My morning began with a four hour drive to Tampa from a hotel in north-west Florida. Instead of heading directly to a park I decided to take the opportunity to tick off the Hard Rock Café at Tampa Airport, which is located outside of the secure area. Aerosexual visitors have the option of an outdoor deck with a picturesque view of moving aircraft and a faint aroma of jet fuel – though after ten seconds of contemplation I decided that the air conditioned indoors was infinitely preferable. Short term parking adjacent to the terminal is free for the first sixty minutes; I kept a close eye on the time and managed to drive away after fifty-seven.
Busch Gardens Tampa
22nd August 2021
By the time I arrived at Busch Gardens Tampa the outdoor temperature had reached 32°C with a feels-by value of 39°C – both figures well outside of the normal operating range for someone used to Ireland. I went through two bottles of water during the short journey from my car to the front gate, and a third as I contemplated the looming shadow of an exciting-looking coaster that I did not expect to be open for my visit. The upgrade of the former Gwazi was first announced in March 2019, and Iron Gwazi was on course for an early-2020 opening when commissioning was halted due to the pandemic. Test runs resumed in August 2020, and have continued on a weekly basis ever since – yet the ride inexplicably remains closed to the public. The only reasonable conclusion one can draw is that the launch has been delayed for marketing reasons.
After ten minutes of admiration I headed across the park to Cobra’s Curse (#2940), a custom-layout spinning coaster from Mack Rides that premiered in June 2016. The ride looks absolutely fantastic; the theming in the queue and station is intricate and consistent, and a dramatic cobra figurehead faces on to the tilting vertical lift. A walkway through the middle of the layout has a clear view of track in several directions providing plenty of vantage points for photographers and non-riders alike. Additionally, strategically placed speakers along the route add sound effects and dramatic music at key moments.
Sadly, however, the onboard experience does not live up to the magnificent exterior. The key issue is pacing, or rather a distinct lack thereof. Passengers experience a grand total of 46 seconds of momentum-driven coasting, but this is broken into three sections with significant pauses between each. Sixteen seconds of forward motion off the lift hill culminate in a mid-course brake where the cars slowly rotate 180° over a ten second period. Then, ten seconds of backward motion end up on a tyre-drive lift hill. The spinning mechanism is unlocked at the apex, giving a final twenty seconds in which there’s a reasonable chance of a rotation or two, and this portion of the ride is the best by far, but it’s over way too soon.
I can't say I'm massively enthusiastic about mid-course lift hills, but I understand the reasons for them. It’s far harder to justify a slow pause to rotate cars. Mack have had the technology to rotate efficiently since the mid-nineties; the equivalent motion on Euro Mir happens in one third of the time as a train crests an airtime hill. The two pauses en route result in an experience that feels stunted; it’s telling that one of the other passengers on my second lap said “is that it” when we hit the end. The time spent coasting is longer thanallthree of the standard Mack layouts, yet those feel quite a bit more satisfying.
My next stop was at Tigris (#2941), the ninth installation of a Premier Rides Sky Rocket II, and my sixth. I was sitting in the train with the restraints locked when lightning in the area shut everything down for an hour. I decided to remain in situ, and when things reopened I was able to experience a ride in row six that was exactly what I expected it to be: a top notch thrill utterly sodomised by those awful and completely unnecessary discomfort collars so beloved of the SeaWorld chain. I had a sore neck after one lap and decided that it’d be a serious mistake to do a second.
I spent the better part of an hour waiting to climb one flight of stairs as dozens upon dozens of Quick Queue users kept the regular line on SheiKra from moving. Most of the problem was caused by inefficient operations; though there were three trains on track the crew were only allowing one on circuit at a time, effectively double-stacking on each cycle. I can only assume there was a technical issue as loading and checking was invariably completed with plenty of time to spare. The ride experience in the front row was excellent and worth the wait, mind; there’s a school of thought that SheiKra may be the best of the B&M dive machines, and I’m not entirely sure that I disagree with that assessment. I particularly enjoyed the brief hold staring down the initial drop.
Kumba was at the other end of the efficiency scale; I could have waited one cycle for front but instead decided to take an available seat in row five. The ride experience was more or less okay, though that there was some slight head banging courtesy of the restraints. I found myself wondering whether it might be possible to retrofit these trains with something a little more forgiving, such as the vests found on Valravn; these would be a worthy upgrade to refresh the almost thirty-year-old ride for another decade.
The stand-out attraction of the day turned out to be Cheetah Hunt. Ten years ago I described this ride as an extreme family coaster, and that’s as good a description as any for a design with three launches, rapid direction changes, and no interruption to pacing over it’s eighty-five second journey. I’d have liked to have done a second and perhaps a third lap, but the high temperature was beginning to affect me and I decided that it’d be a mistake to wait in the queue again. (In curious news, a near-clone of Cheetah Hunt has recently opened at Happy Valley in Nanjing, China; if circumstances permit I’ll be making an effort to get there at some point, though I imagine it’ll be a few years at least.)
It would have been remiss of me to leave the park without at least a token lap on Montu, which was walk-on. I took a seat in the back row, which unfortunately proved to be a tactical error. The ride was not running well; my vantage point gave me a clear view of the rows in front of me bouncing on the rail even as I felt the same thing in my seat, and the net effect was not good. It was impossible to enjoy the experience, and I disembarked with a throbbing headache. An hour in air conditioned comfort might have reset me enough to enjoy a few more coasters, but I’d done what I wanted to do, and decided on balance that a relaxed dinner and early night would be a better conclusion to my day.
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