the most popular attraction?
The Katun is definitely the main attraction, and being an inverted roller coaster, it requires psychological strength; it’s likely to be spotted from the outside of the park before entering. Actually, visitors stop outside the gate only to stare at it and see people yelling, laughing, and having a good time on it, making it even more exciting and enticing – especially for those who enjoy rollercoasters and want to feel a thrill of excitement. Even children are drawn to it because they fantasize about the day they will be able to experience it.
What is the most popular children-friendly attraction?
Mirabilandia has three areas dedicated to children: Bimbopoli, DinoLand, and the Western Area, with attractions for both adults and children. The park has always attempted to provide attractions that allow parents and children to interact together. Such as “the Towers”, where parents and children can play together while climbing higher and higher, or “the Flying Bike”, where the more you pedal, the higher you climb. For children aged 3 and up, the Mini Rapids, Santa Fe train, and Leprotto Express roller coaster are great options.
Some of the attractions are quite historical too: is there a story behind a specific attraction that you can share?
Almost every attraction has a backstory or a narrative. The story behind our horror house, Phobia, is the one I remember the most. I recall taking a trip with a set designer to Louisville, where the horror expo was being held at that time, and we went to visit the world’s number one horror house. It was quite stunning, especially in terms of intensity, and I will never forget it. After that experience, we decided to redo and rename our attraction, formerly known as Ghostville, to Phobia.
We were the first in Italy to trust that a format like that might work. We even launched the first horror Halloween in Italy’s amusement parks, which was a huge hit and we believe that this concept still works nowadays. Going to that horror festival years ago opened my eyes to what the market had to offer back then, and it makes for an interesting story behind an attraction.
It was definitely an experience that inspired you.
Yes. What is important is that visitors have a nice experience even after leaving a horror house. In the end, the main ingredient is to have fun, which is difficult to plan and execute for horror houses in general. It feels like a psychological journey where “lights must fade and open areas must close” but without losing the fun experience.
Besides the attractions that you mentioned is there anything less extreme that you would suggest visiting?
What I would advise visitors to do is not be in a hurry to go into an attraction. Obviously, the first thing visitors want to do when they arrive at the park is to try an attraction. However, I recommend looking at the park’s map and itinerary, as well as the shows – they represent Mirabilandia’s strengths: stunt shows, animation shows, and theatrical plays. I recommend spending some time studying the map in order to avoid missing the essential must-see attractions and shows.
Was there an attraction that was technically very hard to build?
ISpeed was one of those: being a launch coaster, it was extremely difficult to create an attraction like it in which a train, weighing 4,000 kg, is released, and reaches speeds of 100 km/h in only a few seconds. Because this product was very complex, there were several false starts and delays before it was eventually completed. It took around one year to complete, from the very start of the project plan until it opened to the public.
In general, designing a new area or attraction takes more than two years, with various phases and many teams of professionals involved. We determine the main goal and then work with architects and designers to create the initial master plan, which must have an emotional and creative component. Everything begins with a dream or an emotion, and this must serve as the foundation for the design. That’s why I set it up right away and then finish up with the technical parts, bringing in engineers and architects.
Mirabilandia Park is the biggest amusement park in Italy so for a lot of people it probably feels impossible to try every single attraction: how long does it take to visit the main ones?
A single day is not enough. That is why I recommend visiting the park for at least two days: this allows the visitor to explore the park in a more relaxing way without feeling rushed to try every attraction. I usually recommend getting the park’s map from the website or app and planning ahead of time where you want to go first. Throughout the park, screens are constantly updated with the latest attractions and performances to watch.
With so many rides and shows to choose from, it’s easy to imagine people feeling a bit lost when they first arrive.
Exactly, and this is something that is intended with the park’s design: losing orientation within the park. It’s done on purpose – it’s a psychological way of losing external mechanisms, being lost or losing orientation is a mental way of letting oneself go. For example, buildings are intended to be shorter than “in real life” so that visitors don’t feel overwhelmed and, on the contrary, can enjoy freedom. It’s like being in a storybook where you feel like a giant. In my opinion, these are the features that amusement parks must have in order to be successful and provide visitors with a dream-like experience.
Mirabilandia’s shows are a must-see in the park
Mirabilandia is famous for its impressive live shows, why do you think they are so engaging with the audience?
We’ve always been committed to offering high-quality entertainment, not just through our attractions but also through our live shows, which have been running since 2010.
I feel like it’s a different experience than when attending a traditional theatre play: in Mirabilandia, our performers go down the stage to engage with the audience throughout a show. The audience enjoys this portion because it allows them to feel involved and a part of the act. When executing these performances, human interaction is absolutely important, especially when people leave with a really nice memory of the experience. That’s why the shows are so engaging with the audience, because of the emotional and human aspects.
In Mirabilandia we have always valued the human component and this is what sets us apart from other parks: we are more than just steel; emotions and sentiments play an important role.
What is the best show to enjoy with children?
This year’s addition to the park was Nickelodeon characters with a dedicated show for a memorable party to experience all together. To encourage making new friends, we offer meet-and-greets and photo opportunities with the Paw Patrol – Chase, Marshall, and Skye – SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick, the Ninja Turtles, and Dora the Explorer. “Hot Wheels City – The New Challenge,” the most acclaimed stunt show in Europe, is always very popular with children of all ages, with the highest mobile loop, 15 meters high, never before performed in an amusement park.
How did the park change during your absence, and is there anything you would like to improve or bring?
It has changed in a positive way: Mirabilandia now includes themed sections, something it did not have ten years ago. The aquatic side has doubled, and there are additional major attractions such as the western area and the Ducati section.
As for what I would like to bring next, with Park Reunidos headquarters, I’ve set aside three months to study the park and determine how the market has evolved in order to offer a strategy that will define the next 3-5 years. The park is 30 years old, and it is always in need of upgrades, particularly generational ones. That is one of the project’s key goals.
When is the best time of year to visit the park?
The Mirabilandia theme park is open from Easter to Halloween. Whether you want to enjoy the water attractions and cool off on hot days or get scared by the horror atmosphere of Halloween, every moment is a good time to visit Italy’s largest amusement park. Throughout the year, there is no shortage of special events, theme parties, and animations. The calendar of shows and theater performances is always full.
The 30th anniversary was just recently. What did you plan for that special occasion?
We thought about coming up with a good concept for a party since we wanted to do something different than the usual so we decided to have a party set in the 1990s. I feel like the 90s were a great era for themed parks in general. Mirabilandia was founded at that time and Disneyland as well. So what better theme to inspire this party?
Throughout the morning we had a corporate moment with the institutions, highlighting the history of Mirabilandia and the park’s value within the territory. For the rest of the day, we hosted a party in collaboration with the RDS radio station, with a DJ on stage until late at night. To cap it all off, the night show “The Last Pan” was performed on the lake’s waters, with special effects, video mapping, fairy-tale images projected on water walls, and evolutions of roaring jet skis.
Finally, I must ask a question that I’m sure you get a lot: do you have a favorite attraction?
I surely get asked this a lot but I’m always happy to answer! I obviously like ISpeed and Divertical since they are the most popular ones, but another favorite of mine is Buffalo Bill Rodeo, a disco rollercoaster that is extremely entertaining and not too intense, but once you get out of there, you can’t stop smiling thinking about the fun experience.
Mirabilandia is a themed park created by and for people: from providing an enjoyable experience to promoting wonderful stage performances, this park has more to offer than just rollercoasters.