From 16-Year-Old Ride Operator to GM: Meet Tony Carovillano
As the vice president and general manager of Worlds of Fun, Tony Carovillano is responsible for leading the operation of the park’s 235 acres and all of its rides and slides. His day typically starts at the front gate where he welcomes ambassadors and guests. From there, he bounces around attending meetings, checking on projects, leading his directors and planning for upcoming events. The day usually stretches past 8 hours, and the workweek almost always stretches beyond five days, but just as Tony did when he started – he relies on the energy of the park to keep him going.
For the past 35 years, amusement parks have been Tony’s life. He fell in love with the industry soon after he started as a train conductor at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio outside of Cincinnati. He was 16, and he’s been along for the ride ever since that whistle blew.
Working on The Railroad
After turning 16, it was time for Tony to get a job. To his delight, he was hired to work in rides at Kings Island after his sister, who was a supervisor at the log flume, put in a good word for him. Decked out in his train conductor uniform, Tony went to work on the K.I. & Miami Valley Railroad.
Tony was hooked immediately. It was the energy that drew him in. Working with like-minded people that were enthusiastic and social made work fun.
“The passion is always there,” said Tony. “You know you’re coming in to make people happy. You and the guests feed off of each other’s happiness and energy. You just can’t compare it to anything. The industry is full of these types of individuals, and it all comes down to working with good people.”
After two seasons of working on the railroad, Tony was promoted to supervisor.
Vortex and Adventure Express - The Climb
Midway through his fourth season at Kings Island in 1989, Tony changed roles, and became the second supervisor at Vortex, a roller coaster that had opened at the park two years prior. It was his first real taste of leadership.
“I learned a lot of things early on in my career that I still carry today. For starters, you have to remember to play. You have to remember to have fun. Working at the train and at Vortex was all about having as much fun as possible. We were sharp when it came to our procedures, but we had fun. I still try to carry that same energy as I did when I was 16,” said Tony.
After high school, Tony continued to climb within the rides department, being named the supervisor of Adventure Express when it opened in 1990 and the assistant manager of the Old Coney Island and Okterbest themed areas the following year.
During this time, Tony was also attending the University of Cincinnati, using his hard-earned paycheck for tuition. He managed the workload and graduated with a degree in social work. As a service-minded individual, Tony says the degree prepared him well for his job, giving him the ability to empower and help individuals on his team.
In 1996, Tony became a full-time member of the Kings Island operations team as an area manager in rides.
“My time with Kings Island helped me learn my potential and grow as a leader. It afforded me these learning opportunities, where other employers would not have been able. We are proud to offer these same types of growth opportunities at Worlds of Fun today,” said Tony.
The Carowinds Years
In 2003, Tony was asked to move to Charlotte to become the manager of attractions at Kings Island’s sister park, Carowinds. He agreed and packed up the family for the Carolinas.
Tony liked operations, and he was good at it. Like Tony, operations is very systematic. The process is defined. Procedures are in place. It is all about efficiency and safety. He credits his success and opportunities to mentors and industry icons like Jill Moore, Doug Kramer, Jerry Helms, Tony Johnson and Greg Scheide to name a few.
An opportunity arose in 2007 to move home to Cincy following Cedar Fair’s purchase of Paramount Parks. Tony’s time at Carowinds helped him define his management style. It also gave him the opportunity to learn the unique operating needs of a different park.
Cincy to KC
Tony and his family moved back to Ohio where he resumed his position of attractions manager at Kings Island. He prided himself on having the highest retention rate in all of Cedar Fair.
“Having the ability to impact the lives of others has always been a big motivation for me,” said Tony. “When you invest time and energy in people, the results are rewarding for everyone.”
Hard work, attention to detail, efficiency and leadership soon had Tony noticed by Cedar Fair’s executive staff.
In October of 2016, Tony was offered the job as general manager at Worlds of Fun. It was an opportunity he couldn’t turn down. His new job would combine his love for amusement parks and leading but on a grander scale.
“It is such a privilege to lead Worlds of Fun. I was immediately attracted by the character of the park, something we’ve been paying close attention to. Also, no matter what park or city you are in, that park has a major impact on its communities. An amusement park is a special place for families. I certainly admire Worlds of Fun’s position in Kansas City,” said Tony.
Tony celebrated his 35th work anniversary during the 2020 season – his 25th year as a full-time associate. The journey hasn’t always been easy, but it has been fun. Above all, he credits his wife Shannon for her undying support. They have been together 33 years, and she’s been there for the entire ride.
Worlds of Fun has seen many improvements and investments over the past few seasons. Infrastructure, landscaping, dining, new attractions, amenities, theming and more, and Tony says that the park is just getting started.
“We’re always looking forward, looking for ways to improve with sustained growth,” said Tony. “Our goal is simple. We want everyone to want to work at Worlds of Fun, and we want everyone to want to visit.”