It’s good to live in Florida. I get to ride coasters in January while my friends up north get to enjoy the snow and cold! This time, however, I decided to venture outside of Florida and head up to Georgia to finally visit Wild Adventures in Valdosta. I’ve wanted to visit the park for a long time, but things never seemed to work out right. School is going to start up again on January 12 and my shift at work may be changing to accommodate school, so it’s now or never to go to Wild Adventures.
I also decided to visit to see what’s in store for Cypress Gardens. It seems like the owner of Wild Adventures is in the front-runner to buy the historical park and open it again. If the deal goes through, then it’s rumored he can open it in March 2004. Coasters and flat rides will come later. I wanted to see how the owner developed a petting zoo into the park that it is today.
I departed Ft. Myers, FL at around 7 am. Mapquest.com said that the drive would be 6 hours straight up I-75. I had planned to arrive at around 1 or 2 pm, do a half-day at Wild Adventures, get a second day ticket, and do the park the next day. Then I would head home. I took a detour into Tampa to pick up a discounted AAA Wild Adventures ticket (the AAA price was $29.95), but the office was closed! It took me a while to find the office too! Oh well…I could hit the one in Ocala. It’s about a mile from I-75 anyway. It was smooth sailing down I-75. I was enjoying the numerous billboards of Wild Adventures, “Choose Life,” and Café Risqué.
It was indeed smooth sailing until I came up to exit 320 on the Interstate. The traffic slowed to a crawl. The top speed today was 5 mph. Traffic was like this up to the Florida Turnpike Intersection and was still backed up for miles. I had to get off the Interstate and head up back roads. I decided to exit around Wildwood and head north on U.S. 301. I think everyone else had this idea too because traffic was congested there too! Traffic didn’t let up until around 441 near McIntosh. There, it was smooth sailing to Micanopy. I arrived at Micanopy at around 2 pm. I wasn’t sure if I’d make it to Valdosta before Wild Adventures closed at 8 pm, so I was wondering what to do.
I had spent many years around this area. Micanopy is 10 miles from Gainesville. As you all know, it’s home to the best Florida university around, the University of Florida (go Gators)! I knew Micanopy had a lot of antique shops. I drove around Micanopy and marveled at the shops. They also have these huge speed bumps that I went way too fast over. I got some nice airtime!
I also spent many a day at Café Risqué. For those who have never seen the billboards, they proclaim, “We bare all!” on these neon-colored billboards. It’s like “Denny’s meets a strip club.” I hadn’t been around here since my college days and I was hungry, so I decided to drop by for some food. I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to eat a burger with a naked woman dancing in front of you. Just ask your significant other to dance in front of you while you’re eating pancakes!
The doorman kept on hyping up the bed dances, which were (according to him) “the best experience you’ll have all year.” It’s only 3 days into 2004! It’s like proclaiming a movie that opened yesterday as “the best movie of the year!” Now if he is speaking of last year, the bed dance can’t top a ride on Top Thrill Dragster! Besides, better dances can be had in Tampa clubs, but this would be better suited for a trip report. I can dance on my bed for free. Anyway, I spent 45 minutes at Café Risqué before leaving.
I drove along I-75 and passed by Gainesville (go Gators – whoo-hoo!). Then I had to stop for gas a few miles before the Florida-Georgia border. I was sucking on fumes now. Gas at the station was $1.63 a gallon! I had to take the pain and pay the price.
I still didn’t know if I would reach Valdosta in time to visit the park, so I thought about what to do. Maybe I could catch a movie or hang around at the scenic Valdosta Mall. I finally reached the Florida-Georgia border at around 4:30. I stopped by the Georgia Welcome Center to search for Wild Adventures brochures. I wanted to find a coupon. I found a brochure and the coupon was for $34.95 adult admission, but it expired on 12/31. I wonder if I could use the coupon even though it expired. It was worth a shot.
As I headed to Valdosta, I almost wanted to kick myself. Gas was around $1.37 a gallon here! Dang, if I could have held out a bit longer, I would have saved some money! For those who are coming from the north down I-75 to Orlando, remember to fill up in Georgia! Gas prices down I-75 ranged from $1.55 to around $1.63 a gallon!
