Focus on Florida Tour

ThemeParks-USWe're off to Florida to visit some of the best theme parks in the US, with live updates from the parks on Facebook and Twitter.

Here's where we'll be and when:

    • Magic Kingdom on August 27
    • Disney's Typhoon Lagoon on August 28
    • Disney's Hollywood Studios on August 29
    • Epcot on August 30
    • Disney's Blizzard Beach on August 31
    • Disney's Animal Kingdom on September 1
    • SeaWorld Orlando on September 2
    • Busch Gardens Tampa Bay on September 3
    • I-Drive 360 and Fun Spot America on September 4
    • LEGOLAND Florida on September 5
    • Universal Studios Florida on September 6
    • Universal's Islands of Adventure on September 7
    • Universal's Volcano Bay on September 8

    We'll be posting comments, photos and videos from each of the theme parks.

    To make sure that you don't miss any of our updates, like ThemeParks-US on Facebook and follow ThemeParks-US on Twitter.

    During our Focus on Florida tour we visited the fantastic Universal's Volcano Bay as well as Disney's Typhoon Lagoon and Disney's Blizzard Beach for plenty of brilliant water park fun!

    Universal's Volcano Bay is the newest water theme park in Florida, a $600 million addition to the Universal Orlando Resort that we saved for our last day, and what a fantastic way to end, going out on a massive high.

    From the moment we arrived we knew we were in for a treat, it all looked so very new and fresh with wonderful theming and tropical music in abundance. Entry was swift so we were in and ready to ride in moments.

    The park received some criticism during the first few months of opening, mainly due to long wait times for the slides which when busy require the use of a virtual queue system called TapuTapu, but on our visit every slide was able to ride without a reservation.

    The first views of Waturi Beach were splendid, but we would save this gigantic wave pool for later and instead head straight for the Krakatau Aqua Coaster which is an exciting water coaster taking riders inside the volcano that is the centerpiece of the park. We also took some time to explore the interative elements inside the volcano's passageways.

    Kala and Ta Nui are a pair of body slides with trap-door starts, the most terrifying start to a slide we have ever experienced! Only one of us was brave enough for Ko’okiri Body Plunge, a near-vertical (70° drop) speed slide with a trap-door start that passes through the Krakatau volcano, falling 125ft! The last section of the ride passes between two pools, with one above and one below the tube, giving onlookers unique views of riders rushing past.

    Some of our favorite rides were the multi-passenger rafts. Maku has three high-banked 'saucer' elements, Puihi drops into multiple tunnels and funnels, and Honu Ika Moana sweeps riders up massive walls of water. The Taniwha Tubes can be ridden solo or in pairs.

    We also enjoyed racing 'slide by slide' on the four-lane Punga Racers lying face down on mats.

    The park has not one, but two excellent lazy rivers! We enjoyed relaxing on the gentle Kopiko Wai Winding River that passes through the volcano, with decorated caves and special effects, but enjoyed TeAwa The Fearless River even more - faster, deeper and with a few exciting white-water moments.

    Recommended only for strong swimmers, the Ohyah and Ohno body slides have high drops into the splash pool below. There are also loads of smaller slides and play areas for younger guests, incuding Tot Tiki Reef and Runamukka Reef.

    There are plenty of great places to stop for a bite to eat or something to drink, including delicious cocktails at the Dancing Dragons Boat Bar. There was a bit of a wait for the changing rooms at the end of our visit as these are quite limited, and the park isn't as immersive as Disney's water parks (being sandwiched between two major roads at a hotel resort) but it's all so beautifully decorated and well planted up that it's a joy to spend time in.


    Earlier in our Focus on Florida tour we made the most of an overcast day at Disney's Typhoon Lagoon, the older of their two water parks but for the overall atmosphere our favorite. The shrimp boat 'Miss Tilly' sits atop a mountain above a storm-ravaged bay, which every so often blasts a 50 foot geyser of water into the sky.

    Our first slide was the newest, Miss Adventure Falls, a superb multi-passenger raft ride with a properly themed queue and even animatronics along the ride. Another highlight was the Crush 'n' Gusher water coasters where rafts are propelled through hairpin turns and drop-offs, with three courses to choose from, we did all of them!

    There are a great selection of other slides, all cleverly landscaped into the mountain that also features scenic walkways and caves, including tube slides Mayday Falls and Keelhaul Falls (the latter is shorter and gentler), multi-person raft ride Gangplank Falls, twisting and winding Storm Slides, and the Humunga Kowabunga enclosed speed slides that send riders down five stories in a matter of seconds at nearly 40mph.

    In the center of the park, fairly intimidating 6 foot high waves surge across the Typhoon Lagoon Surf Pool throughout the day but for those looking for a more relaxing experience Castaway Creek offers a 2,100-foot lazy river that gently travels around the lush park and through waterfalls, mist screens and Mount Mayday.


    Those needing a place to chill out can retire to the plainly named Sandy White Beach or Blustery Bay, Whitecap Cove and Hideaway Bay. For little ones, there is also the Ketchakiddee Creek play area. Food and drinks options are plentiful, and the whole place makes you feel like you are miles from anywhere, we could have stayed here all day!

    Disney's Blizzard Beach feels very different, contrasting the blue skies and heat of Florida with the appearance of a ski resort! Mount Gushmore is the centerpiece of the park, with the majority of the slides integrated into the slopes, and a very novel Chairlift to transport guests from the beach to the summit.

    Summit Plummet is the flagship attraction of the park at 120 feet tall and reaching speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, the third-tallest and fastest free fall slide in the world. We were pretty nervous at the top waiting to go down, but so glad we did it. Another thrilling slide is Slush Gusher, a 90 foot tall snow-banked mountain gully body slide that reaches speeds up to 35 miles per hour.

    Teamboat Springs is the world's longest raft ride and sends riders from the top of Mount Gushmore to the other side of the park via an exciting course filled with sharp turns and steep drops. Downhill Double Dipper is one of the world's only side-by-side racing tube slides. Snow Stormers is a mat slide that descends from the top of the mountain and follows a switchback course through ski-type slalom gates. Toboggan Racers is an 8-lane mat slide that has the added excitement of going head to head with others to reach the finish line.

    After all the action from the slides and raft rides we spent some time bobbing about in the Cross Country Creek lazy river that travels around park and through a cave where icy water falls from above and then paddling about in the Melt-Away Bay wave pool.

    For younger guests the Ski Patrol Training Camp includes a pool, slides and obstacle course plus Tike's Peak features some more gentle slides. Once again, eating and drinking was a real pleasure, with lots of great options.

    With all the excitement that had already come with Universal Studios Florida the previous day, we couldn’t wait to get started with the larger of the 2 parks; Universal's Islands of Adventure.

    Taking the same journey through Universal CityWalk, we took the left hand turn and headed towards the park’s famous lighthouse tower. Strolling through the park’s entrance with ease we found ourselves in Universal’s fantastically themed Port of Entry. A beautiful area with an array of shops and restaurants fills this zone and ends with guests facing a fantastic view of the lake and the park that surrounds it. We stopped here to take a couple of snaps before heading for our first attraction of the day.

    What better attraction to start with than one of our personal favourites The Incredible Hulk Coaster. This huge green B&M sit down rollercoaster has become instantly recognisable around the world. Starting with a tyre driven launch system lift hill, trains are then flung directly into a barrel roll before hurtling around its 7 massive inversions. The ride itself stands above both pathway and lake with smoke filled tunnels to really add to the experience. Everything except the lift hill itself has been completely rebuilt during 2016 with an array of new effects including new lighting and an on-board soundtrack added to the attraction, giving the ride a completely new lease of life!

    Before collecting our belongings from the complimentary lockers located at the ride entrance, we decided to take a ride on the neighbouring Doctor Doom’s Fearfall. Standing at 185ft, these two tower drop attractions launch riders from inside a station before bouncing the carriages back down to the floor. They were great fun and offer plenty of airtime for riders whilst also offering some great views of the park – provided that you’re facing the right way!

    After collecting our bags we headed to the other major attraction within the Marvel Super Hero Island. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is a family favourite and we couldn’t wait to ‘swing above the streets’ in this 3D adventure. A world first on its opening, guests board massive simulation vehicles that rush riders around the streets of New York, combating villains and heroes from the world of Spider Man. 3D screens and other effects such as fire and smoke lie in your path and the ride is guaranteed to entertain all that experience it, but do make sure you save the world!

    With the park warming up, we thought it a good time to head towards Toon Lagoon to tackle two of the park’s major water attractions. First we headed to Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges. A rapids type ride with drops, spins, lifts and all sorts of ways of getting riders absolutely soaked – and we mean soaked! There are lockers available at a charge at the entrance of the ride however as a tip from us, the boats themselves are fitted with a sealed compartment with ample space for your bags.

