By ATD’s Florida experts Susan & Simon Veness
It should be a no contest, surely? A shark versus a snake, even a venomous one, should be completely one-sided, a foregone conclusion. The shark wins every time, right?
Ah, but not in the complex, varied and exciting world of Orlando’s theme parks! This summer is very much a matter of who’s got the newest and fanciest ride, and there are plenty to choose from.
Walt Disney World has the Frozen Ever After ride at Epcot, with its magical journey into the animated film realm of Arendelle. There’s also the all-new version of Soarin’, the majestic flight-simulator (also at Epcot) that now takes riders all over the world, instead of just iconic California. Universal Orlando boasts the immensity of Skull Island: Reign of Kong, a multi-dimensional delve into the 1930s monster world as envisaged by Peter Jackson in his 2005 remake of King Kong. Again, it’s highly themed, totally immersive and hugely entertaining.
But, for out-and-out thrill rides, there are two prime contenders this year for the Biggest & Baddest title, with SeaWorld featuring the huge structure of Mako, and Busch Gardens hitting back with their own new headliner, Cobra’s Curse. And, when you put them head-to-head, it’s a straight out battle of marine predator against deadly reptile, or Shark vs Snake.
They are two completely different rides, but they both have a serious TQ, or Thrill Quotient, and, after visiting both in succession this summer, we thought it would be a fun comparison to work out which one is King Ride for summer 2016. So, with five different categories to judge them by, here is our verdict on the Big Two:
Setting: SeaWorld definitely pushed the boat out (ahem) with the amount of space they devoted to Mako – the world’s fastest shark. This huge blue-and-purple structure is impossible to miss, as it towers fully 200ft over the park’s new Shark Wreck Reef area. As Orlando’s highest, fastest and longest coaster, it has a visual identity that really adds to SeaWorld’s visual dynamic and also has great spectator value.
But Cobra’s Curse goes a step further in weaving itself into the existing fabric of the Egypt section of Busch Gardens. It utilises one of the former buildings (Tut’s Tomb) and has been seamlessly inserted next to fellow roller-coaster Montu so that the two rides have a side-by-side appearance which considerably enhances the eye-appeal of the area. You can walk the path underneath and be amazed by both.
Scores: Mako 8, Cobra’s Curse 9
Theming: Creating a ride after a shark sits well with SeaWorld’s marine profile, and their strong eco-friendly and conservation-minded message. The Shortfin Mako is an endangered species and urgently needs the publicity to try to halt the huge numbers that are killed each year (mainly for the Asian exotic food market). To that end, the park has teamed with the Guy Harvey Research Institute to highlight the story of the Mako, and the sense of real-world marine insight is extremely strong and compelling, while the additional theming of the two-acre extent of Shark Wreck Reef is fun as well as educational.
Busch Gardens has moved steadily in the direction of fully-themed attractions in recent years, notably with the revamped Pantopia area in 2014, so it made sense for their newest ride to incorporate a whole new level of style and story-telling. Cobra’s Curse is therefore not so much a ride as an excursion into a cursed archaeological dig, a clever incorporation of the Egypt area with a well-known historical yarn. Here, you’re not going on a ride so much as uncovering an ancient mystery that promises danger and excitement – very much like the ride itself!
Scores: Mako 9, Cobra’s Curse 9
Queue Area: This is SeaWorld, so it has to be an ocean environment, right? And the park has come up with an extensive queue experience that takes guests ‘under the sea’ in a gradual thematic way (without actually getting wet!). Pay attention as you walk through the exterior area, slowly winding your way through the shoreline and then under a pier-type structure that draws visitors ever deeper into this calmly mysterious world. The addition of video screens for the Guy Harvey Research Institute, with tracking monitors for a tagged Mako in the wild, makes for extra realism.
The full archaeological dig experience is what Cobra’s Curse is all about. Visitors enter the Viper International Survey and Excavation (VISE) company’s ongoing work into unearthing an ancient temple and its story. It’s a massive work, packed with artefact-like exhibits and style, drawing guests steadily into this clever make-believe setting. But remember the ‘Curse’ in the ride name? Of course you do. It turns out the Snake King that the temple was built for has left his own dire warning for anyone who tries to rebuild his iconic statue, and that’s just what is happening. Watch for the digital projection film half-way through the queue that reveals the full story (oh, and the big real snake exhibit, which those with a snake phobia can by-pass).
Scores: Mako 8, Cobra’s Curse 9
Launch: As riders climb the stairs to the loading platform for Mako, the sense of excitement is enhanced by an original musical backing that draws attention to the sharks gliding by overhead (more clever screen technology, but highly effective). Once everyone is aboard, the lighting becomes more intense and you are off up the l-o-n-g lift hill that quickly elevates you to the full 200ft height of the ride, with a fabulous view over the surround ding area – IF you can bear to look (as Susan often can’t!).
Cobra’s Curse has a moving platform at its loading station that keeps thing moving briskly and with plenty of distraction so you’re not quite ready for the next stage – a vertical elevator that lifts the whole car up on to the start of the track quickly and smoothly. It is a truly novel and spine-tingling feeling, unlike anything else in Florida’s great theme park pantheon. And it sets the scene for a dramatic face-to-fang meeting with the Snake King himself.
Scores: Mako 9, Cobra’s Curse 10
Ride Experience: There’s just no mistaking that pure adrenalin rush of Mako’s first big drop, at a 70-degree angle and reaching the ride’s top speed of 73mph. But that is only the start of a truly exhilarating two-minute whoosh along the near one-mile track, with a series of sharply-banked turns, steep rises and camelback humps that provide the ride’s key feature – airtime, LOTS of airtime! There are no inversions but, in all honesty, Mako doesn’t need them as it delivers a fast, smooth and completely thrilling experience.
Cobra’s Curse is ‘only’ 80ft tall but it packs a lot into its 2,100ft of track. Starting with that vertical lift and intense close-up of the Snake King, it quickly devolves into a helter-skelter whirl around the Egypt area. And, just when you are getting used to the swoops and banks, it throws two novel elements at you. First, the two cars revolve so you are going backwards along one section of track, and then they spin – and keep on spinning. The fact the height requirement is only 42 inches (with a parent, or 48 inches to ride alone) tells you that this is not as intense an experience as Mako, but it definitely packs some thrills for all the family!
Scores: Mako 10, Cobra’s Curse 8.
Final verdict: While we make the final score 45-44 in favour of Cobra’s Curse, the simple fact is both rides are a huge amount of fun and you need to visit both to get the maximum TQ this summer!
If you have questions about Orlando’s theme parks – or anything else about the wonders of Florida – be sure to go online and ask Susan and Simon on the ATD forums, on this link.
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