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GYK's Epic Florida Adventure

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I believe my original post on this was deleted since it was posted so long ago, but now it's here and I'm so excited I can barely contain myself! So for those of you who recall (and those who don't), I'm leaving Saturday for the good ole' state of Florida and, of course, Orlando in particular. I'll be in Florida for one week, and in those seven days, I'll do more than I think I've ever done in the rest of my life combined:


  • SeaWorld Orlando
  • Discovery Cove
  • Universal Studios Florida
  • Universal's Islands of Adventure
  • Blue Man Group
  • Avatar in 3D
  • Walt Disney World
  • Cirque Du Soleil: La Nouba
  • Busch Gardens Tampa Bay


Granted, I've been to Islands of Adventure (around 2000), Disney World (quite a few times, most recently on the 2000 trip), Universal (I was far too young to enjoy anything, and remember riding only Kongfrontation before being so paralyzed with fear I wanted to go home), and SeaWorld (again, I was too young to really enjoy it, and didn't ride Kraken). But considering my last trip to Florida was nearly ten years ago (and I was very young), I've missed out on a lot:


I'll be taking my first rides ever on Revenge of the Mummy, Men in Black: Alien Attack, The Simpsons Ride, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Kraken, Manta, Everest, DINOSAUR, and all of the Busch coasters (I've never been to Busch Gardens in Tampa before)! Additionally, I was far too young and naive to enjoy my rides on Dueling Dragons, Hulk, Journey to Atlantis, JAWS, etc. Not to mention, of course, Discovery Cove, Blue Man Group, Cirque, and seeing Avatar at the Universal Cineplex. And add into that, front-of-the-line access at each park for at least one day we'll be there.


I just wanted to get this out there now, because I'm so incredibly excited, and I'm sure I'll be updating through the week with my trip report and LOTS of photos.


It all starts Saturday with SeaWorld Orlando! Talk to you all soon!

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Hahah I wouldn't call myself a superman - we're actually only spending one day at Disney World (primarily Epcot and Animal Kingdom, with a quick jaunt to Disney's Hollywood Studios for Tower of Terror, Great Movie Ride, and Muppet*Vision 3D) and I'm sure we'll sleep well that night! But regardless, it's a nice way to break up the monotony of the off-season.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I finally have all my photos organized from the trip! I'll post highlights and stuff, but it's my understanding that you don't have to be my Facebook friend or even have an account in order to view the full album of photos here.


Let's start at the every beginning! As soon as getting off the plane, we made a bee-line for SeaWorld Orlando. This, of course, is because one of the most traumatic and frightening experiences of my life (you'll find that most things terrified me as a child, though) was Journey to Atlantis, the park's apparent answer to Splash Mountain. Our plane arrived on Saturday, the ride's last day of operation before going down for month-long maintenance (which I found, upon returning, is Blackstone's attempt to restore the grandeur of the ride that has since faded...) So anyways, we got to SeaWorld around 4:00PM (as the last day of their Christmas season sort of celebration, it was also the last day it was open 'til 9:00, so things really worked out okay).



My first (and only) experience with the Orlando park was probably when I was 8 or 9. It was on that trip that I really started disliking going to amusement parks with my family, who forced me on everything, despite how much I cried or protested. The park is a little nicer in the light of day, and was [expectantly] more awe-inspiring than the former Ohio park. ;)



I wasn't entirely sure what to make of Manta. The queue line was incredible, that's for sure. And it was my first B&M flying coaster. I've sort of begun to understand myself as a "B&M fanboy," mostly because I've never had a bad experience on anything they've made (save Mantis) and have had far more exposure to their coasters than any other manufacturers.




The pretzel loop was definitely one of the more intense features I've ever experienced on a roller coaster, and the one word that we were able to arrive at after the experience was disorienting. I didn't have the issue with restraints the way some have said, but the layout of the ride was just... A lot to handle. A great, smooth, exhilarating ride, but there's just a lot going on.