    Being as wet as we already were, we thought it a good idea to keep the watery theme and head over to Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls. Another massive water attraction, this log flume type ride takes guests on yet another soaking journey with a number of drops and indoor sections before plummeting down the massive double drop finale. Now completely wet through, there was nothing for it than heading onto the next attraction.

    Opening in 2016, Skull Island: Reign of Kong is the park’s newest attraction. After passing under a giant sculpture of King Kong and into an immersive queue filled with skulls, bodies of the dead and natives conducting rituals, we boarded one of the enormous 4x4 themed trucks. To help get scale into context, these carriages can carry up to 72 passengers per vehicle! Taking guests on a 6 minute exploration of the jungle and into the huge temple, through clever use of 3D screens you experience a variety of special effects on the search for the legendary King Kong. It is only at the end of the attraction that you are confronted by one of the largest animatronics we have ever seen, and it looked incredible!

    Time for lunch! Fortunately for us, next door to was Thunder Falls Terrace which is located in the neighbouring Jurassic Park. Serving a variety of rotisserie chicken, ribs, burgers and salads there’s certainly something for the whole family. We opted for the chicken and rib combos which were delicious.

    After a much needed recharge we headed to our next attraction but not before going for an exploration around Camp Jurassic. Designed for the younger guest, we had just as much fun with the interactive water cannons so accompanying adults can join in the battles with the kids. Pteranodon Flyers is a family ride again targeted towards the younger guest (any guest over 56” must be accompanied by rider meeting the 36” height requirement). It carries passengers on a journey swooshing through and above Camp Jurassic before returning home.

    Next for us, was a visit to one of the favourites that is Jurassic Park River Adventure. Large boats take guests on a journey around dinosaur enclosures on a fully immersive and narrated experience until it all goes horribly wrong. All we’ll say is look out for the T-Rex!

    After riding, we opted for a calmer attraction, taking the time to visit the Jurassic Park Discovery Center. On a busier day many guests will opt to miss this attraction for the larger rides however if you do have chance we urge you to visit. Bizarre ‘dino’ exhibits transform you into the world of Jurassic Park and for those that have seen the original films you will find yourself closer than ever to the world that was brought to our screens all those years ago.

    With the world of Jurassic Park behind us, we strolled through the areas exit gates and across a river to be transported into a very different world indeed. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade lay in front, to the side and seemingly behind us a fantastically themed replica of Hogsmeade village. Snow covered roofs and the smell of butter beer filled the air as guests walk from shop to shop wand in hand. Much like Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida magical interactive points line the floor where guests with purchased wands can stand to watch shop windows and units come to life.

    At the ‘top’ of the area, a massive Hogwarts Castle stands proudly, with the main attraction of the area inside. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a completely unique ride experience at Universal with riders boarding what appear to be book cases on a moving platform within the great hall of Hogwarts. Before this though, a beautifully themed walkthrough from scene to scene including the moving staircases (with actual talking portraits!) to the defence against the dark arts classroom, and through Dumbledore’s office. For guests not feeling brave enough for the rides experience, a walkthrough of the castle is available so everyone can enjoy the magic of Hogwarts. Once we boarded we were transported around the world of Harry Potter whilst navigating on a moving robotic arm that travels along a track. Clever integration of high resolution screens, 3D sets and special effects really enhance the ride experience which is one of the best in the world.

    Flight of the Hippogriff is homed next to Hogwarts with families being transported on the back of a Hippogriff through a journey around the forest with Hagrid’s Hut along the way. Although the queue time can be disproportionately long for the attraction, the ride itself is perfect for the younger witch or wizard!

    Walking back through Hogsmeade, we passed the Hogsmeade station which we had arrived and departed from the previous day whilst riding the Hogwarts Express. As a reminder, only guests with Park-to Park admission can ride as the attraction does act as a transport service taking passengers to King’s Cross Station within Universal Studios Florida.

    Heading to The Lost Continent, the next attraction on our list was Poseidon’s Fury where guests explore the ruins of Poseidon’s ancient temple within a special effects guided tour. Since our last visit, we were sure that the effects had received a revamp and we were really impressed with the attraction as a whole.

    On completion we headed past The Mystic Fountain onto the park’s main show: The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad. This stunt show runs at different times throughout the day and is suitable for the whole family. That being said, some of the effects may get a little loud for the little ones. We used our Universal Express passes to secure priority seating in the arena.

    We stopped off for more grub at Fire Eater’s Grill where they serve a selection of gyros, chicken fingers, hot dogs and salads, before heading towards the park’s final area - Seuss Landing. This whole area is themed around Dr Seuss, with a huge collection of well themed attractions and meet and greet experiences, this was one of the largest areas that we had come across during our Focus on Florida tour that was focussed on the younger guest.

    With the whole park well and truly explored, it was time to start making our way towards the park exit. Universal's Islands of Adventure doesn’t have an evening show so there was no reason to stay behind once all the attractions had been completed. Back in the Port of Entry, we browsed many of the gift shops on offer with a huge variety of Universal’s merchandise.

    Strolling back through Universal CityWalk, we had a yummy dinner at the fantastic Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and some sweet desserts at The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium to finish off our second day at the Universal Orlando Resort.

    We visited Universal Studios Florida on September 6, one of the most visited theme parks in the world and part of the Universal Orlando Resort. The park is divided into 8 areas where the world of film and television is brought to life.


    Our first ride of the day would be Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, located not far from the entrance in Production Central, the largest X-Coaster in the world with 3,800 feet of track running along one whole side of the theme park. There are several features that make this ride stand out, from the moving platform in the station and the vertical lift ramp, to the multi choice music selection to enjoy during the fast and intense circuit. We opted for our personal favorite Harder Better Faster Stronger by Daft Punk, which really adds to the whole experience.

    Also in Production Central are two great family attractions, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem and Shrek 4-D. The former pulls in some of the longest lines in the park, so unless you have a Universal Express pass as we did, we recommend hitting it first. Both are 3D attractions with added effects, plus humorous pre-show sections before the main experiences.

    Transformers: The Ride is a 3D motion simulation ride combining impressive sets, screens and extra effects that places you in the center of a battle between the Autobots and Decepticons. It's a brilliant ride that's full of action and looks every bit as visually arresting as the movies themselves.

    Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon is new in 2017 and was next on our list. The previous soundstage has been completely transformed to a replica of the NBC Studios in New York, step inside and it's like you are actually there!

    In the lobby you are given a mock ticket to a taping of The Tonight Show and then head upstairs to the Studio 6B Club to enjoy a performance from the Ragtime Gals barbershop quartet, yes - there really is a live band! After enjoying the entertainment you are called through to the Studio 6B Lobby where you given a short briefing before heading in to the studio.

    The ride itself is a 3D motion simulator, where you join the host of the show Jimmy Fallon on a race through New York past iconic landmarks, first via the streets then up in the air, underwater and even into space. It's a completely wacky experience. It's also the first attraction at the park that operates a Virtual Line, replacing a traditional queue, but on our visit there was no wait at all.


    Just down the New York street at the Museum of Antiquities is one of our favorite attractions in the park, Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride. This thrilling indoor dark ride combined with a launched roller coaster is far superior to the Hollywood version, with dramatic animatronic scenes, scorching hot fire, clouds of smoke and a wild track.

    After passing through San Francisco (and spotting the little nod to now sadly departed Jaws ride) we arrived at the London waterfront, a stunning recreation of famous London buildings including Kings Cross railway station, Leicester Square underground station, Wyndham’s Theater and the fictional Grimmauld Place - it's an attraction in itself! Here you will find the iconic Knight Bus, a great photo opportunity.

    We found the hidden entrance and entered The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley. It's genuinely breathtaking, as you emerge from behind a narrow passage and suddenly the sheer scale and detail becomes apparent. Here you will find a plethora of shops and eateries including the Leaky Caludron, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, Ollivander’s Wand Shop, Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlor and Shutterbutton’s Photography Studio.

    Turn down Knockturn Alley into the darkness and you can browse Borgin and Burkes, then over to Horizont Alley which features the Magical Menagerie, Fountain of Fair Fortune, Gringotts Wizarding Bank and Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment. Further stalls and entratment can be found in Carkitt Market. Everywhere you look there are muggles and wizards fully immersed in the magical world, interacting with storefronts and displays, and soaking up the atmosphere.

    Once we had finished exploring we went into Gringotts to ride the headline attraction, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. After passing through the spectacular lobby where animatronic goblins do their work you descend into the underground vaults via a lift before boarding a kart for the main adventure. It's an exciting 3D track-based motion ride (like the Transformers and Spider-Man rides) but with a few coaster-type elements.


