A Traveler's Tale:
on the Roaring Coasters ...
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Is Thrill City!
By Brad Ball
Sheika, Kumba, Montu, Gwazi. No these aren’t native African villages. They're the names of some of the most thrilling roller coasters in the world. And you can discover them at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, in Tampa, FL.
Busch Gardens offers an array of fascinating attractions based on exotic encounters with the heart and soul of the African continent -- except you don't have to leave Florida!
This west central Florida theme park delivers thrilling rides, live shows, restaurants, shops, games and one of the nation's premier zoos boasting more than 2,000 animals.
But what really makes this park special from my perspective is the array of heart stopping, exhilarating, awe-inspiring and record-breaking roller coasters. (At left, riders are shown being twirled by Montu.*)
As a coaster enthusiast who has ridden steel and wooden monsters from Sandusky, OH, to Copenhagen, Denmark, I fervently view Busch Gardens Tampa Bay as roller-coaster "nirvana."
If you're a thrill seeker, I suspect you too will discover that the park's steel-and-wood wonders rank as some of the best in the world.
SheiKra - 90 Degrees Straight Down
The park's newest coaster is SheiKra(shown at right*) , built in 2005.
After riding it, I can say with conviction that it's a one-of-a-kind experience: 200 feet up, 90 degrees straight down, and that's just the start.
In 2007, the adventure park reintroduced SheiKra with “floorless” cars.
The cars continue to seat eight passengers across, three rows deep. Now, however, riders are no longer able to brace themselves for the thrill of America’s first dive coaster.
As a result, the experience of riding SkeiKra, the tallest coater in Florida, is incredible. It's a smooth yet thrilling three-minute ride over half a mile of steel track.
ShreiKra (shown taking riders on a near vertical drop at left*) is also the first coaster of its kind to incorporate an Immelmann loop; a second, 138-foot dive into an underground tunnel; and a water-feature finale.
The view from the top of the first loop is amazing.
The cars actually stop at the top for a few seconds so riders can appreciate the great views and get ready for what they are about to experience -- a heart-stopping, mind-numbing vertical drop that doesn’t seem to end.
Kumba - Three Seconds of Weightlessness
And then there’s Kumba. After the blood-curdling thrill of an initial 135 foot drop, Kumba will plunge you from 110 feet into a diving loop.
You'll feel a full three seconds of absolute weightlessness while spiraling 360 degrees as Kumba (shown at right*) tears through one of the world's largest vertical loops.
What also makes Kumba so special is the sound the cars make on the track.
Whether you’re ridding the coaster or watching from a safe distance, the coaster releases a huge “roar” every time the cars make a descent or pick up speed.
Park employees advised that the “roar” was intended to mimic a lion’s roar in the jungle, quite fitting for this beast of a coaster.
Montu - Inverted Thrills and 3.85 Gs
Delivering the ultimate rush, Montu (shown below*) proved to be my favorite ride of all the Busch Gardens coasters. It's one of the tallest and longest inverted roller coasters in the world.
Essentially, riders experience the thrill of an inverse diving loop and a 60-foot vertical loop while enduring speeds of more than 60 miles per hour and a G-force of 3.85.
While Montu is fast, yes, I know it's not the absolutely fastest coaster out there.
But it more than makes up for that with its numerous twists and turns that completely disorientate the rider.
Traveler's Tip: The best way to experience Montu is from the front row. From this vantage point, you feel as through you’re flying effortlessly through the air -- given you don’t close your eyes soon after the first inverted loop.
The sensation you feel after ridding Montu is that you immediately want to ride it again, and again. That's a sure sign of a great coaster.
Gwazi - Dueling Lion and Tiger Tracks
(From an aerial perspective above, Gwazi is a massive maze of wood with dueling coaster tracks.*)
Looking for an old-fashioned wooden coaster with major thrills? Then Gwazi (shown above*) is for you. Two wooden tracks are intertwined to create Southeast’s largest and fastest double wooden roller coaster.
Boasting more than 1.25 million board feet of lumber, Gwazi’s Lion and Tiger tracks offer two distinct ride experiences.
Not as smooth or slick as the park’s steel coasters, Gwazi may be an acquired taste for some.
However, the coaster’s abundance of "air time," high speed, and classic wooden design with unexpected dips and drops still makes this ride unforgettable.
And if the above weren’t enough, the park also offers Scorpion (shown at left*).
This coaster will drop you 60-feet and whisk you through a 360-degree loop at incredible speeds.
Roller Coaster Insider Tour - For Riders and Non-Riders
If riding roller coasters isn’t enough to get the adrenaline juices flowing, then a cerebral approach to coasters may be your thing.
With that in mind, Busch Gardens Tampa recently introduced a Roller Coaster Insider tour of Montu.
The 45-minute guided walking tour gives an insider’s look at how the park builds and maintains its roller coasters.
This specialized tour costs $24.95 per person (plus tax) for ages 14 and older; this is in addition to your normal park admission.
We enjoyed this because tour participants enjoy a different view of Montu’s almost 4,000 feet of track. Several unique tour elements will delight visitors, among them viewing Montu's record-breaking seven inversions.
It's quite a thrill to stand on an 80-foot-high braking platform as the coaster zips by at more than 40 miles per hour.
Braver tour participants are given front-of-the-line access and front-row seats to learn first-hand feel how these elements combine for the ultimate intense ride.
Tour participants also receive front-of-the-line access to another coaster (such as ShreiKra, shown at right*) at Busch Gardens so they may see how the two compare.
But, of course, if you just want to look, that's okay too. No riding is necessary to take the interesting tour.
Quick Queue - Why Stand in Line?
Lines are always a possibility at most of the major theme parks nationwide. And, sometimes the lines can be long, especially in peak travel periods.
One way to avoid the lines is to purchase an optional Quick Queue program. For an additional fee starting at $14.95 per person (over the price of normal admission), the park visitors receive "front of the line" access on 12 different rides.
This time-saving option is extremely valuable when peak season wait times at SheiKra and Montu can exceed 90 minutes.
For More Information
Adult admission to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is $79.95 per person, about $8 cheaper for kids, and discounts are available for Florida residents.
For general park information, call 888-800-5447, or visit the interactive Web site at www.buschgardens.com
*Photos in the above article are used courtesy of Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.