By Susan and Simon Veness
Most U.S. schools are on summer break as of this week, and the crowd levels in the parks are buzzing with happy, excited families who have been cooped up for too long and are ready to make the most of their time off. And Orlando won’t disappoint. Let’s have a look at this week’s big addition to their entertainment line-up.
If you’ve been to Orlando in the last few years, you’ve probably seen the “It’s HUUUUUGE!” commercials on television. But now, Fun Spot America is even “HUUUGER”. The International Drive area park, not far from Wet ‘n Wild, has added two new roller coasters and the second tallest SkyCoaster in the world, at 250ft (if you’ve been to their Kissimmee park, Fun Spot U.S.A., you’ve seen the tallest SkyCoaster).
A new ticketing entrance off of Fun Spot Way takes you directly to Freedom Flyer, the park’s new suspended coaster with a 1200ft long, 64ft high track. We made that our first stop during this week’s media preview and it was immediately apparent this was something just a bit different. On first glance, the ride’s restraint system looks like the typical over-the-shoulder restraint, but instead of locking you in from the shoulders down, this one secures at lap level, leaving your arms completely free. Sit in the front row and you’ll get the full impact of what feels like a barely-there restraint.
The first part of the 34mph ride is fairly tame; even your granny could do it. But wait… a certain disquiet develops over how close the coaster’s support beams and the loading tower roof feel as your feet whip past them, and the final tight, spiraling touch-down is a real brain twirler that leaves you dizzy, breathless, and eager for another go! Even with the whirling wallop at the end, Freedom Flyer is still family-friendly, and a great mid-level coaster, slightly more intense than Big Thunder Mountain at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, but not as intense as Cheetah Hunt at Busch Gardens Tampa.
We stumbled over to nearby White Lightning next, a brilliant wooden coaster with over 2000ft of camelbacks, dives and an incredible 90-degree banked turn that feels like you’re flying at a right angle to the ground. Sure, from the ground it looks friendly. But as you crest the top of the first lift hill, there is no mistaking this wooden beast is packed with serious thrill-factor. For a split-second, there is an overwhelming sense that you might be launched onto Grand National Drive, below. The real plunge, however, is the first in a series of hair-raising dips and rises with the kind of air time coaster fanatics live for, and we, along with our fellow riders, immediately queued up for more.
SkyCoaster was next, but we balked as we stood under the behemoth, watching as two visitors strapped into the coaster’s safety vest that served as the ‘ride vehicle’, attached to a massive cable that would bungie them straight toward the ground from a height of 200 feet before rocketing them into a long, swinging arc. To make matters worse (or better, depending on your tolerance for extreme sports), they would be required to pull their own rip-cord. Our fearless duo lay face down in the double vest, ascended to the top of the open-air structure, and with barely a moment’s hesitation, pulled the cord. We could relate to their shrieks, but theirs were shrieks of delight, not terror, as ours would have been. Other media friends joined us as we watched, and the gathering group was split evenly over who would ride and who was pretty sure there might be lightning in the area, or their bad back was playing up, so gosh…they just couldn’t ride today. Without fail, rider after rider came back to earth streaming with adrenaline and vowing to queue right up for another ride. It’s not for everyone, but it’s hard to imagine a bigger rush. In a word, it’s HUUUUUGE!
Fun Spot America’s Grand Re-opening takes place on 8 June, coinciding with the park’s 15th Anniversary.
We recently had lunch at Kres Chophouse on Church Street in Downtown Orlando and were interested to see the obvious recent investment in the area. Long-time Orlando visitors may remember when Church Street was the hot-spot for evening entertainment (pre-Pleasure Island and CityWalk). After several failed attempts to revive the area, it looks like this one might just work. Kres is an excellent example of the upscale-but-casual dining the area is attracting (and the food was fabulous!), along with Eternal Tap whiskey bar, Ceviche tapas bar, Five Guys and Hamburger Mary’s, and funky Latitudes rooftop bar. We will be spending an evening there next week, and will report back in more detail.
It’s no secret Silver Springs in Ocala has fallen into serious disrepair over the last several years, but there is hope for the park. Later this year it will become a State Park, highlighting the area’s natural beauty and those amazing natural springs. Under State management, we have high hopes this treasure of a location will be a worthwhile option for a day out of the hectic theme park pace once again.
Are you in Orlando today? If so, you may want to check out the latest craze at the Food Truck Bazaar in Downtown Kissimmee, with 19 trucks dishing up everything from Chicken and Waffles and Korean BBQ to scrummy cupcakes. Don’t miss fan-favourite Wako Taco. The event takes place from 6pm-9pm on 7 June in front of the Kissimmee Civic Center, 201 E Dakin Ave, Kissimmee.
Over at Universal Studios, Transformers has soft-opened. We’ll take you along for the Media Event on 19 June—with a detour into Springfield in the Simpsons Ride area—so keep watch for a special feature on 20 June.
Restaurant Recommendation: With the Florida heat and humidity ramping up and appetites lowering in response, we’re big fans of meals that are light but filling. And that’s where Sweet Tomatoes comes in. It’s the sort of buffet restaurant you don’t feel guilty about, with all-you-care-to-eat salad, soups, pastas, jacket potatoes, and other yummy nibblys, plus lighter desserts of soft-serve ice cream, jellies, and brownie bites. Look for Two-For-One coupons so your body and your wallet can thank you for being good to them. There are several locations in the main tourist areas.
Favourite Quote of the Week: Amid the twinkling lights in World Showcase at Epcot, guests were beginning to stake out their spots for the nightly IllumiNations show. It was then that we overheard a grandfather say to his grandson, “Hurry! Let’s find a good spot for Eliminations!”