Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Hooters

Last but by no means least the most frequented eating establishment in all of Orlando, well by us anyway. We went there so many times the staff (mmmmmmmm the staff) recognised us and remembered our orders. The place has a pre-conception of being sleazy but it's unwarranted, there were couples, families and parties being catered for. We read that a rival chain was being taken to court for stealing the concept and the Orlando residents were definitely behind Hooters which says a lot for it.

IAAPA

This is the big convention that takes place every year and where anyone interested with the industry meets for some back slapping and shmoosing. As I'm not interested in that I was a little disappointed with it to be honest. There was only the one ride to go on, called a DiskO which was pretty good but felt a bit odd because you sit facing outwards unlike a frisbee where you can see everyone else riding. In previous years there had been more. You do get to see what rides may be coming up and get the opportunity to collect brochures from the major players. There's also food vendors demonstrating their new ranges that you can sample (some nice slush puppie variants). But all in all, we spent half a day there then never went back.

Skull Kingdom

This is a haunted attraction which we ignored (the guy in there was well creepy), however parked outside it was a new S&S swing which is starting to be bought by parks. Thorpe Park is getting a version of it this year. We got a free ride on it because we'd been at the convention and had our passes (the perks!). The ride itself is alright, swinging above the horizontal scares you a little bit but it is a little short in duration. It'll be a good addition to any park that buys it though.

Wet and Wild

The main water park in Orlando and although I'd been to others, I hadn't been to one with so many different rides. It's a nice escape from the theme parks, just don't go when it's too hot.
Whilst there I managed to try one of the near vertical drops that always look too scary to go on.
It was fine, the only problem I had was at the end the speed causes your shorts to rip shreds out of your arse. I came off quite sore.

There's also a strange ride where you sit back to back with another person and swing using a water cannon that you take turns to open up. This got really scary and because you don't have full control and are quite exposed you really think you're going to fall out, well I did. At a couple of points I had to slow us down because I really thought I was going to fall out. Afterwards I think I realised why, the harness hadn't been checked by the ride operator and was way too loose.

Kissimee Old Town

This was an evening jaunt away from Orlando. The area has a couple of thrill rides and is just a place to hang out. When we got there it was biker night with the main road inundated with some stunning looking Harleys and Superbikes. A little odd to see both types there, I didn't think the crowds mixed.

Skycoaster
I've ridden one of these things before but not on the scale of this. You get dropped from 300 feet and come throught he swing at 70 miles an hour. I ended up doing it on my own (one had done it before and the other didn't even want to try). When you're hanging at the top its deathly quiet and pretty scary but once you've done a full swing you relax and it becomes better.
I was too scared to even scream.

G Force Dragster Race
This was a new concept of ride which is basically a shot tower dropped on it's side that launches dragster cars along a racetrack. This is officially the fastest non-coaster ride in the world and the acceleration is immense. Its also fun because they've put 2 side by side and you start the car when the start lights tell you. We spoke to the designers of the ride (who got us on for free!) and they were telling us that the footprint is stopping parks from buying it which is a shame because it's a great ride.

Windstormer
At the end of the main street was this ropey little coaster which cost way too much to ride.
Needless to say we only did it the once.

Busch Gardens

So it was out to Tampa to get to this park which turned out to have the best coaster in Florida.
They're in the process of building a new one which is going to be a definite reason to go back out there, but this year I had to make do with the great coasters it already has.

Montu
This was the best coaster of the holiday. It's an inverter like Nemesis but on a much bigger scale and because they'd turned some of the trim brakes off made it more intense than it should have been. I'd also heard bad things about the ride operations at this park but saw no problem. We were allowed to stay on the ride if there was no queue, and for most of the morning, there wasn't.

Scorpion
This was an old Schwarzkopf coaster (Old German guy who designed some great rides). Not bad but not great, especially as there were other better coasters in the park. This probably explained why there was no queue on this ride whatsoever.

