Fun Spot America, Orlando, FL, USA
I confess that I tend to forget that National Roller Coaster Day is coming until it actually hits, and this year was no exception. However, wanting to find a nice, small way to celebrate the day, my wife and I decided to make a late-night run out to Fun Spot near Universal after Bible study back on Wednesday evening. We met up with a friend of mine who is a bit of a coaster geek himself with the initial idea of just experiencing White Lightning, but wristbands were on sale for the evening, so he and I opted to pick one up while my wife opted for just one lap.
My friend and I decided to try out the Freedom Flyer first, as I'd not ridden it before. He hadn't been to the park at all himself. Wanting to try something a little different and, at least in my case, wanting to finally be able to offer an informed opinion, we decided to go toward the back of the train so we could try the virtual reality.
Honestly, I didn't care for it at all. It was some Transformers-style scenario where we were on a flying tank of sorts shooting at robots. I'm pretty sure I got the wrong headset as I was on the right side of the train but on the left side of the tank, but I seriously doubt that being on the correct side would have made any difference. It felt like it actually took something away from the ride, and the low resolution and in some ways blurry image left me longing for views of the real world. Granted, it's a junior Vekoma invert, so I doubt I missed much, but even so, I want to go back and experience the ride properly. Technologically, I was somewhat impressed at how well-synchronized everything was, and the ability to look around was cool, but I can't imagine that having this sort of thing would improve a ride. Why Six Flags ever thought rides like SROS, Superman - The Ride, etc., were good candidates for this sort of thing, I'll never understand. Give me the wind in my face and views of the real world from heights not attained during everyday activity any day.
As far as any motion sickness, I'm extremely resistant to such things, but I can definitely see VR exacerbating that condition for anyone prone to it. I felt like my ability to properly orient myself was hindered by a virtual world through which I was clearly traveling faster than I was in real like, and there's something about having the headset plastered to your face that really shrinks everything to what I can only imagine is a claustrophobe's nightmare.
Capacity-wise, the impact of the VR feature was partially mitigated by limiting its use to the last few rows, but wow, I can see how a full train of this would slow dispatches down to a crawl. The crew was pretty efficient at getting us situated, but they can only move so fast. I shudder to think of how painfully slow this process must be on rides where an entire train is using it.
In summary, I give virtual reality on a roller coaster, at least in headset form, two thumbs down. I know I'm a bit of a curmudgeon, a status I attained much earlier in my life than I thought I would, but I think that our obsession with technology needs to get checked at the ride entrance, if not the park entrance. If it can't help Freedom Flyer, which actually turned out to be a surprisingly pleasant ride for its type, I seriously doubt it will help anything else.
We moved on to White Lightning, with my wife using her one lap credit for it. We went to the back of the train, somewhere I had never sat before on it. I was quite surprised at how tame the ride was in the back. There were some hills where it just seemed like we were crawling. On the plus side, my wife enjoyed the ride a good bit just as she did when I first rode it with her, and she is an absolutely amazing person with whom to ride a roller coaster. I don't say that just because she's my wife, but she has this infectious laugh when she's riding a good ride, and it makes an already great experience absolutely amazing. As I've said before, she's not the biggest coaster fan in that while she'll ride pretty much anything once (except for Mystic Timbers, on which she joined me for both laps on our recent KI visit because the ride is ohmygoshwhatishappeningtomethisisridiculouslyawesome), that's it, and she has to pace herself in the process. Sometimes, though, even she finds rides that she loves, and I want to give a shout-out to our own Chris Baker and his GCII team for just drilling it out of the park, because the two GCIIs that we've ridden have garnered some of the best receptions she's ever given to any roller coasters that we've ridden.
My buddy and I then went back for two more front row laps, and this is where White Lightning comes alive. You get the best of the ride's maneuvers up here, hitting every sweet spot with just the right speed. White Lightning does a great job of giving the illusion of being much faster than it actually is, a feat that's mighty impressive for an outdoor ride. I also like how the ride doesn't really have dead spots. While that's been a hallmark of GCII coasters right from the outset, they've gotten more aggressive with how they've done that, and their rides only getter better from year to year because of that. None of the ride's maneuvers are drawn out, and little twists and tiny bumps force a constant state of alertness on the riders. It's like the good version of a stressful situation. ;)
I'd also like to note how well the ride tracks. I know it isn't that old, but it rides extremely well. There wasn't any hint of roughness in either of the rows in which we rode. Hopefully Fun Spot invests well in ensuring that for the future, because they've got a winner with this little demon.
We weren't at the park but for maybe thirty minutes in all, but it was an action-packed visit, and it was a pretty cool way to celebrate the day, especially after all the awesome announcements. It's nice to have a late-night option in town for some roller coaster goodness, especially when that goodness comes in the form of a fierce little wooden coaster.
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