TR: Universal, SeaWorld, and Busch Gardens 12/22 - 12/27 PART 1

For the second time in 2012, we decided to go to the Florida parks. I live in Fort Lauderdale, so the drive to the Orlando parks is a little under three hours and a little over four hours to get to Busch Gardens. I would be with Seth, my friend, and my brother, Sammy. Seth lives in New York, so he was visiting. We would have nothing to do for a couple of days. We picked him up at Fort Lauderdale Int'l Airport at around 4 pm and started the trek to Orlando. The drive was unusually short (about two and a half hours) due to no traffic, and we got to Orlando just as the sun was setting. It was already too late to go to Universal and/or Islands of Adventure, so we picked up our complimentary Universal Express passes at the lobby of the Hard Rock. The hotel room was very nice, and we had a clear view of the lit-up Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. I have been to Universal about four or five times since this was built, and I still haven't been on it. The line is always 2+ hours, especially when I went in 2009 and it was brand new. We did not want to sit in the hotel room, so we walked around CityWalk for a little bit. This is such a cool sight at night. We ate at NBA City. I have eaten here before, and the food was great. Our waiter was friendly and service was very fast. It was getting late, and we wanted to go to bed on the early side so we could take advantage of our early entry into WWOHP (courtesy of on-site hotels). We woke up at 7:45 and ate breakfast in the room. The park was opening at 9:30, so we were able to get in at 8:30. By 8:15, we were on the water taxi. I saw a friend from Fort Lauderdale here. We were admitted to IOA earlier than we thought we would. We made the long walk through Seuss land and into WWOHP. The park was absolutely empty and quiet. What a weird feeling. We were amongst about five other parties heading towards WWOHP. They immediately entered Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. We stopped off at Dragon Challenge first. I still can't get over the name and the non-dueling aspect. I hate it!!! We sprinted through the long, always empty queue and into the first indoor part of the queue, where we got our Express passes scanned. If you've been on Dragon Challenge with an Express pass, you know what I'm talking about when I say that you can't see a thing down the stairs. It reminded me of Mummy. The station house was empty. Trains were still circulating without anyone. We hopped onto Fireball (red) first, choosing the front row of course! We were the only three on the train, so it was weird to not hear the screaming of other people.

-Dragon Challenge (Chinese Fireball): The lift on these are very fast for some reason. The first drop provides a great view of the two famous air conditioning vents and the tops of other buildings! May I advise you that it was about 40º outside, much colder than what us Floridians (Sammy and I) are used to. The first drop was freezing cold. What a sensation! The first Immelmann is always fun due to some weightlessness. The airtime hill, being the only one on any B&M invert, is unexpected and has some great floater airtime. It would be much better with the Horntail train down below. The wrap-around Immelmann does not compare to the previous inversions. Once you reach the top, you get snapped to the right as you descend into a helix. I greyed out! My feet were tingling by the end of it. The vertical loop just isn't as much fun as it was while it dueled. No sensation of crashing into the other train. The flatspins provide some excellent forces because they are traversed faster than most B&M inverted coasters. My nose was cleared up when we hit the brakes :D. 8.5/10.

-Dragon Challenge (Hungarian Horntail): The first drop isn't as good as Fireball's due to it not going as far down to the ground. The overbank is unique and provides great forces. It gave you that sensation of flying. The zero-g roll is fast and disorienting (zero-g rolls are my favorite type of inversion), but no airtime was present. Next up was the cobra roll. I love coming so close to the castle, but it caused some head-banging (43º weather!). It does have one of the better cobra rolls due to its small size. The wingover was good but not as good as the ones on Fireball. Fun ride. 7.5/10.

It took about fifteen minutes to get on both sides and walk over to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (HPFJ). The wait was 15 minutes, yet there was no one in the park. We decided to skip as the ride is nauseating and the seats are claustrophobic. Last time we were on this in October, my cousin got sick.

-The Incredible Hulk Coaster- We heard the Hulk testing at 9:00 from all the way across the park, so we decided it was time to head over there. We wanted to be the first riders, but some people had already beat us there. The queue is fun as usual, but due to lack of a line, we unfortunately didn't get irritated by the TV monitors. Theming is heavy on this coaster, as it is on all of the attractions at Universal. Though I do love hearing the coaster roar right outside of the station. There was a two train wait for the front. I love the trains on this, especially the lead car. Conventional B&M sitting coasters are not very common, and we happen to have two of them here in Florida. The launch was powerful and cold. The zero-g roll is awesome; who doesn't want to get launched straight into a zero-g roll?! While riding, I noticed that the water cannons at the bottom of the first (drop?) were turned off. The cobra roll was forceful as well as the loop. It looks like the fog inside the tunnel was turned off as well. I heard they disable the water and the fog when it's cold out. Why would they have to disable the water if it is virtually impossible to come in contact with someone? The first corkscrew is the most powerful of any coaster that I have ridden. It leads straight into a tight vertical loop, which is still very forceful. By now, the ride has significantly lost its brilliant speed. We made funny faces for the camera, which was right after the second corkscrew and turn around. The ride was on the rougher side when I was here in 2011, but it has definitely smoothed out. It's as smooth as any typical B&M now and happens to be very enjoyable. The trains only shuffle a little towards the end. 9/10.

We opted for another ride on Hulk; front row again! At this point, the park was starting to open and people were entering. We took one more round on Hulk before lines started to form.

-Dr. Doom's Fear Fall- Next up was Dr. Doom's Fear Fall. Seth was a little reluctant to get on this since he doesn't really like drop or launch towers. We couldn't find the Express line, so we waited about five minutes in the regular line for the right side (left if you're facing it from the entrance). I was excited to sit on the side facing the park. The launch is great and provides a good dose of airtime at the top.

