Alexander: For years we’ve been compiling a list of the top coasters/attractions in the state of California to cap the end of each season. With 2018 came the introduction of our Florida branch, and so too comes a Top 10 list for the state of Florida.
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We’ll be counting off our carefully selected (currently operating) coaster compilation from 10 down to 1, culminating with our pick for Florida’s Best Coaster. Any predictions before we start? Let’s roll!
10. Cobra’s Curse – Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Kicking off our countdown is one of central Florida’s latest and most unique coasters: Busch Gardens’ Cobra’s Curse, a one-of-a-kind, multi-modal Mack spinning coaster. Snuggly situated next to Egypt’s Montu, the serpentine spinner serves as a family-friendly companion to the intimidating B&M invert. Don’t let the small-statured Cobra’s Curse fool you, however – impressive forces, synchronized audio, immersive scenery, and rotations of both the programmed and randomized variety await any explorer brave enough to traverse a queue teeming with supernatural threats and live snakes.
9. Expedition Everest – Disney’s Animal Kingdom
One of Walt Disney World’s most iconic attractions is also a great roller coaster in its own right: Expedition Everest isn’t merely “good by Disney standards,” but an unexpectedly thrilling ride for coaster fans of all ages. Famous for its 6,000ft+ of track and six-figure price tag, Everest has spent a little over a decade showing the tourist public-at-large that Disney isn’t above developing a substantial, unapologetically-straightforward coaster ride with sustained forces, tall drops, and hair-raising surprises. Thematically, it’s the gold standard upon which all other themed coasters are judged.
8. Mine Blower – Fun Spot America
As polarizing as it is, there’s no denying the brilliance of Kissimmee’s resident woodie, the enigmatic Gravity Group Mine Blower. A ferocious ride that’s admittedly a little rough around the edges (to put it lightly), Mine Blower’s unrelenting mix of ejector air, violent transitions, and signature zero-g roll has attracted the attention of enthusiasts from around the globe – some delighted by the ride’s unabashed intensity, others sent wobbling to the nearest bench after a single ride. Fun Spot Orlando’s White Lightning woodie narrowly missed our Top 10, losing out to its wilder sibling due to its decidedly more conventional execution.
7. The Incredible Hulk – Universal’s Islands of Adventure
After a clumsy transformation into essentially the same ride as before, “new” Hulk is still the late-90’s B&M powerhouse we know and love – even if the onboard audio (or lack thereof) is an utter failure. The crowd-pleasing uphill launch has some nice effects now, but theming was never Hulk’s strong suit; riders come for a high-impact onslaught of 7 loops and an intensity level that verges on exhausting (at least, until the buzz-killing “2/3rd course” brake). While it doesn’t exactly end on a high note, the bulk of Hulk is enough to earn it the #7 spot on our list (though it winds up being, ostensibly, the 7th-best B&M in Florida out of 7).
6. Kraken – Sea World Orlando
As the war between Disney and Universal reached a fever pitch in the late 90s, Sea World Orlando responded to 1999’s unprecedented theme park bloom with Kraken, a smart, pragmatic B&M floorless coaster that upstaged quite a bit of the region’s pre-Y2K growth (even though the namesake mythical creature and the coaster’s original moray eel mascot had nothing in common). The first half isn’t particularly original (although the u-turn after the boomerang is a stand-out move), the dynamic finale (home to the only “2nd vertical loop” found on any Floorless coaster) demonstrates, among other great elements, the Sea World signature “ride marquee swoop” – a quality incorporated on both of the park’s follow-up B&Ms.
