Alright! It's Columbus Day which means there's absolutely f*cking nothing going on at the office so let's move on to the next installment of the trip.
Generally I shy away from writing trip reports for parks we visit all the time (unless it's a pit stop as part of another trip). For example, a week or two after our Cedar Point trip we made a quick trip to Great Adventure with Boldikus and I probably won't write a report for that (though he did, and you should read it here
... that was a great day for sure). Thankfully because of my new found appreciation for discount airlines we're starting to visit the Florida parks a lot more frequently and now have Busch / SeaWorld season passes. Because of that I debated skipping over this trip but there was a lot of new stuff going on so I opted to write it anyway as it turned out to be a pretty fantastic trip. Additionally there were plenty of great new (for us) things to highlight like the Killer Whale Up Close Tour at SeaWorld, some great Howl o Scream stuff, Kraken VR and our first ever ride on Mine Blower. Our last trip to Florida was only 3 months prior but there's always so much going on at the Florida parks that there were a ton of great new things to experience.
Speaking of our last Florida trip (which you can read about here
), this particular trip was actually booked the day we got back from that trip. We enjoyed ourselves so much so as soon as I got back to work I had the itch to go back and (almost like a sign from the sh*tty airline gods) Allegiant came out with more $35 fares to Florida the day after we landed so I jumped on them immediately.
This trip would actually be a bit shorter than the last one with our flight departing from Trenton bound for Orlando Sanford airport (because apparently we're not quite klassy enough for Orlando International anymore
) and returning Sunday evening. We were on a budget (obviously... we're flying f*cking Allegiant) so with only 2 full days we figured we'd stick to the parks we had passes to. Our plan was to visit SeaWorld on Friday (with a 6:00 close), drive to Tampa and meet up with some of our friends for a few drinks that night, spend all day at Busch Gardens and Howl O Scream on Saturday and then hit Mine Blower before flying out Sunday afternoon. The plan evolved a little on Sunday (to get slightly more awesome) but generally we stuck to the plan (which is an impressive feat for us).
After looking forward to the trip for weeks, when Thursday finally rolled around I left the office a little early, picked Brit up at her office and made the (now familiar) drive to the state-of-the-art, amazing, world-class Trenton Mercer airport. The drive itself was uneventful and in no time we were parking in the cheap a** long-term lot, going through the standard 2 minute long TSA line and grabbing a seat at the bar to get a nice pre-flight flight.
...okay fine they don't have flights, they have like 4 taps and only 2 of them work but it sounded good didn't it? It's Trenton airport, what do you want from them? Five minutes ago you didn't even know Trenton had an airport. Don't lie. We just recently found that out too.
Our flight was delayed 30 minutes, but aside from that and the kid behind me who wouldn't shut the f*ck up
it was a pretty uneventful flight. Personally it's my firm belief that if you fly for $35 and complain about a 30 minute delay you're a complete ass clown so that didn't bother me. The kid was annoying but (as posted in an earlier report that I actually wrote on this flight since there's no Wifi and nothing better to do) I tried my best to drown him out.
As funny as I find that picture I should probably tear down the fourth wall a little here as not to create a bad visual with the next part of the report. Unfortunately for me, we actually had an hour drive when we landed so in reality I only had those 2 beers for the entire flight and nothing for about 3 hours before picking up the rental car so as the flight went on I did grow to hate that kid more and more.
Again though, I refuse to bitch too much about pretty much anything on ANY $35 flight and any time you fly to Orlando you should expect terribly behaved kids so really, it wasn't the end of the world. I couldn't stand the kid, but I had nobody to blame but myself. It was my decision to fly the Wal Mart of the sky and basically any cons are outweighed by the amazing airfare.
Anyway, we landed at Sanford airport to an eruption of cheers from those weird people that clap when their plane lands. Normally I think this is ridiculous but I guess on Allegiant it may be an appropriate response.
We passed by the baggage claim because anyone who checks bags on Allegiant is stupid and made our way to the rental car place to pick up our car. That seemed innocent enough, but as it turned out this vacation was about to start out with a bang and the rental car place may have been one of the best parts of the entire trip. Yes, you read that correctly and no, that's not a knock on the rest of the trip which was also awesome.
