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Damn that dog! A delayed trip to Florida (March 2018)

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by witchfinder, Apr 15, 2018.

  1. witchfinder

    witchfinder Well-Known Member

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    This 9 day trip to Florida was planned for my wife’s 40th birthday (she’s a big Harry Potter fan) and we were supposed to fly out on 21st February. Unfortunately a few days before we were due to depart, our dog was really ill with gastroenteritis and as the date of the trip approached we couldn’t risk going, so rearranged the trip (at significant cost) for exactly a month later.

    What we didn’t realise when we rearranged the trip was the rearranged dates coincided with the week before Easter, which happens to be one of the busiest weeks in Orlando. It also clashes with Spring Break for some colleges over there so my initial plan of visiting relatively quiet parks was thrown into chaos with the realisation that Universal in particular was likely to be rammed during the second week of our trip. There were definitely moments where we were cursing our four-legged friend whilst standing in an hour-long queue that would've been 15 minutes a month earlier! :rolleyes:

    The trip includes visits to Universal, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and the two Fun Spot parks as well as some non-goon activities. So let’s get started!

    We stayed in the Rosen Inn “Closest to Universal” (as it’s described on Expedia) and the view out of our window certainly confirmed that – look closely and you can see two coasters from Universal and we could also see two at Fun Spot.
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    Day 1 – Universal Orlando
    After arriving the previous day and getting a fairly pathetic night’s sleep, we got our free shuttle bus from the hotel up to Universal and got into the park around 10am, so it was still fairly quiet. The plan for Day 1 was all about Harry Potter, but since it had a fairly short queue (15 mins) and to get one ride under our belts early, we first headed for Revenge of the Mummy.
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    This turned out to be the only time we rode this as the queues never dropped below 30 minutes for the rest of the time we were there, and to be honest I can barely remember anything about it. The visuals and theming were good and I remember the launch up a small hill being fun, but aside from that it’s a bit of a blur. Shame really!

    From there we headed into Diagon Alley and spent the rest of the morning there. We started with the Ollivander’s show, which I understand usually generates a big queue but was half empty and just about to start when we got there, so that was cool. Anna bought a wand and we spent a bit of time trying to get it to work with the various interactive spots, with varying success. After that we just wandered around taking it all in and visiting the shops and attractions.
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    I’m not a huge fan of Harry Potter but this area is absolutely stunning. The level of detail and immersion they have put into it is just phenomenal, and it’s easy to spend an hour or two without even thinking about going on the ride that’s in this area. That’s exactly what we did, and by the time we got to Escape From Gringotts it had a 90 minute queue, so we decided to leave that for another day. We went for lunch in the Leaky Cauldron, which is a lot bigger than it was in the films but still very well themed.
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    Having perused the menu of ‘English favourites’ I couldn’t resist seeing how they had interpreted Toad in the Hole. I think pictures say more than anything here...
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    Not good, although it actually didn’t taste that bad. I also had some Dragon Scale beer which was more acceptable, though very expensive.

    After lunch and more time in Diagon Alley we continued the Potter-themed day by heading to Hogsmeade on the Hogwarts Express. Kings Cross station is not exactly authentic but it’s still a great attraction and captures the spirit of a London train station pretty well. The annoyance here is having to get your park-to-park ticket and fingerprint scanned at the entrance, which causes a bit of a crowd, but once we got though we only had a brief wait for the train itself.
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    Again, no expense has been spared on creating an immersive experience, and this is a great way to get from one park to the other. We used the train three times in this direction during our visit to Orlando and it was getting a bit tedious by the third journey. The following week queue times for what is effectively a glorified monorail were close to 60 minutes, which would be incredibly frustrating given it’s the only way to get from one park to the other without a long and tiring walk. It would be good if there was an alternative for people that just want to get between parks quickly, even if it’s just a bus or walkway connecting the back of the two parks.