-The Amazing Adventures of Spider-man (!!!): We were all looking forward to this. The ride was a walk on. We were alone in our own little car thing. The special effects are unreal and the ride itself is just great. Best dark ride out there by far. 10/10.

We had done all the major rides at IOA and decided to upgrade to a park-hopper ticket. I also wanted to pick up my GoPro from the hotel room (Hero3, white edition with chest mount). Universal is a thirty second walk from IOA and about a five minute walk from the Hard Rock, which was really convenient. I've stayed in all the on-site hotels before. We entered Universal and headed to New York. The wait for Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit was just 45 minutes, but Seth and Sammy were hungry and didn't want to wait. I didn't even see the singles line. I could have ridden while they ate, but I had no idea the singles line even existed.

-Revenge of the Mummy: We decided to get on Mummy before eating. Plus, it was on the way. We rode in the back of the "car" the first time. The theming is awesome, and the special effects are so realistic. I memorize the order of the events :). The inclined launch is amazing and provides ejector airtime at the top. The turns have some nice forces and the fog tunnels were a cool addition, too. We rode four more times after, for a total of five. It was glass smooth for a Premier Rides coaster. The seats and lap bars are really comfortable. 7.5/10.

There happened to be a stand right outside of ROTM, so we decided to get turkey legs. The ones here are great and aren't dry at all. We ate them on the way to Men in Black: Alien Attack. We met a woman who told us she was from Honduras (what a surprise!) not. I spoke Spanish with her and told her that Seth was visiting from New York and that soy un gran aficionado a las montañas rusas ;). She asked where we got the turkey legs and we told her near ROTM.

-Men in Black: Alien Attack: I've only been on this ride twice, and I regret having not ridden it more before. I liked it. Seth got the most points because he knew the trick to getting the bonus (I looked it up while in line but couldn't find it!). 6/10.

-E.T. Adventure: It was fun telling the ride op that takes down names a fake name. My name was Norbit (from the movie), Seth was Rasputia, and Sammy was Xavier. It was hilarious when E.T. said our names at the end! 6/10

-The Simpsons Ride: There was a little bit of a wait for this even with the Express, but there always is. This ride is great fun and has always been. I like the part where Maggie eats you and they spray baby powder into the air.

We hopped back over to IOA so I could get some on-ride footage of Hulk and Dragons. We also wanted to get some butterbeer and spend a little bit of time in WWOHP. Crowds were starting to get heavy. We got on Hulk first. The wait time for the regular line was about 40 minutes, which I have never seen before on this coaster. We rode in the front so I could get the POV. The wait was about 20 minutes, but it felt like shorter. Still awesome. WWOHP was PACKED!!! You could barely get through anywhere. We all got in line for Horntail, which had about a 15 minute wait for the front. The regular line was just 5 minutes, which confused me. Whenever it is packed inside of WWOHP, the wait times for Dragon Challenge are always either 5 or 10 minutes. May I advise you that I was given permission by a lady name Barbara at guest relations to use my GoPro on the coasters, which was a big deal for Universal! I got the POV and used the shortcut line off the exit to get back on. Seth and Sammy decided to go wait in line for butter beer. The wait for Fireball's front row was shorter than the wait for Horntail's. I got my POV and met Seth and Sammy at the entrance to WWOHP. It is very inconvenient that the exit of DC is placed at the opposite end of the whole section of the park. It turns out that they "forgot: to get me butter beer! I didn't feel like waiting. We were carrying bathing suits and a change of clothes the whole time. We changed at the Burger Digs and headed for Jurassic Park River Adventure. This drop is so cool. 7.5/10. Next stop was Dudley Doo Right's Ripsaw Falls. This was alright, but Congo River Rapids at Busch Gardens is a lot better. I didn't get wet on this, but who says that's a bad thing? We walked over to Dudley Doo Right's Ripsaw Falls. The temperature (about 50º) combined with the closed in log actually made me feel nauseous. The double-down provided loads of airtime! 7/10. It was now around 6:00. I wanted to ride Hulk once more on the way out to dry us off, but Seth and Sammy wanted to get back to the hotel so they could get in the hot tub. We ate somewhere in the hotel (I can't remember where) and headed to the pool. We stayed in here for about an hour and a half. I was talking to this little kid who told me he has been to "four Cedar Points." I told him about how the people who own Cedar Point also own the parks that he has been to. He said he couldn't wait to be tall enough for Hulk. The slide in this pool was a lot of fun.

At 9:00, we got out of the pool and headed back to IOA (the park was closing at 9:30). On the way, a guy selling phone accessories tried to persuade us to buy a knock-off case for $30. I told him we were hurrying back to the park to catch a few night time rides on Hulk and that I would try to come back later (of course I wasn't), but he tried to discourage me by telling me that they close the Hulk 30 minutes before closing, meaning that it would have already been closed. Regardless, we entered the park and made the left to the big, green, roaring monster. The queue is so different at night. It was empty, so we opted for the front. I discovered that if you don't pull the OTSR all the way down, you can get great airtime on the first zero-g roll. The coaster at night is incredible. The green light effects inside the gamma tube really stand out at night. After my new discovery, I asked the ride op assigning seats to let us go in the back. He didn't hesitate to say yes at all. The ride ops here are very enthusiastic and do their job well. They have a train boarded and checked in about 20 seconds tops. A train is launched every 30 seconds. Fastest operations I have ever seen. I was right, and the back had even more airtime than the front obviously. It was still great at night. We got on one more time before they closed off the queue. That brought our total number of rides for the day to 6. Not bad. We decided to walk around CityWalk. We stopped at the Starbucks because Sammy wanted hot chocolate. We went back to the hotel and got ready for the next day: SeaWorld.

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