It's always been my firm belief that unless you're rich or have a huge family, anyone who rents anything other than an economy car is insane. First of all, the rental car company just gives you whatever they feel like giving you anyway (our economy car was "upgraded" to a gas guzzling, 30 year old powder blue minivan once in Orlando) and second of all it's much cheaper and generally better on gas. I'm not picky about rental cars at all, all I care about is the hours of the rental car place and if they're located on or off the airport so we ended up renting from Alamo at the airport and selecting "Nissan Versa or similar" because we didn't give a sh*t and they were the cheapest option. After we landed we proceeded to the rental car place, matter-of-factly filled out the agreement, declined absolutely everything and walked out to the guy just hoping our car would have f*cking cruise control this time for a change.
As we walked out with the printed rental agreement in hand, we found 2 employees openly b*tching about an older couple standing right in front of them. The first guy (right in front of this poor, though clearly insane, old couple) yelled that he tried to give them 3 cars already and they didn't want any of them. Then he added that he even tried to give them a "brand new f*cking Camaro" and they didn't want it. He told his coworker that he had to deal with them instead and he'd deal with us because was (and I quote) "sick of their sh*t".
Obviously this dude is the worst employee ever, but that's not my problem and I don't go to Alamo Rent a Car for their amazing customer service so as we walked over to our car that was sure to be a complete piece of sh*t I decided to make small talk with the guy. He continued to vent his frustrations about the couple before us and told us he was still in disbelief that they turned down a brand new Camaro because it was too low and hard for them to get in and out of. Jokingly I stated that if they were looking for someone to take the Camaro off their hands for the weekend I'd be more than happy to help out and after laughing he looked at me with a look of utter disdain for his job and the company in general and said something along the lines of "you know what, I really don't care any more, I'll hook you up" and handed me the keys.
I drive a Honda Fit. Brit drives a Toyota Prius and before that she drove a Suzuki Forenza (which made my car at the time... a crappy Dodge Neon, look like a Ferrari until the Forenza predictably died on the side of the road in Smyrna, Delaware with less than a f*cking hundred thousand miles on it because it was a piece of sh*t on an almost incomprehensible level
I love my Fit. I worked hard for it and it's the first new car I've ever been able to afford. Prior to that I had two used Dodge Neons because I'm a sucker for punishment. I've rented a ton of cars in my life between all the traveling we've done and how often my piece of sh*t Neons broke down leaving me without a way to get to work but it's rare that I ever get to drive anything above a 4 cylinder. Now, thanks to an apparently joint gift between my guardian angel and the worst employee in the history of Alamo rent a car I was holding the keys to a f*cking Camaro while paying for a $30 a day economy car. Holy sh*t, this weekend was going to be awesome.
After thanking the guy BIG TIME, we got in the car and got the hell out of the rental car place ASAP before someone over there came to their senses or changed their minds. Still amazed by our good fortune we pulled over at a nearby gas station to book a hotel with the Choice app (I didn't book in advance because I don't trust Allegiant to be on time ever) and take a picture of our awesome new ride. Still amazed at what just happened, we booked the room, took some photos so we could brag about our insane luck and then began our drive to the hotel which was located less than a mile from the park right off of I Drive.
We made our way to the hotel, stopping for 4 tolls along the way. Normally I'd be annoyed by this (and we finally caved and picked up a SunPass before heading back), but I was in heaven that night since stopping to pay cash at 4 tolls that night gave me 4 excuses to come to a complete stop, roll forward 10 or 20 feet (as not to be a complete f*cking dickhead to the guys working in the toll booth) and then floor the thing, scaring the sh*t out of Brit and unleashing the fury of god until we reached highway speed (which took about 0.000001 seconds, lol). While I did generally drive with the flow of traffic since the car is a complete cop magnet and since I'm not an a**hole, I did take every opportunity to accelerate as quickly as possible all weekend long when there was nobody in front of me, it never got old. Damn SeaWorld, I know you've got a nice B&M collection but you'll have a hard time living up to the thrill of our Friday night ride to the hotel.
... anyway, since this is TPR I know I've now lost 95% of you so I guess we should move on to SeaWorld and stop talking about the car. Alright, alright... fine.
Obviously I haven't been shy about how much we love SeaWorld (especially Brit) and every time we visit we end up loving it more and more. We were especially excited about this visit though because we were getting the opportunity to start our day with the Killer Whale Up Close tour!
