On the whole, the Journey to Atlantis is ok, but it has a strange flow and the displays need some renovation. The ride seems to have 3 main sections: the part with the evil mermaid, the part leading up to the drop (completely devoid of any decoration), and the awkward bit of ride right after the dro..p. It’s as though the designers couldn’t figure out how to establish an Atlantis theme outdoors, so they just gave up halfway through. Except for the drop and a slight (and I mean slight) bit of rollercoaster action towards the end, this ride is pretty mild and not at all scary. The line is covered, but it’s not indoors, making it a bit rough in the middle of the summer, and there is hardly anything interesting to look at while your wait. Overall, Journey to Atlantis has the potential to be one of the biggest and most popular rides in the park, but at the moment it’s kind of a waste of a good drop.
Of all the simulation rides at SeaWorld, Empire of the Penguin is definitely my favorite. If you have young children or people with motion sickness in your group, this is a really great option since the ride itself actually has two versions - a mild track and an extreme track – and parties can spl..it up to ride the one best for them. Visually, the whole thing is really beautiful and the ride is very well designed. It was apparent that SeaWorld invested in some kind of new ride technology, and I felt like the whole thing was a huge step up for the park. Best of all, when the ride ends you are right at the penguin enclosure, where you can enjoy the cold air and some close up views of these adorable animals! Who doesn’t love penguins!? Overall, though this ride usually has one of the longer lines in the park, I definitely think it’s worth the wait.
Turtle Trek is definitely cute, but if you’re looking for thrilling attractions, it’s not necessarily a must-see. Before you go into the theater, you get a tank-side speech about Sea Turtle rescue and conservation from a friendly employee (I’ve found it’s usually somebody training to be a ma..rine biologist). After that, you file into a dome-top 360-degree theater to stand and watch highlights from the life of a sea turtle through his eyes. It’s a nice little attraction, but it can get a little preachy at times, and the lack of seats means it doesn’t even have the advantage of being restful. If conservation is something you’re passionate about, it’s definitely the ride for you. If not, then I wouldn’t stress if the line were too long for your taste.
Manta is my absolute favorite roller coaster, and there are days that I go to SeaWorld just to ride it. If you’re unfamiliar with this attraction, the real appeal is that you ride the whole thing while lying down on your stomach. It’s a very unique and slightly terrifying feeling, but after ridi..ng it for the first time I found myself wanting to go on it over and over again. If you have the extra time, I highly recommend waiting to get into the front row. It’s definitely worth it. I also recommend putting anything and everything on your person in the cubbies alongside the ride. Because of the position you’re in, things are very likely to fall out of your pockets, and you’re not really able to hold onto them like you can on regular roller coasters. The line is usually pretty reasonable, and what time you do have to spend waiting passes quickly since there are manta ray tanks located right in the queue! Overall, I think Manta is the best ride at SeaWorld, hands down. If you’re visiting the park and are able to handle the extreme thrills, you really must try it out.
Mythos is touted as the World’s #1 Theme Park Restaurant, but I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that. I went for lunch one day, and while the inside decor was certainly lovely, it was rather simple compared to some of the restaurants on CityWalk. The food was good, but it was expensive fo..r how much I got, and the alcoholic drink that I ordered was pretty weak. The hostess was a little short with us, despite the fact that it was the middle of the day and there was almost nobody in the restaurant, and the waitress was similarly average. She didn’t even bother to ask if we needed separate checks, then got irritated when we had to take a minute to figure out how to split it and still get our discount. Overall, Mythos is not a bad restaurant, but it’s nothing to write home about. If you’re looking for a great place to go to lunch or dinner, I still recommend going to CityWalk.
Though this area is intended to be an interactive playground for the kids, I think it really falls short of what Islands of Adventure is capable of. There is an awkwardly uneventful buildup to a small splash area/playground, but after seeing KidZone and Camp Jurassic, this paled in comparison. The D..r. Seuss theme is, of course, adorable, but I wouldn’t put this on any itinerary unless you desperately need some way to entertain a small child and are unable to leave the immediate area. It’s almost as if they know how lame this playground is – I’ve visited the park routinely for 5 years and saw this attraction open for the very first time only about a month ago. I’m pretty sure they open it “seasonally” (meaning in the summer), but even when it is open it’s just an odd non-presence in Seuss Landing.