    So that brings us to Islands of Adventure and of course Hogsmeade, which was where we headed first. It was rather busy!
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    Once again the theming here is great, although you can tell it was done first as a lot of the shops are just shop fronts rather than ones you can visit. They still look great though and the ones you can go into are fun. There’s also something happening here on the site of the old Dragon Challenge...
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    But anyone following this thread already knows that don’t they? ;)

    We headed up to Hogwarts, which looks incredible, and with the wait time for Forbidden Journey at around 60 minutes we joined the queue. However, we’d only been in it 5 minutes when the ride was evacuated for some reason, so we decided to leave the world of Harry Potter for a while and headed over the bridge to Jurassic Park.
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    We’re both big fans of the films and dinosaurs in general (who isn’t?) so this area was one we were looking forward to most. It’s obviously a bit dated compared to other parts of the park and is definitely aimed more at kids, but it was still thrilling to go through those gates, hear the iconic John Williams music and see all the vehicles from the movies. We headed straight for the River Adventure which only had a 10 minute queue. Yes, it’s basically just a boat ride with a big splash and some cheesy animatronic dinosaurs, but it was still ace, and Anna didn’t know about the T-Rex so that was a fun surprise for me to see her reaction.

    Next we wandered down to Superhero Island, passing Skull Island: Reign of Kong and through Toon Lagoon on the way. I was amazed at the theming in these areas, which is better than the rides in some cases. The level of detail and immersion into the worlds they have created is fabulous and that more than the rides themselves is what made IoA my new favourite park.

    That’s not to say there aren’t great rides, and the two best in my opinion were what we rode next – Spiderman and The Hulk. Spiderman was just fantastic in every way – even the queue line was great and although we had to wait around 40 minutes, that time flew by with so much to see whilst we waited. Once we got on the ride it was amazing, obviously. The blend between screens, animatronics and environmental effects was almost seamless, and it instantly became my new favourite dark ride.
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    (Great queue line and about the only photo I took of Spiderman that day!)

    Next up was the Hulk, and another 40-odd minute wait. Before that we had to put everything we owned in a locker the size of a shoebox. Pretty much my only criticism of Universal is the locker system – they are so inconsistent from one part of the park to another, with some needing a fingerprint, some needing a ticket barcode, some both, and some needing payment while others are free, and they are all different sizes too!

    Anyway, on to the Hulk and the first big thrill coaster of our trip. Another fantastic, high-tech queue line greeted us, before a pretty fantastic, high-tech coaster. The launch and initial barrage of inversions is awesome and the on-board audio definitely adds something. After the foggy tunnel it become a pretty standard B&M coaster with the usual elements you’d expect, which don’t live up to the awesome start but are still fun. It’s such an iconic coaster and overall it didn’t disappoint.
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    From there we headed back around the lake, taking in the amazing theming of Seuss Landing, stopping for a Moose Juice and then making our way through what’s left of the Lost Continent and back to Hogwarts and the now re-opened Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
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    I’d heard nothing but good things about this ride, and the queue line certainly didn’t disappoint. The wait time was under an hour so we probably skipped past some of the amazing details on our journey through the corridors of Hogwarts, but as usual, the level of detail and immersion was superb and sets the scene perfectly for the ride itself.
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    Unfortunately we were both disappointed by the ride. It may have been because we were still tired from the flights and time difference, but all the thrashing around made us both feel a bit sick. There’s no doubt the technology is great, and very clever, but it was easy to see the transitions between the big screens and the practical/animatronic sections, which lost some of the immersion. The story is a bit lacking too compared to other rides at Universal, being a mish-mash of scenes from Harry Potter rather than a clear narrative. We both found the ride vehicle uncomfortable and bit odd in that you’re cramped into this space where you can’t really experience the ride together.

    I know we’re in the minority, and as I said maybe it was just because we were tired, and I did suggest we might give it a re-ride on another day, but Anna didn’t fancy it so if she wasn’t keen then I saw no reason to either. A bit of a shame, but we moved on.

    With the aforementioned tiredness setting in we decided to head back to Universal Studios aboard the Hogwarts Express. The return journey has a different story on the ‘windows’ of course but it wasn’t as good as the other one and due to long queues on subsequent days we only ended up riding this way once.

    Back at USF the park had got a lot busier and we looked at all the queue times and decided we couldn’t be bothered to wait more than 15 minutes for anything, which discounted most rides. We ended up just grabbing a ride on the Woody Woodpecker coaster to get the +1, and even that had a longer queue than advertised.
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    Time-wise we were approaching 6pm, which was the departure time for the shuttle bus, so rather than stick around another hour waiting for the next one, we rushed to grab some mediocre Chinese food from CityWalk and then made our way back to the hotel and an early night.

