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Nothing super special. Canon T2i with the cheapo 18-55 and 55-250 lenses. I'm not always thrilled with the performance of the latter, especially at the far end of the zoom, so for every one good shot there may be 1-10 lousy ones I don't use.

 

Hey just proves that it's not the camera that makes great pictures. It's the person behind it.

Also proves how well the T2i holds up today for a camera that was released 7 years ago!

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Thanks again for the comments! Moving ahead a little over a week -- and skipping something I'll get back to later -- I'll jump over to Orlando for a visit to SeaWorld.

 

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SeaWorld!

Though my family has averaged a trip to Disney World about once every three years, I've been extremely negligent in visiting the other major parks in central Florida. Though I got to both Fun Spot parks in 2015, I had not been to SeaWorld since 1995 -- when I was ten years old. It's so long ago that I have virtually no memory of the park, though I do remember riding the Sky Tower -- so hey, at least I got that credit 22 years ago, since it wasn't operating this time.

 

I visited the park on Monday, February 13. Crowds were very light in terms of locals and domestic visitors, but this was also my first time visiting an Orlando-area park during Brazilian tour group season -- thankfully, there were only a few large groups, and they added only negligible stress to the day. Actually, they kept the coaster trains at least partially full, which was better for photography's sake!

 

Scorecard for the day:

manta x2

kraken x2

mako x3

wild arctic

-- lunch --

blue horizons

turtle trek

manta x2

antarctica

kraken x2

mako x2

one ocean

mako x3

 

My closest comparisons to this park are SeaWorld San Antonio (which I visited with TPR in 2013) and Busch Gardens Tampa (which, well, it's on Page 1). This is definitely a better and more full park than San Antonio, but it probably doesn't win the battle with BGT. Both parks are impeccably landscaped and quite beautiful, and they both contain an excellent (and very different) assortment of animals. However, for as much as I love SeaWorld's three B&Ms, BGT wins the ride battle in a landslide. Kraken's a good mid-tier Floorless, though it's a little shaky in spots. Manta is my easily favorite flying coaster, and the first I've been on that wasn't a Superman clone, a Vekoma deathtrap, or a Volare torture device. Mako was a surprise hit -- I went in expecting a mid-tier B&M hyper, but it's probably one of my favorites, and I'll take it over Diamondback here in Ohio. Yes, most of the air is floater, but don't tell me the first drop in the back row isn't a little more! Unfortunately, that's about it -- Turtle Trek is OK, Antarctica is a disappointment, and Wild Arctic is best not spoken of. Still, I'm totally happy to mini-marathon the B&Ms in between watching the animals and shows -- this park is worth a day for those reasons alone.

 

Pictures and additional details to follow!

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Pictures from SeaWorld -- Part 1.

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Started the day off on Manta -- my first roller coaster at the park.

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This was my first non-Superman B&M flyer, and I thought this layout was a huge improvement over those.

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It starts off with the always-awesome pretzel loop, but it actually does fun things after it too!

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A Manta train climbs the lift. Yes, there are actually people on the train, but I'm pretty sure it was never more than a station wait all day long.

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Pretzel looping.

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Rolling over.

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Good ride. Slightly uncomfortable if stuck on the brake run in that position for more than a minute or so, but otherwise I like it a lot.

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Journey to Atlantis was in the middle of its scheduled maintenance -- or de-maintenance, if you've kept up on the SeaWorld Orlando thread.

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So, let's head over to Kraken! He looks kind of threatening.

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Do not look the Kraken in the eye.

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Especially do not try to steal the Kraken's eggs!

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About the only good place to get a close-up shot of riders on Kraken.

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I think I found a SeaWorld survey marker disc in the ground in front of the Kraken entrance. Disney World and Disneyland have their own system of survey markers, but I didn't know SeaWorld had any until I stumbled across this one!

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Next up, things get a little chilly.

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Antarctica is the Empire of the Penguin. I visited twice, and the first time, I skipped the ride -- which turned out to be a good call, as it broke down for a while anyway.

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The second time through, I did get on the ride. It's the second trackless dark ride I've been on, after Ratatouille in Paris. That one was a lot of fun. This one was cute, and had some neat visual effects, but felt like quite an under-utilization of an awesome ride system.

 

Apologies for the oddly-shaped, unrelated picture.

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Here's the real draw at Antarctica -- the only open-air penguin exhibit I know of!

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Open-air means two things. #1: it kinda smells bad.

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#2: it's cold! You're in the penguins' habitat, not the other way around.

