It’s that time of year again when the amusement and theme parks gear up for a summer of fun and BIG, BIG rides along with the flow of greenbacks. Yes, it’s rollercoaster time again. For some, it’s a year ‘round thing, for most of use, however, it is from late March until about the end of October. It’s no different for Half-Byte. This year, Half-Byte took a rollercoaster filled vacation, an odyssey, if you will.
Now, before I go on, I have to admit that it was more of Half-Byte’s family who did the coastering and not Half-Byte.
We spent a week in what could be the Coaster capital of the world-certainly, North America. Yep, we went to Orlando, Florida. Let me tell you, that is NOT a place that Half-Byte wishes to relocate to, if the opportunity arises. Crowded, construction everywhere and LONG LINES for even entry into local restaurants.
I’ve been there several times in the past, but my oldest doesn’t remember them and my newest family members have never been (save my wife, she went when she much younger.) My son’s girlfriend came along as well. So, this was quite an adventure. I’ll spare the gory details about the trip down and back-we drove, ‘nuff said.
The main attraction is, of course, The Magic Kingdom, Disney World. The problem with Disney World, and coasters, is that there are only three (with a fourth to open shortly.) BUT…they are pretty killer coasters. First, there’s the Barnstormer, a ‘kiddie’ coaster that manages to pack some light thrills even for adults. Then there’s the Big Thunder Railroad. Boy, that’s a terrific ride. Fast, lots of turns and great theming all around. I rode it first, years ago, with my son and, this time, with my step son. Brought back wonderful memories and I’m really glad that he LOVES rollercoasters. Lastly, there’s the big one: SPACE MOUNTAIN. I stayed off it this time, my wife rode with my step son and they had a blast. I sat it out with the Xanman, my infant son. Can’t wait to do this with him.
Disney done, we headed to Sea World. They have three rollercoasters, but none of us did the ‘kiddie’ coaster this time. I rode Kraken with my son and his girlfriend. That was quite a thrill, fast and furious…but, it felt dirty. In fact, I was a bit shocked by how dirty the whole theme park ‘felt.’ Oh, there wasn’t any trash strewn about and you can tell the park makes an effort to keep the place clean, but…it felt dirty, rundown. Like Six Flags America in Maryland. My wife, son and his girlfriend rode Manta, a ‘lay down’ coaster. They loved it. I sat it out with my son and step son.
Next up was Epcot, which I loved for the atmosphere but, it’s more of a shopping experience and has little for the kids. Not much on the thrill rides either. Mission Space was off limits to us as we all have conditions that would preclude us riding it. Test Track, however, my son and his girlfriend rode and appeared to like.
Lastly, we hit up Busch Gardens in Tampa. Now, this is a theme park I’ve been wanting to visit for years. Well, since I started going to the one here, in Virginia. Busch Gardens Williamsburg is a sprawling, wooded, and just gorgeous place to visit. It has great rides and wonderful food. The staff is top notch-on par or better than Disney. So, I expected the Tampa park to be the same or better. So, imagine my surprise when we pull into its parking lot…boy, were we shocked. The park is land locked in what appears to be University area. The parking lot we were shunted into is dilapidated and did not give us a good first impression. Upon entering the park, however, we realized it was not quite as bad as the parking lot. BG Tampa is themed to the African wild. The theming is well done, but, like Sea World in Orlando, it felt a bit run down. The staff, while nice, wasn’t as good as the staff here in Virginia. We got mixed signals about the use of our BGW season pass, what it could and could not do. However, once we got into the park proper and began riding the rides, we knew it was good park. The Cheetah Hunt rollercoaster, one in which all of us but the Xanman rode, was top notch. This thing has four linear launches, quite a kick In the butt. Several inversions and lots twists and turns later, it was over. It was the only coaster that my step son rode multiple times and wanted more. He would have ridden it all day if he could. The other coasters in the park were met with various thumbs up from the family, with Sheik-Ra being a favorite of my oldest son (it is very similar to his favorite coaster, the Griffon.)
Rides aside, the other astounding thing about this odyssey was the cost of food: it was outrageous. The most expensive ‘lunch’ I think I’ve ever had was at Sea World: $75. We can have dinner at Outback and save money, compared to lunch at Sea World. Oddly, Disney’s food was more moderately priced. A similar lunch at Epcot was about $25 cheaper. Busch Gardens Tampa was similar to the park here in Virginia. The food was good and cost about what Disney did. Interesting since Busch Gardens and Sea World are the same company. But, it was vacation and we had budgeted for eating at the parks. Still, it was a bit of sticker shock. Makes me appreciate our two parks here in Virginia.
So, we did four major parks in a week (and a local attraction called Wonder Works) and it was both too much and not enough. Ticket prices are very expensive with Disney costing the most. If you want a multi-day, multi-park ticket, be prepared to shell out a HUGE chunk of change. We only did a two day pass and it was outrageous. We skipped Universal for this reason: it is nearly as high. We got lucky with Sea World and Busch Gardens: fifty bucks per person per park. Much cheaper than anyone else. Of course, if you JUST want Disney or Universal, then the multi-day tickets are a bargain: you can come and go as many times as you want. Add park hopper and you can visit all Disney parks in a day. Don’t do that, you will miss a lot. Looking back, we should have hit up Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios instead of Epcot. Maybe next time.
Of all the parks we went to, Busch Gardens had the best thrills. Disney was, well Disney. Those two make a great pair and book ended our odyssey. Great way to start and a great way to end. It was fun.
I am glad to be back home.