All right, then! Now I’m back in the UK after a 7.5 hour flight from Orlando to London Heathrow, I think it’s about time I posted the trip summary I promised at the end of the last report!
To cut to the chase; this was an absolutely fantastic trip! I loved getting back to Universal, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens after 7 years, and I loved getting on some of the brilliant new rides that have been installed since my last trip! As well as that, Volcano Bay was also a real positive surprise (I’ll touch on that more later), and I thoroughly enjoyed myself there!
I’ll start by ranking all of the parks I went to in this trip, and I’ll say a little bit about each:
- Islands of Adventure - This is still easily one of my favourite parks ever, and I dare say that it now has possibly the most well-rounded selection of top-class major rides I’ve ever seen. I always felt that the coaster selection at IOA was one of its relatively weaker links in the past, but the additions of Hagrid’s and VelociCoaster have strengthened its credentials as a coaster park considerably, in my view, with both of these rides providing absolutely top-class experiences. The park also has some truly top-class dark rides and water rides, with Spider-Man being my favourite dark ride and Jurassic Park River Adventure being my favourite water ride out of the non-coaster offering! The theming is also wonderful throughout the park, in my opinion, and overall, I think it’s a truly stunning theme park! I’ve always loved how Islands of Adventure is a bit of a “jack of all trades”, and masters quite a number of different areas of the theme park experience, and I feel that the additions since my last visit have only strengthened that, personally! I will say, though, that if I’m being phenomenally picky, I think it can sometimes feel like the park has quite a hectic atmosphere with not much room to relax, and that is one thing that I feel the other Universal park does better. Overall, though, I absolutely love IOA; the combination of amazing rides and amazing theming make it easily one of my favourite parks ever!
- Universal Studios Florida - I may prefer Islands of Adventure, but it’s a close race between the two for me, and this is still definitely one of my favourite parks! The ride selection isn’t quite as varied as Islands of Adventure’s, and I don’t think that any of the individual rides quite match the best IOA has to offer for me, but there are still some absolutely fantastic headliners, with Revenge of the Mummy, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and Transformers being real headline draws of the park for me! There are some other really solid rides at the park too, and I also think that the overall theming is better than I’d remembered. Diagon Alley is the big standout thematically, but the rest of the park is also wonderfully detailed and has loads to look at! As I inferred above, the park also has a somewhat more relaxed atmosphere than IOA, in my view, with it often feeling slightly less crowded and there being more areas to slow down and take a breather. My whole family apart from me actually preferred USF of the two parks due to the more relaxing atmosphere and the fact that they felt that the theming was “way better”, as well as the fact that USF’s rides were more “grandparent-friendly” on the whole than IOA’s. Overall, while I may prefer Islands of Adventure overall, Universal Studios Florida still has a lot going for it, in my view, and it’s also one of my all-time favourite parks!
- Busch Gardens Tampa - I had a great day here! The coaster selection is second to none, there are some decent non-coaster rides, with the flat ride department in particular really shining, and the park is nicer in terms of landscaping than I’d remembered, being very green! It’s not the most heavily themed park I’ve ever been to, but I also feel that Busch does decently in terms of theming in numerous places, with the Egyptian section containing Cobra’s Curse and Montu being a favourite of mine. If I’m being picky, however, I personally found the park to have a somewhat confusing layout. Something I noticed a fair amount during my day is that attractions would look very close as the crow flies, but you’d try to find them and struggle, with them turning out to be absolutely miles away in path terms, which would see you passing numerous other totally different attractions on the way. The park also lacks indoor attractions despite being faced with the ever unpredictable Florida climate, and while stormy weather wasn’t a problem on our visit, some indoor entertainment might have been nice as a respite from the humidity. Overall, though, I had a great day at Busch Gardens, and it’s a fair amount nicer than I’d previously remembered!
- SeaWorld Orlando - Despite this park being last, I actually find it to be a really nice park that I seem to like more than most, and I had a great day here! The coaster selection is getting to be really excellent, queues are often short, and the park generally has a really nice, relaxed atmosphere; what’s not to like? While not particularly heavily themed, the park also has nice theming in areas and generally looks nice. However, I think the reason it’s not as high as the other 3 for me is because the park fundamentally doesn’t have that much to do rides-wise. In particular, it has very little to do rides-wise aside from the coasters; the only major non-coaster I can think of is Infinity Falls (which I was unable to ride due to unreliability and lightning). Similarly to Busch Gardens, I do feel that an indoor attraction of some description wouldn’t go amiss here, both to provide some entertainment in the event of a thunderstorm and provide a respite from the Florida humidity. This wasn’t a massive problem for me overall, though, as I’m pretty content just riding coasters all day! Overall, SeaWorld is a great park, and I really enjoyed my visit!
Let me move onto some of my personal highlights of the trip in terms of new stuff… there were so many, but I’ll try to name just a few!
- VelociCoaster - My favourite new attraction of the trip was VelociCoaster, a stunning Intamin LSM Launch Coaster! This sensational ride has a stonker of a layout with some really impactful elements, including a euphoric second launch, a top hat with some sublime ejector airtime, and a final heartline roll that really whips you out of the seat and leaves you blown away upon hitting the brake run! There are also loads of other great elements including some great inversions and excellent pops of ejector airtime, the ride maintains a great sense of speed throughout, and all of this is also packaged within a wonderfully comfortable and rerideable coaster, with absolutely superb restraints! Overall, I loved VelociCoaster; I had high expectations, and it did not disappoint for me!
