In 1993, I graduated from Vestavia Hills High School in Alabama.
In July of 2013, I attended my 20 Year High School Reunion and contributed artwork of our Rebel mascot for the festivities (I had a blast at my Reunion, by the way).
In the Summer of 2015, VHHS became a lightning rod for controversy surrounding the the use of the school's southern-fried mascot. My high school was even mentioned (mocked?---I did not see) on Comedy Central. I never dreamed that would happen in a million years. I always equated our old mascot with the KFC Colonel Sanders spokesman.
Long story short, the mascot is being replaced, and the school is choosing a new one. My friend Sidney, who I've known since the fifth grade, texted me an idea he had for our new VHHS mascot. Sidney's idea got better and better as we were texting. He wanted me to draw up our new James Dean - inspired Rebel. I came up with the name "Hunter Dean."
Hunter Dean is the most political cartoon I've ever done. He's not bad, he's just drawn that way.
When you wish upon a star, apparently your dreams come true in Shanghai Disneyland.
As a kid growing up in Alabama, I was fascinated by the marketing for the Opryland theme park in Nashville, Tennessee. Specifically, I was obsessed with the advertising artwork created for the park's Grizzly River Rampage raft ride and The Screamin' Delta Demon toboggan ride.
The logo artwork for The Screamin' Delta Demon seemed to promise an encounter with a scary crocodile/alligator type creature in a swamp.
The reality of The Screamin' Delta Demon did not match the artwork. It was a fun ride for sure, but there was no monster lurking in a swamp trying to get you.
The ride vehicles, at least, were shaped like the Delta Demon creature. The attraction zoomed through the woods, mingling with Opryland's (very fun) log flume ride.
By 1997, Opryland closed down and the Screamin' Delta Demon became just a memory.
Flash forward to July, 2015, with new information revealed about the upcoming Shanghai Disneyland park in China.
Shanghai Disneyland's Roaring Rapids raft attraction features a beast that looks very familiar to me.
WOW! Could it be? Finally, the terrifying Screamin' Delta Demon lives! He is only missing his wings. Maybe King Stefan from Maleficent cut them off.
Seriously, this Shanghai Disneyland creature is fantastic, and a dream come true for me.
Now if only Disney could revive Opryland's Grizzly River Rampage.
In the middle of Opryland, you could also find the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster in Do Wah Diddy City.
These days, you can find the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World in Florida, and at the Walt Disney Studios Park at the Disneyland Paris Resort in France.
On the flip side, Opryland also had a show called "I Hear America Singing."
At Disneyland in California, a very similar type show called "America Sings" played in Tomorrowland from 1974 to 1988 (though the Disney show featured Audio Animatronics animals characters---many of whom went on to appear in Splash Mountain).
On Friday, July 3rd, 2015, I visited SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida for the first time since the Summer of 1987. Needless to say, the park has changed quite a bit since my last visit. Seeing how much SeaWorld has transformed was very exciting.
When I visited SeaWorld in 1987, the newest attraction was the Penguin Encounter (which has since been replaced and upgraded).
In 1987, SeaWorld was all about the shows. It is rather shocking to see how much has changed.
By 2009, SeaWorld had transformed into a whole different animal.
Among the biggest changes over the years were the addition of rides. This includes Wild Arctic, Journey to Atlantis, Kraken, the rides in Shamu's Happy Harbor, and Manta. In 2016, the Mako roller coaster will dominate the skyline in the water behind the Kraken roller coaster.
In 2008, SeaWorld Orlando opened its water park, Aquatica.
Like SeaWorld, Aquatica mixes rides and wild life. Aquatica has an Australian/New Zealand theme. The park's Dolphin Plunge ride features Commerson's Dolphins raised at SeaWorld San Diego.
I think SeaWorld may be my favorite theme park in Orlando. It is worth noting that I did not even see Shamu or watch any of the animal shows.
This trip to Orlando was very literally a last-minute decision. On Tuesday, June 30, 2015, I was informed that I would be able to take some days off work for the 4th of July. That day, I called the vet to board my cat. On Wednesday, July 1st, I got to leave work early. On Thursday, July 2nd, I dropped the cat off at the vet in the morning and drove down to Orlando.
I have friends who moved to Casselberry, Florida in January of 2015. So I got to visit with them (and stay with them!). They are in the process of fixing up a new house, so they were not able to go with me to any theme parks.
With my trusty Tom Tom GPS, I made my way to the SeaWorld Resort. I did not get to the park entrance until 12:30PM (I got a late start!) but SeaWorld was open until 11:00PM so I wasn't worried or in a hurry. Of course I knew the park would be busy on July 3rd (and it was).
SeaWorld's Port of Entry features a lighthouse overlooking a simulated wavy ocean with statutes of marine life (including sea lions, a walrus, an orca, and a shark).
There was a huge line just to get tickets, but SeaWorld offers automated touch-screen kiosks to purchase tickets. There was a mob of people in front of them, but if you went around the corner (which was clearly marked) there were a bunch of kiosks that weren't being used. Hooray!