The second half of the ride was easily my favorite - the two inline twists separated by the lagoon dive. To me, the whole ride gave me the impression that it ought to be set to music. Perhaps its because, through it all, I had

sort of music stuck in my head from re-watching that clip so many times.


Speaking of which:



The ever-necessary signature-shot. :D I imagine there's plenty of these images circulating the web. I think that water spout truly will always be the ride's claim to fame, and it was a fantastic idea. We can only be thankful that Cedar Fair doesn't own the park, I suppose, or it would've been turned off midway through the first season *cough*Maverick*cough*.



KRAKEN. As we went up the lift hill, Cody looked out over the ride's layout and yelled "Oh frick it's B&M's Vortex!" The twisted, confusing layout is strikingly reminiscent of an old Kings Island favorite...



I just love Immelmans and diving loops because I feel like they're very rare. I know they aren't, but for quite a few years my only exposure to coasters were the three big Ohio parks, none of which had such an element (Vortex's batwing never struck me as such - maybe I was unaware of it). So I always love them.



The first half of Kraken is huge, sweeping movements, a giant loop, etc. while the second half returns to the rocky lagoon that surrounds the station, passing through two or three caverns, waterfalls, etc. while diving in and out of rock work. It's actually really really cool, and despite his initial objections, Cody rated it a 10/10 afterwards.



Based on the queue line, it appears that SeaWorld is under the impression that the Loch Ness Monster and the Kraken are one in the same? Something I found funny that only other enthusiasts would actually enjoy: While waiting in line for Kraken, they added another train as the day progressed, and the pre-recorded message projected through the queue asked us to wait as they "added another coaster to the attraction." :P


So far:


Manta: 7.5/10 - Very disorienting, but a fun and twisted experience.

Kraken: 8.5/10 - An exhilarating, well-designed coaster that fits unexpectedly well in the SeaWorld theme.

Edited by GoodYellowKoRn182
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Just a quick stop at the Sea Lion and Otter Stadium - of all the Clyde & Seamore shows I've seen, "Clyde & Seamore Take Pirate Island" is by far my favorite. Such a fun cast and such stupid jokes... Ahhh.



Photo credit. While it's certainly no Disney ride (or even a Universal one), Journey to Atlantis is a lot of fun and has a surprise ending that I think catches most first-timers off-guard. Are the effects great? No. (Though, like I said, apparently it's going to be going under short bursts of re-hab all winter/spring to be back to its opening day glory by summer?) But it's a fun little ride! There are long periods of boring-ness, the storyline is gone (since it was explained through projection and lighting and other effects which are gone) but I'd still take it over the more "bland" Journey to Atlantises built by the other SeaWorlds:



Photo credit. I'm sure these rides are fun, but when competing with Disney & Universal, you need a coherent storyline.


For those who haven't ridden it, Journey to Atlantis actually has/had a very nice story. In the middle of a Greek fishing village (I don't recall the name, but it was actually named), the city of Atlantis had risen, bursting through the town and diverting all the waterways, effectively sucking in all manner of fishing ship. You get caught in one of the new currents, and as you near the town, a man swings open his door and yells "Wait! Hermes will guide you! Go Hermes, show them the way!" A little golden seahorse pops out of a jar, expodes into sparks, and (via little LED twinking lights) flies into the air, over your head, and into the city.



Photo credit. Once inside the city, everything's going well, and Hermes pops up here and there to help. Your tour is somewhat being led by a mermaid named Allura. Of course, things get a bit scary as Allura decides that you're not welcome in her city. Via a special effect projected on a fountain, she turns into a sort of siren / medusa (the audio is no longer even played, though her mouth moves as she curses you). Then, of course, there's the big fall. In true theme park fashion, that's not the end as you'd think it might be, but for the sake of anyone who hasn't ridden it, I won't spoil the ending. :P



So thanks, SeaWorld for a great day!