The Cat in the Hat is a fun, twisty ride through a timeless Dr. Seuss classic. It is definitely the best ride in Seuss Landing, but keep in mind that there is a height limit of 36”, and the twists and turns might be a little much for people with really bad motion sickness or easily aggravated inju..ries. For comparison, if you’re familiar with the Winnie the Pooh ride at Disney, this ride is very similar (though the line tends to be much shorter than its Disney counterpart). The queue is indoors (always a perk), the visuals are great, and the employees are usually pretty friendly (who wouldn’t love a job where the uniform is pajamas?) Overall, I love this ride because it brings back memories of reading The Cat in the Hat with my mom and my little sister. I give it a big nostalgia-fueled thumbs-up.
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish is a Dr. Seuss-themed take on a very popular theme park/carnival ride design. You get in one of the fish in the circle, the ride starts, the fish spin around, and you can control you up and down motion using a joystick. If you’re familiar with the Dumbo ride.. at Disney, this is pretty much exactly the same thing, only without the unbelievably long line. In fact, there’s rarely a line at all, though this is unfortunately one of the rides that shuts down whenever it starts to rain. In general, One Fish, Two Fish is a great ride for little kids who really get a kick out of being able to control the car themselves (there is no height requirement but little kids must have an adult with them), and is generally tame enough for those with motion sickness. There are also fountains that squirt water in time to the music, which is a really adorable detail. It's not the kind if thrill ride people are generally looking for at Islands of Adventure, but if it weren’t fun, it wouldn’t be a standard, am I right?
The Caro-Seuss-El is a pretty much just a big Carousel, but instead of sitting on horses, you are riding animals from the Dr. Seuss books. The queue line is short, the music is cute, and I have to appreciate that the designers of this ride stayed true to the curvy and colorful style of Dr. Seuss’s.. illustrations. Overall, the ride is fun, kid-friendly, and worth your while if carousels are something you’re into.
Though I don’t mind going on the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride when the line is short, I have to say that it is probably one of my least favorite rides at Islands of Adventure. There is an awkward combination of storylines (sometimes it’s the Starbelly Sneetches story, sometimes it’..s… noises?), and the statues and moving displays look worn and faded. Though the ride offers a lovely view of Seuss Landing and the neighboring areas, the whole thing seems like a waste of potential. The coolest part of the ride is when you wind through the top of the Cirkus McGurkus restaurant. Because it’s indoors, the displays are a little less faded and the circus theme is kinda cute. Honestly, though, when overhead views of platefuls of spaghetti are the highlight of a ride, something has gone horribly wrong.
As far as children’s roller coasters go, Flight of the Hippogriff is pretty awesome. It’s relatively mild, has the lowest height requirement of the rides in the Hogsmeade area (36”), and usually has a pretty short line. The decorations are really adorable, and the climb to the top offers a rea..lly great view. Even though it’s meant for children, this ride is definitely not boring (Am I the only one who finds kiddie coasters oddly terrifying?). Overall, Flight of the Hippogriff is ideal for young Harry Potter fans, as well as people who aren’t into huge roller coasters or intense simulators.
Located right downstairs from a restaurant and a gift shop, the Jurassic Park Discovery Center is a great opportunity for families with small children to rest and recharge mid-day. This play area has several stations with science fun facts, interactive activities, and a dino-themed playground. Atten..dants are present to make sure everybody stays safe, and sometimes they even bring out special surprises for the kids, such as a baby triceratops. If you don’t have young kids in your group, this area is kinda lame, but it’s worth passing through if you’re a big fan of the franchise. Overall, the Discovery Center is a great place for families to keep in mind on those really hot or unfortunately rainy days.
Popeye and Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges is the attraction that I would recommend on the hottest of all hot days because it’s lots of fun, the line is usually pretty quick, and you get totally and completely soaked. The ride itself is pretty simple – you sit in a big circular barge, and they send you.. down the river. There is obviously a Popeye theme, but no storyline to speak of besides Bluto trying to steal Olive Oil away. They could have done a lot more, but since the main point of the ride is to get wet, I suppose it’s ok. There’s some spinning and rocking around once you get to the “rapids”, but nothing too intense. I’ve even heard people with motion sickness say they didn’t have a problem on this ride. However, if anybody really wants to sit out, there is a spot on the bridge where they can stand and shoot water at you as you pass under. Overall, this ride is a fun way to cool off on a summer day, and if you don’t like wet jeans, there are people-sized drying machines at the exit that only cost $5.
