Trip Report MILESTONE TRIP! First Orlando Visit, Final Disney Park!

THE TIME HAS COME!

In just about a week, I will be starting my very first ever trip to Orlando…and all therein that may be explored.

As the title suggests, among other milestones, this trip will see me visiting my 12th and final Disney Park – Magic Kingdom itself! I have traveled extensively, with all the other Disney Destinations worldwide under my belt, yet somehow I have so far resisted the allures of the Vacation Kingdom. In this week days leading up to my departure, I’ll be going over “why not yet,” “why now,” my itinerary, maybe even soliciting some travel advice.

But for now…Who’s going?

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Me after a hike at Bryce Canyon (the real Big Thunder). My beard is much calmer now.

Just me. Doug. Typically I’m a regular of the Imagineering forums, but I'm just a dilettante on these Trip Report boards. Traveling solo, as is my wont.

Where? Universal’s Endless Summer Resort for three nights, then the Walt Disney World Swan for like a week.

When? September 21st – October 1st.

The broadest plan is to see as much of Orlando as I can (both Disney and beyond) in the week+ prior to Magic Kingdom’s 50th. That means plans to see Walt Disney World, Universal, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, even the Fun Spots.

Over ambitious, perhaps? Sure it is, but I’ve done my research, and I know my travel style and what I'm capable of! Let’s do this!
 
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D Hulk

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
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Magic Kingdom would close at 8 on this day. Under an hour remained once I polished off my meal at Skipper Canteen. What to do with that time? Hmm, maybe I should attempt summiting the Kingdom's Mountain Range one more time, why not? It would be neat to see familiar sights in the cool glow of dusk.

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Splash Mountain was completely inoperational, there weren't even any logs running through the flumes, so I went right on over to Big Thunder instead. Ten minutes later, I was ready for the wildest ride in the most magical place in the wilderness on earth!

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With twilight changing the skies every minute, no two trains would get the same ride. Surreal lighting bathed Thunder Mesa in unexpected pinks, while the daytime views swiftly vanished from sight. Though I can somewhat predict this ride layout - it's a mirror of Disneyland, after all - in the oncoming darkness, Big Thunder's unpredictable onrush of rock formations created an exhilarating out-of-control funhouse feeling.

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Splash Mountain was still closed on my way back...not only that, but by now a lengthy queue was forming despite this, stretching all the way out from the Chickapin tunnels into the walkways. And yet, still no logs were running.

But Space Mountain was at 20 minutes, so I called an audible and began the trek towards Tomorrowland. This was welcome anyway, since it meant witnessing more of Magic Kingdom under nightfall. The Liberty Belle sure looked gorgeous resting upon the rivers' reflected lantern light.

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Cinderella Castle truly dominates the skies at night, lit up brilliantly while so much else recedes into the shadows. I was so tunnel vision focused on the Castle as I proceeded out through Frontierland and Liberty Square, that I was audibly shocked upon reaching the Hub...​

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CROWDS! o_O

I'd forgotten all about these! They'd been a non-issue for at least the past several hours, and now I knew why...They were all gathering in the Hub this entire time, all of 'em awaiting the 8 o'clock showing of Happily Ever After. This beloved show was destined to vanish in just a few days' time once MK's 50th rolled around, so it's likely that these crowds were inflated for one final farewell. Or it's likely that Magic Kingdom's fireworks shows get ludicrous crowd turnouts on normal days, I dunno? I've always been a ride kinda guy - think that's been pretty clear in this Trip Report - so typically at Disneyland I'll avoid the hassle and enjoy shorter lines during the spectaculars.

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That was still my plan; Space Mountain was still my goal. Happily, cast members had carved out a route along the Hub's perimeter so that guests could cross from west side to east side with minimal difficulty. Looking north towards Cinderella Castle, the throngs didn't seem so bad. Looking south down Main Street, however...

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Oh dear! And all these fine folks were gonna be leaving the park en masse once the show ended?!

I did some thinkin' and walkin' simultaneously (impressive, no?), and I concluded that I too would be stuck in this sea of tourists once Space Mountain concluded. The old, familiar Walt Disney World agoraphobia and dread started to return. The prospect of standing around in nighttime humidity for an hour awaiting a bus to a hotel, any hotel, because there's no easy way to cross over from Seven Seas Lagoon to even the nearby resorts, well...I wanted nothing to do with the transportation headache which was swiftly descending.

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Most any other Disney Park resort worldwide might have been a different story. With hotels within walking distance (putting Contemporary to shame), or with nearby convenient shopping districts, or with truly efficient public metro options, I would not have balked. I would have stuck around to do another ride and/or see the fireworks. But Disney World still frightens me to this day, and I decided to leave early.

Shameful, I know. :cry:

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I still wanted to at least see Tomorrowland in its nighttime neon finery, since Tomorrowlands worldwide all look their absolute best at night. So I walked the corridor and beheld Space Mountain one last time...before turning tail and marching back out.

I made my evacuation with about 8 minutes to spare before the fireworks began. There was a single file chicken exit along the Main Street sidewalks, formed by dutiful cast members, which let me escape with relative ease. Once past Magic Kingdom's exit gates and in the stupidly huge bus terminal, the swelling crowds shrank to almost nothing. There was a smattering of other guests here & there who shared my sense of self-preservation, but this was undoubtedly the lull before the great big storm to come in just under 20 minutes.

