Thanks for the comments! We had a terrific weekend in Orlando and I'm stoked to tell you more about it. We didn't take a ton of photos, instead occupying ourselves with fun and relaxation, but I do want to take a quick moment to acknowledge Dawn's excellent photography skills and contributions to this report. You can tell hers are the ones without the boarder, mine show up with them, not sure why that is.
Friday morning the alarm went off and I popped right up, rolled out of bed, throwing on pants and sunglasses and out the door, avoiding eye contact with any other humans I came in close contact with in a stealth, half awake mission to grab some donuts and absolutely necessary morning coffees at... you guessed it! This was another huge reason for our excitement over having the Wawa so close - we don't exactly love their coffee, but we both need at least a cup every morning and hotel coffee is generally disgusting (we have had it in desperate situations). Wawa would certainly suffice.
We took our time getting ready since SeaWorld was so close and didn't open until 10am, and we hadn't yet decided if we were going to take an Uber or take advantage of the hotels free shuttle over to the park. Just as we were ready to walk out the door, about 9:50am, I called down to the front desk to find out the details about the free shuttle. I figured it might run once an hour but she informed me there were two in each direction every day, and that we missed the first, and the next one wasn't until 11am. We weren't going to sit around for an hour at this point as we were literally ready to walk out, but I did note the times of the two returning shuttles in case we wanted to take one of them back.
We headed down to the entrance of the hotel and pulled up the Uber app, and had a driver 3 minutes away. It was a pleasant trip hitting no traffic, about 15 minutes and cost $11 (including tip). It was neat to drive right by Mako and Kraken as we headed in.
We did wind up buying Busch Williamsburg annual platinum passes for this trip as we'll be using them there (and at Sesame Place) next year, and knowing of the 10% discount on basically everything it just made sense. Knowing we also get free preferred parking I figured we could direct our Uber right into the gate and just drop us off right at the entrance. At the toll booths they seemed to know the drill as the woman working the booth immediately directed her attention to us in the back seat and asked if we were passholders. I presented my pass and ID and she slapped some sort of tag onto the windshield, welcomed us to the park and told the driver to take us right to the front. I could get used to this.
As we arrived just after park opening we had a short wait at the bottleneck of security and the turnstiles. My everlasting streak of good park weather would continue this weekend, with a predicted high of 80 degrees and no humidity. The sun was already blazing and we were thankful we loaded up on the sunscreen before heading over.
We worked our way through the entrance area forgetting to look for the Dine With Shamu cart, instead popping our heads into the Key West area (we love it there!) and then stopping at the flamingos and Manta to watch a cycle in front of the notorious splash element.
While this was my first visit, Dawn had been to SWO as a kid, but was already noting how different it was from what she remembers. I had a pretty loose plan for SeaWorld and that was basically just to hit Kraken first and then do whatever the hell we felt like, since all I ever hear is how the coasters don't get lines but with the park putting VR on Kraken, the line crawls. This actually worked out nicely as Dawn has been a fan of all of the floorless coasters she has ridden so it seemed out of the three large B&Ms here, this would be the best start with.
A good decision as we arrived to an empty queue and were asked if we were riding with VR or without to which we replied without. Little too early for that. Into the station to find a one train wait for the front row, my favorite place to ride floorless roller coasters, since the novelty is kinda lost anywhere else in the train. Thanks to the dumb VR the loading still took 5+ minutes before dispatch. Heading up the lift I mused to myself about how this was just the beginning of an epic weekend of riding a ton of well-regarded rides at a couple of awesome parks.
Going into this trip I'd been of the impression Kraken gets mixed reviews. A lot of folks seem to find it average and then I feel like I see/hear folks rave about it. I really enjoyed it. It has good pacing and a nice bit of force to many of the elements. I am definitely a fan of the straight drop and it felt much larger in person than in POVs, and the following run of the massive vertical loop into the dive loop into the zero-G was excellent.
I know this is hella super-enthusiast-nerd of me to say, but am I alone in feeling like the cobra roll is completely out of place? Like, I kinda forgot it was there. Being buried in the layout, the coaster was missing the bold visual statement that all the other floorless coasters w/ cobra rolls (Dominator, Bizarro, Hydra, etc) feature. I realize it's a totally dumb gripe. The rest was great - I really enjoyed the loop/floater hill/tunnel/corkscrew finale. Dawn said she got a good bit of headbanging on this but I got absolutely none, so I'm certain it has to do with our height since she's 5'4 and I'm 6'2 and restraints on most rides sit on each of us differently.
