Episode 3: "Busch Gardens Tampa in 50 Degree Weather Without a Jacket"
or "Wait A Few Minutes Before Riding That Coaster Again, You Idiot"
Yesterday I made the hour-and-a-half drive down the absolute free-for-all that is Interstate 4 to Busch Gardens Tampa. It's downright fascinating to me that the park is kind of just plopped right down in the middle of a few Tampa Bay area neighborhoods. Depending on which way you drive in you could pass through a really nice, sort of well-to-do neighborhood, or drive past the seemingly-abandoned Busch Plaza strip mall. But it's a nice, easy exit off of Interstate 4, and you only have to deal with a few well-telegraphed turns to get to the parking lot.
Once you get parked, take your tram ride, go through some metal detectors, and take a hard left, you're greeted with a pretty good hello -
My first order of business was to get the "new hotness" out of the way in anticipation of long queues later. That meant blowing past Cheetah Hunt and heading for Egypt, and Cobra's Curse. With a seemingly low wait of, wait for it, 0 minutes, I headed inside as the greeter wished me a good morning.
I walked straight through the corridors, but it was so dark that I thought I was getting lost! I reached the pre-show room and blew right through it, but there's some really nice projection mapping on the big snake. Finally I reached the platform, got ready to board, and... Technical difficulties. Ugh.
That's okay! Remain optimistic! Back to Cheetah Hunt.
Seeing a wait of 25 minutes, I headed inside, and waited, and waited. It turned out that they were initially running one loading area, which slowed things down. But things ground to a halt for about 15 minutes as they unloaded everyone and switched to double loading areas, and things picked up again. Conveniently, I was almost to the front of the turnstiles when they made the switch, so I was able to get a ride in the front row with very minimal waiting afterward!
Cheetah Hunt is super-fun. The first quick launch does catch you by surprise as it's not telegraphed, especially when you're the first train in line to launch. If you're the second train you can anticipate it because it does the typical "Intamin launch rollback" before it sets off. The launches are fun, the airtime is good, the twisties are fun, the roll gives nice hang time... I have nothing bad to say about it. A 48" height restriction makes the experience that much better for guests.
Let's try Cobra's Curse again...
Seeing a posted wait time of 10 minutes, and after witnessing a few cycles with people, I swallowed hard and headed inside to a wait that was most certainly NOT ten minutes. Between people not knowing where to go because it was so dark, and people being distracted by the pre-show, AND with all of eight people per train, the queue for Cobra's Curse moved at a snail's pace.
As for the ride? Let's call it... Discount Expedition Everest. The layout is really fun with lots of quick turns. The theming is really good, up to par with the stuff that SeaWorld and the other parks in the portfolio have been putting out recently. The spinning aspect of the coaster is worked in very nicely and can kind of serve as an "introduction" to the concept of the spinning coaster. First forward, then backward, and then spinning. It's very nice all around. But would I personally wait as long as I did for it again? Not a chance.
Originally, I was going to lead myself up to Montu expecting it to be the most intense in the park, but I instead decided to take a spin while I was in the area.
Traditionally I always make my first rides on inverted coasters in the front seat, so I waited about 20 minutes to do so. I sat myself down in the seat, eager to pull the harness down and get ready to go.
Here's where things got dicey. I must have sat in a "big boy" seat because the harness would not sit any lower than about four inches above my lap. I tried stapling myself... Nothing. I am a very skinny guy so not only was the harness high above my lap, it was also pretty far away from my chest. To try and keep myself comfortable I had to ride defensively. In every instance where the train was facing downward I had to use all my strength to hold myself back against the seat so that I wouldn't fall forward into the harness. It completely took away from the coaster itself and while I recalled that it was pretty intense, I completely forgot about the layout itself. I anticipated being able to give it another shot so I decided to come back later.
Afterward I took the long walk toward Pantopia, eventually greeted by this thing...
Granted, Falcon's Fury was down for maintenance (surprise, surprise), but I wasn't going to ride it anyway because drop towers are my mortal enemy. How about something more tame instead?
Funny story about Sand Serpent. As we know, it used to live at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. I was still afraid of riding roller coasters the last time I saw the Wild Maus, so I never got to ride it before it was removed. Now, however many years later, I got to ride it! Everything comes full-circle, even for an off-the-shelf wild mouse coaster.
Since I was in the area, I thought that I would try Scorpion, but it was down for maintenance too. Continue forward, then, to a predator lying in wait in the very back of the park...
One of my first introductions to the roller coaster industry outside of RollerCoaster Tycoon was a 1998 hardcover book by David Bennett, aptly titled, "Roller Coaster". It's a book that has lots of information on the history of coasters, how they work, and more. In the back of the book was a listing of notable existing roller coasters in 1998, and a certain teal-blue coaster with interlocking corkscrews had a full-page photo dedicated to it. I always wanted to see that coaster in real life, and even today I have always thought that B&M's sitting coasters, such as Kumba, Incredible Hulk, and Dragon Khan, have been their best designs. Finally getting to ride Kumba almost twenty years after first seeing it in a book obviously set my expectations high...
