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Damn that dog! A delayed trip to Florida (March 2018)

witchfinder

Member
This 9 day trip to Florida was planned for my wife’s 40th birthday (she’s a big Harry Potter fan) and we were supposed to fly out on 21st February. Unfortunately a few days before we were due to depart, our dog was really ill with gastroenteritis and as the date of the trip approached we couldn’t risk going, so rearranged the trip (at significant cost) for exactly a month later.

What we didn’t realise when we rearranged the trip was the rearranged dates coincided with the week before Easter, which happens to be one of the busiest weeks in Orlando. It also clashes with Spring Break for some colleges over there so my initial plan of visiting relatively quiet parks was thrown into chaos with the realisation that Universal in particular was likely to be rammed during the second week of our trip. There were definitely moments where we were cursing our four-legged friend whilst standing in an hour-long queue that would've been 15 minutes a month earlier! :rolleyes:

The trip includes visits to Universal, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and the two Fun Spot parks as well as some non-goon activities. So let’s get started!

We stayed in the Rosen Inn “Closest to Universal” (as it’s described on Expedia) and the view out of our window certainly confirmed that – look closely and you can see two coasters from Universal and we could also see two at Fun Spot.
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Day 1 – Universal Orlando
After arriving the previous day and getting a fairly pathetic night’s sleep, we got our free shuttle bus from the hotel up to Universal and got into the park around 10am, so it was still fairly quiet. The plan for Day 1 was all about Harry Potter, but since it had a fairly short queue (15 mins) and to get one ride under our belts early, we first headed for Revenge of the Mummy.
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This turned out to be the only time we rode this as the queues never dropped below 30 minutes for the rest of the time we were there, and to be honest I can barely remember anything about it. The visuals and theming were good and I remember the launch up a small hill being fun, but aside from that it’s a bit of a blur. Shame really!

From there we headed into Diagon Alley and spent the rest of the morning there. We started with the Ollivander’s show, which I understand usually generates a big queue but was half empty and just about to start when we got there, so that was cool. Anna bought a wand and we spent a bit of time trying to get it to work with the various interactive spots, with varying success. After that we just wandered around taking it all in and visiting the shops and attractions.
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I’m not a huge fan of Harry Potter but this area is absolutely stunning. The level of detail and immersion they have put into it is just phenomenal, and it’s easy to spend an hour or two without even thinking about going on the ride that’s in this area. That’s exactly what we did, and by the time we got to Escape From Gringotts it had a 90 minute queue, so we decided to leave that for another day. We went for lunch in the Leaky Cauldron, which is a lot bigger than it was in the films but still very well themed.
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Having perused the menu of ‘English favourites’ I couldn’t resist seeing how they had interpreted Toad in the Hole. I think pictures say more than anything here...
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Not good, although it actually didn’t taste that bad. I also had some Dragon Scale beer which was more acceptable, though very expensive.

After lunch and more time in Diagon Alley we continued the Potter-themed day by heading to Hogsmeade on the Hogwarts Express. Kings Cross station is not exactly authentic but it’s still a great attraction and captures the spirit of a London train station pretty well. The annoyance here is having to get your park-to-park ticket and fingerprint scanned at the entrance, which causes a bit of a crowd, but once we got though we only had a brief wait for the train itself.
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Again, no expense has been spared on creating an immersive experience, and this is a great way to get from one park to the other. We used the train three times in this direction during our visit to Orlando and it was getting a bit tedious by the third journey. The following week queue times for what is effectively a glorified monorail were close to 60 minutes, which would be incredibly frustrating given it’s the only way to get from one park to the other without a long and tiring walk. It would be good if there was an alternative for people that just want to get between parks quickly, even if it’s just a bus or walkway connecting the back of the two parks.

So that brings us to Islands of Adventure and of course Hogsmeade, which was where we headed first. It was rather busy!
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Once again the theming here is great, although you can tell it was done first as a lot of the shops are just shop fronts rather than ones you can visit. They still look great though and the ones you can go into are fun. There’s also something happening here on the site of the old Dragon Challenge...
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But anyone following this thread already knows that don’t they? ;)

We headed up to Hogwarts, which looks incredible, and with the wait time for Forbidden Journey at around 60 minutes we joined the queue. However, we’d only been in it 5 minutes when the ride was evacuated for some reason, so we decided to leave the world of Harry Potter for a while and headed over the bridge to Jurassic Park.
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We’re both big fans of the films and dinosaurs in general (who isn’t?) so this area was one we were looking forward to most. It’s obviously a bit dated compared to other parts of the park and is definitely aimed more at kids, but it was still thrilling to go through those gates, hear the iconic John Williams music and see all the vehicles from the movies. We headed straight for the River Adventure which only had a 10 minute queue. Yes, it’s basically just a boat ride with a big splash and some cheesy animatronic dinosaurs, but it was still ace, and Anna didn’t know about the T-Rex so that was a fun surprise for me to see her reaction.

