Central Florida is the theme park capital of the world. It is home to some of the most popular and celebrated parks and a slew of rides. In an area and an industry that loves to brag and hype rides with superlatives—fastest! most inversions! biggest!—you would think it would be easy to identify Florida’s tallest rides.
But is it? Could you name them?
Expedition Everest at Disney's Animal Kingdom looks pretty tall, right? In fact, it is a relatively puny 112 feet. (Disney‘s Imagineers use forced perspective to make it appear much taller.) And none of the “mountain rides” at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom (Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad) really soar all that high either. Summit Plummet at Blizzard Beach is one of the country's tallest water slides and is plenty scary. Its height? 120 feet. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios seems way up there. But it is less than 200 feet.
Thrill-happy Universal Orlando reaches more for the stars. Its tallest ride, Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit sends passengers straight up a 167-foot tower. But we're just beginning to scale the heights. As it turns out, only four of Florida’s nine tallest rides are located in major theme parks. Confused? Let’s count down the biggest and baddest rides. The results may surprise you.
At 450 feet, the Icon Park folks claim that their ride is the tallest of its kind in the world. Orlando StarFlyer rises 50 feet above The Wheel (see below). Essentially a swing ride, the carriage to which the swing vehicles are attached climbs an extraordinary 45 stories. It's not a traditional thrill ride in that there are no huge drops, fast speeds, or G-forces. It's all about the crazy height to which it soars.
The Wheel – 400 feet at Icon Park in Orlando
There may be plenty of shouting and screaming going on at the rest of the rides on this list, but The Wheel (formerly known as the Orlando Eye) offers a slow and gentle experience. Passengers on the observation wheel ride in the comfort of climate-controlled cabins and get spectacular views of Orlando’s downtown and its many theme parks. The ride is operated by Merlin Entertainments Group, the same company that operates (the slightly taller) The London Eye. Merlin also runs Legoland Florida and the other Legoland parks. In addition to The Wheel, the complex includes a Sea Life Orlando Aquarium and a Madame Tussauds Orlando. It is one of many cool attractions along International Drive.
Falcon’s Fury at Busch Gardens Tampa climbs a daunting 300 feet before it plummets back to earth at 60 mph. It is one of the world’s tallest drop tower rides. (The tallest is Zumanjaro: Drop of Doom at Six Flags Great Adventure.) That alone would make it incredibly thrilling. Before the drop, however, the seats pivot 90 degrees so that passengers face the ground as they take the plunge. Yikes!
Many parks have bungee-type rides known as SkyCoasters. For an extra-charge, brave souls are outfitted in harnesses and slowly lifted to the top of an arched structure. When they summon the courage, they release the tether, freefall down, and swing back and forth a few times. Fun Spot America operates two small amusement parks in Central Florida. The one in Orlando has a 250-foot SkyCoaster, which is the second tallest in the world. Transplanted from Las Vegas, the 300-foot SkyCoaster at the Kissimmee Fun Spot America is the tallest in the world.
A smaller version of the Icon Park ride (above), this high-flying swing ride at the small Magical Midway thrill park climbs a hearty 230 feet.
When it opens in 2020, Iron Gwazi will be the tallest roller coaster in Florida. Incorporating some of the structure of Busch Garden’s Gwazi coaster, the newfangled ride is a wooden-steel hybrid coaster designed by Rocky Mountain Construction. The ride manufacturer is known for taking rough wooden coasters snd converting them into wonderfully smooth hybrid thrill machines.
Known as a “dive coaster,” SheiKra's wide-bodied, 24-seat, floorless trains nudge over the edge of its 200-foot, 90-degree drop and stall for a few seconds to freak out its passengers. Then they dive straight down. 200 feet is nothing to sneeze at, but other dive coasters, including Valravn at Cedar Point (223 feet) and Yukon Striker at Canada's Wonderland (245 feet) have eclipsed it.
Also rising 200 feet, SeaWorld Orlando's Mako is a different kind of ride than SheiKra. The super-smooth hypercoaster is loaded with sweet pops of airtime. It gets our nod as the best roller coaster in Florida (although once Iron Gwazi opens, it may top it.)
(Note that this ride is not open.) SkyFall – 450 feet at Skyplex in Orlando
The featured ride at Skyplex in Orlando would be the Skyscraper coaster (see below). But aside the coaster on the ride’s tower would be SkyFall, a 450-foot drop ride that would be the world’s tallest. We write “would,” because Skyplex has not been built. Its developers have been promising the two rides listed here along with other attractions for years, but keep pushing up the construction timeline and opening date. At this point, it seems likely it will not open at all.
If Skyplex does open, its Skyscraper would be at the top of Florida's ride heap. The impossibly tall “Polercoaster” would climb an incredible 570 feet before rocketing down and delivering crazy-high inversions and other elements. Not only would it be Florida’s tallest ride, it would reign atop the list of the world's tallest roller coasters. But that’s if it gets built.