Where Fantasies Meet Thrills
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.
WALT DISNEY WORLD
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.
BUSCH GARDENS TAMPA BAY
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. OPPOSITE CENTER: The Superstar Parade at Universal Studios, Orlando.