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Photo TR: Condor's Audacious Travels

Updated - Universal Studios Florida p6

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I only rode Skyrush once its opening year. Painful. Beyond painful since I have big quads. The sitting on the brake run at the end was pretty much the worst moment I have ever had on a coaster. I could feel the blood clots starting. Why oh why did they design these lap bars so horribly? I've been on tons of other Intamins with no problems whatsoever.

 

Has it gotten any better? I really will probably never ride it again if they haven't modified their restraints.

 

They switched to a softer foam at some point but my guess is you'll still find it painful if it was that bad before. Even though it's my #1 I'll admit the lapbars are an awful design. I've just figured out some workarounds!

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Florida & Texas October 2020 This trip was the result of the most convoluted planning process I have ever gone through. Before the pandemic, it was supposed to be a full week hitting all the

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Does running 2 trains vs. 1 train on Skyrush make a significant difference? I made my first visit earlier this year and they were only running one train, so I didn't have to deal with sitting on the brake run waiting for the next dispatch.

 

Totally agree that once you figure out how to ride Skyrush, it's an amazing experience. My approach is to grab a left wing seat and lean outward to the left during the ride. As you pass through the Stengel dives and some of the right-hand turns, it feels like you're getting ripped in half

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Don't the lap bars partially release on the brake run anyway?

 

Yep--one click. They can ratchet down on you during the ride though. I'm not a bit fan of the restraints, either, although I think Skyrush is a great, legitimately terrifying ride.

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Just here to say that Troegs might be the best or one of the best breweries I have ever been to. If you don't stop in when you go to Hersey your missing out.

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I've noticed racing/dueling makes a bigger difference to some enthusiasts than others. For me it has never mattered much, with Dueling Dragons as the lone exception. Generally if I don't enjoy it as a single coaster, dueling isn't going to change that, but I understand why it would for others.

 

Even if I didn't find it fun, I'd have to consider Lightning Racer's version of racing fascinating and the design and construction impressive. The common factor of lukewarm reviews of it is not mentioning anything about it racing at all except the name. I also consider it pretty solid as a single coaster too -- and when I first rode it 9 years ago, it was still like new, which was a unusual experience.

 

 

As to Skyrush, I hold on to the bars to each side and reduce force. The handles are in a useless position. I don't think there's anything about the restraints which wouldn't be fine on a more normal coaster.

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Day 2—Knoebels

 

I had a mission on this visit: either quash or validate my opinion that Phoenix might just be kinda-sorta overrated. I worshiped at the altar of Phoenix my first time at Knoebels. Evening rides with hues of a pink and orange sky over the treetops had tears forming at the corners of my eyes while I laughed and cried from the boundless airtime and buzz bars. I honestly couldn’t decide if it was better than El Toro, Voyage, and Boulder Dash or only as good.

 

But on my next visit Phoenix was, dare I say underwhelming. I still enjoyed it, but the airtime and freedom of movement the trains offered were more “pleasantly amusing” compared to the borderline euphoric memory I had of it. I dropped it a good twelve places on my wooden coaster list, landing among other “very good but not world class” woodies like Shivering Timbers and Rampage. Twister became my preferred Knoebels coaster and I rode it double what I rode Phoenix, though that had as much to do with my developing a true appreciation for Twister’s unique blend of attributes as it did with Phoenix becoming a slight disappointment. I hoped to firm up my opinion one way or the other on this trip.

 

Flying Turns was closed for retracking/reprofiling and Impulse was closed because… reasons. Missing out on them this visit wasn’t a concern for me. I like Flying Turns, but it's more of a fun novelty rather than something I come back again and again for, and I don’t like Impulse even a little bit, so no loss for me there. Knoebels stellar collection of new and old school flat rides were all operating minus one or two exceptions, so the park still had more than enough things to do to fill up the 12pm-8pm operating day.

 

It felt about as crowded as Hersheypark did the day before and Knoebels normal practice of one-train operations on Phoenix and Twister presented the same capacity problem with social distancing measures in place here as it did on Wildcat. If there was a time for Knoebels to go to two-train op on them, this may have been it. I haven’t visited this park as often as some members on here do, so I suppose it’s possible Knoebels does two-train op more than I realize and I just haven’t seen it.

 

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Flying Turns... It would have been nice to ride it, but I can think of no coaster with worse capacity if adjusted for socially distanced seating. They really wouldn't even need to on it, but it's terrifying to think about.

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Inside the Flying Turns station and transfer track. I do like the look of its trains. Knoebels has always worked hard to lend this ride the utmost authenticity they could.

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Some major retracking/reprofiling was taking place on it. I haven't kept pace with the project, but from the looks of it the end of the ride might be significantly altered.

Phoenix

Look, so Phoenix is still really good. Like seriously good. Like so good it’s almost as good as the very best wooden coaster at Knoebels----Twister! After six rides on it I did in fact rediscover some of my fondness for it. The legendary airtime was only present on half of the hills in my estimation, but even I couldn’t help myself from stupidly grinning like a Godzilla fan in Shinjuku on the return run of bunny hops at the end. It’s impossible not to at the very least really like this coaster, even if I have to face that it's just not going to be one of my favorites again. I favor intensity over easy-going fun and re-rideability in most of my top coasters. Phoenix is not that kind of ride and that’s fine. Even I wouldn’t want every coaster to be like that. 8.5/10

 

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Phoenix is the rare airtime coaster without airtime on the first drop. It's just there to get you up to speed. The good stuff comes later.

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Phoenix is not the easiest coaster to photograph from inside the park. But since Knoebels doesn't really have a "inside the park" I walked around behind it by a bunch of homes/offices and maintenance areas, none of which were off limits, to find some different angles.

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Probably the strongest airtime moments on the ride - the final two hills before the turnaround into the brakes.

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I love how the antique cars form a neighborhood park-like setting around Phoenix and drive through its structure.

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The down side of Phoenix's iconic double-up-double-down.

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Another particularly strong airtime moment.

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The ride's first bit of air comes on the drop off the first turnaround.

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Phoenix's second lap is where you really can appreciate the single-position buzz bars.

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Twister

Now this is my kind of wooden coaster. It felt maybe a hair slower and a touch tamer than last time, but half-empty trains can do that sometimes. Regardless, Twister is unique, aggressive, and relentless. It’s also quite smooth, superbly so for such a laterals-focused ride running PTCs. I spotted plenty of fresh wood so it’s evident Knoebels believes in taking immaculate care of a coaster that probably doesn’t generate the kind of ridership or publicity Phoenix does. Twister is an underrated airtime coaster too. While the ride ops kept thwarting me by assigning me rows one or two on all but my final ride (imagine trying explain that to an average guest, “Dammit, I got the front again!”), the back seat delivers sharp airtime on the two big drops and at several points between the helix and the brakes. And if you do ride up front, you’ll get that second half air there too. 9/10

 

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Something about Twister makes it look massive as you approach from the road bordering the main park.

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The Elitch Gardens Mister Twister is in my top 5 coasters I'd bring back from the dead. If Knoebel's more compact, near-replica is an indication, I'm sure I would have loved the original.