    We would now continue our time in The Wizarding World by taking the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade and from there into Hogwarts. The station itself is so convincing that it really does feel like you are in London, with realistic departure times boards and announcements, and the effect to enter Platform 9 3/4 is very clever.

    The arrival of the train is dramatic enough, and then you are seated in an astonishingly realistic cabin in one of the carriages, within a few moments you are underway and on a wonderful journey filled with magical happenings and surprises before arriving at Hogsmeade in Universal's Islands of Adventure, the other theme park at the Universal Orlando Resort. There will be more about that in our next review.

    Once we had made the return journey and were back in Universal Studios Florida it was time to enjoy some classic rides and attractions, starting in World Expo with Men in Black: Alien Attack. This interactive dark ride sees you compete against other riders on a mission to battle aliens from a spinning vehicle. It is packed full of animatronics, giant sets and special effects. So much fun!


    Next door in Springfield: Home of the Simpsons, we laughed our way through The Simpsons Ride, a motion simulator in Krustyland that's packed with jokes, then went for a spin on Kang & Kodos' Twirl 'n' Hurl. Fast Food Boulevard includes Krusty Burger, Moe's Tavern, Bumblebee Man's Tacos, Duff Brewery and Lard Lad Donuts. It's not a big or detailed as in Hollywood but we couldn't resist stopping for quick Duff!


    We were then ready to travel back to the 80s in E.T. Adventure, climbing on to one of those iconic bicycles for a flight over the city, into space and to the Green Planet.

    Now in Hollywood, we were lucky enough to experience Terminator 2: 3-D one more time before its recent closing, a brilliant bringing together of live action, a 3D screen, animatronics and special effects within the Cyberdyne Systems headquarters.

    By this time Universal's Superstar Parade was about to begin, so we found a spot to enjoy this colorful cavalcade as it passed us by, with floats and dancers.


    We returned to Diagon Alley for the remainder of the afternoon (there really is so much to see!) and after sunset it is illuminated beautifully, as is the London waterfront. There was even time to return to some of our favorite attractions.

    The finale to our day would be Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular, a nighttime show on the park's lagoon featuring clips from iconic Universal movies accompanied by lights, lasers and fireworks.

    The next trip on our Focus on Florida tour took us on a journey to one of Florida’s ‘newest’ theme parks; LEGOLAND Florida. Originally known as Cypress Gardens, Merlin Entertainments has turned the previous park into one of the most recognisable brands, giving us plenty to look forward to with lots of rides and attractions that we had not experienced before.


    On arrival, we were greeted with a huge LEGO styled entrance that we have come to recognise from other parks within the franchise along with a grand LEGO themed hotel running along the left hand side of the park entrance. One of the first things we noticed was just how clean and new everything appeared, certainly a very welcoming start to our day!

    After clearing through the park entrance we headed towards the first attraction that we could find, and it wasn’t long before we found Mia’s Riding Adventure. This large family ride is a spinning disk that hurtles up and down a short track giving guests plenty of air-time and can prove to be a very thrilling attraction for many. The ride itself is located within the park’s Heartlake City, an area of the park which is certainly themed and catered for the younger ones.


    Immediately after our first riding adventure we headed across the park towards our next zone; The World of China. To get there, however, we would first walk through DUPLO Valley. We were really taken back! With no fewer than 5 farm themed attractions, this educational area of the park didn’t only look great but also packed plenty of excitement for the younger guest. In fact, we were quite jealous ourselves that some of the rides we were a little too big for!

    Once arrived in The World of China, we headed straight for the area’s main attraction; Quest of CHI. This water attraction sees boats filled with 8 guests, standing 4 a side, travel around the rides course firing water cannons at various targets and of course, each other! We certainly got more than we bargained for, and with perfect aim hit one of the more difficult targets facing our boat. Expecting to see other guests get squirted, we instead found ourselves drenched as the target had in fact been a trap and surprise cannons had fired back. The ride itself had good length too making it a worthwhile and enjoyable experience for all that ride it.

    Well and truly soaked, we decided it best to next tackle one of the park’s major attractions and attempt to dry out on The Dragon. The roller coaster itself was one of the original attractions kept from the days that the park was still Cypress Gardens but you certainly wouldn’t have known it. A huge castle has been constructed around the main part of not only the zone but the ride itself giving guests a really immersive feel to LEGO Kingdoms.

    From here we continued our quest and next found ourselves riding The Lost Kingdom Adventure. This adventure themed interactive laser battle is themed very closely to Indiana Jones and allows families to combat each other for the highest score which is displayed throughout the attraction on a vehicle display located in the middle of both rows.

    On our way to the next attraction, Coastersaurus, we took time to take in some of the excellent theming that Merlin has installed into this park. The look and feel of the park is completely different to anything else that Florida has to offer and has a real charm to it. This midsized, family wooden coaster is another one of the park’s original attractions but has had a huge overhaul since the LEGOLAND transformation. With a theme loosely matching another famous movie brand with dinosaurs, the ride takes passengers on a rather rattle-y journey around short circuit before doubling over its entrance area and back into the station.

    With another one of the park’s major attractions conquered, we headed to one of the newest rides and areas; NINJAGO World. Similar to one of the other experiences in the park, two rows of passengers board massive cars and travel a single railed circuit with the car itself rotating to face different screens. Whilst fronting these screens, guests once again fire at targets but this time with a HUGE difference! Instead of holding and pointing any form of ‘weapon’, passengers are turned into real Ninjas, swooshing their hands and arms towards the screens. With a little bit of LEGOLAND magic, targets react to the passengers movement in an action packed competitive journey. Unfortunately due to this the ride does suffer from periods of downtime, which did impact our visit to the ride.

    After completion, we headed through LEGO City where some of LEGOLAND’s more traditional attractions, that can be found in its sister parks, such as Ford Driving School, NFPA Rescue Academy and of course Boating School are all located. One addition that this area has to offer is another one of the original Cypress Gardens attractions that has received a huge re-theme. Flying School is a family sized inverted roller coaster that has had a brilliant LEGOLAND makeover. Although the ride itself is short, and quite rough, it is definitely a serious coaster for some of the less experienced visitors.

    With all this excitement we thought it seemed like a good time to take our first break of the day. We headed back down the hill and straight for Fried Chicken Co. again located within LEGO City. Themed like an American diner complete with working LEGO juke box, the restaurant proved the perfect hideout for us, and the fried chicken food was great too!

    We left LEGO City with very satisfied stomachs and headed straight for the park’s main show; Pirates’ Cove Live Water Ski Show. This is one thing LEGOLAND has approached completely differently to any of the other parks in Florida. The show was like nothing we had seen during our tour to date, and its venue at the side of a massive lake looked incredible!


    On exiting the show, we decided to head to the beautifully preserved gardens themselves which made the original park so popular all those years ago. We were so pleased to see that the gardens have stayed, and it even looked like additions were being made to this part of the park too. In fact, the gardens were so immersive, that you could find yourself completely forgetting that you were even in a theme park!

    Rides on AQUAZONE Wave Racers and Project X were next with both being great family attractions with enjoyably short queues! We especially loved the latter as it was the very same rollercoaster that was once homed in LEGOLAND Windsor. It’s not often that you get to ride a coaster where the actual ride itself has been in more than one country.

    Although the majority of the rides were now completed, we still had one of our favourite areas of the park to explore; MINILAND USA. One of the best parts of any LEGOLAND is its ‘miniland’. No matter the age of the guest, everyone can enjoy these areas within the parks with each guest being transformed back to their childhood. One thing that we were particularly interested in was all the different areas that have been recreated with fantastic detail that are different to the areas within the UK park. The phenomenon that is Star Wars has even managed to invade the miniland, with some of the more famous characters and scenes having been recreated in their own little part of the parks zone. 

    With the park well and truly explored we began to head towards the exit. We had tried to stop off for a drink whilst within the miniland but were promptly informed that drinks could only be purchased from the parks restaurants, with the refill stations only for those guests that had purchased refillable cups. Back within Fun Town, we stopped off for our drink and for Granny’s Apple Fries. We don’t think that chip like fried apple slices can really count as one of your ‘five a day’ but they tasted great all the same. Here you will also find the Wells Fargo 4D Threater (currently showing The LEGO Movie 4D) and The Grand Carousel.

    On exit we visited the parks two gift shops; LEGO Studio Store and The Big Shop and it was big! LEGO toys of every franchise and for every age were available for purchase and we could have stayed in there for the rest of the day! Unfortunately we couldn’t, so with the final boxes put back on the shelf we made our exit.

