Where Fan­tasies Meet Thrills

Travel Guide to Florida - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - BY KEVIN FRITZ

Atrip to Florida is not com­plete with­out ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the thrills and fas­ci­na­tion found in the state’s iconic theme parks. Lucky for you, the most rev­ered of those at­trac­tions are within driv­ing dis­tance to one an­other. From Tampa to Or­lando, Cen­tral Florida is the undis­puted king of theme parks. So put on your fun hat and be pre­pared to be thrilled.


For more than 50 years, the mis­sion at SeaWorld Parks & En­ter­tain­ment, a lead­ing theme park and en­ter­tain­ment com­pany, has been to help guests ex­plore an­i­mals and the world in which they live and to be in­spired by what they learn as well as take ac­tion to help pro­tect them.

As one of the world’s fore­most zoo­log­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions and a world­wide leader in an­i­mal wel­fare, train­ing, hus­bandry and vet­eri­nary care, SeaWorld col­lec­tively cares for one of the largest an­i­mal col­lec­tions in North Amer­ica. Over the years it has helped lead ad­vances in the care of species in zoo­log­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties and in the con­ser­va­tion of wild pop­u­la­tions.

SeaWorld Or­lando con­tin­ues to cap­ti­vate visi­tors with new and ex­cit­ing rides and shows. A must-do for thrill seek­ers is the new Mako, the tallest, fastest and long­est coaster in Or­lando, reach­ing speeds of 73 miles per hour along 4,760 feet of steel track. Named af­ter one of the fastest shark species in the oceans, Mako is a hy­per­coaster that sits in the mid­dle of the park’s seven-acre shark realm, where guests can learn all about (and watch) these fas­ci­nat­ing crea­tures.

Still need more? Manta is the only fly­ing roller coaster of its kind in the world. Ride head­first and face-down on this ex­hil­a­rat­ing jour­ney.

At Antarc­tica: Em­pire of the Pen­guin, visit the icy South Pole and learn about and visit with a colony of more than 200 pen­guins.

If you’d rather en­joy an­i­mals in a warmer cli­mate, con­sider spend­ing time with bot­tlenose dol­phins at Dol­phin Cove. Ad­ja­cent to Dol­phin Cove, the pop­u­lar Dol­phin Nurs­ery be­comes more in­ter­ac­tive in 2017. Large-scale acrylic win­dows of­fer en­hanced view­ing and mul­ti­ple lev­els al­low kids a face-to-face view with moth­ers and calves.

Also new in 2017, Kraken will be trans­formed into a vir­tual re­al­ity roller­coaster ex­pe­ri­ence. Travel along­side sea crea­tures in­spired by ex­tinct and leg­endary an­i­mals of the past in the only VR ex­pe­ri­ence in Florida.

When it’s time to cool off, ven­ture over to Aquat­ica, SeaWorld’s Water­park. Brave Roa’s Rapids, mas­ter­ing white water swells and turns. Or dare to take on Ihu’s Break­away Falls, the free-fall drop slide. It’s the tallest and steep­est in Or­lando. For the kids, Kata’s Kook­aburra Cove is where it’s at with a be­gin­ner’s body slide, water spouts and silly rides.


From such clas­sics as Space Moun­tain, Big Thun­der Moun­tain Rail­road and Pi­rates of the Caribbean to the af­ter­noon pa­rades and evening fire­works il­lu­mi­nat­ing the 187-foot Cin­derella’s Cas­tle, Magic King­dom has been de­light­ing young and old for more than 40 years. Speak­ing of Cin­derella, if you have a lit­tle princess at home, make plans to visit with Cin­derella at Princess Fairy­tale Hall. Or pop into Town Square Theater to see Mickey Mouse in per­son.

Ep­cot Cen­ter rolls two parks into one: Fu­ture World and The World Show­case. At the lat­ter, there are 11 coun­tries to in­ves­ti­gate as you trot around the world to see how peo­ple in other lands live through spec­tac­u­lar rides and shows. Ever wanted to visit Nor­way? Take the coun­try’s fam­ily-friendly boat voy­age and cel­e­brate a “Sum­mer Snow Day” with Queen Elsa, Princess Anna, Kristoff, Olaf, Marsh­mal­low and trolls.

Fu­ture World pro­vides in­ter­ac­tive dis­plays and learn­ing cen­ters that only Dis­ney can make fun. At the Seas with Nemo and Friends, climb into a gi­ant clam and dive deep un­der the sea to find Nemo and his sea pals play­ing among brightly col­ored coral reefs. Af­ter­ward, ex­plore live sea crea­tures in the 5.7-mil­lion-gal­lon salt­wa­ter aquar­ium. Next, visit the Cir­cle of Life where Simba teaches Ti­mon and Pum­baa (and you) an im­por­tant les­son about the en­vi­ron­ment. The pre­sen­ta­tion is brought to life on 70mm footage shot in more than 30 coun­tries.

Hol­ly­wood Stu­dios is the land for Star Wars ev­ery­thing. Visit the Launch Bay and be im­mersed in the movie and all its his­tory, meet Chew­bacca and play Dis­ney In­fin­ity 3.0. Blast off into the Star Wars galaxy aboard a Star­speeder 1000 at Star Wars – The Ad­ven­ture Con­tin­ues and come face-to-face with Darth Vader. Back on earth, the Twi­light Zone Tower of Terror dares you to ride the el­e­va­tor to the top of the Hol­ly­wood Tower Ho­tel—then drops you a ter­ri­fy­ing 13 floors.

