Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Has a Winner With Iron Gwazi

February 17, 2022, 9:26 PM · Never smile at a crocodile? Who says? After a long delay, the highly anticipated Iron Gwazi is the latest RMC (Rocky Mountain Construction) transformation to welcome riders.

Originally scheduled to open in 2020, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay put Iron Gwazi on hold due to the pandemic. For a bit of background, the original Gwazi was a dual-tracked wooden coaster - the only wooden coaster at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay - which became increasingly rough, causing the Tiger side to be closed in 2012 and the Lion side to be SBNO since 2015. RMC was contracted to transfigure Gwazi into a hybrid, using some of the original structure. For the new version, Busch Gardens has chosen a crocodile theme.

Iron Gwazi sign

Standing 206 feet tall and featuring RMC's innovative Ibox track, Iron Gwazi operates with two trains seating 24 riders. It's a sight to behold. The restraints consist of a seat belt and lap bar which extends over the legs, much like the lap bars used on RMC's Outlaw Run and Goliath.

Iron Gwazi lift hill

Iron Gwazi

The ride begins with a left turn out of the loading station and ascent of the 206-foot chain lift hill. The view from the lift hill is spectacular. (As an aside, the fact that the coaster is 206 feet tall and drops 206 feet is somewhat unusual, as the length of the drop on most coasters of equivalent size is less than the length of the lift hill.) Upon reaching the summit, the train plunges 206 feet at a 91% angle. And what a breathtaking drop it is! After a couple of high speed (76 mph) turns and short drops comes what for me is unquestionably the highlight of the ride: the barrel roll drop. This is so good and so much fun that were I not properly restrained I’d be jumping for joy. Throw in an overbanked turn, zero-g stall and some airtime hills and you have yourself quite a ride. The best airtime hills come late in the ride.

Loading station for Iron Gwazi

Iron Gwazi barrel roll

Iron Gwazi is exquisitely smooth and therefore easily re-rideable. (I got in seven rides before deciding to move on.) While it doesn't have the aggressive ejector airtime of, say, Steel Vengeance, I did notice some ejector airtime near the end of the ride. Ejector airtime, however, is not what this ride is about. It's about enjoyment, pacing and thrill elements executed flawlessly. I rode in the front, back and middle of the train but can't decide which I like best. The airtime struck me as somewhat better in the back, but the steepness of the initial drop is much more evident in the front.

From any position, Iron Gwazi is a winner. I would like to thank the people in guest relations at Busch Gardens for making it possible for me to ride this during its previews. Iron Gwazi opens officially to the public on March 11.

Footnote: I recorded the video with a chest-mounted GoPro. Unlike many parks, BGT is cool with guests bringing recording equipment on rides as long as it's hands-free. No special permission is required.

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Replies (16)

February 18, 2022 at 6:31 AM

Let's talk about the elephant in the room - load times. With a seat belt AND lap bar, load times have regularly been 160 to 190 seconds. And keep in mind, that's been during previews - when most of the riders are experienced coaster enthusiasts.

First, the seat belts have to all be fastened and checked. Then, the lap bars are lowered and there is a second check.

Awesome ride, but I can't imagine how insane the wait times are going to be once it officially opens.

February 18, 2022 at 8:14 AM

I rode it 10 times at the pass member passport to thrills event, and I too decided the front was the best. The ‘hang time’ the front has whilst waiting for the back to crest the hill, is what makes it for me. I was unsure just how good Gwazi was to start, but the more I rode it, the more I liked it. Certainly the best coaster in Florida, but Velocicoaster isn’t that far behind.

It should make it into the top 5 of steel coasters at the end of the year, but Fury and Steel Vengeance are still in pole position for being the #1. To make it a #1 contender it needed at least another 500ft of track. It’s like you’re in the OMG mode after everything Gwazi has thrown at you, and then …. it’s all over. VC knows how to end a ride, pity Gwazi wasn’t the same.

Quick mention of Ice Breaker …. Family ride at best. Great addition to the SWO collection though.

Now …. Will someone in Florida please give us our Giga !!!

February 18, 2022 at 8:26 AM

I'm so thrilled that you were able to make it on Iron Gwazi Bobbie!! It does look like a pretty amazing ride, but I find it strange that most of the early reviews are not overwhelmingly putting it on par with Steel Vengeance. IMHO, the videos make Iron Gwazi appear to be a sure-fire winner that trades the intensity of Steel Vengeance for excitement and fun. Maybe since so many of the early reviews are coming from Cedar Point and general coaster fanboys that the opinions are very tempered.

I wish we had time to check this out for ourselves this weekend when we're in the area, but since we're basing in Orlando, a half-day trip to Tampa just won't work, though we might hop over to Sea World to see if we can get a ride on Ice Breaker. We're tentatively planning a trip to BGT in October, so we'll have to wait a few more months to experience Iron Gwazi first hand.

@jeremygary - RMCs all have similar seat belt/lap bar systems, and most parks are similarly doing a 2-stage restraint check process - once down the train to check belts, and then a second check after bars have been locked. Other parks have not had issues with load times or stacking, and given that Iron Gwazi is running with just 2 trains (unlike the 3 on Steel Vengeance, though the CP coaster has an MCBR), as long as the crew is properly staffed (at least 4 checkers), it should operate pretty efficiently.

Being a new, record breaking coaster, I would expect wait times to be in the 1-2 hour range on normal days, and over 2 hours on busy days, which would be on par with the waits for other "BIG" coasters in Florida when they first debuted.