Buses were prepared for that upcoming mass exodus, operating as max efficiency, so I had no trouble whatsoever finding a coach down to the Yacht & Beach Club. The fireworks didn't even get going until we were already on the road past the Contemporary. I had an easy journey back to the Swan, and I rested well that night. I stand by my final touring strategy.

And like that, I was 12 for 12, with Magic Kingdom and every other Disney theme park worldwide under my belt! The next day would call for a great big (temporary) break from Disney. This change of pace would be most welcome.​
 

D Hulk

Well-Known Member
Original Poster

September 29th
Day 9

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It was time for a break from Walt Disney World parks. Time to spread my wings beyond the realms of DisneyVersal and see what else the theme park gods had to offer in Orlando and beyond. Time to collect a rental car!

Following an uneventful and unrushed morning at the Swan - I cannot recall now if I had a breakfast, nor what it might've been - I snagged an Uber out to the car-rentery. Like with my hotel booking company, this rental service seemed by all accounts to be a fly-by-night operation. There was their 1.2 star Yelp rating, their dodgy location far from Orlando International literally on the wrong side of the tracks, their handwritten office signage and their cockroach infestation. In spite of all this, I got a cheap price on a decent car (with insurance), and I suffered no inconveniences nor any overcharges nor any other problems. My devil may care stinginess paid off! No complaints!

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I received a white Hyundai Something or Other. This car was nondescript...it was fine...it got me to where I needed/wanted to get to, and it was cheaper than the other options like Uber or airplanes. (I priced it out.) I wasn't traveling in style, but that's alright by me.

Pulling out of the rental lot, a tremendous sense of untethered freedom washed over me! Following 5+ days confined to Disney property, a prisoner of their - um - inconsistent transportation network, finally I could go anyplace I dang well pleased!

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The freedom of the open road!

There was no official, set-in-stone plan for the day. Originally I'd figured on being tired after so much Disney World, and I reckoned that I'd likely stick to the various Orlando area sights. But the instant I got onto the interstate, slammed down on the gas pedal, and started aggressively engaging Floridian motorists in some L.A.-style driving, those plans evolved. Before I even knew it, I'd already driven well past the southernmost borders of Disney's empire.

One hour later, I found myself in Tampa. Well, that settled it! This was gonna be my Busch Gardens day!

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Earlier this past summer when planning the trip, I got myself a SeaWorld / Busch Gardens Platinum Pass. Those parks have outrageously overpriced day tickets, so this seemed like the better option. I could visit Busch Gardens Tampa or SeaWorld Orlando whenever. No need for reservations or online tickets or anything. Using this same Platinum Pass, I'd already done a daytrip from home down to SeaWorld San Diego. Heck, I'd also done a three-day jaunt out to Texas for SeaWorld San Antonio, with a pair of Six Flags parks thrown into the mix. I've enjoyed all of this!

The drive to Tampa took around an hour, in which time I passed roughly a dozen chintzy tourist traps (mostly involving alligators). The radio stations only played either modern country or Cubano jazz. I went with the Cubano.

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My Platinum Pass got me into Busch Gardens' expansive parking lot at no cost...it even got me a VIP spot near the entry gates. Not that crowds were gonna be an issue in the slightest. This place was D-E-A-D dead!

It was 10 minutes 'til 10 by now, just on the verge of rope drop. This time, you'll all be glad to know, my Nalgene accompanied me into the park. It was part of a little travel bag I'd tossed together this morning - along with an external phone battery, my insurance details, and a banana - since I know from experience how valuable a large water container can be in a coaster park.

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Despite the roughly dozen other people at the entry gates, I took advantage of the special Passholder queue. For all the difference this would make...I passed two other people maybe. Seriously, Busch Gardens on a late September Wednesday was easily the emptiest that I've ever seen a major amusement park during regular operating hours. It wasn't creepy, like those Five Nights at Freddy's-style fun centers along the highway; it was simply very, very easy.

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Ten o'clock rolled around, and with a palpable lack of urgency I meandered into Busch Gardens alongside my 7 newest friends. This was surely an infelicitous start to a great day of coaster madness.

The Morocco entry area is Busch Gardens putting their worst foot forward. This section is blandly themed, wholly lacking in textures or details or even a sensible layout. Trust me, Busch Gardens gets notably better past this awkward little elbow-shaped "Main Street." Much better!

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Because - cutting to the chase - BGT wound up as one of my favorite Florida parks! No, really. We'll get to the "why" eventually - a great coaster collection, nice botanical setting, and animals galore. To even my own surprise, the only Floridian places ahead of BGT in my personal rankings would be Islands of Adventure, Magic Kingdom, and the very similar Animal Kingdom.

BGT is certainly a regional park. It doesn't have nearly the budget nor the intellectual properties of Disney or Universal. It's more comparable to the better Cedar Fair parks, with its own "Busch" style. With realistically tempered expectations, knowing what regional parks are capable of, Busch Gardens overall greatly exceeded my modest hopes. While it cannot compare to Cedar Point - which I'd actually rank alongside Disneyland & DisneySea as among the world's greatest parks - it's closer in quality to Cedar Point than to, say, Six Flags Over Texas.

