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The Last Coaster Train out of Orlando - Funspots, Hollywood Studios, and Islands of Adventure - March 13-15

Hyde

I Lied About My Age!
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Preamble
The wife and I saddled up for what turned out to be the last days of operation for Orlando parks in the wake of Covid-19. We had planned for this trip weeks before, as I was inbound for work for a few days before the weekend, and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to visit Star Wars Galaxy's Edge and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (both new for me).

As luck would have it, the parks were open, and we were game to pay the visit!

But First - Funspots Kissimmee and Orlando
Everyone's favorite Florida credit runs! I was able to visit both parks in ~ 2 hours the Thursday night I was in town, leveraging their evening special to make total cost $60 all-in.

To provide quick overview of coasters across the parks:

Funspot America (Orlando)
White Lightning
Orlando Mystic Timbers!

Ride Experience
The park was quite dead when I visited, which created a weight issue for White Lightning. The first time I rode it, there were only 4 other rides - while the coaster has a relatively short train, you could tell it needs a bit more weight to keep from rattling and shuddering through the turns and airtime hills. Things were quite rough, to be honest, despite a great GCI layout. I rode it again with a slightly larger crowd, but still had issues of shuddering, such as on the double up-double down. I still review it as a fun ride, but am curious if others experienced some roughness of ride?
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Freedom Flyer
Why isn't every Vekoma Family Suspended like this?

Ride Experience
I expected some cute family coaster, but does this thing have some punch! Pulling sustained g's in the helices, nice custom layout - this is far from the Runaway Reptar suspended models I've ridden in the past! Probably the biggest surprise of the entire visit coaster wise.
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Funspot America (Kissimmee)

Mine Blower
Let's make this more of a thing.

Ride Experience
This thing is an utter riot! Like White Lightning rode this twice with a lighter train, but it seemed to still offer a relative smoothness through the inversions and tight turns. Was especially impressed with the Timberliner trains, which I've only ridden on Kentucky Flyer - they offered a great, comfortable ride despite the abrupt airtime and very tight turns. It's a great number, even if the second half loses some steam vs. the first half - and really hope more parks build these tight-footprint Gravity Groups.

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Galaxy Spin
It's a spinning Reverchon, next...
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Hurricane
One of the last remnants of Celebration City lives on

Ride Experience
It's a rickety erector set full of airtime. I actually had a lot of fun riding, despite being convinced we were one loose bolt away from the entire thing falling apart. While the placement of the coaster is odd, at the far end of the Funspot complex, I have no chief complaints on the coaster - it's cute and actually offers a relatively decent ride.
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Alright, now let's get into the weekend!

Hollywood Studios
I was excited to make it to this park on two accounts:
  1. See the Hollywood Studios update vs. MGM Studios from my last visit 15 years ago.
  2. Rise of the Resistance, obviously.
To get things started for our weekend, we arrived at the park at 6:30 AM to give us front-of-the-line queuing for Galaxy's Edge. Fortunately Disney is masterful on directing and managing the (quite large) crowd, providing signage and direction for guests wanting to queue for various rides. We were able to position ourselves just outside of Galaxy's Edge with ample time to spare, ensuring we'd have first dibs on queuing for Smuggler's Run once it opened at 8.

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But wait, isn't the point of queuing early to get a shot at Rise of the Resistance? While getting onto Rise of the Resistance is quite the ordeal, Disney luckily has a pretty straight forward process which made queuing relatively easy. The biggest thing to bear in mind if you are wanting to ride Rise of the Resistance in 2020 - be in the park, exactly at opening, so you can use the Disney smartphone app to virtually check into the ride. This is to say, focus your early queue time on other long-line rides (Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Train, Smuggler's Run, etc.), as Disney will notify you when your time to queue for Rise of the Resistance is up.
To give you a sense on how quickly Rise of the Resistance queuetime fills for the day, Disney fills "Boarding Groups" from 1 - 62 - essentially guaranteed one ride throughout the day. These boarding groups were claimed within 30 seconds of the park's opening at 8 AM. Park guests can join the virtual queue beyond Group 62, but are not guaranteed a ride that day. When leaving the park, I checked the park app to see how high the group number count rose across the day: 119.