Cheetah Chase
This was their new coaster for the year, actually it was taken from another park. It's just one of those mouse coasters which wasn't themed and saw had nothing to do with Cheetah's whatsoever.

Kumba
This is another Floorless coaster, like Kraken at Seaworld. This however is much older and as a result, rougher. However I did have a few more goes on it but I was finding myself riding Montu a lot more.

Python
An old arrow coaster, like the Corkscrew at Alton. It was also very very short and climbing the lift hill took longer than the rest of the ride. One to ride just the once.

Haunted Lighthouse
This was their 4D movie which I found to be a bit long in length but was alright. I think it's finding it's way to Thorpe Park in 2005. You do get wet more often than normal.

Gwazi
Another disappointment of the holiday. How can you have a duelling coaster if you only run one side of it? The track was a little rough and you came off a little jarred. I didn't mind that too much though, there are rougher coasters out there.

Rhino Rapids
Part Safari Tour part boat ride, however the surprise is given away by the map which shows a jeep on the water. It's quite good, and being the only one of it kind makes it worth seeing.


Disney Magic Kingdom

This was by far the busiest park of the holiday but it should have been expected after all it is Disney.

Space Mountain
I absolutely hated the version of this ride in Paris. My head came more bashed than a Tyson opponent (when he was in his heyday). This however, even though it was 20 years older, was great - really simple and enjoyable with some nice flybys as you pass the opposing train.
Coming off the ride you travel on what feels like a sponge travelator, very odd indeed.

Big Thunder Railroad
When we got to this ride, it had just been reopened following a "technical problem" and when we finally got on it found all the lights on which to some enthusiasts would be a dream come true, but to me just showed how bad some of the effects really are. Having ridden it a second time, with the lights off, found it to be a pretty good ride although the Paris version is much better, albeit newer.

Splash Mountain
Although I don't know the Briar Rabbit tale on which this is based, the ride is still ok with some good drops which pleasingly didn't get me as wet as the cali one did (given that there were 4 of us in excess of 14 stones each on that occasion, it's no surprise we got soaked)

Stitch's Great Escape
This was the new attraction for this year and I was fortunate enough to get a preview showing of it. A nice touch that on its official opening day they'd themed the park to the extent of having the main castle covered in toilet paper. The attraction was pretty good with some great animatronics and the grossest smell effect I think I've ever endured.

Philarmagica
Now I almost walked past this and I'm so glad I didn't because it was the best attraction on the holiday by a long long way. Take the 4D concept and let the disney imagineers work their magic and you have the best 4D attraction ever. I was really blown away by this attraction and unlike Spiderman was just as good on subsequent viewings. This is the one attraction I will recommend as a must see.

Pirates of the Caribbean
This was the 3rd version of the attraction I'd seen having ridden the ones in Cali and Paris.
This version was the weakest and ended very abruptly. It's only saving grace that it had a great looking girl in its gift shop. Hi Jessica (like she'll ever read this).

Haunted Mansion
This is one of their older rides, and has dated a bit but it's one of those attractions that has to be done. There's a clever animated gravestone in the queue that people often overlooked, which I've not seen before. The rest of the ride is much the same as in the other parks.

Buzz Lightyear
Similar to Men in Black in that you shoot targets through the ride. Unlike that ride, the guns were bolted down, making shooting tricky. But it's designed for the kids, not the shooting purists, so does the trick.

Tiki Rooms
This used to be an atrocious ride which had clearly dated, I think it first opened in the 60s.
It's had a bit of a spruce, introducing some animals from more recent Disney shows. It's actually alright and makes fun of the fact it used to be so bad, which again is different for Disney.

Disney Animal Kingdom

At the centre of the park is a huge tree with over 350 animals carved into it. This alone is absolutely stunning and when you're queueing for rides you're often walking amongst the roots and trying to spot all the creatures. At one end of the park they're building Everest which I think opens in 2005. This looks massive and should be a good addition to the park, when it opens. It's nothing but a tease in its current state.