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As a result, I did about 10-15 minutes of photography, and had to stop because my fingers had lost the ability to reliably press the shutter button.

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Penguins are really fun to watch, even though most of them just stand around, not doing much.

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Because this exhibit is open-air, I knew it'd be great for photography. No glass to shoot through!

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I was able to get some good close-up shots of the penguins.

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I'll share a few more, because penguins are awesome, as long as you're not referring to the hockey team, because they're the worst.

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Staring disinterestedly.

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Grinning happily!

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Taking a swim.

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Tilting upward.

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Waddling ahead.

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Staring right into the camera!

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A look at the "indoor" viewing area.

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This is truly one of the best penguin exhibits I've ever seen. The only one close is the new exhibit at the Detroit Zoo, which lacks SeaWorld's open-air section, but makes up for it with some incredible underwater viewing areas.

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Sky Tower was closed (as expected) and as an observation tower enthusiast, I was not pleased. Glad to see two Osprey call the top of the tower home.

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So, I made my first trip over to the park's newest coaster, Mako.

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I loved the shark animations on the ceiling of the station!

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Mako's hard to photograph from inside the park, like Kraken, but there are a few good spots near the end of the track.

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This was my favorite spot to shoot from -- a perfect view of the final turn over the lake.

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So, as it may be evident from these pictures, the Brazilian tour groups were here!

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After doing this photography set, I got in line for the ride behind a huge group that had just entered the queue. How long would I have to wait? How much would this inconvenience my day? I got to the station and found they'd filled the queue two or three trains deep for every row /except/ the back row -- the best spot on the ride! To put it another way, their presence was not a problem.

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A similar thing happened on Kraken, in which the front row was shockingly left empty. Even with the groups, the park was not even remotely busy, so lines were never a concern.

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If it's not tour groups, I'm getting stuck behind a parade of ... flamingos?

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Wild Arctic was up next. How was the ride? It needs to be put out of its misery. It's closer to "Jules Verne Orbinaut at La Feria Chapultepec" than it is to Star Tours or anything at Universal.

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However, as it is with SeaWorld, the ride is joined with some awesome animal exhibits. The belugas were not easy to photograph, so have a shot of the inside of their building instead.

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A can of B&M beans? A little on-the-nose, eh SeaWorld?

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Goo goo g'joob.

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Let's go see some dolphins!

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If you don't like dolphins, you're probably not human.

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A silhouette of a dolphin!

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A dolphin pokes its head above the water.

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This one's probably looking for something to eat.

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Pucker up.

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After seeing the dolphin exhibit, it was just about time for the Blue Horizons show. I didn't know it at the time, but Blue Horizons was on its last legs, soon to be replaced by a different experience. So, I'm glad I saw it while it was still there!

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One flying dolphin!

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Two flying dolphins!

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Two flipping dolphins!

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If there was a story, it was hard to follow, but I think this performer was discovering a world of sea and avian life.

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Here's a person dressed as a parrot, which I realize makes very little sense out-of-context.

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This guy had more birds than he knew what to do with.

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Thankfully, they were well behaved.

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This bird is part of the show.

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This bird is not part of the show, but seems to think so anyway, the thief.

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Dolphin-skiing.

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Dive right in.

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The grand finale -- seven flying dolphins!

Edited by The Great Zo
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Pictures from SeaWorld -- Part 2.

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Stopped by the manatee rehab area to see some of Florida's gentlest sea creatures.

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Romaine.

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Turtle Trek was the last attraction to visit. The 3D film was kind of interesting, I guess. A warm-up for the next couple days at Universal.

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Sea Turtles are awesome, and Turtle Trek does have some great viewing areas for them.

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I also went through the other smaller aquariums around the park, such as the ones adjacent to Manta and Mako.

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Sharks overhead.

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A whirling tornado of fish.

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The tunnel in the shark exhibit. I think everyone that visits SeaWorld gets this picture.

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The Guy Harvey mural, as Mako swims by in the background.

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Finally, a chance to get some better pictures of Mako and Kraken, which are both nicely visible from the Mako exit stairway.

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Mako crests the lift. That drop is a lot of fun in the back row!

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Speeding along the water.

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The setting is quite nice, passing water and trees, with good views over a very busy area.

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Hitting the hill for some airtime.

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On the return leg.

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Almost as high as the birds.

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Coming through the mid-course brake...

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...and into the rest of the course. The final third of the ride isn't as great, but the turn over the walkaway and the water is fun.

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Kraken's an older B&M, so the pre-drop is there.

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Rounding the top of the first loop.