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure - Hagrid’s may not have many standout moments of extreme thrill, but what it does have is a truly spell-binding sense of pure fun throughout! Despite having high expectations, the whole thing was a huge amount more fun than I’d expected, with the launches being great fun and surprisingly punchy, the low-to-the-ground twists and turns being surprisingly thrilling, and the whole thing just being magically fun overall! This coaster always left me with a huge smile on my face, and overall, it was a definite highlight among the trip’s new experiences for me!
- Iron Gwazi - I may not have rated it quite as highly as many do, but my first RMC coaster was still a definite highlight of the trip for me! The ride had some absolutely ludicrous ejector airtime, it was absolutely relentless throughout, and the layout had some truly spectacular elements; that first drop in particular was absolutely absurd! I did find it a tad much for me in terms of violence and being thrown around towards the snappier end portions of the layout, which is why it wasn’t my favourite coaster of the trip, but it was still an absolutely phenomenal ride overall!
- Universal’s Volcano Bay - This isn’t a theme park, but a new attraction I did manage to experience and was absolutely floored with was Universal’s Volcano Bay! The consensus towards this waterpark is somewhat mixed, with the chief complaint being the TapuTapu system and associated problems. However, I thought it was brilliant, and it definitely exceeded my expectations! In general, TapuTapu worked really well for me, and Volcano Bay is a really great waterpark with some brilliant attractions; some particular favourites of mine include the Krakatau Aqua Coaster, Honu, Taniwha Tubes and the enormously fun TeAwa: The Fearless River! Overall, Volcano Bay was brilliant for me and my family; I’d firmly recommend a visit!
Those are just some of the highlights; that isn’t necessarily an exhaustive list by any means! Now I’ll move on to my main positive surprises of the trip…
Biggest Positive Surprises
- Universal’s Volcano Bay - I’ve already spoken at length about Volcano Bay in the above section, so I won’t dedicate too much to it here, but it was a big surprise for me and the rest of my family, so I thought I’d mention it here!
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong - I had never ridden this dark ride at Islands of Adventure before; it was the big new thing at IOA when we last went in 2016, but we didn’t manage to get onto it. I went into this ride with low expectations, as reviews are generally quite negative, but I have to say that this ride was a massive pleasant surprise; it’s an absolutely fantastic dark ride, in my opinion, and a real asset to Universal’s dark ride lineup! The 3D is excellent, with some awesome action sequences and a brilliant 360 degree screen, there is some excellent physical scenery (including a stunning Kong animatronic that's absolutely huge!), and overall, I just thought it was a brilliant attraction! Kong far exceeded my expectations, for sure!
- Ice Breaker - I had pretty low expectations for this coaster, as its reviews are generally middling to negative, but I ended up absolutely loving it! The swing launch was my first ever swing launch, and I found it brilliantly fun and punchy! The backwards spike provided some brilliantly fun floater airtime, the ejector airtime got surprisingly strong towards the end of the swing launch, the top hat provided some more brilliant (and surprisingly sustained) airtime, and the rest of the layout consisted of some more surprisingly brilliant pops of airtime and some really fun twists and turns! Overall, I thought that Ice Breaker was a phenomenal ride that was just so much fun, and it hugely exceeded my expectations for sure!
Let me move onto a slightly less positive category... my biggest disappointment.
You may be wondering why I have named this category "biggest disappointment" rather than "biggest disappointments". Well, that is because I only experienced one new attraction that I would call a true disappointment for me. Yes, I was slightly less enamoured with 1 or 2 big hitters than most, but they were still excellent, and I think it would be terribly harsh of me to consider them "disappointments" because they were still incredibly, phenomenally great.
For me, I'm afraid to say that the main damp squib of the trip, by a considerable distance, was the new-for-2023 Pipeline: The Surf Coaster. I had heard some very positive initial reviews, so I went in with high hopes that it could be a top 10/20 contender and a ride that I really enjoyed. However, it just didn't do it for me. In short, the ride has everything on paper (fun layout, punchy launch, surprising airtime, an interesting new idea in the form of the jumping seats... it has so much going for it!), but it's ruined for me by the fact that it just isn't very comfortable, in my view. The "jumping" airtime is an interesting idea, but it just hurts in numerous different places for me, and in general, I think standing up on a roller coaster is an inherently uncomfortable riding position that Pipeline hasn't really improved, in my view. I went into Pipeline really wanting to like it, but it just didn't do it for me, I'm sorry to say.
Finally, let me display some stats:
- Unique coasters ridden: 18
- Unique parks visited: 4 (Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida, SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa)
- New coasters ridden: 8
- New parks visited: 0
- Total rides: 45
- Total coaster rides: 29
- Total park visits: 10 (4x Islands of Adventure, 4x Universal Studios Florida, 1x SeaWorld Orlando, 1x Busch Gardens Tampa)
- Favourite coaster ridden: Mako (overall #1/99)
- Favourite new coaster ridden: VelociCoaster (overall #2/99)
- Favourite non-coaster ridden: The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
- Favourite new non-coaster ridden: Skull Island: Reign of Kong
- Most surprising coaster: Ice Breaker
- Most surprising non-coaster: Skull Island: Reign of Kong
- Biggest disappointment: Pipeline: The Surf Coaster
So, that summarises my June 2023 Florida trip! Thank you so much for following this series of trip reports; I really hope you've enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed this trip! I'm unsure when my next trip report will be, but I should be back at you with another trip report before too long (September at the latest, as I've got a locked-in park visit booked for that month...)!