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  1. 17th June 2023 (Islands of Adventure/Universal Studios Florida) After a little detour away from Universal yesterday, my parents and I headed back to the Universal Orlando Resort today! It had been 5 days since we went to Islands of Adventure and 4 days since we went to Universal Studios Florida, so we were excited to get back to the two parks and reride some of our favourites, as well as go on a few attractions that we didn’t try the other day! Our original plan was to just visit Islands of Adventure, but we ultimately ended up park hopping, as I’ll explain later! Unlike the last few visits, we decided to try an afternoon/evening visit. As such, we did not leave our villa until gone 2pm, and as the drive was a little quicker at just under an hour, we arrived at Universal at around 3:15pm: After going through security and negotiating CityWalk, we entered the park at around 3:45pm due to repeated issues with our tickets scanning. One thing I have forgotten to mention so far is that our Universal tickets were initially printed with a small black spot obscuring part of the barcode, so their ability to be scanned has been somewhat inconsistent so far. Today, they did not scan, so the barcode numbers were inputted manually and we were sent to Guest Services to get our tickets reprinted. By the time we got our tickets reprinted and we entered Islands of Adventure, it was almost 4pm: Once we got into the park, we decided to start on a previous favourite that we hadn’t done yet… The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man Spider-Man was on an advertised 25 minute queue, so we decided to have a go on it. We were initially sceptical that the queue was only 25 minutes, as the queue was spilling out of the ride building, but the queue times board was if anything overstated, as we were on within 15-20 minutes; the queue moved quickly! But how was the ride? Well, I’d remembered absolutely loving Spider-Man back in 2016, and I’m happy to say that the ride lived up to my memories of it and then some; this is an absolutely phenomenal dark ride! Most enthusiasts seem to have a vendetta against anything vaguely screen-based, but perhaps controversially, I would easily take this over any wholly physical prop-based dark ride I’ve ever done; of the dark rides I’ve done, I think this may well be my favourite anywhere! I think that the screens are excellent and really well integrated with the physical set pieces, there are some truly incredible effects on there (that levitation and free fall still get me every time, and there are some more understated, yet incredible physical effects matching the events on-screen that I’d never noticed before), and all in all, I think it’s such a thrilling, dynamic and spectacular dark ride! Overall, I absolutely loved Spider-Man; it was a phenomenal dark ride that was possibly even better than I’d remembered, and even though I loved TransFormers the other day, I would say that I easily preferred Spider-Man of the two: After Spider-Man, we headed towards Hogsmeade, but we did take a detour on the way to ride another dark ride… Skull Island: Reign of Kong Kong was on an advertised 25 minute queue time, so as we’d thoroughly enjoyed it the other day, we decided to take a ride. The queue looked shorter than it did the other day, but it didn’t move quite as quickly, so the queue times board stayed true to its word and we were on within 20-25 minutes. So, how was the ride? Well, as with our ride the other day, we all thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was an absolutely fantastic ride; we all noticed new details we didn’t notice the other day, and the physical scenery and action sequences on the screens were still just as awesome as they were before! Having now ridden Fast & Furious: Supercharged (a similar ride system) as well, I would say that I prefer Kong by a fair distance; the 3D definitely adds something to it for me, and the whole thing just feels a fair amount more impressive and overall more exciting than F&F, in my view: After Kong, we headed into Hogsmeade to ride the main Harry Potter ride in Islands of Adventure that we hadn’t yet done… Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Forbidden Journey was on an advertised 25 minute queue, so we decided to have a go on it. By the time we headed to the area, the advertised queue time had dropped to 15 minutes, and this was initially looking pretty accurate, as we walked far further through the stunningly themed Hogwarts queue line than I ever have in the past before we met the back of the queue. However, the ride did go down for quite a few minutes, so our rapid entry was stymied and we ultimately waited around 25 minutes. With that being said, that is still considerably shorter than the 1 hour+ queues through Professor Sprout’s greenhouse that I remember from previous visits, so I can’t really complain! But how was the ride? Well, I’ll admit that I’m in two minds about Forbidden Journey. On the one hand, I think the effects, physical scenery and screen integration are all pretty impressive, albeit perhaps not quite as impressive as on something like Spider-Man earlier on for me; from an immersion standpoint, it does really well. However, I’m not a fan of the ride system; it does lots of jerky motions, and it does definitely make you feel a bit nauseous. It’s definitely one of the most intense dark rides at Universal in terms of ride system forces, in my view, and I didn’t personally find the motions the most pleasant to experience. Overall, Forbidden Journey is a great ride from an immersion standpoint, and the queue line is truly spectacular (it and Gringotts have possibly my two favourite queue lines anywhere in the world), but I do find the motions of the ride system somewhat unpleasant, so I probably like it a fair bit less than most: After Forbidden Journey, I pondered a ride on VelociCoaster or Hagrid’s, but the queues for both were absolutely huge (somewhere in the region of 2 hours), likely due to both having reopened not that long ago from stormy weather earlier in the day. As such, we instead decided to hop over to Universal Studios Florida via… Hogwarts Express The Hogwarts Express to Universal Studios Florida was on an advertised 35 minute queue, and a key attraction on our hit list at Universal Studios had reasonably attractive-looking queue times, so we decided to hop on the train over to the other park. The 35 minute queue time was most certainly overstated, as we were on the train within around 15 minutes; it’s always great when that happens! But how was the ride? Well, I have to say that while the ride is not massively complex, I find it to be incredibly effective, and really quite a magical, feel-good way to park hop! I’d say it might well be my favourite theme park transportation ride; I love watching the film on the way over, and while the immersive mechanisms are simple compared to, say, a full-blown dark ride, I think they create a very compelling immersive product! Overall, I really enjoyed our journey on the Hogwarts Express; I think it’s a great way to hop between parks, personally: Once we were in the other park, we quickly headed into Diagon Alley to ride the other major Potter ride we hadn’t ridden yet… Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts Gringotts was on only a 35 minute advertised queue time, and we had been unable to ride it on our first visit to Universal Studios due to downtime, so we decided to have a go on it. The queue time board stayed relatively true to its word, as it took us around 30-35 minutes to get on the ride itself, including the time we spent in the pre-show and fake lift. With memories of having waited 3 hours for this ride in its opening year lingering in the back of my mind, I was very happy with this wait time; I believe it’s the first time where I’ve ever entered straight into the bank lobby itself without queueing through the extended queue line out the back! So, how was the ride? Well, I have to say that it was a fantastic dark ride, and perhaps controversially, it’s quite easily my preferred ride out of the two Harry Potter dark rides. Even though the ride is quite heavily screen-based, there are some surprisingly impressive physical sets in the ride, and the screens and action scenes themselves were absolutely excellent, with the coaster sections themselves, although brief, also being better than I’d remembered! With that being said, I would still say that Spider-Man is my favourite dark ride, and I would also say that I prefer Revenge of the Mummy out of the two enclosed coasters in Universal Studios. Overall, though, Gringotts was a fantastic indoor coaster that I’m glad to have gotten back on: After Gringotts, I headed alone to ride a favourite of mine from the other day… Revenge of the Mummy Revenge of the Mummy was on an advertised 25 minute queue time, and I really enjoyed it the other day, so I fancied a ride on it. However, as I was riding alone, I used a secret weapon… the Single Rider Queue! I’ve always found the Single Rider Queue very useful on The Smiler back at Alton Towers, so I was interested to see how they stacked up at Universal. I was sceptical given I’d heard that rides like VelociCoaster and Hagrid’s often have Single Rider Queues longer than the main queue, but I have to say that Single Rider worked very well indeed here; the queue was empty, with me walking past switchbacks full of people in the main queue, and I got batched into row 4 the second the operator saw me! So, how was the ride? Well, as with the other day, it was great fun, with a great coaster layout, excellent theming and some absolutely immense fire effects: After Revenge of the Mummy, I waited for my parents (due to the walk-on Single Rider Queue, I was on and off the ride before they’d even made it back from Diagon Alley!), and as it was 7:15pm by this point, we exited the park together: So, that concludes our evening at Universal Orlando! We had a great evening, and even though we only spent around 3.5 hours in the parks, I got on 6 rides (5 if you exclude the Hogwarts Express), which I’d consider a pretty successful tally, personally! I loved getting back on some old favourites for the first time in 7 years, I was also really glad to get back on some favourites from earlier in the trip, and I also loved park hopping for the first time this trip! Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this report! We’re having a rest day tomorrow, as it’s Father’s Day, but I’ll be back on Monday with what will probably be another Universal Orlando report of some description!
