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Trip Report MILESTONE TRIP! First Orlando Visit, Final Disney Park!

THE TIME HAS COME!

In just about a week, I will be starting my very first ever trip to Orlando…and all therein that may be explored.

As the title suggests, among other milestones, this trip will see me visiting my 12th and final Disney Park – Magic Kingdom itself! I have traveled extensively, with all the other Disney Destinations worldwide under my belt, yet somehow I have so far resisted the allures of the Vacation Kingdom. In this week days leading up to my departure, I’ll be going over “why not yet,” “why now,” my itinerary, maybe even soliciting some travel advice.

But for now…Who’s going?

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Me after a hike at Bryce Canyon (the real Big Thunder). My beard is much calmer now.

Just me. Doug. Typically I’m a regular of the Imagineering forums, but I'm just a dilettante on these Trip Report boards. Traveling solo, as is my wont.

Where? Universal’s Endless Summer Resort for three nights, then the Walt Disney World Swan for like a week.

When? September 21st – October 1st.

The broadest plan is to see as much of Orlando as I can (both Disney and beyond) in the week+ prior to Magic Kingdom’s 50th. That means plans to see Walt Disney World, Universal, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, even the Fun Spots.

Over ambitious, perhaps? Sure it is, but I’ve done my research, and I know my travel style and what I'm capable of! Let’s do this!
 
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spacemt354

Chili's
View attachment 592215

My Butterbeer (delicious) determined my Diagon Alley touring pace. Eager to quickly board Escape from Gringotts, I hastily slurped down the icy sweet dregs, and I got brain freeze. Then I marched into the Gringotts Single Rider line, avoiding a 40 minute wait.

On a later day I'd do the whole Gringotts experience, so this description will take that into account, queue and all. And that queue is the best part of it! (Florida in general does queues the best of anyplace I've been worldwide.) The initial bank lobby is jaw-dropping. With that grand chandelier especially, it feels better than theme park quality. The goblin animatronics were nice too.

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The rest of the queue is a wonderful piece of place-making and storytelling, using mostly visual cues. Guests are, well, guests of the bank, progressing deeper into the vaults, with a genuine immersive sense that you've headed deep beneath the earth's surface. The pre-show "terravator," conjuring up pleasant memories of DisneySea's fantastic Journey to the Center of the Earth, really, truly sells the effect. There is a typical screen pre-show involving Potter movie actors, which labors too hard to fit guests into Rowling's larger Potterverse narrative. This foreshadows the ride itself, which is super plotty. Not my favorite ride style. It works fine for a one-and-done - which might work better in Florida with its out-of-towner visitors - but it might grow tiresome on rerides.

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As for the ride...I'm grateful to finally experience a version of the mythical SFX Coaster concept. This fuses coaster elements with elements of screen-based dark ride-style storytelling. The result is neither fish nor fowl. It's better as a thrilling dark ride than a coaster, and more interesting as a tech showpiece than an experience. The major Potter rides in Hogsmeade are better.

Universal Studios was slated to close at 6 PM (for Halloween Horror Nights I think), only half an hour away. I'd initially planned on park hopping over to Islands of Adventure using the Hogwarts Express, to maintain that Harry Potter vibe as long as possible. The 25 minute posted wait (typical of this ride, actually) dissuaded me, so rather I headed towards the front of the park for an on-foot park hop. Along the way I happened upon The Fast and the Furious: Supercharged.

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This is objectively Universal's worst major ride. They simply cloned the Hollywood Tram Tour climax - the worst part of the Tram Tour - and made it a standalone attraction. This utterly does not do justice to arguably Universal Studios' best in-house film franchise, which demands a physical thrill machine on par with Velocicoaster.

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Once again, the queue was the best part of the attraction. Who knew "contemporary industrial" could be so detailed & immersive? All the Easter eggs and show cars on display spoke to me as a longtime Fast & Furious geek. I reacted here how I saw other guests reacting to the Harry Potter stuff. Got a little teary eyed even over Paul Walker, again. Loved the cookout set with the Coronas. Loved the Dodge Charger on display. Loved the true-to-life motorhead props, very reminiscent of the brief forays I’ve taken into the real street racing world of L.A.

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Loved too the pair of hysterically goofy pre-shows where live team members interact with videos of Tej and Hobbs. The team members seem to realize they're working on a garbage attraction, so they lean into it, Jungle Cruise style. They make it into a really amusing meta joke. One guy entered into an extended rant about Dom's weird concept of "family," while the other guy mostly just poked holes into the ride's ludicrous (& Ludacris) premise.

View attachment 592221

The ride was dumb and laughable. It's The Room of theme park attractions. (Seriously, a party bus?! :hilarious:)

View attachment 592222

Afterwards, Hogwarts Express was still at 25 minutes, so I continued towards the park entrance instead. A little over two hours remained before Islands of Adventure closed for the day, so I couldn't be tempted by the Studios' attractions on the way out. Though I did travel at a leisurely pace, trying my best to soak in the park's atmosphere a bit.