    It may not seem like we did a great deal that first day but we managed to get on some of our most desired rides and familiarise ourselves with the layout of both parks, so we were all set for the next day and an early start to make the most of the resort while it was quiet.
     
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  2. Hixee

    Hixee Moderator Staff Member Moderator CF Award Winner 2016

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    The 'easy first day' is an underrated way of doing a trip. I've always thought when I go back (to Florida) I'd try to do something similar. Helps take in the wonderful environment! I look forward to seeing the rest of this.
     
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  3. Jamesss

    Jamesss Active Member

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    I know what you mean about Forbidden Journey. I rode it for the first time last October having heard years and years of hype about how it was one of the best dark rides in the world and whilst I did enjoy it, I thought it was quite overrated. Only an 8/10 for me. I will be interested to see your thoughts on Gringotts as I thought that ride was dreadful. Completely relied on screens and virtually no actual coaster!

    The great part about the Wizarding World for me was not so much the rides but the sets and shops.
     
  4. witchfinder

    witchfinder Well-Known Member

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    That'll be coming up in my next day of the trip :)
     
  5. witchfinder

    witchfinder Well-Known Member

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    Day 2 – Universal Orlando: The Return!

    For our second day at Universal we got up early, paid for the buffet breakfast at the hotel (dismal but convenient) and got the shuttle bus at 8:15 to get us to the park for opening time. Once again we headed for USF and we were through the gate before 9am which allowed us to walk through a near-empty park, allowing me to grab this snap...
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    ..before strolling through a deserted Springfield...
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    ...and make our way to the target of our early start, Diagon Alley. We weren’t expecting it to be completely empty though! :D
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    Having already done all the shops etc the day before, we made a beeline for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, which had a 5 minute queue - even better than we’d hoped for.
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    Most people think that this is the lesser of the two big Harry Potter rides at Universal, so given that we weren’t impressed by Forbidden Journey, our expectations were lower for this one. Turns out it is bloody brilliant, to quote Ron Weasley!
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    From the moment you enter Gringotts Bank you are immersed into a story that runs alongside the action from the last Harry Potter film, and the entire queue experience is an absolute joy, from walking past the goblins, to queueing for the elevator down to the vault, to the preshow and the final walk to the ride itself.
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    The sense of wonder and excitement is built up brilliantly and the ride just continued that – it has a few mild coaster sections but is primarily an exhilarating 4D dark ride, and while some people aren’t fans of all the big screens, they blend very well with the practical and environmental effects to tell a great story from beginning to end. While I’m not a fan of 3D generally, in this case it worked brilliantly to enhance the experience.

    We came off the ride and the queue time was still under 20 minutes so we just went for a second ride immediately, and this time we got the front row which just made the 3D effects work even better. This isn’t the best coaster at the park, obviously, and it can’t be classed as a pure dark ride either, but for us this was without doubt the best overall ride experience of our entire trip, and had us both grinning and talking about it long after we left. :D