  2. 16th June 2023 (SeaWorld Orlando) We went for our first day at a non-Universal park; we went to SeaWorld Orlando! I was excited to go back to this park to ride Mako, my current number 1 coaster, as well as take a ride on new rides like Ice Breaker, Pipeline and Infinity Falls! As per usual with our park days, we left our house at just gone 8am, and with a stop for petrol (or should I say gas seeing as we’re in America?) on the way there, we arrived at around 9:15am. When we arrived, I have to say that I was very impressed by SeaWorld’s coaster skyline; it’s really getting quite imposing now, and my dad even said “Wow, it looks like Blackpool with all the track everywhere!”: After getting out of our car, we headed through the gates pretty promptly and were in the park by about 9:25am. After getting into the park, I decided to head to a certain brand new ride… Pipeline: The Surf Coaster Pipeline was showing as 45 minutes on the app, so as it’s a brand new ride that opened less than a month ago, my mum suggested that we take the win and get in the queue. By the time we got over to the plaza, this had fallen to 30 minutes, so me, my mum and my sister decided to get in line. The throughput of the ride was quite slow, it must be said (I logged dispatch times of 3-4 minutes), but we were on within 20-25 minutes, so I can’t really complain! But how was the ride? Have B&M finally solved the afflictions of the much-maligned standup coaster? If I’m being completely honest, I’m not convinced. I was very excited after hearing many rosy initial reviews, and I was 100% ready to love Pipeline based on how much everyone has been raving about it, but I’m sorry to say that I was sorely underwhelmed. I rode in row 12, the very back row, and my thoughts are as follows. On paper, the ride has everything going for it; the “jumping” seats are an intriguing idea, the launch is fun, it’s smooth and the layout is pretty decent, with a few surprisingly strong airtime moments. However, the whole thing is ruined by the fact that the restraints and whole standing position are inherently uncomfortable. Personally, I found it tough to enjoy the sensations of the layout because when the seat “jumped”, I felt pain in multiple different places; the vest restraints really pinched my collar bones when you rose up into the airtime, landing back on the floor after the airtime really hurt my feet and knees from the positive g impact, and the seat being forced up was also somewhat painful on the… private area for me (although I accept that that is probably a bigger issue for males). It’s all well and good having a good layout with fun airtime moments, but where the airtime on most coasters is great fun and I look forward to it, I just found the airtime on Pipeline a bit uncomfortable due to the general riding position causing me discomfort, and that discomfort was a bit of a deal breaker for me; it knocks the ride down a fair peg in my rankings. I’m sorry if this is controversial, and I’m sorry to be negative, but I feel a duty to be honest in these reviews, and that is how I honestly felt. I was ready to really like Pipeline, but it was a disappointment for me, I’m afraid: After Pipeline, I pondered heading over to Ice Breaker to give it a go, but the ride appeared to be closed, as it was sending empty trains around the track. As such, I instead decided to head just around the corner to a hotly anticipated previous favourite… Mako Mako was only on an advertised 5 minute wait and just around the corner from where we were standing, so my dad, my sister and I thought we’d have a go on it. As it turned out, 5 minutes was, if anything, overstated, as the ride was walk on and we instantly waltzed into the back row air gates. But how was the ride? After 7 years of hailing it as my all-time number 1, and riding all of the other coasters I’ve ridden since, did Mako still stand up? Was it still my number 1? Well, I’m happy to say; yes, it absolutely is. I was right all along. 7 years have passed since I last rode Mako, and I’ve been on a lot more coasters since I last rode Mako, including another B&M Hyper in Silver Star. However, I still have to say that no other coaster has thrilled me, offered me the fun factor and made me truly happy quite like this wonderful coaster does. For starters, I have still never felt such biblical sustained airtime as the hills on this provide; that first drop whips you out of the seat for what feels like forever, and that first airtime hill has such strong sustained air and just goes on and on and on! You do feel the trim, but it doesn’t take away from the airtime, with a wonderful jolt of airtime still delivered on that hill, and the hill that curves to the side was better than I’d remembered, with an interesting sensation of getting airtime and being twisted to the side being provided. The speed hill is absolutely sublime, with another phenomenal moment of sustained airtime being provided there, and the ending is also better than I’d remembered, with the last airtime hill still giving some solid air and the banked turns being really good fun. The ride is also still phenomenally smooth and rerideable, packs a truly exceptional sense of speed, and overall, Mako is still easily my favourite coaster I’ve ever ridden: After our first ride on Mako, the ride was still very quiet, so my sister and I ran straight back round for another go! We were in the back row again, and it was still absolutely sublime! After our 2 rides on Mako, we decided to go elsewhere, so I split off and decided to ride… Ice Breaker Ice Breaker was on an advertised 20 minute queue time, so I decided to give it a go. This queue time actually turned out to be overstated, as I only waited through a couple of trains’ worth of queue and was on within about 5-10 minutes. But how was the ride? Well, I was interested to ride it. It had gotten generally middling to negative reviews previously, but the ride has recently had the dreaded comfort collars removed, which were many people’s main issue with the ride, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I went in with quite low expectations, but I rode in row 8, and I have to say that I absolutely loved Ice Breaker; it firmly exceeded expectations, and I thought it was an absolutely fantastic coaster! The swing launch was great fun; the launches were punchy, the backwards spike provided some very nice floater air, and the ejector airtime got surprisingly strong towards the end! The top hat itself was awesome, with a great moment of ejector air coming out of it, and the rest of the ride was excellent, with great pacing, a couple more surprising jolts of ejector air, and some really fun turns; what’s not to like? One thing I did notice is that the train was a tad tight to get into and out of, but the restraints weren’t problematic once I was sat down and on the ride, so that didn’t really take away from it for me. Overall, I adored Ice Breaker; I thought it was a phenomenal little ride, and while it’s not quite Mako, it’s a very, very firm second favourite in the park for me, with it comfortably exceeding my expectations: After Ice Breaker, I met back up with my family, and as we wandered into Sesame Street, my nan accompanied me in doing a little box-ticking… Super Grover’s Box Car Derby Super Grover’s Box Car Derby was walk-on, so we decided to give it a go. For clarity, I don’t normally do children’s