SeaWorld offers a ton of excellent tours and upgrades
and I highly recommend you look into them before visiting. Many of them are far less expensive than you'd think. They have everything from a $15 shark up close tour, a $15 dolphin encounter and a $35 sea lion up close tour (this is on our radar) to a tour where you can touch a penguin and finally the Killer Whale up close tour. That once is pricey at $79, but I got it as a Birthday gift for Brit a few months prior knowing she'd absolutely love it and (of course) that turned out to be the case.
The tour begins at the Dolphin Nursery where a guide takes you over to Shamu stadium, telling you about the whales and the park along the way. Once inside, you're split into 3 groups (each group is generally about 4-6 people) and a trainer takes you over to meet one of the whales. We were assigned to Katina, a 39 year old female orca who seemed to be especially playful and generally awesome.
The trainers spent about 45 minutes with us, having us pose for pictures, telling us about the whales and having us throw them some food. Some people weren't big on that since it meant touching fish that had been cut open so they could insert vitamins into them but we didn't care at all and were happy to keep providing Katina with fish since she was a good little whale and deserved to be rewarded with fish.
Next up, the trainers had us take group photos... altering the photos based on how wet people wanted to get. If you were a complete loser who hated fun you could kneel on either side of the glass with the whale in between. They had the group in front of us lay on their backs on the (wet) ground and have Katina flip upsidedown and pose which was a cool idea and for us (since we said we didn't mind getting soaked because it's a f*cking killer whale tour, what the hell is wrong with some people? Like what do you expect?) Katina breached right behind us and then proceeded to absolutely soak us a few seconds after the picture was taken. It was a million degrees, we didn't mind one bit.
After that last photo session they had us all target some behaviors, explaining their positive reinforcement techniques and having Katina swim to the center of the pool and come back breaching and splashing the sh*t out of us one last time. That was super cool and (again) welcome on such a hot day.
To conclude the tour, we moved up higher in the stadium and spoke with the head trainer who had the whales come up and pose and then showed us how they teach them behaviors that are beneficial when collecting medical data. They even had them pee into a cup which we did get to witness, and it was sort of amazing how little of a f*ck the trainer gave about having his arm covered in whale piss but I didn't take a photo because.... why the hell would I want a photo of that? It was certaintly interesting nonetheless.
After our Q&A session the tour came to a close, and (after thanking the trainers again for such an awesome morning) we were free to enjoy the day in the park. If you love whales I highly recommend this tour. It's very informative, highly entertaining and pretty amazing getting that close to an orca. If you don't love whales, then WTF are you doing here?
At the conclusion of the tour we had about an hour before the One Ocean show and because we planned to leave an hour before close to visit our friends in Tampa, that was definitely the show that worked out best with our schedule. That didn't give us a ton of time and we didn't want to go too far but we had plenty of time to head over to the shark area which (as everyone knows) just so happens to be the home of Orlando's tallest, fastest and longest coaster.
Since it was a weekday during one of Orlando's slowest times of the year the ride was a station wait so we decided to "brave" the one train wait for the front. Previously I had only ridden in the back so I figured it would be worth trying something new. That idea definitely paid off as we were treated to an awesome ride that I might have actually enjoyed even more than our back seat rides. This coaster doesn't get a lot of attention but it's actually really, really good and for a B&M hyper it's actually got some pretty forceful moments of airtime. The first drop is awesome, everything up to the trim is amazing and honestly even after the trim it's really solid. The swoopy finale is way cooler than it looks and a nice change of pace from it's B&M counterparts and the ride as a whole it incredible solid. Every time I ride this thing I like it more and more.
Since there was no line we got off, walked around and hopped on again in the back. The back definitely offers more powerful airtime on the first drop but the front comes out ahead on most of the other hills. It's still tough to pick a favorite seat to be honest, this ride is great absolutely everywhere. SeaWorld has a real winner with Mako and I can't help but feel like this ride gets overlooked quite a bit.
After our second ride we decided to duck into the nearby Shark exhibit. I've always enjoyed this exhibit. It's a minimal time investment which makes it a great option between shows, it's air conditioned, it's a great option in the rain or the patented Florida afternoon storm and most importantly, it's awesome! They have a great selection of sharks and the shark tube (while not quite as unique as it once was) is still amazing.
We still had about 30 minutes to kill after the shark encounter which left Brit looking for something to do to fill that time. I, on the other hand, knew exactly where I was headed, Pacific Point Preserve!