Dinosaur
This is apparently the same ride as Indiana Jones in Cali but themed around a time traveling journey. The ride itself is OK but Indiana is a lot more enjoyable. I didn't want to see the dinosaurs more than once but would instantly run back into Indiana Jones having ridden that.

Primeval Whirl
This does not look right in a park synonymous with great theming. It's supposed to be themed around a tacky version of the dinosaur ride and looks just like it. Also disappointing to find that half the ride wasn't working on the day we were there. I didn't think Disney was that bad.

Safari Tour
This was actually quite impressive once I'd got through the 40 minute queue having a woman bash her pushchair into my ankles repeatedly. Better than the walkthrough tour where most of the animals were asleep, at least here they were up milling around.

Rapids
They were closed due to "technical difficulties". Disney doing their best Six Flags impression there....

It's a Bug's Life
Another 4D show and the same as the one in California, some really annoying music in the waiting area (think kazoos) leads to what was my favourite show with stinkbugs, an army of ants and a ton of great effects. However it's now second best to the newer Disney one.

Disney Movie Studios

The first of the Disney Parks that we went to and the one we spent less time in.
Most of this park is tailored at the little kids.

Aerosmith Rock n Roller Coaster
This was nicely themed and having ridden the version in Paris I found this ride to be much much better although I preferred the lighting at the European Park. The cars are themed as stretch limos taking you across California to get to an awards ceremony. Going through the O of the hollywood sign (I can't remember which o) was pretty cool. The only coaster in the park

Tower of Terror
This was the biggest disappointment of the holiday. I was expecting an amazing shot drop tower but instead got something that just went up and down, the acceleration wasn't that great.
There was also quite a lot of queuing for the ride which put me off especially considering the short queues at the Universal Parks. You can't knock the theming of the building though.

Muppet 4D
Another 4D show which was identical to the one in Cali.
It's alright but Shrek was a lot better and this is now showing it's age a bit.

EPCOT

The technology park in the Disney World, there aren't any coasters here but there are some pretty decent attractions. We also walked the world fair which was a little cheesy but for the beer drinkers amongst you the only place to get a proper pint, although you have to spend a small fortune for the privilige.

Mission Space
This is their new ride, a centrifugal G-Force ride that simulates a flight to Mars. The one thing you notice about queueing up is the amount of warnings you get about not riding if you suffer from....
Definitely not Disney at all, they've even added sick bags to the cabins When the ride starts up you soon realise why, the forces are pretty intense and sustained, which is probably what does people in. At a couple of points you have to press a couple of buttons which adds a minimal level of interactivity (they don't actually do anything).

Test Track
This is quite an old ride but still pretty cool. You sit inside a car and a taken through a few temperature rooms, practice skidding and then go out to reach speeds of 100km/h on the main part of the ride. We rode it a few times and I like the noise it makes from a distance, like a small Superman @ Magic Mountain.

Turtle Talk
This opened on our second visit, the same day as Stitch so we didn't really know what we were letting ourselves into. After a short wait we were ushered in and sat down in front of a small screen showing what appeared to be an aquarium. Kids were invited to sit down in front and then Crush from Finding Nemo swam in. So we thought it was just a small movie, but we should have realised that Disney would take it a bit further. When the turtle described a person in the audience we realised that what we were getting was a fully interactive experience with the turtle answering questions fielded by the audience. Another genuine surprise of the holiday as I knew nothing of it.

Seaworld

This was the "local park" as it was only 5 minutes away from the apartment.
Its starting to attract the theme park crowds installing some fairly decent attractions
The star of the park however is Shamu which packs the crowds and is worth seeing (once!)

Kraken
A massive B&M floorless coaster (that makes me sound like such a geek). It's eerily quiet though as to stop the locals complaining about the noise they filled it with sand (that makes me sound like a bigger geek). I think this was my favourite coaster in Orlando, especially when ridden in the front. It was also well run with very little waiting time.