roller coasters due to the embarrassment it gives me, but I’d been convinced that this one didn’t look too shameful (in all honesty, it is a relatively big kiddie cred), and I mainly did it for… tactical coaster counting reasons that will hopefully become apparent later in the trip. Thankfully, there was no embarrassment involved at all here; the host batched me and my nan without batting an eyelid, and we weren’t even the only lone adult group on the train! But how was the ride? Well, I was seated in the back row, and it was a perfectly fine kiddie coaster. It had some moments of mild speed, albeit was surprisingly a little jolty in areas, but you just have to take these coasters for what they are, really, and overall, Super Grover’s Box Car Derby was fine for a kiddie coaster. My nan actually really enjoyed it, saying it was “quite quick”: After Super Grover’s Box Car Derby, we met back up with the rest of our group, and we all went to watch… Orca Encounter My family wanted to see Orca Encounter, so we decided to give it a watch. We arrived at the arena around 45 minutes before the show started, so we were in the arena for just over an hour overall, and I have to say that in spite of reading about how much the orca shows at SeaWorld have changed since I last went, the show overall felt surprisingly similar to how it was 7 years ago; it still consists of orcas jumping in the air and flicking the first few rows in the audience with water using their tail to motivational song (which may even have been the same song as 7 years ago, come to think of it). With that being said, the show did have an increased onus on natural behaviours, and the trainers talked about their training methods and how the orcas at SeaWorld are cared for. They were also keen to stress that the orcas were never forced to perform, and whatever you think about the principle of keeping orcas in captivity, they did paint a picture that inferred that they were making the best of a tricky situation with the orcas. I won’t go into it any more, as I’m aware that it’s a very emotive and controversial topic, but that was just my perception: After Orca Encounter, my mum, my sister and I took a reride on Mako in the front row. I’d never done Mako in the front row before, but unlike Silver Star, where I was almost 100% convinced that I preferred the back, I actually think that I preferred Mako in the front, with the sense of speed seeming even better and the airtime seeming even stronger. The trim hill in particular provided an interesting pop of what almost felt like sudden ejector in the front; it really surprised me! It’s absolutely sublime in every row, and the difference is ultimately very small, but if I had to pick, I’d probably narrowly pick the front over the back: After Mako, I split off from the rest of my family to do a few additional rides while they looked around some of the animal exhibits. I started with a ride on a short queue that I hadn’t yet done… Kraken Kraken was on only a 5 minute advertised queue time, so I decided to give it a try. As with many queues at SeaWorld, this was if anything overstated, as I waltzed straight into the airgates. So, how was the ride? Well, I’d remembered Kraken being a pretty decent ride 7 years ago, and I have to say that today’s ride lived up to that memory; I was sat in the back row, and I overall enjoyed it! I was seated in the back row, and there was good speed and thrill through the inversions, and while there was a mild rattle, there was no notable headbanging either; what’s not to like? Overall, then, Kraken, while not my favourite in the park, was a decent B&M that I enjoyed my lap on: After Kraken, I decided to head over to the final B&M I hadn’t yet done… Manta Manta was on a 25 minute advertised queue time, so as it was the only big coaster I hadn’t yet done, I decided to give it a try. I was interested to go back on it, as while I didn’t remember overly enjoying it in 2016, I was interested to see if my tastes had developed. The queue was pretty accurate, taking around 20-25 minutes with 2 trains/1 station in operation. But how was the ride? Well, I was seated in row 4, and I’m sorry to say that I still didn’t particularly enjoy it. The flying coaster as a general ride style is becoming less my kind of thing, as I find the prone position and the restraints that accompany it rather uncomfortable, and for a reason I can’t pinpoint, Manta somehow felt even less comfortable than Galactica. I also don’t enjoy the pretzel loop element on there; while Galactica’s fly to lie element is a bit uncomfortable but bearable, I find Manta’s pretzel loop really gets to me by the end of it with the sheer degree of forces rushing to your head, albeit it wasn’t quite as bad as I’d remembered back in 2016 (although I was sat in the very back in 2016, whereas I was sat further forward in 2023). Overall, while it looks pretty and I can understand why people like it, I’m not massively fond of Manta, unfortunately. In fact, I dare say I’d go out on a limb and call it my least favourite B&M coaster: I then headed back to Mako, which had developed more of a queue by this point. I had two further back-to-back rides; one in the back row and one in row 2. Both of these were still absolutely breathtaking; Mako is truly immense, and still easily my favourite coaster even all these years on: After Mako, I pondered another ride on Ice Breaker, as I’d absolutely loved it earlier in the day. Sadly, however, it wasn’t to be, as lightning in the immediate area saw all outdoor attractions cease operation not long after I joined the queue: Due to this, I headed to meet back up with my family, and we exited the park, as it was around 3pm and the clouds were only getting blacker on the horizon: So, that rounds off our day at SeaWorld Orlando! I had an absolutely brilliant day; if you lost count, I managed 10 rides in total, including 5 rides on my all-time number 1 Mako, and I managed to get on both of the new coasters I was hoping to ride! While I was unable to take my desired 2nd ride on Ice Breaker, and my family and I couldn’t ride Infinity Falls together like we were hoping to, I was pretty pleased with my ride count, with all things considered! I must also say that while I still rate it a little lower than Universal, the park has gone up in my estimations since my last visit! The coaster lineup is getting to be truly excellent, the queues are generally short, and the place has a generally nice, relaxed atmosphere; when you can ride great coasters with short queues in a park with a nice atmosphere, what’s not to like? Mako is a stunning headliner, Ice Breaker is an absolutely fantastic second place coaster, Kraken is a good, solid ride to bring up the rear of the park’s top 3, and while Pipeline and Manta aren’t my favourites, two more coasters in the lineup is never a bad thing and these two undeniably offer variety. SeaWorld may be a marine life park, but for me, the coaster lineup is easily on par with, if not superior to, that of many sole theme parks; it’s getting to be truly excellent, in my view, and the park overall is brilliant! Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed today’s report! Tomorrow, we’re headed back to Universal Orlando for an afternoon/evening at one of the theme parks; I’m thinking it’ll probably be Islands of Adventure, but the jury’s still out on which park we’re going to!