February 18, 2022 at 8:52 AM

I rode this past Sunday during the Platinum passholder preview, and echo jeremygary's observation on cycle times. The issue didn't appear to be the two-step process, but rather riders that could not be accommodated. BGT wasn't checking folks in the test seat at the queue entry, and if they did that, it could result in cycle times getting down into the 60-90 second range. Unfortunately, my second ride was a no go after I already boarded, as they made us get off the train around 4 pm Sunday due to high winds. Sounds like a readout of 40 mph at the top of the lift hill results in a shutdown, and Iron Gwazi ended up closing from 4 pm - 7 pm Sunday.

February 18, 2022 at 11:44 AM

@Russell Meyer - Thanks, Russell! I'm glad that you have tentative plans to visit BGT and experience Iron Gwazi. Historically, I had been visiting the park during the Christmas holidays, which meant long lines for rides and food. My visit two days ago was by far the best because the park wasn't at all crowded. I don't know whether people were postponing their visits until Iron Gwazi opens to the general public or whether it was just an off day but apart from Montu & Sheikra being closed for maintenance, things couldn't have gone any better. The longest wait time was Cheetah Hunt at 5 minutes!

As to reviewers not putting Iron Gwazi on a par with Steel Vengeance, some people seem to think that a white-knuckle ride is necessarily superior to something a bit less extreme. I disagree.

February 18, 2022 at 12:59 PM

Terrific report, Bobbie! I don't think you are able to film and write a bad report!

February 18, 2022 at 2:27 PM

@James Koehl - Thanks, Jim! As to filming, it's funny because a FB friend with a coaster blog said I'd have to go to guest services and show them my kit in order to get a camera pass. Turns out, after visiting guest services, that I didn't have to do anything. None of the ride ops on any of the rides batted an eyelash when I got on with a GoPro. I suspect that if I attempted to do this at Cedar Point, I'd get ejected from the park!

February 18, 2022 at 2:58 PM

When I've been to BGW, they've always told me to visit guest services to have the equipment checked out before filming. I usually film during media days when they use better train and ground-mounted equipment, so I've never felt the need to film with my GoPro and thus never bothered to have my equipment checked at guest services.

February 18, 2022 at 3:10 PM

Great write up and video, thank you! Very excited to check this out next time we're in the area.

February 18, 2022 at 3:13 PM

For me Steel Vengeance wins over Iron Gwazi because of the extra length. Nothing to do with how white knuckle it is. They are both intense world class coasters, but the more time I get on a ride, means I’ll get more “bang for my buck” and that’s certainly the case for SV. It’s not as if BGT didn’t have the space, it’s wide open below the coaster. A bit more length would have opened up the possibility of 3 trains as well.

It’ll be interesting to see how Gwazi fares thru the summer months. It’s windy a lot of the time, and last Sunday showed it’s not up to what I’d call a blowy day.

February 18, 2022 at 3:27 PM

Rode this on Sunday and absolutely loved it. It was my fourth RMC (Twisted Colossus, Twisted Cyclone, Storm Chaser) and comfortably the best I have been on. I would largely agree with Bobbie's review, it's not really about chucking you as hard as possible against the restraint but more like an elegant and exciting hyper experience done with some trademark RMC flair and dynamism. I liked it about as much as Fury and I'd put it ahead of Velocicoaster for #1 in the state as well.

I have not been on Steel Vengeance, but I will get to Cedar Point in June. I really hated Storm Chaser's bunny hop section at the end, which was viscerally painful, not at all fun due to how short the airtime pops were, and nearly ruined what had been a great compact thrill ride up to that point. Steel Vengeance appears to basically be Iron Gwazi for the first half before going into an endless run of those bunny hops, so I'm somewhat wary of it going in. It'll either compete with El Toro and The Voyage for my top slot if the second half clicks, or it will fail to live up to its younger hyper-hybrid cousin in Tampa.

Regardless of the comparison, Iron Gwazi is a smash hit and the crowd-pleasing headliner Busch Gardens has desperately needed. Kumba and Montu are brilliant, but they are not for everyone, and IG is far more accessible.

February 19, 2022 at 5:49 AM

Bobbie thanx for the review. I'll be sure to hit the front and the back rows for a good comparison this weekend. Little disappointed they only have two trains though. Outside of that, being as though I make the jump to Orlando every two months, im anxiously awaiting to do my comparison on Gwqzi with my true Orlando love, Velocicoaster.

@Russell what are the odds, both of us from the DMV (if memory serves me correctly) and we'll both b in Orlando. Safe travels

February 19, 2022 at 5:01 PM

What’s going on here ! A non Disney boat, line app, snow white show, kites et al getting print space here …. Wowza Iron Gwazi looks all that n more !

February 20, 2022 at 8:12 AM

I think Iron Gwazi shares the #1 spot along with Velocicoaster. It is like picking my favorite child ... I can't. Most impressive is that Iron Gwazi achieved a share of #1 (IMO) on a fraction of Velocicoaster's budget.

Iron Gwazi for raw thrills

Velocicoaster for a completely immersive experience

February 21, 2022 at 5:15 PM

Just got off IG yesterday and VC again today, im still keeping VC as #1

February 22, 2022 at 7:28 AM

Although it makes sense about giga and lightening risks - I think lightening detection systems are based on distance to the park - like 5-7 miles and any height would have a lightening grounding system to protect the ride. The think the bigger risk is actually water as well as height

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