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Initially, I had a bit of confusion navigating Morocco. I took a wrong turn seeking out Cheetah Hunt, and somehow I wound up at the entry to Iron Gwazi. Perhaps this was wishful thinking on my part. Iron Gwazi won't be opening until Spring of 2022, which...look...okay...

Iron Gwazi was 50% of the reason I booked this trip! (The other 50% was Velocicoaster.)

Initially, SeaWorld & Busch Gardens planned on premiering a new headlining coaster at each of their 5 major U.S. parks in 2020. Only SeaWorld San Antonio's Texas Stingray opened before the shutdowns began. (It's an above average GCI woodie.) There were rumors that Iron Gwazi and the other 3 would open for the 2021 season...and then Busch kept pushing back...and back...and back. And here I was, staring at a completed, "standing-but-not-operating" Rocky Mountain Construction masterpiece, wistfully, totally unable to ride it.

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Howl-O-Scream décor.

My Platinum Pass won't expire until May of 2022. Gwazi'll open by then. I fully intend to return! Iron Gwazi looks like a legitimate Top Ten contender; its stats are comparable to Steel Vengeance, my favorite roller coaster. It could genuinely rival mighty Velocicoaster. If I do return, I'll likely do an open-legged trip using credit card miles to hit up Busch Gardens Williamsburg (haven't been there yet) followed by Tampa. Whether or not I return to Orlando too, that's an open question.

For now, though, Iron Gwazi stood there, taunting me. Okay, that was a random false start to the day. I reoriented myself, I discovered the route over towards Cheetah Hunt, and I set off. After much dilly-dallying, next time the Busch Gardens Tampa adventure will truly begin!​
 

Zipitidoda

Well-Known Member
Happy to see the love for Cedar Point. I must admit, we used to go yearly but haven't been there for quite a few years now. And to hear that you love Steel Vengeance was a shock. I haven't rode it since it was Mean Streak. It felt like I needed to go to the chiropractor when I got off. Maybe I'll have to give it another try now that they revamped it.
 

D Hulk

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
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Time to get things kickstarted in Busch Gardens! Time for Cheetah Hunt!

On a normal attendance day, the standard advice is to avoid this popular coaster near the front of the park at rope drop, since everyone goes here first. Which, everyone did it first today as well, but when "everyone" barely amounts to a dozen souls, that's no big impediment. All throughout the day, the worst queue I ever encountered was a mere station wait. Huzzah!

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Cheetah Hunt is a fascinating ride. It's an Imtamin Blitz, the same ride model used on Velocicoaster, utilized here to a wholly different end. Cheetah Hunt is nowhere near as relentless or as intense as Velocicoaster...nor is it a family coaster either. It sits in that interesting in between category I've come to call a "Transition Coaster," like Expedition Everest or Hagrid's Motorbike Adventure. This is a wild combination of accessible and insane.

Cheetah Hunt is a multi-launch coaster which recreates how a cheetah hunts on the African savannah. The adventure begins with a launch out of the station, which turns around into a trench and into a second, stronger launch which propels trains up to 60 mph...a cheetah's top speed. Trains perform a unique "treetop turnaround" maneuver, almost like a big cat prowling above its prey, as seen above in the distinctive Windcatcher Tower. For a brief, restful moment, you enjoy fantastic 360 degree views of the park...and of Iron Gwazi. A 100' drop speeds trains through another trench, and the ride's just getting started!

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Trains rush far away from Busch Gardens' built up front section, diving and weaving through jungle foliage in a way which intentionally echoes the speeder bike scene from Return of the Jedi. You travel straight out for nearly a minute, dashing past animal enclosures and under walkways. A brake run slows trains down for just a brief moment, before they round a horseshoe bend into a final LSM launch and gain enough speed for the return trek. The ride still refuses to let up, throwing in an unexpected inversion and a plenitude of delightful below-grade S-turns along the way!



Launch at 1:05

Cheetah Hunt is glorious! It is a long ride for a roller coaster (2 minutes from launch to brakes) with no dead time, and yet it's never so relentless to be exhausting. Like all of Intamin's best work, it is endlessly rerideable - I'd be returning here later on, again and again. It's maybe a little underrated in the coaster community because it straddles that unlikely line between family and thrill, but it straddles that line excellently. Great physical experience, great integration into the park's botanic scenery, all around great.

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Afterwards I made my way down wholly abandoned pathways into Egypt. I guess I should mention now that Busch Gardens Tampa is themed to Africa, with different sections devoted to different regions. The theming never approaches Animal Kingdom's careful documentary-like design, but it certainly helps give Busch Gardens a stronger atmosphere than most generic "steel parks." The botanical landscaping throughout is excellent.

Anyway, I approached Cobra's Curse, a well-regarded Mack Rides spinning family coaster. A team member was stationed out front, there to inform me that, sadly, Cobra's Curse would likely be closed for the entire day for unexpected maintenance. Indeed, I could see repair men actively walking the tracks.

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That was a shame. Cobra's Curse is one of the better rated family coasters out there. It has clever ride pacing that's almost like an introductory course to coaster elements, starting out as a traditional mine train coaster, then throwing in backwards and spinning sections after mid-course lift hills. I really wanted to experience this in person.

