On September 14th, 2016, my life changed forever when my son was born. While it presented new challenges and responsibility, it also opened a new door of future exploration: I get to experience all my theme park adventures again with him (and my wife of course too!)!
But let’s back up for a minute and bring back some feelings of nostalgia. I never lived within a short driving distance from any of the Florida theme parks growing up in Tallahassee. I visited Disney World many times growing up due to its close proximity to my Grandma in Lake Alfred, Florida (nearby to the former Cypress Gardens turned into LEGOLand). (On a side note, my mom even worked at Disney when she was a young adult. As a ride operator on Dumbo, she was hit in the head and given a concussion. Too bad she didn’t sue!) While I enjoyed going to Disney (i.e. the Magic Kingdom 95% of the time), I was never that much into it, especially the roller coasters.
Thing changed, however, in the year 2000. On a 6th grade field trip to Wild Adventures, I overcame my then nervousness of roller coasters and rode my first inverting roller coaster, the Hangman. I absolutely loved it! I went on to ride it a few more times along with the smaller roller coasters at the park (the other major roller coaster there at the time, Boomerang, was closed that particular day). The next day, I got my mom to take me up to Wal-Mart to purchase RollerCoaster Tycoon, the very original one. I became obsessed with the game and it peaked my interest into learning about the different roller coasters that exist out there. One park that really stuck out to me was Busch Gardens Tampa, hence the original of my long time username BGTKing.
During this time, I also began dabbling with websites. I developed a site called RCT Market dedicated to RollerCoaster Tycoon, a website called SSC Xtreme dedicated to K’NEX roller coasters (this led to me acquiring SSCoasters, another website I still operate), and BGTGuide, a site designed to be a comprehensive guide to all things Busch Gardens Tampa. BGTGuide operated until I closed in 2015. BGTGuide sparked me to develop a new concept idea: Florida Thrills Network.
Florida Thrills Network, aka FTN, was intended to be a central hub linking to other website guides akin to BGTGuide with a central forum at its heart. There was intended to be a site dedicated to Universal, Disney, SeaWorld, and the other amusements in Florida. IOAGuide, a guide to Islands of Adventure, operated for several years. FTN did quite well for many years, especially with it niche for Busch Gardens Tampa. Robert Ashburn was a key member of operating the site with me. As a local to the central Florida area, he could provide coverage I could not. Robert contributed to the site until it closed in 2014 and I am grateful for all of the contributions he made over the years.
So what happened to FTN? It’s simple: life. Once I graduated high school and began college in 2006, my free time began to dwindle slowly and I moved further away from the parks, living in Atlanta. As an engineering student, I faced a rigorous curriculum that put time at a premium. Still, during this period, I dedicated what time I could to the site and to visiting Orlando and Tampa. In 2007, I met my future wife, and she became my new theme park companion. Similar stories happened to my main local contributors that were feeding content to the sites. What really put the nail in my ability to keep the sites running was my move to Michigan in 2011. After graduating college, I received an offer to work full-time in Detroit. This put me at around an 18 hour drive from the parks in addition to the demands of a job further limiting my free time. Not to mention the bills associated with being an adult and living on your own that made it harder to make theme park trips possible. Slowly but surely, FTN faded into obscurity as members moved on to bigger and better things, just like me.
So now we arrive back at the beginning: where we are today. I have a new lease on trying to bring back Florida Thrills and reliving some of the theme park experiences of my youth with my son. Living closer now in the Atlanta area, the parks are much more accessible again This time with Florida Thrills, I want to incorporate my family and share our experiences as well as tips on how to incorporate the Florida theme parks into real life with time constraints and those pesky budgets.
For now, I have started with a simple WordPress site that will grow over time to get things running again. It should serve just fine as a platform to share thoughts and experiences. I also want to utilize Twitter better than I have in the past. Robert did a good job, but I never have. I look forward to interacting with those who join us along the ride!
- Graham, aka BGTKing