    LEGOLAND Florida was brilliant! A unique park that is completely different to any of the other major attractions in Florida is perfect for the whole family with arguably more rideable attractions for the younger ones than even some of the larger parks. The history and character of the original Cypress Gardens appears to have been well preserved and built upon and any guest making the trip to this slightly further out park will be sure to find plenty to their liking.

    We visited Fun Spot America in Orlando on September 4, and the sister park in Kissimmee on September 5. Two great parks that surpassed our expectations, with some of the most fun of our entire Focus on Florida tour and by far the most extreme and terrifying experience of the trip too.

    On arrival at the Orlando park we were suitably impressed, with ample free car parking (expect to pay around $20 per day at all other theme parks in Florida) and a bright and colorful entrance. We picked up our 'single day pass' wristbands in no time at all, from a friendly and welcoming team.

    First of all we hit up the park's two main roller coasters, wooden coaster White Lightning and inverted coaster Freedom Flyer.

    Both are really enjoyable coasters, the former with over 2000 feet of glorious wooden track through a barrage of twists, turns and air time hills - one of only three wooden roller coasters in Florida. The latter a modern inverted coaster, not too intense so perfect for families as well as thrillseekers, as it swings through a series of swooping maneuvers over the park.

    After the coasters, we headed over the the park's array of go-kart tracks, and with four circuits to choose from we were spoilt for choice! Conquest, Commander, Quad Helix and Thrasher each offer a unique course, and with a single day pass they are all included with no additional charge - a very rare, and most welcome benefit. These are thrilling tracks with sharp corners and steep drops, the go-karts reach high speeds, and staff make everyone aware of the rules to ensure that safety comes first.

    Next we took on the park's three thrill rides, a classic Enterprise, the Screaming Swing ride Space Invader and fairground spinner Rip Curl. However, none of this would prepare this for what was to come, the towering 250ft tall Skycoaster, the world's largest.

    Described as "the closest thing to jumping out of a plane, besides jumping out of a plane", it was unlike anything we have ever experienced. After a short briefing we were harnessed up and taken to the loading platform. At this point you are then attached to the flight cables (up to 3 people can ride together) and winched to the top of the launch tower, there are fantastic views of the area to enjoy if you are not too terrified to take them in!

    Upon reaching the top a coundown begins... 3-2-1-fly! and one of the riders must pull a ripcord to detach you from one of the cables and send you hurtling down to the ground (face first!) at up to 70mph before levelling out and swooping over the lake and up into the air on the other side of the gigantic arch. Once this most intense part of the experience is over riders swing back and forth in a pendulum motion until you are going slowly enough to catch a ring near the loading platform and are pulled back down.

    The staff were very professional, putting us at ease at all times. The attraction costs $20 each with a single day pass and you can also purchase a video of your whole experience as a record of your achievement. Our hearts were pounding as we were raised up, and the free fall completely took our breath away, but we immeditely loved it and had our minds on riding the even taller version at the other park.

    Another feature of the Orlando park is Gator Spot, a small walkthrough attraction featuring a variety of alligators and crocodiles. This is again included with a single day pass and is a nice addition to the range of rides and attractions available at the park. The Fun Spot America in Orlando also offers a selection of family and kiddie rides, an arcade and places to eat and drink.

    The following day we arrived at the Kissimmee park full of anticipation, for the new wooden roller coaster Mine Blower and our second Skycoaster experience.

    We went straight to the roller coaster and being a quiet day at the park we got straight on in the front row. Mine Blower is 82 feet tall, reaching over 48mph and features a stunning 360-degree barrel roll inversion over the station. There is a also themed entrance and the coaster itself looks brilliant, with 'explosives' mounted to the front.

    This is the first inverting wooden roller coaster in Florida, and it feels fantastic, the whole ride is so intense and it doesn't let up until the very end. We then had another ride in the back row and were almost crying in laughter as the coaster threw us about, it was relentless!

    After taking a breather, we felt ready to take on the world's tallest Skycoaster, at a whopping 300ft tall. The overall experience is very similar to at Orlando, however that extra 50ft in height results in a noticably longer free fall - in fact we were told that we would be accelerating towards the ground for the first 150ft - so despite having conquered the other version we were just as nervous. It was incredible, we loved it, and felt a great sense of achievement.

    The rest of our time at Fun Spot America in Kissimmee was spent enjoying the park's other thrill rides including the wild mouse Rockstar Coaster, and the go-karts which again have 4 circuits to choose from; Vortex, Chaos, Road Course and Slick Track. Just as the other park, there are also a variety of family and kiddie rides, as well as an arcade plus food and drink outlets.

    Once it was dark we went back to Mine Blower for back-to-back rides in the dark, an already brilliant ride became even better, feeling much faster and the perfect end to our day.

    If like us you are in Florida for a few weeks and are staying in either Orlando or Kissimmee we would definitely recommend stopping by at one or both of the Fun Spot America parks. Don't expect the immersive theming, dark rides and shows found at the bigger parks - but an extra dose of genuine fun, in what feels like a 'local' park. The owners clearly have a great sense of pride, as both parks are spotlessly clean, very fresh and all the rides look well maintained. The staff were all really friendly too. If you've brave enough, you can even experience a Skycoaster at night!

    Day 9 on our Focus on Florida tour found us facing a Merlin marathon! Located at I-Drive 360, no fewer than three Merlin Entertainments attractions offer families a more relaxed experience and in our case a little break from all of the excitement at Orlando’s theme parks.


    The sun was shining and our first of the three attractions would be The Coca-Cola Orlando Eye.

    Built in 2015 this huge white Ferris wheel towers over International Drive at a massive 400 feet! For scale, The London Eye in the UK stands at 443 feet so this wheel should certainly not be under estimated. The ginormous ride takes passengers on a 23-minute journey whilst housed within glass pods and offers some truly unrivalled views of Orlando.

    With good visability you can see Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, all the hotels and resorts along International Drive, downtown Orlando’s skyline and if you are lucky the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.

    Small touch screen displays have been installed in the pods so you know exactly what you are looking at, and pleasingly, Merlin haven’t shied away from showing you where rival attractions are located too. For an extra charge, guests can upgrade their experience to be placed in one of the few red coloured Coca-Cola pods; where you are treated to a cool box containing miniature cans of the world famous branded drink.

    Before boarding the ride, passengers have several photographs taken by Merlin staff against green screens in a variety of poses, and it is only when exiting the attraction (through the gift shop) that you get to view the hilarious images. Of course, these images are optional for an additional charge, however if this is to be the first and only visit to the attraction they can serve as a great memento of your trip.

    Although we initially visited I-Drive 360 during the day it’s interesting to note that the wheel itself is lit spectacularly at night, with unique styles and themes for each evening throughout the year, which we were delighted to see when we returned for a meal in one of the many restaurants a few days later.


    Before moving onto the next of the Merlin attractions we stopped off in the central building for croissants and coffee. Well, one of us had coffee, the other a super smoothie at the fresh smoothie bar! The food was great and the smoothie even better, but if this isn’t your thing, there is a small selection of food stalls located internally within the building. Should this not be enough there is plenty more on offer outside on the rest of the I-Drive 360 complex.

    Our next attraction was SEA LIFE Orlando. From the outside, it was difficult to imagine that this aquarium was going to be particularly large however we were very quickly proven wrong! The huge aquarium had a small but attractive entrance complete with a little exhibit tank and shortly after entering guests are lined up against the wall for more green screen magic!


    The aquarium itself follows a similar format to most other SEA LIFE centres, with guests walking through different themed areas of the world. Along the way there were plenty of educational videos, messages and impressively interactive screens integrated well with the aquatic wildlife. Feeding times and general educational talks were also on offer for guests that wanted to know that little bit more about their favourite underwater worlds.

    What really took our breath away about this aquarium was the huge variety of tank styles. So many unique shapes and sizes of tank, with different holes and walkways allowing visitors to experience entirely different views of the animals within the exhibits.

    There are more than 5,000 creatures to see including fish, seahorses, jellyfish, octopus, sharks and turtles in displays inspired by the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.

    The massive shark tank was incredible! And unlike most other tunnels, this one appeared to float, allowing fish and sharks to swim to the side, above and below the visitors as they travelled through the mammoth tube.

    Pleasingly the aquarium itself also didn’t seem to get too crowded like many similar sites, meaning that we could really take our time to explore each of the areas without feeling the need to continue moving or that we were getting in the way of too many other guests.

    As we approached the end of the tour, there were even interactive tanks where guests, under the supervision of trained Merlin team members, were allowed to handle animals such as starfish and peculiar under water plants. The water was freezing cold! But don’t let you put you off, it was great fun for us and would be even more magical and enjoyable for the little ones that may think starfish are a thing of nursery rhyme or Disney film.

