Travel review: Orlando and SeaWorld Mako ride
Everything is bigger in America. From the huge family Jeeps on the roads to the humongous portion sizes in restaurants not to mention the massive out-of-town shopping malls.
So, it's no surprise that the same goes for the country's roller coasters, much to the delight of thrillseekers.
Except they aren't just the best coasters in the world, some are also the biggest, known as hypercoasters.
The definition of a hypercoaster is any roller coaster with a height or drop measuring greater than 200ft.
There are just two hypercoasters in the UK, the Big One at Blackpool and Stealth at Thorpe Park. In America, there are more than 30 and that says it all.
The latest hypercoaster to be built in The States is Mako, named after the species of shark, at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. Myself, along with a group of 15 hardened coaster riders from the UK and Ireland, ventured across the Atlantic to check out the new ride.
During a five-night stay to the state I also saw the new Cobra's Curse ride at Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay, as well as visiting plenty of other attractions and eating a lot of really great food.
But first things first. Mako opened last month and is just one of many rides at SeaWorld.
It's huge. Soaring up into the skyline, the half-a-mile long blue rails can be seen on the approach to the theme park. And the screams can heard from a distance too. It's the centrepiece of the new two-acre, shark-themed realm at the park. I got a sneaky first ride on it, but nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience. Scaling up 200ft, before plummeting and reaching speeds of 73mph, it was exhilarating from start to finish. The twists and loops are designed on a shark's movement, it took brave tight turns, stomach-flipping steep drops and went at lightning speed. The only disappointment was my inability to keep my cool.
A video, later kindly circulated online, showed me screaming like a six-year-old girl, not a 32-year-old man. Not great for my street cred. But the ride was so good that when I was pulling myself from the seat, I was strangely desperate to put myself through the ordeal again. . .
Other thrilling rides at the park include Manta or Kraken, but if you're not a fan of roller coasters, there are lots of other less daring things to do. Whether it be dazzling killer whale displays or visiting a penguin's home you can keep your feet firmly on the ground. And for those wanting a break from the action, there are plenty of cafés and bars where you can refuel ahead of more excitement.
During our stay we were based at the Hilton in Orlando, which is just a stone's throw from most of the city's attractions, shopping malls and restaurants. However, such is the unpredictability of the weather – it can be sunshine one minute and torrential rain the next – we were often forced to get taxis from place to place.
Orlando is the country's most popular tourist destination with its theme parks drawing in visitors from both home and abroad. But in contrast to the screams and roars from the roller coasters, the state is quite green and picturesque, with lakes dotted around, bringing a sense of tranquility.
Its wealth of attractions means it's a great family destination as there is so much to do to keep both children and adults entertained during the day and at night.
When it comes to food, you'll be spoilt for choice. On the first night we ate at Spencer's for Steaks and Chops on the ground floor of the hotel. No exaggeration, it was the best steak I'd ever eaten. What a great start to my holiday.
We also tucked in to some tasty Mexican food at Rocco's Tacos and Tequila the next evening.
Back to thrills and spills, the next theme park we went to took us much closer to nature. At Discovery Cove you can swim with dolphins, snorkel in water filled with tropical fish or just put your feet up and enjoy a beer on its pristine beaches.
For me, swimming with the dolphins was a highlight of the holiday. Watching them from boats or on television, I've always been fascinated by the friendly-looking creatures.
But it was something else to touch them and be carried by them across the waves. Holding on to their fins while surfing across the water was like an out-of-body experience. I'm not sure what the dolphins thought of me mind you! Although I did get a kiss from one which was caught on camera by the on-hand photographers who take pictures so you can enjoy the memories for years to come.
That evening we went back to Mako where I managed to notch up five more times riding the roller coaster. I just couldn't get enough.
The next day we took the bus to Tampa Bay which was around an hour and a half away. It was time for Busch Gardens. Unfortunately, we were too early for the opening of Cobra's Curse, although the park managers gave us a tour. Even the queue area, which featured live snakes, was scary. Like most coasters, it looked like it was fast, windy and high. But it also had another feature: the car spins round 360 degrees as it travels along the track. This adds a new twist to rides. Cobra's Curse also opened last month and is another one to add to my must-do list.
Despite the ride being closed, there was still plenty of other things to do at the park. We were given a 'sloth encounter' and took a look at a live bird health check-up. The park has 12,000 animals and there was a chance to see more of them with a safari at the end of the day.
But what I most enjoyed was the Cheetah Run ride. It seemed tame enough just looking at it, but once buckled in it was yet another heart-pumping ride. The speed and acceleration was so quick I was pinned in my seat, unable to move. It was ridiculously good.
That night we managed to sneak in a shopping spree at one of the city's biggest shopping malls, the Premium Outlets Mall, then stopped off to enjoy a delicious Italian pasta meal at Vinito.
Sadly we had only one more day to enjoy in the Sunshine State. Our final stop was water park Aquatica where the highlight was a vertical drop slide. Stood in a capsule, a countdown begins before the floor gives way beneath you. There is a drop of several metres before the slide picks you up, hurtling you down to the bottom where you will eventually emerge feeling a little dizzy. This is a ride only for the brave. After that, a lazy river ride or a host of other, slightly calmer, slides are the perfect antidote to see the rest of the day out.
Then it was time for the final meal. . . we went out for tapas. Heaven. Cafe Tu Tu Tango featured several exotic plates on its menu including shrimp and alligator. Yum!
Before I knew it, I was already packing my bags and heading back home. Five nights flew by, I wanted to stay for more with so many other parks to see.
Orlando is a great family resort with lots to see and do along with plenty of fun to be had. It's a place everyone should go for an exciting holiday.
To see Alex's experience on the roller coaster click here.
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