Aaawlando… Orlando, the rollercoaster capital

A falcon is a majestic bird of prey with the keenest of eyes, eight times sharper than man, a rich plumage, and a swift turn of wing.

The Peregrine can swoop at speeds of 200mph, making him the fastest moving creature on Earth.

Your correspondent is a middle-aged, short-sighted land lover with moulting plumage and on motion sickness tablets.

He is enclosed in a metal hold, perched 335ft up into the Florida sky. 

How high?

If he didn’t have his eyes closed he would be able to take stock and scan the breathtaking Busch Gardens around him.

And its feathered and furry inhabitants at play.

But he is about to be flipped 90 degrees.

So he is facing straight down at the ground and his new-found friends below and propelled at 60mph back to earth. 

Five seconds later he has turned in the air, landed, face up, eyes blinking at the sun and ready to go again.

Five seconds before he was a nervous wreck, now he has mastered Falcon’s Fury.

It’s the tallest free-standing drop tower in North America, and has been transformed into superhero The Falcon, ready to swoop once more.

And this time with his eyes fixed on the target.

In the pink

Hello flamingo: A colourful sight

In Florida, America’s rollercoaster state, you can be what you want to be, and become what you never thought you could.

Little did I know when watching Birdman on the plane over to Orlando that like Michael Keaton’s alter ego Riggan I would become my own superhero.

Acknowledged as such by the group I have arrived with…

Ten like-minded thrill-seekers from our shores, Irelando in Orlando, if you will.

I am on the Orlando FlexTicket.

It is a multi-park pass which includes 14-day unlimited access to six parks – Universal Studios, Universal Islands of Adventure, SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa and Wet ’n Wild Orlando.

Animal magic

Today it is Busch Gardens which, taken in tandem with SeaWorld, Aquatica,

Wet ’n Wild and the added attraction of Discovery Cove (not on the FlexTicket but one you will want to sign up for) provides the wildlife and rollercoaster section of the package.

Floridians love their animals and their rides.

Let me on again: Falcon’s Fury

The guide on Falcon’s Fury claims to have done that drop 51 times.

Only time restrictions stopped your correspondent, The Falcon, from taking a tilt at that record.

Other superheroes and wizards will be dealt with separately on this blog.

And we’ll take a whizz round Universal Orlando which is out of this world.

The big cats

Somewhere down the Lazy River

But back to the animals and roller coasters and having got inside the skin of the fastest bird in the skies it is time to wonder at the quickest animal, the cheetah.

So quick, that my attempt to catch him on camera as he was put through his paces by his handler for our entertainment in the Cheetah Run proved fruitless.

I was left with his hind legs at the edge of the picture!

Our group photographer, thankfully, was steadier with his hand.

As fast as a cheetah: Cheetah Hunt

And he captured our attempts at the companion ride, Cheetah Hunt, the park’s newest attraction.

A triple launch coaster, it carries riders high above the park, then races down along the ground through a rocky gorge.

At a length of 4,400ft, it is the park’s longest ride and is great fun as it melds with the animals’ terrain.

Let’s go on safari

Busch Gardens… and this tiger is on a roll

Busch Gardens and their parent Sea World are thorough in their efforts to put their inhabitants in as natural a setting as possible, away from their normal habitat, the wild. 

They stress too the threat to our wildlife from their greatest predators, us.

And through a combination of good husbandry, cutting-edge medical treatment, their dedicated rescue service and fund raising they are addressing the challenge.

Stick your neck out

Of protecting those with whom we share our lands and seas.

Nowhere is this more evident than in their Serengeti Safari experience.

Hop to it: Feeding a wallaby

Visitors will be driven out to meet nature’s tallest animals, the giraffe, passing, among others, zebras, antelopes and ostriches on the way.

The gentle Bititi (Swahili for strong lady) was good enough to bend down and take food from our palms – I swear she smiled at me as well.

I am reminded at this point that I had sampled the animal produce just a day before at Discovery Cove.

You cheeky monkeys… the marmosets

In my defence I was asked by the guide if I was allergic to peanuts, which I’m not, and took that as a cue to get tucked in.

Little surprise then that the birds did not come calling.

Our feathered friends might have chosen today, of all days, to get coy, but the fish and dolphins are a different kettle of (well, you know).

Gorilla thrilla

Life of a trainer

Discovery Cove gives the visitor the opportunity to swim with bottlenose dolphins and even walk on the ocean floor.

It is an experience not to be missed.

Over at SeaWorld Orlando, it’s the dolphins’ big brothers, the six-tonne killer whales, who are playing with us.

We are in the middle of the grandstand watching these Leviathans of the ocean.

They are turning tricks and splash the excitable youngsters in front of us.

While behind them on a stage there’s a troupe putting on a song and dance performance which would not look out of place on Eurovision.

Freshwater oasis

It is handler Joe’s turn then to be put through hoops.