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As you may know, or could easily guess, Universal's Islands of Adventure is my favorite theme park in terms of overall experience. Like many of the Florida theme parks, when you really break it down there's not much there: Three coasters, a stellar dark ride, a drop tower, three water rides, and shows. But of course, there's much more too it than that (as always).


There's absolutely no question in my mind that Islands is the most well-themed park I've ever seen, and I'd venture to say it's the best themed in the Americas. Though I've never been, I've heard and seen incredible things of Tokyo DisneySea (and really, many overseas parks), but I truly know it's the most beautiful and detail-oriented park I've been to.



Islands' version of Main Street U.S.A. is "Port of Entry", where seemingly all corners of the globe have come together to create a community. The detail is unbelievable: Just in the forefront of the picture, on the fudge sign, three camels rotate around, each striking the pipe beneath and playing different notes. Water runs everywhere, cats can be heard in apartments on the second level, lights flicker... It's too much to take in unless you spend a good half-day there. Really.



Small details like the fire-brigade sign make all the difference in the world, and it's so incredibly appreciated by visitors like myself. I believe Interpreter said quite recently that Islands of Adventure was the single largest theme park investment in the United States? It's easy to see why.



The thing I love the most about this park, is that many of its hardcore fans talk about how much it's lost luster and how some details are falling apart. But the casual observer (and even myself, a rigorous observer), it's still years ahead of any other park I've been to. It's not Disney... But that doesn't mean it's worse. Or better. It just had a completely different feel. It's not sickeningly clean like Epcot, or jungle-y like Animal Kingdom... It's just perfect for what it is.



Even the park's lockers are so well-themed, you don't give them a second look. They feel very natural, very at home, and every detail down to the letting on the signs is thought out.



Because I'm one of those sentimental sort of people, I love this aspect of the park. It's entered under a bridge that reads "The Adventure Begins." Then, upon leaving, you pass under the same bridge, engraved such that it reads "The Adventure Lives On." I don't know why, but it's just something about that that I really love, and it's the sort of emotional detail I'd include in my own park if I ever got the chance.



Naturally, the Port of Entry Waterworks building is the restrooms.



Even the park's emporium-style gift shop doesn't come across as gimmicky. It actually makes me want to buy something because they paid such delicate attention to the building... And trust me, all of these buildings are just as nice inside - these are not facades like the neighboring park. ;)



I'm actually a bit surprised no one had ever thought of using Seuss as a kid's area theme before? I imagine the fear was that it would be too young. But Seuss Landing works so incredibly well. From the bent palm trees (brought in from areas damaged by Hurricane Andrew) to the topsy-turvey stylings, the whole area actually does feel light-hearted. Far more fun, in my opinion, than the carnival style Fantasyland at that park down the road.



Ah, the most controversial ride ever to exist at Islands of Adventure. :P Most people know the story, but for those who don't, the park was announced with the attraction "Sylvester McMonkey McBean's Unusual Driving Machines." For reasons I for one don't know, the ride never opened. It just never did. The tracks above Seuss Landing were there, but it never opened. No construction, no nothing. I hear once and a while, a train would go around with Seuss characters on it, waving. But other than that, no activity. Then one day, it just got a new sign (renamed "High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride") and opened. I'm not sure if there were new trains or anything. But it's one of only three rides added to the park since it opened (which is one of the bigger complains about the park - no expansion.)



The Circus McGurkis Cafe Stoo-Pendous reminded me a LOT of a mini-Festhaus. But of course, it was way cooler... No offense to the Asian-food, Country-show, German-themed theater-restaurant-bathroom combo of Kings Island, of course... <_<

Edited by GoodYellowKoRn182
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Though it was quite hard to get a good photo, this sort of shows you - a "trapeze artist" swings eternally back-and-forth above you, there's a big organ which plays crazy Seuss music, a seal balancing on balls, planes swirl around above you...



And every few minutes, a Trolley comes through - I love when rides interact! And of course, the trolley narrates a line that will be stuck in my head for years - "The Circus McGurkis - the world's greatest show! On the face of the Earth, or wherever you go."