Visit An­i­mal King­dom to ex­pe­ri­ence an­i­mals liv­ing free on a sa­vanna, just like they would in Africa. Stay in the An­i­mal King­dom Lodge and watch gi­raffes walk by your win­dow nib­bling on trees. Take a sa­fari in an open-air truck and watch hip­pos cool­ing by the water or ba­boons swing­ing from the trees, or speed through the Himalayan Moun­tains on a run­away train at Ex­pe­di­tion Ever­est – Legend of the For­bid­den Moun­tain. Watch out for the Abom­inable Snow­man!


At Uni­ver­sal’s Is­lands of Ad­ven­ture, the only way to avoid an­gry pre­his­toric preda­tors at Skull Is­land: Reign of Kong is with the help of the big ape him­self at one of the park’s newer rides. An­other new ad­di­tion is Uni­ver­sal’s Vol­cano Bay, a water park with a laid-back, trop­i­cal vibe open­ing in mid-2017. Race Through New York Star­ring Jimmy Fal­lon will also de­but in 2017, beck­on­ing you to race the Tonight Show host through the Big Ap­ple.

You can’t visit Is­lands of Ad­ven­ture with­out ex­pe­ri­enc­ing The Wizard­ing World of Harry Pot­ter. Raise a glass of But­ter­beer then ride the Dragon Chal­lenge, two high-speed roller coast­ers—Chi­nese Fire­ball and the Hun­gar­ian Horn­tail— each of­fer­ing a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ride.

At Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios Florida, there’s even more Harry Pot­ter. Ride Harry Pot­ter and the Es­cape from the Gringots, then visit the fa­mous Daigon Al­ley shops. En­joy rides based on the big screen like bat­tling along­side Op­ti­mus Prime and Bum­ble­bee in TRANS­FORM­ERS: The Ride – 3D, or drop by Springfield and hop on the Simp­son Ride. Don’t miss Re­venge of the Mummy, the roller coaster that plunges you in to­tal dark­ness at up to 45 miles per hour. For more ex­cite­ment, the Hol­ly­wood Rip Ride Rockit reaches top speeds of 65 miles per hour and tow­ers 17 sto­ries over the park.


Make time to visit Or­lando’s In­ter­na­tional Drive area, home to smaller, yet no less ex­cit­ing at­trac­tions. At I-Drive 360, board the 400-foot Or­lando Eye, an ob­ser­va­tion wheel with breath­tak­ing views of Cen­tral Florida. Also at this com­plex of fun visit Madame Tus­sauds wax mu­seum and the SEA LIFE Or­lando Aquar­ium.

Nearby, FunSpot Amer­ica of­fers roller coast­ers—in­clud­ing a 250-foot Sky­coaster—multi-level go-kart tracks and 100 ar­cade games. Ri­p­ley’s Be­lieve it or Not is the cen­ter for all things odd and quirky, while Ti­tan­tic – The Ar­ti­fact Ex­hi­bi­tion takes you on that fate­ful cruise among full scale re-cre­ations of the doomed ship.


About an hour west of Or­lando, Busch Gar­dens Tampa Bay is the ul­ti­mate fam­ily ad­ven­ture, of­fer­ing 300 acres of thrilling rides, one of the coun­try’s pre­mier zoos with more than 12,000 an­i­mals, live shows, restau­rants, shops and games.

Ride the new Co­bra’s Curse, a spin coaster fea­tur­ing a ver­ti­cal lift and tak­ing rid­ers on a whirl­wind ad­ven­ture of ex­cit­ing ex­plo­rations.

Climb aboard Chee­tah Hunt, Florida’s first triple-launch coaster. Or con­quer Fal­con’s Fury, North Amer­ica’s tallest free­stand­ing 335-foot drop tower, piv­ot­ing rid­ers 90 de­grees in midair be­fore a facedown plunge at 60 miles per hour.

For young ad­ven­tures, em­bark on the Skyride and fly over the sa­vanna for views of gi­raffes and rhino, then get up close to tigers and orang­utans at Jun­gala. Kids also love Air Grover, a ju­nior roller coaster that par­ents and lit­tle ones ride to­gether while Sesame Street Sa­fari of Fun and its water fea­tures pro­vide a great place to cool off.

Lo­cated im­me­di­ately across the street from Busch Gar­dens Tampa Bay, Ad­ven­ture Is­land’s 30 acres of wa­ter­drenched fun in the sun fea­ture the ul­ti­mate com­bi­na­tion of high-speed thrills and trop­i­cal, tran­quil sur­round­ings for guests of all ages.

TOP: Beloved Ru­dolph the Red-Nosed Rein­deer and friends at SeaWorld Or­lando and Busch Gar­dens Tampa Bay. ABOVE: Christ­mas at Uni­ver­sal Or­lando. BE­LOW: En­joy­ing treats at Walt Dis­ney World. OP­PO­SITE TOP: Ob­serv­ing chee­tahs at Busch Gar­dens Tampa Bay....

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