  3. 13th June 2023 (Universal Studios Florida) Today, we did the other park at Universal Orlando that we didn’t do yesterday; Universal Studios Florida! My grandparents didn’t join us today, but those of us who did go were excited to get back into the park and ride a combination of previous classics like Revenge of the Mummy and new attractions like Fast & Furious: Supercharged! As with yesterday, we left our villa at just gone 8am and arrived at Universal Orlando at around 9:15am: After walking through CityWalk and entering Universal Studios Florida, we got into the park itself at around 9:30am: After entering the park, we noticed that a certain major coaster was on only a 10 minute queue, so my sister and I headed over to ride… Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit was on only a 10 minute advertised queue time, which seemed almost unheard of based on our previous experiences at Universal, so my sister and I decided to give it a go. As promised, the queue was very short indeed, and we were on the ride within 10-15 minutes or so. I was interested to get back on Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, as I’d always remembered enjoying it to varying degrees on previous visits. It provided the first time I ever remember experiencing airtime on a coaster when I first rode it back in 2014, so the novelty of the airtime, height and lap bars made me think it was the best thing since sliced bread. I liked it a bit less in 2016, but it was still a ride I thoroughly enjoyed and was pretty fond of compared to most. But how have 7 years of additional coaster experiences treated it? Well, I’m afraid to say that riding more coasters has massively lowered it in my estimations. Don’t get me wrong, it’s got a relatively decent layout, with 1 or 2 nice bits of airtime, but there was less airtime than I’d remembered, and it was a lot rougher and more uncomfortable than I’d remembered. The ride jolted and bashed us about considerably throughout, and I almost felt like I was getting punched in the stomach entering and exiting the various brake runs. Overall, I’m sorry to say that Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit was a bit of a disappointment for me; it’s got a fair layout, but it was a bit too rough and uncomfortable for me (and my sister seemed to agree), and even as someone who’s done under 100 coasters, it just feels somewhat outclassed in the height/airtime/lap bars genre by numerous other rides I’ve done including Mako, Silver Star, and VelociCoaster. I know that sounds a bit petty and negative, so I apologise for that, but that’s how I felt: After Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, we met back up with my parents and noticed that a new ride we hadn’t done was on a short queue, so we headed towards… Race through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon Race through New York had only a 5 minute advertised queue, so we decided to have a go on it. The queue ultimately ended up taking a lot longer than advertised, with us instead waiting around 30 minutes. Most of that was in the living room-type bit after the actual queue, though, so I guess it might not technically count as part of the wait. We were intrigued to ride Race through New York, as it was a new ride that we’d never done before. But how was it? Well, I’d heard starkly negative reviews for this attraction before coming, and I must say that I don’t think it quite deserves the level of vitriol often directed towards it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the greatest ride ever built, and it’s pretty far down the list of draws within Universal Orlando for me, but I thought it was a perfectly fine simulator in isolation. Admittedly, there could have been a bit more going on in terms of smellpods, effects and such, but for what it was, I thought it was all right. It was nothing particularly groundbreaking, but it was perfectly fine for what it was, in my view: After Race through New York, we headed just down the street to what is a slightly more noteworthy draw of the park (in my view)… Revenge of the Mummy Revenge of the Mummy was on a 25 minute advertised queue, so we decided to take a ride. We were initially concerned about the queue taking far longer than 25 minutes, as it nearly filled the queue line and looked far longer than we’d ever queued for Revenge of the Mummy before, but it in fact took only 15 minutes; as with many rides at Universal, the queue was constantly moving at a rate of knots, and the operations were absolutely top-notch! Based on yesterday and today, I honestly reckon Universal Orlando is right up there with Europa Park for operational efficiency and queue moving speed, of the parks I’ve done! But how was Revenge of the Mummy? Well, I’d remembered it being a decent ride 7 years ago, but if anything, it was even better than I’d remembered; this thing is absolutely awesome! There are 2 really decent pops of airtime, the ride carries great speed throughout, it has some really fun twists and turns, and overall, the coaster itself was great fun! Not to mention that the dark ride experience with the theming and special effects was absolutely top-notch; it’s a wonderful overall experience, and the fire in particular is absolutely immense, with Revenge of the Mummy’s use of fire easily being my favourite of any attraction I’ve ever seen use fire! Overall, I thought Revenge of the Mummy was a fantastic ride; it’s not quite as good as the new IOA duo from the previous day, but it’s definitely solidly entered the 9/10 tier for me: After Revenge of the Mummy, we initially headed towards Diagon Alley to ride Gringotts. However, the ride was showing as “Delayed”, as was Fast & Furious: Supercharged, so we instead headed to ride… Transformers: The Ride Transformers was showing as having a 25 minute queue, so we decided to have a go on it. The queue ended up taking closer to 45-50 minutes, so it was somewhat understated. But how was the ride? Well, I have to say that I thought it was absolutely awesome! The ride was fast-paced, dynamic and full of action, with excellent 3D and loads of brilliant effects, and there was some nice physical scenery too! These Oceaneering 4D dark rides are almost invariably top-notch, from my experience, and I’m looking forward to getting back on Spider-Man later in our trip to compare it to Transformers. Overall, I thought Transformers was an absolutely fantastic dark ride, personally: After Transformers, we sat down briefly for a snack and some respite from the sun. I initially considered riding The Simpsons Ride alone, but I discovered that there was no Single Rider Queue and the standby line was 60 minutes, so I decided against it for the time being. However, we noticed that a ride we’d been pursuing earlier was back open on a relatively short queue time… Fast & Furious: Supercharged Fast & Furious was on an advertised 15 minute queue, so me and my dad made a beeline over there. By the time we got there, it was already up to 50 minutes, but as we’d gone all the way over there, we decided to go for it anyway. We ultimately ended up waiting about 45 minutes, so the posted wait time was pretty accurate. But how was the ride? Well, I was interested to see how it compared to Kong, a similar ride system which had massively exceeded expectations and been a firm favourite for all of us yesterday, and I have to say that it was notably inferior to Kong, in my view. I thought that the ride being in 2D took something away from it compared to Kong, and it just didn’t feel quite as substantial and impressive for me. I did feel that while the movement alongside the big screen itself was clever and surprisingly convincing, and the physical theming was decent in the places where it was present, the fact that the ride only really had the one big screen meant that it wasn’t quite as impressive for me, and I must admit that I felt a bit overwhelmed by the barrage of noisy air cannons at times. With that being said, I had similar thoughts on F&F to my thoughts on Fallon in that while it’s far from the greatest ride ever built, I thought Fast & Furious was all right in isolation, and not quite deserving of the sheer degree of vitriol it often receives. Overall, then, Fast & Furious was OK, albeit not anything spectacular; on a side note, I should also add that I honestly got wetter on F&F than I have on some water rides, with a surprising amount of unexpected water sprays being present: After Fast & Furious, we met back up with my mum and sister and decided to go for a walk around Diagon Alley. Gringotts was still closed, but we just decided to walk around the area and take in the sights for a bit. After that, we decided to go for something a little less simulator-based… Men in Black: Alien Attack Men in Black was on only a 20 minute advertised queue time, so we decided to give it a try. As promised, the queue was not overly long, and we quite quickly reached the pre-show. One interesting thing to note is that unlike other dark rides at Universal, loose articles were not allowed on this one, which I was a bit confused by before getting on. But how was the ride? Well, I was interested to ride it, as I didn’t really remember an awful lot about it from previous trips, and I have to say that I thought it was brilliant! There was great physical scenery, with loads of awesome little details present, the interactivity worked really well, and the spinning added a fun (albeit slightly nauseating) touch! Overall, Men in Black was a great ride; I’d say that it’s easily my favourite interactive dark ride I’ve done: After Men in Black, I headed alone to ride a previous guilty pleasure of mine… The Simpsons Ride The Simpsons Ride was on an advertised 25 minute queue time, so I decided to take a ride. I went alone onto this one, as none of the rest of my family liked the ride previously, and the queue was slightly overstated, taking 15-20 minutes in reality. But how was the ride? Well, I am a Simpsons fan, and the gags and script delivered as they always did, but I must admit that the ride system itself was less fun than I’d remembered, with some very disorientating motions and some pretty jerky moments; it was probably the most intense simulator of the day in terms of the nausea of the ride motions, and I did come off it feeling a tad worse for wear. Overall, then, while the ride film and gags in the queue were as fun as ever, the inherent intensity of the ride system did make The Simpsons Ride somewhat less enjoyable than it used to be for me: After The Simpsons Ride, it was 3:15pm and my family were feeling pretty tired, so we decided to head home for the day: So, that wraps up our day at Universal Studios Florida! It was a great day; I really enjoyed getting back on some old favourites as well as some new attractions, and it was overall really nice to get back to a really great park! I’ve heard quite a bit of negativity surrounding Universal Studios Florida as of late, but I have to say that I absolutely loved the park and still thought that it was brilliant! I have to say that the theming of the park was far better than I’d remembered, with loads of little details and things to look at, and it’s a very nice park to just exist in, in my view, with a nice, relaxed atmosphere. My family agreed, and had possibly more favourable views on it than I did; they seemed to prefer it to Islands of Adventure as an overall park. Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed today’s report! Tomorrow, we’re headed for our first ever visit to Universal’s Volcano Bay!