View attachment 592223

The exit sequence in particular stands out in my mind. That iconic Universal globe is precisely placed to act as a "weenie" for departing guests, leaving you with a strong final impression of the park. Humidity was high with the lingering effects of the brief rainstorm, making for a nice mist effect around the globe's base. I'm starting to ease into the trip's mood. Time to park hop!

View attachment 592224
You bring up a really good point about F&F

After the success of Velocicoster and also Hagrid's, F&F is a franchise that is made for a future coaster
 

D Hulk

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
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The park hop from Universal Studios to Islands of Adventure is a breeze. The Universal resort has a fabulous user-friendly layout. It combined the best of Disneyland - a 5-minute pedestrian passage from park to park - with the best of Tokyo - shared backstage for two parks. The panoramic views of CityWalk along the way are pleasant. It's nice, too, having Hard Rock Café and Toothsome Chocolate Emporium as fancy-casual dining options between the parks, just in case you're needed to cool your heels in some air conditioning while recharging.

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The iconic Islands of Adventure lighthouse pulls you forward. Entry gate crowds were extremely sparse as we neared 6 PM on a Tuesday, Transferring parks here was nearly as easy as switching from Disneyland to DCA, making the greater Universal property into a single massive theme park (if you have park-to-park tickets).

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Islands of Adventure won me over from the very beginning with their lovely Port of Entry introductory land. Immediately, this is a far more organic, naturalistic theme park compared to the studios, less post-modern and more focused on immersive adventure. That famous "The Adventure Begins" sign over an early transitional gateway is spot-on.

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I traveled purposely but casually through Port of Entry, trying to soak it all in without throwing off my efficient touring pace. Universal doesn't often do original ideas, but dang they're good at it when they try! Port of Entry has a fantastical, adventure movie sense of the exotic, with a distinctive combination of cultural elements ranging from the Far East to the Middle East, all filtered through a sort of Harryhausen-esque perspective. It all feels heightened, maybe lacking the precise realistic textures of Disney's best themed efforts, but striking its own magical tone which bleeds into IOA's other "islands."

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I love all the little photo ops and snippets throughout, like the tuk tuk prams to the funky windmill to the sounds of monkeys and adventurers in upstairs windows. Port of Entry recycles a ton of classic theme park design tricks in a playful way. Islands of Adventure has made a very strong first impression!​
 

D Hulk

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
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Before continuing into Islands of Adventure, I took a breather on Port of Entry's docks and took in the surroundings. I was still adjusting to Florida's humidity. This panoramic lagoon view sums up Islands of Adventure nicely, revealing its many "islands" and the way they create a clashing collage of craziness.

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Let's cut straight to the chase. Time to say something which might be considered heresy around these parts. Islands of Adventure was my favorite theme park in Florida! 😱

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Oh to be sure, it was extremely neck-and-neck with Magic Kingdom. Remove even a single headliner from IOA and the scales of balance would likely shift. But as I found it, this was the tops! It had the novelty factor which Magic Kingdom, as my sixth Castle Park, didn't have. IOA also boasts an exceptional attraction lineup, buoyed by three of Florida's best roller coasters, arguably its best dark ride, and a whole host of strong supporting attractions.

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This attraction lineup is, admittedly, not for everyone's tastes. IOA skews heavily towards thrill rides, to my personal tastes, and as a result the park's clientele was largely physically fit young adults. It's much more niche by design than Magic Kingdom's inclusive fun for the entire family. This has allowed IOA to carved out a distinctive perch in the local park competition. It isn't for everyone, but if it's your cup of tea then it is wonderfully exhilarating. It's the most "amusement park" of the region's themed parks, purely the most fun, with plenty of stuff which would work even with zero theming to speak of.

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IOA lacks the more cohesive theming of Disney's artier parks, simply presenting a fun collection of distinctive lands. But dang it, they work! There's a consistent design principle which favors clutter and clashing visuals (I like it!), which was part of IOA's look all the way back in 1999 when Hulk and Dueling Dragons dominated the skyline with their bare naked steel coaster track. In that light, Velocicoaster's addition to the main panorama does not strike me as intrusive. That arcing 140' tall top hat already feels like an iconic park sight. I found Velocicoaster and Hulk in particular to be gorgeous monuments in the late afternoon after the storm.

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My initial IOA tour went counterclockwise, beginning in Seuss landing. I spent the least time in this land, largely because as the park's dedicated children's area it offered the least for me. Seems a good area, though. It definitely nails that twisting, organic, Seussian visual look. Several of IOA's lands (this, Superhero Island, Toon Lagoon) use a highly stylized, unrealistic visual palette. It's the Toontown look, kind of. This works well enough when counterbalanced by the more realistic lands. Because IOA is never po-faced serious, the goofier, cartoonier lands are easier to take as they are.

