Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Busch Gardens Tampa- The Gwazi Situation

So, What IS the deal with Gwazi?!
The hell if I know, let's find out!

  Basiclly, the Tiger side of the dueling coaster, Gwazi, has been closed since 2012. Some of us really want to know "WHY"?! Which is a perpetual question that bugs me to no end, especially when it comes to why theme parks do strange things. Gwazi is an amazing ride and always was. Now, some folks will tell you that this closure happened because the ride was just 'too rough',  even with the new Millennium Flyer trains.  Say it with me kids, BULLSHIT. It's a wooden coaster, that's kind of what they do. The new trains reportedly didn't help smooth the ride and butchered the main points of Gwazi, air time and speed. I rode Gwazi for years, from the week it opened till my last visit in 2006 on the Philadelphia Toboggan Company trains. It wasn't any rougher then many other wooden coasters I've rode in my years and a good deal smoother then some (Hercules, Mean Streak, Ect). So simply, I'm not buying the 'it's too rough' excuse.

  The officially stated reason is 'Budget Issues' which, if you have half a brain, just screams "BULLSHIT".  Busch Gardens Tampa doesn't have a budget problem, they have a broken coaster and space problem. 

  Let me explain..

  Busch Gardens is located in Temple Terrance, FL (Suburb of Tampa Bay) which is about 9 miles North of the Bay and about 23 miles East of the Gulf of Mexico. Plenty of cool ocean breezes and the lovely salt they carry with them. Salt water is the problem, wood warps easily when went and salt corrodes the hell out of everything. With a wooden coaster like Gwazi so close to so many of these elements, it's probably costing a small fortune in lumber to keep the ride running at any level (maybe this is the 'budget problem'?).  The second problem is termites, they have a field day with any exposed wood in Florida no matter if it's the treated stuff or not. The third problem is sand, the entire state of Florida is nothing but a sand bar on limestone. Sand likes to shift and move around randomly, think of sink holes.  

  All three of these are probably key factors as to the situation with Gwazi. I'm not engineer nor am I a geologist, but I spend enough of my life in Florida to know the problems with any structure. A giant dueling wooden coaster is a rather large structure, after all. 

  Now, before you go off saying it's some kind of a massive flaw with the fact this is a dueling wooden coaster, it's not. Gwazi has a sister coaster,  built in the same style (dueling) with the same elements (Height, Near-Passes, Etc) called Lightning Racer in Hershey Park. Lightning Racer has no massive problems, no "rough ride" and certainly half of it isn't closed.

From CoasterImage.com
  So what does it all really mean? I'm not sure, I have some suspicions of my own but you've got to know the history first. Gwazi was a pet project for Anheuser-Busch Entertainment when it was built, they REALLY wanted a wooden coaster at their Florida park because no one else had one operating outside of the Florida Panhandle at the time. It was a huge deal then, a wooden coaster in Central Florida, MADNESS! When Gwazi was built it had the most fly-by's of any dueling coaster, it is still the largest and fastest double wooden coaster in the Southeast US.. and Busch Gardens had it.

  Now when Blackstone bought out the theme park from InBev (who bought Anheuser-Busch) things began to change. I believe Gwazi is one of those things which will be changing quickly, they no longer want to spend the money to up-keep a pride and pet project. This is my own opinion of what's happening to Gwazi today. 

  Then comes the space issues. Busch Gardens Tampa doesn't really have much space left, their in a rather crowded area surrounded on all side by other businesses, highways, homes and such. This doesn't leave much room, if any at all, to expand with new attractions without getting rid of one key element of this park, the animals.
Example of what I mean. Bad Paintbrush by yours truly. Image from Google Earth
 As you can easily see, they really don't have any space. Sure, you could easily shift around parking lots and such but that's not the point here (trust me, I've seen them parking in the ball field and grass when it gets stupid busy, it's not fun). Gwazi takes up a lot of space. Space that Blackstone could put something new and in need of less TLC into.

  That's exactly what the rumors are saying is going to happen. They've been reported from half a dozen places, including ScreamScape, which say that a new 'speed coaster' will be coming sometime in 2014-2015. I can't tell you if this is true or not, but I can say this: I don't like it. Gwazi is unique and fun and wooden coasters are getting more rare by the day as steel is cheaper and easier to build. Having a wooden coaster is almost a badge of honor for most parks and for someplace like Busch Gardens Tampa, it's a huge achievement and a labor of love. To get rid of it because you want to save some extra cash and labor costs? Not cool, Blackstone. Not cool at all.

  In the end, I can't tell you what's really wrong with Gwazi, just my own speculations. Nor can I tell you it's ultimate fate, just the rumors. However, I can tell you this: to loose it wouldn't be an advantage to the park, it'd be a disability and a damn shame.