Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has a speedy new experience on the way in 2011, but it’s not all about thrills. The pair of intertwined attractions called Cheetah Hunt and Cheetah Run combine the natural speed and agility of – you guessed it – cheetahs with the man-made speed and agility of a high-tech roller coaster.
It’s being built now and this morning I had a chance to walk the construction site not only to see the attractions’ progress, but also to learn more about what guests will encounter when it opens. And yes, the official opening date was announced today too – May 27, 2011. That’s Memorial Day Weekend.
Donning a cheetah-print hard hat, I embarked on the tour, following Mark Rose, Vice President of Design and Engineering, and Laura Wittish, Curator of Zoological Operations, who told me (and my video camera) more about Cheetah Hunt and Cheetah Run. So take the tour with me (you don’t even have to get your shoes dirty) and get a behind-the-scenes sneak peek of Cheetah Hunt and Cheetah Run:
The highlight moments of the Cheetah Hunt roller coaster will certainly be its three launch points. There’s one straight out of the loading area that takes an immediate hard left and dives into a trench:
That covers about 300 feet of track, after which guests are launched once more, this time to 60mph and up a 100-foot incline:
This will definitely be a big thrill, especially with the figure-8 at the top of the tower bookended by a 60mph launch and a 60mph drop of more than 120 feet (100 above ground, 20 feet below ground into another trench).
Onlookers will have an easy opportunity to witness the initial launch, plunge, and second launch from a nearby bridge:
A walkway also will run alongside the launch up to the tower, giving guests an up-close view of the action. On the opposite side of the walkway will be a large trench that separates the Cheetah Hunt coaster area (left, in the photo below) from the Cheetah Run area (right) featuring, well, running cheetahs:
Atop the tower, riders will get a great (albeit brief) view of the surrounding area while circling a figure-8:
After dropping down the tower, a stretch of track takes guests through a corkscrew, over the Skyride (sky buckets), and into the river that was formerly part of the Rhino Rally ride. None of these areas were part of the construction tour today, but I did shoot some photos from a distance:
That last photo shows where the attraction will wind over a pathway leading to the Edge of Africa section of the park – another great view for guests passing by.
During today’s tour, I had the opportunity to watch one of Busch Gardens’ talented artists sculpting a signature piece for Cheetah Hunt. It’s a cheetah-shaped “sentinel,” as Mark Rose called it, one of two that will flank the attraction’s entrance. One is nearly complete, made of carefully-sculpted concrete fashioned to look like a solid piece of driftwood. It hasn’t been painted yet but its shape is believable and quite impressive. Its companion appeared to be halfway through the sculpting process but was definitely taking shape as a work of art.
Inside the future Cheetah Hunt building sits a stack of twisted metal bars that will eventually become a massive cheetah sculpture. See if you can make out the shape:
Yeah, I couldn’t either. But that’s because it’s far too early in the construction stage. When the attraction opens in May, I’m sure a large cheetah will stand there in full glory.
In fact, the whole area is very much still under construction, as you can see, but the first architectural design elements have found their way onto the site, merging themes that surround the attractions.
Panels like these will line all of the buildings for Cheetah Hunt and Cheetah Run.
And speaking of buildings, Busch Gardens has repurposed three existing park elements for Cheetah Hunt. I’ve already mentioned the former river of Rhino Rally becoming home to part of Cheetah Hunt’s track. In the video above, Rose noted that the old monorail station is now becoming the load and launch area for the roller coaster. For Cheetah Run, the accompanying animal attraction, the former Busch Clydesdale barn is now being transformed into a home for the 12+ cheetahs that will reside at Busch Gardens.
Each stall features side exits that will allow trainers and caretakers to easily move cheetahs from room to room. But this whole area will be off-limits to guests, as a home for resting cheetahs when they’re not performing. There are also rear doors that will enable the cheetahs to exit out into guest areas when trainers are ready to send them running.
The cheetahs will perform several times per day, reaching speeds of around 50 miles-per-hour in an area roughly the length of a football field. This is Cheetah Run. It occurs alongside the areas of Cheetah Hunt I toured today, though riders aboard the roller coaster will be moving far too fast to notice. Cheetah Run is designed for guests on the ground, but will certainly act as a comparison to the speeds of Cheetah Hunt.
Cheetah Hunt and Cheetah Run will both make their public debut on Friday, May 27, 2011, just in time for Memorial Day Weekend. Given the speed and size of the new roller coaster, it’s almost guaranteed to be the most popular ride in the park, so a trip to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay as soon as it opens is highly recommended, before the large summer crowds arrive in June.
More photos from my construction tour of Cheetah Hunt and Cheetah Run at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay: