A Californian's Florida Adventure - Part 9

Edited: January 1, 2018, 3:49 PM

Florida has nine major theme parks. Four of them (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom) comprise the massive Walt Disney World Resort, and are among the most visited theme parks in the world. Two of them (Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure) make up Universal Orlando, the other destination theme park resort in the state. One of them (Legoland Florida) is off on its own is generally passed up by tourists due to its appeal to a specific demographic. The last two (Busch Gardens Tampa and SeaWorld Orlando) are owned by SeaWorld Parks & Resorts, and they are the closest thing Florida has to regional theme parks. By process of elimination, it's easy to see which of these nine parks I had yet to visit.

Part 9: SeaWorld, or Coaster World?

Wednesday, October 4th, was the final day of my Florida trip. By this point, I had been in Florida for 10 days, and I had experienced all the theme parks that I'd dreamed of visiting for years. All, that is, except one: SeaWorld Orlando.


SeaWorld, as a chain, is a company that was once highly respected and is now holding on to their position by a thread. A combination of changing public interests, backlash from a controversial documentary, and poor management since the parks were sold off (and especially since they went public) have lead to a steady decline in attendance and revenue for the chain. In an attempt to reverse this slide, SeaWorld has taken the approach of playing a destination park with the budget of a regional park, which has generated mixed results. Occasionally, the end product is a great new attraction, but just as often it is a total failure (see Ocean Explorer at SWSD for an example of that). Unfortunately, even when the attraction is a hit, it hasn't always resulted in the growth it should.

Admittedly, my primary interest in SeaWorld Orlando was not the animals. With SeaWorld San Diego just slightly over an hour from my house, I can go see the wildlife and the shows whenever I want. My motivation for SeaWorld Orlando, therefore, was the thrill rides. Contrary to what may be expected, this park has the second largest roller coaster collection in Florida, with three monster B&Ms often rated among the best of their types. In fact, the park's newest coaster, Mako, is generally considered to be the best in the entire state.


Unfortunately, my visit to the park started off on a bad note. Right inside the entrance to the park, I found a sign stating that Kraken was closed for the day. Of all the rides in Florida, this was probably the most disappointing to miss. I was especially curious about it as I wanted to compare the ride with Medusa, a very similar B&M Floorless that is my favorite of the type. Sadly, it will have to wait until next time. If there is a silver lining, it is that by the time I ride I may no longer have to deal with the VR equipment, which reportedly has dropped the hourly capacity of this coaster to below 400 riders (it should be able to do 1,500).


Without the need to rush to Kraken, we instead made our way to Manta. A B&M Flying coaster, Manta dominates the front of the park.


While sharing the name and theme with SeaWorld San Diego's Manta, the Florida incarnation is much different. This ride features a very well themed queue full of opportunities to view marine life. Afterward, guests ascend the steps into the station, and then the ride begins.


After a 140 ft climb, Manta begins with a swooping drop that leads directly into the pretzel loop. From here, the first half of the ride consists of a series of curves and inversions, most flying over empty terrain or guest walkways.


The second half of the ride is significantly better, with themed elements for the ride to interact with. I particularly liked the water skim element, an illusion that makes it appear trains are actually touching the water. Overall, Manta is a top tier coaster, and it is really difficult for me to decide whether it or SFMM's Tatsu is the better ride. There are things I like on Tatsu that Manta doesn't have, such as the height, the pacing, and the intensity, but Manta is undoubtedly better themed and flows a bit better. If forced to make the call, I'd probably say I prefer Tatsu by a very slim margin, but Manta is still among Florida's best coasters.


Instead of heading back to Mako, we opted to take a detour to Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin. This was SeaWorld's attempt at an E-ticket dark ride, but unfortunately it missed the mark. The ride contains an elaborate facade, a well decorated queue, and a good pre-show, but once the ride begins there isn't too much to it. This attraction uses a motion base on a trackless ride vehicle, but for a large portion of the ride the vehicles are simply parked in front of a screen while the motion simulates the action. The other portion of the ride takes place in a single large room that resembles an empty ice cavern, with plenty of static decoration on the walls but nothing for the vehicles to interact with.


After the ride, guests enter a penguin habitat, which is probably the best part of the attraction. It isn't exactly a bad ride, but it was overhyped and missed the mark in several areas. I'd say check this one out if the line is short, but skip it otherwise.


Next to Antarctica is Journey to Atlantis, a Mack Rides Water Coaster. This particular attraction was the first use of the technology, which enables a flume ride to have sections similar to a typical roller coaster. It is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting innovations in flume ride tech, and to this day I'm surprised SeaWorld is the only American park that purchased it.


In California, Journey to Atlantis is minimally themed and focuses on the coaster aspects, but the original incarnation in Florida begins with a lengthy dark ride section. Due to maintenance, a lot of the effects in here no longer work, but it is still visually beautiful. The remainder of the ride consists of two lifts, a drop, a tiny third lift leading to a tiny drop that floods the boat, and a fourth lift that leads to the roller coaster section, which takes place in the dark. All of this is accompanied by what I can only describe as Atlantean dance music, and it doesn't really fit the ride at all. Jokingly, I told Evan that the story of this attraction is that you were invited to a party and nobody else showed up. It is a ride that was originally ahead of its time, but now it doesn't hold up well and is little more than a fancy flume ride. To my surprise, I significantly prefer San Diego's version...it may not have the theming, but it has a lot more coaster elements and still contains a unique elevator lift. If everything worked, Florida's would be far superior, but it's a bit sad to see it now.


With the other rides complete (except Shamu Express, which I went to ride toward the end of the day), it was time for Mako. A B&M Hyper, Mako is smaller than average for its type but is still the largest roller coaster in the entire state of Florida. Unlike most SeaWorld attractions, the queue for this attraction is quite plain, with simple switchbacks around the remains of a shipwreck.


The ride itself is largely unthemed, but it doesn't need it. Mako is all about airtime, and it delivers it in copious amounts throughout the ride. While there is a bit of trimming, the ride still delivers a ton of floater air, and it is a long ride that is worth riding over and over (though, on this particular day, one-train operation made it the longest line in the park (25 minutes), so I only got a couple rides). Is it the best hyper coaster? No, but it is near the top. Is it the best coaster in the park? Absolutely, unless you dislike airtime. Is it the best coaster in Florida? Maybe. After my initial ride, I declared it as such, but upon later reflection I'd give Incredible Hulk the slightest edge over Mako for one reason: Hulk is a unique ride, while Mako isn't all that different from other hyper coasters. Either way, you can't go wrong with Hulk, Mako, Manta, Montu, or SheiKra...the top five coasters in Florida.


With the main attractions conquered, I spent the rest of my time at SeaWorld Orlando grabbing a few re-rides and checking out the animal attractions.


As expected, a lot of the animal attractions were similar to those in San Diego...Dolphin Cove features Bottlenose Dolphins, Shark Encounter is an underwater tunnel through a shark tank, and Wild Arctic has creatures found near the north pole (which is accessed via a cheesy simulator ride). I did notice that a lot of the Orlando attractions had better viewing areas, likely due to the larger crowds this park sees, and there was often a bit more detail to the exhibits than in San Diego (where most things are an enclosure with signs surrounding it).


The most unique animal attraction at SeaWorld Orlando was Turtle Trek, an exhibit about Sea Turtles and Manatees that features a 360 degree 3D movie as part of the experience. While the movie wasn't the greatest, it was an interesting concept and probably the best non-coaster attraction at the park.


Due to a flight out in the evening, my time at SeaWorld Orlando was limited. However, I feel I got a good look at the park, and I managed to do almost everything of high priority. The main disappointment was missing Kraken, but I know I'll be back. While it isn't the best park in Florida, I still enjoyed SeaWorld Orlando, and I'd probably rank it above the lower tier Disney parks in terms of quality. Plus, thanks to containing some of the best thrill rides in the state, this is going to be an automatic re-visit on my next trip. If you see all the shows, it's definitely possible to spend a full day at this park. However, it's also possible to stop by for a few hours on arrival or departure day and enjoy the highlights. I could see visitors not wanting to pay full price for the park, but if you can find any sort of discount I highly recommend including at least a half day here on your next visit to Florida.

From SeaWorld Orlando, it was back to Orlando International Airport. Security was awful here (much worse than I've ever experienced at LAX), and by the time I got to my gate the flight was already boarding. Fortunately, I made it on, and it was a smooth flight back to California.

And thus ends my Florida adventure. Eleven days, nine theme parks, and several other attractions crammed into that time. It was exhausting, but it was also a whole lot of fun, and while I don't think I'll return for several years I look forward to doing so at that time.

But this is not the end of my report. As I've mentioned before, part of the reason for picking the late September/early October timeframe was to take advantage of the many Halloween events. So there is still one part to come, covering the pros and cons of Howl-O-Scream, Halloween Horror Nights, and Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, as well as a few other thoughts on the trip.

SeaWorld Orlando Rankings:

Animal Exhibits (overall) - 8/10
Antarctica - 7/10
Journey to Atlantis - 7/10
Mako - 9.5/10
Manta - 9/10
Shamu Express - 5.5/10
Wild Arctic - 6/10

Overall Park Score - 8/10

Replies (6)

January 2, 2018, 10:34 AM

If it helps, in my opinion, Kraken is one of the weakest of the giant floorless coasters. From my experiences, Medusa is the best.

