The Florida State Fair is an eleven day event that takes place once a year at a dedicated ground in Tampa, a few miles away from Busch Gardens. It features a large independent midway, rather than one operated by a single promoter, and as a result the ride selection tends to be better than that typically seen at other American fairs; in simple terms, machines that are not up to standard will make less money. This year the fair had over one hundred different rides, including eight roller coasters, seven of which were accessible to adults (the Dragon Wagon being off limits). Flat rate wristbands were available, and were excellent value for money considering the number of rides they covered.
However, there was one small catch; many of the larger rides had a no single riders policy, including three of the coasters, one of the dark rides, and six of the seven ferris wheels. This might have been understandable on a busy day, but on this quiet Friday morning it made no sense at all. While I was able to get all of the credits, I ended up having to skip the Tomb of Doom dark ride, as nobody else turned up in the ten minutes I stood there waiting.
My first credit of the morning was on RC-48 (Wade) (#1995), a Pinfari design that operated for a few years at Morey's Piers. Though only one RC-48 was built, the same basic layout was tweaked very slightly for the RC-50, which saw five sales (including Alpine Thriller and Megablitz). I was assigned a seat in the middle of the three car train, from where the ride was fairly smooth. The only exception was the base of the second drop, where my neck came into sharp contact with the wholly unnecessary over-the-shoulder restraint; the resulting oh my god that hurt moment left me counting down the seconds until the final brake run.
My next stop was at the only dark ride open to me as a single rider, and honestly, it wasn’t worth the effort. Haunted Mansion followed a zig zag routing through partial darkness, with ill-fitting black drapes taking the place of walls. There were a few figures that might have terrified a two year old, but they generally only lit up after the car had already passed them, greatly limiting their potential impact. The occasional blood curdling wail didn't quite drown out the mechanical screech of the drive mechanism in my car.
It is always a treat to see a coaster being run at maximum capacity, and all the more so when this is happening on a quiet day. Wild Mouse (Reithoffer) (#1996) was the short version of the Zamperla mouse, and was running five cars when the station can only hold four at a time, meaning that the operators were dispatching continuously whether there were people on board or not. It was interesting to see the lap bars up on the empty cars; I'd have expected there to be an interlock to prevent that from happening. Be that as it may, the ride was exactly as expected, with a healthy amount of spinning during the second half of the course.
The real draw for me today was Comet II (Wade) (#1997), a sixty-five metre Wildcat from the late Anton Schwarzkopf, and one of only a handful of this model that remain operational as of 2014. This one dates from 1975, and is now in the care of Wade Shows, whose team can assemble it in eight days. A no single rider policy was being enforced, but the operators were willing to dispatch with three in the car, which was good enough for me to enjoy several laps.
I used a quick lap on the Giant Wheel (Reithoffer) to take some overview photos, before heading to Riptide (Deggeller) (#1998), the first of two nearly identical Pinfari coasters at the fair. This one was operating two car trains, and needed six of eight seats filled to dispatch. It took a few minutes for enough people to assemble, but in due course I got my credit.
Things were trickier at Crazy Cat (Wade) (#1999), where the decidedly sour ride operators (in sharp contrast to the friendly staff everywhere else) were absolutely insistent that all four seats in each single car train should be filled. Three of us had been waiting for some time when a group of four arrived, and we were brusquely ordered to move out of the way for them. It was only after we persuaded one of that group to ride a second time that we were let ride ourselves. When the fair is quiet, does an empty seat really cause that much harm?
The state fairground has a permanently installed cable car named Sky Glider that gives a good birds eye view of the entire site. It was from this that I spotted a second area of rides, some distance from the main section and easy to miss, that held the first of two kiddie coasters. Western Mouse (Reithoffer) (#2000) was a standard Fajume model worm, albeit with a nicely themed train. With that out of the way, I walked back to the main area and shoehorned myself into Wacky Worm (Wade) (#2001), which was memorable only for its alternating green and yellow paint scheme.
My last ride of the morning was on Sky Flyer, a Soriani-built Star Flyer clone with a rotating tower rather than a rotating gondola. On disembarking I made one final sweep of the full site to make sure I hadn't missed anything important before heading for the exit.