As everyone who's been paying attention knows, I love Sea Lions. It's rare that we ever have time to see Clyde & Seamore even though I'm of the unpopular opinion that it's the best theme park show in Orlando (yeah... I'm the guy
) but I love Sea Lions and get a ton of enjoyment feeding them or just watching them be genuinely adorable 24/7. Whenever we need to kill time before a show at SeaWorld we generally end up at Pacific Point. I could watch these guys all day.
After getting our Sea Lion fix we decided to make our way back to Shamu Stadium for one ocean. On the way we dipped into the pretzel place to snag a beer and a pretzel dog (so good) and then made our way into the stadium to see the show.
As always the show was great. Brit cried, I laughed at her for crying. Good times, good times.
Once Brit managed to collect herself (lol), we left the stadium and decided to head up towards the front. Manta (PROBABLY the best coaster in Orlando as far as I'm concerned unless you want to be annoyingly technical and count Gringotts or something) was closed all day and cycling which was a bummer and a complete tease but the silver lining in that was that we got to do something we may not have had time for otherwise and check out Kraken Unleashed.
Brit's a bigger fan of VR than I am and she was pretty excited to try it. I hadn't ridden Kraken in years so I was hesitant, but not wanting to be a party pooper I did cave at the end and opt for the headset. We ended up waiting about 30 minutes despite the nonexistant queue since thanks to VR they were probably dispatching one train every 5 minutes or so. I didn't try requesting a seat since we didn't care but I think I did see more than 4 people in the front row queue at one point so I believe they were honoring requests. Don't quote me on that though.
Personally I wish they would leave the front row queue open and not offer VR in that row but maybe that's just me... why sit in the front if you're going to strap a phone to your face?
I'll admit that as VR goes this one was pretty cool. The audio element was nice and (while I probably wouldn't do it again) it was a cool and unique idea. I did find the headset more uncomfortable on this ride than on most VR rides as it really wants to dig into your nose and you really need to hold it the entire time but on the plus side the fact that you can't brace for the elements with the headset is negated by the fact that the headset provides excellent padding in the event of quick side to side movement. It was cool, and as VR goes it was well done but I still hope one of those headsets flies off and lands in the lagoon and (since it's a Samsung) explodes on impact so they discontinue this sh*t.
Following the theme of riding things we hadn't ridden lately, our next stop was Antarctica, the ride that tests to see how long people are willing to stand in line in the Florida heat for the chance to experience air conditioning because (let's be honest) until the exhibit at the end that's really the ride's only selling point.
Generally when we do Antarctica we just end up waiting in the non riders line to get to the exhibit faster but we opted to go a different route and ride the ride. Luckily, the ride decided to save us from ourselves and do what it always does and break down when we were in line. We took this as a sign from above and bailed into the non-riders line. In the end this probably turned out to be a good thing.
While I don't really get the ride and I find it incredibly disappointing given the awesome looking building and area they built for it, I LOVE the exhibit. While it is mind-numbingly cold it's welcome after standing in the Florida sun all day and it's amazing being able get so close to these incredible birds.
We walked around the exhibit for about 10 minutes, listening to the trainers and watching the penguins be awesome. They had a few cool things going on in there that we hadn't seen before like some nesting penguins and a still-fuzzy "baby" Emperor Penguin that was larger than his parents.
I highly recommend this attraction to everyone but I also highly recommend skipping the sh*tty ride. The exhibit is great, and I think it might be so good that it's stark contrast to the ride (which is not good... at all) might make the (already sh*tty) ride seem even sh*ttier than it already is.
Since we saved so much time by not riding the ride (because on the "reliability" scale it seems to fall somewhere between "Top Thrill Dragster" and "Lightning Rod", but unlike those rides it doesn't reward you with a good ride once it finally decides to work) when we got out of Antarctica we were surprised to realize that we still had 45 minutes before the start of Dolphin Days (the next show that we wanted to see). It had started to rain a little and I knew I had little chance of convincing Brit to ride Atlantis so we decided to make Turtle Trek our next stop since it was right next to the theater.
I don't know if this is a popular opinion but I LOVE Turtle Trek. I sort of wish it followed Antarctica's lead and had the movie before the viewing area but that's really my only complaint about an otherwise brilliant attraction. Turtle Trek may be the most "preachy" attraction on earth but it's a message that needs to be heard and it's accompanied by a soundtrack that I'm not ashamed to admit gets me right in the feels. Of all the attractions in Florida this is probably my "guilty pleasure" ride for sure. We go to the beach all the time and we always bring a bag to pick up trash that other people leave behind because they're complete sh*t. Every time I pick something up, I think of the dumb Turtle Trek movie. Every. Single. Time.
