Cheetah Hunt at Busch Gardens - A Review
A few weekends ago, I made a special trip out to Tampa, FL to experience Cheetah Hunt, a brand new roller coaster at Busch Gardens Tampa. I had been following the construction ever since the first rumors of the coaster sprang up, and at the last minute decided to make the trek out to its opening day.
Cheetah Hunt is the newest coaster in Central Florida and joins the ranks of The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Manta, Expedition Everest, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Dragon Challenge, and others. The coaster was manufactured by Intamin AG, a first for the area. Previously, nearly every major coaster for Universal Orlando or SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment has been manufactured by Bolliger and Mabillard. In short, Cheetah Hunt’s debut was something extra special.
When I heard about Cheetah Hunt, I knew it would be something special. It was the second coaster the two parks (Busch Gardens and SeaWorld) had done in some time. With SeaWorld’s Manta, the designers tried a new approach to coasters. The technology behind the coaster would be used to “personify” the experience. Manta enables riders to glide through the air in the same way that manta rays glide through the sea. In addition, the Manta experience includes not only a coaster, but a separate way to experience Manta, perhaps for those not wanting to ride a coaster. Manta includes an aquarium for non-riders to enjoy, and a separate exhibit is in the Manta queue to entertain riders. Cheetah Hunt was announced to be similar, giving guests a chance to prowl like a cheetah. Riders are launched on Cheetah Hunt three times, certainly a great parallel to cheetahs hunting. Cheetah Hunt was to debut with Cheetah Run, a fantastic cheetah exhibit right beside the coaster for riders and non-riders alike to enjoy.
Getting to the coaster on opening day meant waking up early, very early. I arrived at the Busch Gardens parking lot at 6:30am, which may not seem early to some, but it was a full two hours before the parking lot would open, and another 30 minutes before the park opened. This was actually one of the best things about opening day though, as there were other theme park enthusiasts just like me, and we tailgated outside of the parking lot and talked for a long time.
Two hours passed and cars were backed up almost into the nearby street. As the van full of employees rolled up, we knew it was time to return to our cars. The parking lot opened, and I opted for preferred parking. Ordinarily I do not do this, but since it was opening day and Busch Gardens preferred parking is much closer than standard, I chose to spend the money.
This turned out for the better, as I was able to receive my annual pass and reach the bag check line before the first tram arrived. Once bag check opened, we were among the first to the turnstiles, and through them, among the first to the rope drop. The following minutes seemed like hours. A sea of determined faces was all that could be seen. When the rope dropped, it was an intense race to the coaster. Hearts were pounding, faces were sweating, lungs were panting. Upon reaching the coaster, there was another rope, and an announcement. The coaster would not be open until early that afternoon, at the soonest.
Even Cheetahs Get Hiccups
There were many complaints, but most were forgiving. The remainder of the morning was composed of riding many rides, including Montu, a great B&M inverted coaster, SheiKra, another B&M coaster that drops riders literally straight down, and Kumba, yet another B&M coaster that roars through the Congo.
After riding coasters and grabbing some lunch, we headed back to Cheetah Hunt to stand in line. Luckily at this point the back of the line was in the shade, under a large tree in this new plaza area. Busch Gardens handled the crowd very well though, handing out free bottled water and sending employees out to cool the crowd with handheld mist fans. After waiting for what could not have been more than 45 minutes, we heard a loud klaxon, and a train was dispatched and launched out of the station for the first time that day. In bursts that were only a few minutes apart, about eight trains were dispatched. Soon after, there was a loud uproar at the entrance, and the coaster had finally opened.
The Moment of Truth
After about 40 minutes of the ride opening, we were boarding. The anticipation was incredible. I don’t know if I would have been as excited as I was had the coaster been open in the morning. Regardless, I was ready to ride. I rode in the second loading station, so anticipation rose after seeing the train in front of us rocket out of the station. We sat on the launch stretch, and waited, and waited.
Rush, out of the station, we were gliding around a smooth turn, hovering above spectators. Then we dove into a tunnel and rocketed on the second launch and up Windcatcher Tower, the iconic part of Cheetah Hunt. We then weaved a bit around the tower with spectacular views of the park before jetting back down to a ravine. The train maneuvered high and low above the plain before hitting a heartline roll and into a mid-course brake run. Then it took a smooth turn through some zigzagging turns through the old Rhino Rally river portion and up to the third and final launch. This last launch sends riders straight into a hill with great airtime, and more twists and turns until returning to the station.
After riding, I can only say “Wow!” Busch Gardens has a real winner on their hands. I highly encourage anyone that enjoys coasters to ride this one. It’s a blast. As a theme park and coaster enthusiast, I can’t be mad at the park for the delay. Breakdowns come with sophisticated technology. Busch Gardens took control of the situation and I applaud them for that. What they have built is truly a great experience. Cheetah Hunt is a great fit for the park and Central Florida.