Saturday morning arrived, and we arrived at the front gate of Busch Gardens Africa shortly before the park's opening. No matter how many times we go to theme parks in Florida, I'm always amazed at how few people actually arrive to the park when it opens. The first rule of enjoying your day at a busy theme park is to ARRIVE EARLY, but so few theme park guests actually follow this rule. We entered the park at 9:00 AM, and quickly walked over to Montu. This B&M inverted masterpiece never fails to excite me, and this trip was no exception. We were able to score four rides on the coaster before we decided to move on around the park. We hopped the Sky Ride to expedite our trip over to our next coaster, Kumba.
Kumba has received a new paint job since our last trip to the park in 2005, and it still packs a punch. Kumba is quite possibly the most intense B&M coaster created, and two spins through its seven inversions was enough, especially since there was still no wait, and the back-to-back rides came in quick succession. After riding Kumba, we walked past the Jungala construction area. Jungala is scheduled to open next spring, and construction is moving on quickly as evidenced by the amount of work taking place on a Saturday. The construction does make it difficult to get around the back section of the park, but once completed, the new area should provide improved animal exhibits and attractions, along with rides and other new improvements.
We quickly made our way over to SheiKra. We rode SheiKra in 2005, and I have taken a number of rides on Griffon throughout this past season at Busch Gardens Europe. This was my first true comparison of the two coaster, and I had Griffon fresh in my head from riding it just a couple of weeks ago. SheiKra's new floorless trains are still only eight seats across as opposed to Griffon's 10-across arrangement. Also, SheiKra's duel loading platform does not allow for a fully floorless train in the front row, leaving a large blue piece of steel that obscures the view of riders sitting in the two middle seats of the front row. However, where it counts most, SheiKra excels. SheiKra's imelman is superior to both of the imelmans on Griffon with it's incredible zero-g flip-over, and the positive g's on the turn leading up to the mid-course brakes are better than the positive-g section leading up to the mid-course brakes on Griffon. Additionally, SheiKra's second drop through the tower is far better than Griffon's second drop towards the Loch Ness Monster. Overall, I would give a slight edge in a comparison of the two coasters to the floorless version of SheiKra. We did get a chance to ride three times in about 45 minutes, and rode in all three rows before moving on around the park.
We soon made our way to the Hospitality House, where, as it is customary, we partook of the first of our two complimentary samples of Busch products, and made a reservation for the BrewMaster's Club. Our scheduled return time was less than an hour away, so we decided to take Gwazi for a spin. We rode Tiger first, and quickly understood why the lines was shorter on that side as compared to Lion. The Tiger side of Gwazi is in desperate need of retracking. We are a little spoiled, having riden on some of the smoothest wooden coasters on the planet (Lightning Racer, El Toro, and Phoenix), so while some people enjoy the rough and tumble ride on their wooden coaster, we tend to prefer to not have to visit a chiropractor after a ride. Lion proved to be quite a bit smoother, and perhaps that stacks of lumber near the station is an indication that a retracking is in the works for Tiger to match Lion's significantly smoother ride.
It was now time for our BrewMaster's Club. We have experienced this at both locations at Busch Gardens Europe, and figured it would be pretty much the same here in Tampa. However, there a some pretty significant differences. First, there are no chairs in Tampa's BrewMaster's Club, and the menu is not nearly as diverse. The other major difference is that guests are not given plates of food to pair with their beer selections as it is done in Williamsburg. Instead, guests are give a food item to pair with the selection (order Bare-Knuckle Stout and get a piece of chocolate, order Budweiser and get a piece of smoked Gouda cheese, etc...). I prefer to have some freedom and flexibility to pair food and beer, not being told what to eat with what drink. However, our presenter was very friendly and entertaining with a couple of demonstrations and tidbits that were new to the experience.
After our free beer, we walked over to Rhino Rally. Lots of people give this attraction negative reviews, but I have always enjoyed this attraction. Much like Jungle Cruise or Jaws, the quality of your experience can be very dependant upon the performance of your guide. Our driver was very good, and we had a great time even though the rhinos were not in a great location to be viewed during the ride. This is a bit of a slow loader as well, so some people may be discouraged by the wait time for Rhino Rally, but compared to the similar Kilimanjaro Safaris at Animal Kingdom, Rhino Rally is almost as good for viewing animals, and far more thrilling and exciting.
It was now time for me to get a little nostalgic and take a spin on my first looping roller coaster, Scorpion. It's nowhere near the top of my favorite coaster list, but it's a great little coaster, definitely the perfect place to start for the little coaster nerds who can't meet the height requirements of the big coasters. We also took a spin on Cheetah Chase, which is a great way to squish your wife or special loved one. The day was a little more than half over, and we had ridden every coaster in the park, so we decided to take in a show. We had seen Katonga in 2005, and I really liked it, so we gave it another go. This is still a great theme park show, but I felt that the cast we saw two years ago was a bit better than we saw this time around. This show brings all the fun of a theme park show with the sets, quality, and music of a real musical theater performance, and is well worth the time.
We next walked through all of the wonderful animal exhibits. This is the reason why I think Busch Gardens Africa is one of the best theme parks on the planet. The park has world class thrill rides, incredibly themed lands and performances, and animal exhibits that are as good, if not better than most zoos in the country. The exhibits display all kinds of African animals including: gorillas, chimpanzees, lions, hyenas, giraffes, hippos, elephants, and a diverse collection of birds. I could probably spend hours watching all of these beautiful animals, but there's most coaster-ridin' to do.
We finished the day with a couple of more spins on Montu and SheiKra to complete a nearly perfect day. The park did get a little crowded during the middle of the day, but since we obeyed the most important rule of theme parks, we had already ridden all of the big rides before the crowds lengthened most lines over 20 minutes (still not bad considering how long lines can get in the summertime), and toured the walking exhibits and less popular rides and attractions during the busy part of the day.
I enjoyed this very much. I can almost taste the Bud and Gouda…
Anyway, glad you had a great time!
Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
Disney's Animal Kingdom
Disney's Hollywood Studios
Disney California Adventure
Universal's Islands of Adventure
Universal Studios Florida
Universal Studios Hollywood