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The Cat in the Hat is a pretty okay "Fantasyland dark ride." It feels like they used the entire text of Seuss' book, which is impressive…drags a bit, though. The spinning element - this ride has a height requirement! - didn’t seem to serve much narrative purpose. I rode in the same car as a rowdy pack of teenagers, who hooted and hollered throughout like they were on a roller coaster. That could've been irritating, but it seemed to be done in good fun! They were having a blast, and so was I!

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High in the Sky Seuss Trolley is a meandering sightseeing tour of the land as a whole, a bit like the PeopleMover. I always appreciate these low-key transportation rides; it's something I wish more parks included. An easy way to add supporting content without breaking the bank. IOA’s filler attractions like this provide that C-ticket respite, making the park feel all the richer.

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I never really did return to Seuss Landing in any real way. I passed through it once again on a later day, at rope drop, but that's it. I would have enjoyed exploring the land in greater detail, but for now there were far greater priorities. Passing quickly through Lost Continent (no pics of it, yet), I headed for the best ride in Florida...!​
 

spacemt354

Chili's
No surprise IOA was your favorite in Florida, the only ones I thought might be able to reach it with your interests would have been Animal Kingdom or Magic Kingdom, but IOA has got everything you like

I'm also impressed with the expansiveness of this photo album - we're still on the first day!
 

D Hulk

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
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Velocicoaster is what got me to finally visit Orlando. No joke, I was researching flights within 10 minutes of first watching the POV. I predicted way back when that Velocicoaster had a genuine shot at being a Top Ten, or even Top Five Coaster.

I am beyond happy to report that Velocicoaster lived up to my overhype! It IS Top Five!

This is a world class roller coaster! I'm crying here, people!

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It's the sort of ride you do not expect to find in a theme park. This is a Cedar Point tier thrill machine. You could strip all of Velocicoaster's theming, all of its amazing interaction with the setting, plop it into a parking lot, and it would remain a trip-worthy beast.

But include that theming? Speaking both as a roller coaster enthusiast and as a fan of theme park theming, this is a lovely marriage made in John Hammond's wildest dreams. It's rare to see a coaster this intense include such beautiful scenery. I can only thing of a few select rides in Europe (which I haven't done yet) which do something like this. Rides like Taron, Black Mamba, Nemesis, or F.L.Y.

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It's impressive how they weaved such a fantastic ride layout into the existing Jurassic Park space. Very little, if anything, got removed. (Simply a triceratops encounter?) Velocicoaster uses a tiny footprint for its initial paddock sequence, and afterwards it simply blazes across the land entry pathways for its jaw-dropping finale. That climactic turnaround near the Hogsmeade transition makes for a satisfyingly dramatic footpath approach, roaring in perfect arcs over the land gateways.

I am aware of some criticisms which Velocicoaster has received from the theming jihadist corner of the park community. It's true that this is a bare naked steel coaster which potentially ruins immersion. Universal's explanation - that Velocicoaster is an in-universe roller coaster, that it's a ride themed to being itself basically - that's not wholly satisfactory. I take solace simply in the ride's inherent design beauty, how it gracefully dips below the Discovery Center sightlines, how it interacts with some elaborate photo-worthy rockwork, without once sacrificing the on-ride experience. This is one pretty looking ride!

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I hesitated briefly upon first reaching Velocicoaster. I'd let her down! She was supposed to be #200, and I wasn't sure if she would accept being #211 instead. But I made peace with the beautiful apex monstrosity while basking in her plaza, watching the trains swan dive down her instantly iconic 140' tall top hat arch. Then I entered the Single Rider queue - avoiding the 20 minute standby wait, for what little difference it made - for the first of 7 rides I'd eventually get on this masterpiece. Which was was too few rides!

62A0F704-CF3E-4CEF-8A2E-D3AE70165EE7.jpeg


The queue is a good one, though for once it doesn't in any way overshadow the ride to come. It hits those Jurassic World beats, and the pre-show involving Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard (which the queue simple pulses past) doesn't overstay its welcome on even the 7th time through.

Best of all, though, queue-wise, are the lockers. They've already received copious praise in the coaster community. Unlike Hulk or Rip Ride Rockit, which force you to abandon you phone & wallet & whatnot before even joining the queue, on Velocicoaster you can go through over half of the wait before reaching the lockers. They are double-sided, accessible post-ride from a second room, so there's no hassle or confusion at all. Makes for a great guest experience. I've heard of a few European parks which do this, so I'm glad to see the approach reach the States. This should become the industry standard!

FE2A10F9-3CC1-49C0-AAC0-56BBE897408C.jpeg


Now, onto the ride...