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At any rate, with boarding group logged for Rise of the Resistance, Jess and I hurried towards Smuggler's Run upon park opening. And I have to tell you, even though we were rushing through to queue for ridetime, taking those first steps into Galaxy's Edge was absolutely magnificent. As a kid who grew up with Star Wars VHS tapes on constant repeat - I never would have imagined an ability to step into a proper Star Wars experience, including full scale Millennium Falcon. While adrenaline was pumping high with the park opening, so were the emotions; I couldn't stop smiling throughout the entire morning as we explored.

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But let's get to our first ride;

Smuggler's Run
This is a masterfully designed ride by Disney. From the first moment you turn the corner and spot the Millennium Falcon, you have begun the "experience". The queue was very well played, blurring the lines of "inside" and "outside" the ride queue as it snaked around the Black Spire Outpost. Honestly, didn't feel like much of a queue at all, as there was a number of fun elements and guest engagement points in-line.

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Overall, the moment when you step on the Falcon to pilot it; it's really something to behold. As guests are clustered into groups of 6 for each simulator, I especially loved the "queuing" of having groups hang out in the galley of the Falcon - which remains quite to scale based off of the movies. Also loved the random Porg nests that were burrowed throughout the ship. :p

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Overall, Jess and I were able to ride Smuggler's Run twice throughout the day (queuing for 20 and 45 minutes respectively), each time serving as Engineers. Even with the backseat view, this simulator is phenomenal - you are in literal control of the Falcon throughout the ride; which was especially hilarious as each time we were group with families of 4, who had their kids serving as pilot for "cute photo ops". Man, those kids did not know how to fly the damn ship. 😅

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Between the ride visuals, tactile engagement of having to jam buttons and nobs to keep the ship moving - this is a simulator experience I hope catches on.

Upon offloading from Smuggler's Run, we headed towards Toy Story land to wait a bit more for our time on Rise of the Resistance.

Toy Story Land
This is a very underrated park section, given it's Star Wars nextdoor neighbor. The level of detail is equally amazing, with no toy unturned. Having scrabble pieces spell out Bathroom, a Knex set serving at the station for Slinky Dog Dash, or Uno cards providing shade for Toy Story Mania; it's remarkable the level of co-branding Disney achieved. Given it was still early in the day, we were able to steal a ride on each of the park's two main attractions:

Toy Story Mania
I have heard many positive reviews of this ride as a dark shooter - and it did not disappoint! Having the Mauer Scoen-esque spinner cars for passengers provided a fun ride system, and the actual shooting experience was very solid. Also enjoyed the "bonus" scene unlocks, which creates plenty of reason to re-ride and build skill level. While I scored what I thought was an impressive 120,000 - it turned out someone on the other side of our ride vehicle had ben beat by another 30k!
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With Toy Story Mania in-hand, we queued for my next coaster cred;

Slinky Dog Dash
Holy crap is this thing a fun time. It's important to callout the theme - this is a toy roller coaster set. As in, the station is the literal "Slinky Dog Dash" boxset, with random spare Mack track sections strewn throughout the queue. While I was expecting some kiddie coaster experience, I was very blown away by this detail, including the instruction set that detailed every piece of the ride.

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As for the ride experience itself - quite good. It's a meandering family launcher, but has fun thematic interaction. I especially enjoyed the second launch, which "winds up" before launching. There is also some great "slinky" sound effects of the metal tensing and bouncing, quite convincing. Knowing how many parks have tried and failed at themed trains, it's just impressive Disney pulled it off with a quite large Slink front car and back car. Overall a fun time, and better than expected.
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We also had a fun interaction while queuing for the ride. :)

With a ping on the iPhone however, our time had arrived to help out the Resistance, so we headed back to Galaxy's Edge.

Rise of the Resistance
Let me start with the TL;DR: This is the most amazing ride experience of my entire life, which left this Star Wars fan absolutely awestruck and teary-eyed. Seriously outstanding, especially for those (like myself) who purposely have avoided spoilers to add to the magic.

For those who have ridden or are interested in my hot takes on the ride (not wanting to ruin spoilers for those wanting to keep it fresh):
As it turns out, our pre-ride experience was quite broken - both pre-shows had animatronics down, and had to resort to "B Mode" video filler. Even then, I was blown away at the mixture of motion simulator and walking experience to move us from on-land to on-space ship. While I had seen glimpses of scenes of the ride, I hadn't realized the storm trooper scene was a portion of the ride queue - talk about an impressive and immense opening! I was absolutely tickled by the experience of being captured and sorted by Imperial officers. We had some ride system delays, which left us in the "prisoner holding" section for a longer time, but the ride cast did not bat an eye, continuing interrogation of riders. The jail break scene was such a cool transition, and while I grabbed a few photos once the ride portion began, I quickly realized everything was happening so fast and with quick succession, it was pointless. Simply the most immersed I have ever been on a ride - I didn't even realize the other ride vehicle has disappeared from our line of sight half way through, taking a different path. :p So glad we got to ride, and made the entire price of admission worth it.