  4. 14th June 2023 (Universal’s Volcano Bay) We went for something slightly different today… unlike the last two days, we went to a waterpark! And it wasn’t just any waterpark, it was one that none of us had ever visited before… Universal’s Volcano Bay! The last time we drove down the Universal end of the I-4 in 2016, this park was under construction, so we were interested to see what the park was like now it was open. Before I get started, I should apologise in advance for the fact that there are no photographs in today’s report. As Volcano Bay is a waterpark, the experience is not terribly conducive to whipping out a smartphone and taking pictures, so I’m afraid you’ll have to rely on only my writing today. We set off for the park at around 8am and got to Universal’s parking structures at around 9:15am, as per usual. Unlike with the other two parks, though, we did not set off over the travelators and into CityWalk. Due to Volcano Bay being separate from the other two parks, we had to take a shuttle bus over to the entrance. There was no wait for this at all, and it only took a few minutes, so it was very convenient and got us to the park in good time. We then arrived at the park and got given our TapuTapu wearables, which we would get very well acquainted with over the course of the day. After getting changed and renting a locker, we headed to the main wave pool to reserve a set of chairs to store our things on before my dad and I headed over to Krakatau Aqua Coaster to reserve slots, as we’d heard that the ride was prone to getting very long virtual queues. When we arrived, the virtual queue was already on 125 minutes, but we decided to reserve it anyway in case it got any longer. This later proved to be a very wise decision, as the virtual queue did nothing but get longer during the time we were in the park, eventually peaking at almost 5 hours. This reservation did mean that we were unable to reserve any additional queue spaces for another 2 hours, but thankfully, there were a fair few slides showing as “Ride Now”, so we headed to… Taniwha Tubes Both sides of Taniwha Tubes were showing as “Ride Now”, so me and my dad decided to try the blue slides. The virtual queue worked well here, as it meant that we only had a couple of boats’ wait at the top of the slide tower. But how was the slide? Well, I thought it was great fun! The tube gained surprising speed in places, and although there were no additional bells and whistles like some of these tube and raft slides often have, there were some really fun twists and turns and it was overall a very fun slide! After Taniwha Tubes, my dad and I wandered back over to the main wave pool so that my sister could join us on some slides. My mum and grandparents were not keen on doing slides, but my sister was keen to join us on some, so when she was with us, we headed over to another “Ride Now” attraction… Maku Maku was showing as “Ride Now”, so we decided to give it a try. As with Taniwha Tubes, the virtual queue worked well here, meaning that the slide had a reasonably short standby line when we arrived. So, how was the slide? Well, I thought that this was a fun slide; even though I think it was probably less intense than the green slide on the same tower whose name currently escapes me, it was good fun, and I liked the open helixes that went around water jets! After Maku, we headed onto another “Ride Now” slide… Punga Racers Punga Racers was showing as “Ride Now”, so we gave it a go. One interesting thing to note here is that any kind of cotton clothing or non-swimwear was not allowed, so I had to remove my goggles and my sister had to remove the cotton t-shirt she was wearing over her swimwear. I was unsure why this was the case when it wasn’t the case on any of the other slides, but I guess it could be down to these generating friction with the channel, what with it being a body slide. After Punga Racers, we headed back onto the blue side of Taniwha Tubes, which were still on “Ride Now”, so that my sister could have a go on the ride. Once again, it was great fun. After our Taniwha Tubes reride, we went back to the main wave pool to meet back up with my mum before the four of us headed into… TeAwa: The Fearless River We were interested to try TeAwa: The Fearless River, as it was billed as great fun in other reviews and we were intrigued to try out a slightly more thrilling lazy river. We ended up taking 2 circuits in total, and I have to say that I thought this was great fun! The current was nice and fast, and I really enjoyed the additional touch of waves coming along to spice things up every now and then. It wasn’t overly intense given you needed a life jacket, although having spent many hours on Center Parcs Longleat Forest’s often “rough and ready” Wild Water Rapids as a child, anything else probably seems pretty tame by comparison! After our circuits on TeAwa: The Fearless River, we met back up with my grandparents and headed for a quick dunk in the main wave pool. While the waves did not quite match “The Wave” in Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon for pure spectacle, they were still really good fun, and were much easier to have a leisurely relax in. After the wave pool, we sat down and relaxed in our sun loungers for a few minutes before me and my dad headed over to our slot for… Krakatau Aqua Coaster After a 125 minute virtual wait, me and my dad’s slots on Krakatau Aqua Coaster were finally beckoning, so we headed over and gave it a go. As per usual, there was a short physical wait, and we were on the ride quickly. So, how was it? Well, I thought that the ride was excellent, with some good pops of airtime and much punchier launches than I’d experienced on Typhoon Lagoon’s Crush’n’Gusher, an earlier iteration of the same ride style. The ride was also very long, with many fun twists and turns! After Krakatau Aqua Coaster, we headed back to the main wave pool to collect my sister so that we could re-ride Taniwha Tubes. We did the green side this time, and I have to say that it felt faster than the blue slide had earlier, with the outdoor sections also providing an interesting touch! We then went to reserve slots on Honu. The ride had a 10 minute virtual queue, so we reserved a slot and went to ride another attraction that was showing as “Ride Now” while we waited… Ika Moana Ika Moana was showing as “Ride Now”, so seeing as it was on the same tower as Honu, we decided to take a ride on it. The standby queue for this ride took a little longer, as our slot for Honu vibrated while we were waiting. So, how was the slide? Well, it was good fun, with some fun twists and turns and nice outdoor sections! After our ride on Ika Moana, Honu was showing as “Ride Anytime”, as our slot had opened up quite a few minutes ago by the time we came off. As such, we went to ride… Honu Honu was ready for us to ride, so we entered the queue and started to ascend the tower. As with Ika Moana, there was a lengthier standby queue for this ride, with us waiting a good few minutes to get on. But how was the slide? Well, I thought it was excellent, with the two walls providing great exhilaration and the initial drop providing some interesting airtime! After our ride on Honu, we headed back to the main wave pool to meet up with my mum and grandparents. By this point, it was well past 2pm, the floors and the sand were getting uncomfortably hot to walk on in bare feet (our final walk from Honu on the