Park of the Week: SeaWorld San Diego

Sheikra @ Busch Gardens Tampa

Will the new addition to Busch Gardens' coaster family play nice? Joe Lane reviews North America's first Diving Machine.

Written by Joe Lane
Published: May 23, 2005 at 1:54 PM

Sheikra @ Busch Gardens Tampa
Monday, May 23, 2005

How long would you wait to ride a brand new roller coaster? An hour? Two hours? What if the ride was short? Very short. Less-than-two-minutes short.

Admit it: how critical of Busch Gardens Tampa were you when they announced, back in October of 2004, that the park would be introducing a new coaster: a Bolliger & Mabillard Diving Machine?

Prior to the announcement, there were only two B&M Diving Machines in operation: Oblivion at Alton Towers in England (which opened March 1998) and the G5 in Taiwan (which opened March 2000). Both coasters featured drops that neared 90 degrees, at heights of about 180 feet and speeds of roughly 68 miles per hour.

Naturally, Busch Gardens wanted to top that. Sheikra would stand at a Florida record coaster height of 200 feet, reach speeds in excess of 70 miles per hour, and boast a maximum vertical angle of 90 degrees.

But BGT wanted to really one-up the competition. So they added a second drop, 138 feet tall at 81 degrees, plummeting underground before taking a banked turn into a splashdown area in a nod to the water theme of Stanleyville.

The advertising campaign says it all: 200 feet up. 90 degrees straight down.

Guests arriving at BGT on the morning of Saturday, May 21st received a yellow piece of paper along with their parking pass. The paper cautioned guests about unusually long wait times.

"Waiting times for Sheikra today may exceed what is customary for our park as many of our guests will wish to experience this new attraction. As with any new theme park attraction, Sheikra may experience temporary suspensions of operation for short periods of time."

By 10:00 in the morning, the lines for Sheikra tripled back on itself near the entrance and snaked along the construction walls, behind the newly opened Zambia Smokehouse and back up to Lory Landing, just before The Land of the Dragons. BGT officials announced projected wait times of up to four hours. Hardcore coaster fans would stand in line to find the wait to be no more than two hours.

Long lines behind the Zambia Smokehouse
The line for Sheikra stretched behind the new Zambia Smokehouse.
This photo shows the doubleback pathway that now connects Stanleyville to
The Land of the Dragons.

Sheikra's coaster trains are a different design than your standard coaster. Each train has only three rows, but span eight seats across, carrying 24 passengers per train. There are five trains on the coaster and two can be loaded at once. This design increases guest capacity, reportedly accommodating approximately 1,500 guests an hour, barring technical difficulties.

The top of the lift hill grants guests a spectacular view of landmarks including downtown Tampa and the USF campus before rolling right over the edge and pausing. The train holds for a few nerve-testing seconds before being released down the vertical drop, zooming along the ground and back up into an Immelman inversion.

200 Feet Up / 90 Degrees Straight Down
Don't be fooled by the angle of the photo,
that coaster's dropping 200 feet straight down.

Coasting over the break hill, the train barely pauses for the second drop, which takes guests through part of the African jungle ruins, under the splashdown area and over the Zambia Smokehouse.

The underside of the last row of each coaster is outfitted with special pipes. These pipes launch the water in the splashdown up into the air and onto the heads of guests waiting near Sheikra and what may be the future area of the Stanleyville train station. Although guests on the ground may get drenched, riders will walk off nearly completely dry.

Splash Zone
Check out the roostertails on that coaster!

While Sheikra may be opened, there's still a lot to be done construction wise around the coaster. Temporary plywood walls have been nailed up. Two-by-fours serve as makeshift railings, in some cases. The paint jobs on some of the jungle ruins are not yet complete. Landscaping is far from finished, especially evident from the load/unload area. But these cosmetic shortcomings are forgiving, as Busch is taking great care to see the project through to the end. It's not often a sight you would see at Universal or Disney.

There's an on-ride photo op immediately after the first drop. The film systems were still being set up this past Saturday.

The ultimate question, however, is whether the ride is worth the wait. Reviews are mixed. Sheikra is a ride that demands more than one trip, but with wait times as long as they are now, it might not be worth your time. Thrill-seekers are sure to get their fix, however. Half of the excitement is riding the lift hill up to the top.

Maybe, in this instance, sometimes the wait makes it all worthwhile.

Readers' Opinions

From Derek Potter on May 23, 2005 at 6:24 PM
I would deem this ride as one of the most anticipated coasters of the year...even more so than Kingda Ka. KK has been done before in the US, but this one hasn't, at least not stateside. Add Busch Gardens landscaping/theming treatment to the fact that it's a first of it's kind in the US, and you have a prescription for some long lines. Fortunately for BGT, they have plenty of other high capacity machines that can keep lines to a sort-of bearable length.
From Jason Moore on May 24, 2005 at 9:48 AM
I haven't yet had a time to venture up and take a ride myself, but I'm hoping to some time next week. The few people I know personally who have gone up, weren't very impressed, but they aren't exactly people who's opinions I put much faith in.

I did get a thing in the mail yesterday stating that the first hour the park is open the ride would be for passholders only. i think it said it was only for certain dates in June. can't remember at the moment the specific details.

From Robert OGrosky on May 24, 2005 at 11:27 AM
Im lookig forward to this ride alot, but sadly wont experience in till Dec. 2006.
Of course by then all of the problems/theming should be worked out/done and should have little problems with lines if the park was anything like my midweek Dec. visit last year.
Nice report on the ride!!
From Jason Lester on May 24, 2005 at 5:37 PM
I'm visiting during the summer. Lines should be hell.
From JIM MORRISON on June 3, 2005 at 8:58 PM
From John H on June 4, 2005 at 10:03 AM
Just got back from Florida and rode Sheikra several times. A bit unfinished around the site and the ride does not seem to envoke the terror of Oblivion. (far superior theming and better hang) The front row (rows 1 and 4 of the 2 car loading system) are great. Rows 2 and 3 of the cars well i'm 6 3 and I could get no real sense of the drop from these seats. These coasters are all about the 90 degree drop and to not be able to appreciate it fully is disappointing to say the least. So theres £4,500 and months of anticipation and excitement down the tube. Well worth the queue if you are there but not worth a special trip. PS Arrive at the park when it is opening my wife, niece and I rode 3 consecutive times in under 45 minutes and that involved being sent hundreds of yards down an unnecessary section of roped queuing area.
From Sherly C. on August 10, 2005 at 2:51 PM
THANKYOU SO MUCH JIM!!!!! I feel so much better. Me and my friend Liz are obsessing over our 'baby' ...we don't get to go to busch gardens till around march with our school and we don't even know if we ARE going to go with our school because they are thinking about going to IOA...Liz had a nightmare that we were on it and it was nothing at all!! I am glad for such an enthusiastic response from someone who got to ride it.....THANKYOU!
From Ashleigh :) on December 27, 2005 at 6:58 AM
It seems alot of American theme parks are taking away alot of British original ideas.. This has been done before many times.
I think Sheikra may have gone too far this time. I went to Bush two months after it opened. Queing was 5 minutes. People are too scared!!

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