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Watching Twister speed through the helix circling the station is a great way to build anticipation while in line.

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My second favorite wooden coaster helix after the slightly more ferocious one on Legend at Holiday World.

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The curved station is a nice touch. I don't know if there was a structural reason for including it or if was done to emulate Mister Twister. Either way it's just one more thing that makes this ride unique.

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Like Phoenix, Twister's best angles can be found by walking behind the coaster, in this case through Knoebels' campground.

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It's not Boulder Dash or anything, but Twister has just a bit of terrain coaster going on.

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Strong airtime in front or back before hitting the brakes.

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About to enter the concrete tunnel. This tunnel absolutely HOWLS during night rides.

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Twister is an underrated airtime coaster. It isn't the focus, but what's there is strong and abrupt. The first bit comes in the back during the second drop.

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I finally got the Kosmo's Kurves credit after forgetting about it last time. This is a kiddie coaster done right. Just thrilling enough, yet not intimidating.

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Phoenix's line ran a consistent 20-25 minutes by mid afternoon. I have only ever seen it run one train and the ride ops always have the same reply, "We like it to have a more sustainable line," which I've never fully understood. If it's strictly about maintenance costs then I get it. But otherwise, I'd think a park operating on a ticketed pay-per ride system would want to increase throughput as much as possible to spur more ticket sales. But I don't know as much about Knoebels as some people on here. Maybe I'm missing something.

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Phoenix's second train valiantly campaigned to help with capacity during social distancing, but its efforts were constantly rebuffed. I think it looks sad here.

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The Flyers, the third best ride in the park. Not that Knoebels is the kind of park that needs to serve beer, but if they did, the flyers might just become THE best!

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See ya Impulse. I might'a ridden ya if ya were open, might'a not.

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Day 3—Six Flags America

 

I have to say, I never thought I’d be here. And I don’t mean that the same way I meant it when I described laying eyes on Steel Dragon 2000 for the first time. I legitimately saw no reason to include this park on a plethora of trips that have taken me right by it. And there goes my harsh, elitist, coaster enthusiast shadow bubbling to the surface. Carl Jung would be so proud, I swear.

 

In lighter terms, Six Flags America was never that interesting to me. Service and operations are notoriously poor, there’s no shade, and even its parent company sees it as Six Flags Great America’s abortion clinic. It’s surrounded in all directions by better-run parks with superior coaster collections and every trip report or YouTube video I’ve seen about the place could probably be adapted into a Blumhouse movie. I’m still not doing a very good job at keeping this light, am I?

 

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The thing is, I actually had a really good time. Visiting a park known for long lines and slow operations during a pandemic might just have been my magic ticket. I got three rides on Superman, two on Firebird, two on Roar, and one on everything else that was operating all in the three hours I had allotted before driving back to Dulles for my flight home. Would I have enjoyed Six Flags America the same had I attended on a non-pandemic summer day? Well I have no idea, but I suspect not, so I’m glad I visited when I did.

 

The first thing that surprised me is how big this park is. Its stature within the chain might suggest something other than a sprawling behemoth of a park, but that’s exactly how it felt. It reminded me a little of Six Flags Great Adventure with how the impression of size is further inflated by a convoluted layout with lots of dead ends. If Six Flags ever saw reason to ramp up investment here, they certainly have the space to build. It was bright, clean (though that may have been the lack of people), and probably would feel a lot different if all it added were a few tree-lined midways.

 

I feel for the locals who have patronized this place for years. You haven’t gotten a legitimate new coaster since Batwing in 2001. But at least to me, the coasters here stack up nicely against those at Discovery Kingdom or St. Louis. The only coaster closed was Wild One, unfortunately one of the three that really interested me along with Superman and Firebird. I saw a couple of test runs right around the time I had to leave, but ride ops said they didn’t know when it would open. An enthusiast I met told me it eventually opened about an hour after I left. I still want to ride it. An excuse to go back? I won’t get ahead of myself, but never say never.

 

Superman: Ride of Steel

I guess I’m a latecomer to the S:ROS clones. I rode Six Flags New England’s improved version, which as most know, is not a clone at all, a decade ago and I’m just now getting around to one of its predecessors. While an Intamin hyper is always something to get excited about, this layout is just so simple and bland I that it was never much of a blip on my radar. Would I have made more of a point to seek it out had it been at a different park with a better reputation? Probably. After riding it, I’m a fan. This is still a great coaster. It may not be its New England brother, but I can see why it remains in high esteem. The ejector airtime and forceful helixes are all there, just in simplified form. I found the sustained sense of speed reminiscent of Millennium Force. The straight track and low, wide turns mimic the sensation of its bigger giga-cousin quite well. The only down aspect of the ride I found was the trim before the final bunny hill. It diminishes one last pop of airtime, but I can see why it’s needed given how comically short the brake run is. After three rides I even decided I preferred it to Candymonium. A very surprising 9/10!

 

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Soaring over the trees and the expanse of flat land SFA is built on amplify Superman's size. 200 foot hyper coasters are commonplace now, but this one feels huge.

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I didn't even realize I caught the Roar train when taking this shot.

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This hill, the second to last, has plenty of airtime, but the trim on the descent drastically slows the hill that follows.

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Drops of 70 degrees don't look as steep today as they did 20 years ago, but that doesn't mean one can't still deliver great ejector air!

Joker’s Jinx

I wonder if these Premier LIM bowl coasters were 15-20 years ahead of their time. Sure Premier built a handful of them, but I suspect they might have been even more popular today. Would we have seen these popping up as frequently as the Sky Rocket II models? Just maybe. I only rode once, but I would happily have done more if I wasn’t limited on time. 7.5/10

 

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Who doesn't love the look of a Premier LIM-bowl?

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Joker and Poltergeist are especially fun since they lack the MCBRs found on the Flight of Fear twins.

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At Six Flags America Wonder Woman isn't a RMC single rail or a Zamperla Giant Discovery, she's a Star Flyer!

Firebird

My interest in Firebird was rooted in it strictly as a historical curiosity. What enthusiast doesn’t want to have the original B&M on their ledger? For anyone who may not know, Firebird was once the standup coaster Iron Wolf at Six Flags Great America, opening all the way back in 1990. I never got to ride it at its old home or with the standup trains, but finally checking it off my list felt like a right of passage. Iron Wolf was long known as an uncomfortable ride and it stayed that way after its relocation to SFA as Apocalypse. Some still say that even now after its floorless conversion. So imagine my surprise when I found this coaster to be a blast. I didn’t think it was rough. It felt like a moderately intense, unique little looper that was smooth enough given its age. I enjoy B&M’s earliest layouts that were often light on inversions and high on tight twists and turns and this is a great example of it. It’s a true spiritual predecessor in more ways than one to a favorite of mine, Georgia Scorcher. Firebird is longer, smoother, and better than CGA’s Patriot, another standup-to-floorless conversion of similar vintage, and I’d also take it over several ground-up floorless coasters like Hydra, Batman: The Dark Knight, Bizarro, and Scream. 7.5/10

 

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Even if you aren't impressed with Firebird as a coaster, you have to be at least a little impressed with the effort Six Flags put towards its presentation.

