Both SeaWorld and Universal have unveiled brand new attractions in Florida this summer. Helen Wright straps herself in for a trio of thrilling rides.
Imagine grasping the back of the world’s fastest shark, the Mako, as it tears through the ocean at 70mph. That is the idea behind the new attraction at SeaWorld Orlando. “Guests can experience the sensation of surging to ocean depths at top speeds exactly like an apex predator,” says Brian Morrow, SeaWorld’s vice-president of theme park experience and design.
At 200ft high, the purple tracks point straight to the sky as I make my way though the entrance. I love rollercoasters – the faster and slicker, the better – but riding one for the first time always leaves you feeling satisfyingly terrified.
The dramatic music playing as I clamber into my seat only adds to the tension. As the seven-car train pulls away, I realise there is no shoulder harness on Mako, just a small lap bar.
With the wind in your face as you reach the peak, there is a split-second pause that feels more like a minute as we teeter on the edge before plummeting over a 70-degree drop.
There’s not much time to scream. With my bottom leaving the seat entirely, this feels more like a free-fall bungee jump than any coaster I’ve ridden before. The definition of “hypercoaster” means replacing the familiar inversion concept with “air time” – namely, floating out of your seat. And the results are truly thrilling.
It’s a great concept for those who never enjoyed the feeling of going upside down. After a second time navigating the dips, drops, swoops and – in true shark style – a hammerhead turn, I am hooked – no pun intended. I really can see this ride attracting a new wave of guests to the park and the beginning of a new direction for SeaWorld.
Meanwhile, over at Busch Gardens, in Tampa, a more family-friendly coaster has landed. Cobra’s Curse is a spinning rollercoaster with a few surprises. The cars actually free spin downhill on the coaster tracks, creating a sensation much like the old-school Pirate Ship swing rides of our childhood. But this is Florida, so the park moves it to the next level, taking us on a 70ft vertical lift and into the fangs of the possessed snake before whisking us off course – and backwards – to escape. The ride is tame but doesn’t disappoint on those all-important tummy tickles, and with a height restriction of 42 inches, daredevil kids as young as five may be able to ride.
The other big opening of the year is over at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure. Skull Island: Reign of Kong begins in the queue with live actors to give you a fright of a different kind. Winding through the dark corridors toward the gate line, I am in constant fear of what (or who)
could be lurking around the next corner. The biggest danger, of course, is other guests landing on your toes as they jump out of their skin.
My throat already coarse from screaming, eventually we are inside the 72-man “jeep” and whisked off to safety. But as these things always go, there’s a hitch along the way.
The ride is technologically astounding. Half the time, I gaze around, wondering how they managed to create it. As you travel deeper into Skull Island, the car finds itself under attack from dinosaurs and other prehistoric giants eyeing you up as a light snack. The 360- degree screens and 4D effects, such as water splashes, dazzle as your car almost gets thrown off a cliff. I completely fall for the story, with a few real screams and genuine relief when the hero, a very lifelike Kong, bounds in at the end to save the day.
Coupled with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, this will make Universal’s Islands of Adventure a must-visit park for any Orlandobound thrill-seeker.
Book it: DoSomethingDifferent.com offers a five-park combination ticket covering SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Aquatica, Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios from £269 per adult and £257 per child.