My Theme Park Wishlist

After all, “a dream is a wish your heart makes.” Am I right?

Since I’ve gotten married, moved and begun my first post-grad school job, I’ve started making lists of things I want to do now that I have an actual income and vacation time. Of course, these things will require a bit of saving, but, hey, that’s what my Disney princess and Yoda piggy banks are for.

So, take a peek at a few of my wishes. What’s on your theme park bucket list?

1. Adventures by Disney: Southern California 

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I always thought Adventures by Disney, thorough vacation tours put together by the Mouse, was for touring Europe with a Disney spin. And you can do that, with tours to France, Italy, and Norway (hello Frozen), to name a few, but there’s so much more than that. They offer tours in North America, Asia, Africa, Australia and South America, but it’s possible to include a more traditional Disney vacation (i.e., visiting the parks) with an Adventure by Disney.

Adventures by Disney’s Southern California tour is for the true Walt Disney admirer. You experience a behind-the-scenes peek at Walt’s life, visiting his private Disneyland apartment, touring the Disney backlot and exploring Walt Disney Imagineering. You also get a behind-the-scenes look at Disneyland, Jim Henson’s Muppet Studios, and a traditional Hollywood tour. Adventures by Disney offers Southern California tours with an Avengers half marathon focus and a Star Wars half marathon focus, too. With Adventures by Disney, you don’t have to worry about anything. Everything — down to the Fastpasses — are taken care of, but your guides also allow for independent exploration time.

2. SeaWorld San Antonio

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SeaWorld San Antonio is the only SeaWorld park I have yet to visit, and now I’m only 6 hours away. Like Busch Gardens, SeaWorld San Antonio puts on a Howl-O-Scream event, transforming the park into a land of haunted mazes. Unlike Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights, Howl-O-Scream is included in your park admission. The event begins at 7 p.m., lasting until 11 p.m. or 12 a.m., depending on the date. Howl-O-Scream takes place Sept. 26 to Oct. 31.

SeaWorld San Antonio’s dolphin show, Azul, combines beluga whales, dolphins, and birds. I love Blue Horizons at SeaWorld Orlando, but I’m interested to see beluga whales as part of a SeaWorld show. I also want to see SeaWorld San Antonio’s Clyde and Seamore show (the classic, comedic sea lion show), Cannery Row Caper. In this show, Clyde and Seamore have to figure out who is stealing fish from a local cannery. SeaWorld San Antonio also offers high thrills, boasting two steel coasters (Great White and Steel Eel) and their version of the water coaster, Journey to Atlantis.

3. Dining with an Imagineer, Walt Disney World Resort

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You read that right. Disney Dining allows guests to sit down for a meal and chat with an Imagineer, the very people who who think up rides, shows and even entire parks. This is a dream come true for me. I think I will not be able to eat my food because I won’t stop asking questions.

As far as the food, though, it will be delicious, as Dining with an Imagineer takes place at the Hollywood Brown Derby, a recreation of the famous star-studded spot at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Dining with an Imagineer is only offered a few days out of a month, and it is currently booked up through February 2015. This is definitely something you need to plan far in advance. For reservation information, click here. 

4. Six Flags Over Texas 

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I’m now a few hours from Dallas, so I want to make a visit to Six Flags Over Texas soon. I’ve only been to Six Flags Over Georgia, so I’m ready to take on the coasters in a new locale. Six Flags Over Texas boasts Batman the Ride: Backwards, a coaster taking riders on the corkscrews and twirls of the Batman…backwards. It sounds like it may not be for the faint of stomach, but it’s definitely for the adventurous of heart.

Six Flags Over Texas also participates in Fright Fest, Six Flags’ Halloween event. Fright Fest occurs every Friday to Sunday from Sept.27 – Nov. 2, plus Monday, Oct.13 (Columbus Day). Six Flags Over Texas has not posted their lineup yet, but the event will consist of haunted houses, scare zones, rides and shows.

5. Diagon Alley, Universal Orlando 

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I’ve journeyed to Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure, shopping in the village and dining at The Three Broomsticks, but I have ye to experience Diagon Alley.I cannot wait to ride Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, a 3D thrill ride through the most-protected bank in the wizarding world.

Like Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley has distinctively themed shopping and dining. Borgin and Burkes offers supplies for the more questionable wizards in your group. As a sorted Sytherin (according to Pottermore), I definitely plan on paying this creepy spot a visit. The Leaky Cauldron, the dive bar/restaurant serving as the entrance to the wizarding world from London, serves English dishes, much like The Three Broomsticks.

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Bottoms Up: Face-down roller coasters in the U.S.

I love roller coasters of all kinds, from the small dips of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad to the wild corkscrews of the Batman. But, few roller coasters give me that stomach flipping/weightless feeling (some kind of science involving g forces and negative/zero g) that I get when riding a face-down coaster.

