Thrillseeking, Florida-style (4/17-4/22)

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Olsor's avatar
Prior to this past week, my only visit to Florida had been in 1985 during a gargantuan three-week road trip covering most of the Atlantic and Gulf coast states. And even then, it barely counted. My dad went out of his way to dip into the panhandle and drive us through Pensacola... so we could tell our friends we’d “been to Florida.” I wish I were making that up.

Anyway, my wife and I finally got around to taking a long trip to Florida specifically to see all the fun stuff I missed in Pensacola (no offense, Pensacola).

Day one, Busch Gardens Tampa – the perfect tropical counterpart to BGW. I loved how the pathways and queues interacted with the rides, just as they do in Williamsburg. Just a gorgeous park, even though the layout is a little convoluted.

The rides:

Montu – started the day with a chilly front-seat ride on this beast. I was blown away... I actually had to walk around for a few minutes after the ride to catch my breath. It just seemed to be the perfect size. Big enough to appreciate all the maneuvers, but not so big that it lacked intensity. The tunnels were especially effective, too. Very smooth, very fast, very fun.

Kumba – nothing beats the original! I was so thoroughly impressed with Kumba. It has to be the most perfectly paced looper I’ve ever ridden. It just cruised from one element to the next without losing a step. And the landscaping only intensified the experience, both on the ground and on the ride. And for some reason, the zero-G roll seemed to be wilder than any other I’ve been on.

Gwazi – the Lion side was the only one operating initially, and even when Tiger opened, the two never raced. On the negative side, there was some mild jackhammering in the pullouts of Lion, and both rides felt short for some reason. But I loved the layouts... I could probably ride them each another 10 times and I still wouldn’t know where the heck I went. Easily, the best part of each ride was that hill where you get terrific airtime while you’re banked to one side. Definitely an interesting ride.

Scorpion – classic Schwarzkopf goodness. Smooth and fun, and you can’t beat a looper with only a lap bar.

Python – classic Arrow... something. I’m glad I finally got to ride one of the early Arrow corkscrew models. It still had plenty of pep – enough to give me a nice bruise on my back. But that’s Arrow for you.

Day two, Magic Kingdom and Epcot – I knew the Magic Kingdom would be crowded, but I didn’t quite understand the magnitude of Disney crowds until I was stuck in the middle of one. Cripes! It took us a good 15 minutes just to get through the gates at 9 am. Luckily, those encumbered with little ones and strollers couldn’t make it to the far corners of the park too quickly. We were able to walk onto Big Thunder and Splash Mountain, and only had to wait a few minutes for Space Mountain. But after that, the crowds caught up. I think we left for Epcot by noon.

The parks: they’re beautiful and all, but I’m just not into the Disney thing. Never was as a kid, and since I’d never been to Disney World, I didn’t feel nostalgic for anything. My wife had been as a kid, but the unbelievable crowds and scores of screaming children and scolding adults wiped away any of the magic that was there. I was just left with the impression that, while big and well maintained, the Magic Kingdom and Epcot were basically just like any other park... only extremely crowded. I will say that I’m impressed with the throughput of the rides. Disney definitely knows how to keep people moving. No stacking here.

The rides:

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – it’s long. And I liked that trick-track part. Um... that’s it.

Space Mountain – I’d always heard that Space Mountain was a feistier ride than one would expect from Disney, and now I’m a believer. Not the smoothest ride in the world, and the restraints could certainly be improved upon... so as not to crush one’s abdomen during moments of airtime. But still, it’s a fun and raucous ride. I was definitely impressed, and I hope that if they update this ride, they stay true to the original layout and effects. It’s a classic.

Day three, MGM Studios – my wife and I were much more impressed with MGM for some reason, probably because everything seemed very new and up-to-date. It’s like any old amusement park, but with a Disney level of cleanliness. The patrons were definitely older, and the lines were longer. But we still managed two rides each on Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster.

The rides:

Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster – I can’t believe it’s a Vekoma. Smooth and fun, and the seats were actually comfortable. The effects seemed sparse, but I suppose there’s only so much you can do with the stretch limo theme. A solid ride.

Day five (day four was spent at St. Pete Beach to recuperate), Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios – I loved the theming at these parks... probably the best and most immersive I’ve ever seen. Heck, some of the IOA theming even made me feel claustrophobic at times. And while these parks weren’t as crowded as the Disney parks, they definitely lacked Disney’s crowd control. People were just milling around in the middle of pathways, and the “Express pass” machines were hard to find... which led to more milling around.

The rides:

Dueling Dragons - started the day with rides on both sides of Dueling Dragons. They both seemed like slightly larger versions of Batman: the Ride. Smooth and quick, but almost too intense. Plus, the dueling aspect did nothing for me. It’s neat, and I completely appreciate it from a design aspect, but you’re just moving too fast on the rides to really compute anything. I did prefer the Fire side’s layout – the Ice side just seemed like it was too often just navigating to the next dueling point. I think I just have specific tastes when it comes to inverts... Batman is too tight, and Alpengeist is too big and lumbering. Montu and Raptor seem to be closer to the right size for me, personally.

The Incredible Hulk – it’s hard to believe this ride isn’t actually bigger than it is. My wife and I were both struck at how big it looks, and the first half of the ride feels big. It just gracefully swoops from one element to the next. Loved the launch, too. I wasn’t expecting the forcefulness we got out of it. But the ride just seemed to struggle after the second vertical loop. The pacing just seemed to get ruined going from the larger elements to the smaller ones. Plus, there was some vibration that, while not uncomfortable, distracted from the typically smooth B&M experience. It’s a great ride, but Kumba already surpassed it for me on this trip.

The Mummy – I love how many people wandered into line for the Mummy not knowing what it actually was. We were almost to the station and were still hearing people ask, “Is this a roller coaster or what?” We saw people bail out of line, too, when they finally found out. As for the ride, everything about it is great... except the length. It’s smooth, forceful and fun, the effects are terrific... but it’s just way too short. I can’t say for sure how others reacted to the ride, but it had a 15-minute wait in the middle of the afternoon. Men in Black was around 50 minutes. Easily could be a much better ride with some more track length.

Day six, SeaWorld – wow... so much better than the SeaWorld in San Antonio. I felt an inferiority complex coming on just walking through the park. It’s a gorgeous Busch park, and they certainly have enough stuff to keep crowds occupied for a day.

The rides:

Kraken – great ride, and I can definitely see why it has so many fans. Smooth and fast, and it has a great two-act structure: five inversions taken rapidly, then two well-placed and well-themed inversions to conclude the ride. I still enjoyed Kumba more, but Kraken is a close second.

Journey to Atlantis – the flume part was great. The coaster part was way too short. More coaster! (And I think they did just this for the San Diego version.)

I always like to try different ratings for rides, so in the spirit of upcoming graduations, I offer the following awards:

Summa cum laude:

Magna cum laude:
Gwazi – Tiger
Dueling Dragons – Fire
The Incredible Hulk

Cum laude:
Gwazi – Lion
Space Mountain
Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster
Dueling Dragons – Ice
The Mummy

Double-secret probation:
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Journey to Atlantis

Had a good time in Florida, but I think we’ve had enough of large crowds for now. Having to wait 30 minutes for a Subway sandwich was the last straw. And then there was the Orlando airport... so not ready to handle the amount of people coming through that place on a daily basis... *** Edited 4/24/2005 11:02:03 PM UTC by Olsor***
Nice TR. I totally agree with you about Montu. I thought it was the best coaster in central Florida.

Disney isn't the best place to go thrill-seeking, but it is a great place to be immersed in some great theming and imaginative attractions. Hopefully next time you go, Magic Kingdom won't be so crowded and you can really get into it. I'm not afraid to say MK make me feel like a kid again and no visit would be complete without another ride on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. It's the best mine-themed coaster I've ever ridden.

Nice TR. My family recently went on a trip to Disney World at the end of March. We spent 9 days there, and the parks were all packed. The best thing to do is to go to a park bright and early, and then leave by noon. We did this with MK and we walked on pretty much everything. Did you go to AK? I know there's not much to do there, but you can always look at construction on Expedition Everest! :)

We got to spend one day in Universal and I agree with you on the rides. Hulk just blew me away with it's power and smoothness. I loved the Fire side of Dueling Dragons, especially the pop of air. Ice didn't do much for me, except the cobra roll against the castle. Did you get a chance to ride Spiderman? I thought that was the best ride in the park.

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