concrete paths in Florida heat felt as though it was physically burning our feet, and the sand was little better), and the wave pool had just been evacuated due to a “waterfall incident” (?), so we decided to head home. So, that just about wraps up our day at Universal’s Volcano Bay! I had a great day; I had 8 rides on the slides and a go on TeAwa: The Fearless River, and it was just nice to visit a brand new waterpark! Personally, I’d say that Volcano Bay was every bit as enjoyable as any of the other Florida waterparks I’ve visited (for reference, I’ve been to both Walt Disney World water parks and Aquatica Orlando); the rides were really good, there’s a wide range of different things to do (there were a number of things that we didn’t cover today), and the theming was also lovely, with the central volcano itself being particularly impressive! The park was also an interesting one for me because it was my first ever experience of wholesale virtual queueing in a theme/water park setting, and I have to say that it worked a lot better than expected! It wasn’t perfect (I don’t think the queue times for Krakatau Aqua Coaster would have been nearly as high had it been a physical queue, for instance, and one or two slides did still have a not insignificant standby wait when our time slot arrived), but overall, I did enjoy not having to physically queue as much, and I thought that my overall experience of virtual queueing with TapuTapu was pretty positive! With that being said, I still don’t think that wholesale virtual queueing is something that you could just take, slap into any old theme park and expect to work well. I think the reason for it working reasonably well in Volcano Bay was because the park had quite a number of non-ride activities to keep you occupied while waiting, as well as a number of slides with no wait, and I think the waterpark in general lends itself to the sort of copious non-ride entertainment that virtual queues require better than the theme park does. Overall, though, I had a brilliant day at Volcano Bay, and my family really enjoyed it as well! There is a chance that we may be returning to the park next week, so there may well be a second report from Volcano Bay! Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed today’s report, although I apologise for it probably being less interesting (after all, you’re on here to read about theme parks, not water parks, and I was unable to take any pictures). We’re not doing anything tomorrow other than going for a meal in Disney Springs for my nan’s birthday, so I won’t write a report tomorrow, but the next report on Friday will be from SeaWorld Orlando, where I hope to take my first ever rides on new rides like Ice Breaker and Pipeline and see if Mako, my current number 1 coaster (yes, it’s still on top, even post VelociCoaster and Hagrid’s!), still stacks up!
  5. 12th June 2023 (Islands of Adventure) Today was a very exciting day; our first theme park day of the trip! As we had booked 14-day Universal Orlando tickets, we decided to start with one of those parks, and our choice was Islands of Adventure! We were really excited to get on both VelociCoaster and Hagrid’s, so we thought we may as well start in IOA! We left our villa in Haines City at about 8am, and the drive took about 1h 15m, so we arrived at about 9:15am. I must say that it was nice to be entering back into Universal Orlando after 7 years: After entering Universal, we had to collect our tickets and get our fingerprints scanned at Islands of Adventure to get the tickets activated for the 2 weeks, so we didn’t end up entering the park until about 10am: After entering the park, we looked at the queue times and noticed that a certain much anticipated ride was only on a 45 minute queue… VelociCoaster VelociCoaster was on only an advertised 45 minute wait, so we decided to take a ride. It was only me, my parents and my sister who did this; my grandparents decided to sit this one out, as they’re not so big on intense rides. The ride did go down briefly while we were in the queue, so it took a little longer than 45 minutes (probably 55 minutes to an hour). But seeing as VelociCoaster was one of my most anticipated rides of the trip, how was it? Well, I was seated in row 9, and it was an absolutely phenomenal ride! The second launch, top hat and mosasaurus roll were all sublimely brilliant, there were a couple of other very nice pops of airtime, it carried an excellent sense of speed throughout, and it was comfortable and extremely fun! The theming was also excellent, particularly in the queue; I was a big fan of the raptor animatronics in particular! If I’m being completely honest, however, it perhaps wasn’t quite as phenomenal as I’d hoped, and it didn’t quite live up to some of the obscene hyperbole it receives for me. Don’t get me wrong, it was an excellent, excellent coaster with some absolutely phenomenal elements, and easily 10/10 tier for me (one of my top coasters). I also feel it would be somewhat harsh to say that I was underwhelmed, because as I say, it was a truly brilliant ride. However, I was led to believe that it would be some absolutely life-changing ride that would comfortably obliterate everything else I’d ever ridden and be my instant, undeniable number 1, and it wasn’t quite that for me. Overall, VelociCoaster was an absolutely phenomenal ride with some brilliant elements, and my initial feeling towards it could well be down to my overly high expectations rather than the ride itself, but it did fall ever so slightly short of the sky-high hype for me. I apologise if that’s triggering or controversial, and I know I’m probably being unfair on it, but I would never be dishonest in a review, and those were my true, honest thoughts: After VelociCoaster, we met back up with my grandparents and headed for the other ride in Jurassic Park, which we could all ride together… Jurassic Park River Adventure Jurassic Park River Adventure was on only a 20 minute queue, so as it was a quiet(ish) ride that everyone could go on, we decided to give it a try. The queue ended up being slightly underestimated, only taking around 15 minutes; always a bonus! So, how was the ride? Well, I thought it was brilliant, and my family seemed to agree! The ride had some great animatronics and theming, the drop was exhilarating, the wetness level was perfect (refreshing on a hot day, but not unbearably wet), and overall, it was just a really fun, feel-good ride; it’s easily one of my top water rides: After Jurassic Park River Adventure, we decided to head to another ride that was new for all of us… Skull Island: Reign of Kong Skull Island: Reign of Kong was on an advertised 35 minute queue, so we decided to have a go on it. We were interested to ride Kong, as it was the big new thing at Islands of Adventure on our last visit in 2016, yet we were never able to ride it. It was only me, my parents and my nan who rode this one; my grandad had “hit his zenith” on Jurassic Park River Adventure, and my sister was unsure on the ride. The queue took 20-25 minutes rather than the advertised 35, which is always a bonus, and it was also one of the fastest moving queues I have ever stood in; it was basically a path of people gradually walking forwards, as it hardly ever stopped moving! The queue was also stunningly themed, with one particularly phenomenal animatronic of a tribal lady! But how was the ride? Well, I was going in with quite low expectations