    Two attractions down and it was time for our third. Madame Tussauds would be our final Merlin attraction for the day, and for anyone that has visited an attraction like it before you will know that they are a lot of fun! On entry through the red showbiz entrance guests are greeted with yet another green screen photo opportunity and by this time we had well and truly worked out what to expect. Amusingly though, for this photo we were provided with a table full of hilarious props which helped add that extra enjoyment to the pictures – again sold as part of an upgrade package.

    The attraction itself is split into the following experiences; History & Leaders, Film, TV, Music, Sports and finally A List Party. The first few waxwork 'models’ were presented in more of a photo opportunity way which did unfortunately mean that you could find yourself standing and waiting for other guests of the attraction to finish their own photos before moving on. What was good to see, however, was that with each major exhibit, such as Neil Armstrong, small props were available to help bring your photographs to life. In this case, it was small USA flags to wave on the moon!

    As we continued around the attraction, the rooms became larger meaning that we had plenty of time to view each of the waxworks in our own time and take our pictures without feeling rushed. The rooms themselves had been cleverly themed to add to the immersion and well-designed photo opportunities such as the bicycle scene in E.T. did add an extra dimension to the experience.

    One particular section that we were really impressed with was the photo-op with the football player Neymar Jnr. Guests first enter their email address into a touch screen monitor before standing in position next to the player. After a short countdown, around 30 cameras all fire in synchronisation creating a 3D time lapse style image that is immediately emailed to the guest free of charge!

    For anyone that has visited a Madame Tussauds before, you will know that the quality and accuracy of the models is incredible and with the vast number of themes and exhibits that they have, there really is something there for the whole family.

    There was also an activity where you could create a wax mold of your own hand, a good interactive element and for the extra charge it's a great souvenir. With the final photo opportunities behind us, we made our exit – as all three Merlin attractions had been completed!

    If purchased individually each of the attractions are not cheap, however Merlin do offer bulk offers with entry to two or all three of the attractions on site at reduced rates. As a tip from us, we would strongly recommend taking Merlin up on one of these offers. Although we didn’t take as much time as many would, we had finished all three experiences in around three hours meaning that if you want to make a day or even a half day of I-Drive 360, you will really need to do more than one of the attractions on site.

    This being said, the attractions themselves are great and really do offer guests a more relaxed experience to those of neighbouring parks, not to mention the views that The Orlando Eye offers that really can’t be rivalled unless you’re in a plane. For visitors like ourselves, that were staying in Orlando for 14 days, I-Drive 360 is definitely a worthwhile experience, and it is certainly worth spending your time enjoying what it has to offer.

    The furthest drive on our Focus on Florida tour would be to visit Busch Gardens Tampa Bay on September 3, but for anyone concerned, the slightly longer drive is definitely worth the effort. Busch Gardens is the perfect hideout for the thrill seeker with no fewer than five major roller coasters and plenty of other thrilling experiences along the way.

    The African themed entrance plaza looked fantastic, with its Moroccan styled markets selling all sorts of food and drink, pots, wind chimes and even drums! A stop at the themed Starbucks for a colossal cup cake and iced coffee helped prepare us for day ahead and with that we were off.

    We headed straight for one of the parks newer coasters – Cheetah Hunt. This massive Cheetah themed, multi launch Intamin coaster looks great and hurtles riders at speeds of up to 60mph across a living Serengeti Plain full of wildlife in the style of a Cheetah hunting its prey, wow!


    Still with the excitement of our ride we headed straight for the neighbouring area of the park; Egypt, to ride another one of the parks iconic roller coasters. Montu is a high speed inverted roller coaster with 7 adrenaline packed inversions. Within the Egyptian zone, the coaster flips, drops and dips riders through a temple entrance and ditches before slowing to a stop right alongside the park's perimeter providing arriving guests on the outside of the park the chance to see the fear and excitement on the rider’s faces!

    With all the excitement we had already had we thought it best to take in one of the parks more gentle attractions. Boarding the Skyride at the Edge of Africa entrance, the journey would take us high across the Serengeti Plain giving us a fantastic, and much more relaxed, view of just some of the great animal inhabitants that Busch Gardens has to offer. Giraffes, Lions, Elephants, Zebras (and even Penguins!) can be seen as the ride gently carries guests to the opposite end of the park. Through a disused station at the foot of Kumba – more on this shortly - the carriages continued their journey over more of the parks attractions before finishing at the second stop at Jungala.

    It was here in Jungala that we took some time to explore the animal exibits of both the Orangutans and our personal favorite - Tigers! These beautifully themed exhibits allow the guest to get what feels like millimetres close to some of our planet's most loved, and unfortunately most vulnerable creatures and is certainly worth spending time doing.

    After our time with the animals we were ready to get back to more rides, and next it was one of the park’s oldest operating roller coasters – Kumba.  This huge sit down roller coaster has 7 massive inversions, and considering the ride is now 23 years old, it still packs an incredible punch! In fact we enjoyed Kumba that much that we rode two times back to back, once in the front and once at the back, with both offering completely different ride experiences. If a coaster with quite so much doesn’t appeal to you, the Congo River Rapids will prove to be a far more family friendly attraction situated next door within the Congo area of the park.

    A short stroll towards Stanleyville is where we headed next where the park's gigantic dive coaster SheiKra is situated and ‘sheik’ is certainly what the ride makes each of its passengers do! Standing at a whopping 200ft, SheiKra has two vertical drops either side of an Immelmann inversion, before finishing with the coaster flying through a splash down element. Stanleyville is home to another one of the parks water attractions, Stanley Falls Flume, which is perfect for the whole family to enjoy. The flume itself is raised on tall stilts where it snakes over the surrounding hills, however due to its design doesn’t hide much of its journey for guests waiting to ride.

    Before heading to lunch, we thought what better than to head for Pantopia to ride the Falcon’s Fury tower drop ride with a difference. If its enormous size, standing at 335ft, wasn’t enough, Falcon’s Fury tips each of its riders onto their stomachs (yes, lying down!) before plunging towards the ground. It was by far the most exhilarating tower drop experience we had ever encountered and one that will prove to knock the wind out of any daring thrill seeker. The area of Pantopia itself is another one of the park's beautiful areas which has recently received regeneration, however some of the attractions within it seemed not to completely fit the theme.

    A brisk walk back to the Edge of Africa was next, where we stopped for a spot of lunch in the Serengeti Overlook Restaurant and Pub. The unique 2 in 1 food outlet doubled up as both a ‘pub’ serving fast food options such as pizzas, burgers, and fries as well as a ‘restaurant’ with buffet option or table service meals on the upper floor overlooking Cobra's Curse and the Serengeti Plain. We elected for the ‘pub grub’ which tasted great and still offered decent views of the animal enclosures.

    Once our lunch had gone down, we decided to take on the park’s newest addition – Cobra’s Curse. This free-spinning family coaster is incredible and starts with a unique vertical lift system before cars proceed forwards towards an enormous stone cobra at the rides full height. Everything about this ride looked great, the way it snaked through, under and over pathways, the Egyptian themed ruins and even down to the ride's paint work of purple and turquoise. The queue line itself, although our longest of the day, made good use of a previous walk through attraction and even had live snakes!

    We opted for the Busch Gardens Railway next. Although the attraction itself navigates riders around the entire park, it does it taking a very different route to what we may have come to expect from other theme-parks. Instead of transporting guests around the park perimeter it instead cuts through its centre, almost ‘double backing’ on itself after stopping in some of the park’s areas. The railway also offers guests another opportunity to travel through the Serengeti Plain, again providing different views of the park’s animals. We enjoyed the ride so much we stayed aboard for 1 and a half complete circuits which took around 40 minutes to complete.

    With the sun now setting we made another quick dash around the park riding all of our favourites again in the dark. Kumba, SheiKra, Montu, Cheetah Hunt and Cobra’s Curse all got additional rides with each of them looking fantastic at night. We made sure to take our time walking around Cobra’s Curse to take in the rides imaginative lighting and we weren’t disappointed – it looked great!

    For our final rides of the day we headed back to Pantopia and conquered Falcon’s Fury two further times in the dark! We must be mad, but it was the perfect end to what had been a truly exhilarating visit to Florida's coaster capital. We were so pleased to have visited on a day with a late 10pm close, which gave us so much time to enjoy the park.

    A slow walk back towards the entrance, where we made sure to visit each of the Moroccan stalls and shops, carefully browsing the park's distinctive merchandise.

    Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is a must do theme park with some of the most thrilling rides and roller coasters that Florida has to offer. But even if these aren’t your thing, there are plenty of rides, attractions and animal enclosures to keep the whole family entertained.

