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Monday, August 30, 2010

More Orlando Adventures

A couple of you may have read about my adventures at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando a few weeks back. I wanted to make sure I posted information on the rest of my trip in case you plan on visiting.

I stayed at the SeaWorld Renaissance Hotel, which was a very classy joint that is extremely conveniently located for any of the SeaWorld Parks (SeaWorld, Aquatica, and Discovery Cove). For the other parks or for dining out, it is a little bit too far south in my opinion. The room was about $150/night which wasn't bad at all, but room service was an arm and a leg. Because of this we decided to eat out.

Our first night we had dinner at Cafe Tu Tu Tango, a great tapas restaurant filled with lively conversation and local artists painting, drawing, and art-making around you. The food was delicious! We had BBQ ribs, steak, bruschetta, and cheesecake popiscles. You can check out the menu here.

To get to the restaurant we took the local trolley that comes by each stop about every 20 minutes and costs $1.50 per person for a ride. It sucks waiting for it and sometimes it comes and then is full, but it can get you almost anywhere off International Drive (the main drive in Orlando). To get to the parks, the hotel offers a free shuttle so use that instead if you can.

I finished my vacation in Orlando a few weeks ago with a trip to SeaWorld's Water Park - Aquatica. The park has only been around for a few years but was an absolute treat! We arrived at 9:30am and managed to go on every single water slide before noon because the lines were non-existent. I went to Universal yesterday and, Wizarding World of Harry Potter aside, Universal Islands of Adventure is a dump. The rides feel old, the prices are exorbitant, and the admission ticket is $80 WITHOUT Express access. Aquatica, on the other hand, was about $40 a person, the food was decently priced, and the wait for the rides was SO short.

Here is my take on all of the rides. I've put them in order of favorite to least favorite.

Hooroo Run
This ride is the best in the park in my opinion. You are in a huge innertube that fits up to four people. However, when two people go on it you catch MAJOR air. The employees that send you down the slide think it is super funny to have the girl go down backwards (thanks guys). You literally feel yourself tipping over the edge backwards, and then only air beneath you as the tube bumps its way to the bottom. Definitely shrieking on that one!

Taumata Racer
A very close second to Hooroo, Taumata Racer involves a mat that you lay on as you slide down a chute racing against other people. I was really bad at diving into the tube fast enough to keep up with everyone else but it was still tons of fun to go flying head first down the huge slide at the end. The ride captures your time too. As an extremely competitive person this meant I spent the better part of an hour on the ride trying to beat my personal best.

Loggerhead Lane
This ranks #3 in my list because it is so relaxing. This lazy river circles Tassie's Twisters and go under the Dolphin Plunge ride. This means you can snag a two-person innertube and take a nap as you float in circles. The best part is that you go under the dolphin exhibit so you can sit and watch the Commerson's Dolphins sprint around in the water. HINT: Splash water on the viewing window in order to see them better. It gets a little fogged up with water spots.

Omaka Rocka
Aquatica's newest ride, Omaka Rocka had a special twist to it that I especially liked. A couple times during the ride you switch directions from going down backwards to forwards and back again. The mechanics of the ride somehow make it so you switch automatically. It was a fun aspect! You also get to go on this one by yourself in the innertube which makes it a little scarier too!

Tassie's Twisters
Tassie's is all about the anticipation. You head into a giant circular basin where with each turn you get closer and closer to the drain in the middle of the circle. The catch is you don't know when you are going to get sucked through it and plunged into ice cold water! Very fun!

Walkabout Waters
I guess I'm just a five year old at heart because I spent forever at Walkabout Waters getting dunked by the giant bucket of water, getting sprayed by little kids manning the squirt gun station and getting my giant feet caught in the rope bridge. Sure I may have looked a little out of place but my inner child was having an amazing time.

Walhalla Wave and Whanau Way
For whatever reason these were fun but not particularly memorable.

Cutback Cove and Big Surf Shores
Both large bodies of water where you can just mess around. Not much to say about them though.

Roa's Rapids
The rapids were a little too fast for me and my bathing suit. I spent most of the ride spitting water out of my mouth while holding my top on. I'll come better prepared next time!

Dolphin Plunge
This is Aquatica's signature ride but it ended up at the bottom of my list. You shoot down a tube with no light in it and then speed through the dolphin tank. I felt super clastrophobic and you are going way to fast to actually see any dolphins. I think I'll stick to the open air ones!

For lunch, Aquatica offers a couple different options. If you plan on having more than one meal there I would DEFINITELY do the Dining Deal at Banana Beach Cookout because you will end up saving money and the food is probably better with more options. For those, like me, who will be eating dinner elsewhere the Waterstone Grill was just fine.

For dinner, we went out with my coworkers to a favorite Orlando steakhouse, Charlie's. We gorged ourselves on steak, key lime pie, mashed potatoes, and of course some wine. It was delicious!

Overall my trip to Orlando was a lot of fun without being grossly expensive. The only thing that stood out as over-priced was the Universal admission ticket. But even then it was totally worth it for Harry Potter. I highly highly recommend both parks for that reason. I can't wait to make it back and try out more the many great parks Orlando has to offer.