Last Saturday (9th) myself and 9 other coaster enthusiasts attended the Busch Gardens roller coaster insider tour, the highlight of which was a walk around the top of SheiKra. We couldn’t have picked a more perfect day, clear blue skies and lows 60’s greeted us when we reached the summit. 5 went to the top and the other 5 stayed in and around the maintenance area. We were all harnessed to the railings, so safety came first. Fortunately we didn’t have to walk to the top, and later I was told it’s not an easy hike to the top of the 296 steps, so I was happy for the ride in the evac. car. The views were spectacular and we were right over Tigris, and it’s looking really good. As bright an orange as you will ever see …. :) Still scheduled for a Spring opening but as we learnt with SeaWorld and Infinity Falls, you just can’t trust projected opening times these days. Gwazi was half gone, and all the ground around it had been cleared and work was well underway to get it transformed into a RMC beast. We spent 15-20 mins at the top with plenty of time to admire the view and take photos.
We swapped groups and had our tour of the maintenance area. One train was being worked on, but interestingly it was not on track. They have motorised wheels that push the train away from the loading area and into the work bay. Downstairs another train had been completely dismantled and laid bare. This was the last one to be refurbished as part of their annual tear down and rebuild schedule. The crew get in at 4am every morning and check all the trains to be used on that day. 3 were already back on the track when we arrived at 7:45. They’d been thoroughly inspected and test ran that morning all ready for the first riders at 10am. Spare parts were everywhere, especially the wheels. It was interesting to hear they retread the wheels themselves, and they usually last between a month and 2 months. Some get damaged by people dropping phones and keys, but any nick or tear in the plastic is noted on the daily inspection and replaced straight away. Looking underneath at the ratchet mechanism, and fail safe devices for the harnesses and other components, was all very interesting for a mechanical guy like myself. Soon the 2nd group had descended from the top and we were off and making our way to the Cheetah Hunt area.
As you would expect the maintenance area was a very similar set-up to that of SheiKra, but with one major difference …. the train was on a track and not held up off the ground with steel beams. Cheetah Hunt is an electrically driven coaster, and huge start up batteries were everywhere. The power house was a 45lb portable !?!? one, which they all agreed was a real pain to haul around. As with the crew at SheiKra, these guys look upon all the individual trains as their own and give them plenty of TLC. Good news for us riders. Another difference with Cheetah Hunt is the restraints are pneumatically locked in place, unlike the mechanical ratcheting system on SheiKra. From the maintenance bay we were supposed to go down to the launch area, but it came as no surprise to hear the ride wasn’t operational and the electricians were down there trying to fix it. I later learnt that Cheetah Hunt did not run all day on Saturday. From what they were telling us when we were inside the control room, I was not surprised to hear it never did start. There were 10 blocks of sensors around the track and every one was down, and each one had to manually reset.
Our final stop was at Cobra’s Curse, where once again we ended up in the control room. This was a little different though, as the whole process is automatic, so the operator is basically just a watcher. It was interesting to see the layout of the track on the screen and the way it monitors where the trains are. For a coaster enthusiast like me it was all worth the 6am start from Orlando, to get to the park for 7:30. Finally we jumped all queues and rode Cobra’s Curse. A great end to a great 2 hours, well worth the $65.
There is one more tour left this time around, and the hope is they will do it again in the Fall. If they do, by all accounts Tigris will be included on the tour. Although, it hasn’t been confirmed, as some days there had been only 2 or 3 people, so I’ll have to keep an eye on the passholder page later in the year to see if it starts up again. I hope it does, as I would definitely do it again, especially if Tigris is included.
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