Busch Gardens Tampa is the quintessential Central Florida theme park for thrill seekers. With its impressive selection of roller coasters and a thrilling catalog of flat rides, it is the best place to experience so many unique and exciting attractions. Recently, the park has begun running behind-the-scenes tours of the coasters, offering hands-on insight on what makes these amazing machines work. The experience allows roller coaster fans who have been riding the coasters for years to really see what is involved in building, operating, and maintaining the coasters.
The tour begins at 8:00am, which, on most tour days, is a full hour before the park opens. It costs $64.95 plus tax, and park admission is not included nor is it required. Participants are led in the special entrance to the park near the Crown Colony Restaurant, escorted around the park throughout the length of the tour, and led out of the same gate at the conclusion of the tour. Participants must be able to walk, though for those aware of the size of the park, it requires significantly less walking than one might think (more on that later).
The tour includes the five most popular coasters in the park, three of which are manufactured by Bolliger and Mabillard (B&M), which should be a coaster manufacturer familiar to fans of Orlando parks. They created Islands of Adventure’s Incredible Hulk Coaster and Dragon Challenge, as well as SeaWorld Orlando’s Kraken and Manta. The tour began with Montu, the park’s B&M Inverted Coaster. Then it was on to SheiKra, the world’s first B&M Dive Coaster to hit 90º vertical. Next was Kumba, the world’s first B&M Sitting Coaster. Then we rode Gwazi, a pair of dueling wooden coaster made by Great Coasters International. The tour ended with Cheetah Hunt, the park’s new launched coaster and the first Intamin coaster in Florida.
Each tour begins with some sample facts about the coaster, primarily the make, the model, its height, number of inversions, etc. They then describe the mechanics of the coaster, like the lift mechanism (or in the case of Cheetah Hunt, launch mechanism), braking systems, emergency evacuation procedures, history of the coaster, etc. The tour guides, Norman and Gabe — two of the nicest guys in the world — will answer any question to the best of their ability, and they were very capable of answering the questions. I tried to throw them a few curve balls, but each was met with an accurate, thorough, and insightful response.
Next, the tour guides lead the group to the maintenance area, where they get an up-close and hands-on look at how these coasters work. Sometimes, primarily early in the morning, the tour group might be able to see a coaster train added to the track circuit. This is done by using a transfer track, a piece of track, typically just behind the station, that conveys the coaster train from the maintenance area to the track. Down in the maintenance area, coaster safety systems are explained, such as the anti-rollback mechanism (the click-click-click heard as the coaster train rises up the hill), magnetic braking, and the restraint system. Many coaster parts are available for show-and-tell, so to speak, and it should be noted that some of them are quite heavy. For many of the coasters, the tour group gets to see a train that is in the middle of having its annual, that is, annual inspection. An annual is when a coaster train is completely disassembled, inspected for integrity and replaced if needed, and reassembled. It is a great opportunity to see the parts required in maintaining safety and comfort on a thrilling ride.
At the end of touring each coaster, the group gets the opportunity to experience the coaster firsthand. For any roller coaster fan, it is the perfect build-up to the ride itself, because understanding the effort it takes to make such a thrilling machine operate makes the experience so much more enjoyable. For those wishing to make the ride even more memorable, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has recently allowed GoPro video camera recording on its rides, though it does require a chest-strap mount in order to carry it onto the ride.
Regarding the aforementioned ease of getting around, often the same trucks used for the animal interaction tours are used for getting around the massive park. Busch Gardens Tampa hides its infrastructure in the center of the park, so riding past administrative offices, wardrobe departments, and culinary centers is a fun look into how such a large operation is performed on a daily basis.
Special thanks go out to Norman and Gabe again, because they really did a fantastic job. For anyone interested in learning more about roller coasters, this is the perfect tour to do so.
Learn more and book the tour
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