Sea World Orlando
I have been to Orlando four different times, most recently in 2015. All of those visits were family vacations to Walt Disney World. While the mouse wants you to think otherwise, Orlando (and the surrounding area) has so much more other than just Walt Disney World. In my past trips, we’ve made day trips to Universal, but that’s it outside of Disney.
My office was looking for someone to visit some sites down in Orlando. While many groaned at the idea, I took one for the team. I guess I could take free airfare down to the theme park capital of the world. After business concluded, I had four days to explore the parks. My first instinct was Disney World, but I developed a different plan.
Since I was on my own, I decided to hit everything other than Disney- SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Legoland, and Fun Spot. I had one extra day left. I debated going to Disney. After all, they had opened Frozen and Pandora since my last visit. But I decided to visit Universal instead, just narrowly over the Holy Land
It felt criminal going to Orlando and not visiting Disney World, but that’s what I did. While Pandora and Frozen have been added since my last visit, it’s likely that we’ll go down for another family vacation sometime in the next year or two. I also couldn’t begin to cram Disney World into a single day. However, it is possible to condense Universal down into one day.
My first stop was SeaWorld. While Orlando’s is often considered the best of the three, it was the only one I had yet to visit.
I arrived about a half hour before opening and was one of the first people in line. Usually I like to arrive early at parks anyway, but I was extra vigilant for SeaWorld due to Kraken. What should be a high capacity people eater sending trains out every 3 minutes is now closer to 3 dispatches per hour (I wish I were kidding).
They let us in the park about 15 minutes before opening and then staged us by Manta. Once the rope dropped, I expected a stampede. But I was stunned. Everyone was walking. Most walked at a leisurely pace and a few power walked, but at no point did I feel I’d be trampled like Mufasa.
I was the third person back at Kraken. The grouper seemed to be funneling VR users towards the center of the train. They seemed stunned I didn’t want to use VR (because a 150 foot coaster isn’t exciting enough), but they were happy to grant me the front row as long as I pinky swore that I wouldn’t use VR. The two experiences I have with coaster VR have been unpleasant. From it not working to falling off to being blurry, I’ll take the coaster experience au natural.
Kraken is often considered one of the better floorless coasters and it delivered. I loved seeing (literally in my case) the large straight drop like SFDK’s Medusa. I wish more B&M loopers had straight drops. The first half was pretty typical B&M inversions with the zero-G roll predictably being the star. I think it’s a shame when any B&M looper lacks one of these (looking at you Dominator).
What really stood out for me was the second half. I loved the whip of the subterranean dive after the MCBR (even if it was just a concrete pit) and the subsequent vertical loop. This second loop was considerably more forceful than the first. I also loved how the final corkscrew, which is really snappy too, occurs immediately after a tunnel.
Since the masses had yet to reach Kraken yet, I immediately grabbed a second ride in the back. Again I went no VR and was treated to another great ride. Despite Kraken’s massive elements, they’re all still decently forceful. It’s also mostly smooth. There’s a bit of a rattle to it (more-so in the back), but nothing that detracts from the ride. It’s a shame VR has crippled this ride’s capacity since it’s one of the better floorless coasters out there. 9 out of 10
The one other ride that I heard can command long waits is Antarctica Empire of the Penguin, so I made my way there next. The park boasts that the ride reaches temperatures of 32 degrees. To that I say BS. It’s cool. But nowhere near freezing. As a New Englander, I think I have appropriate authority on that topic.
The trackless ride system was extremely cool. But beyond that, the ride didn’t really have much to offer. I honestly think all of the ride’s budget went towards the trackless ride system (which was admittedly very cool) and the ride’s air conditioning. That left almost nothing for the rest of the ride. There were just some half-baked screens and a lack of practical sets.
My biggest grip with the ride system was how forced it felt. I chose the “wild” side and I felt like the vehicle was shaking and spinning just for the sake of it. The movement didn’t feel coordinated with the film at all. So I’m really torn on the ride. This ride system should create an impressive ride and while it was fun, I think it was a squandered opportunity. 6 out of 10
I honestly think the penguin exhibit after the ride was superior. I’ve never seen that many penguins in one room before. I spent a few minutes watching them awkwardly waddle and swim about.