    We visited SeaWorld Orlando on September 2, which combines great theme park rides and attractions with marine life shows and exibits. It's one of the most visited parks in America and includes some of Florida's best roller coasters.

    Our day began at the Port of Entry, a beautiful entrance to the park that features the iconic lighthouse and a selection of shops and eateries in a marina setting.

    Just a short walk from here was our first ride of the day, the thrilling flying coaster Manta. The queue is brilliantly done, bringing you up close with a variety of real life rays, before entering the station and boarding a manta ray-styled train. The ride itself is one of the most intense flying coasters out there due to the huge pretzel loop at the start, two inline twists and a corkscrew. An impressive top speed of 56 miles per hour keeps the action coming and we've always loved the illusion of the train hitting the water as it passes the lagoon, as well as how close you feel to the rocky waterfall at the end of the ride.

    Further into the park, our next ride was the water coaster Journey to Atlantis, which was much improved since our last visit. This attraction combines a dark ride into the mythical realm of Atlantis, complete with light and sound effects, with a small coaster coaster section and multiple water splash moments. Whilst it lacks the more extensive coaster elements found in the San Diego version, it makes up for with the indoor scenes, and both are superior to the alternative ride in San Antonio.

    We were very excited about SeaWorld's innovative trackless dark ride Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin and it certainly didn't disappoint! There are still only a few rides of this type in the world, and we love the fluid and unpredictable way that each pod glides through and between each scene. Riders have the choice of a Mild or Wild experience, and after an effective pre-show to setup the journey ahead, your exciting expedition through colorful caverns begins. Further large screens advance the story and it ends with a dramatic reveal of more than 200 real penguins in a stunning −1°C habitat that you are then able to explore.

    We took the opportunity to stop at the nearby Expedition Cafe which had a wide range of fresh and tasty food, and enjoyed the icy surroundings accompanied by a rousing soundtrack being played throughout the area.

    Kraken was to be our next ride, which has recieved a makeover this year due to the addition of a virtual reality experience, but 'technical problems' prevented us from trying that out. However, due to us being big fans of floorless coasters we were only too happy to make the most of the incredible view from our front row seats! With more than 4,100 feet of track, a whopping seven inversions and a dramatic setting over water and with multiple underground dives, it remains one of our favorite roller coasters.

    The newest addition to SeaWorld's coaster lineup was next on our agenda. Mako is the longest, tallest and fastest roller coaster in Orlando. A brilliant hyper coaster with stacks of airtime, that is ultra smooth to ride and reaches a top speed of 73 miles per hour. We were a little disappointed by the unsightly views of back-of-house areas from the station after such a promising start to the theming but once on the ride all was forgotten and we adored every moment of brilliantly crafted weightlessness.

    After so many great rides, it was time to take our seats for the first of SeaWord's most popular shows, Dolphin Days. Very different from its predecessor Blue Horizons, gone are the bigger sensational broadway-style theatrics and instead a more modest presentation of natural animal behaviors with a strong conservation message.

    Located close by, we next entered the 360° dome at TurtleTrek for an enjoyable 3D experience following the journey of a sea turtle. Before the presentation don't miss the exhibits featuring sea turtles, manatees and alligators.

    We followed this up with the headliner One Ocean at the Shamu Stadium which features the parks killer whales and still draws a sizable audience. A slightly toned down presentation that is due to end by 2019, with a more naturalistic habit on the way.

    Adjacent to this is the classic motion simulator attraction Wild Arctic that takes you on a helicopter ride to an arctic research station that is home to beluga whales, walruses and harbor seals. The ride is in need of an HD upgrade but the exibits are excellent.

    We were fortunate to be visiting for the final weekend of this year's Electric Ocean nighttime spectacular, so after re-rides of the park's best roller coasters in the dark it was time to make our way back to the Shamu Stadium for the production heavy Light Up the Night show.

    Next up, and over at the Bayside Stadium, the fun was well and truly underway with the fantastic Club Sea Glow all-ages outdoor dance party, where DJ's pumped out the tunes and energetic performers entertained the crowds.

    What took us by surprise, was the exceptional quality of the finale Ignite. Loaded with fireworks, water fountains, lasers, lighting and huge blasts of fire all perfectly sequenced to a contemporary soundtrack that kept you hooked throughout. This totally surpassed our expectations and was one of the absolute highlights of the tour.

    Even after the show had come to an end, the dance party continued, and as we slowly wandered out of the park we discovered wonderful decorations in the trees and around the pathways, creating a magical ending the day.

    The next park on our Focus on Florida tour was Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Being the newest of the four Disney parks in Florida, we had high hopes that the magic of Disney had been captured throughout and we couldn’t wait to start!


    As well as the addition of new land Pandora - The World of Avatar, Disney has added a host of new nighttime experiences, so to ensure that we wouldn't miss anything our trip actually began on the evening of August 31, before our main visit on September 1.

    On arrival through the jungle themed entrance, you really felt that you were entering a real world of wildlife and nature with the deliberately over grown path winding past small animal enclosures before the huge Tree of Life came into view directly in front of us.

    We strolled towards this iconic centre piece over a bridge crossing the river which beautifully cuts around the park separating each of the main themed areas; Oasis, Africa, Asia, Dinoland U.S.A, Discovery Island and of course the eagerly anticipated Pandora – The World of Avatar!

    This new land is where we were headed, allowing us plenty of time to explore this fantastically themed area, complete with floating mountains, waterfalls and alien plants. Interactive features such as themed drums and numerous photo opportunities are found scattered in what has to be one of Disney’s most incredibly themed areas. Even guests that haven’t seen the movie will find this entire area of the park breath taking.

    We used FastPass+ for our first ride of the visit, Na’vi River Journey, cutting our wait to just a couple of minutes. This family friendly boat ride takes visitors deeper into the world of Avatar, on a journey through the jungles to meet the Na’vi and is a perfect addition to this new land.

    Once the sun had set we were able to view Pandora in an entirely different light. Plants began to glow more brightly as the evening went on, transforming the entire land into a world of luminescent color. We had expected the pathways to pulse with light, however the illuminous paint and clever lighting had a very similar affect.

    Importantly it was time for our second ride of the visit – Avatar Flight of Passage. The longest queue of the trip of 105 minutes awaited us; however in reality it was closer to 40. FastPass+ was available on this ride like many others, but to truly experience the immersive theming we opted for the full ride queue which didn’t disappoint. Winding through the forest and over a waterfall before entering ancient caves, more jungle and eventually into a science lab with numerous experiments, creatures and a life size Avatar.

    The ride itself, again suitable for the whole family, is a flight simulation type ride with a twist – taking each passenger on their own 3D journey on the back of a 'breathing' Mountain Banshee through the world of Pandora. An experience like no other and certainly unique to anything any other attraction can offer, we were totally blown way!

    After checking out the rest of Pandora - The World of Avatar, including the Satu'li Canteen restaurant and Windtraders shop, it was time to head back to the hotel, before returning the following day to enjoy the rest of Disney's Animal Kingdom.

    On arrival for our second day at the park we headed straight to Africa for Kilimanjaro Safaris. This 22 minute attraction offers guests a guided tour aboard a safari vehicle, with a different experience on each visit. The huge savanna plains are home to Giraffe, Gazelle, Hyena, Cattle, Lions, Zebra, Rhino and our personal favorite Elephant! This truly is an attraction not to be missed.

    We followed this up with the Wildlife Express Train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. The idea of the train journey to an isolated area of the park sounded appealing, and does offer riders an alternative view of some of the animal exhibits however the educational centre and petting zoo at the second stop could be missed should you be pressed for time.

    On our way to further attractions we ensured that we took time to explore both of the main animal exhibits; the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail in Africa and Maharajah Jungle Trek in Asia. Each of the enclosures we encountered had been fantastically designed to prevent the guest from seeing any fences or boundaries giving an authentic feeling that you really were standing in the African Savanna or creeping up on a Tiger in an Asian Temple!

    A ride on the Kali River Rapids and then an attempt to then dry off our clothes on Expedition Everest were next on the agenda. The first being a family friendly, all be it soaking rapids ride with a rather large drop, and the latter a thrilling roller coaster with forwards, backwards, indoor and outdoor sections of track as you hurtle around and through the Everest mountain in an attempt to escape the Yeti!

    After all the excitement, we decided to take a slow walk towards some of the calmer attractions in the park. Two musical performances were next starting with Finding Nemo – The Musical - a rendition of the Nemo story set to original songs more suitable for the younger visiting guest, followed by the Festival of the Lion King. The unique centre stage added to the performance, not to mention the fantastic soundtrack that we have all come to love certainly made this our preferred of the two shows.