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I like coasters with vertical loops.

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A two-train shot!

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Cobra rolling on Kraken.

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Another two-train shot, as Kraken rises above Mako.

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Kraken heads down the first drop.

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Mako's lift hill lines up nicely here with one of Kraken's inversions.

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Framing Kraken's drop in a silhouetted Mako.

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Pacific Point Preserve is home to seals and sea lions.

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These two think they're in the spotlight.

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A dignified appearance.

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This was interesting -- there was a roseate spoonbill standing on top of the roseate spoonbill enclosure. This one didn't appear to be tagged, at least not in a way that was obvious. Was it just stopping in for a visit?

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Spoonbills aren't overly hard to find in the wild in Florida, so maybe this is just one of them.

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Definitely not difficult to find in the wild in Florida -- or just about anywhere -- but this squirrel was posing, so I had to get the shot.

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Reflections on the water as the sun begins to set.

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A final look over Manta from the walkway across the water.

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Mako makes its last big turn before heading into the station.

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The sun sets, silhouetting Mako against the fading light.

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I made it to the final One Ocean show of the day at Shamu Stadium.

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I wasn't actually planning to watch One Ocean while I was at the park, figuring I'd rather be riding coasters, but I'd already taken multiple laps on everything. So, I figured that this would probably be my last chance to ever see an Orca show, and made it to the last show of the day.

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Two whales.

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Four whales.

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Feeding time from the trainers.

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Another leap.

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On the platform right in front of the seating area.

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Another bird convinced they're part of the show. Who's going to tell them otherwise?

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This is why you don't sit too close -- especially with electronics!

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When the sign says you may get wet, you're getting wet.

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After One Ocean, I returned to end my night with a few more rides on Mako. This is what the station looked like -- and yes, re-rides were allowed. There's nothing quite the views and experience from a tall and fast coaster at twilight.

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A bad phone photo, but one last view of Kraken and Mako on my way out of the park.

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Looking just to the left at Mako's older sibling.

Edited by The Great Zo
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Alright, as I did with the last segment, part of this report is going to be "other stuff in Florida" in addition to the roller coasters. Yes, there's more to do in the Sunshine state than resorts and theme parks!

 

So here's the addendum to Part 2 -- stuff I did in the couple days after leaving Tampa and before visiting SeaWorld.

 

First, on Saturday February 11, I made a very quick stop in Lakeland.

 

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Here, a giant swan. Because if there's anything I've learned from visiting lakefront urban parks in Florida, it's that large birds are /everywhere/.

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A fountain on Lake Mirror.

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Fountain, art, and a road in the distance. Yep, probably about all there is to see in Lakeland.

Next, I spent a few hours at the Circle B Bar Reserve, a nature preserve southeast of Lakeland.

 

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This place went viral shortly before my visit, after somebody filmed a ridiculously large Alligator on one of the trails. I figured this place would see a spike in visitors, but on the Saturday I visited, it was even worse than I'd expected! Actually, some of the preserve workers seemed slightly annoyed by it. Eh, ultimately, it's not an awful thing if it's motivated people to take a hike outdoors.

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To be truthful, this was one of the better nature preserves I've visited -- an awesome variety of wild animals, and as this picture shows, a Hitchcockian number of birds. See this tree?

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Take these trees, multiply them by 30, and add up all the birds. That gets you close to how many birds were in just one section of the preserve.

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Was able to get closer to some of the birds, like this Great Blue Heron.

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Or the Osprey on a tree branch.

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An Anhinga spreading its wings.

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This might have been the first time I ever saw a Sandhill Crane.

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Honestly, there's something just a little different about seeing animals like this in the wild -- not that I don't enjoy places like Busch Gardens, SeaWorld, or a nice zoo.

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Somebody's gone fishing.

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A small viewing area offered views over Lake Hancock.

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The lake was pretty well populated by alligators, many just slightly poking out above the water.

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The swampy areas of the preserve contained several more alligators.

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This one was the largest I saw -- the king of the castle on top of that rise.

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I like turtles.

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Snails!

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Even an armadillo!

 

There's a certain scenery to the area...

 

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What else is central Florida known for? Orange groves everywhere.

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And yes, there are hills in Florida, and the views actually aren't awful in spots. Orange groves as far as the eye can see.

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Even some just-planted groves!

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Fading colors on Lake Tohopekaliga near Kissimmee.

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Orange sky, reflections, palm trees -- that's pretty much Florida.

