Busch Gardens Tampa
Like last year's visit to Orlando, this visit was centered around a work trip. This time, it was a massive conference. The conference went well, but I know that's not why you're here.
I knew I'd have time to visit the Orlando parks in the evening once the conference concluded, but there was another park I loved just an hour's drive away in Tampa. After experiencing the awesomeness of Busch Gardens Tampa firsthand back in November, I just couldn't visit Florida and skip this park, especially since I had a season pass. Therefore, I added an extra day onto the trip.
My company wasn't covering a rental car for the trip since my hotel was across the street from the convention center. I considered a one day rental car, but ultimately decided to use the Mears Shuttle boldikus used last year. Yes I didn't get to the park until an hour after it opened, but it was free and extremely convenient since the pick-up location was just a 20 minute walk away at SeaWorld. Instead of staring at the vast flatness of Florida's roadways (seriously, you can see for miles on any tall attraction), I could instead watch Journey 2 on the way down, the epitome of an average family movie.
Since I was visiting on a Thursday just before Spring Break, I figured the park would be relatively empty. And I was right. Because of this, I was optimistic I could hit Cheetah Hunt without much of a wait. And I was wrong. While there were certainly less people in line for Cheetah Hunt than my November visit, the park was only running the front half of the station. As a result, the line moved like a resting cheetah. Fast forward 45 minutes and I was seated in row 1 and traveling at cheetah speeds.
The coaster really is a jack-of-all-trades. And I think that's the ride's strength. It has two solid launches, a fantastic inversion, and some good airtime all while traveling on one heck of a long journey through the park. You pass over-and-under pathways, speed through the savanna, and weave through rock work. Honestly if this coaster had a bit more intensity, I'm pretty sure it would be as revered as Taron is among European coaster enthusiasts.
But I don't think Busch Gardens cares. While us enthusiasts gravitate towards Montu and Kumba, it's clear that Cheetah Hunt is the park's most popular attraction. If you expect a balls-to-the-wall ride like Maverick, you're going to be disappointed. If you expect a coaster that's incredibly fun and reliable, you'll be impressed by Cheetah Hunt. Honestly I'd take it over Kumba myself (I know some are cringing at that statement). 9 out of 10
I was excited to see a 10 minute wait posted at Cobra's Curse, but it probably took 2-3 times that. On the bright side, the queue is very well themed. When the snake begins explaining the backstory in the last room, everyone's head immediately gravitates towards the elaborate projection. On the downside, I had to suffer through the Florida heat. But didn't you visit on a 60 degree day in March? Yes I did. And for that reason I'm pretty sure they were heating the queue.
Cobra's Curse is a very weird spinning coaster. It's really only a spinning coaster for the last third of the ride. The first bit travels entirely forwards. It's pretty forgettable outside of the elevator lift and the 60 foot cobra that would make Indiana Jones quake. The second bit is a slow helix taken in reverse. The last bit is easily the ride's highlight as the spinning is activated.
I find that Cobra's Curse doesn't spin quite as well as the other spinning coasters I've been on, but it probably has a superior layout as it dives over and under pathways. If Cobra's Curse spun for the entirety of the ride, this has the potential to be the best spinning coaster out there except for maybe Time Traveler. But as is, it's a very weird and funky coaster. 7 out of 10
I had gone long enough without riding Montu. Fortunately I didn't have to wait long, as the coaster never seems to be more than just a 1-2 train wait. Montu is an exceptional coaster. Usually I prefer airtime based coasters, but I can appreciate a forceful looper as long as it's smooth. And the 20 year old coaster is still as smooth as a baby's bottom.
Outside of the Immelmann, which is just ok, the rest of the elements are incredibly forceful. The two standouts are the zero-G roll and batwing. This zero-G roll is better than 99% of the ones out there. It just so happens the 1% it isn't better than exists on the other side of the park. But it's ok because while Kumba has a very good cobra roll, Montu shows off with its absurd batwing that combines the whip of an old-school B&M corkscrew with the positive Gs of a pretzel loop.
