Florida's Top Theme Parks
Florida is famously known for world class theme parks and you really can’t go to the sunshine state without hearing about magical adventures, white knuckle rollercoaster rides and incredible animal experiences. There’s so much choice in terms of different parks to visit in Florida – each with different attractions tailored to various interests and age groups. To help with the decision making, here’s a guide to our top parks to visit in 2016!
Split into two parks – Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, you ideally need a couple of days to cover all of the attractions that this fantastic park has to offer. From your very first steps entering the theme park you can feel the excitement in the atmosphere, the dramatic music plays loud overhead and the Universal globe spins in the distance – twinkling in the sunlight.
Universal Studios Florida is the original theme park and really succeeds to take you down memory lane reminding you of all the classic films such as E.T, Back to the Future, Men in Black and Blues Brothers. You only have to turn the corner to find Jake and Elwood driving down the road in their Bluesmobile ready to burst into song or Doc Brown will be waiting to have his picture taken with you…it’s all going on!
There are some great rides such as Revenge of the Mummy, Transformers The Ride: 3-D and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit: a terrifying vertical climb followed by 65mph loops and dips, all whilst listening to your favourite music track which you select at the beginning of the ride!
What’s great about Universal Studios Florida is that you can relate to almost everything there because you’ve seen some of the films created by them. The most impressive areas are The Simpsons and Harry Potter: Springfield quite literally comes to life and any fans of the Simpsons will be over the moon with being able to grab a burger from Krusty Burger or have a pint at Moe’s Tavern. It really is a fantastic experience and the 3-D ride is pretty impressive too.
For any Harry Potter fans – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios is as good as it gets! It’s a surreal world of replica buildings and intricate details which are set to impress anybody, let alone die-hard fans. Wander through the streets of Diagon Alley and visit the shops just like in the film such as Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes and Quality Quidditch Supplies where you can purchase your souvenirs. You can even stop for a snack in the Leaky Cauldron or explore everything that the Dark Arts have to offer down Knockturn Alley.
One of the most impressive buildings is Kings Cross Station, and it’s from here at Platform nine and three quarters that you can take the Hogwarts Express over to Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Take a seat inside your very own passenger compartment and wind through the British countryside on an adventure directly to Hogsmeade Station!
Over in Universal’s Island of Adventure Harry Potter is again the main attraction and Hogsmeade certainly lives up to the hype! Above the charming village is the impressive Hogwarts Castle which includes the fantastic Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride where you’ll feel like you’re on a broomstick in an adventure with Harry and the rest of the gang. There is also the excellent Dragon Challenge rollercoaster where your legs dangle whilst you twist and loop across the sky.
Elsewhere is Universal’s Island of Adventure: explore Jurassic Park and ride the River Adventure where you will escape the jaws of the T-Rex, join Spider-Man on a comic style 3-D adventure and take a plunge on Doctor Doom’s Fearfall ride…plus much more. There are rides and attractions to cater for all ages so all of the family will be very happy here. This side of the park does seem to have more water based rides where you may get wet though so it may be worth visiting in warmer weather.
Overall, Universal Orlando is an excellent experience where there is so much to do and see. Both parks are brilliant and Harry Potter is a fantastic addition which has clearly been a success since the launch in 2014. The parks are suitable for all of the family, there are small rides and shows for the little ones, rollercoasters for teenagers and plenty of entertainment for adults who aren’t so keen on rides.
A tip would be to extend your ticket to an Express pass which is essentially a queue-jump, there may still be some short queues when the park is busy but this does save a significant amount of time and means that you may be able to go on some attractions more than once (please note that Express pass does currently not apply to The Wizarding World Harry Potter).
For fans of the biggest and best rollercoasters – Busch Gardens really is the place to be! Situated in Tampa, Florida – it’s approximately an hour’s drive from the main parks area of Orlando.
The park boasts four major rollercoaster rides – Cheetah Hunt, SheiKra, Kumba and Montu plus many others including water rides and smaller rides for children. You’d be mistaken however if you thought that Busch Gardens was all about the rides – the park is full of wild animals and beautiful gardens and even has a stream powered locomotive – Serengeti Railway which provides a relaxing journey around the grounds.
Once inside the park – face your fears and head to one of the most exhilarating rides SheiKra: the very first dive coaster in North America which climbs up to 200 feet and then drops straight back down at up to 70 mph…at a 90-degree drop! It’s certainly not for the faint hearted…and spectators beware of the splash zone underneath the attraction!
Another fantastic ride is the Cheetah Hunt which includes multiple launches at up to 60 mph and covers over three quarters of a mile of landscape through the African inspired surroundings before plunging 37 meters into the abyss. This ride is full of surprises and is a record breaking three and a half minutes long – try and get in the front row for an even more breath-taking trip!
If you need a little break from all of the excitement, take a wander through the park where you will come face to face with some of the worlds most endangered species – the animals are truly amazing and you can even take part in feeding sessions with animals such as kangaroos and elephants! You’ll also feel like you’re on safari on the Serengeti Railway whilst passing through the landscape…the giraffes can be extremely curious so keep hold of your hats!
To get the best value for purchasing tickets to Busch Gardens, you can buy a 3 Park ticket which also includes Sea World and Aquatica and offers unlimited entry for 14 days. A tip would be to check the Attractions Update on the Busch Gardens website to check for scheduled ride closures so as not to be disappointed when you get there.
Overall, Busch Gardens is a great place for the whole family – the roller-coasters and rides are some of the best in the world and the added magic of wild animal encounters provides a memorable experience for everyone.
Disney – Magic Kingdom
Some may say that Disney is what Florida is all about, and the Magic Kingdom is certainly the epicentre of it all where the enchantment of musical parades, thrilling rides and Disney characters come together. From the moment that you step onto Main Street, the music fills the air and the castle glows in the distance.
Keep an eye out for all of your favourite Disney characters waiting to have their photograph taken with you and make sure that you get a good spot for the parade which fills the streets on a daily basis.
Disney’s Magic Kingdom caters more so for the younger audience and the attractions vary from the slow paced It’s a Small World to the faster paced Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. There's also the thrilling Space Mountain for older ones too so there really is something for everyone! On top of the rides, there are performances throughout the day and plenty of interactive events to get involved with such as Captain Jack Sparrow's Pirate Tutorial!
You cannot purchase queue jump style tickets for the park however Disney do offer a free Fastpass ticket with a designated time slot for you to return to the attraction with. This can save you lots of time and avoid those long tiresome queues with small children!
Planning a trip to Florida? Check out our selection of villas!