THEME PARKS: Thrills, laugh­ter and fam­ily fun

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

Theme parks are a must when vis­it­ing Cen­tral Florida. From Tampa to Or­lando, the nev­erend­ing thrills can take your breath away. Even if you’ve had the chance to ex­pe­ri­ence some of the area’s ma­jor at­trac­tions on a pre­vi­ous visit, pre­pare to be wowed. Florida’s theme parks are con­tin­u­ously adding new, fun-packed ex­cite­ment and ad­ven­tures to the de­light of fam­i­lies and all ages year af­ter year.

SEAWORLD OR­LANDO

Be among the first ex­plor­ers to duck be­neath the trop­i­cal rain­for­est canopy and ex­pe­ri­ence In­fin­ity Falls, com­ing sum­mer 2018 to Sea World Or­lando. In­fin­ity Falls is a new twist­ing and turn­ing river rapid ride that show­cases a lush South Amer­i­can jungle en­vi­ron­ment and na­tive an­i­mals that call this habi­tat home. Wind your way around soak­ing foun­tains and wa­ter­falls as you pass the re­mains of an an­cient civ­i­liza­tion. The 1,520-foot, four-minute ad­ven­ture fea­tures a ver­ti­cal el­e­va­tor that lifts rafts in prepa­ra­tion for a 40-foot drop into churn­ing and ex­hil­a­rat­ing wa­ters. The In­fin­ity Falls ad­ven­ture ends at Har­mony Village where you’ll find in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ences ed­u­cat­ing and in­spir­ing guests about con­serv­ing fresh­wa­ter ecosys­tems.

Af­ter brav­ing In­fin­ity Falls, en­joy SeaWorld Or­lando’s ad­ven­tures, shows and an­i­mal en­coun­ters.

The Killer Whale Up-Close Tour gives guests the op­por­tu­nity to learn about the park’s ma­jes­tic killer whales in brand-new ways. And the pop­u­lar Dol­phin Nurs­ery is now more in­ter­ac­tive and in­cludes larger win­dows, giv­ing guests the chance to see moth­ers and young dol­phins up close. Through­out the an­i­mal-themed ex­hibits at SeaWorld Or­lando, you’ll learn about the park’s on­go­ing work in the res­cue and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of in­jured and or­phaned wildlife—more than 31,000 an­i­mals over the past 50 years.

SeaWorld Or­lando re­cently de­buted its first dig­i­tally en­hanced ride by trans­form­ing the leg­endary Kraken roller coaster into a vir­tual re­al­ity (VR) roller coaster and cre­at­ing Kraken Un­leashed: Vir­tual Re­al­ity Ex­pe­ri­ence. Guests em­bark on a deepsea mis­sion along­side sea crea­tures in­spired by ex­tinct and leg­endary an­i­mals of the past, in­clud­ing the mighty Kraken. A cus­tom dig­i­tal over­lay with uniquely de­signed VR head­sets de­liver a new one-of-a-kind ad­ven­ture to this 150-foot tall, 65 mph coaster.

Nearby, Dis­cov­ery Cove now wel­comes guests to swim with sharks. The allinclu­sive day re­sort that of­fers the op­por­tu­nity to swim with dol­phins adds the awe-in­spir­ing Shark Swim pro­gram to its list of in­ter­ac­tive an­i­mal ad­ven­tures. En­joy closer-than-ever en­coun­ters with ®

these leg­endary preda­tors, in­clud­ing Pa­cific black­tip, reef whitetip, nurse shark, ze­bra shark and spot­ted wobbe­gongs.

The shark pro­gram is an op­por­tu­nity for the kids to learn how shark finning and over­fish­ing threaten many shark species. Sea World Or­lando will do­nate five per­cent of the pro­ceeds from this at­trac­tion to the Guy Har­vey Ocean Foun­da­tion (GHOF) in sup­port of shark con­ser­va­tion and re­search. The Shark Swim ex­pe­ri­ence is avail­able to Dis­cov­ery Cove guests 10 years and older.

