If you were to conceive a new attraction that combines exotic animals with fast paced thrills, what would you do? If you’re Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, you build Cheetah Hunt. Paul Ruben reports.
From IntaRide LLC (Intamin‘s sister US company), this is Florida’s first triple-launch coaster. Placed next to a pride of cheetahs, the attraction mimic the quick starts and blinding speed of nature’s most graceful predator. It uses Linear Synchronous Motor (LSM) technology to deliver a succession of adrenaline-fuelled surges of speed.
Riders accelerate to speeds up to 60 miles per hour (97km/h) as they climb a 102-feet (31-metres) “Windcatcher Tower,” down into four subterranean trenches, over Busch Gardens’ historic Skyride (cable car), around a rocky canyon and through a heartline inversion. One of the highlights of the ride is a precision high speed thread through a double S-curve.
“Because of its location in the park, Cheetah Hunt’s construction was probably the most watched, documented and photographed project we’ve ever completed,” observed Jim Dean, president of Busch Gardens and its neighbouring Adventure Island waterpark. “Crowds of onlookers watched daily as the track segments were connected and iconic tower was erected. We wanted to build a coaster inspired by the movements of the Cheetah and that delivered the best experience for the rider. A launch coaster was thought to be the best solution, and Intamin is known for launch technology. They have not disappointed.”
With 4,429ft of steel track and a ride time of more than 90 seconds from first launch to final brake, Cheetah Hunt grabs the record as Busch Gardens’ longest coaster. It is fast, smooth, and well-paced, more ground-hugging graceful than ferocious. Its 13-acre footprint also makes it the most expansive thrill-ride in the park’s history.
“Cheetah Hunt will be an iconic coaster for Busch Gardens,” promises Dean, using that word again. “It’s the longest coaster yet, and families are sure to enjoy its repeatability.”
Cheetah Hunt has a 48-inch (4ft or 1.2m) height requirement, which is four inches (0.1m) less than the park’s other major coasters SheiKra and Montu, and so allowing families to enjoy the experience together.
“Unlike the intense drop of SheiKra or the record-breaking loops of Montu,” Dean explains, “Cheetah Hunt was not designed to test the limits of ‘extreme’ thrills. Instead, it was created to be smooth, graceful, low-to-the-ground coaster experience that interacted with the existing landscape and architecture and surprised riders with its multiple bursts of acceleration. The public’s reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, with many calling it the best ride they’ve been on in a long time.”
<p>Dean, of course, had ridden Cheetah Hunt repeatedly. “I was one of the first to ride Cheetah Hunt, along with our park’s engineering and operations teams. My two favourite elements are the second launch up into Windcatcher Tower and speeding up river through the canyon. But the best part of Cheetah Hunt is the overall experience; it truly is greater than the sum of its already-excellent parts.”
Home to 14 of the agile cats, the accompanying Cheetah Run animal habitat is reminiscent of the ruins of an ancient temple and features more than 11,000 sq ft of grassland, natural rock formations, shaded alcoves, a waterfall and a 220ft path for the cheetahs to run along. Several times each day, Busch Gardens’ animal care experts conduct sprints with the cheetahs, using a motorised lure system to stimulate the cats’ natural instinct to chase. Glass-panels allow Busch Gardens guests to get close to these highly endangered animals in total safety.
Video panels and interactive touchscreens help educate visitors of the plight of cheetahs in the wild and why their numbers have dwindled to between 10,000 and 12,500 worldwide. Guests will also learn about Busch Gardens’ partnership with the Cheetah Conservation Fund in South Africa.
“The Cheetah Hunt ride and the Cheetah Run animal habitat,” notes Dean, “along with the plaza area and addition of the outdoor seating at Crown Colony, come together to provide a destination within the park for riders and non-riders alike. Looking ahead to the Summer Nights and Howl-O-Scream events, we anticipate Cheetah Hunt plaza becoming one of the ‘party centres’ of the park.”
Creating such a unique ride requires several important considerations, concludes Dean: “Cheetah Hunt will be world recognised not only for the ‘one-of-a-kind’ ride experience but also for the iconic tower and the simulation of the Cheetah that it represents.”
The new addition to the park further cements Busch Gardens Tampa Bay’s reputation as a leader in both thrill rides and zoology. The Florida venue is home to more than 2,500 exotic and endangered animals, and offers adventure-seekers eight world-class rollercoasters, as well as many other thrill rides, live shows, and a full calendar of special events.
More photos will appear in the July 2011 issue of Park World.