as president of the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), I am pleased to inaugurate this column in Entertaining Places, to be contributed quarterly by a different member of the TEA.

The TEA is an association of 630 diverse companies that support the themed entertainment industry. As the use of entertainment as an added value to the guest/customer experience continues to grow, our members find themselves participating in many other industries. Shopping centers, hotels, casinos, museums, restaurants and retail stores are a few of the clients that rely on our members to enhance the guest experience.

The TEA recently held its Sixth Annual THEA Awards Gala. The program was named for Thea, the Greek goddess of the imagination. It honors outstanding achievement in themed entertainment design and production, and promotes the recognition, discussion and public awareness of the arts and sciences of themed entertainment. Following is a partial list of the award recipients, all of which have been deemed very entertaining places.

The Total Retail Experience category

* Viejas Outlet Center and "Legend of Nightfire" show in Alpine, Calif. Viejas is the first shopping center/factory outlet to combine a nightly outdoor live action show with spectacular effects and interactive water fountains.

* "The American Girl Place," Chicago. This concept includes a bookstore, retail boutique, photo studio, cafe, and a 150-seat theater featuring an hour-long musical review - all designed to bring to life the values that underline the American Girl concept and provide a place where girls can nourish the spirit and create memories.

The Restaurant category

* "Cafe Odyssey" in Mall of America, Minneapolis. Cafe Odyssey has successfully kept the food up front and center while creating a newly sophisticated themed dining environment with a sense of interaction and adventure.

The Family Entertainment Center category

* "DisneyQuest," Downtown Disney, Orlando. Spread out across four zones, this highly effective, interactive indoor "theme park" offers guests exciting new ways to create their own Disney experiences.

The Live Event category

* "AcquaMatrix," Lisbon World Expo, Portugal. This nightly multimedia show combines lights, lasers, film projection, special effects and a 10-story-tall inflating egg for a stunning show.

* "Cirque du Soleil O," Bellagio, Las Vegas. Cirque du Soleil has blended circus, live performance, and design of both production and place to create a special experience.

The Themed Park category

* "Disney's Animal Kingdom" in Orlando. This celebration of feathered, furred and four-legged critters from around the world and across time is a major breakthrough in park design.

As we close the year with these awards, we look forward to the projects slated to open in the months ahead. The THEA recipients for 1999 demonstrate that the standard of excellence has been raised. For more information on the TEA and its members, visit our website: www.themeit.com.