after reading many ambivalent to negative reviews, but I have to say that it massively exceeded expectations for me; I thought that it was absolutely brilliant! The 3D was excellent, with it being very good quality, and there were some really good action scenes with paired effects on the screens and in the motion base. There were also 1 or 2 very convincing freefall effects during the ride film, and some surprisingly nice physical set pieces around the screens! Furthermore, the Kong animatronic in the final scene was incredible; it was absolutely huge! Overall, I thought Kong was a brilliant ride, and a really pleasant surprise, and it was a big hit with my family too; my nan in particular really enjoyed it: After Kong, we walked into Toon Lagoon, and me and my dad pondered a ride on Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls. However, the ride broke down just as we were walking into the area, so that idea was quickly stymied. We instead decided to sit down for 15-30 minutes or so to reapply sun cream, go to the toilet and have a bite to eat. After this, we headed into Marvel Super Hero Island and pondered a ride on The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, which was on an advertised 40 minute queue. However, the queue turned out to be extending outside of the building, so it was deemed that the queue was too long. As such, me and my sister headed to a different Marvel ride that had a much shorter queue… Doctor Doom’s FearFall Doctor Doom’s FearFall was on an advertised 5 minute queue, so me and my sister decided to quickly hop into the queue; no one else joined us here, as no one else overly likes intense drop towers. As promised, the queue was very short, with us taking only 5-10 minutes to get on and off the ride. So, how was the ride? Well, it was good fun; the launch was reasonably punchy, there was a nice pop of airtime at the top, and I have to say that the ride was a little more fun than I’d remembered! From memory, it was certainly punchier than Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s Ice Blast, but I do still prefer a good drop tower to a shot tower, personally. Overall, Doctor Doom’s FearFall was good fun, providing a nice shot tower experience to vary things up: After Doctor Doom’s FearFall, we had a look at another ride in Marvel Super Hero Island, which had a shorter queue than earlier in the day… Incredible Hulk Coaster The Incredible Hulk Coaster was on an advertised 45 minute queue, so my dad, my sister and I decided to take a ride on it, with my mum and my grandparents sitting out of this one. As it turned out, 45 minutes was a vast overestimate, with the queue taking just 15 minutes in reality; you can’t complain about that! But how was the ride? Well, I was seated in row 4, and it was a good ride; the launch and initial zero-g roll never fail to deliver, and the ride packs good speed throughout! However, I’m not sure that it’s one of my absolute favourites; the ride, while not unbearably rough by any means, was a little bit of a headbasher in places, and I do wonder if it’s a touch too intense in terms of sustained positive g’s in places for my liking; there was one particularly uncomfortable segment from the cobra roll to the end of the loop where I greyed out for an extended period, which I didn’t find the most pleasant, personally. Nonetheless, these are niggles rather than dealbreakers, and the ride was pretty good overall: After Hulk, we spent 15 minutes or so trying to find my mum and grandparents, who had gone elsewhere while we were riding. After we all met back up, we headed to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to ride on another much-anticipated new coaster… Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure Hagrid’s was on a 70 minute advertised queue time, which seemed short relative to some of the queue times we had seen for it, so we decided to take this opportunity to ride it. Only my parents, my sister and I rode this, as my grandparents felt that 70 minutes was too long of a queue for them. Similarly to Kong, however, the queue hardly stopped moving, and it initially took only 40-45 minutes to get on. However, just as I was sat in the row 4 bike seat ready to go, the ride broke down, so we were evacuated and sent to wait in the exit corridor, where we waited for 10 minutes or so before being let back on. Even with the breakdown, however, we only waited for around 55 minutes, which was 15 minutes less than advertised. So, how was the ride? Well, I scored the back row bike seat, and I thought it was stunning; I was really quite floored by it! I had heard very good things about Hagrid’s, so I had high expectations, but in many ways, I was still pretty blown away and surprised by it; I thought that it was absolutely phenomenal! I had heard plaudits levelled towards the theme and experience aspects, and I do have to firmly reiterate those, but I must say that I was extremely surprised by just how fun and thrilling the coaster itself was! For a “family” coaster that only goes 50mph, the launches are really quite snappy, and it feels incredibly fast in areas! Overall, though, my main takeaway from the ride is that is simply phenomenally, enormously fun, and it just makes you laugh and puts a huge smile on your face throughout the experience in a way that very few rides can match! I’m also going to make a potentially controversial statement; I think I preferred it to VelociCoaster. While VelociCoaster does have some real standout moments of thrill in a way that Hagrid’s perhaps doesn’t, Hagrid’s is just so incredibly fun throughout that it made me laugh hysterically and smile hitting the brake run in a way that VelociCoaster couldn’t quite match. Overall, then, I thought Hagrid’s was absolutely phenomenal, and my family firmly agreed (including with the verdict that it usurped VelociCoaster; even though my dad and sister in particular were quick to declare VelociCoaster their favourite coaster unlike me, we were all in unanimous agreement that Hagrid’s was top dog out of the duo): After coming off Hagrid’s, we pondered a ride on Forbidden Journey, but the queue was 25 minutes, which my family thought was too long at that point in the day. It was around 3:30pm by this point, and my grandparents in particular were reaching their limit, so we decided to leave the park and go home: So, that concluded our day at Islands of Adventure! I had a brilliant day; both VelociCoaster and Hagrid’s were absolutely phenomenal rides that easily became two of my top coasters (my review of VelociCoaster makes it sound like I liked the ride far less than I actually did; I still absolutely loved it and thought it was a phenomenal ride, it just didn’t quite live up to the sky-high hype for me), Kong was surprisingly great, and I enjoyed getting back on some previous classics like Hulk and Jurassic Park! Islands of Adventure is still easily one of my top parks ever, if not my top park ever; I loved it back in 2016, and the additions of VelociCoaster and Hagrid’s have only strengthened it further, in my view! The ride selection is just amazing, and so well-rounded (by my reckoning, they have at least one top-class ride in most categories), and the theming and atmosphere are spectacular too! Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this report! Tomorrow, I think we’re probably going to head to Universal Studios Florida, so stay tuned for a report from there!