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I was surprised how much I liked it.

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The first drop has a slight kink in it halfway down you would never see on a B&M built today.

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Batwing

I was looking forward to this one too. I’ve always thought the second-gen Vekoma flyers are good rides. X-Flight was my favorite coaster at Geauga Lake and I remained a loyal supporter when Cedar Fair moved it to Kings Island as Firehawk. I was disappointed when they announced it would be removed, although I understood the reason for it. I cannot say the same for Nighthawk at Carowinds. That one tracks much rougher and its double corkscrew finale is less satisfying than the inline twists into a helix combo seen on Firehawk and its twin, Batwing. Fortunately Batwing feels exactly like Firehawk. Riding up the lift hill on your back will always suck when the sun is out, but after that I enjoy every element. This is a punchy, forceful layout and I’ll take Batwing over a Superman: Ultimate Flight clone any day. 8/10

 

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Batwing looks kind of SBNO without a train running.

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With Firehawk gone, I'm glad its clone remains, even if it has to be at a park I'm unlikely to visit often.

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Batwing doesn't spend as much time flying as the B&M models do, but its standard set of elements provokes very different sensations in the flying or prone positions than when seated. The second-gen Vekoma layout is a good one.

Roar

I rode this twice. First was a cautious attempt in the middle of the train where I was so pleasantly encouraged by the comfortable ride experience and two pops of airtime(!) that I immediately went back around to try out the back seat. It did not go well. It was at least as rough and possibly rougher than Wildcat, which isn’t all that surprising considering this GCI still runs PTC trains. My memories of Six Flags Discovery Kingdom’s Roar aren’t vivid, but I recall coming off of it with a similar opinion. The Roar layout is a good one, better than Wildcat’s, but without the dedicated trackwork necessary to keep it in good shape, it just tears itself up. 5/10 on the strength of a better than expected first ride.

 

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Do rock monsters have vocal cords?

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Roar has the same aesthetic design symmetry that I liked in Wildcat. It just doesn't translate on-ride.

Mind Eraser

Not the worst SLC I’ve ridden! This one doesn’t have new trains or restraints, but the headbanging was manageable. I’d like to see Six Flags upgrade all their SLCs the way they have with Six Flags New England’s Mind Eraser (or Riddler Revenge now I guess…) 5/10

 

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Rajun’ Cajun

I can see why this little spinner has developed a bit of a cult following. If I were a Chicago local, I’d be disappointed Six Flags Great America lost it. When left to run unhinged without significant trim-braking these Reverchon spinning coasters are downright thrilling. I’m talking alarming amounts of spinning during the second half. Not since the even more unhinged (and sadly SBNO) Raton Loco at Mexico City’s La Feria have I spun this much on a coaster. If I had a full day here I would have gone back for seconds. 7/10

 

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I got to watch Wild One test a couple of empty trains, but the credit eluded me. I won't rule out coming back one day.

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Excellent reports and photo compositions, Condor. Really enjoyed reading these. You have a way with words.

 

I used to op Skyrush so I am incredibly partial to it myself [see avatar]. Sad to hear about the closure of that path. It was awe-inspiring to watch that thing fly across the water and absolutely truck over the airtime hills, and to observe the unique distribution of thrill/terror/pain on every train.

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Great reports! I am glad to see a generally positive review of SFA. That park seems to be the punching bag of Six Flags.

 

I am a pretty big critic of Firebird, but I also only rode it once in the front seat. Perhaps riding it a few times in different seats would've changed my opinion of it. But to be honest, we just wanted to book it as soon as possible and head to Kings Dominion! I will admit that I am a big fan of Joker's Jinx though (and Poltergeist for that matter). Those two are infinitely better than both Flight of Fears and it baffles me why.

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SFA has become my temporary (hopefully) home park and it's a good park. Too bad about missing Wild One, I'm on the fence if it or Superman is the best ride there (after Renegade Rapids ).

 

Can't agree about Joker's Jinx vs. the far superior Flight of Fear though.

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Man, I do love Twister... and Phoenix... so much. Twister is for when you feel up for a great dose of wooden coaster intensity, but it's nice to know that Phoenix will always be right there if you want to take a "break" from the laterals. Knoebels really does go for quality over quantity, and I enjoyed the SFA report too! I will have to go there one day just for the experience and because it's really not that far away.

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  • 2 months later...

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Florida & Texas October 2020

This trip was the result of the most convoluted planning process I have ever gone through. Before the pandemic, it was supposed to be a full week hitting all the usual sites in Orlando and Tampa. Once it became clear that rides like Iron Gwazi and Ice Breaker would be delayed to 2021 and Universal confirmed there would not be a traditional, full-fledged Halloween Horror Nights, it made sense to push the whole thing back a year. It just wasn’t worth the trip without the seasonal events I’m used to, several new rides closed, and the parks operating at reduced hours.

But where to go instead? Since I live in the People’s Republic of California, doing anything local in SoCal or visiting parks up north in the Bay Area isn’t an option right now. We enthusiasts must go where parks are actually open and Tennessee and Texas fit the bill nicely. I’ve been to Dollywood before, just never when Lightning Rod was actually running, and there were a few desirable new credits for me to get in Texas like Boardwalk Bullet and Wonder Woman, so that became the new trip.

My dad and I would spend three days in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area including two days at Dollywood and another to ride all the mountain coasters and see other sights. We would then proceed to Houston and catch Boardwalk Bullet after our flight, carry on to San Antonio for Six Flags Fiesta Texas and Sea World, then wrap things up in Arlington at Six Flags Over Texas. It was, like, really happening. I had our flights and hotels booked and my dorky planning spreadsheet plotted out and everything.

Then the most predictable thing ever happened. After operating (mostly) reliably for the abbreviated summer season, Lightning Rod closed and Dollywood announced it would remain down for the rest of the year pending some upgrade from RMC. Well I was not about to go back to Dollywood without riding LR again, so I had to resort to Plan C, which was really just the first half of Plan A plus the second half of Plan B.

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One good thing to come out of the Covid pandemic is that many airlines have (supposedly) permanently eliminated change fees. But that’s kind of like saying one good thing to come out of World War II is that Germany got the autobahn, only not as bad. So with the ability to change flights as I pleased, I moved the first leg of the trip back to Orlando while the second leg remained in Texas. 

Then I hit another snag. My intention was to visit Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Universal Studios, three parks that would not be getting new rides in 20201 (Yes, I’m aware of the typo. After proofreading I decided to leave it because I believe it more accurately reflects the capital investment timeline for parks going forward). Then I could go back and hit the rest of the parks next year. But that pesky park reservation system got in the way. Shortly after changing my flights and hotels, Disney’s Hollywood Studios became unavailable for the three days I would be in Orlando. This irritated me. I still haven’t been to Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge and probably won’t be able to at home any time soon. I could still go to US and AK, but I’d need to swap something else in for DHS and Sea World Orlando came up the winner. Obviously Ice Breaker wasn’t going to be open, but I thought it could be fun to compare the Florida and Texas SW parks a couple of days apart.