Next we wandered down to Superhero Island, passing Skull Island: Reign of Kong and through Toon Lagoon on the way. I was amazed at the theming in these areas, which is better than the rides in some cases. The level of detail and immersion into the worlds they have created is fabulous and that more than the rides themselves is what made IoA my new favourite park.

That’s not to say there aren’t great rides, and the two best in my opinion were what we rode next – Spiderman and The Hulk. Spiderman was just fantastic in every way – even the queue line was great and although we had to wait around 40 minutes, that time flew by with so much to see whilst we waited. Once we got on the ride it was amazing, obviously. The blend between screens, animatronics and environmental effects was almost seamless, and it instantly became my new favourite dark ride.
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(Great queue line and about the only photo I took of Spiderman that day!)

Next up was the Hulk, and another 40-odd minute wait. Before that we had to put everything we owned in a locker the size of a shoebox. Pretty much my only criticism of Universal is the locker system – they are so inconsistent from one part of the park to another, with some needing a fingerprint, some needing a ticket barcode, some both, and some needing payment while others are free, and they are all different sizes too!

Anyway, on to the Hulk and the first big thrill coaster of our trip. Another fantastic, high-tech queue line greeted us, before a pretty fantastic, high-tech coaster. The launch and initial barrage of inversions is awesome and the on-board audio definitely adds something. After the foggy tunnel it become a pretty standard B&M coaster with the usual elements you’d expect, which don’t live up to the awesome start but are still fun. It’s such an iconic coaster and overall it didn’t disappoint.
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From there we headed back around the lake, taking in the amazing theming of Seuss Landing, stopping for a Moose Juice and then making our way through what’s left of the Lost Continent and back to Hogwarts and the now re-opened Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
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I’d heard nothing but good things about this ride, and the queue line certainly didn’t disappoint. The wait time was under an hour so we probably skipped past some of the amazing details on our journey through the corridors of Hogwarts, but as usual, the level of detail and immersion was superb and sets the scene perfectly for the ride itself.
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Unfortunately we were both disappointed by the ride. It may have been because we were still tired from the flights and time difference, but all the thrashing around made us both feel a bit sick. There’s no doubt the technology is great, and very clever, but it was easy to see the transitions between the big screens and the practical/animatronic sections, which lost some of the immersion. The story is a bit lacking too compared to other rides at Universal, being a mish-mash of scenes from Harry Potter rather than a clear narrative. We both found the ride vehicle uncomfortable and bit odd in that you’re cramped into this space where you can’t really experience the ride together.

I know we’re in the minority, and as I said maybe it was just because we were tired, and I did suggest we might give it a re-ride on another day, but Anna didn’t fancy it so if she wasn’t keen then I saw no reason to either. A bit of a shame, but we moved on.

With the aforementioned tiredness setting in we decided to head back to Universal Studios aboard the Hogwarts Express. The return journey has a different story on the ‘windows’ of course but it wasn’t as good as the other one and due to long queues on subsequent days we only ended up riding this way once.

Back at USF the park had got a lot busier and we looked at all the queue times and decided we couldn’t be bothered to wait more than 15 minutes for anything, which discounted most rides. We ended up just grabbing a ride on the Woody Woodpecker coaster to get the +1, and even that had a longer queue than advertised.
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Time-wise we were approaching 6pm, which was the departure time for the shuttle bus, so rather than stick around another hour waiting for the next one, we rushed to grab some mediocre Chinese food from CityWalk and then made our way back to the hotel and an early night.

It may not seem like we did a great deal that first day but we managed to get on some of our most desired rides and familiarise ourselves with the layout of both parks, so we were all set for the next day and an early start to make the most of the resort while it was quiet.
 

Hixee

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The 'easy first day' is an underrated way of doing a trip. I've always thought when I go back (to Florida) I'd try to do something similar. Helps take in the wonderful environment! I look forward to seeing the rest of this.
 

Jamesss

Member
I know what you mean about Forbidden Journey. I rode it for the first time last October having heard years and years of hype about how it was one of the best dark rides in the world and whilst I did enjoy it, I thought it was quite overrated. Only an 8/10 for me. I will be interested to see your thoughts on Gringotts as I thought that ride was dreadful. Completely relied on screens and virtually no actual coaster!

The great part about the Wizarding World for me was not so much the rides but the sets and shops.
 

witchfinder

Member
Day 2 – Universal Orlando: The Return!