From here stopped by Atlantis to watch a few splashdowns and noticed they were cycling empty boats. We wandered toward the back of the park stopping in shops and looking for somewhere with beer, before we found ourselves by the Shark Encounter.
We thought we should get a drink first and walked up to Sharks Bar & Grill, stopping to check out the shark/stingray pool in front of it. When we walked up the hostess kindly informed us they didn't being serving alcohol until after 11:30. Oh no, was it still that early?!
Since we couldn't yet get any booze I declared that I wanted to ride Mako and asked Dawn if she would ride with me. If you've read any of my other reports featuring Dawn you know the coasters she refuses to ride are large/fast steel coasters with lapbars, in particular B&M hypers with clamshell restraints. She's done Nitro and Phantoms Revenge and loathed both. Not long ago she mentioned she would like to eventually try Nitro again, so I brought that up and explained how Mako was newer and likely smoother, etc etc and that she wouldn't have to worry about facing that fear again all weekend, but she wouldn't budge, explaining she would be happy to peruse some stores if I wanted to ride.
I've ridden only 3 B&M hypers (Nitro, Apollo and Goliath @ SFOG) and loved them all. Luckily for me no one at SeaWorld has any interest in riding a brand new B&M hyper as the entire rather extensive queue was empty as was the station except for the front and back rows. I'm lucky to have a solid B&M hyper close to home in Nitro and prefer to ride the back row right side, so I got in line with the two guys in the back row and hopped in with them, in what I was hoping was this rides magic seat.
Up the fast lift we climbed and in no time were headed over the drop and I was ripped from my seat. Its no Skyrush but I got some really fabulous ejector air over the drop and heavy floater air over each of the hills leading up to the midcourse which all felt considerably steeper than the other older hypers I've ridden. It felt very fast and very tall. I loved the hammerhead, and hills that followed, and I will note that I definitely felt that trim back here. The final leg was was different, and I enjoyed the laterals in the back row but I think prefer the bunnyhops of the other B&M hypers I've ridden. I got off grinning ear-to-ear and immediately found a Mako fridge magnet in the gift shop.
A little before noon we wandered further back past the Infinity Falls construction area, not able to really see much besides the tops of some cranes, and came upon the Pretzel Kitchen. We could smell it from the midway.
By now the alcohol was flowing throughout Seaworld so we each grabbed an Angry Orchard and Dawn got pretzel bites with cheese while I got one of the famed bacon pretzels, and we grabbed a shaded table outside to relax and eat some breakfast (I mean, it is bacon). Holy sh*t these pretzels are insane. Sweet salty bacon-y buttery goodness. My eyes were rolling back and I was already declaring this the best birthday ever.
As we were eating we could hear a show taking place in Shamu Stadium across from where we sat and when the show soon let out the area was mobbed, with a line quickly forming for pretzels and beer. We sat and people watched and enjoyed our grub and suds. Perfect timing. We finished our pretzels and took our beers with us over into Shamus Happy Harbor to check out the area (whoa that carousel! cool play area/ropes course thing!!!) and of course to see just how small and embarrassing the kiddie coaster would be.
Well I'll be damned, it was actually fairly respectable looking and we saw other adults on board (with kids of course, but we knew we should be able to get on). Also its themed to Shamu and the trains are awesome!! I'd love to have been a random park guest/parent sitting and watching their kids and then spotting us - two grownass adults quickly chugging the last of our beers before we hopped onto Shamu's Express with a train full of children. Cha-ching!
We still wanted to hit Manta and Journey to Atlantis and then check out some animals and maybe a show, so we took the boardwalk path across the lake and stopped in a few of the shops over there. Part of the deal I made with Dawn was that if she came with me on this trip she could browse/shop as much as she wanted to. We hadn't seen the Sky Tower running at all but I kept an eye on it.
We found our way back to Manta but it looked to be down and cycling empty trains, so we moved on to Atlantis and found that it too was cycling empty boats. Ooof!
We headed into the gift shop/aquarium underneath and spent a little time in there on Snapchat sending hellos to our families, and checking out the stingrays, jelly fish etc.
Very cool! We loved the floor with the fish/rays underneath it. Heading out we checked on Atlantis again at the entrance and overheard the greeters telling others it would be a while and to check back later in the day.
So we headed back to Manta and saw it was up again. We worked our way through a completely empty queue, taking our time to check out each of the tanks, and were again greeted by another mostly empty station, so obviously we queued up for row 1.