I finally reached Valdosta at around 5:00 pm. The total drive was 10 hours (about 9 if you subtract my Café Risqué ogling). I headed to Wild Adventures. I figured I could do some coasters for about 3 hours and then the rest the next day. I wanted to meet up with a friend who lives around the area, but I hadn’t gotten a call from her yet. Her daughters were pretty busy that weekend.
Wild Adventures is off a two-lane road that’s surrounded by farmland, houses, and a church. Parking was $3 in the dirt and $7 in the nice lot. I did $7 in the nice lot. I would have been happy in the dirt since I had to find a parking spot in the boonies around the dirt lot! It was getting cold, so I decided to put on my ACE sweatshirt. I know some of you are booing right about now! It was the sweatshirt or go cold…so there!
I had schemed to use the expired coupon, but admission turned out to be $34.95 anyway. I got a AAA discount of $31.00. So I didn’t need to take a side trip to the AAA after all. It would have been about the same price anyway -- $29.95 + $1 toll for the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on I-275 in St. Petersburg. I headed to the second day ticket office, but the line was long. I didn’t want to waste serious coaster time by standing in line, so I decided to do the park first and come back at the end of the day to upgrade.
As I walked around the park, I noticed that the park was very clean and beautiful. It kind of reminded me of Michigan’s Adventure with all the concrete. Also, I had Aqua’s “Bumblebee” song stuck in my head! “Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am!” Thanks Robb and Elissa Alvey!
The first coaster that I rode was Ant Farm Express, a roller skater type coaster. I waited about 2 minutes for this one and took the back row. What can I say – it was a kiddie coaster! The good thing about it was that the operator gave us two laps! Other parks would only give me one. That makes for a longer ride. It didn’t seem to affect the lines too much since they were short anyway.
The coaster next door was Bug Out, a wild mouse coaster. I waited 5 minutes for this one. The operator loaded and ran all five mouse trains at once. I’ve seen other mouse coasters that load continuously, but they have the benefit of multiple operators. Hersheypark’s mouse looks like a big pinball machine if you watch it. They must have 10 trains on the track at a time. This coaster and Ant Farm Express only had one operator. It may just be a wimpy mouse, but this was the scariest coaster I’ve been on! As the train headed to the edge of the track and before it curved, it seemed like the train was going to drop off the side and into oblivion! Ahhhh! Hold on tight!
Next up was the coaster next door, Tiger Terror. Eh, another kiddie coaster. Eh, another two laps. But the most exciting part was the rollback at the end! Whoo-hoo! I wish this could have happened on my Top Thrill Dragster ride!
I wanted to ride Boomerang, but I hadn’t seen a train roll on the tracks for a while. I looked to the left at Cheetah’s lift hill and I didn’t see a train on it for ages. As I waked closer to Boomerang, it didn’t seem it was going to open at all today. There was no operator there. The control panel was even covered. Oh well…I put it on the list for tomorrow.
Next up was Swamp Thing. The one thing that concerned me was the height restriction. I couldn’t be over 6’2” to ride it. My driver’s license said I was 6’3”, although I haven’t measured myself in ages. For the first time in a long time, I had to measure myself and I had a few inches to spare. So maybe I’m not as tall as I think I am. Have I been lying to myself all these years? Did I experience shrinkage? If I did, then I must stay out of pools! I waited about 5 minutes for my ride. I really had to squeeze my head to put it under the restraints. What can you say about a kiddie-inverted coaster? It was fun and I got two laps. The end of the second lap started to become head bang city, but I was surprised that I didn’t get beaten up on this Vekoma. I heard about a lot of roughness on this coaster, which I didn’t experience.
I headed to Hang Man next. Oh no…it’s a Vekoma SLC! Protect your neck and heads! Oh well…it was a credit. I waited about 5 minutes for my ride. This seemed to be the only coaster in the park where the operators made an announcement that said, “Welcome to the Hang Man. Here are safety instructions…” None of the other coaster operators in the park seem to do this. The ride operator noticed my ACE sweatshirt and he asked if I was at the ACE event last January. I said it was my first time at the park. ACE will be in the park in 2 weeks, sir. I wonder what he would have said if I had on my Florida Coaster Club shirt!