In ad­di­tion to the Shark Swim pro­gram, Dis­cov­ery Cove has launched a new Ray Feed­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. This ex­clu­sive op­por­tu­nity gives guests the chance to feed cownose and south­ern stingrays. You’ll also get the chance to feed thousands of trop­i­cal fish be­fore em­bark­ing on a pri­vate, guided swim of Dis­cov­ery Cove’s Grand Reef.

And when it’s time to slip ’n slide, fam­ily style Aquat­ica, SeaWorld Or­lando’s Water­park, fea­tures high-speed wa­ter slides, ex­hil­a­rat­ing wave pools, and 7,800 square me­tres of sparkling white, sandy, tranquil

beaches to the de­light of all ages. This oneof-a-kind water­park is home to 42 slides, beau­ti­ful rivers and la­goons, and Ihu’s Break­away Falls, a multi-drop tower slide.

BUSCH GAR­DENS TAMPA BAY

If thrill is your fam­ily’s mid­dle name, Busch Gar­dens Tampa Bay is your ticket to ride. The theme park is the undis­puted king of coast­ers in Cen­tral Florida with world-class coast­ers: Kumba, Montu, SheiKra, Chee­tah Hunt, Scor­pion, and the new kid on the block, Cobra’s Curse, a fam­ily spin coaster, the only one of its kind in the world. Plus, for its younger guests, the park of­fers two mel­lower rides, Sand Ser­pent and Air Grover. Fal­con’s Fury is a face-first fall from 335 feet in the air. The Gulf coast is in­deed the roller coast.

Of course, Busch Gar­dens Tampa is much more than roller coast­ers. It’s a blend of thrilling rides, one of the coun­try’s pre­miere zoos, live shows, shops and games for all ages.

Busch Gar­dens Tampa cares for more than 12,000 an­i­mals rep­re­sent­ing more than 300 species. At the park’s An­i­mal Care Cen­ter, guests can ob­serve an­i­mal care first-hand and even take part in an­i­mal­care ex­pe­ri­ences rang­ing from nu­tri­tion and treat­ments to X-rays and surg­eries. This state-of-the-art fa­cil­ity is also home to the hit Emmy-nom­i­nated TV se­ries, The Wildlife Docs, which takes view­ers in­side the work of zoo­log­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als, in­clud­ing Busch Gar­dens’ own vet­eri­nar­i­ans and train­ers.

UNIVER­SAL OR­LANDO

Fast & Fu­ri­ous–Su­per­charged will de­but at Univer­sal Stu­dios in 2018. Guests will find them­selves on a high-oc­tane jour­ney that fea­tures an orig­i­nal sto­ry­line, in­cred­i­ble ride tech­nol­ogy and pop­u­lar char­ac­ters in­clud­ing Dom Toretto, Hobbs, Letty and Ro­man.

Guests can’t get enough of the new Vol­cano Bay, Univer­sal Or­lando’s third theme park. Un­like Is­lands of Ad­ven­ture and Univer­sal Stu­dios Florida, Vol­cano Bay, fea­tur­ing Krakatau, the 200-foot vol­cano over­look­ing a Pa­cific-is­land, is all about getting wet. The vol­cano is home to the park’s Krakatau Aqua Coaster, an ex­cit­ing, first-of-its-kind aqua coaster that pro­pels you up­ward and down­ward through the vol­cano’s in­te­rior peaks and val­leys. Vol­cano Bay of­fers more than 30 ex­pe­ri­ences in­clud­ing a multi-di­rec­tional wave pool with sandy beaches and

twist­ing multi-rider raft rides. Take the Ko’kiri Body Plunge, a 70-de­gree, 125-foot fall through a trap door or re­lax on the Kopiko Wai Wind­ing River.