Though some would disagree, I find Doctor Doom’s Fearfall one of the most thrilling rides at Islands of Adventure. Though it’s relatively short, only about a minute long, it really packs a punch, especially if you’ve never ridden it before and don’t know what’s coming. This ride usually ha..s one of the shortest lines in the park, and the whole queue is indoors, which is a huge perk on a hot summer day. There are, however, a couple things to warn you about. For the love of God, put sunglasses, hats, and anything in your pockets in the little bins next to the loading area. I have never heard of anything getting stolen from there, but I HAVE heard of people accidentally dropping stuff, and even necklaces have been known to fly off and get lost forever. Also, this ride might be a bit much for some people, so if in doubt you might want to sit it out and let somebody you trust ride first and determine whether or not this ride is for you. Overall, I love Doctor Doom’s Fearfall, and highly recommend it for people who love thrill rides.
Fear Factor Live is one of 4 large shows that run throughout the day at Universal Studios Florida. If you liked the TV show, this show is definitely not disappointing. 6 real park guests are put through a series of thrilling challenges, and there are several other opportunities for audience members ..to participate, including a man-to-man competition to see who can drink a truly puke-worthy mixture the fastest. There are some loud noises and explosions, but there is nothing in this show that is inappropriate for young kids, and it’s a great opportunity for those with motion sickness or injuries to experience something other than kid shows/rides. If you’re an extreme thrill-seeker (and a fit, healthy person over 18 years old), you can even audition to be in the show. All you have to do is be in front of the theater 70 minutes before show time, go through the audition process, and you could be the lucky guy swinging through the air hurling raw squid at your best friend. My only complaint about this show is that it’s a little outdated. The challenges have been the same for YEARS, which makes it rather boring for those of us who visit the park frequently.
The Hogwarts Express is an awesome experience considering what it is: a fancy way to get from Universal Studios to Islands of Adventure. The train itself is beautiful, there are ample photo opportunities both in line and in front of/on the train, and the interior is wonderfully themed. However, the ..ride itself is basically an immersive movie, and the twists and turns that guests are often expecting are nowhere to be found. If you are visiting with a park-to-park pass (meaning you can visit both parks in one day – the only way to board the Hogwarts Express) I highly recommend it. It’s a relaxing, and sometimes faster, way to get from one park to the other, and the fact that it is different in each direction is really neat. However, if you have a ticket that only allows you to visit one park each day, I wouldn’t upgrade your tickets just so you can ride the Hogwarts Express. It’s not worth the extra money just for 6 minutes of cool CGI.
Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue is one of 4 large shows that run throughout the day at Universal Studios Florida. Though it has a VERY loose storyline, it is mainly a singing and dancing show, with pieces that have been recently updated and improved (the old show was terrible so if you have seen it be..fore and didn’t like it, I highly encourage you to give it another shot). It has a little more adult content than the other shows, but there is nothing about it that is particularly inappropriate for young guests, except for some loud music and small explosions that might spook very little kids. The costumes and effects are great, the dancing is impressive, and, though some of it is obviously pre-recorded, the singing is pretty good. Overall, I love this show, and it’s a highly entertaining way to escape from the hot sun and enjoy a drink while sitting in the shade.
Animal Actors On Location is one of 4 large shows that run throughout the day at Universal Studios Florida. Though it is intended for children (the theater is actually located in KidZone), it is one of my favorites because it is cute, simple, and a nice rest from a day that is otherwise full of loud.. noises and thrills. The lineup of animal actors changes, but there are routinely dogs from Marley and Me (Marley), MIB 2 (Frank), and Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Chloe), as well as a Falcon from Scorpion King, a pig from Babe, and even an orangutan (though I haven’t seen her in a while). There is even an opportunity for one lucky kid to be chosen to go onstage and interact closely with one of the dogs. The show is a little cheesy, but it’s a short and adorable addition to any itinerary, especially if there are kids or animals lovers in the group. My only complaint is that there aren’t very many exotic animals. Most of the show consists of dogs, cats, and birds, but I really wish they would add more interesting animals, even if it meant they had to up the safety precautions a little bit.
