21 Ultimate Gifts: No Ticket to Ride
A custom-built backyard theme park with a full-size steel roller coaster, a virtual-reality robo-coaster, a rotating hammer swing, a children’s wooden coaster, a carousel, and other attractions.
$20 million, plus annual upkeep
Craig Hanna began to envision a private backyard theme park while discussing a dream project with a potential client. The client, a serious Star Trek fan, was interested in building an entire house around a Starship Enterprise theme. From futuristic lighting and upward sliding doors (complete with the famous whoosh sound) to manufactured views of outer space through the home’s windows, the property would be a near-perfect simulacrum of the spaceship. “As we sketched out this mansion, we began to brainstorm about the large-scale interactive experiences we could tailor to it,” says Hanna, chief creative officer of the Thinkwell Group, a Burbank, Calif., company that designs theme parks and other attractions around the world. “And that got us thinking a lot of crazy thoughts about what was possible.”
As it turns out, almost anything is possible when the Thinkwell Group is involved. Hanna, who honed his craft as a creative director at Universal Studios, cofounded Thinkwell in 2001 with Francois Bergeron and Cliff Warner. The company has since developed such imaginative projects as Ski Dubai, the 25-story indoor skiing complex at the Mall of the Emirates. And now Hanna wants to take his expertise to a more personal level. “The idea of a residential theme park has been something that keeps coming around and around,” he says.
For Thinkwell Group’s first backyard attraction, available exclusively to one thrill-seeking Robb Report reader, Hanna has identified nine essential elements for the quintessential theme-park experience: a full-size steel roller coaster, an eight-person virtual-reality robo-coaster, a rotating hammer swing, a children’s wooden coaster, a swing tower, a carousel, a fountain show, a fun house, and an electric train that circles the grounds. Hanna’s team will customize each component, tailoring the layout of the park and designing the individual rides—loops and all—so that the client can choose how daring or docile the experience will be.
“I liken a good theme park to a great dinner in that variety is key,” Hanna says. “You wouldn’t have a steak salad, a steak entrée, and a steak dessert. Similarly, a theme park should create a range of emotional experiences.”
The theme of the park will be completely up to the gift’s recipient—and nothing is out of bounds. “It could be baseball-themed or a real-life Candyland,” Hanna ventures, “an undersea world or outer space. Your imagination is the only limit.”
Thinkwell Group, 818.333.3444, www.thinkwell.staging.work
The theme park is available to one Robb Report reader, who must provide the land (at least two acres) on which it will be built. The gift includes construction, all necessary permits, and landscaping. Additional annual maintenance and operational fees of approximately $100,000 are not included in the price. The park will require 12 to 15 months to complete.