Journey to Atlantis
The other big attraction in the park, is this very well themed boat ride. The only problem I had with this is that the big huge drop didn't get me wet but a 1ft drop onto the lift hill got me soaked. A nice attraction for the park though.

Penguin Enclosure
A big travelator takes you along the penguin enclosure which is quite impressive. You're then taken along a second where they explain that puffins are the northern hemisphere equivalent and have them on display. So hearing Americans say "look at the funny penguins" clearly indicates that they don't they read the signs?

Shamu Show
The big killer whale leaps out of the water and makes a big splash and the dolphins do tricks with the trainers.

Shamu Rocks America
The big killer whale leaps out of the water and makes a big splash and the dolphins do tricks with the trainers, all to rock music.

Citywalk

Not a park as such but the downtown area that joins the 2 Universal Parks together.
It's here that you can enjoy nightlife or go to restaurants for meals.

Orlando Beer Festival
Whilst we were there Orlando had it's Beer Festival which was just an excuse for Americans to get pissed on weak lager and Europeans to drink whilst watching the locals get drunk.
Being on holiday I decided to try some of the beer on offer and wasn't surprised to find them as nasty as the stuff back home. A Jamaican Honey Beer was particularly nasty and quickly found it's way into a plantpot. The best drinks turned out to be the vodka variants with crowds queueing to try the drinks on offer. I'm sure it had absolutely nothing to do with the hot looking women serving them.

Margaritas
I wasn't sure about this place. It's something to do with a guy called Jimmy who sings lots of songs about drinking Margaritas. I guess he's a local celeb because lots of people were singing along to his music. The restaurant has a volcano within it that you have to pray to, when you do it erupts and margarita flows from it into a large glass. Yep, as weird as it sounded.

Cinnabun
This place makes really really nice hot cinnamon rolls and being a cinnamon fan was a good enough reason for me to go. However I was even more surprised by their slush puppies which unlike the ones here, don't lose their colour when you drink them.


Universal Studios

The sister park to Islands with some great attractions but I came away thinking that the park in Hollywood was a little better in places. This however is the best place for a milkshake. Try the diner. It was so thick that it didn't spill over but continued holding it's shape like thick icecream.
Just don't try drinking it through a straw.

Revenge of the Mummy
This was the new ride for the park in 2004. I had intended this ride to be a complete surprise and so intentionally ignored any press articles or reviews of it (not easy to do in the internet era I tell thee). The ride itself is alright with some a nice mix of effects, coaster ride and animatronics. However the first time I came off the ride I expected more. The second time I rode it, I got more because all of the effects were working. I guess they were still having teething troubles with the ride.

Twister
A nice simulation of a twister which can be quite wet if you're in the wrong place (I'm not going to tell you where the wet areas are). There is a nice transition where they move the twister from screen to stage which I thought was cool. The high point for me was the cow though. I promise to explain why on a later post.

Men In Black
A pretty fun shooting attraction. I was rubbish at it but still wanted to reride it. I'd heard rumours that if you scored high enough you got to experience a 2nd level but I don't see how this could be and suspect it's a rumour.

Shrek 4D
This was the other new attraction for the park this year, along with the Mummy.
This is one of those 4D cinemas where you watch a 3D movie and get wet and thrown around.
I found this quite enjoyable with some good use of 3D however the hydraulics in the seats were very loud and detracted from the experience.

Jimmy Neutron
Another motion simulator ride, similar to Shrek but not 3D. However I enjoyed this much more than Shrek for the dancing sequence at the end of the film. The only downside to this attraction was that I wasn't familiar with all the Nickelodeon shows in it. I know who Spongebob is but I don't think I've ever seen it.

T2
A smaller arena than the Californian one but still a good show. Apparently it caught fire the day after we saw it, that would have been much more exciting.