The next night -- Sunday February 12 -- I went to no-man's land. Here's the funny part about Orlando -- it's the one city everyone has visited, but the one downtown no visitor goes to. I mean, it's not like downtown Orlando is a miserable ghost town. It's just not a tourist draw on anywhere near the magnitude of the resorts just to the southwest.

 

But, I like downtowns, and I like night photography, so I went "off the beaten path" and gave downtown Orlando a visit!

 

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Welcome to Lake Eola Park -- another urban waterfront park with nice paths, nice landscaping, and /lots/ of birds.

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Yep, Orlando's got a big downtown, and it looks pretty nice from here.

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Lake Eola is located just east of the main downtown core, but most of the skyscrapers are visible from various vantage points around the lake.

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I did this photo set between 10PM and midnight, but there was never any concern about safety -- there were /lots/ of people in the park. Joggers, readers, bikers, and even one couple practicing salsa dancing.

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A sculpture of birds, because of course.

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The majestic Lake Eola fountain.

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An orange glow on Washington Street.

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More buildings and reflections.

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Finishing my loop around the lake.

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A good spot to end. The Universal parks are up next, and part 3 of this trip report will be posted in another week or two.

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It's not very often I reply to threads, I visit this page every day but I'd say I'm more of a thread watcher than somebody who "gets involved" but this post really caught my attention.

 

I'm quite keen about photography and your photos really are brilliant and obviously not just phone snaps. I always say I'm going to take my "proper" camera with me next time I visit a theme park but when the day comes I change my mind as don't want to clunk it around with me all day or leave it in a locker. How do you get around this predicament? Also my wife would hate it if I stood waiting for the shot I really want.

 

Keep up the good work, and I look forward to seeing your photos from Universal.

 

Shaun

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Great update as always Andy! It's funny, for how many times I've been to Orlando I still have never been to SeaWorld. I will definitely have to make it visit someday. Also, I totally agree with you about both forms of penguins.

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great pics, and as I may have said earlier, brought back some wonderful memories of our BGT/SWO trip last year.

 

you missed out not going to Weeki Wachee to see the "mermaids" tho

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PHOTO OF FLAMINGOS IN A LINE[/i]

If it's not tour groups, I'm getting stuck behind a parade of ... flamingos?

 

 

 

Impressive! Looks like Robb really got this TPR Tour Group into shape. (And this isn't even Japan!) Oh, and not an ECV in sight!

 

Andy, your photo shots are A-One! Thanks!

 

Alice

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Great pictures of Sea World and the lesser-seen sights in Central Florida. I don't know if I'd be able to on my first Orlando visit, but on my second or third Orlando visit I'd try to get a day break from the parks to see some of that wildlife. That Circle B Bar Reserve and its bird and alligator viewing looks really nice. Also downtown Orlando looks nice and like a place to take a quick look at night if I had time or wasn't too tired. Looking forward to seeing more.

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^The St. Louis Zoo also has one. There's is even partially outdoors. The Memphis Zoo's is completely outdoors, etc.

 

There are plenty of open air pengium exhibits. Where did you hear that Antarctica was the only one?

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I know I basically said this already on page one, but you're ridiculously talented as a photographer. I feel like deleting pretty much the entirety of my Flickr account because it's just that much worse by comparison. I thought about going down to SeaWorld and Busch Gardens in the fall to take pictures, but I might not even bother now as you've set the bar too high.

 

I also LOL'ed when I saw the great egret photobombing the trainer feeding shot as well. I don't think I've ever seen one quite so comfortable around people.

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I'm quite keen about photography and your photos really are brilliant and obviously not just phone snaps. I always say I'm going to take my "proper" camera with me next time I visit a theme park but when the day comes I change my mind as don't want to clunk it around with me all day or leave it in a fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo. How do you get around this predicament? Also my wife would hate it if I stood waiting for the shot I really want.

 

Thanks for the comments! It's definitely easier to make time for photography when traveling alone, but the TPR people I've visited parks with (whether on an official tour or otherwise) totally get that photographers are gonna photograph. I usually take my equipment with me on rides (where allowed) or sometimes put it in a "bunny" for a few hours while making the rounds to get the riding done.

 

Great update as always Andy! It's funny, for how many times I've been to Orlando I still have never been to SeaWorld. I will definitely have to make it visit someday.

 

Yup, it's definitely worth a stop. I know it's kind of third on the pecking order after WDW and Universal, but if you can swing another day, go for it. It's probably possible to do SeaWorld and both Fun Spot parks all in the same day if you're not literally trying to ride or see everything.

 

Also, I totally agree with you about both forms of penguins.