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Instead I continued on towards Montu, a Bolliger & Mabillard inverted coaster which regularly ranks as one of Florida's best. This too wasn't running. I could see another repairman on A-frame ladder inspecting the tracks above him. Well, at least they're actively fixing these. A team members suggested Montu would be running later. There's a story there eventually...

With only 1 of 3 coasters active so far, was this going to be the day's pace? I felt momentarily deflated, until I casually turned my head left to see...

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Animals! The Serengeti savannah stretching as far as the eye could see! And I wasn't even looking for this!

Welcome to The Edge of Africa, one of Busch's great many animal sightseeing attractions. This is the (mostly) unique thing about Busch Gardens Tampa: It's a hybrid zoo & theme park, very much in the vein of Disney's Animal Kingdom. All throughout the park's meandering, organic loop layout, intertwined with the great big coaster behemoths, there are wild African animals in lush, naturalistic habitats. I dare say that there's enough zoological sightseeing to be had here, that a guest with zero interest in roller coasters could still visit and have an enjoyable day.

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I walked out towards the overlook, observing a herd (or tower) of giraffes. They were all gathered around a treetop feeding station strategically located right along walkway sightlines. From this Edge of Africa perch, I followed a freeform nature train along the backside of Cheetah Hunt and Cobra's Curse, discovering more critters along the way.

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I'll be honest and say that my opinion of Animal Kingdom dipped slightly during this trek, since here was an older Florida park doing something fairly similar on a smaller budget. Busch Gardens and Animal Kingdom each have their own strengths and weaknesses, as zoological attractions. I stumbled upon Busch's beasts almost by accident, whereas at times in Animal Kingdom it felt like I had to seek out the animals, who were often overshadowed by Disney Distractions TM. Busch Gardens attempts naturalistic animal enclosures, but the seams show here much more readily than at Animal Kingdom. It's much easier to discover pen gates, feeding troughs, and much of the other expected zoo backstage infrastructure.

I would be curious to hear zookeeper @PerGron 's opinion on Busch.

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The trail snaked along the remote Cheetah Hunt tracks. Only now did I fully grasp just how carefully integrated that coaster is with its park setting. So well done!

I took a leisurely stroll along this lengthy Edge of Africa area. With the crowd levels so very nonexistent, might as well go at a relaxed pace. Apart from the giraffes, I saw zebras, hippos, lions, oh my. Some of those photos turned out too blurry to share. I'd be returning to Edge of Africa later on, so we'll get a chance to see some more critters then.



@Zipitidoda, you owe it to yourself to revisit Cedar Point. I've heard that they made a whole host of Project Sparkle-style improvements for their 150th Anniversary last year. Mean Streak was dull, painful and bland; Steel Vengeance is absolutely unrelenting and joyful, with a world record combined 30 seconds of airtime. Highly, highly recommended!
 

PerGron

Well-Known Member
I would be curious to hear zookeeper @PerGron 's opinion on Busch.
I’ve only been to Busch for about 3 hours on one trip (weather canceled our plans and we only made the drive later in the day because my family also had dinner reservations with friends in Tampa and I wanted to see the animals!)

Enclosure-wise, it’s a pretty solid zoo. I definitely prefer the masterful naturalism at DAK over the standard exhibitory done here, but the enclosures are still spacious and serve their purpose better than some large zoos that I’ve been to (National Zoo in DC and ZooTampa come to mind)

However, I can’t say I like Busch Gardens all that much, especially compared to DAK, SeaWorld, and Gatorland also in Florida, and the reason for that is how close the coasters are to the exhibits. I get it makes it look super cool, but having a massive coaster soaring by with screaming guests next to flighty animals stresses me out a lot, especially with the Cheetah Hunt being so close to cheetahs, which, despite being predators, are probably the most nervous and neurotic animals I’ve worked with.

Overall, in the short time I’d been there, animal stuff I’d give a 7.5/10, theme park I’d give a solid 8/10, but together, they just don’t meld as well as the other parks of its caliber for me personally.
 

Suchomimus

Well-Known Member
However, I can’t say I like Busch Gardens all that much, especially compared to DAK, SeaWorld, and Gatorland also in Florida, and the reason for that is how close the coasters are to the exhibits. I get it makes it look super cool, but having a massive coaster soaring by with screaming guests next to flighty animals stresses me out a lot, especially with the Cheetah Hunt being so close to cheetahs, which, despite being predators, are probably the most nervous and neurotic animals I’ve worked with.
I personally don't get why BGT has an obsession with adding more coasters in the first place. You'd think that they would put more focus on creating a variety of rides for all visitors instead of just thrill seekers, and consider as well the only thing besides the animals and thrill rides are just some carnival rides and Sesame Street.
Overall, in the short time I’d been there, animal stuff I’d give a 7.5/10, theme park I’d give a solid 8/10, but together, they just don’t meld as well as the other parks of its caliber for me personally.
Speaking of the theming, that too in of itself has also been watered down from being just about Africa to Africa inorganically melded with Asia, whatever Pantopia is supposed to be, and animals from the Americas and Australia.
 
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D Hulk

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
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The Edge of Africa trail concluded in a Serengeti area. Here were more animal trails, plus a park-spanning locomotive ride offering better views of the multi-acre savannah stretch. I'd be revisiting this stretch later on. For now, though, the allure of roller coasters was too strong.