  6. 10th June 2023 (Travel) Hi guys. Today was a very exciting day; the start of my 2023 Florida trip! This trip is my first time heading to Florida in 4 years, and my first time heading to the parks we’re visiting this time (Universal Orlando, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens) in 7 years, as well as the first time my grandparents have joined my family and I in Florida since 2014. There are so many new rides I’m excited to get on; VelociCoaster, Iron Gwazi, Hagrid’s, Pipeline… the list goes on! We’re here until 24th June, so today’s report represents the first in a series of trip reports posted over 14 days. I apologise in advance, as today’s report will likely be a bit dull; today’s report only covers the travel aspect of our trip. Nonetheless, I’ll start the day off from the very beginning! The start of the trip was actually a lot more relaxed than usual. Normally, our Florida trips begin with either an early morning dash to the airport at 4am or a stay at an airport hotel, but due to the combination of our flight being later than usual (3:40pm) and us going from London Heathrow (a little under 2 hours’ drive from us) rather than the usual choices of London Gatwick or Manchester (easily 3 hours’ drive from us on a bad run), we were able to leave Gloucestershire at a more reasonable time of around 9:45am. The drive was fine; there was no traffic, so even with a brief stop at Reading services, we managed to get to London Heathrow’s long stay parking by about 12pm, getting to Terminal 3 itself (the terminal from which our flight departed) by around 12:30pm after the bus ride from the car park: I’d never been to Heathrow before, and I have to say that it’s one of the most fascinating airports I’ve ever been to! I’ve never been to an airport where you can park so close to the runway before, and seeing all of the planes queueing up in the sky to land is quite a sight! I also have to say that check in and security were an awful lot quieter than I’d ever remembered in the past; security in particular was very efficient and took no time at all to go through! After that, we sat in the departure lounge and ate some lunch before heading to our gate and boarding the plane. Our flight was with Virgin Atlantic, and I have to say that it was really good; we’ve always liked Virgin, and today was no exception! While we flew, I did quite a few different things; I watched a few episodes of Ghosts and Young Sheldon, I did a theme park dot-to-dot drawing out of a book that I got given for Christmas (the drawing was of Parc Asterix!), and I spent some time trying to progress on Need for Speed: Most Wanted, which I recently re-downloaded on my iPad after having not played since I was about 14. Sadly, being a learner driver of 1 year has made me no better at it! Another cool thing I should mention about our flight is that we travelled on an Airbus A350-1000, which my dad helped to design! Initially, it looked like our flight was going pretty well in terms of scheduling. The captain’s announced flight time was around 8.5 hours, which was a fair amount shorter than expected, and we were supposed to land at 7:15pm local time. However… things went awry towards the end of the flight. As we got nearer to Orlando, we were informed that there was an unpredicted thunderstorm in the area, meaning that we were unable to land safely. As such, the plane circled above a patch of ocean just off the east coast of Florida for over an hour while we waited for the storm to clear. The repeated circling formed this interesting paperclip-shaped path on the flight map: The prospect of us being diverted to Tampa was heavily discussed, which would have really put a spanner in the works… thankfully, the storm eventually subsided and we landed, albeit with a fair amount of turbulence, in Orlando about an hour later than expected. The storm also meant that we were held on the runway for the best part of an hour after landing, so we spent about 10.5 hours on the plane in total and didn’t get off until gone 9pm local time. We then went through immigration and baggage reclaim, which were quicker than usual in fairness, and then we finally exited Orlando International Airport to get our rental car. I must say, seeing the grand foyer of Orlando International Airport was nice after the longer-than-expected flight: After collecting our rental car, we drove for around 50 minutes to our villa in Haines City, arriving there at around 11:30pm local time. After that, we unpacked and settled down for the night. So, that was the first day of our June 2023 Florida trip! I’m sorry that this report was so boring; the next one I write will be far more interesting, because it will be from an actual theme park! Given that they are the parks we have 14-day tickets for, I’d expect it to be one of the two Universal Orlando theme parks. Due to us all feeling pretty tired after our late arrival into Orlando, as well as us still needing to handle things like grocery shopping, I’m not necessarily expecting us to do a theme park tomorrow; if we do go to a park tomorrow, I’ll write about it, but I think our first park visit is more likely to be on Monday. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this report; the next one will come either tomorrow or on Monday and will probably be from one of the two Universal Orlando theme parks!
  7. Next month, Universal Studios Florida introduce their 'Diagon Alley' expansion to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It sees the headline attraction 'Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts', the Hogwarts Express, as well as numerous shops from the Harry Potter universe. As to be expected, everyone is excited about the development. However, why should we be so excited? We've got a newly opened area which is much better than Diagon Alley ever could be - Angry Birds Land at Thorpe Park! Travelling all the way to America seems pointless when most of us on this forum can pop down to Thorpe in under a couple of hours to enjoy the delightful Angry Birds Land. First of all, let's look at the rides and attractions in each area. Angry Birds Land has a 115ft drop tower, perfect for thrill seekers, some fun dodgems, which are perfect for everyone, and a 4D cinema experience, which again is perfect for everyone. So, here, we have a land which caters for all ages - we have a ride which is solely dedicated for a thrill audience. As far as thrill rides go, Detonator: Bombs Away! is as thrilling as you can get; there's not many better drop towers around after all. Then there's a good set of dodgems. Okay, so dodgems aren't anything special, you can find them anywhere. But people like dodgems, and if people like something, you give it to them! Finally, the 4D experience is clearly something that's been designed for a younger audience, yet it works for everyone. What's most surprising about it is how immersive the attraction felt - it's a film about a set of cartoon birds, who don't speak, trying to get the precious eggs back from some bad pigs. Yet you feel a part of the film, you can create emotional bonds with the birds, and you feel like you're there with them. For a cartoon, that's pretty darn impressive. Now, Diagon Alley. We have a headline attraction being ride about escaping from a bank. Escaping...from a bank. Just let that sink in for a moment. And this will have loads of goblins scattered about. Not gonna lie, those goblins looked pretty hideous in the films, I imagine they'll look even more hideous in real life. Not exactly a family-friendly thing to have is it? Especially considering this is already a ride about escaping from a bank that you've broken into (great moral values there!). Now, this ride is apparently some epic dark ride/coaster combo. These types of rides are always risks, since some people's expectations can really shape how they react to the ride. Expect a coaster, you may be left unthrilled. Expect a dark ride, you may be left unimmersed. It's a really, really big risk. Then you've got a train ride linking two parks together. Now, it will of course be more like a 4D experience, and this all sounds well and good. But it's not going to be easy to create a 4D experience about a franchise which already has so much going for it; very difficult to create an emotional link to the story. I have so many concerns. Then there's also theming. Okay, Angry Birds Land's theming isn't the greatest, and there's room for more. However, let's step back and look at what Diagon Alley's theming will entail. Firstly, there's a dragon that breaths fire. Fantastic. That's better than anything at Angry Birds Land. However, this dragon doesn't move, from the looks of it at least. Talk about unrealistic! What's the point in having a creature for theming if it doesn't move. You're meant to be in a world where a dragon has just escaped; it's not gonna stand still, lording it over everyone else puffing some fire occasionally. It's going to move. Angry Birds Land's theming at least makes sense; you're in a snapshot of a game, where some birds have just been catapulted, others are about to be, and so forth. It makes perfect sense to the story. Diagon Alley's dragon does not. Then there's all the shop fronts. They're shop fronts from shops in a back alley in London. Where's the excitement in that? The transportation to a whole new world? You can't get that here. It's basically just like walking down a part of London with shops you've never seen before (which isn't exactly difficult). Poor theming really; it's taken realism a step too far. There's other things as well. Harry Potter is an outdated IP. The last book was released 7 years ago. The last film 3 years ago. Even if it's still popular, and there's a spin off film series on the way, the main Harry Potter IP is outdated. It's got little more than nostalgia now. It's time to let go. Take away the nostalgia and all we have is a kid's story that finished many years ago, and whilst still memorable, should be left alone, instead of picked away until its dignity has gone away. Angry Birds is about to get its second wave of popularity. There's a major film to be released in 2016. Mobile gaming is still huge, and a new game could easily make it to the top in 24 hours. Now that's a popular and current IP for you. I think that's all I need to get my point across. Harry Potter is an outdated IP, and Diagon Alley is shaping up to be an overhyped dark ride that teaches bad moral values and a 4D experience which could go really well or really badly. Perhaps not the best family area. Angry Birds, however, is a current, popular, IP, with Angry Birds Land having a quality 4D experience and rides for everyone, which everyone will enjoy. It also teaches good moral values (don't steal, fight for what you believe in, yadda yadda yadda). If that's not quality, I don't know what is. So save your money. Avoid Diagon Alley. Save yourself the disappointment. Take a trip down to Thorpe Park and bask in the greatness that is Angry Birds Land, and smile to yourself that you're in a better place than some hocus pocus area set about robbing a bank. You deserve it.
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