However, Falcon’s Fury literally and figuratively overshadows everything else in Pantopia, and towers over the north Tampa landscape. The ride has a capacity of 32 riders per cycle that load in groups of four. My visit to the park a couple of weeks ago was a relatively uncrowded day where the new ride was virtually walk-on, but even on a busy day with efficient ride operations, I could expect waits to rarely swell above 30 minutes to experience the one-of-a-kind drop.
As guests load, they quickly notice that Falcon’s Fury is not a standard Intamin drop tower. The first difference will be the bulked-up over-the-shoulder restraints that feature increased support across riders’ waists, which are very similar to restraints found on B&M flying roller coasters like Manta and Tatsu. The other major difference is large pistons mounted above each 4-seat carriage that control the tilting of seats.
Another subtle difference that I thought was very interesting was that the safety belts, which help ride operators verify that restraints are fitted properly, actually have locking latches that prohibit riders from unlatching them during the ride. Guests seated on the outside of each four-seat carriage may find those seats a bit more uncomfortable since wing-shaped theming elements extend partially in front of those seating areas. I found the overall experience much more exciting and enjoyable from the middle two seats of each carriage.
Once seated and locked in, the seats are slowly lifted to the top of the tower. As with most drop towers, the ascent is very slow at first, but speeds up as riders rise about 1/3 of the way up the tower and through the most powerful magnetic brake fins. As the ascent accelerates and then slows near the pinnacle, the anticipation becomes palpable as distant landmarks become visible: downtown Tampa, Raymond James Stadium, USF’s campus, and Tampa Bay. Then Falcon’s Fury reveals what separates it from every other drop tower in the world. As the carriages reach the top of the tower, the seats tilt forward so that riders face directly toward the ground. As with most drop towers, that time lingering at the top seems to take an eternity, but facing straight down adds an element of perceived danger that will have the acrophobic screaming in terror. After a few seconds of perilous temptation, the carriages are released and begin the freefall back to Earth. The initial drop is either pure ecstasy or agony, depending upon how you feel about being dropped from 330 feet. However, the freefall is prematurely halted, compared to most Intamin drop towers. With about 2 seconds of true freefall, riders accelerate to about 60 MPH, while the face down plunge accentuates the speed and thrill. As the drop reaches the halfway point, the magnetic brakes really start to kick in, and the pistons tilt the rides back with a loud whoosh that can be heard around the park into a normal seated position for a controlled decent back to the ground.
It’s unfortunate that Busch Gardens has had such bad luck with drop towers. Busch Gardens Williamsburg was delayed in the opening of Mach Tower, a Moser installation, and continues to deal with frequent maintenance issues and down time. Then Busch Gardens Tampa chose to go with the industry leader in drop tower design, Intamin, and were once again burned with delays that saw the heavily publicized ride standing dormant through the busy summer season. However, unlike Mach Tower, which did not offer an experience substantially different or better than Drop Tower at nearby Kings Dominion, Falcon’s Fury was worth the wait. It offers a very different experience than a standard drop tower, and surprisingly does not give riders that stomach-in-your-throat feeling that you might experience on other larger drop towers. That sensation is replaced with a skydiving-like sensation and a real fear that something might go wrong because of the prone position riders are placed in prior to the plunge. I was truly impressed by the sensations of the drop, and the face down pause at the top did frighten me a bit, more so than any other theme park attraction I’ve ever ridden. However, no ride is perfect, and the premature slowdown was a bit disappointing as well as the thematic wing-elements that partially restrict riders on the outside seats. Also the sound of the pistons firing to flip the seats back into the seats position during the plunge is very disconcerting. My wife described the sound like a car wreck, and I’d have to concur with that assessment.
Falcon’s Fury may have opened a few months late, but it is absolutely worth the wait. It is a drop tower unlike any other on the planet, and will test the mettle of even the most enthusiastic thrill seekers. Hopefully Busch Gardens will not experience any further difficulties with the attraction, and will be able to maintain the efficient loading procedures to keep wait times manageable. With other top notch thrill rides in the park, Falcon’s Fury provides a strong complement to an attraction lineup that is worth at least a day or two visit for guests visiting Central Florida. Thrill enthusiasts in particular should seek out this attraction, because there simply isn’t anything like it, and probably won’t be anything that can match the tower’s uniqueness for some time.Tweet
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