After my last visit, Montu barely passed Nemesis for my favorite inverted coaster. If you asked me again after this visit, maybe I'd give it to Nemesis. It's really splitting hairs between those two. Nemesis may be slightly more intense and have better theming, but Montu is longer with elements maybe just a hair less intense. Number 1 or number 2 invert, it's still the king of the park and an easy 10 out of 10
I was sort of letdown by Ikaros and Falcon's Fury when I rode them last year. They were very good rides, but not as good as I anticipated. After being wowed by Acrophobia a few years ago, gritting my teeth on every drop, I was excited to try a taller version with even more tilting. But there was one variable missing on Falcon's Fury and Ikaros. My glasses. Six Flags allowed glasses on Acrophobia, but neither Grona Lund nor Busch Gardens would allow me on their towers without a strap which I had foolishly forgotten.
But not in 2018. Bill Belichick may have forgotten who his starting cornerback was in the Super Bowl, but I definitely remembered my glasses strap this visit. I can say without a doubt that the tilting effect and subsequent drop are significantly more impressive on 1080p (with glasses) versus a grainy video from the 1960's (without glasses). Yes the drop itself still doesn't feel quite as intense as a Gen 2 or 3 Intamin tower, but the psychological factor of plunging towards pavement more than compensates.
So the moral of the story (for the visually impaired) is to bring a glasses strap. Or get Lasik eye surgery. 10 out of 10
I couldn't come to Pantopia without getting a pretzel. More specifically, I needed a bacon pretzel fury. Everyone else can wait for their Cinnamon Bread and Cesari's Pizza, but you'll find me at Twisted Tails Pretzels. This is seriously my favorite food item at any amusement park. Every bite was warm, doughy goodness mixed with the greasy comfort of bacon. There were also kettle chips. They were probably solid overall, but they're completely forgettable when placed next to this scrumptious food item. Just look at it.
After shaving a few days off my life with that pretzel, I walked a whopping 200 feet into the queue line of Scorpion. The queue took about 20 minutes due to the one train ops, but it afforded some excellent views of Scorpion navigating its course.
Once you reach the bottom of that drop, you whip through the rest of the course. The strong point is without a doubt the trademark Schwarzkopf loop. It's about as forceful an element that you'll find on a coaster with just a 42" height requirement. The subsequent helices aren't lacking on the G forces either. Really the only knock against the coaster is its length. Compared to the park's B&M trilogy and Cheetah Hunt, Scorpion is easy to forget. But it's overall a very solid steel coaster. 7 out of 10
Scorpion may have a forceful loop, but I heard a faint rumble in the background. As I moved towards the back of the park, the sound increased in intensity to a deafening roar and I was staring at none other than Kumba.
It's not uncommon for a B&M coaster to feature a loop, Immelmann/dive loop, zero-G roll, cobra roll, and corkscrews in that order. But what makes Kumba rare is just how forceful all of these elements are. While Montu is close to Kumba's intensity, it does have a pedestrian Immelmann. Kumba has no throwaway elements.
I started seeing grey on the vertical loop. The dive loop ramps up the positive Gs even further. Then there's the world's best zero-G roll. Usually I'm indifferent to cobra rolls. On Kumba, it's extremely intense. Then there are the last two corkscrews. There's a noticeable difference between a newer B&M and an "old-school" B&M. I think Kumba goes a step beyond just an "old-school" B&M with the snappiness of those final corkscrews. And last but not least is a very intense upward helix leading into the brake run that I always seem to forget.