    We stuck around Diagon Alley long enough to witness the amazing fire-breathing dragon, which gives off heat you can feel at ground level and capped off our first 45 minutes in the park perfectly.
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    With the Harry Potter experiences complete, we headed back around the lake to experience the rest of the rides we were interested in at USF, which all still had relatively short queues at this time. First up was Men in Black: Alien Attack, which is a fun if slightly dated dark shooter. I love the theming on this one and particularly the preshow and the walk to the station, which captured the feeling of the MiB movie brilliantly. I also got a pretty decent score by shooting a key alien completely at random early in the journey!
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    Next we went back to the Springfield area and The Simpsons Ride. Not much to say here, it’s a motion simulator that is fun but nowhere near the quality of the more recent additions to the park. It’s a shame really as this area is one of the best in the park and could do with a better ride to complement it.
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    Next up was Transformers: The Ride. Another one with a decent queue line – I loved all the buttons, knobs and lights you could play with as you walked around. When it comes down to it though, it’s just Spiderman with a worse story and a lot less fun. The giant Optimus Prime on the building outside is cool though!
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    Lunchtime then, and this time we ate at Finnegan’s Bar and Grill, which was significantly better than The Leaky Cauldron. The soda bread they give you before your meal comes out is great, and I also had a ridiculous cocktail – ridiculous in price, colour and alcohol content!
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    It was also the perfect position to walk out and see our first show of the trip – the Blues Brothers show which takes place just around the corner. I’m a big fan of the film and the tunes from it and this was great fun. They had a very convincing John Belushi lookalike playing Jake, although Elwood looked nothing like Dan Aykroyd and wasn’t a great singer either.
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    By now the weather was heating up (it had been relatively cool the previous day) and there was only one ride left in USF that I was bothered about for this visit – Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. Anna wasn’t interested in this due to the 160ft vertical lift hill so she sat this one out which allowed me to use the significantly shorter SRQ. Due to confusion between ride ops about which row number I was supposed to be in and the chaos in the station due to the moving walkway, I ended up sitting next to somebody who was part of a pair, but nobody seemed to mind.
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    I chose Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart” and it worked really well as an accompaniment to the wild ride that followed, and it was very cool to have that blasting out as the train flew through the layout in the sunshine. It’s not the smoothest of rides in places and the plethora of MCBRs are a bit annoying, but I still enjoyed it. The non-inverting loop was a first for me and overall the layout is fun. One disappointment was the abrupt ending of the music as you return to the station. They could’ve at least faded it! This was another ride that I was hoping to try again later in our trip but that never happened due to the insane queues the following week. Obviously I blame the dog!
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    We had no great interest in the Despicable Me, Shrek or Jimmy Fallon rides so it was time to head over to IoA again on our second trip on the Hogwarts Express. Hogsmeade was quieter than the previous day so we had a look round the shops we had missed, then checked the queue time for Flight of the Hippogriff. At nearly an hour that was too long to wait for a kiddie cred so we made our way through Jurassic Park to one of the big rides we had skipped the previous day – Skull Island: Reign of Kong. With an unusually short queue time for the time of day, we got in line...
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    As with all Universal rides, the queue line is brilliant, but in this case it was also pretty scary, with near-darkness, piles of skulls, lots of sinister chanting and even a random jump scare mid-way through. There were quite a few parents taking their presumably traumatised kids out of the line and to be honest I’m not surprised!
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    So the expectation was built up well for the ride by the queue and to be honest, it didn’t really live up to it. It’s basically a glorified bus ride, but the climactic fight between Kong and the dinosaurs is cool, and while it does rely heavily on big screens, the 3D works very well and the environmental effects are pretty effective. So not a brilliant ride but I still enjoyed it a lot.

    We then headed back to Jurassic Park for another ride on the River Adventure (short queue so why not?) before having a wander around the Discovery Centre. A few of the interactive exhibits were a bit broken but it was still fun and really captured the spirit of what such a centre would be like in a real Jurassic Park.
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    Time for another show, and this time it was Poseidon’s Rage, which was really good fun. It’s probably the kind of attraction most people would bypass in favour of coasters and dark rides, but the theming outside the show building was phenomenal and the show itself was great, so I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t already seen it.
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    We needed to be away by 6pm so with time pressing on we made our way towards the exit of IoA but stopped for a ride on Cat in the Hat, which is another decent dark ride. I loved how the rather low-tech way of moving the animatronics around (strings) was incorporated into the story, rather than trying to hide them. I’m no great of Dr Seuss but the Seuss Landing area is just amazing to look at, though sadly I seem not to have taken many photos.
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    That was it for day 2, as we headed off into the City and the Amway Center to watch our first game of Ice Hockey, featuring the local minor league team Orlando Solar Bears.
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    I definitely recommend checking this out if you’re in Orlando at the right time. Tickets are only $14 each for decent seats and it’s a great spectator sport, as there will be lots of scuffles and a couple of fights in most games. Oh, and some sport. Just be wary if you do go to anything at the Amway Center that they don’t allow any backpacks inside the venue so leave them at your hotel or otherwise you’ll end up having to pay a random guy in a convenience store down the road to store your bag for 3 hours and just hope nothing bad happens (it didn’t, to be fair!)