Or onto more time in the queue, chatting up a different fellow coaster junkie each time through. Velocicoaster is clearly attracting the enthusiast community to Orlando; there was a palpable energy here which I found no place else in Florida. We chatted in fandom jargon - "stapling," "OTSRs," "MCBRs," ejector vs. floater. It was glorious! One time, I rode alongside a guy with a staggering coaster count of 837. He claimed to have friends with a count in the 1,200 - 1,300 range. Makes my 239 count meager in contrast!

7388CC48-A366-4A63-B450-E26E609853B9.jpeg


Now, onto the ride!

What a ride! This is an Intamin Blitz model, the latest in a long line which began with Cedar Point's legendary Maverick - the very ride which Velocicoaster unseated in my ranking, in fact. These LSM launch coasters aren't the tallest or the fastest or the most record-breaking, but they offer some of the best, most frenzied pacing ever. Only RMCs top them!

Velocicoaster's nearly 2 minute ride time includes two launches, four inversions, several airtime moments and twisty turns, with never a dull moment or a repetitive element. This is dramatically structured like a symphony! It builds, evolves, with distinctive story beats, all using the abstract medium of the roller coaster to perfection.

Ignore the static velociraptor figures seen briefly on-ride. Fan criticisms that they should be animatronics miss the point. Rather, imagine you, the rider, imagine you are a velociraptor! That first launch, that is 0 rushing out from your holding cell, only to run headlong into the claustrophobic confines of the raptor paddock. Panicked, trapped, you desperately dart through a spaghetti bowl of quick transitions, with some astounding headchopper elements.

BFAE6A25-4B30-46F4-A54F-156B08A7B0D4.jpeg


Finally you make a straight charge for the electrified fences...and jump! You clear the walls. The world is yours. The second half over the walkways is a glorious celebration of freedom. It is graceful, lovely, and powerful. There is a final heartline roll - deemed by Universal the "mosasaurus roll" - taken a mere 5 feet over the lagoon, with some thrilling hangtime and the ecstatic sensation that your hands just might touch the water. Orgasmic! Best part of the entire trip! It's rare for a roller coaster to conclude with its standout moment, but Velocicoaster totally does.

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As said, I rode this 7 times in total. I got to experience most sections of the train - the front, the back, the middle. Normal theme park guests prefer front row rides, for the views, so a separate line often formed for the lead car. I liked the front OK, though it tends to stall on the big thrill moments. The back was by far my favorite seat. Glossy butter smooth, with much more forceful, whippy airtime. The middle cars were noticeably more rough; the ride is only 50% as good there.

7660122F-01BF-4B69-B8EC-711CA3D7C875.jpeg


Each time, I rode with my hands up. Surrender to the monster! Do not fight it, do not ride defensively, feel the forces at their fullest. I adore the simple lap bar restraints, which allow full body freedom. Some forum friends here on WDWMagic have said they hated the lap bars - too psychologically terrifying - but I will absolutely take those over the dreadful headaches of over-the-shoulder restraints any day.

And there you have it. The best ride in Florida!
(At least until Iron Gwazi opens.)
 

ferbtones

Well-Known Member
Loving the trip report, your descriptions of the rides bring them to life.

My son just turned 18 and he is a coaster enthusiast, so is reading along with me.

We are in the UK and Alton Towers is a couple of hours from us. Nemesis is our favourite ride of all time, not even been dislodged by Smiler.

We haven’t been to Florida for 6 years for reasons, but Velocicoaster sounds like another reason we need to visit again.
 

Songbird76

Well-Known Member
View attachment 592523

Velocicoaster is what got me to finally visit Orlando. No joke, I was researching flights within 10 minutes of first watching the POV. I predicted way back when that Velocicoaster had a genuine shot at being a Top Ten, or even Top Five Coaster.

I am beyond happy to report that Velocicoaster lived up to my overhype! It IS Top Five!

This is a world class roller coaster! I'm crying here, people!

View attachment 592524

It's the sort of ride you do not expect to find in a theme park. This is a Cedar Point tier thrill machine. You could strip all of Velocicoaster's theming, all of its amazing interaction with the setting, plop it into a parking lot, and it would remain a trip-worthy beast.

But include that theming? Speaking both as a roller coaster enthusiast and as a fan of theme park theming, this is a lovely marriage made in John Hammond's wildest dreams. It's rare to see a coaster this intense include such beautiful scenery. I can only thing of a few select rides in Europe (which I haven't done yet) which do something like this. Rides like Taron, Black Mamba, Nemesis, or F.L.Y.

View attachment 592525

It's impressive how they weaved such a fantastic ride layout into the existing Jurassic Park space. Very little, if anything, got removed. (Simply a triceratops encounter?) Velocicoaster uses a tiny footprint for its initial paddock sequence, and afterwards it simply blazes across the land entry pathways for its jaw-dropping finale. That climactic turnaround near the Hogsmeade transition makes for a satisfyingly dramatic footpath approach, roaring in perfect arcs over the land gateways.