For our second day at Universal we got up early, paid for the buffet breakfast at the hotel (dismal but convenient) and got the shuttle bus at 8:15 to get us to the park for opening time. Once again we headed for USF and we were through the gate before 9am which allowed us to walk through a near-empty park, allowing me to grab this snap...
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..before strolling through a deserted Springfield...
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...and make our way to the target of our early start, Diagon Alley. We weren’t expecting it to be completely empty though! :D
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Having already done all the shops etc the day before, we made a beeline for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, which had a 5 minute queue - even better than we’d hoped for.
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Most people think that this is the lesser of the two big Harry Potter rides at Universal, so given that we weren’t impressed by Forbidden Journey, our expectations were lower for this one. Turns out it is bloody brilliant, to quote Ron Weasley!
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From the moment you enter Gringotts Bank you are immersed into a story that runs alongside the action from the last Harry Potter film, and the entire queue experience is an absolute joy, from walking past the goblins, to queueing for the elevator down to the vault, to the preshow and the final walk to the ride itself.
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The sense of wonder and excitement is built up brilliantly and the ride just continued that – it has a few mild coaster sections but is primarily an exhilarating 4D dark ride, and while some people aren’t fans of all the big screens, they blend very well with the practical and environmental effects to tell a great story from beginning to end. While I’m not a fan of 3D generally, in this case it worked brilliantly to enhance the experience.

We came off the ride and the queue time was still under 20 minutes so we just went for a second ride immediately, and this time we got the front row which just made the 3D effects work even better. This isn’t the best coaster at the park, obviously, and it can’t be classed as a pure dark ride either, but for us this was without doubt the best overall ride experience of our entire trip, and had us both grinning and talking about it long after we left. :D

We stuck around Diagon Alley long enough to witness the amazing fire-breathing dragon, which gives off heat you can feel at ground level and capped off our first 45 minutes in the park perfectly.
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With the Harry Potter experiences complete, we headed back around the lake to experience the rest of the rides we were interested in at USF, which all still had relatively short queues at this time. First up was Men in Black: Alien Attack, which is a fun if slightly dated dark shooter. I love the theming on this one and particularly the preshow and the walk to the station, which captured the feeling of the MiB movie brilliantly. I also got a pretty decent score by shooting a key alien completely at random early in the journey!
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Next we went back to the Springfield area and The Simpsons Ride. Not much to say here, it’s a motion simulator that is fun but nowhere near the quality of the more recent additions to the park. It’s a shame really as this area is one of the best in the park and could do with a better ride to complement it.
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Next up was Transformers: The Ride. Another one with a decent queue line – I loved all the buttons, knobs and lights you could play with as you walked around. When it comes down to it though, it’s just Spiderman with a worse story and a lot less fun. The giant Optimus Prime on the building outside is cool though!
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Lunchtime then, and this time we ate at Finnegan’s Bar and Grill, which was significantly better than The Leaky Cauldron. The soda bread they give you before your meal comes out is great, and I also had a ridiculous cocktail – ridiculous in price, colour and alcohol content!
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It was also the perfect position to walk out and see our first show of the trip – the Blues Brothers show which takes place just around the corner. I’m a big fan of the film and the tunes from it and this was great fun. They had a very convincing John Belushi lookalike playing Jake, although Elwood looked nothing like Dan Aykroyd and wasn’t a great singer either.
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By now the weather was heating up (it had been relatively cool the previous day) and there was only one ride left in USF that I was bothered about for this visit – Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. Anna wasn’t interested in this due to the 160ft vertical lift hill so she sat this one out which allowed me to use the significantly shorter SRQ. Due to confusion between ride ops about which row number I was supposed to be in and the chaos in the station due to the moving walkway, I ended up sitting next to somebody who was part of a pair, but nobody seemed to mind.
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I chose Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart” and it worked really well as an accompaniment to the wild ride that followed, and it was very cool to have that blasting out as the train flew through the layout in the sunshine. It’s not the smoothest of rides in places and the plethora of MCBRs are a bit annoying, but I still enjoyed it. The non-inverting loop was a first for me and overall the layout is fun. One disappointment was the abrupt ending of the music as you return to the station. They could’ve at least faded it! This was another ride that I was hoping to try again later in our trip but that never happened due to the insane queues the following week. Obviously I blame the dog!
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We had no great interest in the Despicable Me, Shrek or Jimmy Fallon rides so it was time to head over to IoA again on our second trip on the Hogwarts Express. Hogsmeade was quieter than the previous day so we had a look round the shops we had missed, then checked the queue time for Flight of the Hippogriff. At nearly an hour that was too long to wait for a kiddie cred so we made our way through Jurassic Park to one of the big rides we had skipped the previous day – Skull Island: Reign of Kong. With an unusually short queue time for the time of day, we got in line...
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As with all Universal rides, the queue line is brilliant, but in this case it was also pretty scary, with near-darkness, piles of skulls, lots of sinister chanting and even a random jump scare mid-way through. There were quite a few parents taking their presumably traumatised kids out of the line and to be honest I’m not surprised!
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So the expectation was built up well for the ride by the queue and to be honest, it didn’t really live up to it. It’s basically a glorified bus ride, but the climactic fight between Kong and the dinosaurs is cool, and while it does rely heavily on big screens, the 3D works very well and the environmental effects are pretty effective. So not a brilliant ride but I still enjoyed it a lot.

