BGT: A trip down memory lane almost a religious experience

Monday, February 22, 2016 5:35 PM

This was my first trip to Busch Gardens Tampa since the early spring of 1999, but while the park had changed a lot, I had changed even more. This was more than just any day at an amusement park for me, but a truly special one. This was a trip down memory lane all the way back to my childhood.Whenever I think back to my prior visits to this park, I often wonder if I would have the passion for roller coasters that I have today if it wasn't for the days I had here in the 1990's(more on this later). Other than storyland in New Hampshire, My 1994 visit to Busch Gardens was my first day at an amusement park. I was only six years old at the time. I still have flashbacks of enjoying both the Scorpion and the Python, but I was too small for the Kumba. For some reason I seemed to have lost my courage after this. In 1997 I started off on the Scorpion and for the first and only time to this day, I was legit scared on a roller coaster(remains my final ride on the Scorpion). This did nothing but increase my fear, and I ended up chickening out on the Kumba and Montu. This haunted me almost every single day for the next year. In 1998 I had a second chance. Thanks to my father now having a health back, he also wanted to ride all these roller coastes. With this I had just enough courage inside of me. I managed multiple rides on both the Kumba and Montu, but the fear was still there. I returned again in 1999, but this was just with my grandmother and she wasn't going to ride any of the rides. In two days I built the courage for 5 total rides on Montu and just one on Kumba. The next year(2000) my family and I visited Busch Gardens in Virginia. This was much like my 1998 visit to the Tampa park. My fear was always there, but my family helped "push" me on all the rides. Everything changed with my 2001 trip to Cedar Point. With my two rides on Millennium Force on August 21st something "clicked" and almost 100 roller coasters later I haven't looked back since. Now many years later I often wonder if I actually owe my passion of roller coasters to these early years. If I had just jumped on the Kumba and Montu back in 1997 I wouldn't have been haunted by not riding them and perhaps my interest goes away. It's an interesting theory, but either way this trip had me thinking of my past almost the whole time. This was the park that started it all for me and this was my first time back!

Wednesday December 30th, 2015

Scorpion
My plan was to ride the Scorpion first thing since it would replicate my 1997 trip to the park, but it was CLOSED. I couldn't help, but laugh at this fact. It was like the ride was now afraid of me and not the other way around.

Falcons Fury
I couldn't get over how dead the park was early in the day. I literally got 5 straight rides on this thing, and when I say straight I mean the thing never went through a cycle without me on it. The ride operators knew me by the end and knew I was smart to get my rides on it before the lines started. This is by far the most incredible drop tower I have ever been on and the most incredible non roller coaster non heavily themed attraction I have ever been on. The freefall really is the best. One thing that I enjoyed that doesn't often get noted is the feeling that your feet are going to get caught on something. It's kind of like a floorless roller coaster where you think you feet are going to touch the track.

Phoenix
This ride sure brought some memories back. In 1994 I was JUST TALL ENOUGH( I have flashbacks of the ride operator not knowing what to do) and my mother literally held on to me for the entire ride. I also rode this in 1998. Anyways this time I got two total rides once at the far right and once at the far left. Two decades later I would note that this ride is nothing special but one of the few swinging ships that actually takes you upside down.

Kumba
I went for three straight rides on this beast. It was once in the front and two in the back. Kumba has a special place in my heart. It was the first major roller coaster I ever saw back in 1994, and the first major roller coaster I ever rode back in 1998. Since those early rides in the 1990's, I have heard that this ride has turned into an absolute classic, and I agree! These three rides were noteworthy. Kumba is the best of the old and the best of the new. It has that old classic intensity , but has a modern day layout and smoothness. The ride isn't built over a parking lot or even simply thrown into a plot of land. It seems every second of this ride was taken into account and noteworthy. Even the final turn gives a sensation of speed and g-forces that is rarely felt on most hyper coasters let alone looping coasters. After this Kumba definitely solidified itself in my overall top five. Kumba and probably SROS/Bizarro are the two most complete roller coasters I have ever been on, but I rank Kumba ahead of Bizarro because of it's intensity. More on this amazing roller coaster later.

Sheikra
The lines at the park were now starting to increase. This wait for the front seat ended up being 25 minutes. I think it was my rides on Falcons Fury earlier that made this ride underwhelming. The drop was nothing compared to Falcons Fury and with the gimick out of the way, the ride simply meandored to the station. I highly reccommend to anyone enjoying this park for the first time to ride the Sheikra before the Falcons Fury because the Falcons Fury makes the one good part of Skeikra feel obsolete.

Cheetah Hunt
So much for the short waits. This was a 90 minute wait for the front seat. It really doesn't matter what I thought of this ride because the park hit a home run here. Cheetah Hunt had by far the longest waits. I don't think any other attraction had much more than a 30 minute wait the entire day. The ride was good, but nothing great. It was incredibly smooth, but offered nothing extremely noteworthy.

