Busch Gardens Tampa has finally opened Cheetah Hunt, it's long-awaited multi-launch rollercoaster. Theme Park Tourist placed the ride at the top of its list of the 10 most exciting new theme park attractions for 2011. Does it live up to those lofty expectations? TPT correspondent Charissa Arsaoui headed to the park to find out.
Memorial Day weekend is the perfect time to open a new ride at a theme park. Not only does it draw a crowd, it also allows workers to resolve issues that they may not experience with the attraction during times of low park attendance. With that being said, I packed a bag and made the short drive from Orlando to Tampa to check out Busch Gardens' new attraction Cheetah Hunt. From what I had heard, it was going to be the ride of all rides so I was very excited.
As with any opening and holiday weekend, the parking lot was packed. Lot attendants directed visitors to park in designated spaces in a very organized and methodical way. I was happy to see how smoothly the parking situation was being handled but I was less than enthused to see that the line waiting for the tram was enormous. And, to make matters worse, despite the park's efforts to keep things moving, there was a twenty minute wait between trams.
Hunting out the coaster
The sun was relentless as temperatures crept to 100 degrees. I waited until the next tram came and listened to the announcement being made over the loud speaker. Once we took off, I felt more comfortable. I began to shift my eyes toward the park in hopes of seeing a glimpse of Cheetah Hunt before entering the gate. To my surprise, I couldn't see much of anything.
After scanning my Fun Pass at the front gate, I pulled out my park map and started looking for Cheetah Hunt. I made my way to Morocco and then became very lost. I didn't see one sign announcing the attraction. I stopped and asked a park worker to be my guide. He pointed me in the right direction and within minutes I had arrived at the ride.
Unlike Walt Disney World, there is no sort of FASTPASS system in place for the general public. Busch Gardens has something called the Quick Queue which costs money and has yet to be extended to the new attraction. Needless to say, I wasn't thrilled to learn that I would be waiting 180 minutes to get on the ride. Nonetheless, I still wanted to experience it for myself so I stashed my items in a locker and took my place in line. A passerby told me that he only waited an hour and a half despite being told that it was a three hour wait. I felt mildly optimistic.
Melting in the sun
The line was a winding maze of twists and turns sprinkled with an occasional fan or two. Park workers sold bottles of water but because I was told to place "all loose items" in a locker, I had no money on me to buy one. At the midway point, an announcement was made over the loud speaker that the ride was experiencing some difficulties and would be shut down momentarily. The reaction from the people waiting in line was to be expected. The groans from the crowd overshadowed the announcer as he repeated his message two more times.
A girl standing two people behind me passed out because of the heat. She had been in line for over an hour and a half at this point. She was put in a wheelchair and wheeled out by medics. I could hear the people around her saying that it was “just too hot” but their cries fell on deaf ears. Several of the overhead fans were not turned on and there were no longer workers selling water once you reached a certain place in line.
Most of the people around me looked really uncomfortable and unhappy. This is one area where I feel like the park really dropped the ball. Knowing what type of crowd to expect on Memorial Day weekend, every fan in the waiting area should have been running. This small gesture would have added great comfort to those wanting to ride Cheetah Hunt for the very first time.
In addition to this, I felt like park workers should have been better informed about the dangers of heat exhaustion. Rather than militantly demand that people place their belongings in lockers, they should have let people know before entering the ride to bring money to buy water. This was very disappointing to me because there was no way to exit the line once you entered it. You were at the mercy of Busch Gardens at that point.
Preparing to launch
Once I reached the ride platform, I was directed by a worker as to which line to stand in. Within seconds, I was climbing into my seat. Like usual, I had trouble fastening my safety belt. I don't know what it is about theme parks but I dropped it. Several attempts to flag down a ride attendant later, I was buckled in and ready to go.
I was a little concerned with how distracted the workers seemed. What if I wasn't able to get her attention in time before taking off? I know that the line was long and it was hot but what else could I do? I waved my hand around wildly three or four times before she even approached me to ask what was wrong. Again, I feel like this is an area that Busch Gardens Tampa needs to improve upon. It's not enough to be efficient, employees need to be cautious too.
Screeching out of the blocks
I wasn't sure what to expect and was unable to see others on the ride from where I was at. I can say the one thing that Cheetah Hunt has going for it is that it takes off without warning. It also makes this primal screeching sound which adds a bit of excitement to the attraction.
The track itself is shaped like a figure eight and the ride is very smooth. There are also three distinct launch points. There is no lift hill and the ride tops out at a speed of 60 mph which is still enough to get your heart pumping. You can see a full point-of-view ride on the coaster in the video below:
The 4,000-foot-plus track winds around various animal areas. It also twists around the park’s Skyride, steam train, and many walkways. Cheetah Run, the ride’s companion attraction, is said to have a dozen or so cheetahs at it. I didn’t see a single one while on the ride.
Here are some of the highlights of Busch Gardens' new Cheetah Hunt ride:
- It's a great ride for young people measuring 48” and taller.
- It allows you to get up close and personal with cheetahs.
- The ride was very smooth.
- There are three distinct launch points.
Here are some of the downsides of Busch Gardens' new Cheetah Hunt ride:
- You have to put your belongings in a locker before entering the ride.
- The waiting area is designed like an endless maze, with nowhere near enough shade cover.
- It's only 3 1/2 minutes long.
- The seat belts are hard to fasten.
- The light from the flash of the ride camera is blinding.
- It's hard to find your ride photo once in the gift shop.
Busch Gardens Tampa's Cheetah Hunt fell short of my expectations. As a rollercoaster enthusiast, I have experienced better rides. I thought it was rather tame despite all the hype surrounding it. There were no signs to direct you to the attraction, the lines were three hours long, and the ride itself left little to be desired. Despite the multiple launches, there wasn't much to remember about the highly anticipated attraction. Even the cheetahs failed to make an appearance in the neighboring Cheetah Run. I thought I was mistaken that they were part of the attraction. Now I know differently. It was even too hot for them to be outdoors all day.
If I had to do it all over again, I would have head to another ride in place of Cheetah Hunt. Because I had spent a good portion of my day waiting in line, I was only able to take in a few shows before heading back to Orlando and that in and of itself was very disappointing. Lucky for me, I have a Fun Pass so I have until the end of the year before it expires. The next trip I take to Busch Gardens Tampa will not include Cheetah Hunt as one of its highlights.
Things to Take Note Of:
If you're planning on riding Cheetah Hunt, you might want to know that:
- Because it is a new attraction, you may experience longer than usual wait times.
- There is no Quick Queue program for this attraction as of yet.
- All loose items must be stored in a locker. They can be found by the gift shop and cost 50 cents to use. There is a change machine on the premises that takes $1 and $5 bills.
- Park Guests can view the Accessibility Guide online for a full list of requirements for ride admission.
Share your thoughts
Have you experienced Cheetah Hunt? Did it live up to your expectations? Let us know by adding your own review and rating.
You can keep up to date with the latest confirmed and rumored opening dates for new attractions through Theme Park Tourist's "New Attraction Watch" section.