5. SheiKra – Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Five years separated the 2nd and 3rd installments of B&M’s now-ubiquitous “Dive Machine” product line; roughly 4 years into that gap, as inversion-heavy B&Ms continued to dominate the scene, there was reason to suspect that Alton Towers’ simplistic Oblivion (and its fraternal twin at Janfusun Fancyworld) would be all we’d see. Fortunately, with Busch Gardens poised to make their B&M duo into a trio, SheiKra changed the game – the massive, looping dive coaster effectively rebranded the model as a flexible canvas brimming with possibilities. The ripple effect of SheiKra is strong, with the product line still picking up steam on a global level, but Florida’s contribution remains among the most thrilling and well-themed.
4. Manta – Sea World Orlando
2009 wasn’t exactly a great year for theme parks (or the United States, or the world economy), but most of the bright-eyed plans set in motion during the first half of 2008 were carried to term – two notable projects being massive coasters for Sea World Orlando and Universal Studios Florida. While Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit! was giving way to more than its fare share of figurative and literal headaches, a substantially more successful attraction launch was happening just down the street. Manta, Florida’s first flying coaster, encapsulated a perfect marriage of concept and style – rather than flying through the sky like a bird, Manta invokes the underwater flight of Batoidae. Graceful acrobatics entrance riders and spectators alike as the B&M flyer drifts overhead, and caps its dance with one of the most photogenic moments of any theme park ride: the simulated-splash “wing dip.”
3. Montu – Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Five years after the first B&M inverted coaster was announced, Busch Gardens was ready to catch lightning in a bottle for a 2nd time with Montu, a record-breaking Egyptian war-god with a bad attitude. Busch’s inverts set the bar for all that followed (Universal’s Islands of Adventure responded in a pretty memorable way; rest in pieces, Dueling Dragons); they went on to prove that building a subjectively better version of what already exists is easier said than done. Countless inverted coasters from a variety of designers have followed, but few can hold a candle to royal-blue rapture of Montu’s stupendous stunts and trench-based battle tactics. While later coasters have featured similar strings of elements, none can say they orchestrate as meaningfully or cleverly as Montu – the hawk-headed deity earning lofty regards for being greater than the sum of its parts.
2. Mako – Sea World Orlando
As hyper coaster fever swept the world through the 90s, 00s, and beyond, a good 25 years came and went without 200ft+ coaster for Florida. As more and more parks got their hands on hypers of all shapes and sizes, the hope for one for Orlando (or at least Central Florida) held promise – as surely as the region’s coaster count was growing, surely a Sunshine State hyper would come. In the midst of high profile controversy, a publicly beset Sea World shocked the industry with news that torpedoed the barbed chatter: Mako, a 200ft B&M hyper, would finally give Floridians what they’d been waiting for. While some product lines peak early and fizzle out, Mako proved that B&M’s Mega Coaster line still had tricks up its sleeve – the shark-themed hood ornament for Sea World’s I-Drive border shows off everything B&M learned making both hypers and gigas, fitting comfortably among the hierarchy of Apollo’s Chariot and Fury 325.
1. Kumba – Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Number one on the countdown – and our pick for Florida’s Best Coaster – goes to Busch Gardens’ divine B&M Kumba. Not many coasters can say they were the biggest nail in another firm’s coffin, but nothing spelled death for legacy brand Arrow Dynamics quite as curtly as Kumba, which made the previous year’s Drachen Fire at Busch Gardens Williamsburg look amateurish. A fledgling B&M didn’t shy away from power moves; though execution wasn’t quite the perfect precision that the brand is now known for (and Kumba is all the better for it), Busch was prepared to push a straightforward concept to the full extent of its potential. Like the follow-up Montu, much of what once made Kumba original can now be found elsewhere (even on nearby Kraken), the extra care taken with Kumba’s execution resonates – even as interlocking corkscrews and dive loops became commonplace. Terraforming, a canopy of trees, fiery pacing, and a splendid post-corkscrew dive under the station are gifts that Kumba has been giving us gleefully for over 25 years, and their value grows with each passing season.
That concludes our Florida Top 10 Coasters – 2018 countdown! Do you agree with our analysis? Weigh in below in the comments or on our social media platforms!