So that became my trip. Animal Kingdom, Universal Studios Orlando, Sea World Orlando, Sea World San Antonio, Kemah Boardwalk, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, and Six Flags Over Texas. Weird but fulfilling.

Now there are even rumblings that the new WDW coasters—Tron and Guardians—may not open until 2022. Maybe that means I’ll be doing an Islands of Adventure and Busch Gardens Tampa-only trip next year with a side of Volcano Bay. I don’t even know what’s going on anymore.

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The best thing about working for a hospitality company is getting to stay at hotels and resorts I otherwise could not afford as often or even at all. Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress is big, a bit bland, but still very nice. The Regency brand is one that often has to be all things to all people and this one is certainly that.

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A hallmark shared by many but not all Regencies is a soaring atrium lobby. I’ve always preferred this type of lobby, Hyatt or otherwise.

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The Grand Cypress pool complex is expansive, but not remarkable. This is an older resort and the pool areas at some of the newer Hiltons in the area as well as the Hyatt Regency Orlando (closer to Universal) sister property surpass it.

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If you get a west-facing room you will likely have a view of Disney Springs, and further in the distance, the Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios area.

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Visible from left to right are Tower of Terror, the WDW Swan and Dolphin hotels plus the under construction Swan Reserve, and the Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind show building with Spaceship Earth peeking out above it.

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Day 1—Disney’s Animal Kingdom + Fun Spot Kissimmee

My last visit to this park back in 2016 didn’t go well on account of rain. My friend and I tried to split the day between Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, but it almost immediately started pouring as soon as we got to AK. It began on the lift hill of Expedition Everest  and we got absolutely soaked through to our bone marrow while the train sat on the switch track. We got off, saw they were still sending trains out, and since we couldn’t get any wetter than we already were, got right back in line and rode again. Then the lightning started and we promptly left and went to our hotel a few hours early.

Prior to that I hadn’t spent a proper day in AK since my WDW College Program days back in 2009, so it was a park I eagerly awaited returning to. The biggest reason was obviously Pandora. I’m still a big fan of the James Cameron movie even though Avatar has kind of lost its place in pop culture due to the obnoxiously long time between the original and its still forthcoming sequels. That said, I’ve avoided looking at too much content on AK’s Pandora so I could go into it as fresh as possible.

Do I think Disney nailed it with this themed land? I think so for the most part. The level of detail is at or near Tokyo Disney Sea levels and I suspect it would have felt even more impressive had the Covid-shortened park hours gone late enough for me to see the bioluminescence in full effect at night. Even  in daytime only I felt like I was in some kind of botanical garden or preserve on Earth that had been terraformed to mimic the real Pandora.

The one thing that could feel missing is the inclusion of some of Pandora’s wildlife. The Avatar IP is already a slightly awkward fit for Animal Kingdom and seeing animatronic or stationary examples of the creatures that inhabit this world could have improved that fit and fleshed out the environment more. The reason for this is probably budgetary since Disney already spent colossal amounts of money on this and adding a bunch of animatronics or whatever could have made the cost obscene.

Overall though, I really liked Pandora and Flight of Passage in particular. It actually took me a moment to immerse myself into the visuals of the ride and begin to fully appreciate it. But once that point came, I was sold. We rode it twice and both times my dad’s reaction was, “I don’t want to leave.” I agreed. I still have a general preference for Disney rides with physical environments over those with screens, but Flight of Passage is clearly one of the very best attractions in all of WDW.

Navi River Journey is fine for what it is, essentially a supporting attraction meant to give guests something else to do in the area and provide an alternative for those who may not be able to handle Flight of Passage’s 3D visuals. I enjoyed it, though again, a few more animatronic Navi or animals would benefit it greatly. I can only dream of a mega-budget, Pirates of the Caribbean-length version of it.

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Outside of Pandora this is about as crowded as the park looked all day. It felt more mellow and relaxing than lively, which isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, just an observation. I never realized just how much of a Disney park’s “energy” comes from the hustle and bustle of the crowds.

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Flight of Passage’s queue right after opening. It would only grow longer throughout the afternoon until subsiding in the evening.

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The end of the socially-distanced Flight of Passage queue stretched back to Harambe Reserve.

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I’m personally not bothered by queueing in close proximity to others right now, but for those who are, the good news is that Orlando guests followed the guidelines much better than those in Pennsylvania and Maryland when I last visited parks in July.

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Yep, it’s pretty much what I hoped it would be.

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As always, the Imagineers did wonders with forced perspective.

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It can be hard to tell where the organic flora ends and themed flora begins! Flora is what you call plants when you want to impress absolutely no one with your vocabulary.

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No animatronic banshees in Pandora, so this wooden one will have to do.

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The interior queue features cave paintings of banshees and the “uber-banshee” Leonopteryx.

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More theming like this banshee skull is about all you could ask to be added to Pandora.

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Remember 2009? Avatar came out, Diamondback was brand new, everyone had just learned who Sam Worthington was and were still a year away from forgetting.

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I feel like mech-suits would feature a lot more prominently in the area if Avatar was a Universal property.

One lesson I can take away from seeing Animal Kingdom again after such a long time is how it taught me to better appreciate Tokyo DisneySea. When people near-unanimously rave about something as the greatest of its type in the world, it’s always going to be tough for it to meet or exceed expectations after that kind of primer. I’d say TDS fulfilled about 85-90% of my expectations when I went there a year ago. Granted a big part of that was Journey to the Center of the Earth being closed, but when your subconscious is yearning for some kind of quasi-religious pilgrimage only for your conscious mind to realize “it’s still just a theme park,” there is inevitably going to be some kind of come down.

Now with a year to reflect on it and another Disney park to compare it with, I think I understand TDS’s brilliance better. Animal Kingdom just feels barren by comparison. Pandora is great and so are Harambe Reserve and Anandapur for the area they cover, but huge swaths of the park feel like an emptier Busch Gardens. There just isn’t a lot going on visually at Animal Kingdom. Maybe that’s a tradeoff the designers made when deciding to incorporate the animal exhibits into secluded trails instead of making them visible from the midways. It may also be a symptom of an emptier park in the Covid era. I was just left with the distinct impression that AK has a lack of kinetic energy compared to the other parks at WDW, DLR, and especially TDS.

One fix for this is a redevelopment of the partially shuttered DinoLand USA area into something more befitting the Walt Disney World name and reputation. Given the current economic forecast, I suspect it will be the better part of a decade before something is even announced for this, much less built, so AK may have to soldier on as-is for a while, which is okay—they still have two of the best Disney rides in the world in Flight of Passage and Everest plus plenty of shows and other things to do that weren’t available on my visit. What might they eventually do with this plot? Something else with dinosaurs? Zootopia? South or Central America? I have no idea. Now that Hollywood Studios has received all of its announced additions and once we see what form Epcot’s renovations eventually take, in my opinion Animal Kingdom will again be left as the WDW park that needs the most attention.