Then, of course, there's the park's most well-themed, but slowly shrinking Island, The Lost Continent. It was originally divided into three mini-sections: Atlantis, Sinbad's Bazaar, and Merlinwood. Today, Merlinwood has been absorbed into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (I really wouldn't hate it if they came up with a more succinct name - Hogwarts Isle?) and the middle-eastern Sinbad's Bazaar is a dead end that contains only a stunt show... Not much of a draw. Unfortunately, Atlantis also contains only a show... So I guess this isn't the best Island anymore...



Poseidon's Fury is really one great show, but also a tragic decline from its original... The first incarnation ran for only the first year of the park and featured Poseidon (bad guy) against Zeus (good guy). Your tour through the temple (a walkthrough) was narrated by an old man who called himself "The Keeper" who, of course, was revealed to be Zeus just as the right time.


The new version features Poseidon (good guy, this time) versus his evil high priest, Lord Darkenon (bad guy, if the name didn't let you know...) and your tour is narrated by a young archaeologist and assistant to a highly regarded (and lost inside the temple) professor named Taylor (a boy or a girl! See how clever that is?!)


Both versions feature a big finale showdown between the protagonist and antagonist in a giant chamber in which fire and water blast all over the place. The old version featured somewhat cheesy, but appropriate animated Poseidon & Zeus battling it out. The new version? Two old men in costumes that look a little bit like World of Warcraft champions. It's a bit laughable, the diaglogue is severely lacking (ex. "I will destroy you! I will destroy all! This battle began a thousand years ago - we will end it, here... Now!") and the character of Taylor adds a lot of humor where it doesn't belong. As a dramatic tour led by an old man telling legends, it worked. With a young tour guide making jokes at the attractions expense and generally removing all sense of urgency and realism, it quickly falls apart.



Regardless, the building is beautiful. You really can't comprehend the scale until you're in front of it. But those arches are at least fifty feet high. People standing under them would be barely visible in this photo. You'll also notice the two large stone feet on either side... The pathway towards the building is a winding trail around all of the fallen pieces of Poseidon (the original, bad guy, animated Poseidon).



Here's his head, laying on its side. Again, the scale is inconceivable from the photo, but its quite large.



The giant arm of Poseidon is sort of the calling card of The Lost Continent. As a testament to its size, you can see a man in red and white standing underneath it. Again, they were not fooling around.





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WOW! Thanks for the photos. I haven't made it to Islands Of Adventure yet...but your shots make me wish I had...it is really nice looking. :) I am glad you had a good time...when you got back did you need another vacation?! :P


It was on that trip that I really started disliking going to amusement parks with my family, who forced me on everything, despite how much I cried or protested.

That's too bad...I hate to see this happen to anyone.


Looking forward to the next part!

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Tucked away in a back corner of the park is The Mystic Fountain... And while it doesn't look like much, I'd wager that it was Cody's favorite part of the trip - he kept wanting to go back to it. And really, it's another of those things at Islands that I'm very impressed with primarily because it's not marketed, it creates no revenue, but 10 years after opening, it's still running at tip top shape. Essentially, you approach the fountain, ask it questions, talk to it, etc. Some think it's a computer, some think it's a man in a booth with a camera, others think it's magic. ;) All I know is, it's fun. And when you make it mad...



The fountain is rigged with hundreds of nozzles, most hidden, which attack unsuspecting visitors. And with so many fountains pointing every which way, it can fire just one shot and hit anyone, anywhere within a fifteen foot radius. It's a marvel, and a lot of fun to talk to - especially when it mocks Ohio. :P



And across from the fountain, this unassuming little back-alley has a fountain, just for the sake of those who decide to walk down it for no apparent reason. Another detail the likes of which I've only seen at DisneySea.



Photo credit.

Mythos, located across from Poseidon's Fury, is an impressive structure with an even more impressive record: Nine years as the best theme park restaurant. I'm not sure who awarded it (Golden Tickets?) but from what I've heard, it's a general consensus sort of thing, as well.