Epcot is my favorite Disney park because, although it is full of educational opportunities for kids, it is also full of nice, restful fun for adults (which is not usually the case at Disney). Most of the rides at Epcot are pretty calm, and many of the lines are indoors, making this a great park to v..isit when the thrills and heat start to get to you. The only two rides that get your heart pumping are Mission: Space and Test Track, and even those are relatively tame compared to a roller coaster. My favorite ride at Epcot is probably The Seas with Nemo and Friends (it used to be Maelstrom, but more on that later). Animals are always a go-to for me, and the aquarium, though small, is lovely. I also really love to visit the World Showcase. The photo opportunities are plentiful, the shops are unique, and the employees (all of which are exchange students from each respective country), are super friendly. However, the best thing about the World Showcase is the FOOD. This is one of the very few places at the Disney parks where alcohol is served, and even the outdoor carts are a welcomed escape from the usual theme park burgers and chicken tenders. Sometimes you have to make reservations months in advance, but the San Angel Inn Restaurante and the Restaurant Marrakesh are very highly recommended. These, and other places in the World Showcase, offer a fine dining experience while still being kid and flip-flop friendly. What more could you ask for! My only beef with Epcot is actually a very recent development: they closed the Maelstrom (my favorite ride!) and are now going to replace it with a Frozen ride. One of the things I really loved about Epcot was that it had the high quality of a Disney park without being too…Disney. I just hope that Epcot doesn’t lose its chill charm by welcoming in the princess hype.
Busch Gardens is one of my favorite parks to visit because it combines the thrills of an amusement park with the fun of a zoo. For those looking for intense rides, there are 5 main roller coasters, as well as some kiddie coasters. Though the most popular coaster in the park is probably SheiKra, my f..avorite is Cheetah Hunt. It has some really interesting twists and turns that are not on the other standard roller coasters, making it a really unique and memorable experience. If you happen to visit on a hot day, there are two water rides to cool you off: The Congo River Rapids and the Stanley Falls, both of which I highly recommend. Finally, if intense rides are off the itinerary for any reason, the park is full of opportunities to see a wide variety of African animals, including elephants, chimpanzees, gorillas, cheetahs, and some adorable meerkats. On top of being a great park for things to see and do, Busch Gardens is also great when it comes to things to EAT. The Zambia Smokehouse has some of the most delicious food I’ve ever had, and even the food from the carts around the park tends to be high quality and reasonably priced. The park offers some really cool special tours (for an extra fee, of course), and if you happen to be visiting around Halloween and have an opportunity to go to Howl-O-Scream, I recommend it (though it’s not as good as Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights). The only real downside to Busch Gardens is that it is located in Tampa, about a two hour drive from Orlando. If you have the time to go out that far, or if you happen to be visiting Tampa for some other reason, it’s definitely worth the trip. INSIDER TIP: There is a FREE shuttle (if you have a Busch Gardens ticket) that goes between several Orlando locations and Busch Gardens. This is a great way to visit Busch Gardens if you don’t mind taking the time but just don’t want to/can’t drive there.
Let me start off by saying that I LOVE going to SeaWorld. I have always loved animals, and visiting the rescued marine life who call SeaWorld home is something I always look forward to. On to the attractions! For thrill seekers, there are 2 big roller coasters to enjoy (Kraken is good, but Manta is ..AMAZING). For groups with elderly, small children, or people with motion sickness, there are still rides that offer a calmer experience, the best of which is probably Empire of the Penguin (though the Polar Express ride is an adorably close second). However, the best thing about SeaWorld is that it is one of the few parks in Orlando that can be thoroughly enjoyed without going on a single ride. There is an array of animal shows (it might take a little bit of planning, but you can definitely see them all in one day), and if you happen to be visiting around the holidays there is a whole set of seasonal shows to get you in the spirit! There are wonderful exibits and aquariums where guests can see, interact, and even sometimes feed the animals, and there are plentiful opportunities for educational moments with young ones. SeaWorld is also a great park for those who love to eat. The Voyager's Smokehouse offers delicious and surprisingly well-priced food, considering it's in a theme park. If you're visiting around the holidays, I also highly recommend the peppermint hot chocolate. I couldn't get enough. The only bad thing that I have to say about SeaWorld is that it is in need of some serious TLC. The park has changed hands in recent years, and while new shows and attractions have been added, it has sometimes been at the cost of older attractions. Simple things like broken animatronics, blown out lightbulbs, and malfunctioning ride cars are easy to fix, and I feel these are the kinds of things that need attention if this park ever wants to compete with others in the area. So if you're on your way to SeaWorld, be ready for some fun, but also be prepared to roll your eyes and groan at the one-eyed mermaid on the Journey to Atlantis ride.