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So I continued on down nearly vacant walkways, entranced by the simple bucolic landscapes around me.

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The occasional animal pen drew my eye. As @PerGron says, the enclosures are pretty standard, nothing artful on par with DAK. I mostly liked how easy they were to find. I'm not surprised by @PerGron 's distaste for how BGT mixes rides & animals. Of course, in the moment, and speaking as a coaster guy who doesn't know any better, I had a pleasant guest experience.

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Eventually I reached Pantopia, which seems to be a hub for more traditional amusement attractions. The old Timbuktu theming had been redone long ago in a more garishly colorful style. As @Suchomimus says, thematically it's not all that apparent what is going on here. To be honest, I'm OK with that. It's clear that Busch doesn't have the means to do a believable Africa like DAK, so this more stylized route sets them apart. It's like the limited animation of Hannah Barbera which was created in contrast to Disney's lush house style. It's a budget-conscious choice, one I happened to find pleasant, however nonsensical it might be.

Many of Pantopia's rides wouldn't open until 11. This is a common thing about SeaWorld & Busch parks, and it irks me. I'd have to wait around to enjoy some of the nearest roller coasters.

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I could, however, do Falcon's Fury right away. Now this was something. I haven't been this genuinely frightened on a theme park ride in a decade or more! :eek: Naturally, I loved it!

Falcon's Fury is a drop tower with attitude...and it's the best one I've done, give or take Tower of Terror which focuses on theming/storytelling.

What makes Falcon's Fury so terrifying? Is it the 325' height? (The tallest freestanding U.S. drop tower.) No, I've done taller. Is it the open air ride gondola? Not quite. It's that drop, which you take facing the ground! The ascent is suspensefully slow, as it should be, with fantastic parkwide views if you choose the proper seat (I did). Then, following a seemingly endless pause at the zenith, your seat rotates forward. With only a chest harness holding you in place, you plunge face-first, faster than gravity, the Earth rushing ever closer! Gondolas decelerate at the last conceivable moment, as seats rotate back to an upright position. I feared strong positive Gs in this finale, but Falcon's Fury redirects the energy comfortably.

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Eleven o'clock started to roll around, and Pantopia came to life. I headed to Scorpion. Signage indicated that there was no station storage for loose articles, that you'd have to use a pay locker...a crummy tactic which I disapprove of. (I hate how inconsistent coaster parks are with their loose article policies sometimes!) To avoid this, I used an old coaster enthusiast trick - I stashed all my items (my Nalgene, wallet, phone, keys, yadda yadda) in the nearest prickly plant, buried deep among the oozing berries. I didn't need to do this. The ride op was a cool bloke; he'd've allowed station storage.

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I rode Scorpion entirely solo, in the rear train. This is a vintage 1980 Anton Schwarzkopf model. It's very much like a scaled-down version of Colossus at Lagoon, which inadvertently became my 200th roller coaster last summer.

I'm starting to become very fond of these old Schwarzkopfs. They're simple, yet they offer pleasant, classic coaster sensations. In this case, you ascend a lift hill, you drop into a standalone vertical loop, then a pair of helices burn off the remaining energy. The loop was comfy & thrilling, and the helices had the same delightfully wonky profiling as Colossus. Overall, very enjoyable.

Afterwards I returned to the prickly bush to retrieve my gear.

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Next I hit up Sand Serpent, a rather basic Wild Mouse coaster from Mack Rides. Wild Mouse coasters are family-friendly, they're compact, so they serve a purpose in a thrill-heavy park, but they're always pretty bland experiences. This wasn't even the best Wild Mouse that I'd ride on this day! Sand Serpent made almost no impression on me. It was a credit.

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Winding elevated wooden causeways directed me deeper into Congo, the remotest stretch of BGT. Backstage views revealed a long-abandoned aerial tramway station, rotting in the Tampa sun. Busch's manmade infrastructure shows the same budget limitations and neglect seen at many regional parks. Their lush landscaping, however, does a whole lot to hide those errors and soften the park's edges. That landscaping made BGT an unexpectedly pleasant place. It helps, too, that I'm lenient on coaster parks and their ambience, knowing not to expect Disney experiences from these places. If they deliver good coasters and nice atmosphere, I'm pleased. BGT did that in spades.

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Kumba dominates the Congo. This 1993 sit down coaster is one of the very earliest creations from the legendary Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M). It is a beautiful ride to behold, lovingly integrated into Congo's rolling landscaping, with plenty of treetop interactions and trench dives.

This is an extremely familiar ride, with a progression of elements which became the B&M formula in the years since. Kumba pioneered this layout. You do a lift hill, a pre-drop, a turnaround drop, a vertical loop, a dive loop, a zero-g roll, a cobra roll, and lastly a pair of intertwining corkscrews before a helix burns off the remaining energy and carries you to unload. With only slight variations, I've ridden dozens of rides just like this.

That makes it harder to feel ecstatic about Kumba, which is by all rights a very good roller coaster. It just isn't terribly unique, certainly not compared to the superficially-similar Hulk Coaster. I preferred Hulk (my username ain't @D Kumba!), though enthusiast opinions often seem split between these two classic B&Ms.​
 

PiratesMansion

Well-Known Member
I'm not sure how long it's been since they've operated their SkyRide, but it is still technically an operating attraction when they bother to run it. They've had a rotating list of excuses for much of the last several years as to why it's often down (I think now it's "refurbishment"). When it's open it's one of the better ones because of the length, usefulness, and animal views from above.