Earthquake
One of the older attractions but still quite good. I'm sure everyone has seen this. There is some weird crowd interaction as it's pre-show which didn't really go with the rest of the attraction.

Jaws
Universal's version of Disney's Jungle Cruise attraction. Some nice effects and I preferred this to the California version (which is a small part of the backlot tour).

Back to the Future
They need to send this back to the rubbish bin because it's so dated now.


Islands of Adventure

Probably the best park in Orlando (sorry Carlsberg) which we visited pretty much every day.
Some great theming, amazing food and just a great place to kill the day!

Hulk
The first coaster of the trip. Very large, very green and like the character it's based on has 2 sides to it. It starts out great with a superb launch and first few elements, complete with water splash. However the second half is a bit rough and I got beat up on it, so although I rerode it, there were better coasters out there. As with Spiderman (see next) skipping the pre-show means you won't know what the hell is going on. The throughput on this was superb with I think the longest queue being 10 minutes, for the front row.

Spiderman
I never understood from people's reviews how this actually worked so was quite looking forward to it. Needless to say I wasn't disappointed, it has a great mix of 4D cinema and motion ride with some great interaction between what is on the screens and the scenery you move through. However it didn't seem to have a huge re-ride factor and I wasn't as amazed after the 15th ride. Also a down side to having small queues is that you miss the pre-show and so don't really get what's going on if you walk straight on.

Duelling Dragons
Probably the best queue line I've ever seen as you're taken deeper and deeper into the castle and it's dungeons. I really like the animated stain glass windows which I blindly ignored for the first few weeks before realising they told a story. Of the two coasters I preferred the fire dragon, just for the airtime hill which I don't remember seeing on any other coaster. Ice is alright but not as good however both coasters have to be ridden in the front row to get the best scare of any coaster. Throughput on this ride was poor compared to Hulk because they were only running a single car on each side.

Popeye Rapids
One word sums this ride up - WET!! We got soaked on the first turn and the ride did not relent.
By far the best rapid attraction I've ever come across, even the lift hill that returns you into the station (or does it??) has more water cannons on it than you're likely to see anywhere else.

Dudley Doright Flume
Another great themed water ride which although it doesn't get you as wet as the rapids is still wetter than most rides. I particularly liked the "inappropriate theming" sign which offers a view of the back end of the park which you're not supposed to see. I was however confused by the side by side drop which only allows one to be used at any one time. The final water cannons are particularly brutal too (especially number 5).

Jurassic Park
The third water ride in the park and very disappointing having ridden the one in California.
The biggest difference is that the T-Rex has no water curtain to burst through and you can see it coming from a distance. Also the dinosaur that knocks you off course failed to emerge from the water, a broken effect I guess. Finally there was a huge rat floating dead in the water which clearly wasn't part of the theming.

Flying Unicorn
This was the park's kiddy coaster which unlike the pteranodon fliers, we were allowed to ride on. It was OK but not great. The staff member at Skull Kingdom rates this as his favourite coaster in the park (we knew he was a bit weird, this confirmed it).

Dr Doom's Freefall.
This is their drop tower ride, which is similar to anyother tower attraction.
One nice touch is that having been assimilated (the theme) as you leave the ride, it plays the sound of a marching army.

Poseidon's Fury
This is one of their walk through shows which isn't too bad. The main attraction is a room that suddenly turns into Poseidon's palace. However due to a mistiming in the effects we got to see how it worked. The ride is excellently themed outside though.

Florida is over!

Well I'm back from my trip to Florida and I had a blast. It was my first time out there and a place I'd been wanting to go to for a while. I was blown away by the scale of Disney. I knew it was big but didn't realise they had their own freeway and a huge amount of land to still build on.

Universal impressed me with it's range of rides, including some very hi-tech ones. There was also an amusement park and attraction convention there that we visited.

Here's my report which I've kept brief because I don't like writing at length and doubt anyone will actually read this. I'll break it down by into bite-sized chunks..