Edited: January 2, 2018, 11:44 AM

I would disagree Jaiden. Kraken is one of the best floorless coasters in the world, and numerous coaster ranking polls back that up. I've only ridden Medusa a couple of times, but I wasn't terribly impressed. The Sea Serpent inversion is interesting as a change from the standard cobra roll (on pretty much every B&M sit down coaster), but there's really not much else from the SFDK installation. When I first rode it, I wanted it to be better, but perhaps I set my expectations too high.
There's one bit where they dug a shallow trench below grade after the dive loop, but everything else along the course is unthemed.

Bizarro is a bit better, and at least the added themeing (particularly the flame effect) pushes it above Scream! (mirror clone), but that first drop is not as good as Kraken, nor is the zero-g roll. Kraken has the advantage of the second half of the ride occurring through trenches and tunnels and a solid pacing of elements throughout the course. Kraken takes the best of Kumba and Hulk and throws in floorless trains to boot.

The only other floorless that would be in the conversation with Kraken for me would be Superman Krypton Coaster, and that would be almost exclusively because of the setting along the quarry walls.

Like AJ, I also missed out on Kraken on a recent trip (really wanted to try the VR), but it's always held a special spot on my top floorless list. FWIW, I've ridden all but 4 of the 15 B&M floorless coasters in the world (haven't ridden Hell Raiser, Insane Speed, Nitro, or Superman - Madrid).

January 2, 2018, 12:11 PM

Great report AJ on my "home" park. Always interesting to see what others think of the way Seaworld is evolving after Blackfish. Can't see the crowds getting much better after Infinity Falls opens, but who knows maybe a water ride in the 90°+ summer heat will be just what the park needs. I still think they should have stuck with coasters, but then do they really want to compete with Busch Gardens?
Kraken itself is a great ride, but you didn't miss anything with the VR conversion. It was down more times than running during the last few months of the year, so you weren't alone in missing out. Thru December it's been OK, but the lines have been too long for me to bother walking on when I go.
Agree totally .... Seaworld's insistence on only running one Mako train is very frustrating. They only started that after the summer, and what would be walk-ons most times I go after work, now are 10-15min lines which cuts my ride time down ... LOL ... :) 1 train on the Manta is OK as nearly everyone gravitates to the front, but the right or left back seats are the place to be so I smile and drop straight on.
Did you buy the daily food plan? I just wondered if you thought the $36 was a good deal? They've just stopped our passholder dining plan, so for a day trip I'm looking for alternatives.

January 3, 2018, 5:48 AM

@Russel, I had no expectations for Medusa and loved it. I had huge expectations for Kraken and I wasn't a fan. I originally didn't care for Bizarro but after years of riding it regularly, it's grown on me.

January 3, 2018, 8:13 AM

What do you feel separates Medusa from the pack Jaiden?

I love Kraken because it's one of the few floorless coasters that has some airtime (both on the first drop and post MCBR drop, and in and just after the zero-g roll). It also has really good themeing and some cool near-miss elements in the trenches/tunnels.

For me, Medusa was pretty force-less (sea serpent<<

January 5, 2018, 3:20 PM

For reference, I rank the B&M Floorless coasters I've ridden as follows:

1. Medusa
2. Bizarro
3. Dominator
4. Scream!
5. Hydra the Revenge
6. Batman-The Dark Knight
7. Rougarou (based on riding as Mantis)
8. Patriot

In my rankings, Medusa makes it into the 9/10 tier, while most of the others are in the 8-8.5/10 category. While it isn't the most forceful of the bunch and has a mostly similar layout to other B&Ms, Medusa is very smooth and has excellent pacing throughout. I do wish it was in a better location, but perhaps because I have Scream as my local floorless I'm less bothered by that factor. Almost all my friends who have ridden both say Kraken is essentially a better Medusa, so I'm guessing I'd like it quite a bit (who knows...it could end up becoming my favorite SeaWorld or Florida coaster in the future).

Makorider, I'm not confident that Infinity Falls will help the park much either, but I don't think more coasters are the answer. The year Mako opened, SeaWorld Orlando had a huge attendance drop. What they really need is to increase the variety of their attractions while remaining unique, not trying to go head-to-head with Disney or Universal. A lot of SeaWorld's recent ideas chain-wide are good ideas that wind up as a half-baked product, and they need to stop doing that in order to regain interest. As for food, I didn't eat inside the park at all...Evan's flight was earlier, so I left the park around noon to take him to the airport, then grabbed lunch on my way back. I had to leave about 4 P.M. to catch my own flight, so I wasn't there late enough for dinner. For a theme park, $36 is a fair deal if you'll be having two full meals, but I usually try to do lunch in a park and dinner after leaving so it wouldn't be something I'd buy.

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