It’s been two years since our last Florida Coasters Top 10 – needless to say a lot has happened in these two years. We planned on holding off on our next Florida Top 10 until Iron Gwazi and VelociCoaster had opened; with the way 2020 unfolded, we ultimately decided to sound off on the region’s current collection of coasters without them. The next two years promise a dramatic shuffle in Central Florida coaster hierarchy, so let’s consider this 2020 countdown the foundation upon which we’ll judge the region’s variety of new coasters.
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10. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts – Universal Studios Florida (Orlando, FL)
Starting off our list is a new one for our countdown – narrowly avoiding our Top 10 in 2018, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is one that’s gotten better with age. Lofty expectations set by the game-changing Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and the unparalleled execution of Diagon Alley couldn’t help but put Escape from Gringotts in a precarious position: criticism about the ride’s pacing, length, tone, and queue were almost inevitable. However, in the wake of Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, pressure’s off now for Gringotts – its role of “newest Harry Potter ride” comfortably passed along to a flashier colleague. Consequently, we find Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts comfortably coming into its own as the Wizarding World’s perfectly pleasant middle child – one whose returns accrue rather than diminish on repeat rides. Polished sight lines, beautiful scenes, and clever manipulations of hardware and software help Gringotts blur the lines between coaster and dark ride – as well as fantasy and reality.
9. The Incredible Hulk – Universal’s Island’s of Adventure (Orlando, FL)
Dropping a couple of spots to #9 this year is perhaps Orlando’s most iconic B&M coaster (and also the newest B&M coaster, incidentally), The Incredible Hulk. With the novelty of “new Hulk” behind us, we find our relationship with the ride settling back to a more modest occupation as well. Train headlamps, onboard audio, and a new story aside, Incredible Hulk is still the temperamental fan-favorite it’s always been – now just with more noise pollution. 2020 didn’t exactly bring out the best in this ride, with “empty train syndrome” compromising the ride’s often snappy first half, but all-row loading re-implementation has restored much of the ride’s performance. Everything after the midcourse brake run is still pretty blazé, but we must it admit it makes us nostalgic for early 90’s B&M designs.
8. Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain – Disney’s Animal Kingdom (Lake Buena Vista, FL)
Oh, Everest. I bet your back is sore from carrying Animal Kingdom for over a decade. What can be said about this record-breaking ride (the record being “first coaster to cost nine figures”) other than its near-perfection was nothing short of necessary? The ride’s most most expensive and impressive component being a 25ft yeti animatronic that worked for a couple weeks will always be a particularly shiny gem in Disney’s crown of Imagineering oversights, but we can forgive the ride’s two-second encounter with “disco yeti” on the merit of Expedition Everest’s solid pacing, speed and forces – especially for a Disney coaster. Frankly we find the menagerie of hair ties festooning the ride’s outdoor broken track scene more bothersome than yeti in B-mode, but Disney appears to be addressing both issues with equal attention (which is none).
7. SheiKra – Busch Gardens Tampa Bay (Tampa, FL)
In a park full of aggressive and polarizing rides, SheiKra‘s biggest crime is being perhaps the most straightforward coaster at Busch Gardens Tampa. SheiKra lacks the expeditious pacing of its Tampa B&M siblings, but is easily the most pleasant coaster in the park for G-Force-sensitive guests (consequently, the most agreeable coaster to appreciate here might also be the easiest to overlook). Nevertheless, SheiKra has so far enjoyed a lifetime of substantial value – from serving as the re-invention of the B&M Dive Machine, to the growing appreciation for its airtime-friendly, non-vest restraints. While it no longer feels like one of the parks “newer” rides (for better or worse), we don’t imagine that value to deplete any time soon.
6. Kraken – SeaWorld Orlando (Orlando, FL)
“Kumba – but make it floorless.” That’s pretty much how it went for the first wave of B&M’s new line of sit-down loopers that dominated the 2000 season, and Kraken was no exception. Following Kumba‘s sequence of events down to the final corkscrew (only the first corkscrew was re-cast as a 2nd vertical loop – one of the ride’s highlights), Kraken unapologetically mirrored the moves of its sister coaster just an hour away, but with strong results. While effects have come and gone (the waterfalls and mist in the grotto was a pity to lose, but look on the bright side – Busch’s fascination with VR was mercifully short-lived), Kraken remains a satisfying experience from start to finish.