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While it can feel a bit sparsely themed compared to other Disney parks, the attention to detail at Animal Kingdom is still amazing.

Expedition Everest

I suppose this is the only formal ride review I’ll do for this park. This is a great coaster that I like more and more every time I ride it. I haven’t been to Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong, or Shanghai yet, but out of the parks in Orlando, Anaheim, and Tokyo I’ve visited, I think this is Disney’s best coaster. It has all the scale and visual impact of Incredicoaster but with far superior theming and a more intense ride experience. Likewise it perfectly scales up and modernizes the themed experience of Big Thunder Mountain or Matterhorn with greater thrills. I think the pre-lift section is kind of a waste. That track would have been better utilized elsewhere in the layout. But other than that, every element delivers big time in ways you just don’t expect on a Disney coaster. During the backwards section I can feel my stomach turning over and rising into my chest every time as I momentarily lose all sense of direction in the dark. That sensation is perfectly complemented by the small taste of airtime on the drop out of the mountain that always feels much longer than it is and the not-insignificant forces the train pulls going through the helix. Flight of Passage is great, but for me this is still the top ride in the park. 8.5/10

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One of the few problems with Expedition Everest is that there are only a few vantage points you can actually photograph it from. I always imagine what it would look like if the mountain was designed for 360-degree visibility like Matterhorn and the park expanded around it.

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It always looks odd to me with trains running, like two very different scales are clashing.

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Not an ejector airtime moment, but the big drop is always thrilling and serves as a perfect climax.

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Good to see the costumed characters out...

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...even if it felt like there was no one around to pay attention to them.

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I’m not that big on rapids. I prefer log flumes because they usually interact with theming better and are less likely to soak you. Kali Rapids is a good one though, if maybe a little short.

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Meet bioreconstruct. He posts high quality aerial photos of Orlando attractions to his twitter account that he takes from his perch on these twin columns high above Animal Kingdom.

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Remember how I said back in 2016 I only rode Everest twice then had to leave due to rain? Well that was wrong because I now recall getting the second of two Primeval Whirl credits that day also. I’m glad I got it and that no one else ever has to worry about getting them again. Hopefully they remove it soon and don’t just let it rot SBNO for years.

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We came back to Pandora before closing for another go on Flight of Passage. The wait was much shorter this time. Barely 30 minutes.

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The floating mountains are breathtaking no matter how you look at it. However, to my amateur structural engineer’s eye it may not be as complex a structure as it appears. In its basest form it looks like an arch structure with lots of protrusions.

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Primeval Whirl was once an integral part of Michael Eisner’s grand design for-----No I’m kidding, this is Galaxy Spin at Fun Spot! But it hardly matters, does it?

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Is it just me or is this Fun Spot a lot more ghetto than the other one near International Drive? We only went to get a few laps on Mine Blower, grab the other two credits, then bail, and once we actually got there we had no desire to stay for anything else. It felt distinctly more Fun Spot Barstow than Kissimmee.

Again, I’m not as worried about Covid protocols (or the lack of people following them) as others might be, but something feels wrong about a place that sanitizes trains after every cycle but doesn’t enforce mask wearing. If you aren’t going to take measures seriously across the board, why even bother keeping up appearances at all? I also could have done without the Hurricane ride-op going into a monologue about how difficult it is for him to concentrate on his job while on his new ADHD medication, but the guy was rotating among three different rides he operated by himself, so I guess he has to vent about things to somebody.

Maybe I wouldn’t judge the place so harshly if it weren’t surrounded by Disney, Universal, and Sea World. After a good day at Animal Kingdom, the contrast was just so stark.

Hurricane

What a weird coaster. It’s not very big and without looking closely, it appears kind of tame. But the devil is in the details here. The track profile is abrupt with lots of sharp crests and pullouts and the banking doesn’t look quite right (where it exists). It gives the impression of a coaster designed on a tight budget with an aptitude for calculations somewhere north of Ron Toomer but still well south of Werner Stengel and that’s exactly how it rides. It’s kind of a violent, uncomfortable ride that is still just thrilling and surprising enough for me to still enjoy it while also having no desire to ever ride it again. This is the kind of ride that could scare off people new to coasters from riding more because they’d quite naturally assume larger ones would only amplify the experience Hurricane delivers. 5/10

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Is adding a coaster like Hurricane after you’ve already built one like Mine Blower the park owner’s version of credit whoring?

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Fun Spot visitors should count themselves lucky! I mean it is kind of an I-box coaster, right?

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Hurricane wants you to hate how much you love it.

Mine Blower

I really like Gravity Group so I was excited to ride two more of them on this trip and I had no idea which I would prefer between Mine Blower and Boardwalk Bullet. My only previous experience with Timberliners was Switchback at ZDT’s in 2015. My group of three were the only riders on the train that day, so it seemed understandable that it would be running light and rattle a bit more than a fully loaded train. Switchback was almost brand new and still plenty comfortable even though we all sensed the train nervously jittering around on the track.

If Switchback in 2015 was bouncing around at a level 3, then Mine Blower in 2020 is at a level 9. That said, I have a hard time describing it as rough. “Rough” on a wooden coaster means a specific thing to me. It implies a certain level of wear/abuse to the track often amplified by trains that cannot handle the track profile well. Mine Blower is not that. The trackwork looks and feels perfectly fine. There are no jarring moments from poorly profiled transitions or jack hammering from layers of wood screaming to be replaced. It all seemed to stem from the trains.

It feels like the Timberliners’ articulated wheel assemblies are simply too busy hunting around on the rails for their own good. Coupled with their extremely lightweight construction, the Timberliners seem to lack the mass and rigidity needed to smoothly track on a coaster as aggressive as Mine Blower. Maybe someone on here who has ridden more GG coasters equipped with them can shed light on this.

Despite all this, I just can’t make myself hate it. I have a high tolerance for roughness so I was able to put up with Mine Blower’s bullshit for four laps which was enough to appreciate what the coaster does well. This is a very intense ride. Real negative g’s over the crest of every hill with tight pullouts packing on the positives. The directional changes are quick, several of them alarmingly so. The first drop is one of the best I’ve experienced on a wooden coaster and the zero-g-roll is smooth with substantially longer weightlessness than I anticipated. Layout-wise, Mine Blower has everything I like. The trains just seem over-designed and do too much to their own detriment. This one is really hard to score, but despite how intense and fun it is, the highest I can go is 8/10.

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A picturesque park, Fun Spot is not, but Mine Blower has its angles.

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The ejector first drop into the zero-g-roll is as good a wooden coaster opening salvo as I’ve seen.

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Mineblower’s compact footprint forced Gravity Group to do some crazy things.

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That hotel’s front desk must get noise complaints from everyone staying on that side of the building. Don’t work in hotels, people.

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I’d love to see how a set of GCI’s new Infinity Flyer trains run on this.

Galaxy Spin

You know, even though it’s only been three or fours weeks, I barely even remember riding this coaster. It must have made exactly the same impression on me that most fairground style spinning coasters do—none whatsoever.

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great start, and can't wait to read along.