I am aware of some criticisms which Velocicoaster has received from the theming jihadist corner of the park community. It's true that this is a bare naked steel coaster which potentially ruins immersion. Universal's explanation - that Velocicoaster is an in-universe roller coaster, that it's a ride themed to being itself basically - that's not wholly satisfactory. I take solace simply in the ride's inherent design beauty, how it gracefully dips below the Discovery Center sightlines, how it interacts with some elaborate photo-worthy rockwork, without once sacrificing the on-ride experience. This is one pretty looking ride!

View attachment 592526

I hesitated briefly upon first reaching Velocicoaster. I'd let her down! She was supposed to be #200, and I wasn't sure if she would accept being #211 instead. But I made peace with the beautiful apex monstrosity while basking in her plaza, watching the trains swan dive down her instantly iconic 140' tall top hat arch. Then I entered the Single Rider queue - avoiding the 20 minute standby wait, for what little difference it made - for the first of 7 rides I'd eventually get on this masterpiece. Which was was too few rides!

View attachment 592527

The queue is a good one, though for once it doesn't in any way overshadow the ride to come. It hits those Jurassic World beats, and the pre-show involving Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard (which the queue simple pulses past) doesn't overstay its welcome on even the 7th time through.

Best of all, though, queue-wise, are the lockers. They've already received copious praise in the coaster community. Unlike Hulk or Rip Ride Rockit, which force you to abandon you phone & wallet & whatnot before even joining the queue, on Velocicoaster you can go through over half of the wait before reaching the lockers. They are double-sided, accessible post-ride from a second room, so there's no hassle or confusion at all. Makes for a great guest experience. I've heard of a few European parks which do this, so I'm glad to see the approach reach the States. This should become the industry standard!

View attachment 592528

Now, onto the ride...

Or onto more time in the queue, chatting up a different fellow coaster junkie each time through. Velocicoaster is clearly attracting the enthusiast community to Orlando; there was a palpable energy here which I found no place else in Florida. We chatted in fandom jargon - "stapling," "OTSRs," "MCBRs," ejector vs. floater. It was glorious! One time, I rode alongside a guy with a staggering coaster count of 837. He claimed to have friends with a count in the 1,200 - 1,300 range. Makes my 239 count meager in contrast!

View attachment 592532

Now, onto the ride!

What a ride! This is an Intamin Blitz model, the latest in a long line which began with Cedar Point's legendary Maverick - the very ride which Velocicoaster unseated in my ranking, in fact. These LSM launch coasters aren't the tallest or the fastest or the most record-breaking, but they offer some of the best, most frenzied pacing ever. Only RMCs top them!

Velocicoaster's nearly 2 minute ride time includes two launches, four inversions, several airtime moments and twisty turns, with never a dull moment or a repetitive element. This is dramatically structured like a symphony! It builds, evolves, with distinctive story beats, all using the abstract medium of the roller coaster to perfection.

Ignore the static velociraptor figures seen briefly on-ride. Fan criticisms that they should be animatronics miss the point. Rather, imagine you, the rider, imagine you are a velociraptor! That first launch, that is 0 rushing out from your holding cell, only to run headlong into the claustrophobic confines of the raptor paddock. Panicked, trapped, you desperately dart through a spaghetti bowl of quick transitions, with some astounding headchopper elements.

View attachment 592531

Finally you make a straight charge for the electrified fences...and jump! You clear the walls. The world is yours. The second half over the walkways is a glorious celebration of freedom. It is graceful, lovely, and powerful. There is a final heartline roll - deemed by Universal the "mosasaurus roll" - taken a mere 5 feet over the lagoon, with some thrilling hangtime and the ecstatic sensation that your hands just might touch the water. Orgasmic! Best part of the entire trip! It's rare for a roller coaster to conclude with its standout moment, but Velocicoaster totally does.

View attachment 592530

As said, I rode this 7 times in total. I got to experience most sections of the train - the front, the back, the middle. Normal theme park guests prefer front row rides, for the views, so a separate line often formed for the lead car. I liked the front OK, though it tends to stall on the big thrill moments. The back was by far my favorite seat. Glossy butter smooth, with much more forceful, whippy airtime. The middle cars were noticeably more rough; the ride is only 50% as good there.

View attachment 592529

Each time, I rode with my hands up. Surrender to the monster! Do not fight it, do not ride defensively, feel the forces at their fullest. I adore the simple lap bar restraints, which allow full body freedom. Some forum friends here on WDWMagic have said they hated the lap bars - too psychologically terrifying - but I will absolutely take those over the dreadful headaches of over-the-shoulder restraints any day.