    A pit stop at Pizzafari was next where a variety of pizzas, pastas and in our case salads were on offer. If this isn’t your thing there are numerous different food and drink outlets around the many areas of the park.

    With a surprisingly satisfied stomach we headed to It’s Tough to be a Bug hosted by our favorite Disney ant, Flik! This 4D cinema type attraction in the heart of the Tree of Life is perfect for the whole family and  will be sure to make even the bravest of explorers jump!

    DINOSAUR was next, a more thrilling attraction with its enormous Time Rover ride vehicles. Each carries up to 16 passengers on a mission to capture a ‘dino’ specimen just moments before an asteroid smashes into the planet – we made it!

    Also, in Dinoland U.S.A we took a ride on Primeval Whirl. Although a traditional wild mouse style coaster, the heavy theming that we have come to expect from a Disney attraction helps give this ride a truly unique feeling and nothing like anything else in any of the parks at Walt Disney World.

    Sunset was now beginning to approach so we quickly made our way back over to Kilimanjaro Safaris where we had used a FastPass+ to secure a 'sunset safari' tour through the African Savanna. A very unique experience that adds a whole new dimension to this great attraction.

    We then enjoyed nighttime rides on Kali River Rapids and Expedition Everest, made all the more thrilling in the dark!

    With all the rides and attractions complete, it was time for us to once again use our FastPass+ to secure preferred seating for the new nighttime spectacular – Rivers of Light. Seating is provided within a purpose built arena that surrounds the lake, with the Tree of Life visible in the background – certainly one of the most attractive venues of our trip.

    Pleasingly, the show itself was one that focussed not on the traditional Disney characters but is original to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Fountains, projections, actors, floats and even computer guided boats kept guests entertained for around 20 minutes before park closure.

    As we strolled towards the park exit after another very enjoyable day we were met with a Tree of Life Awakenings light projection performance. Taking place roughly every 10 to 15 minutes after dark, different stories are told of each carved creature that makes the trunk of the parks centre piece come to life!

    Like the other Disney parks, with careful planning and use of FastPass+ there is absolutely no reason not to be able to visit each of the attractions in one day, unless you want to enjoy all of the nighttime experiences. Don’t forget to make a stop in the numerous gift shops on exit as many of the merchandise is unique to Disney's Animal Kingdom and cannot be found anywhere else at Walt Disney World.

    We visited Epcot at Walt Disney World on August 30, a theme park like no other, that is dedicated to the celebration of human achievement, namely technological innovation and international culture.


    The park is divided into two sections, so we spent the morning in the 80s-tastic Future World and the afternoon experiencing all the entertainment and cuisine of the 11 nations in World Showcase.

    Our first ride of the day was Test Track, as it can draw long lines, but within moments we were through the futuristic showroom of concept cars and designing our own car in the Chevrolet Design Studio. It is a really good part of the experience, and soon after we were boarding a Sim Car to see how it would perform. The indoor section includes a number of tests; capability, efficiency and responsiveness, before blasting out of the building and up to a top speed of 65mph for the power test, making it the fastest ride at Walt Disney World. After each stage you get to see how your design performed and at the end there are an array of extra interactive features. An excellent attraction from start to finish.

    From there we crossed over to The Land for another of the most popular attractions, Soarin’ Around The World. We always enjoy this simulated flight experience across six continents, with its gigantic 4K screen, artificial scents and wind effects but it's so much better when you are sitting center to the screen, otherwise we can't help noticing the weirdly warped picture. Located in the same pavilion is Living with The Land, a slow boat ride through various greenhouses where you can see hundreds of crops growing for use at Walt Disney World. This attraction harks back to the days of the EPCOT Center, as an educational experience about agriculture.

    Next door at The Seas we joined Nemo & Friends for an underwater voyage in a Clamobile, a ride featuring various characters from Finding Nemo and an array of real fish. There is more to enjoy, with the substantial aquarium Sea Base and interactive show Turtle Talk with Crush.

    Our first FastPass+ of the day was for Spaceship Earth so we headed there next, hidden inside the iconic sphere that is the centerpiece of the park. This unusual ride is one of the park's original attractions, taking you on journey back in time to see the various breakthroughs in communication throughout history, with Judi Dench as the narator.

    Continuing on the same theme, but with a very different experience, our next FastPass+ was for the very recently upgraded Mission: SPACE. This is a remarkable attraction that simulates what an astronaut might experience aboard a spacecraft, and not at all what you would expect in a Disney theme park. We went straight for the Orange Mission, the more intense option which takes you to Mars. It uses an incredibly clever centrifugal motion simulator to excerpt a force of 2.5G for a prolonged period, making the intensity far greater than roller coasters that apply a higher G-Force for shorter period of time. We then tried the less intense Green Mission, where you take a flight around Earth, and is much more suitable for those prone to motion sickness. We loved the detailed ride capsules and in-flight roles that we were assigned to enhance the realism of the experience.

    Our final ride in Future World was in the Imagination! pavilion - the very strange and very dated Journey into Imagination with Figment. The less said about this the better, avoid it for now, and hopefully in a few years it will finally be retired and replaced.

    We won't talk about every country represented in the World Showcase, but suffice to say that the whole place is really quite remarkable. From detailed buildings, gardens and monuments to themed attractions, shops and restaurants, all representing the respective country's culture and cuisine.

    What makes it so special, is that the majority of performers and vendors in each are actually citizens of the respective countries working as part of a Cultural Representative Program.

    There are a few more rides here, including the fairly dull Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros boat ride in Mexico and now the far more impressive Frozen Ever After boat ride in Norway. For the latter we had a FastPass+ as it frequently draws the longest lines in the park, as it was new last year and is based on the highest-grossing animated film of all time. It's a wonderful attraction with scenes of songs from the movie, top notch animatronics and lightning effects. The most dramatic moment is a backwards section as Elsa creates an ice palace singing Let It Go.

    Other highlights of World Showcase included an acrobatic performance in China and traditional drummers in Japan, whilst some of the most beautiful countries to explore were Morocco and France. We made sure to enjoy something to eat and drink as well as buying some souvenirs along the way.

    As the sun was setting we made our way back to Future World for a few re-rides including Test Track in the dark, then made our way to the FastPass+ viewing area for the nighttime spectacular IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. This classic show has been running for almost 18 years and features screens, fireworks, lasers, fire, water fountains and music.


    We visited Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World on August 29, with a little preview the night before, to enjoy everything that there is to see and do at this showbiz-inspired theme park.


    This is a theme park in the middle of a major makeoever, with forthcoming new attractions including Toy Story Land (opening in 2018) and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge (opening in 2019), but any fears that there might not be enough to do were completely unfounded.

    Firstly, why the extra visit the night before? Well, Disney has timed the two nighttime spectaculars so that is almost impossible to see them both on the same night, therefore we stopped by to catch the newest addition first.

    We arrived in plenty of time, so enjoyed a few drinks in the very trendy Tune-In Lounge before sampling some of the park's biggest attractions, but we'll talk about those later.

    Before the main event, Disney Movie Magic is a new projection show celebrating some of Disney's best live-action films, including Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, Tron: Legacy, Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy. We didn't have particularly high expectations for this, having not known much about it before, but were so impressed that it raised expectactions for what was to follow even further.


    Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular is an epic show featuring projection, fireworks, smoke, lasers, music, fire, fog and searchlights. It feels like Disney has thrown everything at it. What makes this so impressive, is that if you get a good place to stand, you are right the middle of the show. From our position, center on to the Chinese Theatre and in the middle of the central hub, we had a perfect view of all the projections, with fireworks going off on all around us, laser beams passing overhead and a booming sound system.


    After that, it was back to the hotel for a good night's sleep before heading back to the park for a full day of entertainment.

    Our first ride of the day was Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, one of Disney's most thrilling rides, accelerating from 0 to 57 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds onto the Los Angeles freeway at night. There are three inversions, the first of which packs 4.5 G, making it the only ride at Walt Disney World that sends riders upside down. The attention to detail is excellent, from the superb entrance area with a gigantic electic guitar and the pre-ride recording studio to the limousine garage station and the special soundtrack throughout the ride. We also like that the ride is different to the version at Disneyland Paris.

    Located just next door on Sunset Boulevard we then made use of a FastPass+ slot for The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, the other genuine thrill ride at the park. It is Disney's original and best Hollywood Tower Hotel attraction (the California version has now been taken over by the Guardians of the Galaxy) and we pray that Disney never change it. As the second tallest attraction at Walt Disney World, it looms over the park, concealing a 130ft drop. Everything is perfect about the setup to the ride, from the moment you step through the front gate, past overgrown gardens and through the hotel doors into the grand abandoned lobby, an eerie introduction in the library and the into the boiler room. On to the ride, and part of the series of events that leads you to rapidly ascend and decend the lift shaft, the extra Fifth Dimension scene - pure genuis.