I have ridden 2 B&M flyers, both Superman clones, and while I do know the back is where the force is at, the front is nice for the view and not having to stare at the bottom of someones dirty shoes - or even worse - feet. Dawn was excited as this was one the coasters she was most looking forward to. We both absolutely loved it. As expected the pretzel loop delivered on the insanity and the remainder of the ride was far more interesting than either of the Superman clones. I was on the right side and during the "splashdown" I actually got totally spritzed on my right arm and leg. Under the hot Florida sun I couldn't have cared less. Anyways, what a great ride. Easily one of both of our favorites of the entire trip.
Upon exiting Dawn exclaimed "I could ride that all day!" and I asked "you wanna go again!?" to which she gleefully responded "YES!" We walked right back into the queue and right back into row 1 for another lap. So good! One small gripe we both had was that they really didn't need to be running two trains and we wished they hadn't as both rides we got stuck out on the brake run in the flying position for a few minutes. The second train was really not necessary.
Leading up to this trip everyone told me the Antarctica ride was dumb, and that if we wanted to see the penguins to just pick the "walk through" side. Both queues had the same wait, about 20 minutes, though as we waited for the walk through side, the ride side's line seem to fly past us and we regretted our decision.
A bunch of quick queues hopping in front of us didn't help matters but at least we could laugh at those people because who the f*ck would waste money on fast pass in a park like this? LOL! We also had a chuckle while waiting at a parade of old folks on scooters attempting and yet failing to navigate the queue, other guests and each other, incessant reverse beeping and all. I regret not getting a photo of that because it was one of the most ridiculous things we witnessed all weekend.
Anyways, we eventually made it into the short movie room and then into another completely pointless holding room, and then into the penguin exhibit, that after the temperature outside, felt like it was 10 degrees. We poked around, took some pictures, looked at each other shivering, laughed and headed toward the exit. We probably didn't last in there more than 5 minutes. But the penguins were super cute and totally entertaining for all 5 of them!
Since we hadn't bit the bullet on the Dine With Shamu deal, we saw the show times for One Ocean and noted the next show was at 4pm. I don't know if Brit would ever talk to us again if we missed One Ocean. We were receiving threatening texts from her by now. But first, it was time for another drink and we still wanted to check out the Shark Encounter since I was preoccupied with Mako earlier. We again stopped to check out the shark/stingray pools in front of Sharks Bar & Grill and went in to have a seat at the bar and order some fancy cocktails.
The bar itself is an aquarium, adding to the fun. Our bartenders here were awesome and we sat here and relaxed for a while before heading out. We still had plenty of time before One Ocean when the entrance to Mako caught my eye and Dawn motioned for me to go have fun. Through the queue I hurried and up into a half full station and two people waiting for the front row. While I typically prefer hypers in the back, this was my chance to try the front. I still wasn't used to these type of waits at a big park on a beautiful day like this, and kept waiting for the masses to show up (spoiler alert: they never did). I was on the right side of the front row and holy sh*t this ride is awesome up here.
Everything - first drop included - up until the MCBR, is absolutely phenomenal up here. I loved looking over down the first drop on this, just incredible. Dive coaster vibes. The first two huge hills were insane, and we tore through the hammerhead. All of those little hills after the hammerhead are amazing, sitting in the front I could not feel that trim like I could in the back. I love the little ejector hill right before the mid course. The twisty finale is also better up here, being pushed up and into the curves as opposed to yanked around them sideways like in the back row. I was hooked. I got off with the biggest sh*t eating grin and found Dawn who informed me she snapped a photo of me coming around the final turn over the water.
Raving about how great it was, she told me to go take another ride and I happily obliged. Back into a ghost town of a station and back into the front row, same seat. Just as fantastic and again she got my photo as we swooped around the final turn. Good lord I love this ride.
Upon exiting we joined the mass of humanity that appeared out of nowhere and were all apparently headed in the same direction as us - to Shamu Stadium! We got a seat pretty far back in the splash zone as it was fairly warm and didn't mind getting a little splash. The folks around us with ponchos on were a tad concerning.
One Ocean was pretty cheesy, though a ton of fun, but let's be real its mostly just watching whales leap out of the water repeatedly.
Most interesting to me is how the trainers don't go anywhere near the orcas anymore. While we enjoyed the show, I think we were both happy it was on the shorter side. (Sorry, Brit!)