 

damn, your camera takes GREAT pics - that opening photo at SFFT with the purple lights and the fog is really beautiful, and many of your other pics in just this 1st section are stunning.

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Other than the last photo, which I don't quite understand, since you've written about a spinning coaster there, it's a great ongoing TR with some pretty awesome photos you've taken! Looking forward to more of your trip.

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Great report! I haven't been to AK since 2002 when I was tiny and like yours, my visit to TDS had Journey closed. Can't wait for my first real visit there, love your commentary and photos!

Mine Blower seems to escape my mind all the time, looks wild.

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I just got caught up on these reports.  They were great!

Pennsylvania confused me with how people reacted to covid.  Most people were quite vigilant about wearing masks correctly, but almost no one cared to social distance at any of the parks.  I figured those two things would go hand-in-hand.

I agree the best places to photograph Phoenix and Twister are behind the ride.  My go-to for Phoenix was to stop on the antique car ride, which the operators were ok with as long as no one was behind you.

That's a shame you missed out on Wild One.  That's my second favorite coaster in the park, partially since it used to be 15 minutes from my parents' house.  I too enjoyed Firebird...if I rode in the back.  It beat me up in the front, but in the back, the only bad spot was the exit from the corkscrew.

Mine Blower has always had a shimmy like you described.  It has never really bothered me, but I could see it causing an issue for others.

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When ordering your Universal Studios park, branding by state, city, or country are available.

Universal Studios Florida

Eleven years ago, I had a tradition at Universal Orlando. This was during the seven months in 2009 I spent in the WDW College Program working front desk and concierge at the Yacht & Beach Club. Once a week I’d go to Universal by myself and ride Dueling Dragons, Hulk, Revenge of the Mummy, and the then brand-new Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit to my heart’s content. I’d take breaks here and there to ride Spider Man and Men In Black, or to grab pizza at Louie’s or beers at Finnegan’s, but it was all about the coasters. No Universal Express was needed. It was easy to use single rider lines and plot crowds and wait times as necessary.

There was something about the regularity of being alone in a buzzing, crowded place with this collection of rides and food that I really cherished. Then I’d go back my WDW College Program apartment and have to answer annoying questions from other CPs. Usually on why I would do something as odd as buying an annual pass to go to Universal by myself when I could go to Disney with friends for free. Back then I was still the kind of guy who’d then start rambling to a bunch of people who didn’t know or care about things called “Bolliger & Mabillard” or “Premier Rides” until they lost interest and we all started drinking.

So you could say I have some nostalgia for Universal Orlando. I love both parks, but we were only going to visit one of them this year. With VelociCoaster on the way for 2021, Islands of Adventure could wait. We were just going to tackle Universal Studios today. My dad had never been. He went with me to IOA for the first time back in 2002 and he’s actually closing in on 200 credits despite not being an enthusiast in the traditional sense, but somehow he had never walked through the Universal Studios arch.

He loved it. It’s pretty cool seeing your nearly 70-year old father be wowed and impressed like a kid. I genuinely like this park even if it’s not one of my absolute favorites, but my dad really liked it. He kept pointing out theming details (some that even I’ve never noticed) and asking me to take pictures from different angles. His favorite parks are Cedar Point, Silver Dollar City, and the original Disneyland. I think Universal Studios is probably up there too, despite us actually not having the greatest day.

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I don’t know how capacity here compared to Animal Kingdom the day before, but it seemed like Universal was having a harder time of things. It’s obviously a smaller park. It also has more attractions to disperse guests around. For whatever reason, the greater number of rides did not matter. Rockit and Men In Black had manageable waits of 15-30 minutes all day, but the other marquee attractions all hit the 75-120 minute range shortly after opening and stayed that way throughout the day.

Universal seemed stricter than Disney about social distancing both in queues and on rides. One example that stood out was Revenge of the Mummy. Those trains seat four rows of four riders across for a total of sixteen. I saw the two trains ahead of ours dispatch with only three and four riders total. I saw a single rider in row 1, a party of two in row 3, and rows 2 and 4 were left empty. Capacity just gets murdered if the park insists on being this strict about separating parties by a full row no matter the size. After waiting 80 minutes for Gringotts then 100 for Mummy we reached a point where we just couldn’t justify waiting another 70 for something like Simpsons or… Shrek… If I were by myself I could probably get by doing Rockit marathons until things settled down, but that would have been asking a lot of my dad. There is no coaster he won’t ride, but the endurance isn’t always there.

Then things really went to hell when all the rides started breaking down. Gringotts, Mummy, and Transformers all went down at the same time for around an hour. We had already ridden the first two but never made it onto Transformers. It stayed down for as long as we remained in the park. When big crowds formed outside the buildings for those rides, I got the feeling that like us, a lot of people just ran out of places to go. You know it’s bad when there’s a line of people complaining about ride closures to the Duff Beer Garden bartender.

After a while of wandering around, not riding anything, and staring aghast at the lengthy queues for secondary rides like E.T. and Despicable Me, we decided to leave. Our total for the day was Rockit (x3), Gringotts (x1), Mummy (x1), Men in Black (x1), and E.T. (x1). Even in the age of Covid, that isn’t great. Hopefully days like this are not the norm at Universal right now. Who knows, I’ll probably be back to scope things out again when I return to IOA for my first rides on VelociCoaster and Hagrid’s next summer.

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The themed areas of Universal parks can clash rather harshly when viewed together. But somehow it works. And a few words on Fast & Furious: Supercharged. It was closed. It has a 2/5 star guest satisfaction rating on the park’s official website. I’ll probably never bother riding it.

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I’m unusual in that I have no strong feelings on replacing Jaws with Diagon Alley. I don’t have the nostalgia for Jaws that others do, nor do I have the enthusiasm for the Harry Potter franchise that all the rest do.

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I had never even seen the full Harry Potter film series until quarantine this year. The movies aren’t my thing. Let’s all just face the undeniable reality here—they’re no Godzilla. That said, strictly as a theme park experience, I think both parts of the Wizarding World are awesome.

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First things first, we waited about twenty minutes for two butter beers. There was only one bartender despite the long line, so if you’re familiar with Miller’s Ale House on UFC night, you’ll feel right at home. Butter beer was too rich for my dad so I ended up downing both of them. Fine by me!

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I don’t think Escape From Gringott’s is quite the ride Forbidden Journey is, but the theming is still immaculate.

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If you work at Gringotts Bank you’ll have access to the same tailor as Conor McGregor and the same hair plugs as Lebron James.

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Diagon Alley is an exceptionally well-themed area. I just don’t care to chill and hang out in it the way I do at Hogsmeade across the resort.

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit

This is as bipolar a coaster as there is for me. I loved the thing when it was brand new. In 2009 I had only ridden around a hundred coasters and features like Rockit’s vertical lift, non-inverting loop, and treble clef seemed seriously impressive. It had all the presence and impact of hyper coasters far greater than it in size. Riding the thing in the dark during Halloween Horror Nights when you’re 21, four drinks deep, and floating all over the place in the open trains with comfortable lap bars was approaching the height of coasterdom back then. It wasn’t reliable, but it was smooth, intense, and had real airtime.