I made my way over to Journey to Atlantis next. Recent reports of the ride said the ride was gutted and a shell of its former self.
If there was a story, I couldn’t tell you what was going on. But the outside building and interior scenes looked really nice. It made the bits in-between drops much more enjoyable. Speaking of the drops, the first one was spectacular. It was larger than expected and provided some surprisingly good airtime.
I made sure to avoid riding in the front row. A few reviews noted those in the front got drenched and not in the way you’d expect. After riding, I can see how. There’s a sneaky drop outside after the first drop. It can’t be more than 5 feet tall, but the splash ricochets off the rockwork and floods the front of the boat. I’m sure glad I wasn’t sitting up there!
As someone who never previously rode it, I was thoroughly impressed. It was eons better than the theming on the San Diego or San Antonio versions. Honestly, I thought it was better themed than Ripsaw Falls while I’m at it. I know it’s technically a coaster, but it feels more like a flume. As far as flumes go, this one is just behind Splash Mountain and Chiapas. 9 out of 10
I backtracked towards the front of the park to hit Manta next. I was hopeful crowds hadn’t flooded the flying coaster since it was right by the entrance. I was greeted with by far my longest wait of the day. It was a whopping 15 minutes. I think that’s all you need to know about lines at this park.
I absolutely love the ride’s placement and how well it interacts with its surroundings. Soaring over the midway on the first drop is exciting, but it’s particularly awesome soaring past waterfalls, rockwork, trees, and ponds in the second half. I’ll take that over the parking lot and grass you soar by on Superman any day of the week.
I got several rides on Manta, including the very front and very back. My favorite row was by far the back. The inversions, particularly the pretzel loop, were amazing in any seat. But only the back had an extra kick between these inversions. It’s most noticeable on the first drop and MCBR drop when you’re riding in the back. I honestly think the latter gave some air which is an unnatural feeling on a flyer.
I personally prefer Tatsu simply because of how high in the air all of its inversions take place, but Manta isn’t far behind thanks to its wonderful layout and landscaping. 9.5 out of 10
I then made my way to Mako. Normally I’d make a beeline for the park’s newest coaster at opening, but for whatever reason Mako had the shortest wait of any coaster in the park. And that includes the kiddie coaster. Every single seat was a walk-on and that included the front row. That is unheard of for a hyper coaster.
After being blown away by Shambhala, one of the newer hypers, I was hopeful Mako would be equally as impressive. Unfortunately it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a very good coaster. It just rode like Apollo’s Chariot, Nitro, or Silver Star. What that means is that every single hill had copious floater air.
The first half was pretty typical of a B&M hyper, but the second half differed. Instead of the returning bunny hills, Mako ditches those in favor of an oddly twisty return. The banked turns weren’t taken overly fast, but they provided some nice laterals.
I got many rides on Mako over the course of the day. While I probably think Manta was a better ride (I’m splitting hairs there), I got more rides on Mako because of the line. 9 out of 10
It was time to refuel so I stopped at Mama’s Pretzel Kitchen. I love soft pretzels and the ones I had at Busch Gardens are the best I’ve ever had. They soundly beat the mighty Wetzel’s Pretzels and Auntie Anne’s (and don’t get me started on Super Pretzel). SeaWorld has the exact same pretzels. I love how doughy and buttery they are (my doctor probably cringes at that statement).
Of course I had to get the twisted bacon pretzel. Bacon makes everything better and soft pretzels are no exception. The pretzel I got was piping hot and fresh. It was greasy. It was unhealthy. But it was oh so good. This is my version of Cinnamon Bread, aka coaster enthusiast crack.
After trying to give myself a heart attack, I stopped in to see Shamu. No not the show. That’s right, I went into Shamu’s Happy Harbor to ride the daunting Shamu’s Express. I was actually pretty stunned to see a coaster that large.
