By Susan & Simon Veness
This year has been a memorable one for Florida’s theme parks, with an absolutely dazzling array of new rides and attractions from Disney, Universal and Co. But hang on to your hats – 2020 is set to be just as impressive, if not more so.
There had been a succession of rumours of major new developments at both SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa in recent months and, in September, the cat was finally let out of the bag. Two very substantial felines, in fact.
Just to start with, the sister parks held contemporaneous press conferences to make their big announcement, linking each park via a live video feed to keep everyone fully briefed on both broadcasts. And the details of each new ride were substantial.
Busch Gardens roller-coasters
Let’s start with Busch Gardens first, as it has long been the home of some of the best roller-coasters, not just in Florida but the whole of the USA. SheiKra remains the world’s tallest dive coaster; Cheetah Hunt was one of the first fast-launch rides; and the mind-boggling new (in March 2019) Tigris is Florida’s tallest launch coaster.
Until 2015, the park also had ‘duelling’ wooden coaster Gwazi, which was a massive piece of engineering until it got too rickety for a comfortable ride. Therefore, the park will re-engineer it for 2020, and next spring it will be reborn as Iron Gwazi, the world’s fastest and steepest hybrid ride of its kind.
With all-new steel tracks built into part of the existing wooden framework, Iron Gwazi promises to be another in a series of ground-breaking attractions for Busch Gardens, confirming its place as Florida’s pre-eminent high-thrill park. The new ride will reach 206ft tall, feature a 91-degree drop, hit a top speed of 76mph (the fastest in Florida), include three inversions AND produce a dozen airtime moments.
It will all add up to one of the USA’s most iconic – and thrilling – coasters, and it sets the scene for more amazing theme park excitement in 2020.
But that’s certainly not all. While Busch will be re-making an existing structure, SeaWorld will be creating something completely new from the ground up. And, if anything, their part of the dual press conference announcement was even more dramatic.
New attractions at SeaWorld
Against a themed backdrop of ice and snow, SeaWorld’s vice-president of design and engineering Brian Andrelczyk revealed their thrilling new attraction, Ice Breaker.
Now, it’s worth mentioning here that SeaWorld has slowly but surely been repositioning itself as a park for rides and adventures, as well as its industry-leading animal exhibits and conservation efforts. In the last 10 years, the park has added flying coaster Manta, hyper-coaster Mako – the joint tallest in Florida – and the junior-sized Super Grover’s Box-Car Derby, to go with existing thrill rides Kraken and Journey to Atlantis.
And, in summer 2020, they will add their sixth out-and-out coaster with their first multi-directional fast-launch ride. In fact, it won’t have just one launch point but FOUR, and it will incorporate several unique features as well when it opens next spring.
It will initially launch backwards, and rocket up a beyond-vertical spike 93ft high, making for the steepest drop in the state. Then it will go forwards through another fast-launch sequence before repeating that cycle and shooting out over the rest of the track. Other elements will include a top-hat type peak, low-to-the-ground airtime hills and a series of quick-turning directional changes, all at top speeds of 52mph.
It’s the kind of thing that really gets your attention, even here in thrill-a-minute Orlando, and it highlights these two parks as must-sees next year. Obviously these adrenalin-packed rides are not everybody’s cup of holiday tea, but we think they also have great spectactor value. Even if you’re not planning to give them a try, you should definitely check them out for pure eye appeal.
And, when it comes to ensuring Florida remains the UK’s No.1 long-haul holiday choice, this definitely gives the Sunshine State an advantage over all its rivals for the peerless combination of sun, sea – and excitement!
Susan & Simon Veness are the UK’s leading experts on Florida, having written about it for more than 25 years and sold more than half a million copies of their books about Orlando, Disney and the Sunshine State.