We went to the park on Friday, May 31. Our original plan was actually to go today (Tuesday, June 4) but we discovered ahead of time that Montu would be closed this entire week. Re-scheduling for Friday made me nervous, as I prefer to visit theme parks in the middle of the week, but thankfully it ended up being the right decision.
We got there about an hour after park opening, and were delighted to find the park practically empty. It has been years since I visited BGT, and I forgot what a beautiful park it is. There is plenty of shade to combat the Florida sun, and the landscaping manages to hide coasters and other attractions until you're right in front of them. It makes navigating the park a little more difficult, but it gives one the feeling of walking through a lush forest in the middle of downtown Tampa.
I am a coaster lover, but had never ridden a Dive Machine before, and was nervous about SheiKra. My SO suggested that we go on it right away, but I thought I should ride a few other coasters first. We made a beeline for the back of the park, where Kumba sported a five minute wait.
We rode Kumba twice, from the front and back row. I know many people consider Kumba to be outdated or "vanilla" but I still think it is such a lovely coaster. Each element flows into the next so smoothly. If you enjoy similar B&M loopers, I see no reason not to love Kumba, especially considering its influence over later B&M coasters. Personally, I find this one more enjoyable from the front, where I can see the track and anticipate the layout.
I agreed that I would ride SheiKra once we had ridden Cheetah Hunt, so we shuffled through Timbuktu and queued up. The wait time was listed as 50 minutes, but we waited no more than 25. (Cheetah Hunt, in fact, was the only ride that we had to "wait" at all for - we were very lucky.) I found it to be a very nice coaster. The first launch took us by surprise in mid-conversation, which gave us a laugh, and even in the fourth row there were a few good pops of airtime. It looks more intense than it is, but it's still fun. I figured it would be a great ride from the back row and decided to ride again later, but unfortunately never got the chance as the wait got longer throughout the day and the park closes quite early.
The time had come for me to face SheiKra. We rode the skyline to Stanleyville and got some great views of the animals. Then we found ourselves in the startlingly short queue for SheiKra.
I was extremely nervous and tried to arrange so that I wouldn't be on the edge of the car. The couple in front of us did the same thing and left two empty seats on the far left of the car. An irritable ride operator asked us if we would move over to the edge of the car instead, but I was already buckled in and refused to move. I gave her a tearful "sorry" as she checked my restraint, but she rolled her eyes at me. I suppose it must be tiresome to deal with people that are picky about their seating, but I hope operators on this ride are understanding of the fact that first-time riders are going to be scared.
My best advice for first-time riders on SheiKra is to not think about it for as long as possible. As we went up the lift, I settled back into my seat and pretended to go to sleep. Once I felt the train level out, I opened my eyes and looked around at the incredible view of Tampa. I remember saying, "It's beautiful," as we approached the brake hold over the first drop. People began gasping in fear and delight as the front of the train faced downward, I took a deep breath.. and then, to my complete surprise, my SO got my attention and asked if I would marry him! I have never felt so many emotions at once! I said, "Whaa?" and he urged, "Will you?" I barely had time to say "Yes" before we plummeted.
To be very honest, I don't remember much else of riding it the first time. I know that I was crying and gasping for air, because I actually felt a bit of chest pain as we scooped over the water and came to a stop. My new fiance revealed the ring, which he had looped through his shoelace so he could show it to me on the coaster without any chance of it being dropped, and I cried and cried some more. I think a few people on the train were applauding, but it was all very fuzzy. We purchased the on-ride photo, which shows me looking very surprised and him with his arms above his head grinning. I will keep it forever. :)
We were both absolutely blissed out, and I was still in shock, so we strolled around a bit, had a cold drink, and watched a demonstration at the elephant display.
By this time, it was mid-afternoon on a sweltering Florida day, and we had wandered back to the Congo area. We decided to ride the Congo River Rapids, which was nice because we got soaked, but also left me with a nasty bruise on my left hip where I was tossed into the hard corner of my seat.
We also decided to ride Kumba one more time, since there was still no wait for it. Or so we thought. Although there were barely any people in the queue, we waited for nearly forty minutes to board the train because the Travel Channel was filming the ride. I'm not sure exactly what they were doing, but the ride operators sent numerous empty trains through during this time, and there were two or three delays where no trains were boarding or riding for ten minutes at a time. When they did board our train, they did a lot of animated talking about the "ROAR of Kumba" that they hadn't done earlier that day - obviously for the camera crew that was surrounding the station. It was a bit annoying, but also a bit humorous, and nothing could have bothered me much at that point. We finally rode again in the front row, and said a fond farewell to Kumba.
At some point, it occurred to us that we'd been all over the map the entire day rather than following any kind of logical pattern around the park's layout, but that was alright. We only had two hours left, so we decided to head across the park to Montu, ride Cheetah Hunt again, and then return to SheiKra for one last ride and to retrieve our things from the locker there.
Montu remains one of my favorite coasters. After all, we re-scheduled our trip to make sure it wouldn't be closed when we were there. I don't think it feels as "natural" as Kumba, with one element flowing organically into the next, but it certainly is thrilling. The near-misses with the terrain are excellent. We rode it twice from the front and back, as once again there was absolutely no wait time.
Exhausted by now, we trekked back to Cheetah Hunt to ride from the back row, but found that the queue was much longer than before. We decided to do our second ride on SheiKra, instead, and ambled our way back to Stanleyville. I really do love Busch Gardens, but even with a map, I find the layout difficult to maneuver. We ended up walking in a big circle and finding ourselves unintentionally back in Timbuktu more than once during the day, which stole some of our time. But, again, not much could have bothered me that day.
We boarded SheiKra again, still in the second row, but I allowed myself to revel in the experience this time. Exhilarating! Everyone told me I would love it, and indeed they were right, but it is just one of those things where you don't believe anyone until you're there for yourself. But allow me to say to anyone that loves coasters, but gets shaky thinking of B&M Dive Machines: Like anything else, it looks very scary, but you forget the fear once you're on it. I'm an extremely nervous person. Take my word for it!
After riding SheiKra again, we gathered our things from the locker and checked by Cheetah Hunt one last time. It was within a half hour of the park closing by now, but the wait time listed for Cheetah Hunt was 70 minutes, and they were still letting people in line. We peeked in just to see if the wait time was inflated to scare people off, but the queue was packed, so we decided to catch the back row next time.
I was extremely nervous about riding SheiKra for the first time. But along with loving the ride for what it is, SheiKra now has a very special place in my heart, and I think I'll be returning to it plenty of times in the future. Living in Orlando, I had forgotten about the little gem just an hour and a half away on Florida's west coast. I may be especially biased right now, but it seems to me that Busch Gardens Tampa might actually be my favorite park in Florida. I look forward to re-visiting, hopefully quite soon.
I guess congratulations are in order for the engagement.
I agree BGT is a fantastic Park. Montu is my all-time Favorite coaster.