Busch Gardens officials pulled back a little more of the curtain on their next big roller coaster, a massive new thrill ride to be called Cheetah Hunt, which accelerates horizontally with a launch technology envisioned for heaving planes off aircraft carriers.
At the same time this morning, the Busch Gardens parent company announced a new attraction in Orlando at Discovery Cove, called The Grand Reef, which will include pressurized helmets that let guests walk around underwater among sea life.
Busch Gardens posted videos online of what the Cheetah Hunt ride would look like from the rider’s point of view – more than three minutes of twists, turns and dives around what formerly was an area reserved for the Clydesdale Hamlet horse petting area.
The new ride will rank as the longest in the park, but in a very different style than ultra-tall rides like Sheikra.
“This ride will give the feeling of zooming along, hugging the ground, similar to a cheetah sprinting through the grasslands,” said Jim Dean, president of Busch Gardens and Adventure Islands.
Over three quarters of a mile, the coaster accelerates three times through a 3-minute, 25-second ride, including up a 130-foot tower, then down into an underground trench, reaching a top speed of 60 miles per hour and pressure up to 4Gs.
Ready for launch
The Cheetah Hunt ride is among a new generation of launch-style coasters, including “Maverick” at Ohio’s Cedar Point and others in Las Vegas.
Unlike rides that winch a coaster up a slope, with a clink-clink-clink, these rides start off on a nearly flat slope and powerful magnets in sequence accelerate the train to full speed in seconds, giving the rider a feeling similar to a dragster.
The technology has also been used in “hypervelocity” collisions during military weapon research, for launching planes off aircraft carriers, and for pushing high-speed rail trains.
Overall, the new Cheetah Hunt area will be a form of park-within-a-park at Busch Gardens, similar to areas for Sesame Street and Jungala.
Near the new ride, the park will install more up-close animal attractions, keeping with a theme of the park’s other newest environments. No final date has been set, though park officials said the ride area could open in May 2011.
The park recently acquired its first two cheetahs from a preservation company just north of Jacksonville: A 10-year-old female named “Ngoma,” and a 11-year-old male named “Steelman.”
Trainers are practicing with the cats now on sprinting along what will be a 300-foot cheetah run. Ultimately, the park could have 15 cats and an active breeding program.
Word of the new ride has been trickling out for nearly a year, as construction permits became public and the park began leaking details through social media sites and ride-enthusiast blogs.
Busch Gardens completed support pads for a coaster in October, according to the city of Tampa’s Construction Services Center. The theme park applied a year ago to construct four buildings near an old sky ride loading platform maintenance area.
Since then, Busch Gardens has started a website with videos of the ride-to-be at Cheetahhunt.com, and started touting a few details through Facebook.
This will be the park’s first coaster since Sheikra opened in 2005. New reef at Discovery Cove
In Orlando, the Busch Gardens-affiliate Discovery Cove will open a new area in June featuring all-day experiences beyond wading with sea life.
“The Grand Reef” will offer shallow to deep waters, artificial beaches and snorkeling trips among man-made reefs stocked with fish, rays and sharks. The sharks will swim behind underwater glass.
For the more adventurous, there will be a “SeaVenture” underwater walking tour where guests wear dive helmets and step among sea life. Seasonal rates will change, but packages start at $199
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