by Paul Ruben
Free beer is now just a memory at Busch Gardens, but a ride on the Tampa park’s newest attraction more than made up for it.
On a recent trip to Florida, I took a seat on Cheetah Hunt and felt like nature’s fastest and most agile predator as I raced across the “Serengeti.”
This new mega-attraction began at the adjacent Cheetah Run. I learned firsthand why the cheetah has been celebrated for centuries. You are just inches away from the world’s fastest land animals. Look into their eyes. See them run. It’s a new point-of-view guaranteed to get your heart racing. If the weather is cool, that is.But it wasn’t cool. It was sweltering hot, over 92ºF (33ºC) with high humidity, and the cheetahs were resting in the shade. Only the invited guests were slogging through this heat, lining up for a ride that’s even hotter. It was so hot even the ride’s computer controls were rebelling, and it wasn’t until the evening of the media preview day that the coaster finally opened.
This one-of-a-kind, multi-launch coaster climbs high above the park’s African-themed landscape, then races down along the ground and through a rocky gorge. It was a 4,429ft (1.35km) sprint that took my breath away. I got one ride; one ride. Ninety seconds of joy. Most impressive was flying through a double S-turn in the rocky gorge, right-left-right-left-right, with unimaginable precision. No head banging, just butter-smooth transitions.
Hats off to IntaRide, the manufacturer. There were three linear synchronous motor powered launches. The second surge propels riders up the landmark 102ft (31m) “Windcatcher” tower, pictured behind me. What follows is a race across the park’s savannah, but I don’t remember much else. I planned to ride again the next day, but the lines were longer and the temperature hotter. I tried to take photos from shady spots. Smarter than me, the cheetahs were napping in the shade.
With a 48-inch (1.2m) minimum height requirement, a smooth comfortable ride, and only a single heartline roll inversion, Cheetah Hunt is family friendly. Thrilling, but not terrifying. Coaster weenies can always stand by and watch the spotted cats, uh, rest in the shade. Or they can visit the gift shop at the exit of the ride. But they were advised not to play cards in the area, because of all the cheetahs.
But what was most impressive about Cheetah Hunt was the theming. As sister park SeaWorld Orlando did with the swooping Manta coaster, Busch Gardens did with the multiple launches of Cheetah Hunt. Along with an adjacent animal habitat, the ride in some way simulates the movements of the animal.
OK, so cheetahs don’t do heartline barrel rolls. But they do sprint, and so did this coaster. The front of the train resembled a cheetah. The gift shop was filled with cheetah souvenirs. There are cheetah sentries at the entrance. You are transported to the world of cheetahs. Ride theming doesn’t get any better.