As he fields questions about the care of the orcas in the wake of accusations of exploitation and calls for them to be released back into the wild.

It is a challenging question and one which is not easily answered, least of all in one afternoon.

Suffice to say that this correspondent was left in no doubt that Joe is devoted to the killer whales.

Now there’s a set of whiskers

And I suspect that if he could, he would take his home with him and feed him if the need occurred.

Like the handler in the penguins’ sanctuary, whom we meet with his flippered friends, has done.

Of course, it’s not only the big and beautiful and the small and cute who are catered for at SeaWorld – Mr JP handles the manatees, mammal commonly known as sea cows.

All the fun of the fair: At SeaWorld

That Manatee morning feeling

They don’t do tricks but just go around in circles, eat Romaine lettuce and have faces only a mother could love.

We should all have handlers like Mr JP.

We were lucky to have two such with our trip.

SeaWorld’s Natalie and our Universal rep Fiona who soothed frayed nerves.

The manatees

And filled us with brio to take on challenges such as the Ihu’s Breakaway Falls at Aquatica.

Standing on a trap door 80ft up on Orlando’s tallest and steepest multi- slide drop, my American all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet was doing rumbles in my belly.

But any decision was taken out of my hands.

I’m stood on one of three clear breakaway boxes at the top of the ride facing the other condemned men.

Chute for the top: Breakaway Falls

And who (or what) will drop first?

I suddenly feared that I might befall the fate of Neil in The Inbetweeners 2.

Just as I was holding my stomach in, the floor disappeared below me.

And I plunged down at a rate of 20-24ft per second until the wash broke my fall.

And I gave thanks to all that is holy that I had kept everything intact.

Take the plunge

What are those mad humans doing?

The park’s signature ride is the Dolphin Plunge. If you haven’t taken up the option of swimming with them at Discovery Cove do this.

Dolphin Plunge will allow you to descend side by side in an enclosed tube slide through an underwater world.

That is home to a playful pod of beautiful black-and-white Commersons.

Of course, the laid-back dolphins just shrug their fins and get on with their day as we zip by – they know by now to humour humans.

Natalie and Fiona know how they feel.

And nobody could begrudge them their down day in the cabana at Wet ’n Wild.

W’nW has a laid-back vibe which will appeal to those who need to come back down to base camp before they attempt their next Everest. 

Wet, wet, no sweat

Aquatica’s Taumata Racer

A day spent here can involve sipping cocktails, munching burger and fries and relaxing in the hammocks.

But those slides won’t ride themselves, so it’s on we go to Der Stuka, Brain Wash, Mach 5 and Disco H20.

W’nW mixes it all up with single and multi-rider attractions to keep even the most discerning thrillseeker interested.

Of the former, the Storm washed away the cobwebs the most.

A veritable water tornado, you drop through an elevated chute that sends you spinning into the giant bowl below. 

And of the multi-rides, it’s The Black Hole, 1000 gallons per minute sending a two-person tube rocketing through 500ft of twisting, turning darkness.

Now, I’ve found my feet, I’m ready to take on whatever Universal Orlando can throw at me.

The Falcon is ready to join forces with some other superheroes.

Everything you need to know

Jim and fellow Glaswegian Bev


The Orlando Flex Ticket Plus includes 14 days unlimited access to Universal Studios, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Aquatica, SeaWorld Orlando, Wet ’N Wild Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

The ticket is available through Attraction Tickets Direct priced at €325 per adult and €309 per child.

To book call free on 1800 927 467 or visit

It also includes:

FREE coach transportation to Busch Gardens on the Busch Gardens Shuttle Express with the Orlando FlexTicket Plus free parking.

And visit

Only pay for parking if you visit more than one park on same day You’ll get complimentary entrance to Universal CityWalk.

Ppppp-party time

The Behind the Scenes tour at SeaWorld is in addition to the park entry tickets.

They start from €27 per adult and €9 per child in low season and include meeting a penguin, touching a small shark.

And learning about the animal rescue and rehab work in the park. Visit

Give us a kiss

The Discovery Cove Ultimate Package: includes one day reservation at Discovery Cove.

And there’s a 30-minute dolphin swim experience, meals, snacks and drinks.

Plus 14-day unlimited entry to SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Aquatica. Prices from €215 per person.

Fly me there

How to get there: Aer Lingus fly from Dublin to Orlando four times weekly; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Fares start from €259 each way including taxes. Visit for more information.

Aer Lingus customers can pre-clear US customs at Dublin airport. Visit

Where to stay: Stay on-site at Universal Orlando at the 5* Loews Portofino Bay Hotel with American Holidays, from €1,109 per person.

The price includes return direct flight with Aer Lingus to Orlando, Florida.

And seven nights’ accommodation at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. Selected dates September & October 2015.

This article was first published in the Irish Daily Mail in 2015.

Now why not read more rollercoaster fun when I went to Disney World