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At this point... it was 11:30 AM, so plenty of time to meander throughout the park and ride remaining rides!

Next we headed to the oldie but goodies:

Muppet Vision 3D
It's amazing this ride is still standing, given the high premium on real estate faced in Hollywood Studios - it's pretty much the odd-one out squeezed between Star Tours and Galaxy's Edge. But even after all these years, I still love this show - laughed just as hard as the first time I watched in when I was 5. My wife was apprehensive before watching, but came out saying "that was so fun!". I know there's a definite timeline for this ride's retirement - here's to hoping it may find a new residence, or at least be brought back at some point.

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Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
Same story as Muppet Vision 3D - it's just a feel good show that takes me back to the first time I visited as a youngster. These MGM hold-overs feel ever more out-of-place, but glad they still perservere.

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Star Tours
This is still a kickass simulator, even with bigger, better rides in the park. I was especially surprised to see the cutscenes had been updated for Rise of Skywalker, featuring scenes of Endor and final battle on Exegol - it's only been months since the movie came out! We rode twice hoping to see one of the other random cutscenes, but got Exegol both times.

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With these rides in-hand, we headed towards the north side of the park.

Rock n Roller Coaster
Rock n Roller Coaster was my first spaghetti bowl LIM coaster when I rode it 15 years before. Overall great to get back to it to provide comparison to the Premier spaghetti bowls in turn - Rock n Roller Coaster's theming puts it quite over the top compared to the Flights of Fear. I will say however I enjoy the Premier layout more, if only because I prefer a Cobra Roll to Sidewinder inversion.

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Tower of Terror
Unfortunately couldn't coax my wife onto this one. With all the technology and show magic advancements we had seen earlier in the day, Tower of Terror was showing it's age with non-HD graphics and limited projector capability. I appreciate it as cutting edge tech for it's time; I also think it's well worth some TLC, as the last true work the ride received was some temporary minor tweaks for Summer Nightastic back in 2010.

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Can I also point out the noticeable shift in queue management for this ride? Previously riders queued all the way down into the boiler room, but FastPass integration and tweaks now cause the queue to stop right in the lobby. Much preferred the old way, as there were a few easter eggs in the hallways on the way down that you now zoom directly past as you're ushered through the queue. And it's a random aside, but also miss the cast members being "conniving" and mischievous - they were quite normal on directing riders.

Outside of these rides, we spent much of our time hanging out in Galaxy's Edge, immersing in the experience. Unfortunately Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway was down much of the day, making the queue extend to 2+ hours - I know I'll be able to ride it later on down the road for a far shorter queue time.

All in, it was a great day, and dream come true getting to visit Galaxy's Edge!
 

Hyde

I Lied About My Age!
Staff member
Moderator
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[Breaking into 2 posts to allow more photos to be attached]

Island's of Adventure
To close out our trip, we decided to head to Islands of Adventure, and finally experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

We arrived later in the morning than what was required for Hollywood Studios (a relief), and joined the early morning queue to head directly back towards Hagrid's Motorbikes. Quite the different queuing experience vs. Disney - folks haphazardly racing through the Lost Continent section of the park vs. the organized queuing we'd seen at Hollywood Studios. Things settled in once we had hit the pre-queue on the north-end of the Lost Continent, but it was pretty mad dash until then!

Hagrid's Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure
Not a bad way to start the very first moments of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Queueing for the ride was very interesting given how much of it had been reused from Dueling Dragons. I will say it half-worked thematically; coming fresh off of Galaxy's Edge, the queuing was more in-theme there I would say; much of the queue was empty rooms and sparse theming - I know Universal can do better! The queuing for Dueling Dragons was also often quite dark - unfortunately they have kept the lights down still for ambiance of Harry Potter. But a queue is hardly a reason to judge a ride!