The machine spit out my ticket, as well as two coupons for other SeaWorld experiences/upgrades.
Upon entry, you can pick up a huge (really cool) souvenir park map.
This map illustrates how much SeaWorld has changed since my visit in 1987. The park has grown up, and now looks more like its sibling, Busch Gardens.
In 2009, SeaWorld introduced its new flying coaster, Manta.
Manta is right near SeaWorld's entrance, and gives the park some thrilling energy.
As the coaster roars near, spectators are drawn to the first viewing area of the ride.
The screaming riders are racing toward us. What is gonna happen to them?
Manta appears to skim the water (not really, but it looks cool!)
Heads turn as the coaster zooms by. Will you ride or just watch?
My first stop was a ride on Manta! (That is me on the far left).
Yes, I took a picture of the picture!
Manta is a coaster and an aquarium! The line for the coaster goes through the aquarium, but there is also a separate aquarium viewing area for non-riders.
Manta's aquarium features rays, seadragons, and a big octopus.
Of all the "new to me" attractions I experienced on this visit to Orlando, Manta is my favorite. Why? It is all about presentation.
Basically, everyone at SeaWorld can experience Manta. There's the aquarium aspect, of course, and the pathways around Manta pass under and around the coaster track. Manta is fun to watch and fun to ride!
Manta's lift hill carries riders over park visitors and into the sky.
This area is near the prime spot for acrobatic coaster watching. Of course there's also a Manta gift shop nearby (and a Manta Soft Serve ice cream location).
I took video of Manta from the prime viewing location of the coaster and luckily I know a 19 year old who showed me how to get screen shots from the video.
I loved watching Manta glide through the sky and put on a show for everyone in SeaWorld.
The Manta coaster trains are led by a large Manta and smaller Rays.
There is netting right under sections of the track that fly directly over the sidewalks. It is not just a nice nautical decoration: people lose coins and glasses on this ride. There is a good chance that your pockets will be emptied while riding Manta (they do have lockers near the ride entrance).
I did not buy many souvenirs on this trip, but one item I knew I would pick up was sold at the Manta Gift Shop: a cool octopus SeaWorld magnet.
I waited to get this octopus at the end of the day.
I quickly discovered that I was getting dehydrated, so I decided to refuel at Voyagers Smokehouse BBQ (I got a turkey sandwich with fruit---it was really good!). There were no tables available inside the wonderful air conditioned building so I went outside into the shaded screened-in outdoor eating area.
As I was eating, I was facing what I believe is the most crowded and congested area at SeaWorld: the area near the Sea Lion and Otter Stadium, which includes the nearby Antarctica section. Luckily, SeaWorld is big and during the day there I discovered there are many places you can go to avoid crowds.
I made my way to Kraken, SeaWorld's big, bad-ass floorless sea monster roller coaster.
The eel-inspired Kraken opened at SeaWorld in 2000.
Props to SeaWorld for propping Kraken with colorful props.
Storm clouds threatened the park all day and then arrived in full force later in the evening.
Kraken has seven inversions and I loved all of them.
The trains for Kraken roar right by the ride's entrance and through a tunnel.
It would be nice if Kraken had some sort of eel decoration as part of the coaster train, but being a Floorless coaster, I'm not sure that would even be possible.
One uncrowded area I discovered at SeaWorld is the corner of the park with the manatees, dolphins and stingrays. Go there and relax!
Being a water ride in Orlando, Journey to Atlantis had one of the longest lines in the park.
Part fever-dream dark ride, part log flume, part roller coaster: It's Journey to Atlantis!
Many first-time riders think the experience is over with this visible splash-down. In this tricky ride, the boats go back up a hill and into the darkness for a rollicking coaster ride and second splash-down hidden from sight.
Journey to Atlantis features animatronic seahorses and some psychedelic air conditioned indoor show scenes. Then it taunts you by making you think the big drop you've seen is about to happen---and then the boat turns a corner and climbs even higher!
Thankfully, you will also get drenched riding it on a hot Orlando Summer day.
Atlantis also has a cool indoor aquarium and a gift shop that thankfully sells Diet Coke.
I took a selfie outside of Atlantis in the blazing sun because I'm a Superstar.
Kraken towers behind Pacific Point Preserve, one of my favorite places to hang out at SeaWorld.
At Pacific Point Preserve, you can watch (and feed) sea lions and seals.
I heard a SeaWorld Crew Member (employee) talking about harbor seals in the exhibit, but had not seen one---until I finally did!
The spotted Harbor Seal here (who is much less animated that the Sea Lions) blends in really well with the rocks.
The barking, playful sea lions will wave at you to get your attention (and the fish you can buy to feed them).
It seems like you can get really, really close to the sea lions because they have some tall, rocky areas where they can relax.
There is quite a bit at SeaWorld that I did not see on this visit. I did not get to ride on Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin. I also missed the Shark Encounter, and the Sky Tower.
A nice place to get away from the crowds is the Sea Garden, near the Terrace BBQ.
