Vacation Time: The Amusement Park Grand Tour

In the summer of 1999 or 2000 — I’m not sure which — UJ and I decided it would be fun to drive with Richard and Russell down to Mom’s condo in Stuart, Florida. The boys like amusement parks and so do I, so the plan was to stop at amusement parks on the way down and on the way back. On a hot summer’s day we left Columbus and drove down I-71 and then I-75 to Atlanta, where our first stop was going to be Six Flags over Georgia.

Georgia Cyclone at Six Flags

Georgia Cyclone at Six Flags

Road trips have their own unique feel, and often it doesn’t take long to get goofy. This trip was no exception and was filled with laughs and general silliness about the lame books on tape I had decided to try for the trip (including a particularly annoying rendition of a Stephen King short story about an evil chimp-with-cymbals toy that went “chang, chang, chang”), the coveted bag of Werther’s butterscotch UJ had brought along, and Russell’s grudging admission that he really didn’t like the eggs he ordered at a Waffle House. And, there were weird moments too, like when we arrived at our Atlanta motel, found that all the power was out, and a bunch of random, sketchy looking individuals were roaming around the parking lot by the office as we pulled in. These are the kinds of incidents that make road trips fun.

Montu at Busch Gardens

Montu at Busch Gardens

What about the amusement parks? Well, Six Flags over Georgia was a pretty good amusement park. It had one excellent ride — the Batman ride — and lots of good roller coasters, like the Great American Scream Machine, the Mind Bender, the Georgia Scorcher, as well as a pretty good mine train ride. It also had a lame haunted house ride and the most despised “thrill ride” of all: a “head banger.” A “head banger” is an upright coaster with some kind of head gear where the ride is so violent and shaky that your head bangs back and forth within the head gear. They give me headaches, and Six Flags had two of them — the Georgia Cyclone (pictured at left) and the Ninja. The Georgia Cyclone, in fact, is one of the worst head-bangers I’ve ever ridden. It was a brutally hot day, the food was pretty good and, not coincidentally, completely unhealthy, and the ice-cold lemon shake-ups went down easy.

We left Six Flags and drove down to Tampa, and the next morning found us at Busch Gardens bright and early. Busch Gardens was terrific. We went on the Mantu, an inverted roller coaster, about seven times, including three or four times in a row at the beginning of the day. We would finish the ride, see that that line wasn’t long, and then decide to ride it again. We also rode the Gwazi coaster over and over again, tried the Kumba a few times (which was a bit of a head banger, in my view), rode the train and the water rides, and looked at the birds and animals. The park featured some very good food and — because it is Busch Gardens, after all — offered some cold beers that hit the spot.

The Incredible Hulk Coaster

The Incredible Hulk Coaster

After a peaceful sojourn on th ebeach at the Suntide Condo on Hutchinson Island, Jim decided he had had enough of amusement parks and hopped a plane home. The boys and I, however, stuck it out, and on the northern leg of our journey we stopped at Universal Studi0s Islands of Adventure. I think this is one of the finest amusement parks I’ve ever visited. Because the park is laid out in a big circle, the traffic patterns make the park seem less congested, and it is kept spotlessly clean. You have to try the Hulk Coaster, which gives you the spectacular sensation of being shot from a gun, and the Spiderman ride, which is a very cool 3-D experience. We also liked the Dueling Dragons, a double coaster in which Fire Dragon races Ice Dragon, and Dr. Doom’s Fearfall. We got soaked on the water rides (particularly the Popeye and Bluto ride),got scared by the T-Rex, and watched the weird Poseidon’s Fury show. Good food, and really good visuals and buildings that complement the themes of the different areas.

The Hurler Coaster at Carowinds

The Hurler Coaster at Carowinds

Our last — and, frankly, least — stop on the amusement park Grand Tour was the Paramount Carowinds park on the border of North and South Carolina. This park seemed shabby, dirty, and run-down compared to the other three, and it really suffered by the immediate comparison with Islands of Adventure. We rode The Hurler rollercoaster, the Top Gun ride, and some other roller coasters, ate some pretty mediocre food, and quickly gave up the ghost. We may have been burnt out on amusement parks, or unimpressed by the attractions, or just ready to get home, but we ended up leaving much earlier than originally planned.

I enjoyed this trip a great deal, because I think amusement parks can be a lot of fun and because I enjoy driving vacations. I also liked the fact that this vacation has a special theme and concept. The upshot? I’d go back to Busch Gardens or Islands of Adventure any time. Carowinds, not so much.

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