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Ride Experience
I really hadn't a clue what to expect climbing aboard this coaster. Maybe a milder Maverick/Taron experience? But was I wrong! While the top speed is 50 mph, the number of launches and tight transitions on this coaster are quite something! Dabs of theming and some of the best onboard audio I have ever experienced on a roller coaster helped equally seal the deal. The ride vehicles are also masterfully created; getting to ride in a motorcycle squat definitely amplifies the ride experience too. I've only done a handful of switch-track experiences, but I also put Hagrid's at the top in terms of most seemless and story-telling focused; really adding a fun surprise element for riders. I also conveniently forgot about the dark section of the ride, which added some great surprise for myself and the wife! Overall this is a top 40 coaster for me, and a quite novel roller coaster that holds very true to thematic storytelling, making me quite hopeful for the Jurassic Park Intamin Blitz coaster yet to come.

With Hagrid out of the way, we headed for the prized attraction, which also only had a 10 minute queue!

Harry Potter's Forbidden Journey
Oh that's right, the other hundred million dollar attraction in Orlando! To be blunt, this ride was a ghost town throughout the entire day - quite a jarring difference compared to the multi-hour queue for Hagrid and the queuing we had done for Star Wars the day before. So we had an interesting experience of quickly walking through the entire ride's massive queue design, skipping much of the pre-show which we did best to wait and linger here-and-there for. Just like Rise of the Resistance, Forbidden Journey's experience really starts the second you see Hogwarts castle, and masterfully blends the theming from entrance to exit. I especially loved the moving paintings and portraits throughout much of the queue, or at least as much of it as we got to see!

Ride Experience
So I see what all the hype is about! Really was blown away from the get-go of the ride start on how swiftly the story kicks off (literally), swooping you into a blended world of 360 projection and real-life scenery/animatronic. It's all the more interesting to see two differing theories of rides between Rise and the Resistance and Forbidden Journey, one using a far heavier reliance on scenery and animatronic, the other focused moreso on immersive video projection (and a healthy dose of animatronic). You can't pick a favorite, as both of these rides offer such vivid and in-depth storytelling. And as a coaster enthusiast, the glimpses I snuck of the ride system were all the more impressive; seeing the robotic arms and trackwork of vehicles move harmoniously with the scenery. That was probably my biggest takeaway, how close everything gets to your face! While I wasn't as shook riding this as I was Rise of the Resistance the day before, I really loved every second of Forbidden Journey.

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Checking out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
It is amazing to see how much of the Harry Potter story has come to life (in a relatively small park section footprint). Getting to drink butter beer, checking out Olivander's wand shop - it's absolutely magical! While we didn't have time to make it to Universal Orlando and Diagon Alley, I am very excited to revisit and round out the experience.

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With the newest section of the park under our belt, we focused on rounding out the park counter clockwise.

Jurassic River Adventure
Jurassic Park is under quite a bit of construction as the Blitz coaster build continues. As a child of the 90s, it's still so cool to get to walk under the Jurassic Park archway with John Williams playing (realizing we are leaving another section of the park, also where John Williams is playing :p ). With bathing suits in hand, we headed for our first water ride of the day.

Ride Experience
Oh boy, this puppy hasn't aged well. While the Universal Hollywood River Adventure has been updated to Jurassic World theme with new special effects and plotline, River Adventure still sports the OG Jurassic Park river-cruise-gone-wrong theme. Unfortunately, some animatronics/effects were out of sync or not working (compared to rides past), with some visible tears in the dinosaur skin. Overall, this is such a fun ride, that has riders remainder relatively (and deceivingly) dry - but it's in need of some much needed restoration. Alas with Jurassic Park coaster inbound for 2021, I wouldn't expect a Jurassic World update for another 2-3 years.

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Continuing to round the park, we headed towards that multimillion dollar ride everyone forgot was built:

Kong: Skull Island
To be honest, I didn't even know this was a thing until we spotted the sign.

Ride Experience
Ever wonder what would happen if you mixed a jungle safari, with It's a Small World, Great Movie Ride, and lots and lots of projector screens!? No? Me neither. Overall, this ride is good for what it is, a trackless dark ride with 4D scenes of snakes and gorillas and dinosaurs and whatever else is in the latest Kong movie. But it's also perfectly forgettable and unremarkable when put next to other Orlando attractions.