 

Now that it's pretty much set that they'll be playing my second-favorite team in the opening round, it's only worse! Also have to laugh that some guy replied to Robb on Twitter essentially saying "it was a good trip report but I was offended by his comment about the hockey team." Like, really, it's a joke. Come on.

 

you missed out not going to Weeki Wachee to see the "mermaids" tho

 

Ha! Drove right past it, actually, on my way down US-19 into the Tampa area. Probably not quite my thing, to be honest.

 

I don't know if I'd be able to on my first Orlando visit, but on my second or third Orlando visit I'd try to get a day break from the parks to see some of that wildlife.

 

First off, get to Orlando! (says the guy who's never been to California)

 

Second, yeah, you've got the right idea. You could easily spend 6-10 days at WDW on a first visit, then another few days at the other parks, without ever venturing beyond. I've been to Florida enough times now that I'm looking for other things to do and see along the way.

 

Nice pictures, there also is an open air penguin exhibit at SFDK

 

^The St. Louis Zoo also has one. There's is even partially outdoors. The Memphis Zoo's is completely outdoors, etc.

 

There are plenty of open air pengium exhibits. Where did you hear that Antarctica was the only one?

 

Hey -- sorry for the mis-information. I was just trying to note it was the only one I'd heard of. Glad to see there are a few others around! SDFK's exhibit has African penguins, but the two zoos you mentioned do have Antarctic penguins like SeaWorld's. I will have to visit those zoos when I'm in the area!

 

I also LOL'ed when I saw the great egret photobombing the trainer feeding shot as well. I don't think I've ever seen one quite so comfortable around people.

 

Again thanks for your comments! And yeah, kind of hard to keep the natives away when they can fly.

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Continuing onward on my Floridian trip -- my (almost) first-ever trip to Universal. I've got enough pictures that I've decided to split this into two parts -- one for each of the Universal parks. I'll start off with the original.

 

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It's a globe!

As with SeaWorld, my last and only visit to Universal Studios was in 1995 at the age of 10. Again, I remember very little of the visit, but there are a couple things that stick out. For one, I do remember riding Jaws, which met its unfortunate demise several years ago. For two, I remember waiting at least an hour for Kongfrontation. I don't remember the ride at all, but I remember the NYC-subway-esque queue, which had a "Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain" movie poster that 10-year-old me was quite fond of.

 

Suffice to say, Universal Studios looks nothing like it did in 1995, so this was essentially a first-time visit. Yes, ET Adventure carries over from 1995 to 2017, but that's about it!

 

I visited on Tuesday, February 14. Scorecard for the day:

Gringotts

Men in Black

Simpsons Ride

ET Adventure

Mummy

Transformers

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit (x2)

Terminator 2

-- Lunch at Red Oven --

Shrek 4D

Mummy

Gringotts

Men in Black

Minions

Hogwarts Express (to IOA)

Hogwarts Express (to USF)

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit

 

My closest points of comparison for Universal Studios Florida are Movie Park Germany and Disney's Hollywood Studios -- two parks that, at least in their current state, are inferior to USF. A launched Mack coaster might change that for the former, and two huge new lands will almost certainly change that for the latter. I went into USF with measured expectations, knowing right off that there would be two factors that would negatively influence my feelings on the place.

1) I have zero attachment or connection -- as a child or an adult -- to any of the park's franchises or theming.

2) I've never been huge on 3D media-based attractions.

 

To no surprise, I didn't fall in love with most of the attractions (or the park as a whole), even as I recognize that it's overall an impressively-themed property. The only attraction I truly disliked was Shrek 4D -- a mostly-unfunny film set to a hideously uncomfortable "moving chair that feels like a pothole-ridden Michigan freeway at 90 MPH" experience. Transformers was incoherent, Simpsons looked like 360p, and I didn't like Mummy as much as I thought I might. Oddly, despite thinking that Minions are among the most annoying franchise mascots ever created, that might have been my favorite of the non-coaster simulator attractions! Gringotts, of course, was excellent -- and a brilliant combination of ride and simulator technology. However, I think it's Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit that ends up as my favorite attraction overall at USF -- I enjoyed it far more than I'd expected to.

 

Crowds were not as completely dead as they'd been at Busch Gardens or SeaWorld, but they were still light. A 20-30 minute wait for Minion Mayhem was the worst of the day, and most everything else was walk-on to 5-10 minutes at most. I went through the full (non-single-rider) queues for Gringotts, Mummy, and MiB on my first rides, and even that didn't add much time to the wait.