The station you saw in the Congo area is likely the transitional station where the SkyRide changes direction.
 

amjt660

Well-Known Member
As @Suchomimus says, thematically it's not all that apparent what is going on here. To be honest, I'm OK with that. It's clear that Busch doesn't have the means to do a believable Africa like DAK, so this more stylized route sets them apart. It's like the limited animation of Hannah Barbera which was created in contrast to Disney's lush house style. It's a budget-conscious choice, one I happened to find pleasant, however nonsensical it might be.

Loving the report - staying all the way to the end!!

It is interesting that what we feel when we experience something new is almost always impacted by our bias. In this case your expectations cause you to determine if theming or ride is good or not.

The ability to judge something solely on its merits - with no bias based on previous opinions or expectations - is a true skill

(one that I strive to have -but alas I am not there - yet)


I stashed all my items (my Nalgene, wallet, phone, keys, yadda yadda) in the nearest prickly plant, buried deep among the oozing berries.

Did the bush provide any prickly pears for you to enjoy?

hungry the jungle book GIF by Disney



Max
 

D Hulk

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
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My Busch Gardens Tampa adventure continues! With this park, it's just ride after ride after ride, which I like. Busch's rides can range from extremely good, to simple amusement park standards. Plus there are the animals to elevate things. This is a fairly "bread 'n' butter" park, which serves it well.

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Congo River Rapids was one of Busch's less impressive rides. In fact, this was the most underwhelming of the four raft rides I did in Florida. Across the board it had the least theming, the fewest thrills, and the lightest soaking. This is unmistakably a early generation raft ride. Moving on...

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Proceeding from the Congo, I reached a lushly appointed natural oasis. Dunno its name. Rockwork like you see above is not a typical sight in most regional parks. I'd reckon being an hour from Disney forces BGT to bring their A-game. You don't run into landscapes like this in the lesser regional Six Flags or Cedar Fair parks.

Tree Top Trails, an aviary walkthrough I think, was closed for renovation. Instead I explored Tiger Trail, which circumnavigates a tiger enclosure. From the elevated walkways, I could see gorgeous tigers fast asleep like the big, lazy kitty cats they are.

Tiger Trail's centerpiece is a cavern directly beneath the habitat. From there, you ascend a tiny ladder into a plexiglass box within the tigers' lair. I climbed that ladder, I looked around 360 degrees, and I couldn't find a single tiger...until I looked straight up. There, inches from my face, a massive beast snored and drooled right atop the plexiglass, all fluff and muscle. Wow! This wasn't something I could photograph.

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The next area I came to was Stanleyville, which is the primary ride hub for the park's back stretch. Rad-looking roller coasters and more beckoned me!

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But first it was time for an early lunch at Zambia Smokehouse. This seems to be BGT's top-rated eatery, for what little that's worth. The counter service bufferia within was a - if well done - theme park setting. I've seen similar spots at the various SeaWorlds in much higher crowds; they can be a nightmare.

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Looking to eat healthy, I bought a great assortment of barbecued meats & fries (at a discount), plus a Bud Light (when in Rome). This was unspectacular. The seasoning was acceptable, but mostly this was high school cafeteria quality grub. Amusement parks as a general rule usually whiff it on food.

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The patio setting did the heavy lifting to make this a pleasant lunch. Seated right at the edge of a shaded pond, roughly once every minute SheiKra performed a classic, old school roller coaster splashdown. This is truly some of the best theme park kinetics that I've seen anyplace. SheiKra constantly enlivened the whole of Stanleyville, providing crowd-pleasing waves, a cooling lingering mist, and even a wet zone for passersby looking for a little drizzle. (I partook.)

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SheiKra is immaculately incorporated into its land. I'm accustomed to massive B&M coasters being plopped into a wide open grass field (or worse, a parking lot), so it's heartening to see a familiar model given such an artful setting. Coaster track meanders manmade rock canyons, drops dive into faux-ruined temples, coaster cars thread their way through tunnels under the lagoon...This is a really fantastic coaster from off-ride.

Of course, the thing with most roller coasters is that they're the opposite of immersive. I know oh so many Disney fans who cannot get past seeing bare naked steel tracks everywhere, often clashing with carefully crafted theming elements. It helps to think of roller coasters as beautiful, abstract, rideable sculptures. Like with a well-engineered suspension bridge, the best roller coasters are visual manifestations of physical forces, all sweeping, sleek grandeur. I find them to be beautiful.

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Speaking of SheiKra, let's go ride SheiKra!

SheiKra is a B&M dive coaster...the first to open in the United States. Like all dive coasters, SheiKra's claim to fame is its opening 90-degree drop, which in this case sits at an even 200 feet. Following a tension-building lift hill (directly into the sun) and a flat, scenic turnaround at the very tippy-top, a latch system grabs hold of the single-car train. The latch slowly eases the car out over that pure vertical drop, dangling riders facing straight down for an eternal few seconds. Then you plummet!

There's a roller coaster following all this, too, with wide, sweeping inversions and banked turns. A mid-course brake run precedes a second, shorter vertical drop, and the aforementioned splashdown brings you home. Like with all B&M dive coasters, the post-drop course is brief and not especially noteworthy.