I've never eaten there, but the entrees were between $9 - $13 on the menu, so it's far from expensive when compared to the park's other food options, and word on the street is, during the summer those prices are worth it for the air-conditioning alone.



Walking to the quiet, waterfall-laden cove behind the restaurant, one notices that the building is "held up" by this Atlas figure - again, that's on the back of the restaurant, visible only when looking across the Great Inland Sea from Toon Lagoon. And it's as beautiful inside as it is out.



Photo credit. Though it's long gone, torn down to make way for Hogsmeade, I greatly miss (and will thus pay homage to) The Enchanted Oak Tavern, located in the forest of Merlinwood across from Dueling Dragons. The tavern / smokehouse restaurant was, as the name implies, a giant tree that seemed to form the grizzled face of Merlin himself.


tree1.jpgPhoto credit. Silly as it is (I told you how I loved the emotional stuff), this was perhaps my favorite detail of Islands of Adventure - the Oak was literally feeding water out of the Great Inland Sea. I always thought of it as a stab at Animal Kingdom's Tree of Life. I know it wasn't, but a giant tree, and then a dead stump of a giant tree... It's sort of cool.



Photo credit. Though it, too, has fallen to the might of the Wizarding World, this original entrance to Dueling Dragons was another incredible thing about the park. Notably, each of the ride's three dueling points could be seen between the two dragons' mouths if viewed from a different angle.


Quick aside: For those who don't know, Dueling Dragons had easily one of the longest and most unnecessary queue lines in the world, entering into a castle and passing through the dungeons, towers, stables, caverns, etc. all to get to the station. Luckily, much of it is staying for Potter (or so it would seem, since the castle is closed for renovation with Harry Potter construction signs within the still-visible parts). But the intimidation of passing between the dragons was a superb effect, and only after a good 5 - 10 minute stroll through the gardens (frozen and burnt, of course) of the castle did you finally make it over the drawbridge. All in all, I'd say the walk (full speed, no waiting) took between 8 and 12 minutes - quite a lot of walking when you think about it.



The wait is worth it, though. Universal really went out of their way on every bit of this ride. The trains, in particular, are incredible. The shoulder restraints in each front row are pink, as if they're the dragon's tongues, while every row following is blue (or green for the fire dragon).



Really looking at the Jurassic Park section of the park gives you a good idea of how lacking of rides the park is. The entire area, the whole, multi-million dollar themed section, contains only the Jurassic Park River Adventure - the same ride that Universal Studios Hollywood has in its regular old Lower Lot. But at Islands of Adventure, it's more than that. Camp Jurassic, the kids play area, has the king of all low capacity rides, Pteradon Flyers, there's the Discovery Center (modeled after the one from the movie - kids and pre-teens could have a lot of fun here), and a few restaurants. It wouldn't hurt if they added the much-rumored Jeep Tours that have been "on the drawing board" from the parks opening.



I can see how Islands fans have been pushing for a River Adventure renovation. The ride is cool, yes, but it's hardly as incredible as it was when it opened (you know, back when there was a different "Islands of Adventure - Most Technologically Advanced Park On Earth" show on the Discovery Channel every week). Islands' has always been at a budget-cut sort of disadvantage compared to Hollywood's, featuring something like 5 less dinosaurs, a sort of cheap, lame effect to replace one of better ones at Hollywood, a worse finale, etc.



But the ride is truly in dire need of some TLC. The big musical crescendo as the giant doors open is met with a motionless dinosaur who doesn't even begin to move til you've been looking at him frozen for a good ten seconds, the dino skins have very little color left and can be seen blowing in the wind (remember when those same Discovery Channel programs said the skins were changed once a month?). It's still an experience for first-timers, but no where near what it should or could be.