We then headed back to Jurassic Park for another ride on the River Adventure (short queue so why not?) before having a wander around the Discovery Centre. A few of the interactive exhibits were a bit broken but it was still fun and really captured the spirit of what such a centre would be like in a real Jurassic Park.
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Time for another show, and this time it was Poseidon’s Rage, which was really good fun. It’s probably the kind of attraction most people would bypass in favour of coasters and dark rides, but the theming outside the show building was phenomenal and the show itself was great, so I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t already seen it.
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We needed to be away by 6pm so with time pressing on we made our way towards the exit of IoA but stopped for a ride on Cat in the Hat, which is another decent dark ride. I loved how the rather low-tech way of moving the animatronics around (strings) was incorporated into the story, rather than trying to hide them. I’m no great of Dr Seuss but the Seuss Landing area is just amazing to look at, though sadly I seem not to have taken many photos.
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That was it for day 2, as we headed off into the City and the Amway Center to watch our first game of Ice Hockey, featuring the local minor league team Orlando Solar Bears.
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I definitely recommend checking this out if you’re in Orlando at the right time. Tickets are only $14 each for decent seats and it’s a great spectator sport, as there will be lots of scuffles and a couple of fights in most games. Oh, and some sport. Just be wary if you do go to anything at the Amway Center that they don’t allow any backpacks inside the venue so leave them at your hotel or otherwise you’ll end up having to pay a random guy in a convenience store down the road to store your bag for 3 hours and just hope nothing bad happens (it didn’t, to be fair!)

Next up is a more relaxed day away from Universal, but there’s still a couple of creds of course. :)
 

Hixee

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That sounds like an effective first hour, impressive stuff. You're making me even more convinced that I need to go back! :p

Also, great idea for an evening activity. I think it's great to get involved in some of the less 'tourist' stuff - it can often result in the more memorable stories (especially to non-goons!).
 

witchfinder

Member
That sounds like an effective first hour, impressive stuff. You're making me even more convinced that I need to go back! :p
As you'll find out in future updates, it didn;t get any better than that! :D

Also, great idea for an evening activity. I think it's great to get involved in some of the less 'tourist' stuff - it can often result in the more memorable stories (especially to non-goons!).
Yeah, they have either basketball or ice hockey on nearly every night from January to mid-April at the Amway so it's a good opportunity to see some American sports and their ridiculous over-enthusiasm... ;)
 

witchfinder

Member
Day 3 – Discovery Cove and Fun Spot Orlando

After 2 hectic days at Universal we needed a slower day and SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove fitted the bill perfectly. It is billed as a Theme Park but the theme is basically lazing around on a beach eating and drinking all-inclusive food and booze and occasionally going for a swim and interacting with sealife and other creatures.

There are lots of add-ons like swimming with Dolphins but we just went for the base ‘Ultimate package’ which includes one day at DC and 14-days access to SeaWorld, Aquatica and Busch Gardens with free parking at all of those parks. At around £150 each that actually works out to be great value. :)

Not much more to say other than we really enjoyed it. The weather was warm, the beers and cocktails were cold, the food was reasonably good and we had a lot of fun snorkelling in the Grand Reef. The other areas such as the Wind-away River and Aviary were fun for a single visit but swimming in the water with giant Stingrays and loads of interesting fish was the most fun. Here are some pictures!
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Oh, and look who we found! :D
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At the end of our visit we walked to catch the i-Ride trolley back to our hotel and got this view of SeaWorld. More on that park in the next update.
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That evening after our evening meal we ventured to Fun Spot Orlando to pick up the two creds there. I’d bought some 4-ride sampler wristbands as I figured a couple of rides on each coaster would be sufficient.
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Most reports I’ve read about this park say it’s usually pretty quiet with the rides being walk-on. Not this day! Saturday night seemed to have brought out all the locals as there were groups of unpleasant teenagers everywhere and both creds had wait times over 20 minutes at well after 9pm. Urgh! :(

We rode White Lightning first. Having ridden Heidi at Plopsaland last year I knew pretty much what to expect but this seemed wilder, with a bit more airtime, but it was also a lot rougher. It was fun but fairly forgettable. Shortly after our ride it broke down so I never got any pics of it in action.
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Next up was Freedom Flyer which had a burdenous queue, mainly because the back half of the train is running VR. I was intending to try that but due to it being busy we just went for the normal non-VR option. Once again it’s a clone of a ride I’ve already done (Flight of the Pterosaur) with crappier theming.
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With it being so busy and time getting away from us, we left after one ride on each cred, both feeling a bit grumpy, and things got worse as we missed the last trolley back to the hotel and had to walk for 30 minutes! :(

I probably didn’t give Fun Spot a fair crack of the whip but swarms of horrible GP and miserable ride ops don’t make for a fun experience. The park has some good attractions and on a quiet day probably would’ve been much better, but it had a distinctly unfriendly vibe that night and ranks as the worst park on our trip.
 