At one of the stores near the sharks, I saw some great shirts with some fun SeaWorld characters.
The Manta and Rockhopper Penguin are my favorites.
Near the Shark Encounter, SeaWorld is working on its next attraction, a hypercoaster called Mako.
When it opens in the Summer of 2016, the 200 foot tall Mako will be the longest, tallest, fastest roller coaster in Orlando. I cannot wait!
Like Manta, the Mako attraction will mix a thrilling Bolliger and Mabillard roller coaster (zooming over the park's walkways) with sea life viewing areas (in this case, sharks!). I am digging the sleek shark coaster trains and the decor seen in the concept art.
I have been on a Bolliger and Mabillard Hypercoaster before (Goliath at Six Flags Over Georgia) and that was fantastic---so I am very excited that SeaWorld is bringing the thrills (and eye candy) to Orlando with Mako.
The Sea Garden has some cool, colorful sculptures made out of---trash? (I can't remember what the signs around these said).
Seahorse the size of a horse!
A Parrotfish the size of a small car.
I heard people around me say that the Terrace BBQ in the background is the old Anheuser Busch Hospitality Center.
Impressive Octopus sculpture.
Lots of fun things to discover at SeaWorld.
Man, SeaWorld is HUGE. As I mentioned, I did not see Shamu, or any of the shows. In 1987, when we went to SeaWorld, we had a multi-day pass. At the time, all they had were shows, and I saw all of them many times---and we were with someone who videotaped the shows. (I actually still have that tape).
I also totally missed Wild Arctic.
It seems like this area is probably a prime location for a roller coaster in the future. I have an idea for one called "Leopard Seal Hunt". I know Leopard Seals are from Antarctica, not the Arctic, but they are cool and would be a good inspiration for a coaster.
I was inspired by learning about the "Cheetah Hunt" roller coaster found at Busch Gardens Tampa. (I haven't been to Busch Gardens since "Montu" opened---I gotta get back there soon!).
I only walked by Shamu's Happy Harbor.
There are 8 rides for kids in Shamu's Happy Harbor. It looked like most of the kids were in the water play area.
Near Shamu Stadium, there is a bridge that closes at around 6PM. I made it across just before the bridge closed. It offers a view of Kraken, and in front of the coaster is Spice Mill Burgers, where I ate dinner.
A curiosity in this photo is the Flamingo Paddle Boats, which is an upcharge attraction. These remind me of something from the Rollercoaster Tycoon game.
The Sky Tower and Manta coaster seen from the bridge.
After I ate dinner, a major storm hit near the park. Lightning shut down rides and everyone was instructed to stay indoors. My phone battery was running low and I did not have my charger. Until I could get to my car and charge my phone, I decided to do some souvenir shopping.
The Manta store actually had some items on sale. Yes!
I picked up a shot glass for a co-worker (and one for myself) and a keychain.
SeaWorld has Pressed Penny machines EVERYWHERE. Years ago I probably would have tried to get all of them. I only got three this time.
Manta and the Octopus pennies are near the park entrance/Manta. The Mermaid penny is near Atlantis. I was amazed to see keychains and wristbands made to hold pressed pennies for sale at SeaWorld and Universal Orlando on this trip.
This Manta statue was also on sale, so I had to buy one.
I really want a working model of the Manta coaster!
Back in 2009, I bought a Manta magnet at the SeaWorld Store at the Orlando International Airport.
At the time I do remember thinking that getting this souvenir without actually going to SeaWorld was like cheating.
A few years ago I also found this Manta water bottle at a store called Unclaimed Baggage in Scottsboro, Alabama.
Over the years, Unclaimed Baggage has seen all kinds of oddities, including a puppet of Hoggle from Jim Henson's movie Labyrinth.
I also found an inexpensive, easily transported souvenir to give as a co-worker gift: A cool SeaWorld magnet.
I found these SeaWorld magnets at the Emporium Gift Shop and it is worth mentioning that SeaWorld Crew Member who helped me was a super friendly guy named Ryan (from Memphis). He noticed my Alabama Drivers License and asked exactly where I was from---and knew where it was. It's a small world---er, SeaWorld, after all!
I left the stormy SeaWorld and took the tram back to my car in the Turtle parking lot across the street from the park. I sat in the car as my phone slowly powered up. Then I made the drive back to my friends' house.
On July 4th, I had a non-theme park day spent with my friends, which included painting inside their new home. Then we went to their neighbor's house for a party that had every kind of 4th of July food you could think of. Then, I got to experience the madness that is 4th of July in suburban Casselberry, with dozens of homes creating professional-level fireworks displays over a lake. Crazy fun!
On July 5th, I got up early and went to Universal Orlando (by myself) and got a 1 day, 2 park ticket. It was a great day that ended in painful blisters on my toes and another major storm that shut down many of the attractions in the early evening.
On July 6th I got in the car and went home. I went back to a world where I did not have to pay to just park my car. It felt strange buying a sandwich and a drink and not spending $12. I miss Orlando, and will be back soon!