 

For lack of a better place to put this part of the review, Red Oven Pizza missed the mark. They're trying to be a little more deluxe than Blaze and its fast-casual peers, but it wasn't as customizable or economical, nor was it a true higher-end pizza. I'm a pizza snob, so I'm willing to pay for a good legit Neapolitan pie, but this one did not fit the bill. Plus, I'd been to Bavaro's in Tampa exactly a week prior, so it's almost unfair to ask this place to compare.

 

I'll save my overall thoughts for the Universal experience for the next trip report segment. For now, let's get to the pictures from the first park!

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Pictures from Universal Studios Florida (part 1)

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I actually stood outside of this gate in late September 2015 on a quick visit to City Walk, but it'd be another year and a half before I ventured inside.

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So, what's still the same from my last visit in 1995? This is about it -- a ride I had no recollection of, based on a movie I have little recollection of.

 

Honest to goodness, the last third of the ride was no less weird than some of the bizarre dark ride stuff I rode in Europe in 2016.

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BTTF is long gone, but the DeLorean survives!

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It's a piece of film history and I'm glad they kept it around.

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More information about one of Hollywood's most famous vehicles.

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The train engine from BTTF3 is also on display.

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Not quite as well-known as the DeLorean, but still kind of neat to see.

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Apparently it's got something to do with Jules Verne.

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The city streetscape theming is quite nice, in my opinion. Better than at Disney's Studios park, to the extent that I'm not sad at all it's going away there.

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Isn't it kind of funny that the Blues Brothers' style of music isn't actually blues?

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To serve and protect.

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Here's a great place to get whacked by the son of a mob boss.

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More San Francisco theming!

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The road sign is a nice touch.

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Jaws (the ride) may be long gone, but there was still a line 10-20 people long /on a slow day/ to get a picture with the shark!

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Meet Lew Wasserman, sort of a founding father for the Universal empire.

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Meet Lew Wasserman, with a bird on his head.

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Looking across the water toward the Men in Black attraction.

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A nice reflection of the MiB building, with its iconic replica of the 1964/1965 World's Fair Observatory Towers.

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The queue is filled with in-joke theming. Of all the franchises at Universal Studios Florida, this is probably the one I'm the most familiar with, so I at least got some of the jokes.

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Coffee break.

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This is one of the better attractions at USF -- a fun and very-well-themed shooting dark ride. Could do without some of the spinning, though. In two tries, I didn't master the game play, unfortunately.

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Sign out the ******* hover cart keys!

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I guess this means Springfield is up next.

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Donuts, clowns...

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...evil space aliens...

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...and advertisements for fictional beer companies.

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They did a good job making this place look like a cartoon.

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I think the gist of this area is "totally make up a reason to have a bunch of thieving carnival games."

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Alas, there is a ride to ride!

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Here's what I liked the most about the Simpsons Ride queue and attraction. It's a clever postmodern deconstruction of the whole theme park concept.

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Sadly, it kind of loses its way pretty quickly into the ride, becoming a bit too frantic to make much sense. The video quality was pretty awful, too -- tough to watch after riding Gringotts earlier in the day!

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Yup, we've all been there. Thankfully, not on this trip for me!

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Next up -- giant metal cars that turn into people and make gigantic explosions!

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This mythic object helps fuel ... the unlimited budget Michael Bay gets to work with ... or something.

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Can't say I've ever wanted a transformer at a birthday party.

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As I visited in early February, the Fallon ride was not yet open. I'm incredibly disappointed to be missing out on yet another 3D motion simulator.

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The park was done up for Mardi Gras, but it didn't seem they were doing much with it on this relatively-slow weekday.

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No bands at the band shell, but what's that just behind it?

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Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit! Ascending into the sunlight!

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I think this is only the second Maurer Söhne coaster I've been on (after X-Coaster at Magic Springs). The cars are unmistakable.

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As I mentioned, I enjoyed this ride a lot more than I was expecting. The non-inverting loop is a ton of fun with good airtime, and most of the rest of the course was more forceful than I'd expected.

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Up into the clouds.

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Taking a closer look at the first drop.

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Transitioning from the vertical lift to the crest of the hill.

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A fun mix of joy and fear.

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Not sure I'd be keeping my hat on, especially in the front row.

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Car #7 on a fun drop.

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Going vertical.

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Right about here, hopefully your song of choice is kicking in. You /did/ remember to pick a custom song, right?

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I came prepared and queued up Rush, which -- sorry Disney -- is infinitely better than Aerosmith.