And there you have it. The best ride in Florida!
(At least until Iron Gwazi opens.)
Taron.....that sounds familiar. I don't do coasters, but my husband does. Is this one in Phantasialand in Germany? I think my husband maybe went on this. We went to Phantasialand in 2018? and he did some coasters while I took the kids to other things, but I don't know which ones he did and which ones he didn't do. I know he likes the ones at The Efteling park in the Netherlands, too. Last time we went there, we got there for rope drop and he headed straight for the coasters to get there before the lines got long...they are all at the back of the park and most families start at the front and work their way to the back. He was able to ride all the coasters with little to no wait.
 

Songbird76

Well-Known Member
This is the one I am sure my husband went on, because that's why I took this picture. It goes really close to the walkway, so you can get some decent pictures of it. I asked him, and he is also pretty sure he rode Black Mamba.

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They also have a Kali River type ride...I don't remember what it's called, but the theming was really cool. If you ever get to Phantasialand, I recommend it.
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And they have a dark ride that is kind of like a cross between Pirates and Haunted Mansion....I want to say it's like....Ghost something? But I can't seem to find a map...I know it was in the Chinese section of the park. And they have one that's like a poor man's Great Movie Ride that takes you through different movies, but not nearly as realistic...it's cute though. And they have a Toy Story Midway Mania type ride....same type system, but you are shooting frosting from piping bags at mice. Do you have plans to head across the pond when international travel becomes available?
 

D Hulk

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Loving the trip report, your descriptions of the rides bring them to life.

My son just turned 18 and he is a coaster enthusiast, so is reading along with me.

We are in the UK and Alton Towers is a couple of hours from us. Nemesis is our favourite ride of all time, not even been dislodged by Smiler.

We haven’t been to Florida for 6 years for reasons, but Velocicoaster sounds like another reason we need to visit again.
Glad you’re enjoying it!

Nemesis looks incredible! Definitely one of the rides I most want to experience. Velocicoaster sounds ideal for your family. Your son would love it.

Taron.....that sounds familiar. I don't do coasters, but my husband does. Is this one in Phantasialand in Germany? I think my husband maybe went on this. We went to Phantasialand in 2018? and he did some coasters while I took the kids to other things, but I don't know which ones he did and which ones he didn't do. I know he likes the ones at The Efteling park in the Netherlands, too. Last time we went there, we got there for rope drop and he headed straight for the coasters to get there before the lines got long...they are all at the back of the park and most families start at the front and work their way to the back. He was able to ride all the coasters with little to no wait.
This is the one I am sure my husband went on, because that's why I took this picture. It goes really close to the walkway, so you can get some decent pictures of it. I asked him, and he is also pretty sure he rode Black Mamba.

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They also have a Kali River type ride...I don't remember what it's called, but the theming was really cool. If you ever get to Phantasialand, I recommend it.
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And they have a dark ride that is kind of like a cross between Pirates and Haunted Mansion....I want to say it's like....Ghost something? But I can't seem to find a map...I know it was in the Chinese section of the park. And they have one that's like a poor man's Great Movie Ride that takes you through different movies, but not nearly as realistic...it's cute though. And they have a Toy Story Midway Mania type ride....same type system, but you are shooting frosting from piping bags at mice. Do you have plans to head across the pond when international travel becomes available?
Yup, that picture is of Taronat Phantasialand. It uses the same Intamin Blitz model as Velocicoaster. I’m pretty sure someone at Universal Creative was taking notes.

Phantasialand and Efteling both are way way up there on my bucket list. There’s something about the theming in European parks which is just otherworldly. It sounds like you enjoyed your time visiting them even without joining your husband on the roller coasters. Like there’s a lot more to see and do as well.
 

D Hulk

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
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While I could have happily gone back around for another hunt on Velocicoaster, I wanted to see more of the Islands' astounding offerings in the final half hour of operations before their (too early) 8 PM closing. So it was time for the "two" of IOA's incredible new one-two modern roller coaster punch, the stunning Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.

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The Hogsmeade area is incredibly familiar to me from my time in Hollywood and Japan. In Hollywood especially, I recall spending the better part of the day during a passholder preview event simply soaking in every one of Hogsmeade's nooks & crannies. So I didn't spend much time on this trip relishing the original Hogsmeade, no matter how excellent it clearly is. The location here is better, set in a more naturalistic, organic park. With more time to evolve, Florida's Hogsmeade has added new wrinkles to keep delighting the Harry Potter fans who flock here. There were Dark Arts practitioners roaming the walkways, ushering in the swiftly creeping dusk. (I love how the mist effects linger in Florida's humidity!)

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Hagrid's standby was at 45 minutes, both the longest line I saw at IOA and the shortest that Hagrid's usually ever gets. This ride is a smashing success with guests! It has broad appeal without intimidating riders (Velocicoaster is too terrifying for many). Based on conversations I had with other guests over my three Universal days, Harry Potter continues to be a major passionate draw. This is a real winner!

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I joined Hagrid's Single Rider line, which went quickly; I was in, on and out in a quarter of an hour. Most of what I saw in the queue - missing out on the standby's more elaborate pre-show features - was a lengthy, lovely forest trail offering artful views of the coaster and of Hogwarts Castle. The lengthening nighttime shadows cast the whole of Hagrid's in near darkness, obscuring the coaster tracks and truly aiding in the magical motorbike illusion.

