Theme parks had their ups and downs in bittersweet 2016

KidsTown, Skull Island, drones, Frozen Ever After add to Orlando's attractions

In February, I watched former surfer Wheeler Clemons take the inaugural ride on Gatorland's Gator Gauntlet, the disability-enabled zip line that travels above the attraction's reptile-packed marsh.

The event gave me, as the kids say, all the feels. Not just because Clemons, who has a spinal-cord injury, was lifted from his wheelchair for the new experience. The cheers of Gatorland officials and workers, who endured delays and obstacles to get to this proud moment, made it even more heart-swelling.

Emotions run the gamut at theme parks, from toddler meltdown to the freeing feeling of weightlessness on a thrill ride. Here are my favorite feels of 2016.

•I felt renewed with the refreshed version of Soarin' at Epcot, and at Frozen Ever After, its sister attraction, I felt touched when Elsa belted out a song and pushed our boat backwards. I also felt, ironically, overheated after waiting in the sun for hours.

•I felt afloat on SeaWorld Orlando's new Mako roller coaster, which packs in tons of airtime. I also felt thankful for the ride's lap bar and amused by my screaming co-worker on that first trip.

•I felt unnerved while meeting — or, as Disney says, "encountering" — a mysterious Kylo Ren at Star Wars Launch Bay at Hollywood Studios.

•I felt sugar-shocked after tasting about six too many treats at Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen at Universal CityWalk.

•I felt like a kid (and a patriot) again watching the Muppets presenting historical moments at Magic Kingdom.

•I felt fascinated watching pneumatic tubes and scarves in action at Orlando Science Center's KidsTown, and I felt very old watching children go ape in its expanded Orange Grove.

•I felt like I was previewing the future while watching Disney's drone show and experiencing Repository, Universal's virtual-reality offering during Halloween Horror Nights.

•I felt surprised when Clarabelle Cow took center stage during "Mickey's Most Merriest Celebration" stage show and delighted when Goofy tapped and rapped his tambourine in "Mickey's Royal Friendship Faire."

•I felt like a sardine while watching any of the nighttime spectaculars at Hollywood Studios, and I felt disoriented watching the faux sunset during the after-dark Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

•I felt irrationally happy that Universal Orlando returned to plastic versions of annual passes and that, at the same time, I was allowed to keep my vintage one.

•I felt like partying like it was 1999, the year the Incredible Hulk coaster debuted at Islands of Adventure, when the mean green one reopened.

•I felt threatened by a hologram islander, animatronic shawoman and the drumbeats at Skull Island: Reign of Kong at IOA.

•I felt tickled standing underneath a pass of Cobra's Curse at Busch Gardens when a passenger yelled a clear-as-day expletive.

•I felt like laughing when Madame Tussauds split up Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as wax imitated life.

•I felt a little less special when Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Universal Studios Hollywood.

•I felt envious when Shanghai Disneyland opened and presented a wild new take on Pirates of the Caribbean rides.

•I felt down when I looked up and saw the window tribute to Pulse victims, a classy move at Universal Studios. And I hoped for happier days for all of us in 2017. or 407-420-5477

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