Busch Gardens Tampa 8/21-22

bjames's avatar

On the way home from Texas to NY during my leave from active duty, I decided to stop over in Tampa to visit Busch Gardens, a park I haven't been to before.

This park is beautiful, and the combination of thrill rides and uncommon animals is intriguing. Few zoos contain the diversity of species as BGT, and few parks have as many first class coasters!

COVID-19 has affected this park the same as many others, and they had every precaution in place to be able to provide peace of mind for the guests while still being able to operate as close to normal as possible. All of the showplaces were closed, as well as the animal encounter building, but team members were appropriately strict in enforcing the mask policy and all rides were regularly sanitized.

The park felt empty on both the days I visited. The longest lines I experienced were on Cheetah Hunt, 30 minutes tops, and that was mostly due to the downtime associated with the regular sanitizing of the trains. They ran all three, but each cleaning shutdown caused the line to build back up. In general though, it seems that COVID has discouraged a lot of the out-of-town tourists from visiting. Works for me!

I can't gush enough about how gorgeous this park is and how much care they have for their animals. I don't think I've visited a regular old zoo in my life that had such large and well designed enclosures for the animal population. Not only was every enclosure huge and varied in terrain, but the guests are also afforded great views of them from every angle.

The main area, the Serengeti Plain, however, was a disappointment. Due to COVID, the Sky Ride was closed, leaving the train the only way for average guests to view the animals in this area. The monorail was removed several years ago when Cheetah Hunt was installed. The train follows the perimeter of the area and for the most part, the giraffes, zebras, gazelles, and the rest of the assortment of African animals seemed to prefer to congregate near the center. It was unfortunate that the only way to see these beauties up close was to pay extra for the jeep tour, which I did not opt for. The Edge of Africa area was very cool though, allowing me to see Hippos, Hyenas (they're way bigger than I thought!) and Lions, along with others, up close.

This park is waaaaay bigger than it looks on paper. According to my iPhone, I walked 9 miles on the first day of my visit and another 8 on the second day. Granted, I looped around the park several times both days at my leisure, and I wasn't paying attention to the distance.

Now, the coasters:

Cheetah Hunt: The best ride in the park. I absolutely have grown to love launched coasters: Maverick, Copperhead Strike, and the Intamin Impulse clones rank high on my favorites list. This one is unique for me for its length and layout. It's a really long out and back that starts out with a huge uniquely-shaped 150' element. You launch up to the top of it, then at a leisurely pace travel through a few helices and get a great view of the park. Then down the drop and you're off! It's fast paced with tight elements that wind between trenches and occasionally hop up into airtime hills and a single inversion. It's great!

Cobra's Curse: A neat family coaster with a great queue story about excavating the ruin with the Cobra King occasionally interrupting and shouting at you about how you shall be cursed. The elevator lift is unique for this type of ride, but after that it's nothing to write home about. I'd compare it to the Pandemonium coasters at Six Flags parks, but with actually really good theming.

Montu: The first drop isn't much, but it gets you up to speed to get through 7(!) elements, most of which are dug into the ground as the train travels through numerous trenches. This one is up there for me in terms of best inverted coasters (Alpengeist still has it beat). My favorite element was the corkscrew right before the break run that literally flips you out of one trench and into another. This layout reminds me of some of the craziest things Planet Coaster creators have come up with!

Scorpion: Meh. A rather lame Schwarzkopf creation. This thing's days are numbered, BGT will probably come up with a better way to use the space eventually.

Sand Serpent: I've never been on this model of Wild Mouse, but it doesn't hold back! I actually started laughing on-ride at how ridiculously fast the thing was negotiating the turns and whipping me around. The final S-curve was the best, it's as if the ride was saying "I changed my mind f-you we're not going right we're going left, live with it!" Probably the most intense Wild Mouse I've been on, thumbs up.

Kumba: Now this one is hard to describe. It's 27 years old, three years younger than me. So it's old for a coaster. But we all know B&M builds their coasters to last. That being said, the interlocking corkscrew section was rough. Headbangingly rough. I've never had that on a B&M. But the rest of the coaster, everything from the first giant loop through the corkscrew section is unbelievably intense, in a good way! I've never had that on a B&M either! The positive G's are insane in some spots. If they did a Hulk-style rebuild of those corkscrews this coaster could be amazing.