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I got fortunate on this ride with my seating. Paired with the mother from a young family of three, who was nervous and needed to be reassured before riding, I accepted the more intimidating motorbike seat. She rode in the sidecar. If you have the chance, I recommend trying both seats. They offer distinct ride experiences. The views are better on the motorbike, for instance, and the higher center of gravity makes the coaster forces feel stronger.

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Hagrid's was fantastic. This is reportedly the world's most expensive and most complicated roller coaster. There are seven launches, several slowdowns for show scenes, and a whole host of other surprises. (Universal bought in bulk from Intamin, so apparently they got Velocicoaster at a discount thanks to Hagrid's.) This is a "storytelling coaster," with the track layout built around scenery, around a sprawling menagerie of magical monsters. Unlike rides like Gringotts or Mummy, however, Hagrid's doesn't sacrifice the coaster experience for story pauses. It slows down on occasional, and you are grateful for the reprieve when it does, but the multi-launch coaster segments over the ruined castles of Scotland remain wonderful coaster experiences.

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I mis-categorized Hagrid's earlier as a "family coaster." It isn't that. No, this is a "transition coaster," something that's not quite a thrill machine but which still has more teeth than a typical family ride. Florida has several rides in this category - Cheetah Hunt, Expedition Everest. Hagrid's is the best of those! I'm growing very fond of this coaster type overall. Transition coasters have personality to spare, even if they lack the wilder forces of their bigger brothers. They are among the most genuinely fun coasters, able to please both enthusiasts and more daring older children.

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Between Hagrid's, Hulk, and Velocicoaster, Islands of Adventure has the best and most well-rounded collection of top tier coasters in Florida. This is quality over quantity. Great stuff!​
 

erstwo

Well-Known Member
Really enjoying the report! Love all the detailed descriptions. My son and husband haven't visited Universal in ages - ever since my son (sort of) outgrew his Harry Potter fascination. With all you are writing about - I'm thinking it might be time for them to go again!

Not sure what it says about me - but in all of these descriptions of your experiences, the thing I'm most jealous of is the fact you were able to sleep on your overnight flights/ on the plane! 😂 No matter where I fly, how long the flight, or what 'class' of seat I'm in - I can never sleep on the overnight flights! You are so lucky!
 

D Hulk

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
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Crowds were gathering around the base of Hogwarts Castle for the nighttime Dark Arts spectacular. Had I known that this would be my only chance to enjoy Islands of Adventure at night, perhaps I would have stuck around. I didn't fully anticipate the early park closures due to low crowds. Oh well, it's a tradeoff for walk-ons nearly everywhere.

Rather, I had a 10:15 late dinner reservation at the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. Recall that my body was still on West Coast time, so this was a normal dinnertime for me. Universal let me plan some later nights early on while I was still adjusting to Florida's time zone.

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Meaning that I had over two hours to kill in CityWalk before eating. I'd zeroed in on catching a movie during that window, with an 8:15 start time, meaning I was a little more rushed heading out of Island of Adventure than I'd have preferred. Though I left enough time to slow down and enjoy the other "islands" on my continued counterclockwise park loop. It was like a preview of coming attractions! The last wisps of dusk left Jurassic Park in an eerie primordial dream state. A red-lit mist covered the walkways around Skull Island, which is one of the trip's standout surreal visual memories. Wet and wild Toon Lagoon retained that otherworldly misty feel. Neon lighting began to take over upon reaching Superhero Island, anticipating the psychedelic mania of CityWalk.

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To celebrate the 30th Halloween Horror Nights, CityWalk's movie theater had a wide selection of classic horror flicks scheduled throughout the day, including many of the fantastic old Universal Monster movies. Now, I'm something of a horror fan as well - this doesn't come up often in Disney fan circles, for some reason - so for my theatrical screening I happily chose that 1980 cinematic landmark of the gruesome and the grotesque...

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Friday the 13th! 😱

This hit the spot! The audience was receptive and gonzo, like a super cool midnight movie revival. Friday the 13th is goofy nonsense - honestly, it isn't a very good movie - with a strange, disorienting mixture of boring character scenes spiked with sudden moments of shock. Tom Savini is a genius! (Cool dude, too; he was my favorite celebrity interaction at the 2019 Monsterpalooza.) The movie theater crowd was 50% horror fans, laughing at familiar lines of dialogue. The other 50% were seeing this for the first time, so it was a blast to see 40-year-old jump scares continue to work their magic on the unsuspecting.

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AAAAAAAHHHHH!!!

With still a little time to go before my reservation, I simply meandered CityWalk's sights. Crowds grew sparse around 10 PM. Most folks still visiting Universal were then inside the Studios for Horror Nights. Things were empty, but there remained a palpable raucous energy.