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Dive coasters are extremely popular with the general public. For folks willing to ride, those vertical drops are the perfect balance of intimidating yet approachable. Doing one of these feels like a major victory over your fears.

Meanwhile, coaster enthusiasts are largely lukewarm on dive coasters. Beyond the fear factor element - which isn't really a thing once you're well past 200 coasters - the physical forces on dive coasters are all fairly mild. There aren't many massive positive Gs or amazing fly-out-of-your-seat airtime moments.

SheiKra did at least totally nail that initial drop...did that better than its newer, taller cousins such as Valravn, even. This older model features much less restrictive restraints. You really feel a freefall sensation here! The ride/land integration is just as wonderful on-ride as off. SheiKra is definitely middle tier B&M (meaning it's still better than most coasters), but overall I still greatly enjoyed it - loved its drop and its setting.​
 

PiratesMansion

Well-Known Member
The lush setting around the Tiger enclosure is Jungala, which was built in the mid-00's as a replacement for their Arrow Corkscrew coaster, Python. It's probably the last time the park built something significant that was animal rather than ride focused. I remember there were some cool parts of it a few years ago that have sadly been closed off post-covid.

Sheikra has to be the best dive coaster in this country. The setting is wonderful, as are the atmospheric details, and there's even some (dare I say) quirkiness as to how the station is laid out that you don't often see anymore. I also love how well the splashdown element is incorporated into the midway (well, during the day I do...at night during Howl O' Scream with slick pathways, ample scareactors, and no lighting whatsoever? Less so then).

I have almost certainly missed the park's culinary heyday, but I can confirm that the current food offerings at Busch Gardens are a big downgrade from what was there on my first visit three years ago. Post-covid, Zambia Smokehouse is about all that's left, as if some accountant went through the menus and personally demanded that anything interesting or complex be removed. It's a real shame and something that I hope is eventually rectified. For all of the ongoing and justified complaints about dining at Disney parks right now, I had no real complaints with the quality of any of the meals I had on Disney property during my trip. What has happened to the SeaWorld parks (though even three years ago I didn't find anything impressive to eat at SeaWorld Orlando) from a quality perspective has been much worse.
 

D Hulk

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
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Next up came Stanley Falls Flume, which is a super run-of-the-mill old school log flume. There's little more to this than some fiberglass chutes meandering a wilderness area, then a 43' drop. That plunge is shallow and not even up to the thrill level of Splash Mountain. Stanley Falls did at least get me wet, which was perfect for midday.

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The flume ride also offered up pleasant panoramic views throughout.

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By now I'd more than completed a walking circuit around the small Stanleyville loop. Lastly I came across Tigris, which I'd been putting off until a little later after lunch since this one can pull some strong, stomach-churning forces.

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Tigris is a Sky Rocket II model from Premier Rides. This is a newer off-the-shelf coaster designed for very small footprints...it's likely to become this generation's Vekoma Boomerang, only with the exception that Sky Rocket II coasters are enjoyable.

I already knew this ride type from SeaWorld San Diego's Electric Eel - Busch likes buying these in bulk, it seems. The ride is quick and overwhelming. Nearly the entire full circuit course sits vertically above the load station. The single train car first launches forwards up a vertical track. Unable to crest this climb, the train plummets backwards. A backwards launch sends it through the station up another vertical spike, until another drop and another launch at last gives the train enough forward momentum to complete the circuit. The top section features a straightaway track with a heartline roll. Taken super slowly and at great height (150'), this hangtime-heavy inversion is Tigris' standout moment. These are good little rides!

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Leaving Stanleyville for the moment, I made my way to Sesame Street Safari of Fun. Every steel park has one of these sequestered children areas, since all the big rides offer little to nothing for the youngest park guests. Conversely, there's little in these typical kiddie areas to attract any guests without small children. Areas like this are nearly always underwhelming - Busch uses the Sesame Street IP as mere wallpaper, really - and they make me pine for the all-inclusive guest balance at the better Disney parks.

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I was only out here to grab a coaster credit on Air Grover, an entirely pedestrian children's coaster. Short lift hill, a few meandering turns, that's it. The highlight was the view of Iron Gwazi.

I rode solo - there were hardly any guests enjoying Safari of Fun to begin with - getting some really bad stink eye from the ride operator. That's how this often goes. Unaccompanied adults aren't an uncommon sight on these bargain basement coasters - they're there boosting their coaster count. Half of all ride ops grasp the situation, and cheer you on, and the other half - like the guy I got today - think it's the daftest thing they ever did see.

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This was a whole lot of effort, and maybe 20 minutes' worth of time, making the trek out entirely for Air Grover. With that credit under my belt, I did a U-turn and made my way back towards Stanleyville...

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...FOR ANOTHER RIDE ON SHEIKRA!!!
 

D Hulk

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
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Like so many parks throughout the country, Busch Gardens has a locomotive. This one seemed particularly useful as a transportation option to get from Stanleyville back towards the front of the park...You'd be surprised how many park railroads only have a single station. After a brief, relaxing wait in the Stanleyville Train Station, I boarded the Busch Gardens Railroad. (Not sure its real name.)