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Photo from Thrillride.com

On a face-down coaster, riders usually board sitting, with an over-head harness and ankle harnesses (Pictured Above). When all passengers are securely fastened, the seats rotate up, so the rider’s back is parallel with the track. This allows you to truly take on a ride head first.

Where can you take on these thrills? Find out below.

1. Manta,  SeaWorld Orlando

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Photo from SeaWorldParks.com

 

SeaWorld Orlando’s Manta allows riders to travel through air similar to the way manta rays travel through the sea. The first loop is really the kicker. After traveling up a hill, you dip into a forward-starting loop (many roller coasters take you down a hill to begin a loop). The concept causes a weird, yet exciting, feeling of zero g’s. Manta is not for the faint of stomach.

After conquering the first loop, the ride contains a couple of cork screws. You get to see a large portion of the park, as the face-down riding allows you to really notice what’s around you. You even catch a water spray near the end of the ride.

The stand-by queue area is an air-conditioned aquarium featuring a variety of rays, fish, and sea horses. If there’s a long wait, you’ll at least have something to entertain yourself.

In the summer, you might consider riding in the single riders line to make your wait go by quicker. If there is a chance of thunderstorms, ride Manta early. SeaWorld has strict rules on thunderstorms (like most theme parks) in the area regarding their outdoor shows and rides. Thunderstorms typically hit in the afternoon during Orlando summers, so riding early can avoid this problem.There are usually shorter waits around closing time (30 minutes before or so).

Manta is also part of SeaWorld’s Quick Queue, a paid service similar to Disney’s FastPass and Universal’s Express Pass. Quick Queue Unlimited allows you to skip the lines. It does cost extra, but you can ride as many times as you want and at any time.

2. Superman: Ultimate Flight, Six Flags Over Georgia, Six Flags Great America, Six Flags Great Adventure 

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Photo from roller-coasters.findthebest.com

Superman: Ultimate Flight allows riders to actually fly like Superman with its down-facing riding. Most Six Flags have a Superman-type roller coaster, and you can ride this particular type of coaster at Six Flags Over Georgia in Atlanta, Six Flags Great America in Chicago and Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, N.J.

I’ve only been able to ride this coaster at Six Flags Over Georgia, but it’s my favorite coaster at the park (a close second: Goliath). When you take the giant loop, riding the coaster on your back is foreign and crazy and awesome.

At Six Flags Over Georgia, Superman is at the back of the park. I recommend going straight to Superman if you arrive in the morning, as many people begin at Georgia Scorcher (front left) and Georgia Cyclone (front right). It’s a can’t miss attraction, so be prepared to wait. Superman: Ultimate Flight is included in Six Flags’ Flash Pass. The pass costs extra, but allows riders to avoid long lines.

3. Tatsu, Six Flags Magic Mountain

Photo from Sixflags.com
Photo from Sixflags.com

Tatsu is designed to make riders feel like they’re flying like a dragon. With a max speed of 62 miles-per-hour while traveling over a mountain, tree, and rock, it seems they accomplish the feat. Tatsu stands at 17 stories high, giving riders a 2-minute riding frenzy.

Photo from thecoasterguy.com
Photo from thecoasterguy.com

I unfortunately have not been to Magic Mountain (it’s on my bucket list), but this ride seems amazing and insane. You take a 104-foot corkscrew and experience zero g, high speeds, and plenty of twists. Since I can’t describe this ride from a rider’s perspective, take a look at this front-row video of the ride.

Remember: You will lose loose belongings on these types of coasters. Rides like these have compartments where you board the ride to leave loose shoes (flip flops/sandals) and other items. However, the park is not responsible for lost or stolen items (since they offer paid lockers) stored in these compartments. I have never had an item stolen, but I never leave anything of much value here. I try to wear shorts/pants with pockets that can be fastened with buttons or zippers. I’ve held loose items in my hands before (like my debit card or sunglasses), but that’s not particularly safe. There is a strong chance items will fly out of your pocket if your pocket does not fasten. The safest options are to wear bottoms with fastening pockets, leave your items with a party member, or invest in a paid locker. Happy riding!

Rules on bringing outside food to Orlando theme parks

When traveling to theme parks, especially on a budget, outside snacks are important. However, different theme parks have different rules on what’s allowed. The chart below breaks down the information.

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No Snacks For You

Universal Orlando does not allow any outside food or drink. You can’t even bring a Coke into the CityWalk area. I know because I’ve tried. When you drive to Universal Orlando (meaning you’re not staying onsite at one of the Universal Resort Hotels), you enter security between the parking deck and CityWalk. There, you will have to throw your snacks/drinks away, or finish them before entering the park.

Some Snack For You 

SeaWorld allows guests to bring snacks and drinks, but no meals. How do they typically differentiate? Bread. So, no sandwiches, but crackers are okay. They also won’t allow full fast food meals, but fries would be acceptable. This is a gray area and depends on the team member searching your bag. Though drinks are fine, SeaWorld (and Disney’s Animal Kingdom) does not allow plastic straws/lids. This includes juice boxes. Plastic straws/lids can be fatal to an animal if ingested, so this safety measure works to combat that. You can leave meals in your car/paid locker and eat them at the picnic area outside the park.

