by Paul Ruben
Can you think of an amusement park that began life as a family entertainment centre?
[Try Toverland in the Netherlands – Ed] I’ve been racking my brain, and can’t think of any other than the one that I visited recently, Fun Spot America in Orlando. If you’re attending IAAPA this month, don’t miss it. It began in December 1997 as a classic FEC with go-karts, redemption games and birthday party facilities. But now it’s all grown up, three times the size, and with three rollercoasters. Across the Interstate highway is Universal Studios Florida. They have three coasters, too.
It’s the addition of a wooden rollercoaster, the first in Orlando, that appears to have lifted the Fun Spot from FEC to amusement park status, although it’s worth noting the park has also added a suspended coaster from Vekoma/Chance. Built by Great Coasters International, the woodie is 2,032ft (619m) long, 78ft (24m) tall, and has 12 moments of lift. Park owner John Arie Snr has named it White Lightning. He should have called it Goldilocks because it’s not too big and it’s not too small. It’s just right.
Arie reports that people who have ridden it love it. I asked him to tell me what he thought the best part of the ride was. “The best part,” he said, “is the incredible 80ft banking drop, 12 moments of ‘air time,’ multiple sashaying cut backs, and a 90° aerial turn. It’s just a great ride!” Yes, John, it is a great ride, but that’s not the best part; that’s the entire ride.
John is also an inventor. He holds four patents for go-kart tracks, and his handiwork is on display at each of his parks. His patents pertain to elevated tracks, a concrete track over wood supports, and combining go-kart tracks with other amusement rides. Next time I visit I will pay more attention to his go-kart offerings. This time I was mesmerised by the new rollercoasters.
I had gone to the park with a family friend who lives in the area and who enjoys parks. She loved the coasters, but was fascinated by the 250ft-tall (76m) arch from which the park’s Skycoaster is suspended. It had been a while since I had been on one of these giant swing rides, ever since riding the 300ft (91m) Skycoaster at Arie’s other park, Fun Spot Kissimmee, just outside Orlando. It was time to ride again, so the two of us geared up to ride. You can see the harness I had to wear in the photo.
Did I mention? She had never been on one; she was a Skycoaster virgin. I have a little “trick” I play with Skycoaster virgins. I pull the rip cord to launch us. We get towed to the top, and she’s getting very nervous because of the height. They call out, “Three, two, one, fly.” I’ve always been puzzled that they tell us to fly. We swing, we don’t fly. Nevertheless, as soon as they say “fly,” I report to my partner that the cord is stuck, and wait for a few seconds for the panic to escalate. Then… I pull the rip cord. More fun that way, much more fun. We plunged; she screamed. We swung; she screamed. We never really flew, although I did outstretch my arms just in case. She enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. Next time I’m in town I’ll take her to Kissimmee and she can pull the cord.
See the Skycoaster in action for yourself in the video below…