As I rode, I thought I was in Bizarro World. This is a smooth SLC! No way! I didn’t think such a thing existed! It became the headbanger’s ball at the three corkscrews, though.
As I rode Hang Man, I saw a train running on Cheetah. It must be open. I was so looking forward to riding Cheetah. My favorite type of wooden roller coasters are the out and backs and Cheetah was an out and back. I had watched a POV video of this coaster in Tommy Faircloth’s Roller Coaster Adventures. It didn’t look like much, but I still wanted to ride it. It seemed to be the only “big kid” coaster in the park. The station was pretty empty and I walked right on. I wanted to go the one click thing on the lapbar, but there were no seatbelts! If I did one click, I’d be flying out of the coaster and into orbit! It was time to get more secure.
I headed up the lift in anticipation of airtime city. The coaster did the first drop and hit the first hill. Hands up for me! Then I felt a terrible pain shoot up my spine. This coaster is rough. Hands down and hang on! I don’t know if I got any airtime on this coaster. I was busy getting beaten up by the extreme roughness on this pain machine. Man, it was brutal. I would have wanted to stop it and jump off! Cedar Point’s Mean Streak, step aside. Paramount’s Kings Island’s Son of Beast, get to the end of the line. Six Flags St. Louis’ Screaming Eagle, your throne has been usurped. The new king of pain is Wild Adventures’ Cheetah! The operators were letting other riders stay on if no one was waiting for their row. The station was virtually empty. I would have stayed on if I were riding Celebration City’s Ozark Wildcat. I didn’t want to be sent to the Chiropractor on another ride, so I got off Cheetah as fast as I could!
I decided to take a break from coastering and do the two simulator rides next door. The wait for them was around 5 minutes. One employee was running both simulators. He shouted at his supervisor at Cheetah and said that the other employee was late from break. The first simulator was a trip through an alien mine. It was like a roller coaster ride without the excitement.
The other simulator was Portal 7, based on an online comic book. The simulator was also 3-D. As I entered the simulator room, each seat had a pair of 3-D glasses on them. I looked around and didn’t see a place to pick up a pair or to dump them at the end. So the person who sat in this seat used these glasses? Ewwwww… How many people come through this ride and wear the glasses? Ewwwww… How many of them had lice? Ewwwwwww…. How many of them didn’t shower today? Ewwwwwww… The 3-D effect wasn’t too impressed. Everything seemed out of focus. This isn’t IOA’s Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, kids. During the ride, my seatbelt came loose and zipped back into its compartment. I thought it was clicked in! I didn’t want to fly out of my seat, so I had to hold onto the handgrip with one hand and buckle myself in with the other. Suffice to say, I’m very talented. The screen also had these black splotches on it. Someone needs to replace the screen!
I walked around the park and came up to Fiesta Express. I didn’t want to ride it because the sign said, “Single riders would be paired up.” Besides, the seats looked so small that it wouldn’t hold one of me, much less two. I walked around the Wild West area looking for Goldmine, but I couldn’t find it. I unintentionally did a circle back to Fiesta Express. They were seating single riders alone, so I decided to ride. I got the back seat. The train is pretty long and travels along S-curves. If the other riders’ arms weren’t so stubby, it would have been hand slapping. The ride operator gave us two laps on this one.
At every park that I visit, it seems like I ride the coasters and the S&S space shot ride. It never fails. So I had to ride Double Shot, a tiny space shot ride. The airtime was over and done with at the top. It’s not the greatest S&S space shot out there.
I wandered around and around looking for Goldmine. I finally found it by accident! This coaster looked exactly like Michigan’s Adventure’s Big Dipper. I got two laps out of this one. Some kids who rode it were so excited that they were running to the exit and back through the entrance to ride it again. This must be their Millennium Force!
I had about 10 minutes to the Red, White, and Blue Laser Show, so I bought some postcards and a soda to prepare myself for the show. The show is in the lagoon area in the middle of the park. The lagoon has a bunch of trees with no leaves. As I walked around the park, I noticed one of these trees out of the corner of my eye. It was curved in such a way that I thought the park had Wicked Twister! Cool, an Intamin at Wild Adventures! Elissa Alvey would be so happy! Anyway, the show was pretty good. The laser screen was so tiny that it looked like a postage stamp! I think it was smaller than the castle at Disneyland.