Hixee

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So I didn't know Discovery Cove was a thing - that's cool! Could be a great one to add in to a future trip (might be a good pseudo-non-park activity for the girlfriend).

Shame to hear about Fun Spot. Although I will admit I haven't heard anyone else say what you've said, so maybe you just got unlucky? Might be jumping the gun, but did you do the other Fun Spot too?
 

witchfinder

Member
So I didn't know Discovery Cove was a thing - that's cool! Could be a great one to add in to a future trip (might be a good pseudo-non-park activity for the girlfriend).
Yeah, it's a great way to spend a 'rest day' plus when you consider it gives 14 days access to the other SeaWorld parks and includes unlimited food and drink, it's a bit of a no-brainer depending on the time of year you go (it does increase in price in peak season)

Shame to hear about Fun Spot. Although I will admit I haven't heard anyone else say what you've said, so maybe you just got unlucky? Might be jumping the gun, but did you do the other Fun Spot too?
Yep, that's later in the trip and was a very different experience. We just picked the wrong night to go to the Orlando park.
 
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witchfinder

Member
Day 4 – SeaWorld

Time for another full-day theme park visit, and easily the most divisive of all the Orlando parks. I’ll share my thoughts on SeaWorld later but let’s focus on the attractions for now. This day was always going to be a mixture of coasters and nature exhibits so apologies if you’re not interested in the latter.

Upon arrival, the park was fairly busy, as the predicted influx of visitors for the pre-Easter week started to evidence themselves. That said, it wasn’t too bad and as we made our way into the park we noticed Manta only had a 5 minute queue, so while I’d usually avoid a ride that is right at the front of the park, we decided to go for it while we were there.
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Here come the first SeaWorld gripe – lockers. Unlike Universal, you have to pay for a locker here. I have no issue with that really except the queue to pay for a locker was bigger than the queue for the rides in several places around the park! Anyway, we put our bag in our locker and made our way to the Manta queue.

Second gripe – wildly inaccurate queue times! It turned out that while the display board said 5 minutes, the actual queue time was closer to half an hour, and if we’d known that we’d have left Manta until later in the day. But once we were in the queue we decided to wait it out, and to be fair it was a very nice queue line with plenty of stuff to look at, and before we knew it we were in the station and ready to ride.

So how was it? Not bad. Definitely the best B&M flyer I’ve ridden (out of 3) and the second half of the ride where it swoops over the water etc was great. I’m definitely not a big fan of the pretzel loop, as I just find it weird and uncomfortable. We only managed one ride during the day and I would’ve liked to try it again to get a stronger opinion but yeah, it was alright.
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With a cred out of the way it was time for some more sedate activity, but first we had to go to the customer services area because our planned encounter with the Beluga Whales and Walruses later in the day had been cancelled. That meant 15 minutes queueing just to get my credit card refunded, and after a moan they gave us a fast-track ticket for any one ride to make up for the wasted time.

We then headed to the Stingray lagoon, where you can buy small trays of fish and hand-feed the rays as they glide past in a shallow pool. Anna really enjoyed this and it was pretty cool to be fair. They are awesome creatures.
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After that we continued around the edge of the park, briefly looking in on the dolphins before heading to the Manatee Rehabilitation Centre. I know SeaWorld get a lot of bad press but they are doing good work too, saving these gentle creatures when they have been hit by boats or suffered in cold temperatures.
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Time for another ride, and we made our way towards Journey to Atlantis, only to find it had a 60 minute queue. We considered using our free fast-track but decided to leave it for the time being and moved on to Kraken, which was advertising a 20 mins queue. After more locker faff (this time the locker we paid for didn’t open!) we made our way into the queue building and discovered Kraken was walk-on, even for front row! Again with the inaccurate wait times but at least they were on the good side this time. The VR was advertised as being unavailable which probably helped, so before we knew it we were on the front row, trundling up the tediously slow lift hill...
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Classic old-school B&M here of course, with that trademark roar and plenty of intensity. It was a bit rattly in places, but it is nearly 18 years old now. The ride itself was cool and the floorless trains add an extra level of excitement, but I felt they could’ve made more of an effort with the ride environment – there is an awful lot of unpainted concrete and rust on show as you travel through the layout, which is a bit of a shame when it’s right next to the lake. Still great to ride such a renowned coaster though.
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That brought us to lunchtime, and we’d booked ourselves a table at the Sharks Underwater Grill, where you can eat some relatively classy food and try not to recreate the famous scene from Jaws 3D.
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The food was good and the sharks behaved themselves (and looked more realistic). It’s definitely pricey but not excessively so for a theme park restaurant and the air con was more than welcome on a day that was getting increasingly warmer.
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Since we were in the shark-themed area, the obvious choice for the next ride was Mako, but just before we’d gone to eat I’d found an unlimited fast-track card on the floor, and since Anna was never going to ride a B&M hyper anyway, I decided to save Mako for later, for reasons that will become clear soon enough. We did venture into the Shark Encounter tunnel though, which is just a view of the same shark tank that you can see in the restaurant, plus a variety of shark info that nobody reads because they want to get to the walk-through.