    Next up is a more relaxed day away from Universal, but there’s still a couple of creds of course. :)
     
  6. Hixee

    Hixee Moderator Staff Member Moderator CF Award Winner 2016

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    That sounds like an effective first hour, impressive stuff. You're making me even more convinced that I need to go back! :p

    Also, great idea for an evening activity. I think it's great to get involved in some of the less 'tourist' stuff - it can often result in the more memorable stories (especially to non-goons!).
     
  7. witchfinder

    witchfinder Well-Known Member

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    As you'll find out in future updates, it didn;t get any better than that! :D

    Yeah, they have either basketball or ice hockey on nearly every night from January to mid-April at the Amway so it's a good opportunity to see some American sports and their ridiculous over-enthusiasm... ;)
     
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  8. witchfinder

    witchfinder Well-Known Member

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    Day 3 – Discovery Cove and Fun Spot Orlando

    After 2 hectic days at Universal we needed a slower day and SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove fitted the bill perfectly. It is billed as a Theme Park but the theme is basically lazing around on a beach eating and drinking all-inclusive food and booze and occasionally going for a swim and interacting with sealife and other creatures.

    There are lots of add-ons like swimming with Dolphins but we just went for the base ‘Ultimate package’ which includes one day at DC and 14-days access to SeaWorld, Aquatica and Busch Gardens with free parking at all of those parks. At around £150 each that actually works out to be great value. :)

    Not much more to say other than we really enjoyed it. The weather was warm, the beers and cocktails were cold, the food was reasonably good and we had a lot of fun snorkelling in the Grand Reef. The other areas such as the Wind-away River and Aviary were fun for a single visit but swimming in the water with giant Stingrays and loads of interesting fish was the most fun. Here are some pictures!
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    Oh, and look who we found! :D
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    At the end of our visit we walked to catch the i-Ride trolley back to our hotel and got this view of SeaWorld. More on that park in the next update.
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    That evening after our evening meal we ventured to Fun Spot Orlando to pick up the two creds there. I’d bought some 4-ride sampler wristbands as I figured a couple of rides on each coaster would be sufficient.
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    Most reports I’ve read about this park say it’s usually pretty quiet with the rides being walk-on. Not this day! Saturday night seemed to have brought out all the locals as there were groups of unpleasant teenagers everywhere and both creds had wait times over 20 minutes at well after 9pm. Urgh! :(

    We rode White Lightning first. Having ridden Heidi at Plopsaland last year I knew pretty much what to expect but this seemed wilder, with a bit more airtime, but it was also a lot rougher. It was fun but fairly forgettable. Shortly after our ride it broke down so I never got any pics of it in action.
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    Next up was Freedom Flyer which had a burdenous queue, mainly because the back half of the train is running VR. I was intending to try that but due to it being busy we just went for the normal non-VR option. Once again it’s a clone of a ride I’ve already done (Flight of the Pterosaur) with crappier theming.
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    With it being so busy and time getting away from us, we left after one ride on each cred, both feeling a bit grumpy, and things got worse as we missed the last trolley back to the hotel and had to walk for 30 minutes! :(

    I probably didn’t give Fun Spot a fair crack of the whip but swarms of horrible GP and miserable ride ops don’t make for a fun experience. The park has some good attractions and on a quiet day probably would’ve been much better, but it had a distinctly unfriendly vibe that night and ranks as the worst park on our trip.
     
  9. Hixee

    Hixee Moderator Staff Member Moderator CF Award Winner 2016

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    So I didn't know Discovery Cove was a thing - that's cool! Could be a great one to add in to a future trip (might be a good pseudo-non-park activity for the girlfriend).

    Shame to hear about Fun Spot. Although I will admit I haven't heard anyone else say what you've said, so maybe you just got unlucky? Might be jumping the gun, but did you do the other Fun Spot too?
     
  10. witchfinder

    witchfinder Well-Known Member

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    Yeah, it's a great way to spend a 'rest day' plus when you consider it gives 14 days access to the other SeaWorld parks and includes unlimited food and drink, it's a bit of a no-brainer depending on the time of year you go (it does increase in price in peak season)

    Yep, that's later in the trip and was a very different experience. We just picked the wrong night to go to the Orlando park.
     
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2018 at 11:18 PM
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