On the subject of SeaWorld's greatness, once we exited Turtle Trek and were dumped into the upper manatee and Sea Turtle viewing area we noticed that an often closed path to the manatee rehabilitation area was open behind the manatee tanks and we decided to walk over and take a look.
When we got back there, we walked up a set of stairs and came across 2 tanks and a SeaWorld vet. The right pool had 2 manatees in it that were having issues swimming and were involved in boat collisions. It wasn't an easy thing to see, and the manatees were clearly fighting for their lives but we were told that they were both showing signs of improvement and one had undergone successful surgery. The vet was very informative and she told us that they were hoping they would both be deemed releasable by the state of Florida but in the event that they weren't they would be given forever homes at SeaWorld or another facility that they work with (which apparently includes Disney's Animal Kingdom who recently received a non releasable, rehabilitated manatee from SeaWorld. That's pretty cool.
On a happier note, in the other pool they had 3 more manatees. We were told that all of them had been in equally bad (if not worse) shape and they were all ready to be released back into the ocean once they got the green light from the state of Florida. Way to go SeaWorld! It's great to see an organization this dedicated to conservation and saving animals since many animal rights organizations like... you know... Peta are too busy to help because they're whining about SeaWorld on Facebook and protesting an art museum showing a video of a dog running on a treadmill. No... for real
After the manatee rehabilitation area it was time to check out Dolphin Days. It's always pretty tough to fit the three major animal shows in to one day at SeaWorld but for once it looked like it might actually happen. Somehow, this was actually our first time seeing this show but we enjoyed it quite a bit. We had seen Blue Horizons and probably found this one more enjoyable since it had more of a focus on the dolphins and less of a focus on acrobatics. It played to a full stadium and seemed to be a big hit with everyone else too.
After Dolphin Days we had a little bit of time to kill but we figured out that we could fit in Clyde and Seamore if we left right after the show so we took this opportunity to buy some souvenirs, go to the photo key place and get the photos from our Shamu tour and check out the new dolphin nursery which was behind construction walls last time we were at the park. A few years ago I would have said that Wild Arctic, the dolphin nursery and the shark area were the three ugliest and most dated things in the park but I can now happily say that 2 of those things have received major upgrades and now look amazing. Hopefully Wild Arctic follows suit.
Per usual, the SeaWorld store didn't know what hit them when Brit walked in. She left with an impressive haul, and we couldn't help but laugh at the fact that (while this is also a product of how awesome Allegiant is) she spent more in the SeaWorld store than she did on round trip airfare.
After clearing out the Shamu shop, we made our way over to Clyde and Seamore to end the day on a high note. As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoy this show and on our last few visits we had either run out of time or caught it on a day when it wasn't running so I was excited to see it again.
As a disclaimer, Clyde and Seamore is a really corny show featuring absolutely cringeworthy jokes. If I were ever subjected to a show with writing like that and live actors without the animal aspect of the show I'd absolutely sit there questioning the life choices that led me to that point but when you throw Sea Lions into the mix it really all comes together in a great way.
I love Sea Lions and it's really hard to screw up a Sea Lion show but this one features a ton of great antics and a really well trained otter and walrus to really take it to the next level. Per usual, the sea lions didn't always do what they were supposed to do but the guys in the show handled it brilliantly and I'd be lying if I didn't say that every animal show becomes at least 200% better when the animals give zero f*cks about what they're supposed to be doing.
Clyde and Seamore gets a big thumbs up from me!
After the show it was finally time to head out but as always we had a great day at SeaWorld. We got to try Kraken VR, the Killer Whale tour was amazing and the park in general is always awesome. We did end up leaving an hour early but we were at peace with that because
a) We had an AWESOME day at the park
b) We were really excited to see our friends from Tampa who we hadn't seen in over a year (and we ended up having a great time)
and c) I got to drive that f*cking Camaro all the way to Tampa. It had New York plates so my ONLY regret is that I had told them we were flying ahead of time. Otherwise I would have rolled up with that thing matter-of-factly and said absolutely nothing.
Up next: Busch Gardens and Howl O Scream!