After the show, I headed to get the second day free ticket. I stood in the longest line of the day. I waited 15 minutes. The room was stuffy too! Someone open a window or turn on the AC!
The park was pretty deserted as I left. The parking lot cleared out fast! I think there were six cars left in the parking lot, including mine. Finally, I could find my car easily at a park! I headed out to find a room for the night. I had done some online research and I found the cheapest – Motel 6 off exit 16 on I-75. It was $29.99 a night for 1 adult. I think it was $6 per extra person. That same exit had Briarwood Motel, which was $15.98 and up. I almost took that one, but the outside didn’t look too friendly. It was also 300 yards from a nudie bar. I would have visited the bar for, um, a beer and, er, nothing else! Yep, that’s it! I decided to do the Motel 6. I wish I had done the Briarwood Motel. The Motel 6 room looked clean. The bed felt like I was lying on marshmallows, though. It was way too soft. The room had a shower, but no towels! How can you have a shower with no towels? I got some towels at the front desk, but I couldn’t find a bar of soap. I was so tired that I gave up and took a soapless shower. I used a lot of deodorant!
I was waiting for a call from my friend, but I never got one. I had a hard time getting a signal for my cellphone, but my voice mail still worked since I could call it from the hotel phone. This must truly be hillbilly land if there are no cellphone towers! I need to get back to civilization!
I decided not to do the second day at Wild Adventures. I had done all that I wanted to do in 3 hours. Heck, this trip report took me longer to write than my visit to the park! I’m not much into flat rides. I did the Power Surge at a fair and I’m not doing it again. I would have done a Wild Claw if they had one, though. I didn’t really have a desire to ride anything again. I might have done Bug Out again, but I can ride a mouse somewhere else. I didn’t get the Boomerang credit, but I’ve rode so many boomerangs that I can do without one this time. I didn’t really feel like paying for parking and spending more time at the park just to ride an off-the-shelf boomerang.
The impression I got from the park was blah. There wasn’t much there that would draw me back. The coaster that I was looking forward to the most turned out to be a major disappointment. The park is nice, the employees are friendly, and it has a good collection of rides, but it seemed more geared for kids and families. I’m looking to ride stuff like Millennium Force, Lightning Racer, Space Mountain, and heck, even the Superdooperlooper. I’ll do a kiddie coaster, but only if I’m with a kid or for the credit (Elissa Alvey would be so proud!). This park seems to have an abundance of kiddie coasters. Other parks usually only have one or two kiddie coasters. This park is the opposite. Small kids may see this park as their Cedar Point. If you’re heading to Orlando down I-75 from the north, you might want to bring your kids here as a warm up to the more thrilling coasters 4 hours south. I think I’d rather venture 4 hours north or south for the bigger and badder coasters.
Even though I had a blah feeling towards the park, I think Cypress Gardens is in good hands if the Wild Adventures’ park owner bought it. He has made a good park from a tiny petting zoo. I can only see good things happen to Cypress Gardens. Just imagine…as you pull into Cypress Gardens, you see a gigantic out and back coaster. It’s just like the image at Michigan’s Adventure! Can we hope for a B&M or GCI coaster at Cypress Gardens, or will it have a SLC, boomerang, and other off-the-shelf coasters? We’ll see… I’m rooting for a B&M or GCI myself. I hope Cypress Gardens has some custom coasters. That’s a great way for a small park to survive, especially with the big boys in Orlando. Who would want to visit Winter Haven (which is off the beaten path) when the Incredible Hulk Coaster is calling you at IOA? Would we go to Santa Claus, IN or Sandusky, OH if there weren’t great coasters there?
I don’t think I’ll return to Wild Adventures…that is, I don’t think I’ll return to Wild Adventures until my nephew is older. He’s about 9 months old now. He has a few more years to grow until I can take him on the kiddie coasters. I think I would have had more fun at the park if I were with the “kids” of ACE or the Florida Coaster Club.
Since I didn’t get a call back from my friend, I decided to squeeze out some juice out of my Disney World annual pass and fall 13 stories with the mouse.
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