Tigris: Never been on one of these off-the-shelf Sky Rockets before. The theming was weak, but eh, it's a fast ride and it's a decent thrill. Like I said about Cheetah Hunt, I've got a soft spot for launched coasters. This ride is some decent filler.

Sheikra: Great ride! Too short! I know it was the first Dive Coaster in the US and B&M was only starting to experiment with the design, but it just feels like they could have done more with it. I understand the limitations of the design, but if you're flying into the brake run at 45mph then you know there could be more. That being said, the second drop into the tunnel and the water splashdown are highlights. This coaster had no line any of the 10 times I rode it, despite COVID spacing, because it is such high capacity and they were running three trains both days. And it's so cute to watch the little ones run over to get splashed by Sheikra!

Iron Gwazi: Not open yet. Is it completed? Yes. Is it beautiful to behold? Yes. Has it successfully tested? Yes. Is all the landscaping, station, etc done? Yes. Is it the best RMC yet? Probably. It's the second tallest thing in the park and you can see it from almost everywhere. It's so frustrating to me that it hasn't opened yet. I suppose I understand from a marketing standpoint why the company delayed its opening, but at the same time, it just reeks of a corporatist top-down decision. "Everything that was to open this year will wait to 2021! Teasing guests be damned!" Meh. I'll get back to this park whenever they add their *next* big coaster and then I'll get to ride Gwazi too.

*Special Mention*: Falcon's Fury - Holy crap this is the most horrifying ride I've ever been on. Seriously, facing straight down 335' in the air??? I admit I kept my eyes closed for most of the time it kept me up there....the drop was a sweet relief as you turn right side up.

One thing that stood out to me about his park was that, despite how huge it is, it is made up mostly of coasters and animal exhibits. Apart from the drop tower and train, I didn't ride a single flat ride. There aren't any! The Phoenix was still there physically...but the entrance was literally walled off. I suppose the animal experiences make up the difference with it's sister park BGW, but it's still a glaring difference. Can't they invest in a few new flats here and there? They've got the space! But that's the enthusiast in me doing the complaining....

Overall, I would say that I didn't get the full BGT experience. No crowds, most of the shops and stalls were closed both days, none of the shows at the Moroccan Palace, Stanleyville Theater, or Pantopia were running, and several rides weren't operating (Bumper Cars, Sky Ride, Stanley Falls Flume didn't even have water in its splashdown pool). But it was a good couple days given the current situation. A lot of people having fun while following the rules, wearing masks, and social distancing. BGT is a model of how theme parks can still operate in these times.

"The term is 'amusement park.' An old Earth name for a place where people could go to see and do all sorts of fascinating things." -Spock, Stardate 3025

I'm glad I'm not the only one that has noticed that Kumba has really gotten rough, especially in the second half of the ride. I still remember the first time I ever visited BGT in 2000 and Kumba absolutely blew me away with its combination of intensity but overall comfort. The last time I rode it it reminded me of Hulk 1.0 in those interlocking corkscrews and the tunnel helix, which was such a letdown.

How were ride operations during your visit outside of the cleaning? Were Montu and Kumba at least running two trains?

I'm glad to hear mask and distancing enforcement seems to be better than it was when they first reopened, but until Iron Gwazi is ready I'm not ready to pull the plug again on a pass. I'm also not convinced it's solely a "we want to wait and market it when market conditions are better" so much as "RMC won't let us have it until we demonstrate we can keep up with our payment plan for it". For a chain that seems to be struggling as much as they are, I can't imagine they wouldn't welcome the ability to draw additional paying guests into a capacity capped controlled environment to open the ride this summer. Kings Island proudly opened Orion.

I also agree there is a need for more non-coaster adult rides/attractions. Honestly I think this is why I don't love the park as much as I want to. Montu, Kumba, and Sheikra are outstanding rides, but they are just so inversion heavy that I can't reride them anymore. Falcon's Fury is amazing, and they have a great flume, but I wish they had a few more non coaster experiences.

I do disagree with your assessment of Scorpion. It's one of Anton's mini masterpieces and it will be a sad day if and when Busch retires that ride.