Every single element brings on the positive Gs and makes you regret ever calling B&Ms boring or forceless. Now I can't quite give it a 10 since Kumba is difficult to reride. It's not rough, but it's intensity makes it difficult (for me at least) to reride consecutively. And that's coming from someone who can ride Montu or Nemesis repeatedly. If you love intense rides, Kumba is for you. 9 out of 10
60 degree weather is perfectly comfortable weather for me to walk around in shorts and a t-shirt. That's also perfect weather to ride a log flume. Unfortunately that would not happen. Stanley Falls was down for maintenance. But it wasn't lying dormant like the adjacent Tidal Wave. No it was testing non-stop all day. What a tease, but it was expected since it was listed as down for annual maintenance. But there was one water ride open. The Congo River Rapids.
Riding a rapids ride in these weather conditions was a risk for sure. I had never ridden this one, so I had no clue if there was an unavoidable waterfall of doom waiting for me. Still I ignored my better judgment and rode. I mean how often would this ride be a walk-on?
In typical Busch Gardens fashion, the ride was very well landscaped. The attraction really felt as if it was located deep in the jungle. One of the women in my raft shared that an employee (probably the Dippin' Dots guy) told her the waterfall was off. There was still a massive waterfall in the cave finale, but it didn't extend far enough out to soak anyone to the bone. I don't know if that's the norm or not.
The rapids were capable of soaking you though. And I actually won the game of Russian Roulette as I came off with no more than a few splashes. Meanwhile the rest of the boat was hammered by 2-3 soaking rapids. In fact, I almost escaped 100% dry if it wasn't for the water jet that pushes you towards the lift. That doesn't sound like something that would get you wet, but when your raft presses directly against the jet, the water will find a way to cascade over the seat back. As far as rapids rides go, I thought this one was pretty average. 6 out of 10
The last major coaster I needed to hit was another favorite among the GP, SheiKra. Like the other two B&Ms, this one was yet another 1-2 train wait, even with just one half of the station open. If you've ridden one dive machine, you probably know what to expect with the first drop (except maybe Valravn). While the latter has vest restraints that can sap some of the airtime, SheiKra is pure floaty bliss for the duration of the drop much like Griffon or Oblivion.
The Immelmann is graceful and not particularly forceful, but SheiKra has one last trick up its sleeve, the second drop. Also 90 degrees, this drop provides even more floater air and passes through what looks like ancient ruins. While the drops may not be as terrifying as Falcon's Fury, SheiKra is probably the best dive machine out there not named Griffon. I prefer the latter because of the few spots of airtime while heading towards the brakes. 8.5 out of 10
I had about an hour and a half left, so I decided to backtrack and grab extra rides on my favorites- Kumba, Falcon's Fury, Cheetah Hunt, and Montu. As I said earlier in the report, I couldn't pass through Pantopia and not get a pretzel. I considered going with a basic pretzel, but the heart wants what the heart wants. And it wanted bacon. So I had my second bacon pretzel fury of the day.
I made sure to finish with 4 consecutive rides on Montu, with all but one of them coming in the back. I also checked out some of the animals on the pathway between Egypt and Pantopia along the way.
Alas it was time for my day at Busch Gardens to come to a close. I can't believe it took me until last year to make it to this park. I absolutely love the Williamsburg one and the Tampa one is just as amazing. Now I don't think I'll be making an extended visit to the Orlando area without stopping into Busch Gardens Tampa.
Back to the shuttle, my lone gripe with it was the departure time. Anyone who goes on a TPR trip knows the importance of being punctual. A 5:45 departure means a 5:45 departure. If you show up at 5:46, you may see the bus riding off into the sunset. If you arrive at 5:47, maybe you'll still be able to see the fresh tire tracks. We were told to be on the bus by 5:45, but that the bus driver "would wait for everyone." I didn't want to be "that guy" so I arrived on time.
However, the bus didn't leave until 6:15 because everyone else didn't mind being "that guy". People took their sweet time returning to the bus. Instead of getting one last ride on Montu, I was treated to the beginning of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. It was an annoyance, but the bus was free so I can't complain too much. It just gives me a greater appreciation how Robb and Elissa aren't afraid to leave someone in the dust if they can't respect the time of others on a trip.