I decided to spend a long weekend in Florida to decompress after four extremely busy days working in Texas. In an ideal world I'd have booked myself onto a Thursday evening flight, but there were no direct services late enough for my schedule. As such, my morning began with a 4:15am alarm call delivered by a robotic voice whose dull monotone accurately represented how I felt about waking up so early. Twenty minutes later I'd checked out of my hotel and boarded an Uber driven by a middle-aged man who didn't stop talking for the entire fifteen minute journey to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport; it was a relief to get out of the car.
I'd allowed myself ninety minutes to complete departure formalities, though this proved to be far more than needed; my newly acquired TSA PreCheck status ensured that I was on the far side of security just fifteen minutes after arrival. On the positive side, this left me with plenty of time to walk the length of the terminal in search of breakfast. There were plenty of restaurants available despite the hour, but unfortunately the options were limited to variants of the two local staples, namely tacos and eggs. Those after less calorific fare like myself were restricted to a single shop selling fruit at about five times the local market rate. I managed to scavenge something to meet the immediate need, but it was definitely not satisfying.
The flight on JetBlue was both on time and remarkably pleasant courtesy of an empty seat next to me. There was no charge for on-board internet, yet despite that it proved to be unexpectedly quick; a check on Speedtest showed that I was getting a download speed of almost 10Mbit, comparing very favourably with the paltry 864Kbit shared by over five hundred passengers on my regular journeys to and from Singapore. I was able to work productively for virtually all of the two hour journey, and as a result the time passed very quickly.
Getting out of the airport on arrival was painless, if somewhat time consuming as luggage delivery took the better part of an hour. My booked economy rental car was unavailable, so I was assigned a Mazda CX-5, described to me as a "small SUV" but quite a way into mid-size territory by European standards. I was a little unsure about the upgrade, but my doubts quickly vanished on the discovery of adaptive cruise control that didn't give up in stop/start traffic, allowing me to rest my foot away from the accelerator and concentrate on steering. This feature proved its worth ten times over after I accidentally sprained one of my toes on Saturday night by colliding at speed with misplaced furniture; I'm not at all sure that I'd have been able to complete my planned route without it.
Fun Spot America Kissimmee
1st March 2019
The Fun Spot America parks in Florida operate daily from 10:00am to midnight, presumably in the hope that those staying in the vicinity will drop in after a full day at one of the better known destinations nearby. I'd figured that I'd be visiting at an off-peak time, but I was still surprised to see no more than a dozen cars in the parking lot at the Kissimmee branch when I arrived shortly before noon, especially since some of those probably belonged to staff. As far as I could tell the only attraction to have dedicated personnel was the wooden coaster; everything else was being run on an as needed basis by a few roving operators. It was tempting to buy an unlimited wristband so that I could have my own exclusive ride session, but the break even point was five laps and I wasn't sure that I'd want to do that many back to back rides on minimal sleep with an inadequate breakfast. In the end I decided to buy two individual $10 tickets so I could do both front and back, and that was the right call, as I felt a little woozy at the end of my second lap; age is a terrible thing.
Mine Blower (#2576) is the twenty-first wood tracked coaster to be manufactured by The Gravity Group, and their fourth to feature an inversion (following Hades 360 and three different Jungle Trailblazers in China). It uses a steel support structure, though this fact has been cleverly disguised, to the point that the average visitor would be unlikely to notice. The trains are modern six car Timberliners, and both feature a themed lead car decorated with stylised sticks of dynamite. The ride has been installed on a plot of around 38,000 square feet on the eastern edge of the park that was home to a pair of go kart tracks between 2008-2016. (The park opened with three separate tracks; the one that has been retained was the largest by some margin.)
The layout starts with a tight left turn and an eighty-three foot lift, decorated with American flags on both sides. A slight descent and left turn prefix the main drop, which goes all the way to ground level. The ensuing climb culminates in a right turning corkscrew that is negotiated exceptionally well, without even the vaguest hint of jarring. The rest of the course consists of a fairly generic mix of airtime hills punctuated by a pair of overbanked turns that are handled without any of the shaking experienced on my local coaster. I noticed no significant difference between front and back; both seats gave a similar experience. Enthusiast reports on the ride comfort level have been somewhat mixed, but I can report that there were only minor bumps today; under other circumstances I'd have happily ridden for a few hours.
After disembarking I went for a walk around the park to snap a few photographs for my collection. There was signage up advertising the brand new Sky Sled harness for the world's tallest Skycoaster, but after brief contemplation I decided that it was an experience that I'd prefer to save for a visit with company. There were no other attractions that I had a strong desire to try, and given that I decided to set out for my second stop a little ahead of schedule.
Andretti Thrill Park
1st March 2019
There are few things more annoying to coaster counting enthusiasts than missed credits, especially those of the pathetic variety. Over the last while many of my most embarrassing misses have been compact spinning coasters from SBF Visa. In the last year alone I've found one closed, a second awaiting commissioning, and a third in pieces. In parallel I've read about new versions popping up in remote locations that I don't envisage returning to in the near future, such as Calaway Park and Silverwood Theme Park, and I've inwardly groaned at others in places that I doubt I'll ever make it to, such as the one that opened last year in Trinidad and Tobago. The thirty-one that I've ridden to date represent less than half of those known to the community; anyone wanting to tick off the full set at this stage would need to visit over eighty parks spanning five continents, and one suspects that there are many more out there waiting to be discovered. To make matters worse, the design has been copied by other manufacturers, notably Guangzhou-based Mecpower who offer both a figure eight layout and a slightly larger model with a descending helix.
The owners of Andretti Thrill Park have taken trolling to a new level by acquiring a standard figure eight ride and installing it in a location seventy miles from Orlando, requiring of the order of three hours for a round trip. Better yet, they have made it accessible only via a full price wristband, despite many of their other attractions being available on a pay-per-ride basis. A quick glance at Coaster-Count shows that this positioning hasn't deterred hard core enthusiasts; as of this writing, forty-four people have logged the proverbial tick, including visitors from Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. My ten lap cycle on Family Coaster (#2577) had a surprising amount of spinning, perhaps because I was the only person in the train. The operator asked me if I wanted to go again, a kind offer that I politely declined; I'd have been content with two or three circuits of track, though trying to explain my thought process to a normal person was never going to work without a bus load of enthusiasts to reinforce the message.
The park is home to five separate go kart tracks. The fastest of these and the most interesting by far is the Andretti Challenge, described as a challenging European-style road course track with speeds approaching 40 miles per hour. Would be guests are required to present a driving license as well as an eight dollar fee (rising to fifteen for those without a wristband). This seemed a little excessive given that I'd already handed over more than I'd care to admit on entry, and as such I decided to skip it in favour of the F1 Speed Track. This circuit had both uphill and downhill sections, though it was definitely not taxing; helmets were not required, and I was able to complete the course with my foot firmly on the accelerator throughout.
With that done I decided to conclude my visit with a quick ride on the Drop'n'Twist tower, a SBF creation. The twelve seat car wasn't twisting at all today; instead, it was running a programme with five consecutive half height drops. There was a mild freefall sensation, but it wasn't thrilling enough to justify the time investment in a second cycle.