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The semi-hidden path near the Blue Man Group theater provides some nice photo angles for the second half of the coaster.

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One complaint about the ride? Too many block brakes. Just when you're having fun, there's a little pause in the action.

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Nonetheless, those drops off the flat sections do provide some air in the back.

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Coasters and palm trees.

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Excited kid is excited.

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Scared kid is scared.

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Just had to wait for the sun to come out for a few of these shots -- need the best lighting!

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Excited kid is excited again.

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The coolest guys at Universal.

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Wizard people on a roller coaster. Like seeing a cowboy in Tomorrowland.

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Yup, ultimately, it's just a lot of fun.

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Oh, hi Jimmy.

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Pictures from Universal Studios Florida (part 2)

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Old props used at Universal are sold in the Williams of Hollywood shop. Let's see what's available!

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The Incredible (headless) Hulk! Price: $250.

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A license plate from Warren County, Ohio (home to Kings Island). Price: $30. I think the state of Ohio charges more than that.

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The "Welcome to Wakita" sign. Population: 585, minus a few of Aunt Meg's cows. No price listed. Guess that stopped me from buying it.

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A flying cow. A legit, honest-to-goodness flying cow!

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Price: $2000. I might be inclined toward weather-related memorabilia, but I'm gonna have to pass on this one.

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This ... is surprisingly convincing. Almost like I'm in Hollywood instead of Florida.

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Taking a look around the rest of Hollywood section of the park. A fancy dinner for these prices? I'm in.

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A storefront for all your old-school photography needs.

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Another famous vehicle...

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...and its famous occupants. This is an ... almost convincing version of the Mystery, Inc. gang...

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I may not have grown up in the golden age of horror films, but I'm pretty sure the parents of any child of the 80s owned Thriller on vinyl, so we've all heard this guy!

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Oh, another street sign!

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T2 was not high on my priority list, but I'm going to wager a guess that its years are numbered.

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I ran into a parade. Not literally, mind you.

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I literally have no clue who any of these characters are. Really, for me, it was no different than seeing some of the local-media-based theming at parks in Europe.

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Speaking of things based in Europe...

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The Kings Cross station is the first sign that we're headed into London.

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Along with some sort of triple-decker bus, the likes of which would be a challenge to drive.

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Also, this impressive fountain. But this is all just a facade...

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...let's take a look inside.

 

And for the record, I'm /really/ impressed with the entrance here. It's kind of bold to have such a tiny, unmarked entryway into the entire park's newest and most important themed area.

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Plus, when you pop out on the other side and see this, it's a heck of an impressive effect.

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This guy, though, doesn't look too friendly.

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The dragon is perched atop Gringotts Bank, the home of Diagon Alley's main attraction. The theming on the outside is fantastic, but the work on the inside is truly stunning.

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I should take this opportunity to note that I have almost zero knowledge of anything related to Harry Potter, and yet I really enjoyed all of this simply due to how immersive the world-building is.

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Spinning, whirling, still descending...

 

Gringotts is a lot of fun. Maybe not my favorite Harry Potter themed ride of the vacation, but I guess that's getting ahead of myself, isn't it?

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Loved the working split-flap display in the Kings Cross station!

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Is this anything like The Naked Gun 2½?

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Arches. Also, yeah, it's a picture from IoA. I had to ride the Hogwarts Express back and forth at some point!

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It is an impressive train, and really, the whole thing is very well hidden.

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There are only a few spots in USF where the tracks are visible, and I couldn't it at all from IoA (sans perhaps from Dragon Challenge, but I wasn't looking).

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Deep within the semi-hidden Diagon Alley is another semi-hidden area -- barely lit and filled with tons of little secrets. Also, a gift shop.

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What's this poster of John Lennon doing here, and why is he so undesirable? I mean, I always kinda hated Paul.

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I also wandered into this place where apparently you can exchange your money for Wizarding World money, which to me kind of sounds like "buying souvenirs." I didn't get any, though.

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A view over the narrow streets of Diagon Alley.

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From the top of the stairs next to Gringotts -- a narrow passageway.

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We've apparently got some sort of broomball game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins.

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"Firebolt" sounds like a roller coaster name, does it not?

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Again, despite knowing nothing about any of this stuff, it's just fun to see how much effort was put into it.

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If you're a huge fan of the franchise, you're probably eating up every single one of these in-jokes and references. As a non-fan, I might like to see another attraction back here -- it's basically one E-Ticket and a ton of shops -- but I'm not the target audience.

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The Society for the Reformation of Hags? Well then.

