We’ve finally made it to the last post about theme parks of our Orlando 2017 trip report! Today I’m going to be venturing outside Disney and Universal to talk about Seaworld, Busch Gardens and the Merlin attractions at I-Drive 360. If you missed the other parts in this series, you can view them here: the hotels, the Disney Parks and Universal Orlando Resort.
1. Seaworld Orlando
Seaworld was the biggest disappointment of the trip for us. We weren’t sure whether or not to visit – we watched Blackfish and couldn’t make up our minds – but we got the tickets free when we booked Busch Gardens so decided we might as well give it a try.
We probably spent around four hours in the park and to be honest, it was enough. The animal attractions didn’t hold any interest for us so we pretty much only went for the coasters. They’re good, don’t get me wrong, but to us, the park looked tired, run down and in need of a good lick of paint. And don’t even get me started on Journey to Atlantis, it’s a water coaster without any water at this point – just a complete and utter mess.
It’s worth the trip for Mako though. We don’t have anything like this in the UK and it really is a thrilling ride, one of Carl’s favourite roller coasters in the world.
Our Seaworld Top Tips
1. The loaded fries from Captain Pete’s Island Hot Dogs sound delicious. They’re not. Save your money and buy a packet of crisps instead.
2. Arrive in good time, we got to the gates just after opening and had to wait around 35 minutes to get in – the queues were ridiculous considering all the rides were pretty much a walk-on. I don’t know if they’d had new security added or something, but it was a disorganised mess.
3. Take some dollar notes. You have to put your bags in a locker to get on any of the roller coasters but unlike Universal, the lockers aren’t free. They cost $1 and there isn’t a way of getting any change. We had to find a kiosk to buy some water twice to be able to use them.
2. Busch Gardens Tampa
Like with Seaworld, Busch Gardens is in need of a little update but overall we had a much better day at this park. I won’t go into the rides in any detail, as Carl covered his thoughts in his Busch Gardens hits and mini review post a few weeks ago.
Unlike the other parks we’d visited, this day was all about the thrills – there are some fantastic roller coasters here. My personal favourite was Sheikra, so scary but so much fun. I also loved Cobra’s Curse and had a really good time going around the park on the Serengeti Express.
When it comes to food and drink there isn’t much to say. The options were fairly limited and we ended up with a bog standard chicken nuggets and chips meal – not the best. Overall though, a great day. Probably not worth the journey with small kids or if you don’t like roller coasters though, as it’s a good hour and a bit from International Drive.
Our Busch Gardens Top Tips
1. If you don’t have a car, make sure you use the free transportation service put on by Mears. All you need to board is a Busch Gardens ticket and it was a fantastic, stress-free experience. We got picked up from the bus station at Universal but I think it does a few other stops.
2. If you have some spare spending money, grab a Quick Queue pass. This gets you one ride on each of the main attractions and was well worth the money for us. It only cost $14.99 each and we never had to wait more than five minutes for a ride. We hadn’t researched this beforehand, even though we knew we wanted to buy one, and were really shocked when we heard the price. We were more than willing to pay over $50 each for this – a fantastic and affordable add-on.
3. This was the hottest park we visited as most of the attractions are outside. We really noticed the lack of air conditioning and missed the cool-off breaks we’d had at the other parks. Make sure you wear super light clothing and drink plenty of water as it’s very easy to start feeling a bit faint in the heat here.
3. Orlando Eye and Madame Tussaud’s at I-Drive 360
We ventured to I-Drive 360 when we were having a Halloween Horror Nights hangover day and were in need of a bit of rest. This was another thing we didn’t research beforehand, we just showed up with $100 in our pockets and assumed we’d be ok.
Turns out it isn’t that cheap. We decided to buy an Orlando Eye and Madame Tussaud’s combination ticket which I think was around $80 but it didn’t leave us with much change to grab some food in the surrounding area.
The eye was great, it was really quiet in the middle of the day so we had a pod all to ourselves. We loved seeing all the theme parks from high in the sky and the whole thing felt super secure. I mentioned in the Universal Orlando Resort post that I have a fear of heights, and we had a really bad experience on the Malaga Eye, so we were pleased that this one was really sturdy.
They did try and flog us a ridiculously expensive photo package at the end but weren’t pushy and let us go on our merry way when we declined.
Madame Tussaud’s was a similar story. It’d been years since either of us had been in one of these and we had a really fun hour walking around taking stupid photos with celebrities. We were both pleased to see our celebrity crushes here (Jennifer’s Aniston, Lopez and Lawrence for Carl, Leonardo Di Caprio and Ryan Gosling for me) as well as true legends like Walt Disney himself.
Overall we would definitely suggest paying I-Drive 360 a visit if you’re looking for something interesting to do on a none park day.
We don’t really have any top tips for I-Drive 360, to be honest, as we only spent a couple of hours there but if we were to have explored a bit more I’m sure there are some great places to eat and if all else fails, the biggest McDonald’s in the world is only a 10-minute walk away!