Every visit since then, Rockit has oscillated between something approximating how I remembered it and downright awful. Over the years I’ve let myself become more bothered by the surplus of block brakes and the uneven pacing that results. There is a ton of waisted track in this layout. It hasn’t always stayed smooth either. Sometimes I’ve only bothered to ride it once because the Maurer X-car trains shuffled and bounced around enough to annoy me.

And one of the ride’s big selling points initially, its on-ride soundtrack list, has not been updated in eleven years. Have I simply gotten tired of making music video history the exact same way for over a decade? I think so.

But Rockit in 2021 was in rare form. It was fantastic and ran just the way I remember it from opening year. I even grayed out in the treble clef for the first time in I don’t know how long. It hasn’t clawed its way back into my list of current favorite coasters or anything, but it has redeemed itself, at least for now. 8.5/10

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VelociCoaster is now the second coaster at Universal that would have been ideal for a vertical drop. Yet for some reason, as with Rockit, Universal decided against it. It makes me wonder if someone there feels a 90-degree descent looks too intimidating. Universal obviously goes for bigger thrills than Disney, but I doubt they want their coasters to look full-on Cedar Point either.

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Rockit is a great coaster to watch from the midway. I think it would be greatly improved if the trains featured three or four cars and the number of block sections was scaled back accordingly.

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I’ve always thought the corner of the midway just past the treble clef dead-ends awkwardly. I’d like to see a show building for a future ride go back here some day.

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Not one of my better photos, but I always enjoy walking beneath Rockit’s mess of track.

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The inclined spiral turnaround serves as Rockit’s finale I suppose, though any sense of narrative closure is lost when you hit yet another block brake before returning to the station. That’s about two brake runs too many by this point.

Revenge of the Mummy

As much as 2009 Condor loved Rockit, he loved Mummy just a teensy bit more. The single rider line made marathoning it effortless even when the park was packed. I always thought it was the coolest thing ever that the best ride in the park reliably had the shortest wait as long as I wasn’t visiting with a group (on a side note, I finally got a bunch of my Disney CP friends to go to Universal with me during HHN that year and they were pretty blown away by the place, several of them having never been to a non-Disney park). Mummy had a solid decade-long run where there just weren’t a lot of coasters that combined thrills, a complex ride system, visual effects, and theming like it did. It was the quintessential dark ride/coaster experience that ticked every box.

In 2020 it mostly still is. Other than Brendan Fraser’s face making the whole thing suddenly feel dated every time he appears, Mummy shoulders the weight of being a marquee attraction as well as ever. The inclined launch, ejector airtime, blind directional changes, and drop out of the fake-out station hit just right every time.

A few things didn’t click this time, however. The mummy animatronic at the start of the ride stayed firmly locked in his sarcophagus this year and the flame effect in the treasure room didn’t work properly. There are obviously Covid-induced cutbacks in all departments this year, so I can’t really fault Universal for not fixing this as long as the ride still runs. It think it’s also time the screen-based effects get a 4K overhaul like Spider Man’s did several years ago. I still think Mummy is the top ride in the park, but Rockit gave a slightly better experience this year. 8/10

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Join me in a moment of silence for Universal’s Dark Universe films. Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella, we barely knew ya. Long live the Fraser.

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Men In Black: Alien Attack is kind of an orphaned attraction, sitting between Diagon Alley and Springfield—a part of neither—and without a themed area of its own. Does that matter? Not really. It’s still my favorite shooting dark ride of all time.

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While I like Men In Black and hope the theme stays for a long time, I would not be surprised for Universal to give the attraction a full overlay and theme it to something else one day since the film franchise fizzled out pretty bad with that Chris Hemsworth/Tessa Thomspon sequel.

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Simpsons… Love the show, but the ride is something I’d wait 20-30 minutes for. Not 70.

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I felt like taking my first ride on Kang & Kodos this year simply because I’ve never done it. It was closed.

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What a difference from the dense crowds I saw at Universal Studios Japan this time last year. On another note, for as similar as the two parks look, they now share surprisingly few rides. Only Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem (and not the same version) and Shrek 4D if I’m not mistaken.

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From some angles once could almost mistake Universal Studios for a real New York street.

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Then you step a few feet to the side and are reminded you’re in a theme park.

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I take this photo every time I’m here and I’ve yet to come up with a satisfactory caption for it.

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As many times as I’ve been to this park, I’ve never stepped foot in Mel’s. Maybe someday, but today is not that day.

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With Bourne as the only attraction, there is no longer any reason to walk down the Los Angeles midway of Universal Studios Florida. This is why it looks so empty here. Not Covid. No, Really. Honestly.

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Toothsome Chocolate Emporium looks straight outta Rookburgh.

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We tried to go to Disney Springs the night we arrived in Orlando, but it reached capacity, backing up the roads and parking, and turning the surrounding Hotel Plaza Blvd. into what was basically an omnimover ride system but with actual cars. We went to Fun Spot the next night and finally made it to the springs on night three.

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I didn’t visit the last couple of times I went to Orlando which means this was my first time seeing it since the change from Downtown Disney occurred. I’m not saying anything new when I tell you it’s a big upgrade.

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Since Orlando was a last minute addition to our trip, I wasn’t able to make reservations at restaurants as far in advance as I would have liked, which meant no Morimoto or Raglan Road, two I had hoped to eat at.

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What we ended up doing was still pretty good! First was the loosely Indiana Jones themed Jock Lindsey’s. For those unaware, Jock is the pilot who helps Indy escape during the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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The Indy references are there if you look close enough. For instance, the routes on the map mark the places Indy visits during at least the first three films, but apparently not Kingdom of the Crystal Skull! Nice list of custom cocktails at this place.

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We chose Paddlefish for dinner, which was good but not great. There are better seafood restaurants elsewhere on Disney property if that’s what you’re looking for.

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I will, however, highlight what the restaurant calls “lobster corndogs.” They neither look nor taste like corndogs, but they very much do contain lobster, which I suppose is more important.

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Across the lake rests the DVC property, Saratoga Springs, or as most of the guests I spoke to while working at WDW called it, “Sarasota Springs.”

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I look forward to visiting Disney Springs again in a year, hopefully without the same capacity limitations.

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Sea World Orlando

I hate opening a trip report like this, especially about a park I have always really liked, but our experience at Sea World Orlando was the worst of our trip. I feel guilty saying that because nothing about it reflects negatively on the park’s offerings during normal times. But, as we are constantly reminded of every day, these are not normal times.

Every aspect of park operations has been affected by Covid-19. That’s as true for Six Flags as it is for Disney. For now, we can only compare what parks are offering under present conditions, not under ideal ones. With that in mind, I think Sea World Orlando is handling the pandemic worse than any park I’ve visited this year. Kraken was closed. Journey to Atlantis was closed. Empire of the Penguin was closed. Wild Arctic was closed. Infinity Falls did not open until 3pm (when the park closed at 5). Countless restaurants were closed. Sure, who cares about Empire and Wild Arctic. I don’t, but with so few rides to do, the park felt lifeless and depressing. Kind of like how Six Flags Magic Mountain feels when all rides are running.