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The train passes through the massive Serengeti enclosure, offering better animal-viewing opportunities. It's a little like DAK's Kilimanjaro Safaris...but not really. Animals are free to cross the tracks, which can be a little nerve-wracking at times worrying about collisions but can also make for some fantastic up close critter encounters. I was seated on the wrong side, so I mostly saw roller coasters. There's Falcon's Fury looking all tall.

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From the Serengeti station, I returned to Cheetah Hunt Plaza where the day more or less began. My timing was exceptional. In five short minutes, the day's first Cheetah Run would begin!

What is the Cheetah Run? Exactly what it sounds like!

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A cheetah runs! A sling-loaded meat lure (or some such) sends this young cheetah darting back and forth for our amusement and its exercise.

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This was a neat experience. More to my taste than the similar animal shows at SeaWorld (I love kitties). The darting cheetah was the highlight, while team members vamped for time in between by unspooling interesting animal factoids. I feel like Animal Kingdom is missing a few additional low-key features like this to truly utilize their zoological resources.

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Since Cheetah Hunt was nearby, that was my next stop. Time for a dizzyingly fast reride! It was just as much fun as before - to date it's my favorite BGT ride - and oh so very photogenic.

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Only one person is riding this the correct way.

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At this point it seemed like I'd done a pretty good job of mostly accomplishing Busch Gardens' major activities - made so very ludicrously easy by the near total lack of crowds - but there was still one major outstanding blind spot from the morning: Montu. That one will (hopefully) be a pretty interesting story for next time.​
 

PerGron

Well-Known Member
I feel like Animal Kingdom is missing a few additional low-key features like this to truly utilize their zoological resources.
They do stuff like this (not cheetahs, but low key animal stuff) at Rafiki’s Planet Watch.

Also, I used to keep cheetahs at the zoo I worked at and the runs were the best part of the day! I didn’t get to see them at Busch. May have to go back…
 

D Hulk

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
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Okay, back to Egypt - pausing to admire the nicely textured colonial restaurant seen above - to see about grabbing some rides I missed this morning. Cobra's Curse was still shuttered, as predicted. Montu, however, that was up and operating, with riders' legs visible hanging out from the swooping, twisting trains!

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I was excited about this one. Not only is it considered one of Florida's best coasters, but there'd been a noticeable lack of inverted coasters thus far on the trip. (Not enough wooden coasters or RMCs either.) This is one of those "five basic food groups" roller coaster flavors. You don't truly miss it until it's gone.

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Although lines were as nonexistent as they'd been throughout the day, I opted to wait a few loading cycles specifically for a front row seat. On inverts, that's important. You cannot see where you're going from the back rows. The forces can be so strong and aggressive and whippy, pounding your noggin like a pinball between the dreaded over-the-shoulder restraints, unless you know how to brace yourself. Riding in front, you can do that.

This greediness was a mistake.

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I didn't ride Montu. :cry:

Now...I boarded Montu! I was seated, I was buckled in, I was all ready and set to go...

That's when I smelled the leaking brake fluids.

The ride operators, to their immense credit, they smelled it too. They evacuated us from the train and sent us back behind the queue gates. One comment a ride op made as we were exiting? "You were almost the stars of Final Destination 3." For any Disney fans unfamiliar with that decades old splatter sequel, this is a reference to bloody, violent, prolonged roller coaster death. Just what I wanna hear! :hilarious:

But I was undeterred. Since the ride ops gave out a nebulous "running again shortly" timeframe, I opted to remain in the queue and hopefully wait this out while they fixed the problem. I had no more pressing matters, this was the only available credit remaining. So I waited. And waited. Every 5 to 10 minutes or so, another batch of repairmen appeared on the load platform, each set clad in increasingly greasy overalls. By the time a trio of Stooge-like fellows arrived dressed like coal shovelers from the Titanic, I figured that Montu wouldn't be revived anytime soon. Sadly, I bailed.

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One of the world's deadliest animals, and also a hippopotamus.

Looking to eat up some time and give Montu a chance to reopen, I returned to that Edge of Africa animal trail. It's nice to have these animal exhibits as fallbacks; coaster-heavy parks like Six Flags Magic Mountain have ONLY the coasters, so by comparison Busch Gardens has a good attraction balance.

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There were enough side paths along Edge of Africa that my second trek wasn't repetitive. Saw all these new aquatic exhibits. My one day at Animal Kingdom didn't yield up close encounters with nearly this sort of regularity.

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Afterwards, wishing to still linger within eye or earshot of Montu, I returned to Cheetah Hunt. Such a fun, picturesque ride. It's hard to say no when it looks so inviting!

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I rode Cheetah Hunt for a third and final delightful time, keeping a weather eye on Montu's tracks on the horizon watching for train testing or something.

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And yet Montu remained lifeless. Weep! Weep! What to do? What to do?

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I decided to take the Busch Gardens Railroad back towards Stanleyville. The train was just about to disembark when I arrived, rushing at a brisk march pace. I barely managed to grab a seat, so while once again I didn't snag a good animal-viewing berth, at least I didn't have to wait. This second train route offered even better savannah views - not that I effectively photographed them - and a generous relaxing ride time. My hope was that, by returning on foot from Stanleyville, and really luxuriating along the way, maybe, just maybe Montu could be revived.​
 

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