I'm glad your experience seemed to be better than many who visited when they first reopened. I would love to see this park get back to what it was under Anheiseur Busch ownership, and to be on a level playing field with its superior Williamsburg sister park.

Oh, and the monorail was already gone when I visited for the first time in 2000. I'm not even sure where it was in relation to the train path, but it's been gone for a long time. Unless there's something else I can't remember that was removed for Cheetah Hunt.

Jeff's avatar

Kumba was pretty rough when I rode it six years ago. I'm honestly just fine with not riding it now, which is unfortunate because 20 years ago I loved it. I think it is true that even B&M's have a certain service life (measured in hour operated, not years standing).

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

I’m in agreement about Kumba. The back half is so rough. Well, it was the last time I rode. I’d pass on it every time but in latest visits that decision was made for me. I visit in the winter and I seem to hit the period when the ride is having its extended down time. Last year it was for new paint.

bjames- I cant believe you haven’t been on one of those mice before. It’s probably Mack’s most prolific production model portable, and for a long time was the only type of Mack coaster in the US. (There still aren’t many to this day)
But you can find one at Hershey, Dorney, Carowinds, SFNE, California’s Adventure, Great America, Great Adventure, and extended versions at KD, Canada’s Wonderland, and Knott’s, to name a few.
The one you rode happens to be the first US install, arriving in 1996, but for Busch Williamsburg. It was called Wild Izzy as a tie in with the Olympics. Then the name became Wild Maus. When DarKastle took its place in 2004, it was moved to Florida. I think where you found it might be it’s second location in that park.
The Tampa version happens to be one of the best to this day, without a lot of unnecessary braking. Hershey’s is really good too, Dorney’s is ok. I haven’t been on the Six Flags’ Dark Knight rides in the box.
The ones in Europe are really fast, and I’m thinking especially of Matterhorn Blitz at Europa.

I don't think the mouse has moved since being installed in Tampa, but it did get a new name when Cheetah Hunt opened. Prior to that, the name was Cheetah Chase.

bjames's avatar

How were ride operations during your visit outside of the cleaning? Were Montu and Kumba at least running two trains?

They both ran two trains both days but it seemed unecessary since I never had to wait more than one or two cycles to ride either of them. Cheetah Hunt was SLOW. The people working it both days were very slow, and they only had one of the stations open despite running three trains. So when you got through the course, all three trains were at the station and it was 5-10 minutes before you could actually GET OFF the ride haha.

I'm also not convinced it's solely a "we want to wait and market it when market conditions are better" so much as "RMC won't let us have it until we demonstrate we can keep up with our payment plan for it"

Hm, maybe it is more complex than just marketing but I'm not entirely sure about this speculation either.

I cant believe you haven’t been on one of those mice before. It’s probably Mack’s most prolific production model portable, and for a long time was the only type of Mack coaster in the US. (There still aren’t many to this day)

Well I looked at it on RCDB and it looks like the only other American "compact mobile Wilde Maus" is at Hershey. I've been on the ones at SFNE, Carowinds, Dorney, Great Adventure. That being said, I agree, I think it's the lax use of braking on this particular mouse that makes it stand out.

"The term is 'amusement park.' An old Earth name for a place where people could go to see and do all sorts of fascinating things." -Spock, Stardate 3025

To be fair, that's how Cheetah Hunt operations typically looked even prior to COVID.

As I've stated endless times here, coaster ops are the most frustrating thing about this park. I haven't been since the pre-COVID days, but one train ops on Montu and Kumba and two train/one station on Sheikra and Cheetah Hunt are common as well. I'm happy to wait in a 20-30 minute wait for rides like these when the park has a crowd that warrants it, but when I'm waiting that long for 2 or 3 cycles of one train operations on a capacity monster like one of those B&Ms, it is the reason I don't always have an active pass to BGT and SWO.

Nice TR. We were planning a visit for November when the pandemic started, but will probably change our plans to ride Iron Gwazi. We have Platinum Passes that were extended through 2021, so we are going to plan a visit next year.

I haven't read much about Cheetah Hunt or Cobras Curse, so reading your review actually makes me look forward to those rides. Our last visit was in 2010, and Kumba had some roughness but was still rideable.

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