Thursday, November 02, 2006

10/30 Busch Gardens Africa

First, a quick apology for my lack of posting the past couple days. The La Quinta Inn and Suites in Sunrise, FL has Wi-Fi access, that happened to be inaccessible. Now I am home, where the rain is falling, the wind is blowing, and the Internet is flowing.
To the post:

As you all have probably figured out by now, I have a passion for the game of hockey. However Monday, I got to enjoy another of my childhood loves, roller coasters. Lucky for me, I was able to satiate the second while on break from the first at a wildlife park turned wild ride park, Busch Gardens Africa. BGA (formerly Busch Gardens Tampa Bay), is a mile from USF (The University of South Florida) in Tampa, FL. Squeezed in amongst all the trees (visible from any of the lift hills in the park) is a park with several rides, more animal exhibits, and more trees.

BGA, owned and operated by Anheuser-Busch, is a Disneyland-style theme park, with specific rides, shows, music, food, and buildings for different "lands" spread throughout the park. In this case, each "land" is a different part of Africa (Congo, Egypt, Stanleyville, Timbuktu). Each area is spread out, requiring a bit of a hike from one area to the next (an "expedition" in "Africa", go figure).

Home to much wildlife, BGA boasts several animal-based attractions. There are meet 'n' greets with most of the animals, however, the traditionally off-limits animals (lions, zebras, alligators, penguins, etc.) are in fact off-limits, visible only behind trenches, walls, fences, and cages. In one unique case, however, viewing animals is integrated into a ride. Called Rhino Rally, this ride is a wild safari adventure through Zambia and a too-close encounter with the mighty Zambezi River. Apparently the line for Rhino Rally periodically gets really long, but, if the line stays reasonable, check this ride out, as it is informative, fun, and unique.

Being a big coaster lover (proud member of ACE [American Coaster Enthusiasts]), I'm familiar with all the big names in coasters. Getting to finally visit this park, home to coasters that I've dreamed of riding for so long (Kumba and Montu), is similar to seeing Gretzky, Howe, or Richard play live. Hearing those coaster names may not have the same effect on you, but I'm sure you can relate somehow.

NOTE FOR NON-COASTER FANS: These next few paragraphs contain coaster speak, I'll try my best to simplify in parentheses.

Montu, my first ride of the day, is a B & M (Bolliger and Mabillard) inverted coaster (a coaster where the cars hang down from the track, leaving nothing below the riders' feet) located in the Egypt section of the park. One of the larger inverted coasters out there, Montu packs a punch the whole way through. After a lift brings the train 150 feet into the air, the trains then curves down and around into a 104 foot vertical loop, then into a series of other inversions, including a corkscrew, another loop, a barrel roll, an Immelman (a half-vertical loop into a barrel roll) and a bat wing (a half-corkscrew into a mini-half loop, then the same sequence reversed). The ride, (known for once having an alligator pit at the base of the lift hill [gators are gone now]) is definitely worth riding.

In another corner of the park is the original marquee ride of BGA, Kumba. Another B & M, Kumba is a four-across sit down ride. Placed in the Congo section of the park, Kumba, which means roar in the Congo language, does just that, roaring through 7 inversions and multiple twists and turns in the heart of the jungle. Tearing a path in and out of trees, trenches, and even over a bridge, this beast is easily one of the smoothest coasters I've ever ridden (out of 100+). Again, another must ride.

After a couple rides on each of those, (there were very few people at the park on this school-day Monday; just me, and a few thousand of my closest British tourist friends), it was time to head to the newest of the bunch, Sheikra. Named for an African hawk, a shikra is a bird that is known to dive for its prey. Of the "dive machine" variety, this ride lives up to its namesake. After a ride up a 45-degree lift hill, the cars slowly follow the track, circling high above before, at just the right moment, diving straight down, 90-degrees, down a 200-foot drop. After the drop, the cars immediately curve up into an Immelman, and around to the mid brakes. After slowing a bit, the cars then go down another, albeit much smaller 90-degree drop, this time into a tunnel, coming out on the other side of a man-made body of water, and swooping up and around into the water. Keeping with the theme, the cars are cleverly outfitted with steel "talons" attached to the bottom of the cars. When the cars splash down, the "talons" dig into the water, drenching passers-by with a 10-foot wave.

Those are the "big 3" as it were, but BGA offers a few smaller, but still enjoyable, coasters:
Gwazi, a wooden racer that pits Lion against Tiger in this roaring twisted mess of wood;
Scorpion, a little Anton Schwartzkopf design with a loop and a helix,
Python, (which actually closed on October 31st, the day after I rode it), an Arrow double-corkscrew;
and Cheetah Chase, a blue and orange Wild Mouse coaster.

Other notable non-coasters:
Rhino Rally (discussed earlier);
Pirates 4D, a 3-D movie with Leslie Nielsen as the evil Captain Lucky who likes to play tricks on his crew, and has tricks played on him, (and the audience gets stuck in the middle, and has tricks played on them, = 4th dimension).

The food at BGA is nothing out of the ordinary. Hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries, and an endless supply of beer (it is owned by Anheuser-Busch) are available throughout the park. There are a couple sit-in places, all with air-conditioning. If you have extra time, I would greatly suggest visiting one of these.

On the whole, BGA is a class park worth attending. The weather in Florida may scare some away, but it's bearable because of all the water-based rides.

The Sharks wrapped up their 5 game road trip on Tuesday evening at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, a suburb of Ft. Lauderdale. That post is coming now.

Go Sharks (and go ride a roller coaster)


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