Montu

It wasn't the Kumba but the Montu that my family and I rode the most back in the 1990's. The biggest reason was that the Montu felt smoother. I got three total rides on the Montu one in the back and two in the front. On my third ride I annoyed the ride operators by taking a full half minute to jump the line taking advantage of being a single rider. The ride was incredibly smooth, but it wasn't nearly as intense as the Kumba. I can't say that I really felt the trim brake before the Batwing element. What year exactly was this installed? Maybe the Montu was as intense and breathtaking as the Kumba in the 1990's, but it sure isn't now. They are still the two best rides in the park though. RIP the alligators in the beginning.

Sheikra
I was going for one more ride on the Cheetah Hunt, but it had an incredible two hour wait! This sure wasn't worth it so I went for a final ride on Sheikra instead. This was about a hour wait. I went for the back seat this time. I can't say that the ride was anymore breathtaking in the back. The back car doesn't hang over the edge of the first drop at all,, I suppose that for novices this is where you would want to start.

Kumba
The park was open for a few more hours and as usual I ended my day on the star attraction.This ended up being a staggering 16 straight rides on Kumba, but it never got old! Most of my rides were in the back but a few were in the front seat. This is now one of only a handful or roller coasters that has ever blown me away. The lifthill is slow, but there is nothing wrong with that as it only adds to the excitment and anticipation. Instead of just dropping Kumba surprises its passengers by throwing them into their restraints moments before the first drop. The positive G-forces at the bottum of the first drop and beginning of the first loop are very intense. If I closed my eyes I would have thought I was experiencing the sustained G's of a hyper coaster if not more. The same can be said for the first dive loop, but the most incredible part of the ride was the zero G roll. The intensity at the top of the roll was fantastic. It's a toss up between this and the last inversion going backwards on the Chiller as my favorite all time inversion. Next comes the Cobra roll, but before that a surprise bunny hop. Every time I felt like the train was entering it at too high of a speed. This is by far my favorite Cobra roll. It's fast, intense and somehow as smooth as butter. I love how unlike all other roller coasters I have been with mid course brakes, the ones on Kumba seem to take almost no momentum out of the ride. The thing that really seperated this ride to me was that the final third was just as spectacular as the first two-thirds. On no other roller coaster have I ever felt such a strong combination of smooth, fast, intense and incredible inversions as I did on the final third or almost any other part of Kumba. Even the very end was spectacular. The ride would enter the tunnel and then exit with an intense spiral that had G-forces with a feeling of speed that I'm accustomed to on hyper roller coasters not looping ones. As I told many people at the park, this is one of those roller coasters where the more coasters you have been on the more your going to appreciate a ride like this! It's the definition of a classic.

I have been dreaming about a return visit to this park probably every year since my fear of roller coasters ended back in 2001. I never thought it would take as long as it did. When I was there in March of 1999 the Gwazi was almost through construction, and now here it was just sitting there once again. I was really upset that the Python was gone because I wanted another ride on all the noteworthy rides that I had in the 1990's. Anyways it was a fantastic day. I recommend to anyone to get to the park early! I still can't believe how dead this park starts compared to the lines later on in the day.

Last edited by Eric Hossfield, Saturday, February 27, 2016 5:43 PM
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Monday, February 22, 2016 8:34 PM

My story below is not to try and steal the thunder from your TR. It's to share a similar passion for BGT. Much like you, these coasters are for me, some of the "ones that started it all." Thanks for sharing your experience, I enjoyed reading it quite a bit.

When the internet started getting mainstream, and I found you could look up pictures of rollercoasters from all over the world, pictures of Kumba and Montu (among others) helped turned me into the coastertool I am today. I took an absolutely ridiculous trip to BGT to ride these during my senior year of college. I worked ramp for a cargo airline that flew Learjets and Piston twins, and could fly for free in their planes. Leaving at 2am, it took 5 legs to get to Tampa around 10am. A day at the park where I was so tired I tried sleeping against a concrete pillar near a bathroom at one point, followed by 3 legs getting me back home at 2am, exactly 24 hours later. It was my first time going out of my way to ride coasters, and still to this day the craziest coaster related thing I've ever done, and totally worth it! Years later, when I got my first ever pet, a cat, I named her Kumba.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016 1:32 PM

I have similar memories going back to the early days of Busch Gardens Williamsburg. I was open to riding Das Katzchen, Die Wildekatze and loved the Glissade, but when they built the Loch Ness Monster (I was 8) I would have nothing to do with it. My dad finally talked me into it the next year, and the memories still come back when I make it back to BGW. (Interestingly it's the smell of asphalt sealer that transports me to Kings Dominion circa 197X.)

I didn't get many park visits over the next 15 years, but once I was out of college, the bug bit me again. Living on the east coast help cement my coaster fondness for good.

Out of curiosity, what day did you visit? I'm headed to BGT soon and the lines you mention make me wonder if I should go with a Quick Que. I haven't been to the park since 2004, so I want to make sure I can hit both the old and the new rides and attractions.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016 4:18 PM

Mister Halo said:

Out of curiosity, what day did you visit? I'm headed to BGT soon and the lines you mention make me wonder if I should go with a Quick Que. I haven't been to the park since 2004, so I want to make sure I can hit both the old and the new rides and attractions.