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The ever-necessary shot of Spider-Man! But I doubt that many also include that "5 Minute Wait" sign. :P The park was pretty dead, which made me feel bad about complaining about it closing at 6:00... By about 4:00 everything was a walk-on. I had forgotten, after so many rides on DarKastle, how intense this ride really was. I knew DarKastle was toned down for families and such, but man, Spider-Man is violent! About as shaky as I remember, but still, pretty shaky! I mean, it was great though - it was perfect. I like actually believing the motion. They say the film projection vs. physical sets on DarKastle is 90/10 and Spiderman is like, 60/40. It's very true, and it's absolutely incredible.



There's Hulk splashing down immediately out of the launch. One thing this picture really makes me think of - Islands of Adventure needs a nighttime show... With a giant Sea in the center of the park, you'd think they'd have at least some fountains and lights installed, and with a soundtrack composed specifically for the park, you might as well synchronize the fountains, shoot off a few fireworks and go counter clockwise around the park musically, highlighting each area... I don't know. It would take a lot fo work at this point (see World of Color at DCA) but it would be pretty cool!



Ah, then there's Toon Lagoon! Another strange choice for a park area, in my opinion, but it works! I mean, folks don't usually have a favorite comic strip when offered the ones here (all the comic strips that weren't taken by other parks - no Snoopy, no Garfield, etc.). This area, though, is just really fun! There wasn't much to do since "Popeye & Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges" was down for seasonal maintenance, and so was "Me Ship the Olive".



...And even though it was hovering around 40 that day, we decided to embark on Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls! I'm glad we did - it was a really, really fun flume ride. Probably one of my favorites. It was very well done and had some nice surprises. The beginning is in "black and white" so things are painted with that slightly-sepia gray and things transition to color... It was very cool, and had some surprisingly good (but simple) animatronics, not to mention what was easily one of the steepest slopes I've ever seen on a flume. Really. And that's saying something, since they went back and re-profiled it after the park's first year... Some of its effects weren't working (for example, the yellow "explosives shed" at the bottom of the drop

and sent the boardwalk flying everywhere. It's one of those things that they just stopped using, and that will hopefully return in Screamscape's rumored 4 year renovation for Islands from 2011 to 2015.



Ah, then there was the Comic Strip Cafe. One of three restaurants in Islands which offers Universal's Meal Deal - please, if you hear anything from the TR, hear this - the Universal Meal Deal is so worth it. Even today, the day after Universal switched to their much-feared U-Select ticket pricing, the Meal Deal is still $19.99 for one park - unlimited meals all day. Granted, it doesn't include drinks. But each time through the line (you can go through twice in 2 minutes if you want) you get an entree and a dessert. And honestly, it pays for itself so quickly.



My chicken strip basket retailed for $8.69, plus a $2.99 dessert... That's over half the price of the meal deal in one sitting, and trust me, we ate three or four times that day. You get your choice of any entree on the menu and any desert (after a few days, you'll get sick of Lemon Cake, Chocolate Cake, a cookie, or jello, but regardless...) and it's honestly a fantastic deal. For $4.00 more you can get the 2-park Meal Deal, which opens it up to a total of 6-restaurants. That, too, is a superb deal: the reality is, during the middle of a day at the Studios, you don't want to have to walk all the way back to Seuss Landing to eat, and since Universal's tickets are upgrade to 2-park for $10 flat (not per day, just $10 period), you'll find yourself between the parks a lot.



Toon Lagoon also has this sort of thing. :P



We'll leave Islands of Adventure with this beautiful, mysterious, gigantic castle appearing magically up on the hillside.



Only at Universal. :)


Universal Studios, Busch Gardens & Disney World coming soon!

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Thanks for part 2...it really is a LOT of fun to read...and the photos are great. The talking fountain sounds very cool...like you said, since it doesn't bring in money, it's nice to see that the park still cares to put the time & money into it.


Looking at your Toon Lgoon photo...I was surprised to see that a park made a statue of Hagar The Horrible's dog...also, your Marmaduke photo is funny! :lol:


Thanks again for taking the time to write this up. :)

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