And in this I think lies Universal's greater issue: intellectual property and brand value. Universal simply hasn't been able to build a recent beloved movie franchise worth it's own park section for decades. Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you might say - that's Warner Bros. Marvel section? Disney. Even the Jurassic Park section is still built upon the 1994 movie, and Jurassic World only has 2 movies that are perfectly adequate at best. Taking a look at Universal Hollywood, there's been recent push around Fast and Furious or Transformers - but even those rides are moderately received. At the end of the day through all of this - do you want to visit these Universal movie worlds as much as Harry Potter and Star Wars?

Universal has generated a series of Kong-themed movies for years now, but none of them offer me compelling content I want to revisit outside of a few minutes of a ride. So it is that Universal can built a $100M indoor attraction such as this, with quite good visual effects, yet have no queue to ride as folks are flocking to Hagrid's.


... I also didn't grab any photos lol

Toon Lagoon and two of the world's most highly rated water rides.

Dudley Doo-Right's Ripsaw Falls
This was my first time on the ride, as I hadn't brought proper swimwear in the past. After hearing rave reviews of how awesome this flume ride is, I was very excited to ride.

Ride Experience
Talk about a long flume ride! I really underestimated the length, expecting something along the lines of Splash Mountain. Between the number of drops, lifts, and fun twists and turns - this is by far the best flume I've ever ridden (and probably will ride). Also wasn't aware of the tracked drop in the mountain, so that was a fun surprise!


Popeye and Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges
The only thing I've ever known about this ride is it gets you utterly drenched from head to toe. Leggo!

Ride Experience
There was an ill-fated river rapids ride a group of us took during the Holiday World CF Live last year, where I ended up getting rather (and unexpectedly wet). Compared to that, this thing is an absolute riot. Within seconds of the ride start, I was also sopping wet from head to toe, and couldn't stop laughing throughout the entire ride. The stories are true - noone leaves this ride dry. The length of the ride is what was most impressive, far longer than what you can see as a casual viewer. A really nice feature Universal built into the ride rafts - covered storage to keep carry-on items dry! Haven't a clue why this is more prevalent in other parks (outside of boosting locker rental fees). If you're up for a very wet ride, this is such a fun go-round.

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With Toon Lagoon done, we headed next to the Marvel section of the park.

Spiderman 4D Adventure
Gosh I forgot how good this ride is!

Ride Experience
Even with all of the new immersive experience rides added to Orlando, Spiderman still stands out as such an awesome ride experience, which really speaks to how cutting-edge it was back in 2002 when it opened (and the graphic touch-up it's received since then). I'd actually still put it ahead of other rides in terms of syncing of ride motion and projections; which remain finnicky on even some of the newest attractions. And with new attractions drawing the major queues, it's easy enough to get on!


Incredible Hulk
Meet the new Hulk, same as the old Hulk

Ride Experience
This still remains one of the best B&M's out there, especially in the standard sit-down category. The updates to queue theme, entrance, and launch sequence add even better touch than Hulk 1.0 - but the ride still sports massive forces and inversions as always.

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One gripe however, similar to Steel Vengeance - metal detectors. While I appreciate Universal offering free lockers for storage for Hulk, the metal detectors remain very overzealous to try to eliminate all possible carry-on items. When the ride staff are giving me gripe over my wristwatch (which did happen) - that's when it's a cumbersome process with very minimal return. I'm glad parks are working out better/free storage solutions to ensure riders don't lose items while riding - I also think metal detectors are not the right enforcement, and yield nominal results at best.

And that's it! Such a lucky and fun trip that we were able to take.

Biggest takeaways:
  1. Universal and Disney are knocking it out of the park with immersive attractions.
  2. Onboard audio is really elevating roller coaster experiences for these parks - hope others can take advantage too.
  3. Between Blue Milk and Butter Beer - Blue Milk winds hands down.
 

Youngster Joey

Well-Known Member
Muppet Vision 3D
It's amazing this ride is still standing, given the high premium on real estate faced in Hollywood Studios - it's pretty much the odd-one out squeezed between Star Tours and Galaxy's Edge. But even after all these years, I still love this show - laughed just as hard as the first time I watched in when I was 5. My wife was apprehensive before watching, but came out saying "that was so fun!". I know there's a definite timeline for this ride's retirement - here's to hoping it may find a new residence, or at least be brought back at some point.
Glad to see someone else who really loves this show. While i also know it's days are numbered It'll be devastating to see the last thing Jim Henson got to work on personally go away.

Thanks for the report Matt.
 
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