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Looks like I've stumbled upon another performance. This is Celestina Warbeck...

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...and the Banshees. Singing about some wizard stuff, presumably.

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Also starring "some poor sap" in the role of "the guy with the big blue feather boa."

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A ravishing performance!

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But let's get back to that dragon.

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I have read that said dragon is, in specific, a Ukranian Ironbelly.

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Get too close, and...

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...you're probably going to get burned.

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Thus ends a mostly fun day at Universal Studios Florida!

Edited by The Great Zo
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Hey, did you know Orlando has professional hockey?

 

(and, well, major-league professional basketball, if you're into that sort of thing)

 

Yup -- just a short "other stuff in Florida addendum" for this post, but if you're looking for some action on ice while in Orlando and don't feel like braving Interstate 4 to go see real hockey in Tampa, I give you the Solar Bears.

 

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Right, it's word play on "Polar Bears." But, it's "Solar" because it's in Florida, where there's a lot of sun. But "Solar" rhymes with "Polar" so...

 

Alright, I'll stop.

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The Solar Bears play in downtown Orlando at the Amway Center.

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It's a nice and fairly new building. Not sure there's anything that makes it stand out from other modern arenas, though.

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Disney can't help but sink its teeth into everything.

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Checking out the concourse, in an arena that is very clearly a basketball arena first-and-foremost.

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So if you're into historic NBA milestones, here's one.

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Apparently, it is very easy to get dirt-cheap suite tickets for the Solar Bears.

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What, you didn't know I was an investment banker?

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If these chairs don't suit you, there are others in the arena that might be to your liking.

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A middle school band/choir doing the anthems, a giant inflatable mascot tunnel, the upper sections curtained off, advertisements all over the rink ... ah, minor league hockey at its best!

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The Orlando Solar Bears, in their current incarnation, compete in the ECHL -- which is two full steps below the NHL.

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In a previous life, a different Orlando Solar Bears franchise competed in the IHL -- in fact, winning that league's last-ever championship in 2001. I, however, will always remember them for the double-overtime Game 7 Eastern Conference Final victory over my Detroit Vipers in 1999.

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Hey, we even got to celebrate a Solar Bears victory, in front of literally dozens of hockey fans!

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Guess I'll end this here. Islands of Adventure is up next!

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This trip report and my friend just getting back from Orlando (he did Disney and Wrestlemania) reinforce my need to get back down there. So many new rides over the past decade since my last visit: Cheetah Hunt, Manta, Mako, Rip Ride Rockit, Harry Potter, Fun Spot, Falcon's Fury...

And that's just the non-Disney stuff!

Great report as always, Andy!

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This trip report and my friend just getting back from Orlando (he did Disney and Wrestlemania) reinforce my need to get back down there. So many new rides over the past decade since my last visit: Cheetah Hunt, Manta, Mako, Rip Ride Rockit, Harry Potter, Fun Spot, Falcon's Fury...

And that's just the non-Disney stuff!

Great report as always, Andy!

No kidding, it's really become an even busier destination vacation spot than it's ever been before. Thanks for reading!

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Great pictures, great report. Being locals, we are there all the time and it's nice to see someone else's take and through their eyes, thank you. You've got some great pictures of things (in HP) that I don't think we have ever noticed. We'll have to go find them..Lol. Thanks again!

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Hey, did you know Orlando has professional hockey?

 

(and, well, major-league professional basketball, if you're into that sort of thing)

 

Yup -- just a short "other stuff in Florida addendum" for this post, but if you're looking for some action on ice while in Orlando and don't feel like braving Interstate 4 to go see real hockey in Tampa, I give you the Solar Bears.

 

Orlando also has an MLS team now: Orlando City SC. Orlando is moving up in the world of sports.

 

Great pictures of USH by the way - looks like Diagon Alley alone makes it worth a visit.

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Thanks for the comments!

 

Orlando also has an MLS team now: Orlando City SC. Orlando is moving up in the world of sports.

 

Great pictures of USH by the way - looks like Diagon Alley alone makes it worth a visit.

 

Yup -- I'm not into soccer, but I think it's great that it's continuing to expand. Between Orlando and Tampa, all five major sports are covered.

 

Amazing photos as always. I agree that the Rockit is the best ride on the propety. I rode it expecting a forceless ride, but was shocked by the really good air and postive Gs in those funky turnarounds.

 

The non-inverting loop really caught me by surprise. Fahrenheit's probably the closest thing I've been on to it, and while I prefer the rest of Fahrenheit's course, I think the non-inverting loop on Rockit is better.

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