After One Ocean we made a quick pit stop back @ the Pretzel Kitchen this time to just get a few more beers to take with us toward the front of the park. Since the show had just gotten out we had a short wait here but after having such a great day so far we didn't mind. Joining the rest of the crowds heading back toward the front of the park we noticed everyone was queuing up at the other theater near the new construction, apparently they were doing some sort for Christmas show. Passing Mako it was sporting a 5 minute wait and I gave Dawn the look, handed her my beer and ran back through the queue and up to... holy crap there's actually people here. No biggie, it was maybe 20 people total and since the ride loads so quickly and they were running two trains I was in the back row headed up the lift in minutes. I would have gone for the front one more time but it was now a 3-4 train wait and I felt bad making Dawn wait for me again. Plus, we still had more to get to.
Determined to get a ride on Atlantis we headed back and were stoked to see it was up. We figured with it being down for so long that it might now be busy but we worked our way through the queue and right into the station, only having to wait two boats to board. We were warned that if you sit in the front you will get drenched thanks to a tiny unassuming hill halfway through the ride so we begged the grouper to put us further back and he obliged - in row 2. Doh! The two teenage girls who were put in front of us kept us entertained the entire ride, right away asking us if we'd ridden before to which we replied that no we had not, but that we did know the front row gets soaked, much to their dismay.
I'd heard the park ripped out a bunch of the themeing recently to which I have to say that's a shame because if there is some sort of story line to this ride we completely f*cking missed it. Otherwise, it was a cool ride with some pretty, colorful sets in the dark section, a great big and very steep first drop into a huge splashdown that thankfully only spritzed us. The girls in front happily declared they didn't get very wet when I morbidly informed them the little drop around the corner was what would likely soak them and naturally they started to freak out, unable to escape. And get soaked they did. We even got a little bit of it in row 2 but were mostly unscathed. The second half was quick and fun, with that great little twisty coaster section into another splash pool, but again we managed to not be drowned. We both really liked Atlantis. A nice change of pace from the B&Ms, I'm regretful we never made it back around for a second ride.
Since we were close by we couldn't pass up another ride on Manta. We both loved it so much and I really wanted to experience it in the back row, knowing how intense the Superman clones can be. It was also sunset which always makes for a great ride. We queued up with two other riders and once loaded had a little wait while they took the other train off (lol finally). Mother of god that pretzel loop in the back is intense. Also, this time Dawn was on the left side and she got wet during the waterfall fly-by.
On one of our earlier rides on Manta I spotted the Pineapple custard place right around the corner from the entrance and saw the sign for a Pineapple Twist and thought "Geez that looks like it could be Dole Whip, maybe just with a different name?". I have never had Dole Whip but have obviously heard lots about it. Being a huge fan of both custard and all things pineapple, I had to give it a try. We hadn't eaten since the pretzels and weren't exactly hungry yet, but it was going to soon be time to head out, and a creamy cold snack sounded perfect. Now that it was getting dark we wanted to check out the Sea of Trees light show display on the lake so before we headed back that way toward the waterfront I grabbed a Pineapple Twist in a waffle bowl.
So what's the deal? Has anyone had this here? Is it the same thing as Dole Whip? They just can't call it that because Disney? I don't know what to think of it. I didn't dislike it, but I also didn't love it. The waffle bowl was excellent. I'd imagine I would've liked the flavor of the custard more on an ultra hot, humid day. Dawn felt the same way - didn't hate it, didn't love it either.
The tree show was cool but crowded so we bailed as soon as the custard was gone, popping into a few more shops and checking out merch and souvenirs.
I had high hopes having been to Busch Williamsburg but overall we loved the park and I can't wait to go back. I would have happily spent the evening here re-riding Mako and checking out more of the animals. I feel like we missed a lot of that - we went for Shark Encounter twice and got distracted, and we planned on checking out the dolphins, sea lions, and Turtle Trek but time got the better of us. I'm happy we just did the show and had our own lunch of beer and pretzels. We never saw any activity from the Sky Tower but I suspect that's normal. We found the park absolutely gorgeous, and all of the employees we encountered to be pleasant and helpful. Special shout out to our bartenders @ Sharks. I will say its definitely strange to be listening to Christmas music all day long in sunny Florida at a theme park but that was the theme of the weekend.
As we walked toward the entrance we realized we had no plan to get back to the hotel. We missed the 5pm shuttle and would have had to wait almost an hour for the 7:15. I didn't know how easy it would be to get an Uber to come into the parking lot and grab us, but as we passed through the gates I immediately noticed a taxi stand with 4 cabs lined up and drivers milling about. I walked over and asked if anyone was for hire and a friendly gentleman hopped up and said yes.
We jumped in the back and headed to the resort. A quick refresher and we'd head back out for an evening at the legendary Fun Spot America!
More to come...