    Those waiting to travel to the far reaches of the galaxy fear not, as while you wait Star Tours - The Adventures Continue never fails to impress. We also had a FastPass+ slot for this, and once inside the spaceport terminal and after our first encouter with C-3PO and R2-D2, we were ready for our pre-flight briefing and into the Starspeeder 1000. Since the upgrades in 2011, the 3D motion simulator attraction features randomized ride sequences with 96 possible experiences, making it highly re-rideable.

    It was now time to make use of our final pre-reserved FastPass+ slot, which we saved for Toy Story Midway Mania! which frequently draws the longest queues in the park. It is the solo attraction in Pixar Place and is a brilliant interactive 4D ride, taking you into Andy's toy box and through a series of classic carnival games along with all the main characters from the popular films.

    After such an action packed morning, we were ready to stop for lunch and had a reservation at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant,the most popular place to eat in the park. This is no ordinary place to grab a bite to eat, it's an experience. Seated in a booth resembling a 1950s convertible car, we sat down to enjoy some classic movie clips and comedy shorts on the big screen under the 'stars'. The menu is packed with all-American cuisine, including the delicious house-smoked St. Louis-style pork ribs and some awesome thick creamy milkshakes.

    With the rides out of the way, we had the whole afternoon to enjoy the huge array of shows and entertainment on offer at the park. First up, we headed over to Muppet*Vision 3D, a hilarious film where the action isn't restricted to the screen! Animatronics, lights, projection, smoke, bubbles and a live performer all make this so much fun.

    Next, at the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! we got great seats for one of the best stunt shows we've ever seen - it's a close race with WaterWorld at Universal Studios Hollywood. The live performance is packed with huge sets, impressive set pieces and loaded with special effects.

    Completely different, the Broadway-style musical Beauty and the Beast - Live on Stage is a whistle-stop run through the most iconic scenes from the film, including all the biggest songs. It has solid staging and beautiful costumes, with an energetic cast of dancers and live vocals from the two leads.

    Over in Animation Courtyard, we were mesmerized by Voyage of The Little Mermaid with its huge glow-in-the-dark puppetry, lasers, music, projection, live actors and water effects. It is very successful at recreating the best scenes from the film and includes the most memorable songs.

    We needed a quick pit stop, as a marathon of Star Wars entertaiment was to follow! We started off with Star Wars Launch Bay, a fascinating walkthrough attraction with various props, models and costumes used in the movies as well as an interesting film. It was then time for the daytime shows - Star Wars: A Galaxy Far Far Away, performed on the center stage in the middle of the park and featuring all the famous characters, March of the First Order, a dramatic march through the park by 14 Storm Troopers and Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple, where youngsters train in the ways of the Force and put their skills to the test against the Dark Side. That's a LOT of Star Wars!

    We rounded off the day with Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream, an exhibition about Walt Disney's life and work featuring rare artifacts and a film narrated by Julie Andrews. This was a wonderful way to wrap up before taking our seats for the park's signature nighttime spectacular, Fantasmic!

    Unlike most such shows, this one is performed in a purpose built seated arena, the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater, and runs for a full half an hour. We picked up an extra FastPass+ during the day so had a great choice of seats, but it's so well designed that there aren't many bad viewing options. Mickey Mouse is the star of this show, taking center stage to battle against evil forces (all the greatest Disney villians feature) surrounded by dancing water fountains, projections, lasers, fireworks and other special effects. It's all set to music and even features Steamboat Willie. We loved it!


    We visited the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World on August 27, as the first day of our Focus on Florida tour. It is the most visited theme park in the world, attracting over 20 million visitors every year.

    Before we had even reached the park, the day was already off to to a magical start, as we boarded a ferry from the parking lot to the entrance. It was such a wonderful way to arrive, seeing the castle gradually growing bigger and bigger as we approached.

    On arrival at the park we strolled up Main Steet, U.S.A. stopping briefly at the Main Street Bakery for a Starbucks coffee and a pastry before gathering in front of Cinderella Castle for the new Let the Magic Begin opening ceremony. This special welcome from Mickey and Minnie, along with a touch of magic, was a such a lovely moment and set the tone for what was to come.

    Our first ride of the day was the iconic Space Mountain indoor roller coaster, and we headed here first as it is one of the most popular rides at the park and one we didn't have a FastPass+ slot for - more on that later. The original Space Mountain is a brilliantly fun experience from start to finish and different from any of the later versions at other Disney theme parks, with single-file seats in the trains and two tracks (Alpha and Omega). It's a thrilling blast through space, whizzing past stars, comets, meteors and asteroids - not to be missed.

    We followed this up with Splash Mountain and the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad over in Frontierland, both using FastPass+. Splash Mountain is no ordinary log flume, it's also a huge dark ride and therefore probably our favorite log flume, with this version having a whopping 10 minute ride time and 5 drops. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is the ultimate runaway train, imitated around the world, offering a wild ride through canyons and tunnels, but missing the explosive finale added to other versions.

    The park had only been open for an hour and we had already conquered the big three mountains!

    Before moving on, we took some time out from the big rides to hop on a raft over to Tom Sawyer Island and loved exploring the pathways, tunnels and bridges of this Mark Twain-inspired hideaway.

    Next up, Adventureland, where we ticked off another two major park attractions, Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise, neither with FastPass+ but we queued no more than 20 minutes for each.


    Pirates of the Caribbean is a classic Disney dark ride, as the inspiration for the blockbuster film series, and features the memorable soundtrack "Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)". This is the shortest version of the animatronics heavy ride and lacks some of the more dramatic scenes. Over on the Jungle Cruise, our tour guide delivered a typically joke filled boat trip down the rivers of Asia, Africa and South America populated with animatronic jungle animals.

    For younger explorers there is even more to see and do here; they will enjoy taking flight on The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, watching the tropical singing birds in Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room and climbing the Swiss Family Treehouse.

    By now we had worked up an appetite so stopped for lunch at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn which has a not-too-spicy menu with nachos, fajitas, burritos and burgers. Yum!

    With a full stomach, we were ready to brave the ghosts and ghouls at the Haunted Mansion in nearby Liberty Square. Set inside a Gothic-revival style manor, an array of animatronics and clever effects bring the haunting story to life. We also liked the interactive features in the graveyard queue. After this we took a leisurely trip around the Rivers of America aboard the Liberty Square Riverboat, offering lovely views of the park from the decks of this charming paddle steamer.

    The other important mode of transport to enjoy is the 1.5 mile long narrow-gauge Walt Disney World Railroad, which we used to navigate the park. There are stations in Frontierland, Fantasyland and Main Street, U.S.A.

    Later in the day we returned to Tomorrowland to enjoy some more of the attractions, including the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress and live comedy show Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor. This futuristic land is also home to Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, Stitch’s Great Escape, Astro Orbiter and the Tomorrowland Speedway. We particularly enjoyed the Carousel of Progress revolving theater and love how it has been brought up to date with the technology of today.

    We then spent the rest of the afternoon in Fantasyland, where classics such as Peter Pan’s Flight, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and “It’s a small world” have been joined by newer additions including Mickey's PhilharMagic, Under The Sea - Journey of The Little Mermaid and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. There are so many rides and attractions for children that it feels like the heart of the Magic Kingdom, and it has three distinct areas; Castle Courtyard, Enchanted Forest and Storybook Circus.

    It was our first time riding the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train family roller coaster and although we found it to be a bit short, the overall experience was brilliant. The attraction looks superb inside and outside, the animatronic dwarfs are hyper realistic and the tilting trains offer a unique twist. It's a very popular attraction as it's suitable for almost all ages so we made use of a FastPass+.

    We finished the day with the new nighttime spectacular Happily Ever After followed by the new projection show Once Upon A Time. The latter would have better served as a warm up to the main event, but was a delightful culmination of bedtime classics, projected on to Cinderella Castle. Happily Ever After, with it's bringing together of music, projection, lasers, searchlights and fireworks accompanied by narration, was INCREDIBLE. The show includes characters from a wide array of Disney films, and is far better than any show before it, flowing effortlessly through seven main 'acts'.

    What an end to a fantastic day at "The Most Magical Place on Earth". Throughout the day all of the staff (Disney calls them Cast Members) were nothing but friendly and helpful, and at the same time very efficient, keeping wait times to a minimum. The paperless ticket and FastPass+ system, combined with the excellent My Disney Experience app, was so easy to use and made planning our day a breeze.

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