As a somewhat local (Orlando) I don't get to BGT more than once or twice a year, but even during a more peak period I have never once felt the need for Quick Queue. Other than Cheetah Hunt, I haven't ever seen a posted wait time of more than 30-45 minutes for any of the big coasters. For Cheetah Hunt, you either need to do the running of the bulls at park open or suck it up and wait the typical 60-90 minutes.

What always frustrates me is the lines are *always* caused by poor operations. Dispatch times for coasters typically teeter between "ok" and laughably slow. Single train operation on coasters like Montu and Kumba is often the norm on weekdays, and combine that with the lackluster dispatch times you have a station wait taking upwards of a half hour. Those 60-90 minute Cheetah Hunt waits could easily be slashed in half if they dispatched as quickly as Maverick at Cedar Point. And my guess is even with a Quick Queue, you are going to be waiting an annoyingly unnecessary amount of time in relation to the money you paid because of this.

BGT is a beautiful park, but the guest experience always falls short for me simply because of poor operations. And it's the only reason why I don't invest in an annual pass, and instead go once or twice a year on a discounted or comp ticket when they come my way. If they ran the place like the Orlando parks or Cedar Point in terms of efficiency, I'd absolutely head down that way once every other month or so and invest in a pass without thinking twice.

Last edited by BrettV, Wednesday, February 24, 2016 4:22 PM
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Wednesday, February 24, 2016 4:23 PM

Well, on the bright side, they have a new VP of operations. I don't imagine that they could get much worse.

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Thursday, February 25, 2016 8:36 AM

Thanks, BrettV. That's good information. I was hoping to avoid Quick Que since it's the slower season and I'm getting in before spring break season really hits. Sounds like if I check off Cheetah Hunt right off the bat, I can shouldn't need to worry too much the rest of the day.

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Thursday, February 25, 2016 9:15 AM

I went to BGT on some random mid-week school day in late winter, the park was dead and all rides were walk on all day, including Cheetah Hunt. So unless there's a thousand school buses that day, I say don't worry.

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Thursday, February 25, 2016 9:39 AM

One other thing to keep in mind also, unlike the Orlando parks, they often will have a pretty short operating day of 10-6. At one time they were even doing 10-5 but a search of the website shows 10-6 is the standard with 10-7 on Saturdays.

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Saturday, February 27, 2016 5:58 PM

Mister Halo: This day was Wednesday December 30th. Sorry I usually add the date to me TR's, but forgot this time. I agree with everyone else here: There is no need to buy a flashpass or whatever they call it at Busch Gardens. Just make sure to get to the park early and get on the Cheetah Hunt early as it's really the only long wait. My advice would be this order to start the day: Cheetah Hunt, Sheikra and then Falcons Fury. Like I said in my TR, The Falcons Fury really takes the thrill out of the Sheikra. The Falcons Fury probably has the 2nd longest waits in the park but is dead early.

Glad to hear some similar stories. These memories are so strong I swear I could write a full TR for each of my days at this park back in the 1990's.

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Saturday, February 27, 2016 9:12 PM

My parents took a vacation to south florida when I was a kid (a vacation away from my sister and me haha) and they hit BGT. They brought me back a 1994 park map that I still have today. I was obsessed with roller coasters and theme parks from a young age, I used to spend hours drawing up my own parks on paper (before RCT existed). That BGT '94 park map was a constant source of inspiration.

My first park was Great Escape, followed the next year by Hersheypark in the mid 90s. I have the same feelings for Wildcat that you do for Scorpion. That ride was horrifying, and in hindsight not all that remarkable, but it's special to me.

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Sunday, February 28, 2016 8:43 PM

Sounds like I really missed out on Kumba. I have no history with BGT; went there a couple of years ago a few days after Xmas b/c roller coaster season in the Northeast was over for the year and it was somewhere to go to ride coasters. Of course this was before Falcon's Fury. It was the only time I ever set foot in Florida. Unable to afford more than an overnight stay, I got to the park late b/c of inclement weather in Philly delaying my flight and further delay for deicing the wings of the aircraft so had only about 6 hours to spend at the park. Sheikra was good but I prefer Griffon; Montu is possibly the best invert I've ridden (Afterburn is a close contender), Cheetah Hunt was a lot of fun - and yes, a long line - and Gwazi was much better than anticipated. Alas, Kumba went down literally 30 seconds before I got to it and never reopened. Sigh! Well, there's always a next time.

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Monday, February 29, 2016 10:57 AM

Two notes on Scorpion:

First, the last 6-8 times I've been, when Scorpion is running, the line goes all the way to the station house...granted, that's still only about 25 minutes even with the terrible loading procedure, but for years it had been a 1-2 train wait...

Second, perhaps due to the first part...the second train WAS on the transfer track after being MIA for a couple of years. Having a hard time imagining Scorpio running two trains again, but at least it's now theoretically possible (#fingerscrossed).

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