Join Jimmy Fal­lon and his guests on a fun-filled, 3D mo­tion-sim­u­lated race through, un­der and above New York City. Race Through New York Star­ring Jimmy Fal­lon at Univer­sal Stu­dios Florida is also the test­ing ground for no line wait­ing. Guests sim­ply make reser­va­tions on the Univer­sal Or­lando Re­sort Mobile app or nearby kiosk. The at­trac­tion also fea­tures a Tonight Show mem­o­ra­bilia mu­seum and live shows star­ring the Hash­tag Panda and the Rag­time Gals bar­ber­shop quar­tet.

Harry Pot­ter fans will be happy to cel­e­brate Christ­mas in the Wizard­ing World of Harry Pot­ter. Hogwarts Cas­tle in Hogsmeade and Di­agon Al­ley will be trans­formed into win­tery Christ­mas won­der­lands to the de­light of all. There is also a new hol­i­day pa­rade fea­tur­ing Macy’s, which in­cludes ap­pear­ances by the Min­ions and other fa­vorite char­ac­ters from De­spi­ca­ble Me, Mada­gas­car and Shrek— and even Santa Claus.

WALT DIS­NEY WORLD

Don’t be alarmed if you see a Dis­ney bus driv­ing by with­out a driver. The the­mepark giant will roll out driver­less shut­tle buses in 2018 for guests to get around. If you’d rather travel by wa­ter, Dis­ney will also de­but a gon­dola trans­porta­tion sys­tem con­nect­ing Ep­cot, Dis­ney’s Hol­ly­wood Stu­dios, Dis­ney’s Caribbean Beach Re­sort, Dis­ney’s Art of An­i­ma­tion Re­sort and Dis­ney’s Pop Cen­tury Re­sort.

At Dis­ney’s Hol­ly­wood Stu­dios in 2018, you may find your­self shrunk to the size of a toy to ex­plore the world of Andy’s back­yard with your fa­vorite Toy Story char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing Woody and Buzz. The new Toy Story Land will also show­case Slinky Dog Dash, a fam­ily roller coaster and Alien Swirling Saucers, a ride in which aliens cruise around in toy fly­ing saucers at­tempt­ing to cap­ture your rocket toy ve­hi­cle with “The Claw.”

The new­est jewel at Walt Dis­ney World is Pan­dora — The World of AVATAR at An­i­mal King­dom. Ex­pe­ri­ence the Na’vi River Jour­ney, trans­port­ing you through a bi­o­lu­mi­nes­cent rain­for­est, while AVATAR: Flight of Pas­sage in­vites you to take an ex­hil­a­rat­ing flight on the back of a moun­tain ban­shee. Over at Ep­cot, Mis­sion: Space is adding a new third mis­sion, which will in­clude a tour around Earth.

Be sure to treat your crew to Miss Ad­ven­ture Falls at Ty­phoon La­goon. The new fam­ily-style raft at­trac­tion takes guests on a splash­ing jour­ney through the fa­bled Cap­tain Mary Ocea­neer’s past. The two-minute ride is among the long­est wa­ter rides at Dis­ney.

OP­PO­SITE TOP: Open­ing sum­mer 2018, In­fin­ity Falls at SeaWorld Or­lando will fea­ture the world’s tallest drop on a river raft ride and im­merse guests in a lush, fresh­wa­ter rain­for­est while shar­ing the im­por­tance of wa­ter con­ser­va­tion. BELOW: Crush ‘n’ Gusher, a wa­ter coaster thrill ride at Dis­ney’s Ty­phoon La­goon. BOT­TOM: All aboard the Hogwarts Ex­press at The Wizard­ing World of Harry Pot­ter at Univer­sal Or­lando Re­sort.

TOP: De­spi­ca­ble Me Min­ion May­hem at Univer­sal Or­lando Re­sort. ABOVE: “Toy Story Ma­nia!” in­ter­ac­tive ride-through at­trac­tion at Dis­ney’s Hol­ly­wood Stu­dios. OP­PO­SITE: Macy's world-fa­mous pa­rade at Univer­sal Stu­dios.

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