The taming of SheiKra

After slowly climbing 200 feet, riders get a leisurely look at Tampa as a whole, clearly seeing the skyline of downtown, Raymond James Stadium and the complete USF campus. As the coaster turns, the track disappears. Suddenly, riders are left looking down, straight down, as terror takes over and they are pressed against their harnesses. Shrieks fill the air as the car is suddenly dropped, leaving the passengers feeling weightless while falling 200 feet at speeds up to 70 mph at a 90 degree angle.

Located in the Stanleyville area of Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, SheiKra is the only dive coaster in North America. It is Florida’s tallest roller coaster at 200 feet, the tallest dive coaster in the world and the only coaster of its kind to incorporate an Immelmann loop (a rolling loop named for a German fighter pilot). Also, it has a second 138-foot dive into a tunnel, a 360-degree climbing carousel and a water-feature finale adding to the experience.

SheiKra opened to the public Saturday, May 21. As I entered the park that day, I heard rumors of a seven-hour wait and numerous technical difficulties. I made my way over to the coaster and saw a line, a long line full of salivating thrill-seekers just like myself. Actually, what surprised me first was the “water-feature finale” of the coaster. A huge tidal wave was sent toward unsuspecting guests on the ground (including myself). I would learn later that this feature is solely for onlookers, as no one on the coaster gets wet.

I had never been to the opening day of a roller coaster before, so I got in line expecting to wait at least three hours. However, because the coaster can accomodate approximately 1,500 guests per hour, with 24 passengers per train and four trains on the track, I only ended up waiting an hour and 10 minutes. As I was waiting, I was surprised to see that the attraction wasn’t finished. The coaster itself was completed, but as guests wandered their way through the line, they saw unfinished landscaping, scaffoldings, extra wood, wheelbarrows and other construction supplies lying out in the open.

There is no extra line for the front row, so it is by sheer luck that is where I was seated. The coaster immediately starts making the climb to 200 feet, then makes a slow U-turn, giving a spectacular view of Tampa, and then stops for seven seconds, leaving passengers looking down at their inevitable fall. After the fall, passengers are hurled back up into an Immelmann loop, the only time guests are upside-down during the ride. Then, a second 138-foot drop awaits leading into a tunnel, ending with a roundabout water finale. The ride duration is a full three minutes, but this includes the time it takes to load and unload the train. The total time in motion is only approximately one minute and 30 seconds.

As I got off the ride, I heard mixed emotions coming from the passengers. Everything from, “let’s go again” to “it was way too short.” I felt both of these emotions. I was surprised at the simplicity and shortness of the ride, but I was also satisfied with the adrenaline-filled sensation it left me with. I generally enjoyed this coaster and think it will attract extreme-ride enthusiasts and tourism to the Tampa area.

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