And many of these outdoor thrill rides are different experiences by day or by night. After-sunset conditions add mystery to the journey, and riders may see the attractions in a different light, so to speak.
Here are five Central Florida roller coasters with a dark side that thrill seekers should embrace.
Where: Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Why: The freshly extended hours at Animal Kingdom have made Everest a must-stop spot for night riding. In the twilight hours, you can see the cranes towering above construction of Pandora, the “Avatar”-based area. There’s also a good look at Epcot and beyond while climbing the lift hill.
But I recommend the pitch-black fun of a post-sunset excursion. If you can time it right, the presentation of “Jungle Book: Alive With Magic” is underway. Last week, I caught that show’s watery screens in action, prancing against the lighting of its amphitheater.
Everyday objects are more intriguing, including a small tapestry of the Yeti. The broken tracks amid snowy banks are even more threatening in the dark. The light-free stretch is broken by flashes of light as the trains exit the mountain and plunge downward. (This is fun to watch from the ground as well.)
What else: Expedition Everest may win the prize for “most improved without really changing anything” award.
What: Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
Where: Universal Studios
Why: Rockit trips the lights fantastic in several ways. Riders begin by ascending its straight-up lift hill inside sets of flashing red rings. The cars themselves have flashing lights — in a variety of color schemes —down their sides as they travel the course. These are good moments even if you’re watching from solid ground in and outside of the theme park.
The high point, literally and figuratively, is at the top of the loop. Technically, riders are never completely upside down, but the twisted track swings passengers in a way so that they are sitting atop and outside the big circle. That’s when you get a glimpse of the lit-up glory that is Universal CityWalk. In that nanosecond, it’s like a little Las Vegas with all that glittery illumination. This angle became even more intense with the opening of NBC Sports Grill & Brew, the restaurant that is topped by a very bright 100-foot, high-def video screen.
Blink and you’ve moved on, though, from Rockit’s perch. The ride descends and continues toward the back of the park before a return trip that includes sideways action over the plaza and the coaster’s entrance. Near the end, riders get a closer, lower-angle look at the CityWalk lights during a spiral maneuver that heads back to the station.
What else: The darkness helps make the on-board soundtrack a more personal experience and a hair more concert-like.
All the live long night
What: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Where: Magic Kingdom
Why: The first best thing about an after-dark ride on Big Thunder is the view of Cinderella Castle. It’s on the right-hand side as riders go up the early lift hill. It’s another study in contrasts: So near, yet far; so peaceful even as the chain clang-clang-clangs the train upward.
The rest of the ride rollicks just as it does in the daytime, but the lights work with the stark landscape of the frontier-inspired scene to create a strobe of sorts. It’s also freaky — in a good way, pardner — when you’re traveling beneath those mammoth animal bones toward the home stretch.
What else: You’re closer to the castle aboard Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and it has a bright moment looking out onto Fantasyland. But its interior stretch with gems and little people are a distraction, so the nod goes to Big Thunder.
Where: SeaWorld Orlando
Why: We’re still in the honeymoon phase with Mako, the newest coaster in Central Florida. We’re learning which seats are our favorites (wow, the front row is breezy). We’re not sick of virtually tracking a shark while standing in the queue, and we’re still surprised by that camera at the bottom of the 200-foot hill, therefore always having a mouth wide open when the shutter clicks.
We just had our first dusky journey aboard Mako, which debuted in June. My advice is to admire the glittery I-Drive scenery as you head up the hill. There’s really not a lot of time to catch your breath after that, but once you’re aired out on the extremely hilly portion of the thrill ride, the train heads west. With any luck, you can admire a nice orange sunset to ride off into above the park’s Bayside Stadium.
From the ground, there’s a sparkling-light effect when the train comes around for the finale. Ooooh, aaaahhhhh.
What else: At this time of year, it’s difficult to get a completely dark go-round on Mako. The park generally closes right around sunset (or as early as 6 p.m. by mid-August). As the days gets shorter heading toward fall, the odds get better. I’m marking Nov. 25 — Black Friday, appropriately — as a good evening for darkened Mako. We will be well done with Daylight Saving Time by then, and the park is scheduled to be open until 10 p.m.
Hit the Spot
What: White Lightning
Where: Fun Spot America
Why: The wooden coaster near International Drive has been accessorized by colorful rope lights basically running the length of the track. It adds pizzazz to the ride, but it has another purpose: Getting attention from motorists. The re-construction of Interstate 4 has given passers-by a better look at the coaster, and the Lightning lighting helps define the skyline of the park, especially at night. Drivers, please keep your eyes straight ahead during this perilous I-4 stretch and let your passengers take in the scene.
This one is not as vivacious as the other picks, and we reserve the right to sub out Islands of Adventure’s revived Incredible Hulk Coaster once we get an after-dark shot at the green machine.
What else: While at Fun Spot, take a look at the Enterprise ride, a sort of Tron-meets-Ferris-Wheel experience. When it’s running at night, the lighting is mesmerizing.
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