Is it just me or are theme parks not as cool as they used to be?
Not "cool" in the Fonzie way or that Nicki Minaj way, but cool in the beat-the-heat way. I recall feeling overheated in theme parks in the summers of my youth and escaping inside, greeted by a wave of cool air. It was chilling and fantastic.
Nowadays, I'm more likely to think "Wow, it's stuffy in here." My sense is that the thermostats have been kicked up a notch or two, perhaps a penny-pinching tactic, or maybe it's climate change or just middle age messing with me.
Next year, SeaWorld Orlando plans to opens its Antarctica attraction, billed as the coldest theme-park ride ever. Bring it on. Until then, here are a few places where I like to cool my jets when parks get too hot for comfort.
•My No. 1 stop is, without reservation, the floor of the American Adventure at Epcot. Guests are encouraged to sit there for the film's pre-show concert, and the bare, marble-ish floor feels oh-so-right against the legs. You might get an additional chill when a soprano from the Voices of Liberty hits those high notes.
•Around the bend from America at Epcot's World Showcase is the "O! Canada" film featuring Martin Short. Sure, there are snowy scenes and a hockey sequence, but cooler is its rustic waiting area. It has a dark hideaway feel and sports several benches facing a large window that looks out onto a soothing waterfall. It's a good place to exhale.
•In contrast, but still at Epcot, is Mexico, home to a busy marketplace, art displays, a dark ride with Donald Duck, stops for the Phineas & Ferb World Showcase Adventure, a restaurant and a stand-alone bar — all out of the relentless sun that beats upon its Aztec Temple-inspired exterior. Who knew North American pavilions were so hot on cold?
•At Universal Studios, step into the bar side of Finnegan's restaurant for relief and liquid refreshment. It's a cool spot to prop up your feet or catch the latest sports action. There's frequently an international crowd. Recently, I met a British man frustrated by the lack of rugby scores provided there. Dude, it only looks like Ireland.
•The best queue in the land, even when there's cold weather outside, is at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Islands of Adventure. Once you get past the castle's big doors, it's about 30 minutes before you ride, but you can use all that time to take in Hogwarts-related sights and rooms (plus a light snowstorm). Or escape the Hogsmeade hordes at Three Broomsticks restaurant or Hog's Head Pub for a butterbeer. (The half tea/half lemonade works, too.)
•The line rarely extends into the sunshine at Star Tours at Disney's Hollywood Studios. This attraction's queue is jampacked with stuff from a galaxy far, far away. And the rotating scene sequences of the simulator ride make it socially acceptable to go through the line again and again and again.
•The line for SeaWorld Orlando's Wild Arctic attraction is open-air and can be kind of sticky. But the stretch after the simulator ride makes up for it, with several animal habitats that are sharply themed and can be taken in at your own pace. If it's good and cold enough for polar bears, it's good enough for me.
•At Magic Kingdom, I like the seclusion that the Doom Buggies of Haunted Mansion provide and how long the ride lasts, winding through dark and various spooky environments. Don't you get chill bumps in a graveyard?
•Once upon a time, kids, "Festival of the Lion King" at Disney's Animal Kingdom was an open-air production. Although the space went well with the Camp Minnie-Mickey theme, I'm happy to sacrifice a smidge of atmosphere to feel less sticky during the fire-twirling routine.
•Whoa, we're back at Epcot? I'm running from the sun this summer, y'all, so the queue for Soarin' fits the bill of enjoyable indoor waiting spaces. Plus, the ride is both mellow and invigorating.
•You can sit semi-comatose in several areas of Epcot's Innoventions. If you want to space out in relative peace, I recommend the west side — far from the maddening clank-clank-clank of the fun Test the Limits Lab on the east side.
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