Kumba is unbelievable. It is the most intense, most aggressive coaster I have ever ridden. It is absolutely breathtaking from start to finish, and I can't believe that it still holds up the way it does after over twenty-five years of year-round operation. The succession of the dive loop, zero-G roll, cobra roll, and hill into the mid-course brake is masterful. I have never experienced those sort of forces on a zero-G roll, only Twisted Cyclone's comes close. It sits near the tippy-top of my coaster rankings, bested only by coasters that I believe are more "fun" and "re-ridable". Riding Kumba for the first time, in the front row, was the highlight of the day for me and I will never forget it. High expectations, exceeded.
So much so, that I immediately got back in line afterward, rode it again, and was left with a bout of motion sickness. Such is life, I suppose. I don't regret it.
After some well-needed recovery downtime enjoying a stuffed pretzel and watching other people's lives flash before their eyes on a reopened Falcon's Fury, I got in line for Scorpion. 35 minutes, for some reason...
Scorpion is surprisingly good! The loop has both intensity at the bottom as well as hangtime at the top, and that spiral at the end just keeps going forever. Can someone please tell me why we haven't started seeing new Schwarzkopf-like coasters yet?
Continuing my loop around the park, I stumbled across Jungala. When I heard the rumors earlier in the year that Jungala's Treetop Trails playground was closing due to budget cuts, color me surprised when I spotted some kids climbing up the towers!
Being an advocate for playgrounds in theme parks as a professional, I breathed a sigh of relief, and moved on to ShieKra, which ended up being the longest wait of the day for me at about an hour to get through the whole queue and into the front row.
As for the ride? Yep, it's a B&M dive coaster. I'm never phased by the hang over the edge, but the drop is always sudden and a little startling. I find it fun that the length of time you're held over the edge is random, too. It's a really lovely twisted mess of track and I prefer it over Griffon. Like Cheetah Hunt, I really don't have anything bad to say about SheiKra. It's pretty great! Though, even with the extended queue and three trains, they were only running one loading area.
With all seven coasters checked off my list, I hopped on the Serengeti Express back to the station near Cheetah Hunt, and hiked over to Montu to give it a well-deserved second shot.
With the harness in a much more comfortable position on my lap I was able to really enjoy Montu, and it certainly delivers. The batwing element is screwed up and amazing in all of the right ways. The zero-G roll rips you out of your seat like it does with Kumba. It doesn't have the pacing problem that Alpengeist does because the mid-course brake doesn't bring the coaster to a halt. Like Kumba (and also Alpengeist, mind you) it definitely proves that old-school B&M is best B&M. I hope that someday, some park somewhere looks at coasters like Montu, Nemesis, Kumba, and others and asks B&M and / or Stengel to bring that style back. New-school B&Ms certainly have their place and I will defend new-school B&M any day of the week, but they don't make 'em like they used to.
Finally, I decided to give Cheetah Hunt a spin on the way out. Obviously it ran faster than it did in the earlier morning, and it was still ridiculously fun.
Overall it was a good day. I expected lower crowds than usual because it was in between the Halloween and Christmas seasons, but unfortunately I was wrong. Nevertheless I got on every coaster at least once without having to use Quick Queue, and with no real plan in mind, which is good enough for me. When you're on the ground inside the park it really doesn't feel like Tampa is near you at all. But unfortunately the illusion is broken when you are on the lift of one of the big coasters. As a park, I definitely prefer Busch Gardens Williamsburg, but Busch Gardens Tampa has the better collection of coasters. It's funny, in a way, it parallels my thought about Magic Kingdom vs Disneyland.
Thoughts and musings:
- That sorry excuse of an "app" is terrible. It's basically just a wrapper for their website.
- Also terrible is the infrequency that wait times are updated. There has to be something that they can do.
- The maintenance teams were on their game. No rides were down for the entire day with the exception of Phoenix which has been down for a while.
- Surprisingly, there was no real visible logo signage for Kumba and Montu, at least from what I saw. You kind of just walked forward, and poof, there were the entrances. Was I just oblivious?
- I hereby declare that when Kumba is taken out of service, the roller coaster community will take part in several years of mourning.
- I forgot how much those Intamin harnesses dig into my shoulders. Ouch.
- Smartphone photographers have a bit of an advantage over DSLR photographers at the park because smartphone lenses are small. If you position your smartphone lens just right you can get great photos through the netting and fencing that surrounds all the coasters.
- This is kind of cheeky but I love sticking my arm out and my thumb up as I exit / enter the ride station like the operators do. They certainly get a kick out of it.
Thanks for reading!