I was expecting the mini little oval kiddie coaster. This one actually looked respectable! Unfortunately it was more uncomfortable than most kiddie coasters. The seats were hard plastic with absolutely no padding. 2 out of 10
I decided to try Wild Arctic next. I had heard Wild Arctic was dated. That assessment is correct. The pre-show video is so 1980s. The video isn’t much better. But I did enjoy the ride. It felt significantly wilder and raw than any of the simulators at Disney or Universal. I actually appreciated that aspect of it. I’ll still take many of Universal’s simulators over this, but it’s a solid ride. 7 out of 10
Like Antarctica, the exhibit afterwards may top the ride experience. I was disappointed that I didn’t see any polar bears, but I saw several seals and manatees.
I had planned to hit the Sky Tower, but unfortunately it was listed as closed for the day by the time I reached it. That was unfortunate since I figured it’d give some amazing views. No bother, I spent the rest of the day checking out a few of the animal shows and exhibits, as well as reriding all the coasters except Kraken (for obvious reasons).
I really enjoyed the sea lion show. I thought it was about as good as the one at San Diego. But my favorite animal exhibit was probably feeding the sharks. Call me a murder, but there was something ever so enjoyable about dangling shrimp above a pool of carnivores, throwing them in, and watching the sharks rush to gobble them up.
SeaWorld was a really nice park. It’s really unfortunate that Blackfish has impacted the park’s attendance. It was beautifully landscaped, had some excellent coasters, and all the animal exhibits. It’s easily the best of the SeaWorld parks and I’d honestly take it over Animal Kingdom.Aquatica
By late afternoon, I had ridden everything a few times. Since I had a platinum pass, I decided to make the jump over to Aquatica. I was most interested in Ihu’s Breakaway Falls, but I also planned to hit a few other slides if the lines weren’t too bad. Since the 80 degree weather was chilly to Floridians, lines were no problem at all.
I didn’t bring my camera into the water park, so I apologize for the lack of photos. Aquatica reminded me of Dolly’s Splash Country in terms of landscaping. As opposed to the concrete jungle that most water parks are, Aquatica has dense landscaping around every corner. The shade combined with water sprayers on the walkways made it feel as such I wasn’t walking on lava for a change.
I began with Dolphin Plunge since it was right by the main entrance. Without my glasses, I bumbled around for a bit trying to find the entrance. To my defense, I honestly don’t even think the slide had a sign by it. There was just an opening along the pathway that led up to a swinging rope bridge and eventually the slide tower.
I always questioned just how well you’d really be able to see the dolphins. The tube is only clear for one second, if it’s even that. And unfortunately my fears were confirmed. Even though I tried slowing down for the big moment, it was over before I could even register what was going on. The rest of the slide was pretty average. While it’s a cool visual off-ride, it’s too fast to be enjoyed during the ride. 5 out of 10
Many parks have racing mat slides. But Aquatica’s is noteworthy because of how large the final plunge is. Usually these slides consist of several smaller “humps” on the way down, Taumata Racer has one surprisingly large drop. It’s probably 50 feet tall. So when you careen out of the tube and blast down the drop with a full head of steam, it’s pretty exhilarating. There was no air, but it was still a rush. 8 out of 10
I saved the best for last, Ihu’s Breakaway Falls. The tower consists of three drop pod slides and one traditional speed slide. I absolutely love these drop pod slides. The initial plunge is really intense and the rest of the slide usually isn’t too far behind.
Ihu’s was no different. After the initial plunge, the slide is a rush. All of the turns are taken unbelievably fast and I had absolutely no idea which direction I was going. And best of all, the slide is immaculately smooth. That’s important because with this slide’s intensity, it’d be a back breaker.
I actually enjoyed the non-drop pod slide best. The initial plunge had some terrifying water slide air. But what really made it stand-out was a surprise little dip about halfway through that provided some air as well. 10 out of 10
My visit was brief (probably no more than 45 minutes), but it was all that I needed. I appreciate a good water slide every once and a while, but I probably couldn’t spend a full day at a water park. But as far as water parks go, Aquatica is among the best. It has a great collection of slides along with the great landscaping you’d expect from a SeaWorld/Busch park.