Sea World is not all about rides, but that is less the case now than ever. With the chain’s focus shifting further towards new ride additions over animal exhibits, it felt like the core of the modern Sea World experience was absent. Animal Kingdom and Universal Studios face the same limitations Sea World does right now, but at least they opened the vast majority of their major rides. Our day at Universal was wracked with breakdowns, but the effort was there.

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This is how Infinity Falls looked throughout most of the day—but its pumping soundtrack always made it feel like a careening raft with cowering riders was just around the corner!

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I’m not much of a rapids guy, but a big, flashy, new one like Infinity Falls still appeals to me at least to try it out. We didn’t get the chance for the five hours it was closed and didn’t feel like waiting the full 50 minute posted queue for the remaining two hours it was open. It’s something I’d willingly have waited 25-30 for, but with the operating day drawing to a close our time was better spent doing walk-ons on Manta and Mako.

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Still, it’s a visually spectacular ride and a great use of what was previously unused space, something SWO still has a lot of.

Missing out on Kraken was especially disappointing for us. There are five coasters I feel a particularly strong sentimental attachment to: Big Thunder Mountain (both DL and MK), Viper (SFMM), Millennium Force, and Kraken. Each of them marked formative moments in my development as a coaster enthusiast. Each one was also the benefactor of some truly memorable times I shared with my father. It means a lot that we’re still doing this together over twenty years later.

We rode Kraken twenty-four times in one afternoon back in 2001 when Kraken still had its new B&M shine. It was my first real coaster marathon and Kraken was even my #1 for a few years in the early 2000s. I’ve ridden Kraken myself lots of times in between, but we were really looking forward to riding it together again for the first time since 01. If Kraken alone were closed, my complaint would be little more than an emotional letdown and I wouldn’t dwell on it at length. But with so much else closed, learning we’d miss out on Kraken meant the day kicked off with a bad start.

So what did we do? Well, we rode Manta and Mako a bunch of times, saw Shark Reef and Orca Encounter, and watched lots of Infinity Falls rafts with only 1-2 riders apiece from the midway. I’ve had worse days at parks, but if Universal can open shit like Jimmy Fallon and Shrek during a pandemic, I think the flagship Sea World park can at least run Kraken and Atlantis.

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The stillborn Icebreaker looks great and once it’s up and running will certainly add energy to this section of the park.

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I hope Sea World doesn’t skimp on the presentation though. The plot of land needs some faux icebergs and other bits of polar theming. The orange color may look odd now, but it matches the hull color of many actual ice breakers and will look great against icy tones if the park adds them.

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It won’t garner the kind of attention Iron Gwazi and VelociCoaster will, but it’s exactly what the park needs. Sea World Orlando lacks a large-scale family coaster like San Diego and San Antonio have—unless you want to count the second half of Mako.

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Ice Breaker looks like it could deliver some really nice airtime if it crests these hills fast enough. Doesn’t need to be (and probably shouldn’t be) ejector air, but some pleasant floater would be perfect.

Manta

To me, the day Dueling Dragons closed for good was the day Manta inherited the mantle of best coaster in Orlando. I don’t think it’s the best in Florida. Kumba and Montu still top it for me. I will also stop short of calling Manta an elite, A-level coaster. But in an area that, at least for a few more months, is home to lots of good and very good, but perhaps not great coasters, I think Manta has the most going for it. While no Flying Dinosaur, it has the intensity we’ve come to expect from the large B&M flying coasters, the visuals on-ride are satisfying, it’s well-themed and landscaped, and it’s still as smooth as the day it opened. No B&M rattle here and the train doesn’t vibrate at the bottom of the pretzel loop the way Tatsu has for a while now. Mine might not be a common opinion, but I can’t really say there’s another Orlando coaster I consistently enjoy more. Hulk and Mako finish weak, Kraken hasn’t aged well, Everest is playing a different game, Mummy needs an update, Rockit is too compromised from a designer’s perspective, Mine Blower runs Timberliners, and I haven’t ridden Hagrid yet so don’t ask. Hopefully VelociCoaster raises the bar, but until we find out, it’s Manta for me.  A quick note comparing Manta to Acrobat at Nagashima. While obviously clones, they feel nothing alike to me and I’m not sure why. Manta is landscaped better, but that’s not it. Acrobat just felt lackluster and tame to me while Manta doesn’t. Maybe it’s the factor of having an RMC next door. 8.5/10

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Manta is the most well-presented ride in the park. Empire of the Penguin and Journey to Atlantis are the best themed in the typical sense. What Manta has is the best full package. It fits in perfectly and feels wholly organic to its surroundings. Too bad the fountains are barely working these days.

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The drop of the midcourse delivers a nice punch of airtime in the back two rows. Something about the flying positions amplifies all the typical rider sensations.

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I don’t think Manta has another real highlight element after the pretzel loop. Nothing else stands out above the rest of the layout. Everything is all around very solid.

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Manta’s lift hill provides a nice view of the Orange County Convention Center area (it’s better than it sounds). The first drop feels like a slightly flattened version of Tatsu’s.

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While Tatsu’s pretzel loop is all about long-lasting positive g’s, Manta’s is a little different. You still get plenty of positives, but the best part is the surprise airtime at the peak in the first two rows.

Mako

If you slapped the ending of Candymonium onto Mako after the speed hill it would probably be B&M’s best hyper coaster (well maybe second best—Goliath’s helix and ejector bunny hills are pretty damn good). Everything from Mako’s drop up to the MCBR is great and then the ending just fizzles. Okay, so if you’re in the back left seat and the train is light enough not to get trimmed severely you can get a nice pop of air plus lats, but you shouldn’t have to place so many conditions on it to praise the ride experience. Mako’s final third comes across like B&M was so intent on mimicking the movements of whatever they think a shark is supposed to do that they neglected to design the best layout they could. I still think Mako is a very good coaster, but I put it fourth among B&M hypers after Goliath, Nitro, and Candymonium. 8/10

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I find that Mako runs best when trains are about half-full. This way they still carry some momentum but are light enough to not get creamed by the trim brake after the hammerhead.

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It remained a walk-on for all but our first three rides of the day. I didn’t count my ride totals but it was enough to quell some of our disappointment over all the closures.

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Sea World’s three B&Ms complement each other nicely. That said, I hope the park sticks with other manufacturers going forward. I know nothing about the supposed B&M “surf coaster” prototype they’re supposedly getting. I just know I’d rather the B&Ms go to the Texas and California parks now.

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Unless… Sea World wants to build a giga and call it “Long Fin Mako,” while reducing the existing Mako to “Short Fin Mako.” That would actually be an awful idea. Don’t do that Sea World.

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Mako asks “How come my cousin named after a snake gets a splashdown finale but I don’t?”

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I remember the first time I saw Kraken in person while riding along this road just after sunset. The trees were much shorter then and you could view the entire coaster across the glimmering lake. Now Mako rules the skyline.

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