Universal Studios is a wonderful park, and is definitely the better option if you would rather a low-key experience. The Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem ride is a little rocky, but is adorable and a go-to for kids who are tall enough. The Men In Black ride is also a favorite, especially for the competi..tive types, as there is a shooting game incorporated right into the ride! However, the highlight of the park is the 5 shows (6 if you include the magic show). Though all of them are definitely worth finding the time to go to, my favorite is definitely the Horror Movie Makeup Show. Even the waiting area is awesome, and I won't lie and say the lovely, air-conditioned theater is not a plus. For those visiting with teens or thrill-seekers, rides such as the Rip Ride Rockit and The Mummy's Revenge are still a great option, however the park is generally ideal for people who would rather a chill day of exploration. As with Islands of Adventure, the only complaint I have about Universal Studios is that there are very few places to take a rest. You are not permitted to sit in any stores or ride lines, and you are discouraged from sitting in any of the restaurants unless you're buying food. If you have an American Express card, there is a lounge where you can take a breather and enjoy free water/snacks, but for the rest of us you may want to plan a mid-day break at either your hotel or on Citywalk, where the restful spots are a little more abundant. Though the food in Universal Studios is a little better than Islands, I also highly suggest going to Citywalk for your meals. There are plenty of different options, and it's a little less expensive than the food in the parks. Overall, I love visiting Universal Studios, espeically on hot days where riding rollercoasters doesn't sound as exciting. It's a lot of fun, the employees are friendly, and the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley area is beyond amazing if you're a fan of the franchise. If you are planning on visiting Orlando, I highly recommend making this one of your stops.
Islands of Adventure is one of my favorite parks to visit with my family because there is something that everybody can enjoy! For those who want thrills, The Hulk, Amazing Spiderman, and Forbidden Journey rides are all awesome. For those with motion sickness, or people who simply want a calmer, more.. relaxing experience The Lost Continent area has Poseidon's Fury, a surprisingly impressive walkthrough special effects experience, and there are professional shows in both Suess Landing and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade that I highly recommend. Even though it is definitely the more extreme of the two parks, Islands of Adventure also has a few rides that young children can enjoy. The Cat in the Hat ride and High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train are both little one friendly and the Pteranodon Flyers are exclusively for people with children 36" or shorter. There is also Camp Jurassic, a rope course playground in the Jurassic Park area where your child can run and climb to his or her heart's delight. Finally, there are the rides for people prepared to get wet. Florida is a very hot state, so even if you are ruling these out ahead of time, it's still good to know in case you change your mind once the outside temperature tops 100. Bluto's Barge in Toon Lagoon is the best bang for your buck; the lines are usually very short, you get COMPLETELY soaked, and the ride is so much fun! There is also the Jurassic Park River Adventure (my favorite ride, but you may or may not actually get wet), and Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls. Just be sure to pack a bathing suit and extra socks! The only complaint I have with Islands of Adventure is that there are very few places to take a rest when the heat and intensity get to you. You're not allowed to sit down in any of the stores or ride lines, and you're discouraged from taking seats in restaurants unless you're ordering food. Speaking of food, it's less than awesome unless you're willing/able to spend lots of money. I recommend Mythos, Confisco Grill, or (surprisingly) Cirkus McGurkus, but suggest you steer clear of anything in Toon Landing. In my opinion, water rides and food don't mix. This being said, Citywalk is only a short walk away and has some great (and inexpensive) food, so don't let this completely discourage you. Overall, I really love Islands of Adventure. It's full of exciting experiences, and is definitely worth the trip if you're already visiting Orlando!