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Both the Chocolate Emporium and the Hard Rock looked picturesque across the waterways. Similarly, once I got back over to that far side of the resort, the main CityWalk facades themselves looked just as appealing.

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Toothsome Chocolate Emporium came highly recommended as one of Universal's best dining options: highly-themed, tasty food, all around the whole package. There's a vibrant steampunk theme going on here, with oodles of brass fixtures and decorative kinetic gears slathered onto every surface. Sad to say that the walkaround characters weren't there that night, so I didn't get the full Toothsome experience. That might have made me more receptive to the meal.

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As it was, I was feeling just a bit off still. First day of the trip, mind you, new time zone, no genuine sleep the night before (red eye flight), and the only food inside me so far were a mediocre hamburger and a Butterbeer. I was fairly hyped for Toothsome's chocolate-based delicacies - really, I wanted Mexican molé - so the menu in the moment seemed a little underwhelming. A little safe. (A common theme for the trip.) I ultimately opted for chicken wings with savory chocolate spices. The flavor was molé adjacent, but it wasn't the real thing, it wasn't as rich or as vibrant as I'd hoped for. The house salad afterwards helped to calm my rumbly tumbly, at least, and the chocolate-infused whiskey I had in lieu of a dessert provided a nice mellow to conclude the evening.

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Toothsome is especially famous for their elaborate milkshakes. In the moment, I wasn't ready yet. Some servers even berated me as I left for not trying one. That was rude! But stick around, folks, because I might just return to Toothsome on a later evening and make amends for this less-than-stellar first visit. Hmm...

For now, though, sleep time! At last. That was an epic first day. The walk from Toothsome all across CityWalk, out through the security gates and to the resort bus stop, that was all a bit tedious after a long and tiring day. The bus ride was never-ending as well. So were the hotel hallways afterwards. That's just how every day ends at a theme park. You're exhausted yet exhilarated. Who's up for ten more days of this?!! :D
 

D Hulk

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
September 22nd
Day 2


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I'd always planned on sleeping in at the start of Day 2. There's no need to rush the rope drops yet! Indeed, I completely missed Universal's casually late 9 AM rope drop. However, I didn't exactly sleep in either, especially not relative to my own Pacific Standard Time. I have a hard time sleeping in past the sunrise - a habit I've retained from my old wildland firefighting days - so even with the shades drawn and little genuine sleep still (was too buzzed), I nonetheless awoke sometime in the 7 AM hour. The Surfside hotel began to audibly stir, making it easy to follow suit.

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Still and all, it wasn't until a little past 9 that I finally found myself walking back through Universal's CityWalk entry sequence. The heat and humidity were already in full effect (they never truly leave at night), and morning crowds were as substantial as they'd get. My first priority was finding a breakfast. The hotel offers a Starbucks in the lobby, but that is just not an option for me. The last two times I ate anything at a Starbucks, I had anaphylactic shock. My throat swelled like a frog, and my face & hands broke out into a rash. This is my one weird food allergy: Starbucks.

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All other coffees are fine, though. So I zeroed in on CityWalk's Voodoo Donuts to start the day. They are creators of Instagram donuts. Each individual pastry is a distinctive work of photo-ready colorful artwork, with creative concoctions like a pink glaze coated in Cap'n Crunch, or a donut shaped like a gigantic candy corn, et cetera. I chose for deliciousness over aesthetic beauty, selecting some sort of apple fritter coated in chocolate and peanut butter nibs. Also a black coffee, why not!

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Breakfast in hand, I followed a leisurely route around the greater resort hub on my way towards Islands of Adventure. Visual sights drew me first back towards the Universal Studios entry gates, since I was keen on again observing their globe, and on watching Rip Ride Rockit from beyond the park boundaries in a comfortably shaded, out-of-the way green space. It may not be my favorite coaster, but it sure is a pretty one from the right angles.

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Choosing a bench out in front of the Hard Rock Café, taking advantage of the meager shade from a palm tree, I sat down and slowly savored my donut. It was too hot outside to fully appreciate the steaming hot coffee, yet still I sipped it off and on, because that's an essential ritual to begin the day. Resort boats ferried in guests from Uni's nearby luxury hotels. This made for some calming, laidback sightseeing.

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I ate with a paradoxical combination of leisure and urgency, since I was anxious about returning to Islands of Adventure. I'd only gotten a taste of it the night before, enough to know I'd really enjoy it. Donut gone but coffee still in hand (I wouldn't polish that off until reaching Hulk), I made it to the entry gates around 9:30...only half an hour after a likely rope drop rush. The gates were nearly vacant now, with ground crews scouring away the scattered trash from the previous earlier risers. But there’s no worry, since everything in the park except for Hagrid’s and Velocicoaster was posting as a walk-on. What luck!

Next, the adventure begins...again!​
 

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