Snack For You 

DisneyWorld has no restrictions on snacks/drinks/meals. However, like SeaWorld, straws/lids are not allowed in Animal Kingdom for the safety of the animals.

Allergies, health problems, etc. 

The parks will make exceptions for guests with severe food allergies or diseases like diabetes. They’ll also make exceptions for religious beliefs that dictate a certain type of food. Explain your concern with the worker checking your bag, and you shouldn’t have a problem. They may bring an assistant manager to discuss your reason for bringing outside food.

Bending the Rules

No theme park worker is going to check your pockets unless you look suspicious or your pockets are overfilled. If you want to sneak a sandwich into SeaWorld or some crackers into Universal, be sure to put them in your pocket. This is an easier feat for winter when pockets are usually bigger.

Orlando Theme Parks Halloween Roundup: Bunny Slopes Edition

Traveling to the Orlando area for a spooky vacation? From pee-your-pants frights at Universal Orlando to slightly spooky fun at Walt Disney World, there’s something for every witch and goblin.

In this roundup, I’ll discuss the less-scary Halloween time options. These options are great for families with small children or adults who still wear their scared-y pants proudly. (I also avoid seeing horror movies in theatres and think way too deeply about the possibilities of Jason or Ghost Face attacking me)

If you’re ready for fright, don’t worry. Another roundup will come soon, featuring more haunting options.

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party

Photo from Disney.com
Photo from Disney.com

The name says it all. This not-so-scary event allows guests of all ages to trick-or-treat in the Happiest Place on Earth, Disney’s Magic Kingdom. See characters in their Halloween costumes and view a Halloween-theme Wishes fireworks show and Halloween parade. The Disney Villains also get a piece of the spotlight with their own castle show.

Be sure to visit Frontierland, where you may see some Disney classics transformed for All Hallow’s Eve. The Dapper Dans, a quartet usually seen along Main Street, U.S.A., are here as a quartet of cowboy ghosts.

Dates

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  • Tickets: Start at $62. Remember, this is a separately ticketed event, so Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is not included in your regular Disney ticket price. You can save on select nights by purchasing tickets in advance. 
  • Attractions: Select attractions are open during the event, including popular thrill-style rides such as Seven Dwarve’s Mine Train, Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain. Of course, the Haunted Mansion will be open, and there’s “always room for one more.”
  • Costumes: Costumes are highly encouraged for this event. Although only guests ages 9 and younger can wear costumes to Magic Kingdom on a normal day, guests of all ages can wear costumes to this event. There are a few costume rules, so be sure to check before purchasing. 

SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular 

Photo from SeaWorldParks.com

SeaWorld transforms its event space around Bayside stadium into an underwater-inspired Halloween party during weekends in October. This is not a separately ticketed event, and admission is included in regular park admission. The event consists of trick-or-treating, Halloween crafts, and character meet-and-greets.  Check out some of the sweets that will be offered at 2014’s Halloween Spooktacular.

Remember to stop by Penelope’s Party Zone, where bubbles and a DJ create a nonstop Halloween dance party.

  • Tickets: This event is included in SeaWorld’s park admission. To buy SeaWorld tickets, click here.
  • Attractions: All attractions are open during this event, as it occurs during regular park hours.
  • Costumes: Costumes are encouraged, but not required.
  • Dates: Weekends in October

Legoland’s Brick-or-Treat

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Legoland, located in nearby Winter Haven (about an hour from Orlando), offers Halloween fun for Lego fans, specifically targeted children ages 1-12. Kids can help build a ghost model out of Legos. The event also offers trick-or-treating with six different treat stations. Lego Halloween characters will be available for photo opportunities, along with the largest Lego pumpkin in the world.

The Lego Scary Scavenger Hunt in Miniland allows families to team up to find minifigures hidden throughout Miniland USA. Lego Ghosts will also be part of the scavenger hunt, with each ghost bearing a letter. Kids will have to use the letters to unscramble a secret word. They can submit their answers to legoland.com.

  • Tickets: This event is included with daily admission to Legoland Florida. To buy a Legoland Florida ticket, click here.
  • Attractions: All attractions are open during this event, as it occurs during regular park hours.
  • Costumes: Costumes are encouraged, and there are costume contests for three age groups.
    • 3 p.m. – 0-3 years
    • 4 p.m. – 4-8 years
    • 5 p.m. – 9-12 years
  • Dates: Brick-0r-Treat takes place on weekends in October. The Miniland Dance Party only occurs on Saturdays.

Disney Cruise Line’s Halloween on the High Seas

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Do you want something different from a strictly theme park experience? Check out Disney Cruise Line’s Halloween on the High Seas. This special event is included in the cruise price and is offered fleet wide. For more information, click here.