It may have been a handful, but it was, after all, a tank full.
I mean, I was — incredibly and actually, really and truly, no fooling — driving a tank. A fully-fledged, 17-ton — rolling-on-treads — tank.
“There’s not another place in Florida where you can do that,” said John Kinney, co-founder of Tank America, in Orlando — a very non-Disney “theme park” and Florida’s only tank-driving attraction.
“In fact, there are very few in the country, and world, where you can drive a tank,” he said.
So, to say it’s an unforgettable experience is no exaggeration — either by myself or Kinney.
Visitors can trek over to Tank America, climb onto and lower themselves into a tank, and traverse it as if they were driving a car.
It’s an adrenaline-infused, wild ride.
One that is definitely worth the (one-tank) trip.
A ride in the park
Tank America may seem like another one of Orlando’s many, many tourist attractions, but it is far from it.
In fact, it’s not even near all the others non-Floridians flock to yearly on International Drive or in Lake Buena Vista under the shadow of mouse ears.
This is more of an experience.
It started out on the Space Coast before a COVID shutdown, which brought Kinney and his tank-driving instructors to Orlando.
Tank America is set on a 14-acre jungle and forest terrain — filled with hills, mud holes, hair-pin turns and straightaways.
It has nine repurposed, British-made FV433 Abbot military tanks from the 1960s. They’re outfitted to allow willing and eager drivers power through the ½-mile course on a recon mission, in search of a “downed plane.”
Like any other visitor, I sat through the training and safety video and went over just how to drive a tank, the proper way.
My tank “commander” and instructor, Tim Jernigan, doesn’t have a military background, but he guided me on a well-laid out course and eventually through a 100-foot, nearly five-foot-deep mud hole. I also drove over some crushed cars.
It was, to put it bluntly, thrilling.
The tanks, which can reach up to 30 mph, don’t have steering wheels, but two levers, each controlling one of the treds.
It takes careful and precise work to stay on course.
Luckily, Jernigan, who spoke to me through headphones the whole time, is equipped with a kill switch, just in case.
Not that I needed it.
Jernigan and I found the “downed plane and its pilot” (a mannequin hanging from a parachute in a tree) and returned to home base.
“You’re a natural,” Jernigan told me.
“Maybe I can be an embedded journalist,” I replied, thinking to myself: As long as I am in the safety of a metal beast like this tank.
An easy recruit
So, I know what you’re thinking: Who is crazy enough to climb into the tiny driver seat of a tank?
The answer is a lot of people.
Kinney says his attraction is quite popular with tourists and locals. In fact, it turns out a tank-driving experience is also a popular gift-giving experience.
Kinney said they see a lot of girlfriends, wives and significant others buying it as a birthday or Christmas present, but they also get a lot of group outings, such as bachelor parties or guys’ night out.
For that, four of the nine tanks Tank America has on the property are APCs, or armored personnel carriers, and groups can pile into the back compartment and ride around.
Additionally, there are several add-ons for tank driving, such as adding passengers to the smaller Abbotts, getting an extra lap around the course and, of course, ripping through full cars multiple times.
And, since no one is going to believe you, the whole drive is recorded on multiple video cameras mounted on the tanks. That way you can humblebrag on social media.
I was given Prometheus to drive, which, as it turns out, is a celebrity of sorts. It was featured in the 2011 movie ‘Super 8’. Another, Deuces Wild, was featured in 2010’s ‘Iron Man 2’ and 2012’s ‘The Dark Knight Rises.’
Let’s just say I was starstruck as I lowered myself into the cockpit and couldn’t stop grinning the entire time I was driving around the 240-horsepower, 12-V turbo armored car with a 10-mile-ranged gun sitting next to me.
It’s easy to get swept up in this, like a teenager getting a car on his or her 16th birthday. But that’s part of the appeal, right?
While Kinney and company, rightfully so, boast being the only tank-driving attraction in Florida, it’s really an experience unlike any other — as long as you’re 16 years old and brave enough.
In the end, you’re in a tank, you’re driving it up hills and through mud, and crushing cars.
And, to think, it’s an experience, just a tank full away from this area.
Where: 6605 Muskegee St., in Orlando
Details: Attention! It’s time to climb into, or onto, a FV433 Abbot military tank at Florida’s only tank-driving attraction and theme park. Eager drivers can take a 17-ton repurposed British tank on a ½-mile course set on 14 acres of jungle terrain, with rolling trails through the forest. The course features hills, mud holes, hair-pin turns and straightaways. Drivers don a headset, and with the help of an instructor, they also can crush cars and search for a downed plane.
Cost: Starts at $199.
Info: Visit TankAmerica.com
Published November 15, 2023