It was now getting to the hottest part of the day so we decided it was time to cool down, so we headed back to Journey to Atlantis, and with the queue still at 60 mins we cashed in our free fast-track ticket and were on the ride in less than 5...

This was quite a surprise. I was expecting the cheesy boat ride section and the big drop that you can see from outside, but I didn’t know that it went back into the building afterwards and had a proper coaster section followed by another drop round the back. So that was pretty cool and definitely qualifies it as a cred, unlike the one at Plopsaland. It’s quite cheesy, especially the music, but the theming is still pretty good and the ride was fun. Another bit of luck was that it broke down for a while just after we got off, so we were thankful for those fast-tracks.
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At this point I should probably mention that one reason we were at SeaWorld on this day was because they were doing their Seven Seas Food Festival and the band performing that day was one of the wife’s favourites (Eli Young Band) so it was a chance for her to see some country music. This was probably the only benefit of the rearranged dates of our trip, not that I really saw it that way.

In the short term though, we went for a cool down in the Wild Arctic exhibit, which wasn’t running the helicopter simulator bit (which I hear is crap anyway) and the walruses were nowhere to be seen (which probably explained the cancellation of our wildlife encounter) so all that was left was a lone Beluga whale and some seals. It is a nice exhibit though to be fair.
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That brought us up to showtime for the band, so Anna headed to the Bayside Stadium to watch them and I made my way back across the park, passing the under construction Infinity Falls rapids, and arriving at my most anticipated cred of the trip so far – Mako!
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With my fortuitously-procured unlimited fast-track in hand, I proceeded to ride for the next 45 minutes, which only amounted to two back row and one front row ride. The latter shouldn’t have been allowed for me as a fast-track rider but there was nobody batching in the station so I just took my chances.

I’ve ridden two B&M Hypers before this one (Shambhala and Goliath at SFOG) and Mako ranks below them for me, but not by much. There’s some great floater airtime, especially on the first hill (I counted 6 seconds) and the layout overall is good. The notorious trim brake after the turnaround does ruin the flow a bit, but gave a nice jolt of ejector, especially on the front row, so I don’t think it’s too bad. The back row was awesome and that put it in the lower reaches of my top ten.
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I had around 15 minutes until the gig finished so I thought I’d try and grab another ride on Kraken, but it is excluded from fast-track when I got there it claimed to have a 40 mins queue, so that was an annoying waste of time that I could’ve spent on Mako. After that I made my way back to the stadium, completing a full circuit of the park in 25 degree heat. A beer was in order!

Turned out the band overran and I was hanging around for 15 minutes which was time for another ride on Mako wasted, but eventually I met up with Anna and we grabbed some food from one of the many pop-up outlets that were there as part of the festival.

With the time approaching 7pm we headed over to Shamu Stadium for the ‘One Ocean’ Killer Whale show. Like any animal lover, I have mixed feelings about this. I think everyone agrees these creatures should never have been taken from the ocean and brought to places like this. But given that all the whales at SeaWorld were born in captivity, it’s not like they can be released to the wild, despite what some silly protesters would ask for. So now they’ve stopped the breeding program, the park is stuck with these animals until they die, so I don’t really see an issue with training them for these shows because that must offer some kind of mental stimulation and the alternative is just shutting them away until the end comes. I’m not an expert on the situation but I’d rather the public got to see them while they can, as long as they’re being looked after as best as the park can manage.

Anyway, on to the show itself, and while it was rather crass and I didn’t buy the whole ‘they’re here for conservation and study’ line they were selling, it was great to see these animals up close and see the audience reaction to them splashing about. So it may not be very PC to say it these days, but I enjoyed it.
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After the show finished we had about 40 minutes left, and I still had one cred to get – Shamu Express. We headed to the kids area and waiting a few minutes for the ride, which was reasonable for a kiddie cred. What impressed me most here though was the giant multi-level play area they had for the kids. It looked awesome!
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That left just one thing to do to finish off our day at SeaWorld - a night ride on Mako. Actually it would be more accurate to say a sunset ride but since the park closed at 8pm, this was as close as I could get. Once again I went for the back row and had one of my best moments of the trip gliding through the layout in twilight with the sun setting over the lake.

