Triple-launch roller coaster Cheetah Hunt opens at Busch Gardens Tampa

Thousands were treated to Busch Gardens Tampa‘s new roller coaster Cheetah Hunt this past weekend. The new roller coaster is a lengthy 4,400 feet long and it boasts not one, but three separate launches. Cheetah Hunt speeds along the park’s African-themed back drop along the ground, above it, and also below it in a watery canyon. Like some of Busch Gardens Tampa’s other attractions, the ride incorporates its namesake in cheetah viewing area called Cheetah Run. It’s designed to give guests a close encounter with the cheetahs as they show off their legendary speed.

Some early reviews of Cheetah Hunt describe it as a fun family roller coaster that’s a step between the park’s smaller coasters like Scorpion and the park’s signature thrillers like Montu and SheiKra. If that’s an accurate depiction, then it’s likely a wise addition for Busch Gardens Tampa as they’re always competing with Orlando’s many family-oriented theme parks. Central Florida’s only going to get more competitive later this year when the new Legoland Florida opens. Cheetah Hunt was my most anticipated roller coaster opening in 2011 and these videos make me even more eager to get down to Florida. Learn more at CheetahHunt.com.


Top five new roller coasters opening in 2011

With theme parks around the country set to open soon, here’s my take on the most anticipated new roller coasters opening in the United States this year. I’ll start with my top pick.

Cheetah Hunt at Busch Gardens Tampa (Tampa, Florida)
Busch Gardens Tampa’s Cheetah Hunt is by far my most anticipated new roller coaster. The multi-launch coaster looks to be an adventure that will rocket riders from 0 to 60 mph. Launch coasters are nothing new, but one with such a diverse layout is. At times the coaster will climb up 100 feet into a unique figure eight element, then dive down below the ground as it charges through a trench. Add to that a corkscrew and an airtime hill and you’ve got an action-packed journey with Busch Gardens Tampa’s Serengeti-themed area as the backdrop. The park has a history of well-themed, well-executed thrilling roller coasters and Cheetah Hunt looks to be no different.


Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas (Dallas, Texas)Texas Giant - Top New Roller Coasters for 2011
Six Flags Over Texas
is completing a potentially ground-breaking $10 million upgrade of the Texas Giant. The twenty year old wooden coaster has been re-tracked with steel rails in order to provide a smoother and more exciting ride. Thanks to the new rails, constructed by Rocky Mountain Construction, Six Flags claims the Texas Giant will achieve two World records for a wooden coaster. It will have the steepest drop at 79 degrees and the steepest banking at 95 degrees. I argue that the ‘Giant is now technically a steel coaster, but either way the redesigned Texas Giant could be an amazing ride that encourages similar transformations in the future.

Dare Devil Dive at Six Flags Over Georgia (Atlanta, Georgia)
Six Flags Over Georgia will be opening their 11th roller coaster in the ultra-steep Dare Devil Dive. The ride will boast a vertical lift hill followed by a beyond vertical 95 degree drop. Then, the rocket-themed cars will traverse a thrilling course with three loops, a zero gravity hill, and a tunnel. Dare Devil Dive follows the removal of the park’s Deja Vu roller coaster in 2007. This should be an excellent replacement as a similar roller coaster, Dollywood’s Mystery Mine, was well-received.

Green Lantern at Six Flags Great Adventure (Jackson, New Jersey)
Six Flags has a history of reusing themes and ride names at a number of their parks. So, it’s no surprise that there will be two Green Lantern roller coasters to tie in with the forthcoming film. Six Flags Great Adventures’ Green Lantern coaster is a stand-up coaster that was previously at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom. One of the largest of its kind, it features five loops and a 144 foot first drop. The 14-year old coaster is getting a paint job and may also receive new trains and special effects. While it’s not a completely new roller coaster, it should still be one of the best to open this year. It’s easily one of my favorite stand-up coasters and I really enjoyed it when it was Chang at Kentucky Kingdom.

Green Lantern: First Flight at Six Flags Magic Mountain (Valencia, California)
Six Flags Magic Mountain is set for a big year. Not only will Magic Mountain reclaim the title of the theme park with the most roller coasters (surpassing Cedar Point) with 18, the park will be adding two new roller coasters. The most noteworthy of which is Green Lantern: First Flight. Similar to the park’s extremely intense X2, this new ride will be a 4th dimension roller coaster where riders are positioned in spinning seats on either side of the track rather than on top or below it. While First Flight will be a much smaller coaster than X2, it should still deliver an exciting and disorienting ride.

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Busch Gardens Tampa’s Gwazi to reopen with new trains

Gwazi's new trainsAccording to the official SeaWorld Parks blog, Busch Gardens Tampa’s Gwazi will reopen soon with new trains aimed at providing a smoother ride. The dueling wooden roller coaster is named after a mythological African creature with the head of a tiger and the body of a lion. During the ride, the lion and tiger trains perform six fly-bys or near misses where they pass each other at high speeds. Gwazi opened in 1999 and, like many wooden coasters, has become rough over the years. The park has chosen to add new millennium flyer trains to reduce the roughness. More from SeaWorld Parks:

The new trains provide the smoothest way to ride a wooden coaster and are highly regarded for their spacious, cushioned seats and individual row design that resembles wooden roller coaster trains from the early 1900s.

The last few times that I rode Gwazi, it was pretty rough and only one side was running. It’s been a weak spot in an otherwise beautifully-themed and well-run theme park. I’m curious to see how much of a difference the new trains make as theme parks typically re-track wooden coasters to smooth out a rough ride. Hopefully, the millennium flyers will provide a much more enjoyable experience. Gwazi will reopen on January 22nd.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, SeaWorld Orlando raise ticket prices

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay increased its ticket pricesBusch Gardens Tampa Bay and SeaWorld Orlando have announced price increases at the Florida theme parks.

The new ticket price at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is $83.45, including sales tax. You will pay $72.75 for kids ages 3-9.

At SeaWorld Orlando, tickets are now $85.19 with tax included, $74.54 for kids.

By comparison, a 1-day, 1-park ticket including tax at Walt Disney World is $87.33. Disney’s most recent price increase was in August.

Those prices don’t take into account the myriad of discounts available, including savings on multi-day tickets, combo tickets that include admission to other theme parks and/or water parks, and online-only deals.

And Florida residents are also eligible for special pricing. For example, a Florida resident who pays full price for a 1-day admission receives a “Fun Card” that gets him or her in free for the rest of the year.

As the Miami Herald reports, only 1/3 of theme park patrons actually pay full price for a 1-day admission into the parks.

[Image credit: Flickr user LaurenKates]

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay to hold Black Friday camp

If you’ll be in Florida for Thankgiving, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is offering to watch your kids while you shop on Black Friday.

The theme park is holding a Black Friday Kid’s Camp for children ages 5 to 11. The camp is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 26, which should allow you at least 10-11 hours of shopping once you factor in travel time to and from the park.

The cost for a full day is $55, or, if you’re not as serious a shopper, you can choose a morning or afternoon half-day camp for $30.

Programs during the Black Friday Kid’s Camp will include interactions with some of the animals that live at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

Meals and snacks for the kids will be provided, and the park is even promising to greet you with a hot cup of coffee when you drop them off at dark-thirty.

Reservations for the Black Friday camp are required in advance. Make them by calling (813) 987-5087.