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May 19, 2011
The newest, biggest thing at Busch Gardens in Tampa is the theme park's new "Cheetah Hunt" ride, scheduled to open May 27th.
Workers are still putting-on some finishing touches, but the coaster itself is clearly ready to roll.
Throughout the day, the coaster cars are running through their paces, sometimes loaded with people now.
Those human guinea pigs on board are workers and promotions people, making sure the ride is ready for its big cat debut on Memorial Day weekend.
There's no bigger cheetah cheerleader than Jim Dean, the park's president, who offered to take us for a ride.
"It's gonna be a be a huge hit for us," said Dean.
The coaster itself is a three-and-a-half-minute adventure through the theme park's Serengeti plain. Bounding at times, low to the ground at others, with a corkscrew thrown-in for good measure.
The ride is also different, because unlike other Busch Gardens coasters that rely on a chain-lift and then gravity to put them through their motions, Cheetah Hunt uses a series of three huge magnets that shoot the car forward at speeds of 40 and then 60 miles and hour.
For coaster enthusiasts, there's a 130-foot drop. The ride pulls four G's (that's some serious gravity), and there are two moments of seemingly complete weightlessness.
Still, Cheetah Hunt aims to attract the whole family, an important demographic for the park's finances. Riders only have to be 48-inches tall, and Busch Gardens hopes that makes the theme park a summer destination.
"We have to keep our park fresh, and that's part of what we're doing here and really broadening the appeal of the park," said Dean.
Cheetah Hunt also incorporates a full cheetah exhibit designed to educate park visitors.
"It's about cheetahs, and about what changes they can make to help these animals in their natural environment," said Zoologist V.P. Mike Boos.
The cheetah hunt exhibit will feature more than a dozen of the big cats, including live demonstrations that show just how fast they can run.
As for the ride? If it's any indication, some of the folks working on the promotion shoot said they had to ride the coaster more than 20 times and thought it was one of the best in the park.
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