That concluded our trip to SeaWorld for the day, but we would return for a short visit later in the week. But that’s a story for another day. :)

To finish off, here's a very visually pleasing picture of the lake with all three B&Ms in view. Oddly the Sky Tower column looks like it has been added later in MS Paint! :D
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Hutch

Well-Known Member
You seemed to do a lot more of the wildlife stuff than I did. Didn't know about the restaurant, that's pretty cool.

Love Mako. I'd like to ask how the normal queues were for that? I've never heard of it having more than a 10 minute wait.
 

Sandman

Active Member
Nice report so far Mat!

I'm surprised you didn't know about the second section of Journey to Atlantis, I've seen so many coaster programmes and clips of it over the years. Looking forward to reading your Busch trip report!
 

witchfinder

Member
Love Mako. I'd like to ask how the normal queues were for that? I've never heard of it having more than a 10 minute wait.
I think they were advertising it at 20 mins that day but given how inaccurate the other queue times were, who knows!

I'm surprised you didn't know about the second section of Journey to Atlantis, I've seen so many coaster programmes and clips of it over the years.
I'm sure I've watched a POV of the ride before but I didn't remember that bit at all. It was a nice surprise.
 

witchfinder

Member
Day 5 – Universal Part 3: Revenge of the Public!

This was the Monday of the week leading up to Good Friday, and as expected there was a huge influx of visitors to Orlando. We’d been keeping an eye on the queue times for Universal the previous day and all our worst fears came to pass when we saw the queue for Gringotts at 9:30 in the morning was 150 minutes! So based on this information, we did the only thing a sensible theme park fan would do on a day that we expected to be mega busy. We didn’t go!

That’s not strictly true. Our plan was always to do something else in the morning (unless the queue times were reasonable) and head to the park mid-afternoon and stay until closing time at 10pm. So we kicked off our day with breakfast at a place called Hash House a Go-Go, which is not far from the intersection between International Drive and Universal Blvd. Check out this for a breakfast! :eek:
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Now what’s the one thing they say you shouldn’t do after eating a big meal? Go swimming? Guess where we headed next?
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Yes, our plan was to visit Volcano Bay as the weather was warm but overcast, so we expected it to be relatively quiet. And it was – very few slides had queues at all except for the water coaster, which we waited around 30 minutes for using our Tapu Tapu. I must say that while the Tapu Tapu worked well for us on a quiet day due to many slides being walk-on, I can imagine it gets very frustrating when the park is really busy and you can barely ride anything whilst waiting for whichever ride you’re virtually queuing for.
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We stayed at the park for about 4 hours, rode plenty of the slides, had a quite decent lunch (Pizza) and just after we got changed the heavens opened!
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Volcano Bay was pretty good – the slides are great and there are some fun things to discover in the volcano and other places where you can interact using the Tapu Tapu. The main criticism is the park layout, which has nearly all the slides at the back of the park behind the volcano, whereas most of the seating is at the front of the park, which results in a lot of unnecessary walking, especially if your locker is near the front.
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The rain only lasted 10 minutes, after which we made our way back to CityWalk and into USF again for our evening in the theme parks. At this point it was around 4:30pm so the park was still open for over 5 hours, and it was absolutely heaving – we waited longer to get in this time than we had the previous two visits, and that’s including the fact that we had to cash in our voucher for tickets the first time.

A look at the queue times confirmed that we weren’t going to be riding anything major for a few hours, and we were thankful that we’d done everything on our previous visits. Instead we checked out a couple of shows. Firstly the Horror Make-Up Show, which was very good, giving an insight into make-up effects and featuring plenty of amusing audience interaction. This was the best of the shows we saw at Universal.
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After that we checked out the Animal Actors on Location show, which features a variety of well-trained animals, from the obvious dogs and cats to more exotic creatures like pigs, eagles and a skunk. It’s probably more for kids but we enjoyed it (because we are big kids!)
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There was one ride we still wanted to do at USF and that was just a short walk from the show, and with a 20 minute queue it was about the shortest wait in the park – E.T. Adventure.
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Compared to modern dark rides it’s incredibly dated and cheesy, but it was still great fun. I love how it goes from being a fairly faithful recreation of the film in the first half to a crazy, drug-influenced mess when to reach E.T.’s home planet. It’s spectacularly bonkers and the tech that has E.T. thanking you all by name (and in seating order) at the end is as entertaining as it is outdated. Credit to them for still doing that after all these years!

Next we made our way to Springfield for some food at Krusty Burger. I guess we should’ve expected it but these were almost certainly the worst burgers we’ve ever eaten in four trips to the US. A real shame that the theming of the restaurant can’t be matched by the food :(
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I did take this pic in Springfield though which is probably my favourite of the whole trip! :D
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By the time we’d finished eating it was starting to go dark, and our timing was perfect for a final walk around Diagon Alley as the sun went down. As expected, the place becomes even more atmospheric at night and we spent half an hour revisiting some of the shops, soaking up the atmosphere and checking out the Tales of Beedle the Bard show.
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Unfortunately Escape from Gringotts still had a huge queue so we didn’t get another ride and instead made our third trip on the Hogwarts Express to IoA and Hogsmeade. It was now completely dark and we were just in time to see the first showing that night of the Night-time Lights at Hogwarts, a cool audio-visual spectacle projected on the Hogwarts castle with music and a few fireworks.
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As predicted, with night setting in lots of families were leaving the park and that finally meant there was a reasonable queue for Flight of the Hippogriff – 15 mins instead of the 60+ mins it had been for most of the day. It may just be a Vekoma family coaster but once again the theming is really good, and I was quite surprised to see they are running it with two trains, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen on a coaster of this size before. The operations were great too which made me wonder how it gets such a long queue during the day. Unfortunately due to the lack of light I couldn’t get any decent photos, but in the end it’s just a crappy Vekoma so it doesn’t really matter!

That brought us to 9pm and with an hour left we headed to Jurassic Park again for a night ride on the River Adventure, which was walk-on and saw us sitting on the front row with just 3 other people in the boat. It was pretty awesome in the dark actually. :)
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Next we made our way to the front of the park, skipping the two water rides that we hadn’t managed to ride (it was too cool to be drenched head to foot) and making our way to Superhero Island for another ride on Spiderman, which was again brilliant.
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To round off the day I got in the single rider queue for a night ride on The Hulk. There was a bit of down time but I only waited around 15 mins and annoyingly missed out on a front row ride by just one train. As it was I got somewhere in the middle and still had a great ride, with the latter half of the ride being more enjoyable in the darkness.
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On our way out we had a look round the cool but ridiculously expensive Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, and that was it for Universal. We had lots to do for the rest of the trip and while we could’ve popped back easily enough, the insane queues that week really put us off. I’m 100% sure we’ll be back at some point though!
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Hixee

Flojector
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
Social Media Team
So the Tapu Tapu thing - how exactly does it work? You book a slot for a slide, but then can't go do other slides in the mean time? What's the point? As you allude to, surely that's a nightmare on a busy day!

Sounds like another excellent day in Orlando. Looking forward to seeing the rest.
 

witchfinder

Member
So the Tapu Tapu thing - how exactly does it work? You book a slot for a slide, but then can't go do other slides in the mean time?
Sort of. There are always a few slides that are 'Ride Now' regardless of how busy it is, plus there's the wave pool, lazy river etc that are always available. But yeah, when it's busy the idea is that Tapu Tapu reserves your place in line and saves you having to physically queue for an hour or whatever. But you can only reserve a place in line for one slide at a time.
 

witchfinder

Member
Day 6 – A cred-free day!

This was the only day I didn’t ride any coasters, but we did visit Aquatica, SeaWorld’s water park. It’s a smaller park than Volcano Bay and the midweek opening times are quite stingy, which I think contributed to it being very quiet. All the slides were pretty much walk-on and with the sun being out it made for a nice relaxing few hours at the park.
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The signature ride here is the Dolphin plunge, a fairly straightforward body slide that sends you through a pool containing some dolphins. Good luck actually seeing any as you blast through the clear section of the slide though!
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They also have a great lazy river ride with multiple paths, one of which gives entry to a tube slide which exits back into the river. Nice idea.
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After leaving the water park we headed back up I-Drive to collect our car, which we needed for the next few days, then spent a quiet evening in and around our hotel. We visited Hulk Hogan’s beach shop, ate at Senor Frog’s and had a round of mini-golf at Lost Caverns Adventure Golf, where you can also feed their gators.
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Overall, a fun and relaxing day in preparation for the chaos that was to come the following day...
 

Matt N

Well-Known Member
Sounds like you had a great day at Aquatica, and it sounds like you're having a great trip, too! I really liked Aquatica when I visited in August 2016; Ihu's Breakaway Falls and Roa's Rapids were particular highlights!
 

witchfinder

Member
I really liked Aquatica when I visited in August 2016; Ihu's Breakaway Falls and Roa's Rapids were particular highlights!
I didn't do Breakaway Falls because it was right at the back of the park and I couldn't be bothered to walk over there, plus it was quite windy that day and standing at the top of that tower didn't appeal! :)
 
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