We take on terrifying new hypercoaster Mako in Orlando
WHEN you wake up in Orlando, the theme park capital of the world, the amount of choice for the day ahead can be quite intimidating.
Do you want to scream your heart out on a hair-raising rollercoaster? Kick back in the House of Mouse or maybe pick up a Butterbeer in Diagon Alley? If you have enough time (and, yeah, the funds to back it up) you can do all three.
In fact, you could probably spend a month in Orlando and never have to go on the same ride twice.
However, the individual parks are never content to rest on their laurels and there's always competition to see who can go bigger, better, faster.
And who benefits from all this inter-park rivalry? The punter, of course. Not only has there never been more to choose from, the quality of the rides has also never been better.
This summer has been pretty epic in the world of theme parks. First out of the gate was SeaWorld with Mako, their stomach-churning rollercoaster that will have thrillseekers grinning from ear to ear.
Never one to settle for second best, Universal Studios unveiled their long-awaited Skull Island: Reign of Kong ride, to much fanfare from movie buffs, King Kong fanatics and families alike.
Even if you're nostalgic for the deathly chair-o-planes of your childhood, there's no denying that theme parks these days are light years ahead of what they used to be and your kids won't thank you for it if they miss out.
Denise Smith straps in for a terrifyingly terrific spin on SeaWorld Park’s Mako, one of Orlando’s new breed of hypercoasters'
It's a universal rule that once you reach adulthood, it's pretty much unacceptable to vomit in public - which is why I found myself practising some deep-breathing techniques on my most recent thrill ride at Orlando's SeaWorld Park.
No, I'm not pregnant, but I was experiencing contractions of terror. The reason? I had willingly signed myself up to be one of the first people to ride the park's newest and most mammoth attraction – Mako.
For the uninitiated, Mako is a 4,760- foot hypercoaster that accelerates to 117kph as it whips riders along a twisting, nearly mile-long track, hurtling passengers to heights of up to 200 feet – I'm talking about a beast among rollercoasters.
So it's rather apt that this super coaster is named after the world's most ferocious, fastest breed of shark.
But what really sets it apart? It's one of the world's few true hypercoasters, a group of coasters known for high speeds and steep drops and hills that create a feeling of weightlessness — or, in coaster terms, "air time" — when G-forces try to propel you from your seat.
As the coaster cars crest each hill, you literally float out of your seat and that's something even the most ardent adrenaline junkie can't pass up.
This may explain why I found myself experiencing a slight panic attack when I came face-to-face with the metal monster — but to clarify, this isn't my first time at the rodeo.
I was nine when I rode my first rollercoaster in Orlando's Universal Studios, buoyed by my dad and older brother, and the fact that I was well above the height requirements, had no fear of dizzying heights, nauseating plummets and stomach-churning loops. What could possibly go wrong? Nothing, as it turns out: I was hooked.
In the intervening years, I've found myself to be a little more aware of my mortality. Something which I decided I had to remedy immediately, and part of the reason why I signed up to ride Orlando's tallest, fastest, fiercest and longest rollercoaster.
So yes, if there were ever a time I could imagine myself vomiting on a complete stranger, this was it.
And like every ride in SeaWorld, the suspense begins to mount from the minute you catch sight of the mound of twisted metal in the Orlando skyline.
Masters of suspense, the park's newest shark-themed zone is designed to terrify and, above all else, excite.
Cries of riders can be heard over the roar and rumble of the massive coaster that shrieks by within feet of pedestrian paths — from the outset, you know this ride is wickedly fast.
Walking beneath a hulking, two-storey fishing pier, and winding our way up rusted stairways through the remains of another shipwreck, the eerie music all adds to the unsettling queuing experience.
Heightening the sensory experience, a 48,000-watt, intelligent surround-sound system plays an original soundtrack which can be heard by riders as they come out of the station and climb all the way up the lift hill.
Already debating if I should slip to the end of the queue and make a quiet exit from the ride, I found myself loudly apologising to a complete stranger seated beside me as I secured myself into a coaster car, warning him that there was a chance I could possibly burst his eardrums.
Beginning to become hysterical, I found myself shouting aggressively at a SeaWorld employee who was tasked with checking my restraint belt.
"Are you sure I am strapped in?" I cried, alarmed. "I think there has been some kind of mistake, there's only a lap bar, why are there no overhead restraints?"
Yup, to add to the terror, there are no bulky shoulder harnesses to pin you to your seat. Only a simple lap bar to secure you during nine highs of delirious airtime when you sail skywards.
With no further time to enquire about the ride's safety features, we began the slow climb to the 200ft drop, where I loudly re-evaluated my life choices with a few choice expletives.
At the top, I only had a jaw-clenching split second to take in the skyline before plunging downwards in a menacing 70-degree freefall.
It's the ride's most heart-stopping moment and the suspense is a serious killer.
At 117kph, only your stomach has time to react as the ground rushes up to meet you.
I held my breath for that first stomach-flipping drop. Plummeting downwards, my eyes were clamped shut.
A whoosh of air greeted me as the ride levelled out, only to gain more momentum as we lurched around the twisting track.
There may be no inversions, but there's plenty of airtime — in fact, you almost feel like you're floating as your carriage hurtles you through the air.
And believe me, it's fun — addictively fun, at just a little over three minutes long, you are going to want to ride this monster again and again.